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Remembering Smell

A life devoid of smell lacks more than odor.



In the fall of 2005, my sense of smell was brutally destroyed by a silvery glob of zinc gluconate, the active ingredient in an over-the-counter, homeopathic cold remedy called Zicam. It has since been recalled by the Food and Drug Administration—a story that would have been all over the media had it involved a product that caused people to go deaf or blind. But while smell gives food its flavor and perfumes the air in spring, somehow most of us regard it as unimportant, even superfluous. Until it goes haywire.

I learned from personal experience how the brain feels about smell. Traumatized by this mortal blow to the nose, my frontal cortex unleashed its own tortured facsimile of smell: the odor of rotting corpses, burning rubber, and rotten eggs—olfactory hallucinations akin to phantom-limb pain.

My phantosmia, as the syndrome is called, lasted two months before submitting to another powerful (and again mysterious) drug that tricked my brain into thinking smell had been restored and all was well. One morning I woke up, and my head was clear. Shockingly clear. I smelled…nothing. Sipping tasteless coffee, I collected my broom, bucket, and rags, and went to work on the house. Routine chores would keep my body busy while my brain reeled with the awful implications of this new reality—this life devoid of smell of any kind, even lemon Pledge.

I’d never before considered how the drudgery of housework is redeemed and enriched by smells, their effect more subliminal but just as powerful as the tunes coming from the iPod attached to my ears. I remembered those precious moments when the smell of my great-grandfather’s books (I live in the house he built in 1880) would entice me to pluck one of them from the shelf, how I’d lighten my touch to dust the cracked leather bindings and still raise the odor of old glue and leather and paper.

Such moments were not rare, though I’d never deconstructed them before I lost my sense of smell. I sank into my great-grandfather’s wing chair, closed my eyes, and tried to summon its odor by sniffing. The chair had sat beside the fireplace for as long as anyone could remember. It had absorbed the odors of slow-burning oak and silver birch that went up like parch­ment. The smells of countless inciner­ations had seeped into the pores of its upholstery, into the feathers inside the cushion, and into the springs, and the heavy-timbered frame that sat on four clawed feet.

The wing chair was a sponge for smells. Over the years, it had acquired the slightly oily aroma of the cat hair hiding under the dilapidated cushion, now as limp as a flat tire. It still held the smell of Sweetie, our black standard poodle, when she reeked of cancer and could barely get up into the chair she used to leap into with the grace of a fawn, lounging there with her long black paws hanging over the edge of the cushion like a pair of slender silk tassels and her long elegant nose resting daintily on the soiled arm. The chair captured and held these moments, though none of them could be seen. Only smelled.

I opened my eyes. The smells, such as they were, vanished. What would my home be like now? This room stripped of its layers of fragrance was a barren cell. It would no longer delight my eye, its physical beauty having been formed by the smell of it. What did this room smell like now? How do you describe what isn’t there? Especially something that is off-limits even to memory, trapped forever in some shuttered chamber deep within the most ancient region of the brain. Like Sleeping Beauty, who can only be awakened by a certain kiss from a special prince, smell and all its attendant emotional connections lie dormant until triggered by smell itself.

This requires a working nose. Without smell, my house was a stranger to me, its visual presence mocking the richness of what it had once been. It was like the photograph of someone you love who has died. Wouldn’t you rather, until the pain has dulled a bit, put the picture away?

St. Paul writer Bonnie Blodgett is the author of the newly published book, Remembering Smell: A Memoir of Losing—and Discovering—the Primal Sense.

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MN Events Calendar Sponsored by:

June 2015

Come to Big Sandy Lodge and Resort to get all the delicious pancakes you can eat for only $5.

Cost: $5

Where:
Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
20534 487th Street
McGregor, MN  55760
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Sponsor: Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
Telephone: 218-426-5040
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Pride Parade Viewing Party UNION Rooftop – Downtown Minneapolis Start time: 9am (presale tickets) / 10am (day-of tickets) Live DJs: DJ Lindsay ‘Shiek’ Earney and DJ Lenka...

