The Shoe Project


Shoe Story 39: The Scent
By Maryam Nabavinejad

Image to come



May I talk about something invisible?

It was a breezy afternoon in May.  Just a few months in Canada, I was browsing among the racks of the local drugstore when I first noticed the scent. I felt a fresh and light whiff of it in my nose. I turned around and a word dropped on my face: Grandpa!

During the next months to come, I detected that scent in unexpected places:  walking in crowded streets of Toronto, waiting behind the red light or standing in the line in grocery stores. I tried unsuccessfully to track back the source of the scent.  It was like a hide-and-seek game. Sometimes, it showed up just to say: “Hi! Do you recognize me?”

Of course, I recognized my deceased grandpa’s perfume. We used to live in the same building for most of my childhood. Early mornings in the stairways, you could smell the battle of the eaux de cologne.  My uncle’s cologne on the first floor was heavy and French. Dad’s on the third floor was subtle and simple, and we couldn’t smell it until the moment he demanded a kiss from each of us before he left. But grandpa’s fragrance was sharp and fresh, always the same, a bit cold with a back scent of heavy chemicals that could be captured on both floors on top and below. It was just like the harsh skin of his face, the result of long years of close shaving and applying alcohol-based aftershaves.

After the revolution of 1979, ties and clean shaven faces for men were among the many things which were declared signs of Western hegemony. Foreign beauty products vanished from the stores. Objecting to the formal attire of bank and government employees was also part of the revolution. Grandpa was too old to be a revolutionary. He kept his well ironed suits, clean collars and his fedora hat from the 1960s, but he dropped the tie. Although it was clear that he was not interested in having a beard, he found relief in skipping here and there the daily routine of shaving. The scent was always there like a shield.

I wasn’t eager to remember him. Other than his old fashioned cologne, I didn’t have any fond memories of him. His image as a quiet, stubborn, closed-spirit man, who never laughed and barely showed any emotion on his face, had nothing to do with my new life. As his grandchild, I didn’t know much about him. There were some vague stories about his wild youth as a jovial man. But to us, his grandchildren, he was just a stern, quiet man who didn’t like to take part in family gatherings because of his strict high maintenance diet of quality yogurt and ghee on rice. He was a man who kissed us once a year on New Year’s Day. My sister and I preferred that he not do so, since his skin was like an abrasive sheet and that cold breezy scent of eau de cologne was not helpful in covering the his formality.

When I finally found the source of the scent on the lower rack of the men’s section in the drugstore, I grabbed the bottle and read the name on it, the name that disappeared after the revolution of 1979. I felt like grandpa had jumped out and stood next to my very Canadian shopping basket. There was no escape. The past was there, even in this young country that I aimed to call home. During all these years our nation was in a rush to dispose of all the things from our past, yet the rest of the world kept using and reshaping them, and I had to go through the memory of my strange grandpa, once again. Maybe there was something more to smell.


MARYAM NABAVINEJAD migrated to Canada from Iran 11 years ago. She is a blogger and is launching an internet based radio for Persian speakers of GTA.

More Shoe Stories from Session 4, Toronto

36:  Sealed Envelope

37: Pinky

38: I Missed the Bus and Survived

39: The Scent

40: Time to Grow Up

41: First Winter Boots

42: Ode to the Flip-Flop

43: Garage Sale

44: Being an Immigrant

45: Fill My Shoes…and My Heart

46: Verka the Lame


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