A love letter to urban scents


Dear urban olfactory overexposers,

You’re not quite like the unpopulated wet forest, smelling of mud, decay and heavy timber; nor like my tiny oceanside hometown filling the air with brine and sundried seaweed. Rather you have a grand variety of lowpoints and highs; a combination of heady delicacies and nauseating wafts…

The mysterious night bakery of Clinton Hill fills me with the sweet scent of baking dough. Is it merely an imagined perfume of want after a late pub crawl?

Or the summer flies congregating on ever-moist Bayard sidewalks, buckets of live turtles and heaping garbage;

Or the full punch of open sea as you turn the Narrows bend near 87th Street, force-fed into your lungs halfway through a weekend bicycle ride;

Or the acrid tang of a Court Street food cart, wrapping around you like a blanket as you ascend from the depths of the subway staircase;

Or squinting through a sour wall of breath and sweat on a mid-week rush hour train car;

Or the smoking meat and steaming of streetside buns filling me with hot, wet gulps of char and rice, transporting me thousands of miles away to long forgotten voyages of my youth;

Or the crisp bite of plastic bleachers and chewy pretzels at Citi Field, or the pubescent drugstore body sprays of basketball fans at Barclays;

Or the inimitable smell of peanut and palm and saltfish condensing on windows of the taxi-driver haunts and all-night buffets;

Or the hint of milky chai and coriander potato, wagging a finger towards you from a Crosby doorway;

Or the sweet drift of oil slicks and burnt solder, hanging in low pockets along the Gowanus;

No, they are not the simple and clean smells of fresh cut lawns, the bright paint and hot tarmac parking lots of the suburbs. No, they are neither sweet nor pure, nor are they all rancid and sickening. Rather, my lovely urban scents, you are a cacophony, an unfettered orchestra, baring novel surprises daily.


Alex’s Nose


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