Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Inside the Olfactory Mind of Pseudonymous Bosch

If you don't know who Pseudonymous Bosch is then you: (a) know the underside of a rock quite well; (b) think that Harry Potter is the only kids' literature series that adults can tear through with the spirit of a child and/or; (c) consider Patrick Süskind's Perfume: The Story of a Murderer to be the last great piece of olfactory literature that has ever been written.

The time has come for you, dear reader, to take that soggy madeleine out of your grandmother's cup of linden blossom tea and get the heck out of Combray. (Terces Society members forgive me, but some who claim to be sensorial types are in fact imposters who obsess over smell and taste to deny their mortality and disguise their alchemical quest for everlasting life at everyone's expense.)

Pseudonymous Bosch is the author of the Secret Series of children's books. Each book in the five-volume action and adventure series is dedicated to a human sense. The Name of this Book is Secret is the first volume in the Secret Series and is thematically linked to smell. The plot includes a character with synesthesia, a variety of sophisticated olfactory references and a box containing precious fragrance vials dubbed "The Symphony of Smells".  If perfumer Christophe Laudamiel got a hold of The Name of this Book is Secret before it was published there would be a Symphony of Smells coffret at Aedes de Venustas and FAO Schwartz in perpetuity.

Pseudonymous Bosch agreed to take the Glass Petal Smoke Sensory Questionnaire after he was informed of the existence of Chocolate Voodoo Love Cookies. (The cookies were mentioned to persuade P.B. as chocolate is his weakness and a key ingredient in volume three of the Secret Series.) The recipe for the signature cookies (created by yours truly) will remain secret as will the identity of Pseudonymous Bosch.

What gives Chocolate Voodoo Love cookies their touch of je ne sais quoi? You'll have to ask writer Chris Belden, his wife Melissa DeMeo and their daughter Francesca (who after tasting chocolate repeated the word "more" until her chocolate mustache turned into a beard). The cookies are rumored to contain a love potion, but this can't be confirmed or denied. P.S. Fragrant Moments, Bois de Jasmin and several perfumers have partaken of said cookie, so you might want to ask them.

1.  What does your sense of smell mean to you?

I am told that what we think of as taste is mostly smell, and my sense of taste means everything to me. Hence, my sense of smell means most everything to me.

2.  What are some of your strongest scent memories?

What a curious question! I remember passing by some rather stinky weight-lifters who were obviously quite strong.  Also a few smelly but strong plough horses.

3.   What are some of your favorite smells (things in nature, cooking &/or your environment)?

I tend to like the smell of beans—baked beans, coffee beans, and of course chocolate beans.  I do not like the way beans smell after you eat them, however.

4.  Do you have any favorite smells that are considered strange?

Burning marshmallow?  S’more s’mores, please.

5.  Describe one or more of your favorite cooking smells.

Sometimes, the only thing better than eating chocolate is smelling chocolate being cooked—as hot chocolate, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, mole...  Most times, there is nothing better than eating chocolate.

6.  What smells do you most dislike?

Eraser and number two pencil.  As soon as I smell them I start to sweat.  I’m not ready for the test!  And, as my readers well know, mayonnaise. It smells so…gooey and white.  I know, I know, mayonnaise doesn’t really have much of a smell unless it’s going bad, but in my mind it’s always going bad.

 7.  What smell did you first dislike, but learned to love?


8.  What mundane smells inspire you?

The smell of blank paper occasionally inspires me to write.  Alas, it more often fills me with dread.

9.  What scent never fails to take you back in time and why?

Peanuts and cotton candy.  When you’re raised in the circus, those smells can’t help but take you back in time.  At least so I imagine. I wasn’t raised in a circus myself.

10.  What scents do you associate with memories of loved ones?

Mothballs.  What is it about grandmothers and mothballs?  Sure, the scent keeps away the moths, but I think it’s really designed to keep away grandchildren.

11.  What fragrance(s) remind you of growing up?

I’m not sure what fragrance reminds me of growing up, but I’ll tell you what fragrance reminds me to grow up—the fragrance of the envelope my utility bill comes in. That one really smacks you in the face.

12.  What fragrance(s) remind you of the places you visited on vacation?

I spent a few summers on the Adriatic coast where the smellscape (if such a word exists) was dominated by a wonderful mixture of wild mint, fennel, and mustard.  I keep trying to recreate the smell with a breath mint, a licorice stick, and a bottle of French’s Mustard—it doesn’t work.

13.  Describe a piece of sensory literature that is very magical for you.

My favorite book of all time, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is sensory literature of the most magical kind. There are too many examples of sensory writing in the book to mention, but one that comes to mind right now for some reason is the experimental chewing gum that Violet tries. Remember?—each piece of gum takes her through the flavors of an entire meal, from first course to dessert. Finally, the taste of blueberry pie turns her into a giant and quite convincing, though presumably inedible, blueberry. A brilliant blue image made indelible in the Gene Wilder film.

The five volume set of the Secret Series will be available in paperback on October 2, 2012. The books are currently sold individually.

Photograph of "You Know What" perfume mod bottle, "Eau de Mothball", and "Sucker Punch Meter" by Michelle Krell Kydd.

Creative Commons photograph of farmer with plough horses by Ralf Roletschek.

Photo of beans by Toby at Plate Fodder. Edited by Michelle Krell Kydd and licensed under Creative Commons.

Photo of toasted marshmallow by Evan Amos licensed under Creative Commons.

Photo of mustard field from The Organic Center. Rights revert back to the owner.

Fabulous illustration of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory characters by John Martz. Rights revert back to the illustrator.