​At Twisted Lily, a fragrance boutique in Brooklyn, I learn that things quickly get personal when you’re talking about perfume — like when co-owner Eric Weiser explains why I won’t like one of his favorite perfumes.

“It has one word [in] the name, and it’s stercus,” he says. Stercus, in case your Latin is rusty, means “feces.” Stercus is just one of the words perfume fanatics use to describe something that smells really great. “Skunky, dirty, fecal, urine-y, barnyard-y,” Weiser says. “It can be a compliment to a perfumer.”

You’re awash in options if you want to study piano or cooking or painting, but there are barely any perfumery programs. Scent remains the most enigmatic, least explored of senses. So I wondered: How does one go about joining this mysterious self-initiating cult?

For PRI’s The World (a co-production of the BBC)

For a complete archive of my stories for The World, click here.