During most of the time that I knew him Duffy, my step-grandfather, was a desert-dwelling, pipe-smoking, gold rush-era style cowboy nomad. Residing either in the desert or on the road in his van, we saw him around two times a year and it was usually because there was a gun show in town ((Later in his life, he landed his dream job – and settled down in his own way – as the Sheriff of Calico Ghost Town)).
The smells I associate with him are predominantly of a, shall we say, unpleasant nature. Big fan of the road, this man. Not as big a fan of the shower. On occasion, during one of his visits, my mother was able to convince him that it was in his best interest to scrub off the grime and odor but for the most part he remains, in my mind, a kind and quiet but soiled and sourly aromatic character. Except for the smell of his pipe tobacco.
Now, I never got into smoking. Lucky I didn’t, too – I’m not good at quitting bad habits – but to this day I love the smell of tobacco. It all started, I believe, with Duffy and his store of pipe tobacco. Maybe I remember the deep, rich, slightly musty but fruity aroma of of his chosen brand because, while the aroma of it matched his own personal one in it’s – dare I say – richness and fecundity, the expeience was the polar opposite in terms of pleasure and aesthetics. It was a small bit of luxury in an otherwise grossly unkempt lifestyle.
It’s said a single smell can bring back a flood of emotions and memories of people, places or events. Recently I had an Indonesian coffee – De La Paz’s Sumatra Gayo land [sic] ((sic |sik| adverb
used in brackets after a copied or quoted word that appears odd or erroneous to show that the word is quoted exactly as it stands in the original, as in a story must hold a child’s interest and “enrich his [ sic ] life.”
In this case, I’m indicating that this is the exact way that “Gayo land” was printed on the bag.)) – in “the lab”. The first time I went to brew it, and with the grounds sitting in my grinders’ catch bin I was struck by just how much they smelled like Duffy’s pipe tobacco. It brought me back to when I was a kid, my brother and I surreptitiously peeling the lid off of the can of tobacco so that we could fully take in its intoxicating fragrance. It was such a wonderful sensory experience – I couldn’t wait to share it with my brother – and it reminded me why I love tasting, and therefore smelling, quality coffee and why, for that matter, I find such enjoyment from any other quality food experience. Weather I am swooning over the latest coffee that ends up in “the lab”, reveling in a beautifully crafted pizza at any one of my favorite pizza places ((those favorites being Pizzaria Delfina in San Francisco and Pizzaria Picco across the bridge in Larkspur)), or enjoying the justly earned rewards of well cooked meal, I love making those connections, firing and building those synapses in the brain that are so intimately connected with memory. I can’t always identify the exact referent for what I am smelling but the richness of the ambiguous flood of memories and emotions that come rolling in makes for an amazingly evocative sensory experience. The elation I feel when I am, indeed, able to make those connections is worth far more than the money I spent on the bag of beans.
Its a small luxury. I’m all about the small luxuries.