The Foul and the Fragrant

The aromas of the “fleshy madness” taking over Paris on a rainy evening, when the “dripping city exhaled an unpleasant odour suggestive of a great untidy bed.”

L’Assommoir, Emile Zola

Have you ever really smelled a carnation? Put your nose deep in – you’ll find it has a sweet, blood-like, meat smell.

Outside the strip clubs in Kings Cross they sell them on the street; old carnations dyed a bizarre radioactive blue and ultra-violet black.

I like these hyper-real flowers. Just the thing for drunk guys to buy, take into Porky’s Nitespot in Kings Cross at 3am and give to an unknown stripper whilst confessing undying love for them – oh yeah everything looks like a good idea under neon.


But do these inter-galactic carnations have a smell? It’s hard to tell. These old carnations are too often overpowered by the miasma of stale alcohol, old vomit and sweaty junk along Darlinghurst Road.


ah! the poor flowers of the Cross. They were once white and pure and now they’re dyed…etc.

Nah, it’s never that simple. However, apart from the rose, the carnation is the most tortured and abused flower. The rose is hybridised; the carnation, bastardised. Constant experimentation with high school chemistry lab dyes has left the carnation with little dignity. (Of course, too many 80s weddings featuring carnations in Baby’s Breath can’t have helped their reputation either).

But could it be, on an instinctual level, the blood-like smell is deeply scary – even gory? The redolence of blood, a reminder of death? Red and white carnations often feature on top of coffins before they’re finally incinerated. Maybe, deep down, carnations can remind us of things that make us uncomfortable.


But is it offensive?

No. Anyway, what is an offensive smell? As I wrote about wine in an earlier post, “what makes a wine sexy?” I often find technical wine faults, that others find offensive, to be quite enjoyable. It can sometimes make the wine more interesting.

Some people describe Brett (Brettanomyces) as a mousey smell. But I never get that: I get an earthy nuance, a funkiness. Let’s just say I’d never tip wine out in the sink just because it’s “dirty” – now that’s something I would find offensive!


A dirty woman

My favourite wine descriptor, “This tastes like a dirty woman.” The mind boggles. Gerry Sissingh descibing a wine at a Hunter Valley tasting. Perhaps Gerry was succinctly describing the Brett character that can characterise Hunter Shiraz. But, then again, perhaps he was not – who really knows??

Another favourite description of the fine line between the fragrant and foul is Len Evans describing a wine as much like “an actresses’ handbag.”

I don’t know what an actresses handbag smells like, I can only have a good guess. His description certainly makes the wine tasting more interesting – for the conversastion that follows alone.

And like the neon blue carnations of the Cross, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to taste. Well, perhaps there is a truly foul and a truly fragrant. But I like them both.

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