Friday, September 04, 2009

The Horrifying and Delightful Scent of Chlorine

Scents trigger memories and feelings. It's weird.
I smell of rubbing alcohol and Warning! Needles! pops in my head. I sniff the old bottle of the floral room spray I used in college and I'm suddenly a freshman in 1987 (Will I like college? Will I make friends?)
Then there's the chlorinated pool.
I smelled my first one at swimming lessons when I was little. I was terrified. The pool was huge. And deep! I didn't trust the teachers. Who were they? How could they teach me to swim? What if my head went underwater and nobody pulled me up? I just knew I was in danger.
The smell of chlorine still triggers my Be nervous! reaction. Of course, more evolved parts of my brain follow up with Whoops, we don't seem to be at swimming lessons. No need to be nervous. Calamity closed..
That's my reaction to the scent in the daytime.
Years ago, on the way to a pool after sunset, I caught my first burst of chlorine and noticed it didn't hit the be nervous! nerve. Instead it was relaxing and nostalgic- like when you first smell the beach (or the hotel air freshener) on a trip. A complete opposite reaction.
I think I know what's going on.
My swimming lessons took place in bright daylight. Any after dark swimming was done on special occasions, either with friends or at a hotel pool on vacation.

Somehow, my brain does this math.

Chlorine scent + Daylight = Danger!

Chlorine scent + Night = Ah, it's great to be on vacation!

Brains work in weird ways.


stray said...

At night that smell is like staying at a hotel on family vacations!

Namowal said...

You said it, Stray.

A Facebook pal pointed out that, compared to other senses, scents stimulate the part of the brain that controls memory and emotion (as opposed to the articulate, "thinking" part.) Thus we're hit with feelings and memories when we meet an old smell.

walterworld said...

Yep---Swimming in a hotel pool at night is always a fun treat...I can smell the chlorine right now!

Enjoyed your observations on the power of recalled smell :)

Take care---

Linda said...

The smell of chlorine reminds me of green hair.

Sally said...

Such a vivid post. Scent is so intriguing-- animals experience it in ways we can't imagine.

Some people get turned on by really weird smells like run over skunks. I'm not one of them.

Namowal said...

Hi Walterworld,
Your comments make me think of some contemporary photos from your site where the motel owners have gasp filled their old pools.
Who knows how many memories they "buried" when they did that?

Hi Linda,
Chlorine used to make my hair go greenish when I was a kid. You too?

Hi Sally,
I never understood people who liked how skunks smelled. Way too strong for me.