By Liza Weisstuch

Beguiling Beauty

Our writer finds herself exploring the allure of senses and memory
On a recent flight home to New York from Idaho, I read a magnificent Esquire profile of Jason Momoa, that tall, cool glass of water who reduced countless grown women into puddles of swooning fangirls as Khal Drogo on Game of Thrones. With a smile as soft as his body is hard, he’d commit some Grand Guignol-level act of brutality and completely modern women were forced, over the course of eight seasons, to confront their primal instincts, the kind that I imagine energised crowds at the gladiator events in ancient Rome.

The article talked about his upcoming Apple TV+ series See, a dystopian sci-fi little number: a disease killed off humanity centuries before and only now is the population growing, but everyone is blind. Of wearing a blindfold for a few weeks to prepare for the role, he told the reporter, “It’s just amazing how everything else just opens up your body. You’re so fooled by your eyes. You cut off all the other senses but just feel and smell and hear and you can echolocate.” The article went on to explain how he suggested his character navigate by splashing through water and listening to currents.

I was struck by this, not simply because it was a jewel of wisdom as incandescent as the actor’s hazel eyes, a nugget that could only be delivered by a man whose lofty stature and nature-kissed features make him seem like some lovechild of Aphrodite and Sophocles, myth meets earthbound. Ahem. No, because I had judged two big whiskey competitions in the prior few weeks’ the American Craft Spirits Association’s competition, which took place at Cardinal Spirits Bloomington, Indiana, a classic American college town in the throes of peak foliage, and the American finals of this magazine’s World Whisky Awards, which were held at Jack Rose Saloon, the jaw-dropping whiskey bar in Washington D.C.’s trendy Adams Morgan neighbourhood. Having tasted and analysed at least 100 whiskeys, collectively, at those two events it had me thinking, or rather obsessing over, the process of perception that gets set in motion when you drink a whiskey.

"Completely modern women were forced to confront their primal instincts"

Yes, of course, if you’ve heard it once, which you certainly have if you’re reading these pages, you’ve heard it 87 times; the interplay of the senses is a complicated choreography. Aromas matter as much as (if not more than) flavour molecules when it comes to tasting whiskey. Circumstance, who we’re with, the space we’re in, can also affect the messages our sensory receptors discharge in our brains. Our personal life experiences and memories shape our judgement, so a smell that I pick up from a glass in the middle of Indiana could elevate my mood incalculably when it ushers me off down Memory Lane to my 11th birthday party when my mom baked a chocolate cherry pie for the occasion.

But the statement got me wondering what happens if something sends one’s senses out of whack.

Is there a hierarchy of sensory processing? Is one harder to compensate for than the others?

Would I develop an x-ray-calibre ability to observe better details of viscosity by sight if my taste buds were to go? Is it harder for taste buds to work overtime to compensate for impaired scent capabilities or vice versa? A cold or sinus issue impairs the connected sensory organs as a single unit, but for the sake of hypothetical consideration, what would happen if one were to function entirely and the other not at all?

How much would any of it matter if I was sitting in a sad bus terminal versus the ultra-funky, amber-hued Inns Whiskey Bar in Chengdu, China, which is designed with touches of copper and curved surfaces to give you the sense that you’re inside a still. Would the visual cues set me off on a reminiscence of walking through a Speyside distillery two years ago and encourage my brain to pick out some of bright, meadow-flower notes. Aromas and flavours I might not notice if I was sipping the same spirit in a sad, dreary bus terminal.

Anyway, I know that I will be watching See counting my blessings that I can indeed lay eyes upon its star because I don’t think his voice alone has the same effect.