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A nose for a good exhibition

There's something in the air at the natural history museum in Neuchatel. You can neither see nor touch it, and you can either love it or find it repulsive. In the animal world it is vital both for survival and reproducing.

There's something in the air at the natural history museum in Neuchatel. You can neither see nor touch it, and you can either love it or find it repulsive. In the animal world it is vital both for survival and reproducing.

The exhibition "Né pour sentir" explores the sense of smell in various ways, including its association with sound. You can pick up a telephone, hear the sound of people in a public swimming pool - and the telephone emits the smell of chlorine.

Then there's the colour of smell. Visitors are invited to take a sniff at the
brightly-coloured contents of four jars - red, green, orange and yellow. Each
one seems to smell different, but it is an olfactory illusion. They are all the same, the visitor having been misled by colour association.

This interactive exhibition traces the route to Europe of various aromatic
spices since the Middle Ages, the appeal of flowers and what goes into making
perfume. It also invites you to identify wines, not by their taste but by their
smell.

Take a close look at a picture of Dracula about to sink his fangs into a
victim, and you can smell that defence against vampires - garlic. Another
photograph of a shark under the ocean surface has a salty whiff about it.

Museum curator Christophe Dufour says smell is our most instinctive sense, yet the vocabulary used to describe it is limited. "It's always there," he added, "with positive and negative consequences. If one does not like a person's natural odour one is repulsed. And as for perfumes, it is impossible to imagine having a romantic relationship with someone whose perfume you do not like."

The exhibition ends on July 9.

by Richard Dawson

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