September, the Colours of Scents

September–the summer in autumn and the autumn in summer.

It’s the month in which I was born, right after the equinox. If you believe in astrology and you know me, you can tell that I’m a typical Libra. I don’t, but still, I AM a typical Libra.

I remember September mostly by the beginning of my high school years. I changed primary schools several times, so my memories of those Septembers are vague and mixed up, and the university years were not September-related: they would start in October.

To me, September is irrevocably connected to those first few weeks of school when you don’t have to worry about the exams and how you will survive a year of learning mathematics. It was a promise to yourself that you will study regularly so that the sheer volume of academic subject matter doesn’t overwhelm you, although it will definitely crash over you soon like a giant wave whether you study every day for hours or not. I attended one of the most prestigious grammar schools in my country. To say the program was demanding would be an understatement, but by the end, we were equipped with a solid understanding of just about everything–from science, languages (including dead ones) and literature to social studies, music, and art. In any case, it was enough to be admitted to any university program. Compared to high school, my four-year undergraduate linguistics studies were easy and way more enjoyable. After all, there was no math anymore.

Speaking of math, my high-school Septembers were also a short-lived hope that, if only I tried hard enough, I would be able to grab the bull by the horns. Alas, any hope would evaporate as soon as the teacher wrote the first equation on the board.

(Back then, I believed that my life would be much happier if I didn’t struggle with math. What I’ve learned since then is understanding mathematics is not important; mathematics teaches us to think in a certain way, even when we don’t know how to arrive at a solution. Just as the written word, or art in general, teaches us to learn about the world through the experiences and feelings of others. Ultimately, mathematics, at least in its fundamentals, isn’t something that cannot be learned, as I realized later. What I knew then, and I know now, is that our approach to learning mathematics, unlike many other disciplines, was fundamentally wrong.)

I still remember that the weather in September, especially at the beginning. It was usually sunny, with cold mornings and warm afternoons, right up until early night, when the sharp and humid mountain air would descend upon the ground like a cool blanket. Like many people who suffer from migraines, I too see abstract concepts in colors: letters, colors, days of the week, months of the year, feelings. So, for me September is not golden-orange-brown, as might be expected, but bluish-greenish like water, airy, and slightly golden-yellow like sunlight through birch leaves starting to change colors. That’s how it smells: bluish, airy and golden. Because for me, a migraine veteran, even scents can have colors.

The classrooms of our sturdy, spacious high school were full of sunshine; they smelled of polished floors, although it would quickly air out. The big, sparkly windows were kept open allowing the air to enter and dilute the miasma of all kinds of scents: from young bodies still going crazy with hormones, new books and floor polish to various eau de toilettes that we then had at our disposal—the inexpensive ones that could be bought in local stores and ones that were brought from Italy. Somehow, in those years—and I’m talking about the late 1970s and the early 1980s—the light, fresh floral fragrances were not in fashion or we couldn’t afford them. Those available were either aggressive, sharp, on the edge (migrainous!), or sweet to the point of vulgarity. Olfactory memory brings up Yardley’s Shanida, Khadina and Sea Spray; Babe and Charlie from Italy or from duty-free stores. I vividly remember our biology teacher, who really liked to spray herself with one of those Yardley’s perfumes; she was wrapped up in the fragrant cloud which would then fall on us in the front seats, creeping into our noses and memories. Some boys used their fathers’ Pino Silvestre or Brut (one domestic, one imported, respectively), the cheap male equivalents to the popular female Charlie and Babe; I can’t think of any others.

I also used Yardley’s sprays; of course I did. Back then, they smelled lovely to me. I was fortunate enough, however, to get a bottle of Arpège from my much older and quite wealthy cousin, a gift that would broaden my perfume-wise horizons and shape my taste in a different direction.

September was an opportunity to show off the new cloths bought during the summer, a new pair of shoes, to talk with your best friend about your sweet and innocent summer love affairs, to check who is with whom on the lunch break, and whether a certain he was still looking at your direction.

As the days went by and September shed away the last traces of summer, the initial lightness of being would also start to fade. The school was heating up, the dreaded math tests would be approaching us inevitably like a train entering the station, becoming a serious threat that somehow had to be neutralized.

Even to this day, I sometimes can’t believe it’s over.

Like many other things in my life, my experiences of September are divided into those ‘there’ and those ‘here’. Climatically, September here is unpredictable: it can be sunny and very warm, or it can snow. However, it is still bluish-golden and airy in my inner colour chart. If the weather is nice, the sky is a deep, azure blue. I might have caught her in one of the photos. The good thing is, even after all these years—there are no math tests; sometimes they just pop up in my dreams and wake me up.

My album of memories of September here is full of pictures of my children and their beginnings of the school year, when the teachers, assistant teachers, staff, management… introduced themselves to the children and parents and welcome them to the new school year. Later the kids would fly the kites and blow soap bubbles.

My boys, thank God, don’t have math traumas like their mom.

The only thing is, September here goes by very quickly, although this is more related to now than here: time speeds up as we get older. The latitude also contributes to this phenomenon to some extent: around the equinox, the days are already noticeably shorter, so it seems that they change quickly. The golden-yellow leaves fall after the first hard frost, the trees shake almost all them at once, but the whisps of warmth can remain in the air for some time, and the sky, if it is sunny, is still cerulean blue, as if washed out.

And then suddenly we’re in October, which I love because of the holidays I’ve learned to observe here, but also because of the heavy clouds, wind and cold weather that I sometimes need as much as sunshine and cheerfulness. Seen in colors, to me October is reddish-brown, like cinnamon, but that’s another story.


About jfkaufmann

Not unlike my characters, I lead a double life: by day I'm a mother, a friend, a colleague, and the queen of my kitchen. When the moon rises, however, I shift into my other self and, as Queen of the Night, I reign the magical world of my imagination.
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11 Responses to September, the Colours of Scents

  1. Wonderfully vivid September memories! Thanks for sharing them.
    I also think of months as having colours. My September is a golden yellow, but I can see how gold-flushed blue-green would be fitting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. JP McLean says:

    September’s school memories for me come with the scent of erasers and the crisp peel of a fresh sheet of paper from a notebook.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jfkaufmann says:

      Scents can create powerful memories. When I think of my early years in elementary school, I can smell ink from the bottle. My generation was still using ink and nib pens. And pencils, not pens. We were told pens would spoil our penmanship 😂😂😂


  3. I don’t believe in astrology, either, and I’m a typical Libra, too! I remember Brut and Charlie and Babe and a fat-ball roller deodorant for teen girls called… rats, can’t remember what it was called. But it was a perfume all itself under the armpits! Great post, JF!

    Liked by 1 person

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