Osmel Almaguer

Ham sandwiches for sale.  Photo: Elio Delgado
Ham sandwiches for sale. Photo: Elio Delgado

As I jot down this diary entry, through the window that opens onto my father’s house is floating in the savory aroma of succulent roast pork.  It seems we’ll be eating better for a while, because that platter will last for several days, with a little help from rice, beans and avocados.

Through the other window -the one that faces the farmyard- is drifting in a stench that tells me the pigs are squalid and haven’t been hosed down.  The air from that side has the nauseous reek of feces and slop mixed in mud, all of it fermented.

Smells offer us information about the things we might not otherwise know.  My father, for example, almost always has a smell of heavy perspiration, because as a carpenter he has to work a lot.

This odor indicates how much he does in fact work so that we can be assured something on the table, occasionally meat like this, which smells so appetizing.

Forty-eight times a month I get on buses that smell like the farmyard next door, though there’s no mud or slop, much less feces.  Rather, this tells me that these people have spent a lot of time working.

And not just to eat pork, but also to buy toiletries, which can cost up to 10.00 CUC (US $12) a month if there aren’t any cheaper brands.  There’s always someone who earns a lot but still lacks good hygiene, and others who don’t make so much but maintain themselves squeaky-clean.  Yet when you climb up in the bus, all of those odors and fragrances mix together.

According to the French poet Charles Baudelaire, scents directly stimulate the memory.  That’s why sometimes when walking down the street I might recall the ballet, or a restaurant, a house at the beach, or my old dorm out in the country.

Olfaction is the most primitive sense, one about which the least is known and which most instinctively affects us.  In his novel “Perfume,” Patrick Suskind contributed his great knowledge on that theme.

Since I was little, I’ve always had a predilection for perfume, though up to now I’ve never been able to buy a really good one.  I never have enough cash.

Having less than 10.00 CUC, I can’t buy one of the brands that hold a scent for hours.  Though just about all of them are stocked here -from the cheapest to the more expensive- only those who have family abroad can get the really good types.

The most expensive one here is Montecristo, which costs about 22.00 CUCs, even though it is not a true perfume.  Nonetheless, my entire monthly take-home wage is not enough to cover that.