Cost: $10 (includes a free mimosas, glass of champagne or Absolute cocktail)

Where:
UNION Rooftop
731 Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis , MN  55403
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Come join us at the Skyway Theatre as we take over the block for the Pride Parade!  Drinks and brunch starting at 9am and DJs at 12pm! Get the best seat for the best parade of the...

Cost: No Cover

Where:
Bar Fly & Maruso
715 Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Telephone: 612-333-6100
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Pride Parade Rooftop Viewing Party CRAVE Rooftop – Downtown Minneapolis Live DJ: DJ FANCY RESTAURANT Start time: 9am $5 from each ticket donated to OutFront Minnesota ...

Cost: $10 (includes free Absolute or Jameson cocktail)

Where:
CRAVE Rooftop
825 Hennepin Ave MN
Minneapolis , MN  55402
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YogaFit's Mind Body Fitness Conference is where students work towards a Yoga Alliance registry, earn continuing education credits, or simply deepen one's yoga practice and transform...

Cost: $329- $975

Where:
Hilton Minneapolis
1001 Marquette Avenue South
Minneapolis , MN   55403
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Show your Pride by taking part in the Twin Cities Pride Rainbow Run on Sunday, June 28th! Starting at Boom Island and ending near Loring Park, the route takes runners along Hennepin Avenue as...

Cost: $30

Where:
Boom Island Park
800 Sibley Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN  55413
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Sponsor: Twin Cities Pride
Telephone: (612) 255-3260
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Join YogaLean's author Beth Shaw in this new 1 day YogaLean Transformational Workshop during the Minneapolis Mind Body Fitness Conference.  Explore holistic modalities of weight loss,...

Cost: $129.00

Where:
Hilton Minneapolis
1001 Marquette Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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The 2015 Twin Cities Pride Festival features over 400 exhibitors, 40 food and beverage booths, 20 sponsors, and 300,000+ visitors who participate in this free celebration of the GLBT...

Cost: Free

Where:
Loring Park
1382 Willow Street
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Sponsor: Twin Cities Pride
Telephone: (612) 255-3260
Website »

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Join YogaLean's author Beth Shaw in this new 1 day YogaLean Transformational Workshop during the Minneapolis Mind Body Fitness Conference.  Explore holistic modalities of weight loss,...

Cost: $129.00

Where:
Hilton Minneapolis
1001 Marquette Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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The 2015 Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade will be held on Sunday, June 28, beginning at 11 a.m. along Hennepin Avenue in Downtown Minneapolis. The Parade route starts at 3rd and Hennepin and ends at...

Cost: Free or $40 Grandstand tickets

Where:
Hennepin Ave in Downtown Minneapolis
Hennepin & 3rd to Hennepin & Spruce
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Sponsor: Twin Cities Pride
Telephone: (612) 255-3260
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The Twin Cities Pride Entertainment Team is excited to bring you over 50 local acts during Pride Weekend. The schedule is below, but know that things are subject to change.  ...

Cost: Free. $10 General/$75 VIP for Pride in Concert 6/27 5pm at Loring Stage.

Where:
Loring Park
1382 Willow St
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Telephone: 612-255-3260
Contact Name: Twin Cities Pride
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The celebration will be held in true Lurcat style, featuring music, dancing, festive food, cocktails and more! Café & Bar Lurcat is central to the Pride festival in Loring Park and found...

Cost: Free to enter

Where:
Cafe & Bar Lurcat
1624 Harmon Pl
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Cost: $25.00

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Minnetonka Theatre
18285 Highway 7
Minnetonka, MN  55345
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Cost: Free

Where:
Graebner Memorial Chapel
Saint Paul, MN

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Where:
Nicollet Island Pavilion
40 Power St.
Minneapolis, MN  55401
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Sponsor: Canvas Health
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Cost: ADVANCE: $6/child (lap child free), $8/student, $12/adult

Where:
Open Window Theatre
Metropolis Minneapolis Building
1313 Chestnut Avenue
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Telephone: 612-615-1515
Contact Name: Jeremy Stanbary
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Cost: Free to attend

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Sponsor: Silver Creek Paddle
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Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Ox Coffee Co
3740 Chicago Ave S
Minneapolis, MN  55407
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Sponsor: Kairos Earth
Telephone: 405-365-8796
Contact Name: Chelsea Scudder
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We know it's the height of summer, so we think it's the perfect time to get a SUP you'll love. Get your board now while there is still plenty of summer left. Some of our hottest selling...

