Miss Daisy didn’t talk to me for a whole day.
She turned her back and her tail away from me and sulked in her dog bed. It had been one of a succession of sweltering July heat wave days, and we’d been in the backyard together. I finally had to go in because it was just too hot and too humid for fragile me. And I kept smelling this dreadful stench. It wasn’t until Miss Daisy came in the house that I realized the Dreadful Stench was coming from her. She’d rolled in something she thought was delicious. It – to put it bluntly – stank. I ran four inches of tepid water into the bathtub, picked Miss D. up in a towel, and deposited her in the bath.
Have you ever attempted to place a 44 pound stilt-legged crab in a pot of boiling water? That was what it was like. Her toes touched water. She levitated. She fairly flew upright and over me.
Now, the purpose of this tale is to illustrate that humans aren’t the only animals that try to make themselves smell better. I hadn’t realized that. I thought it was a higher human function. Miss D. reminded me that many animals attempt to improve their smell. We just spend more money doing it.
Good perfumes are made with vile smelling bases: extracts from sick or dead whales and polecats in heat. Pretty scents are overlaid and voila! Expensive perfume. I guess Miss Daisy just likes to get down to the basics.
This is historical fact, and as such, I’ve researched it painstakingly. I always try to make my characters think, look and even smell according to their historical periods. But sometimes I have to fudge it because of modern sensibilities.
For example, in Georgian and Regency times, where so many of my romances are set, men loved to use lavender, voilet and other light floral scents. Napoleon loved cologne and rode into battle scented with his favorites, described variously as lavender water, Hungary Water, and similar.
A hero that smells like flowers? Hmmm.
My regency heroes are usually scented with fern and forest, spice and everything nice.
They say we chose our partners in love and life with our noses as much as we do with our brains. (Maybe more so?) Modern men use aftershave. Many use too much. The other day I was driving with my windows open and could smell the aftershave of the driver in the car in front of me. Too many fellas think a healthy slap or two of aftershave and they’re ready for love. Get out your handkerchiefs. Some of that stuff is as appealing as a punch in the nose.
For generations in the last century, men smelled of cigarette and pipe smoke, and it was thought sexy. Will writers of the future realize that? The century before that it was cigars, bay rum and hair oils too. "Hello, Rhett – have a seat. Wait! I have to get an anti-macassar for your chair back."
"Smell" is a funny word. "Scent" is nicer. "Odor" sounds bad. But that’s about it for describing good smells. We’ve got three more for the bad ones: stench, stink, reek. Yet scientists say that we’re attracted to our loves by eye, ear, and our noses. I once knew an almost perfect man who nonetheless left me cold because he smelled like shoe polish. At least, he did to me. When I met my one true hero, he smelled of sunshine, clean laundry on the line in a fresh breeze, and an ineffable something male that just about floored me.
Sirens of yore were said to be redolent of tuberose, musk and gardenia. These days women like to smell like fruit salad ( as Mel Brooks observed.) I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to remind people of a melon as I pass by.
I go for the florals, and easy on the musk, because that’s migraine city.
And you? What do you like?
What about your real-life heroes?
And your fictional ones?
I’d love to know: when I write a hero, what do you want him to smell like?