The Scent of Bitter Almonds

The First of M:
The Scent of Bitter Almonds

“Marquez’s world is full of phenomena- it’s full of things to be studied, of life and beauty, and of terror.”

Self Interview by L. Valena

Photo by John A. Savoia

Photo by John A. Savoia

What did you choose for the first prompt in the M branch?

Two snifters. One snifter had a rose essential oil- really potent stuff, a damask rose essential oil. And the other had Luxardo liquor in it. What I was trying to recreate here, between the two smells, was the smell of bitter almonds, which are apparently like illegal in this country (laughs) because they are poisonous or something. I don’t know- I couldn’t find them anywhere, I couldn’t find bitter almond oil. I know that in truth it would have been possible to get it, but it would have taken some time and I didn’t want to wait. So, I was trying to recreate the smell of bitter almonds, which is also the smell of cyanide. I presented them to John in a dark room by candlelight, and I told him to smell both of them, and to go back and forth between the two smells.

And what does this mean to you?

Well, the smell of bitter almonds, the smell of cyanide, is the first image in Marquez’s gorgeous novel Love in the Time of Cholera. The first sentence is iconic and breathtaking. “It was inevitable, the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” It takes the reader right into the mind of this character, and it’s just a very transportive sentence. It’s not that I wanted this project to start out with the image of unrequited love, that’s not what this is about for me. What it’s about is the power of a smell to signify so many different things to different people, and to have that kind of transportive experience.

How does that relate to this project?

Marquez is a writer whose work is just in its own world. He’s wild. The reality that he describes, his kind of magical vision of how things are happening, has always spoken to me on a really basic level. There’s things about his writing that feel interdisciplinary to me, although I’m not sure he would have said that. His use of images and colors in his writing are very vivid. His writing is almost tactile- there’s just so much texture, rich imagery, the tugging of heartstrings, and butterflies and light and gold, and all this stuff. Player pianos. Marquez’s world is just full of phenomena- it’s full of things to be studied, of life and beauty, and of terror. I love magical realism, and I love Marquez, and I wanted to start this project out with a touch of his magic sensibility.


Call Number: M0PP | M1PP.vaSce