Re-engaging our senses - touch and smell, Images: Evarist March Sarlat

Re-engaging our senses - touch and smell, Images: Evarist March Sarlat

Forced physical distance and wearing masks gave us a chance to remember other senses and ways to engage with each other, and with our heritage.

Without a doubt the period and experience of the COVID-19 global pandemic is and will be a case study for future generations from many disciplines, but in the meantime and in the short-term I present some simple ideas that can inspire us to reflect and to integrate this experience into our day as interpretative professionals.

First of all, I highlight how a mild pathology – a very infectious flu – in an unknown corner of Asia highlights the fragility of the current lifestyle of the Western model and exposes common elements of life that fully affect what today we consider as sustainability.

In an increasingly urban planetary population, the effects have obviously been very different, depending especially on the availability of and access to elements of nature, previously considered not relevant by many people.

As interpreters, it gives us the opportunity to draw valuable conclusions that we can apply immediately, and possibly in new crises or similar situations in the future.

Of the many aspects that could be of interest to us in our interpretation work, I highlight some of the most relevant, which I think can be useful and which will need to be adapted to each location.

First at all, rarely in history have we had a global situation in which, with more or less intensity, the population of the planet has had to react in the same way: permanent seclusion, physical distance between people and from the sources of life -Nature-.

It is a situation never imagined before, which shows the difficulty of managing on a planetary level and in a world that is increasingly safe and predictable, which helps us to understand the most basic and primitive mechanisms that as human beings function or express themselves: both on a creative level, as limitations, to overcome them.

In this sense, it has allowed us to learn the different responses to the unknown in times of uncertainty: from fear, helplessness or anger to solidarity or empathy, especially in a more private or family area of life. At the same time, it allows us to highlight how the human imagination is capable of giving us infinite possibilities for new realities, especially in adverse conditions.

I emphasise as an exceptional opportunity to have been able to perceive the elements associated with nature like never before: a calm in the perception of time; the value of the immediate living physical space; the value of silence outside traditionally natural spaces. As well as being able to have new reference points of spaces associated with nature without an immediate human footprint, which I call “Covid naturalisation”, that gives us many memorable images: the land, the bodies of water – sea, rivers or lakes – or the sky cease to be spaces of transit and we can perceive them calm and without pollution, and with a rapid occupation of flora and fauna in places never seen before.

Physical limitations, especially in access to great distances, force us to pay attention to the near and everyday and give us the opportunity to create curiosity, capacity for admiration and reflection, and especially create depth due to the obligation to go beyond the evidence of what is in front of us: This is the basis of interpretation!

Therefore, as interpreters we have the basis to create a surprising contact in the ‘normality’ of the most known and accessible.

So guides have been forced for a while to work with audiences that live in and ar familiar with the places we are interpreting, people who know their surroundings more thoroughly than our usual customers, and this has forced us to work at a more professional level where the effect of exoticism is irrelevant.

The limits due to the minimum safety distance, and the mandatory use of masks – still present today in many places – has given us the opportunity to highlight often forgotten senses, such as touch and smell. For their value being the most relevant senses in the first moments of life for mammals and primates, giving us the feeling of security and care in the emotional relationship with loved ones.

Thus we discover at a time in history where communication, social relations and technology go hand in hand, how the need for affection through direct contact and smell becomes essential and the value of a hug or a familiar smell becomes a luxury.

This crisis – not yet over – also allows us to have a complete picture of the reality of the planet to check how the economy, the environmental and social spheres are expressed at the same time. In this case started from the spread of an infectious pathology that highlights many discordances, inequalities, contradictions and obviously injustices, which allows us to work elements that we have often related to ‘distant’ sustainability for many: access and management of resources as a source of life (air, water, clean land) become relevant and the immediate social and economic sphere becomes vitally important for everyone. Which, as interpreters, gives us the opportunity to delve deeper into causes and consequences through open questions and the use of universal concepts.

And as a last point, one of the limits we face today is the acceptance of stress, and the ‘urban speed’ of human life, as a ‘normal’ way of life. In a few months through the pandemic we returned to more of the natural rhythm of life that we had left behind through the hard experiences lived.

In summary, some simple ideas of the opportunity before us could be summarised:

  • Use of nearby memory to recover sensitivity: catharsis and create sensitivity at all levels of the person
  • Create spaces of recent collective memory: to value what we had during Covid times and still have – time, value of: place, proximity, nature, etc.
  • Enhance the use of ‘forgotten’ senses: touch and smell
  • Pay attention to the details and proximity instead of spectacular phenomena
  • Notice the value of the small gestures of anonymous people
  • Universal values are a great resource to connect with people around the planet
  • Use the ‘adventure’ of not knowing – indeterminacy – to create curiosity and different learning scenarios for situations we repeat

We discussed some more precise ideas and reflections in the IE webinar in August 2022: Interpretation in pandemic (or post-pandemic) times. Some lessons and challenges made. IE members can access the recording in the members’ area of the website if you missed it.

Evarist March Sarlat is the director of NaturalWalks based in Barcelona, Spain. He is an experienced IE trainer. He can be contacted at:

To cite this article: Sarlat, March Evarist (2022) ‘The COVID crisis – an opportunity to improve our interpretation’ in Interpret Europe Newsletter 4-2022, pg.4-5

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