Being nasally challenged is nothing to be sniffed at


To be honest, I never gave much thought to noses, ne’er even my own, until my sense of smell departed.

On the evening of Sept. 26, 1997, while shopping at a neighborhood store, I blacked out and spent the next four days in a coma in a hospital’s intensive care unit. After regaining consciousness, things stayed pretty foggy for a while, but at some point I realized that my food had no taste. It was a bit like having a bad cold, only without the cold. Eventually it dawned on me that my olfactory senses had ceased to register.

“Loss of the sense of smell not uncommonly follows a head injury,” explains Gabriel Symonds, director of the Tokyo British Clinic in Ebisu. “This is due to tearing of the fine nerves from the lining of the nose as they pass through the thin bony plate between the nose and the brain. Complete loss or distortion of the sense of smell can result, and is likely to be permanent.”

According to Symonds, the side effects of some medications, including antihistamines, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory and antithyroid drugs, can also affect one’s sense of smell. He advises anyone with such a problem to promptly seek the advice of an ear-nose-throat specialist or a neurologist. If the cause is suspected to be serious, such as a brain tumor, a brain scan may then be warranted.

“The sense of smell may deteriorate with age,” he adds, “which is why old people lose interest in their food, or add more seasoning to make it palatable.”

Well, things could be even worse; Symonds tells me that if I were to suffer from temporal-lobe epilepsy, rather than having no smell at all, I might have to deal with repugnant hallucinations evoking the whiff of burning rubber or rotting eggs.

While not as keen as in most animals, smell is a key defense mechanism for humans as well. Those without it might not be handicapped to the degree of those who lack sight or hearing, but they cannot, for example, detect the smell of burning, or of leaking gas. The taste of food is also affected, since a lot of that is derived from smell, rather than taste.

I must admit that having no sense of smell pretty much takes the fun out of eating. True, I can recognize texture and temperature; and I can tell whether what I am eating is sour, spicy, bitter, sweet or salty. But such flavors as cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla are now unknown. I cannot tell the difference between garlic and a banana.

Don’t get me wrong; if you want to take me out to lunch, I’d be delighted to accept. But the subtle flavors of Japanese cooking are lost on me. I have come to prefer piquant foods, especially those that combine sour/hot/spicy flavors such as barbecue sauce and curry, because they stimulate the palate.

Well, at least cigarette smoke doesn’t bother me any more; but my wife grimaces when I go out with the boys and carry home the odors of a social event clinging to my hair and clothes.

Speaking of home, visits back to the States aren’t like they used to be.

Mother (before meal): “Mark, tonight I’ve made a wonderful roast just for you; you’ll love it!”

Me: “Mom, sorry, but I told you, I won’t be able to taste it!”

Mother (during the meal): “Mmmm! Isn’t this delicious?”

Me: “Mommmm . . . “

Mother: “Tomorrow I’m thinking of making moussaka. Would you like that?”

Me (rolling eyes): “Sure mom, whatever.”

While nose size and shape is undoubtedly hereditary (give or take the odd few fights or accidents), causing certain varieties to appear more frequently among particular ethnic groups — hence the “Greek” or “Roman” varieties — there does not appear to be any prevailing scientific view that explains what evolutionary process has caused certain humans to be endowed with a larger proboscis than others.

Attempts at humor about noses likewise don’t travel well and are now, like most of the other really fertile grounds for wit and repartee, deemed off limits on account of so-called political correctness. Sorry.

As for what constitutes beauty, well, that’s about as subjective a topic as you can get. Last month, America’s ABC News reported that David Perrett, a cognitive scientist at St. Andrews University in Scotland, had found in his research that the faces we find most attractive are appealing because they look like our own.

“Our results showed that faces similar to the participant were more attractive [to the participant] than faces dissimilar to the participant,” Perrett said.

Should you seek a different beak, Japan boasts plenty of clinics that perform such procedures. According to data from the American Academy of Facial and Reconstructive Plastic Surgery, rhinoplasty (referred to colloquially as a “nose job”) ranks as the second most commonly performed cosmetic surgical procedure after blepharoplasty (surgery on eyelids). The academy notes that the average cost for nose remodeling last year ranged from around $4,000 to $6,000.

Hollywood’s most memorable nose scene, critics tend to agree, is at the climax of the Alfred Hitchcock suspense film “North By Northwest,” when Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint evade killers beneath the enormous schnozzes of Washington and Lincoln at Mount Rushmore. A few other memorable noses that graced the silver screen: In the Western comedy “Cat Ballou,” Lee Marvin played a villain who was forced to wear a tin nose, his original having been bitten off in a fight. Alec Guinness portrayed the evil Fagin while wearing an enormous nose in David Lean’s “Oliver Twist.” Jose Ferrer took an Oscar in 1950 for his role as the swashbuckling Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-55), a French soldier whose stupendous snout was immortalized in Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play; and Steve Martin updated that role in the 1987 comedy “Roxanne.”

While such notables as Cleopatra, Gregori Rasputin and Vlad the Impaler (aka Dracula) had prominent noses, if there’s anyone in history who gave big beaks a bad name, it would have to be King Leopold II of Belgium, who reigned from 1865 to 1909.

He is best remembered for his brutal incursion into the Congo to exploit its rubber, ivory and other natural resources. Leopold is described in one passage as tall, bearded, and with a nose “like the prow of a trireme” (these were ancient Athenian warships designed to ram enemy vessels). British statesman Benjamin Disraeli was less flattering; he described Leopold’s most prominent feature as “such a nose as a young prince has in a fairy tale, who has been banned by a malignant fairy.”

Hanage ga nagai: To be captivated by female charms (literally, this means: to let one’s nasal hairs grow).

Hanatakadaka: Proud or self-satisfied (nose is held high).

Hana no shita ga nagai: Said of a man who is easily or repeatedly attracted by women’s charms (the part beneath the nose is long).

Hanage wo nuku: To outwit someone (to pluck out one’s nasal hairs).

Hanagusuri wo kagaseru: To pay a bribe or hush money (to administer nose medication).

Hanamoto jian shika dekinai: A shortsighted person(one who can’t see concepts beyond their own nose, or can’t see the forest for the trees).

Hana wo tsumamaretemo wakaranai hodo no yami de aru: To be as dark as pitch (when it is so dark you can’t even see that someone is pinching your nose).

Hana ga takai: To be over-proud or arrogant (nose is high).

Hana tsumami: A disgusting person, someone who is a nuisance (to hold the nose against a bad smell).

Hanasaki de ashirau: To treat with contempt (to treat with the tip of the nose).

Ki de hana wo kukutta yo na aisatsu wo suru: An unfriendly or cold greeting (a greeting that is grunted as if the speaker’s nose was tied to a tree).

Hana ni tsuku: Refers to haughty or sickening behavior (to become attached to the nose).

Hanamochi ga naranai: Offensive, disgusting, repulsive (a smell too horrible to bear).

Hana ga kiku: To have a sharp nose, a good sense of smell — or a good eye for opportunities to turn a profit (nose works well).

Hana wo heshi oru: To take someone down a peg (to break someone’s nose).

Hanappashira no tsuyoi hito: A self-assertive, aggressive or defiant person (someone who has a strong bridge to their nose).

Kare to mainichi hana wo tsukiawashiteiru: I work face-to-face with him every day (I press up against his nose every day).