Chocolate-flavoured air

The stress release for writer Kyo Maclear and her professional and artistic frustrations is birds. For me, as everyone knows, it’s dogs.

I play with my dog, run with my dog, cuddle him, to relieve my stress, but I also read about dogs and study their actions and behaviour whenever I see them out on the street. I want to know more about them.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve recently become obsessed with smelling things. The rank smell of sweaty shoes is the first thing I notice when I step into the gym. I sniff my food before I eat it. And I try to remember different smells and catalogue them in my head.

In Alexandra Horowitz’s Being a Dog: Following the Dog into a World of Smell, Horowitz also becomes consumed by learning more about the dog’s nose and the mastership of one of the five senses we humans so often overlook: smell.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a dog? If you could get inside the mind of a dog, what might you learn about being human? Horowitz at times gets down on all fours and sniffs at the ground trying to train her nose to smell like a dog.

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In an article I read a few months ago in the Montreal Gazette I learned that new scientific research has proved that a partner’s scent can lower stress. The research was done on women who smelled their partner’s t-shirt before a stressful event. Their stress level decreased compared to women who smelled a stranger’s t-shirt.

So maybe there is something to that old adage about stopping to smell the roses – that spending time concentrating on scent, especially when it’s the scent of a loved one, can open up a whole world of delicious discoveries.

And I have a very tasty example. On a cold weekend in January, I made a trip to Saint-Hyacinthe, a small city north-east of Montreal, for work. I stayed in an average hotel in an average area of town with limited restaurant options close by. In other words, at first glance, it was nothing spectacular. That was, until I started to notice an unusual scent in the air.

Was it just me, or did it smell like chocolate fondue? I asked my colleague. Together we sniffed across the parking lot and all the way to the strip mall where we ate supper. On the way out, we sniffed again all the way back to the hotel. I wasn’t dreaming – we could clearly smell chocolate.

The next morning, I made a point of not being in a rush to dart off to the convention centre where we were working. I dawdled around just outside the entrance to the hotel, taking in large, joyful breaths of the chocolate-flavoured air.

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Finally, my curiosity couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to inquire. The lady at the front desk of the hotel smiled at me when I asked her about the strangely delightful phenomenon. She explained that only a few kilometres away was a Saputo factory and when the dairy company produced its chocolate milk, the whole city smelled like chocolate.

What an unusual travel story, I thought to myself, leaving that night to come back home. Such an uncanny, pleasant experience, and one I might have missed had I not been more in tune with my olfactory, and perhaps slightly canine senses.

You might also like my book, The Year I Turned 25: A Memoir About Sex, Anxiety and a Dog Named She-Devil