In a recent article, Every Time I Talk to You, I Hear Sirens, we discussed how sounds define your environment. Today, using the same places described in the previous article, I hope we can investigate if smell is even more strongly related to place and memory than sound.
Is smell more valuable than hearing?
Washington, D.C. – Eastern Market:
We lived near the Eastern Market Metro station. There was a large, indoor, sort of farmer’s market nearby – that gave the train station its name — we passed through every day. The food was always fresh. The smell of raisin scones embedded in your clothes was a warm and welcome scent that perfumed you throughout the work day and reminded you that, no matter what happened, your scones always loved you.
New York City — Columbia University:
When we were living in Morningside Heights near Columbia, The City had a garbage strike. When an urban core has to deal with a garbage strike in the dead of summer things quickly begin to rot on the sidewalk. And in the streets. And in your mouth. And there is no harbor from the stench of six foot mounds of black garbage bags that line every sidewalk and street corner. Even if you breathe through your mouth you still smell the putrid sting of vomit that bleeds into every crevice and populates every pore.
New York City — Cornelia Street:
When we moved down to Greenwich Village from Morningside Heights, a new Indian restaurant opened across the street the same day we landed in our apartment. The smell of cooked vegetables and spices crawled up our noses and hooked us down a flight of stairs and into the restaurant twice a day! We spent a lot of money in that delightful restaurant but it was worth every bite and smell.
New York City — Alphabet City:
Alphabet City is the area in the East Village between Avenues A, B and C and bounded on the other ends between 10th Street and 14th Street. Alphabet City has a reputation for being folksy and artsy and poor and devastatingly bohemian and so the smell of marijuana hung in the air like a historic blue cloud calling everyone back to the heyday of the 1960’s. You were always slightly high — by choice or not — just by inhaling the Alphabet City air.
New York City — The Bronx:
Remembering life in the North Bronx is to live in again in the sweet smell of cut grass. Green — anything green and alive — is hard to come by in your everyday life in New York City so having an actual lawn and forest surrounding you brought back cool comfort and the scents of a childhood spent knee-deep in haystacks and floating among wisps of cotton.
Jersey City — The Heights:
When the World Trade Center fell, the odor of burning bodies stained the air for weeks while the rubble simmered across the Hudson River. Roasting flesh and charring bones is a smell you can never quite force yourself to forget even when the dead are circled in cut flowers and lowered into fresh dirt.