Cost: Free to attend

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Sponsor: Silver Creek Paddle
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Cost: Free

Where:
Trillium Woods
14633 Country Road 4
Plymouth, MN  55446
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Cost: free

Where:
Online Trading Academy
7900 International Drive Suite 170
Bloomington, MN  55425
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Telephone: 952-814-4410
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Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Phalen Picnic Pavilion
1600 Phalen Dr
St. Paul, MN  55106
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Sponsor: Peace Corps
Telephone: 651.233.9605
Contact Name: Krista M. Mastel
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Bring your lunch and learn more about the opportunities to live, learn, and work with a community overseas through Peace Corps service. Peace Corps is a federal agency which provides U.S....

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Phalen Picnic Pavilion
1600 Phalen Drive
St. Paul, MN  55106
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Sponsor: Peace Corps
Telephone: 612.233.9605
Contact Name: Krista M. Mastel
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Cost: Free

Where:
Microsoft Store - Mall of America
162 South Ave
Bloomington, MN  55425
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Cost: Free

Where:
Mary Mother of the Church in Burnsville
3333 E. Cliff Road
Burnsville, MN  55337
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Sponsor: Young Adult Catholics Hanging Together
Telephone: 952-890-0045
Contact Name: Kosi Onyeneho
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Cost: Free

Where:
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Cost: $10 - $15

Where:
St. Paul Yacht Club
375 W Water St
St. Paul, MN  55107
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Sponsor: Mississippi River Fund, Works Progress & the National Park Service
Telephone: 651-291-8164
Contact Name: Katie Nyberg
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Cost: Free

Where:
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1707 Jefferson St Ne
Minneapolis, MN  55413
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The flipped classroom is an innovative method of teaching that allows for multimedia lessons and in-class exercises. Now you can “flip” your own classroom using familiar tools like...

Cost: Free

Where:
Microsoft Store - Mall of America
162 South Ave
Bloomington, MN
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Cost: 5

Where:
Mankato Brewery
1119 Center Street
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Sponsor: Mankato Brewery
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Cost: Free

Where:
Microsoft Store - Mall of America
Bloomington, MN

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Bryan Olds Band will be performing live at Big Sandy Lodge and Resort on Friday, July 3. The folk-rock blues band plays a variety of original songs, as well as covers, ranging from Pearl Jam to...

Cost: Check with venue for details.

Where:
Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
20534 487th Street
McGregor, MN  55760
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Sponsor: Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
Telephone: 218-426-5040
Website »

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The 90’s alternative rock band – The Mallrats – will take the Amphitheater stage at Grand Casino Hinckley on Friday, July 3 at 8:30 p.m. Following the show will be a spectacular...

Cost: $10 general admission

Where:
Grand Casino Hinckley Amphitheater
777 Lady Luck Dr
Hinckley, MN  55037
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Bunker’s Music Bar & Grill Presents Award Winning Vocalist Patty Peterson & Friends with Special Guest Melanie Rosales Friday, July 3, 2015 - 9:30pm 761 Washington Avenue N,...

Cost: $10.00

Where:
Bunker's Music Bar and Grill
761 Washington Ave N
#325
Minneapolis, MN  55401
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Sponsor: Bunker's Music Bar and Grill
Telephone: 847-624-5087
Contact Name: Carrie Miller
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Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Anthony Park/Langford Park
Saint Paul, MN  55108


Sponsor: 4th In The Park Committee & The Saint Anthony Park Community Foundation
Telephone: 651-343-7365
Contact Name: Josh Becerra, Jeanne Hansen, & Emma Seeley
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Cost: Free

Where:
Mystic Lake Casino Hotel
2400 Mystic Lake Blvd.
Prior Lake, MN  55372
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Telephone: 952-496-7388
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Celebrate this Independence Day by watching fireworks light up the night sky over Big Sandy Lake. The event will take place at dusk, between Davis and Goff’s Bay, on the Fourth of July.

Cost: Free

Where:
Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
20534 487th Street
McGregor, MN  55760
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Sponsor: Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
Telephone: 218-426-5040
Website »

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