On synesthesia; or, Green smoothie with orange, banana, and strawberry

A floral find, on the walk to the Tate Britain.

A floral find, on the walk to the Tate Britain.

I was walking down the street just now, when the most incredible scent captured and transported me. It came from a flower shop on 18th street, whose cool depths wafted out the most delicate, green, clear and cool vapors I’d come across in a long time. You know that characteristic smell, right? Of cut flowers and live, greenly things growing, with an undertone of damp and soil? Its freshness is akin to, strangely enough, that smell you get from a good ice cream shop, that combination of scents that somehow mesh harmoniously into a scent so palpable and delectable, you want to either sink into or swim in it. No wonder the flower shop stopped me in my tracks today, especially on a long stretch of sidewalk pavement where you least expect it.

Lilacs in London.

Lilacs in London.


It reminded me of one of my favorite passages from Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway when Clarissa swings into a florist, interrupting her internal monologue which had just reached a fevered pitch. The effect is abrupt and immediate: a cooling effect as she takes it all in:

There were flowers: delphiniums, sweet peas, bunches of lilac; and carnations, masses of carnations. There were roses; there were irises. Ah yes — so she breathed in the earthy garden sweet smell as she stood talking to Miss Pym who owed her help, and thought her kind, for kind she had been years ago; very kind, but she looked older, this year, turning her head from side to side among the irises and roses and nodding tufts of lilac with her eyes half closed, snuffing in, after the street uproar, the delicious scent, the exquisite coolness. And then, opening her eyes, how fresh like frilled linen clean from a laundry laid in wicker trays the roses looked; and dark and prim the red carnations, holding their heads up; and all the sweet peas spreading in their bowls, tinged violet, snow white, pale — as if it were the evening and girls in muslin frocks came out to pick sweet peas and roses after the superb summer’s day, with its almost blue-black sky, its delphiniums, its carnations, its arum lilies was over; and it was the moment between six and seven when every flower — roses, carnations, irises, lilac — glows; white, violet, red, deep orange; every flower seems to burn by itself, softly, purely in the misty beds; and how she loved the grey-white moths spinning in and out, over the cherry pie, over the evening primroses!

A flower growing on the greenhouse doorframe at Monk's House, home to Virginia and Leonard Woolf.

A flower growing on the greenhouse doorframe at Monk’s House, home to Virginia and Leonard Woolf.

Delicious scent. Writing about taste can be difficult sometimes, and scent, well, even more so. It’s funny, that, as the two are so intimately connected, our taste buds going grayscale whenever we have a cold or stuffed-up nose. Walking past that remarkable flower shop, I felt the strongest urge to translate the floral aroma into a form of taste, to find its edible corollary. After all, how often we forget that fruit was once a flower! A few things came to mind, such as iced hibiscus tea, a fruit tart, or an amazing fruit tea I had at a teahouse in Korea. All good candidates; all not quite right.

And then I thought of the smoothie I made for breakfast.

It had orange for vibrancy, banana for sweetness, and strawberry for a tender floralness; spinach which lent it a green hue and subtle depth, and yogurt for a fresh tang and even more dimension (plus calcium and protein!), and a bit of almond milk to get it going the blender. And oh, did it sparkle! Did it glow. It was refreshing like a tall glass of water on a hot day; I drank deep. The combination was perfect, and so tasty (perhaps better, in my mind, because it managed to be so delicious and still have spinach in it.) Though it seems odd, it seems as close to drinking that new, green, flower-shop smell as you can get — though rose or orange-blossom water might technically be a closer match, there’s something too heady and floral about them that veers off the synesthesic mark I’m endeavoring, perhaps impossibly, to make.

Synesthesia? Found on a walk to Islington from the British Library.

Synesthesia? Found on a walk to Islington from the British Library.


So there you have it. Mrs. Dalloway said she would make the smoothie herself. And what a lark! What a plunge!


Green Smoothie, adapted from Two Peas & Their Pod

  • 1 large Orange, peeled with knife so that the flesh shows and there’s no pith, as if you’re going to segment it (but no need! Just de-seed if necessary)
  • 1/2 of a large Banana, cut into chunks
  • handful of large Strawberries, about 5
  • 2 cups Spinach
  • 1/2 cup plain Yogurt (or more, or less)
  • 1 cup Ice
  • 1/3 cup Almond (Or Soy Or Regular) Milk, (just to get things going….)
  • a bit of flax meal for fiber

Add ingredients in the order listed. Blend until smooth and the ice is crushed. Makes two servings.


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