Last week I was attending a course on cultural history in Amsterdam. It was early in the morning, raining, and I barely made my train in Utrecht. I was in a foul mood. The simmering kind of foul mood, not the one that lashes at things, but the drowsy discontent that usually results in disinterest. I finally made it to the lecture hall and sat down with a cup of coffee, waiting for the lecture in antisocial silence.
The woman next to me struck up a conversation - we've seen each other a few times before, during the course, and talked about our research. She is an art historian who is trying to reconstruct long-lost smells. Something about 20th century Italian futurists using smells in their exhibitions, and contemporary high-tech perfume-making companies investing in flashy procedures to identify those smells on a molecular level. It was exciting and slightly provocative, somehow, on some level. Technologically-empowered art history of different sense modalities.
She had a vial, sitting there next to her coffee and fruit. She uncorked it and offered it to me, with the question: "Do you want to smell the Moon?" The content was manufactured by her friend, according to the specifications for Moon dust provided by a NASA scientist.
I took the vial and had a whiff of the Moon, and for a brief moment, I wasn't sitting in a lecture room in rainy Amsterdam anymore.
Cover image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lunar_Surface_(AS16-121-19449).jpg