Scents and Sensibility

(Some titles are irresistible — sorry, Jane.)

When I emerged from Penn Station in New York a few days ago, I was blasted by the city — its noises and especially its odors. If those smells were a painting, they would look like a Pollock, twisting together, layers upon layers, wisps here, blobs there, and all of it floating along on some version of wind, or bits of breeze. I have always loved the smells of cities because of that very density. The cities that have been growing for several hundreds of years (Istanbul, Mexico City, Paris, to name a few) have that many more layers, and inhaling those cities is some sort of connection to everything that has happened. Didn’t some eager scientist, a few years ago, announce that, given the dispersal of molecules, we all breathe the air that was breathed by Alexander the Great? Or Caesar? (He lived longer, breathed more.)

But the scent that drew my attention — a little time later — was the one I discovered in my hotel room, a half block from the Javitts Center. This moment could be a fabulous turning point if this were a mystery, that is “a Mystery,” but it’s “a Curiosity” instead. The odor was manure. Really?

When I walked that half block to the convention center, I discovered that housed a few buildings down from me were the horses for the Central Park carriages. I felt both thrilled to be so near these fabulous animals and saddened by what seems like a very constrained life for animals that love to run.

Being in the city reminded me again (the sense/sensible/sensibility part — worthy of another entry) of how often odors are neglected in prose yet what a huge role they play in our lives. Noted.

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About Carolyn

I live in Washington, D.C., write, teach, try to eat the requisite fruits and veggies daily, and avoid caffeine after 2 pm. I wonder about things a lot -- like why "pretty" means "pretty" and "not so much" and if I can ever perfect the single-portion, no-knead, daily baguette and how many people realize that Beau Brummel had a lot to do with our desire to bathe daily -- those of us who do in fact "take the daily."
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