The Smell of Palms in the Morning

- Victor Laurin,

I think there was movie in the 70’s with Robert Duvall playing an egomaniacal US Marine Lieuntant. I remember him standing on a steamy beachhead, speaking to the camera in a southern drawl and declaring, “I love the smell of palms in the morning”. As he inhales a long, smooth breath you can all but see the thick molecules of tropical air enter his nostrils, “It smells like….victory!”- or something to that effect.

On the little islands of Maui and Lana’i the morning air is thick, is a complex elixir of floras, palms, and salt- and this is before the inevitable fresh cut fruit that surrounds you at breakfast and the scents stored in beach bags and bottles everywhere. I love the smell of palms in the morning; to me it smells like relaxation.  That morning olifactoral experience is the confirmation that my blackberry is off, my phone is at home, that my day will be at a snails pace. It is the reminder that last night I went to bed at 930 and slept, probably with a smile on my face.

For many of us vacations are increasingly becoming obligatory paradigm shifting breaks from our otherwise mundane lives; the desire for experiential enlightenment in our vacations is becoming increasingly more germane. Can sitting on the Lanai (the Hawaiian version of a sundeck), watching the sunrise over the turquoise ocean be transcendental? Am I an odor anomaly? Well, I will admit that my olifactory gland has given me a lifelong association with Gonzo from the Muppets, but c’mon why is life sooo much more delicious when immersed in this thick, forceful seaside air?

Upon further research, a number of nasally endowed sources at the Canadian Center of the Nose asked me to consider that the “perception of a smell consists not only of the sensation of the odors themselves but of the experiences and emotions associated with these sensations.” It appears that the mixture of smells can evoke strong emotional reactions at the time of the experience and into perpetuity.  This can only mean that my morning Lana’i ritual is reinforcing my emotion connection to the islands on a Pavlovian level- literally it is the smell of relaxation.

Is there a danger in this?

How will I cope at home, in the office, in my regular non-tropical life?

Like the slight scent of a perfume in an elevator brings back glimpses of that college indiscretion. Will the smell of lavender, hibiscus, pineapple, or salt send me floating on a imaginary Technicolor beach frolic while at the office? Coconut, aloe, or tea tree – will they invoke the protracted pace with which I enjoy the pool and its views at the Four Seasons Resort Lana’i at Manele Bay;will I be unable to read an office document with the same voracity as before, or will I be stuck looking for sand between the pages and trying to tame page corners flickering in the wind? How distracting can the memory a daily schedule of: beach stroll, fresh fruit breakfast, lay by the pool, nap, frolic in the waves, happy hour mojito, sunset shower, catch of the day dinner, and the caress of lavender laundered 1500 count Egyptian cotton sheets on sun kissed skin be? Does a danger lurk in having my mind cross wire where this vacation tone becomes recreated by some routine smell at home?

Almost certainly my favorite is the rich tinture of sea, sand, and plumeria (those little white and yellow flowers all over the island), which induces visions of pulling up my shorts after riding a near perfect wave to shore, of the black sand beaches shaded by a jungle canopy, of a perfect day in a perfect place.  I am loathed to qualify the many others:

Hot plastic and chlorine- my daughters water wings at the pool.

Mint, rum, and sweet teriyaki- happy hour drink and prawns over looking the ocean at The Manele.

Fresh cut grass, and pine trees- playing croquet on the front lawn of The Lodge at Koele.

Oleander, plumeria, orchid, kerosene- sitting on view deck of The Manele watching a traditional tattooed Samoan conch blowing and lighting the garden torches at dusk.

Rich oak, leather, marshmallows and chocolate- before bed hot chocolate in front of one of the massive river rock fireplaces at The Lodge.

Alas, Maui and Lana’i are an excess of amazingly suggestive smells. From the second you step off the plane into Kahalui airport to the second you step back on again your subconscious is creating and storing little scent swatches. But be careful, be vigilant, be assertive; push those little smells as far into your mental vaults as possible. Be introspective for the first time in a long time and store those little provocateurs into the absolute most secret place in your inner psyche. Or you risk the same fate as this writer: by the most minute chance, a millisecond of lime, somehow, somewhere tickled my nose at the office today- and left me with vertigo eyes, and a foggy mind, having visions of those little islands.

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