06:02:39 am on
Thursday 25 Jul 2024

A Bad Case of Anosmia
David Simmonds

Edward Smelling the newly bloomed Corpse Flower.

I remember, roughly fifteen years ago, I was staying in an apartment hotel in the Chinatown district, of Toronto, when the stink, emanating from down the hall, almost overcame me. Venturing, nervously, towards the source of the odour, I found myself in the presence of an oddly shaped spiky vegetable-like thingy that I now know to be a durian. It’s a fruit widely used in south Asia, which is notorious for its smell.

The durian fruit has a distinct odour.

A resident, of the hotel, had left the fruit in the hallway, allowing others to share the fumes. Presumably, he or she did this because the durian was too strong smelling to be inside the apartment. Perhaps, I thought, he had stumbled onto an object that marketable as an organic burglar repellent.

The durian has its supporters and its detractors. Food writer Richard Sterling noted “its odour is best described as … turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away.” The late Anthony Bourdain defended the durian with equal vigour. Calling its taste “indescribable,” which I think he meant that as a compliment, Bourdain did admit that if you tasted it “your breath will smell as if you’d been French kissing your dead grandmother.”

I am interested, in principle, in encountering the durian again. Over the intervening years, I have gradually lost my sense of smell. The condition of diminished capacity to smell is anosmia, which affects about two million Americans or about one-in-150. Going face to face with a durian would be an excellent test to determine whether I retain any residual capacity to smell or whether I have truly lost it.

Now, I learn I can try for an alternative, the corpse flower. According to the Bloedel Conservatory, in Vancouver, this is largest plant in the world and has recently bloomed. On blooming, it released an aroma compared, by those that know, to the smell of used diapers or hot garbage.

Replication is the route to confirmation.

It might be worth the airfare to Vancouver just to check my reaction to the copse flower on top of the durian. My goal would be akin to noted scientists that replicate an experiment many times before claiming confirmation of the results. Much the way athletes must submit a double urine sample before they can participate in the Olympics.

Funny enough, my sense of smell has diminished, but my sense of taste is unaffected. Once I put something in my mouth, the buds seem to slip into overdrive and I experience the full sensation for which my smell sense would have been priming me. I would like to say that my other sensations of touch, sight and hearing are enhanced by way of some sort of neuro-plastic compensation, but it’s not so.

Obviously, I miss the pleasures of an active sense of smell. I liked to smell a fresh flower, a distinct perfume or an apple pie in the oven. I would certainly not be the first person to turn to when there is a need for someone to be the canary in the coalmine to detect a gas leak.

Still, there are plenty of opportunities for me to make use of my newfound resistance to odours. My family is quite happy for me to assume the role of senior roadkill identifier. “Yes, folks, that is one dead skunk in the middle of the road. I recognize the distinctive black and white coat. Whether it’s stinking to high heaven or not, I can’t say.”

The joys of anosmia.

Just think of all the opportunities my anosmia will give me to enjoy life while others can’t. When there is a strong wind blowing from the east, for example, and the air is pregnant with eau de mushroom plant, I can be sitting in my yard enjoying a tall cold one, while others cower inside praying for a wind shift. To complete the picture, I’ll be enjoying it with a generous serving of limburger cheese.


Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

More by David Simmonds:
Tell a Friend

Click above to tell a friend about this article.