Today, when I think of Rome, I think of one very distinctive, utterly forgettable scent.
Not the scent of a steaming slice of pizza. Not the scent of a perfectly crafted macchiato. Not the scent of tourists traipsing over ruins. But, the scent of the perfume that wafted up the stairway of the apartment where we stayed during our holiday in Rome last winter.
Each morning, my family walked down five floors of a narrow stone-arched stairway. With each floor we descended, the scent of one single perfume got stronger and stronger until it completely enveloped our senses. It completely settled over us, never letting go until we burst out of the apartment building lobby into a bustling street.
The overpowering scent came from one very large glass bottle, filled with perfume, sitting on a small wooden table in front of a small, unassuming Italian profumeria – just down the street from the Roman Parthenon.
From the lip of the bottle, stood eight long sticks, darting out in every direction, from which the perfume travelled up from the bottle out into the air, and into the doorway of our rented Roman apartment.
Day after day, we walked down that stairway.
Night after night, we walked up that stairway.
And, each time, from the time the store opened until the store closed, the large glass bottle filled with perfume and eight sticks sat on its small wooden table. Out in the street. In front of the the Italian profumeria. Right next to our apartment building.
With each day, and with each night, that smell took a stronger hold on my senses, melding my time in Rome with that one single perfume.
Most days, my family would choose to cram into the small elevator and ride it up to, or down from, our apartment on the building’s top floor. But, I never did.
I began to cherish the one point when the scent hit my senses as I made my way down from the top floor. And, conversely, I tried to hold on to the scent as long as possible as I made my way up away from the bustling street into our cozy Roman dwelling.
As the end of our holiday neared, I knew I had to bring that scent home – and let it fly loose in our aparment, allowing our holiday memories to burst forth across our own sticks. And, so my family of four, ventured into that small, unassuming profumeria one day with one goal in mind: to bring a much smaller bottle of that one, very specific scent back home with us.
But, as any traveler knows, there is a limit to the size of how much you can take with you from city to city, from plane to plane, from train to train and from taxi to taxi. And, Rome was just the first of three destinations for our winter holiday.
So, we left that small, unassuming perfume boutique with a two-ounce bottle – and only four very small sticks.
When we arrived back at home, the first thing I unpacked was that small bottle, which we decided to place on a small, wooden window ledge in our living room. And, when we opened the bottle and inserted those five small sticks into it, we were instantly taken back to our Roman apartment. To that small narrow stairway. To the street that ran outside our apartment building and down to the Parthenon. And, to the memories of our wonderful winter holiday in Rome.
Now, nearly a year since we returned from our winter holiday, I can’t part with the small glass bottle with four lone sticks inside it. The perfume is gone, the scent wafting away with it. But, if I hold it up to my nose, I can still smell each of the intoxicating memories. And, so, the small, empty bottle still has a treasured place in our home.
Do you associate one scent with a certain place or a specific memory? Please share your own story in the comments below.