One Year Smelling of the Lamp

by Jeremy Bassetti
Smelling of the lamp

In a letter to a friend, Claude Debussy criticized works of music that “smell of the lamp, not of the sun.”1 To say that sound smells like sources of light is synesthetic and, well, weird, but I find something wonderful about that description, not least because my own desk lamp, I am afraid to admit, emits a particular smell when I turn it on. Lockdown forces us to notice these things.

And lockdown has forced much of our own work to “smell of the lamp.” How can someone who feeds on the energy of place and travel for their inspiration and livelihood avoid their work smelling of the lamp in a time when it cannot possibly smell of the sun? Are memories and dreams enough to infuse our work with a sense of warmth, life, and vigor in an otherwise lifeless time? Or is our work flat, overly wrought, and analytical—a type of work impregnated with too much thought; a type of work that could be done from a distance?

Debussy’s expression, that something “smells of the lamp,” is hundreds of years old, if not thousands,2 but it is still lovely because music, like all art, needs feeling. And what is art without communication and interaction?

Later in that letter, Debussy wrote, “There’s no need either for music to make people think! […] It would be enough if music could make people listen.”

That the spring is here makes matters a bit more difficult. The sun and birds call, and my friends on Instagram have been posting photos of crocuses and daffodils spotted on their daily walks. It is a hopeful sign, surely, that we will soon be free to feed off of the sun again.

What we created last month

Last month was busy in terms of recording interviews. I spoke with Bill Arnott, Patti Lefkos, Stephen Fabes, Chris Schuler, and Charles Bergman for the Travel Writing World Podcast, but those interviews will not be published for a few more weeks. 

Travel Writing World Podcast published two episodes: a conversation with Monica Connell about her work in Nepal and a conversation with Victoria Preston about pilgrimage. We also published a few articles about note-taking using iOS Notes and Evernote, the Stanford Doleman Travel Book of the Year shortlist, and an author profile of Philip Marsden.

Some of you know that I’ve been working on a long-term project about mountains. So, I’ve started writing about mountains on my website in a section I’m calling Axis Mundi. My first post is about the idea of Axis Mundi and sacred mountains.

On a final note, I teased that I’d announce a few new projects this month, but it needs to wait another month or two. More soon. Promise.

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I end this dispatch with gratitude. Please stop by and say “hello” on Twitter. -Jeremy

  2. Attributed to Pytheas by Plutarch.[]

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