May 21, 2016

"I’m blind, so my nose tells me what neighborhood I’m in."

"My dog and I – we walk. We’ll walk from 125th down to Houston. The smell of Harlem is definitely different now. It’s more open. There’s a new class of people. The whole thing feels like someplace else.... I’ve been living in the city all my life. When Times Square was, you know, the dump, the symbol of the underworld – when you got off the bus at Port Authority, it smelled like sex – I used to say: this is what tourists have to come in to? Nasty. Sex, groin, hair and underarm. You name it. That’s what it smelled like. Pee. Everything. I mean that’s how bad Times Square was. It was horrible."

"Frank Senior, a lifelong New Yorker, recognizes changing neighborhoods by their smells."

21 comments:

robother said...

I'm not blind, but this brought back what NYC was like when I lived there in the early 70s. The odors of each neighborhood as you came up out of the subway were amazing. Urine, however, was a consistent undertone.

David Begley said...

What does Hillary's neighborhood smell like?

The stench of corruption. Foreign money paid to an evil woman who wants to destroy America.

Quaestor said...

Nasty. Sex, groin, hair and underarm. You name it. That’s what it smelled like. Pee. Everything. I mean that’s how bad Times Square was. It was horrible.

Sounds like a Travis Bickle interior monologue. Did Mr. Senior ever pose in front of an oscillating fan and say, "Are you talking' to me?"

Ann Althouse said...

I have almost no sense of smell, so I'm intrigued by the blind man's heightened smell.

I'd love to smell even bad smells now, and it's very interesting to me to think of a person who walks down the street and not only perceives that people have body odor but he knows what body part he's smelling -- underarm or groin. It's such a dreadful imposition, that other people are capable of inserting their groin into your nose.

virgil xenophon said...

"Urine, however, was a consistent undertone."

Same for every third-world hell-hole. As a fighter-pilot in the USAF I was posted near to my share of them and I don't care where it was--Ciudad Acuna, Mexico oppo Del Rio, Adana, Turkey, downtown DaNang, RVN or Times Square in the 70s or parts of S.F. today--you name it, they all smell the same. Looks like we as a nation are regressing to the 3rd world standard mean. What a wonderful accomplishment!

PB said...

Yes. My enduring memory of the smell of NYC is urine.

Jim said...

'Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines, hidden under the weedy mass of many years and experiences. Hit a tripwire of smell, and memories explode all at once. A complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth." Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses.
Memory and smell are so intertwined.
Her book is a favorite of mine. It is a remarkable examination of all the senses.

cubanbob said...

A wonder story that is partially ruined by the comments at the Guardian.

coupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris N said...

Reminds me of those gentle, fetid breezes in the wake of each subway car pushed into the summer heat above.

A jackhammer, and voices washing in and out of a river of noise, the wafting stench of urine and rubber brake mingling with exhaust, wet pavement and burnt pretzel.

I hope to visit again and smell what I can.


Chris N said...

I should say whooshing fetid breezes, and that high-pitched, loud brake squeal and the garbled, unintelligible MTA announcements and the clickety-clack.

Disinfectant, BO, and piss.

Phunctor said...

Anne, if I may? A prospective FIL (the one that got away) had traumatic anosmia - he'd severed the relevant nerve in a fall from a ladder, the way I heard it - is yours of this nature?

Ann Althouse said...

I've gone to a specialist and had all the tests and the most I know is that I don't have any of the things they are able to detect.

I do keep waiting and hoping for a restoration of the sense. What I miss most are smells that give dimension to places, just what this man is talking about.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

My husband lost his sense of smell due to a very bad sinus infection that literally strangled the nerve(s) that control that sense.

The doctor told him he could recover some or most of the sense of smell, by this one weird trick(ok...I'm being silly here...I'm really being serious) and it actually did work somewhat.

He could still discern vanilla, licorice, ammonia, chlorine....really strong smells but not much else. This is what the Dr had us do. We put items in small sealed jars and he would sniff and guess what they are. At first, pungent things like garlic, cinnamon, ginger, lemon. Sniff and guess until he was correct more times than not. It was retraining for the sense of smell. Sort of like learning the smells all over again. Once he mastered those we tried other things and eventually he was able to regain the ability to smell more items.

Practice practice practice.

It still isn't perfect but much better. Until he did regain his sense of smell it was pretty sad. He said he was eating without much taste and just going on memory of what things USED to taste like, without any sense of what they were actually tasting like now.

cubanbob said...

Smell is something most of us take for granted, we don't tend to equate it in importance like vision and hearing but it is. Smell can bring back a memory in its full intenseness as if it just occurred. Why that is I don't know but a smell can do that.

knox said...

Sex, groin, hair and underarm. You name it. That’s what it smelled like. Pee. Everything.

I remember a kid describing the smell of the pay phones at my high school as "chicken grease and curl juice"

buwaya puti said...

Not having a sense of smell would make Manila easier to take. Even then I don't recommend it for the sensitive traveller.
You all think New York was bad.
I thought such people had a terribly miscalibrated sense of the awful.
Then some friends of mine spent a year in Dhaka, Bangladesh. They said Manila was, in comparison, gracious and advanced.

rcocean said...

"The smell of Harlem is definitely different now. It’s more open. There’s a new class of people."

Sounds racist.

rcocean said...

I have a poor sense of smell. People (usually women) are always complaining that this or that smells bad. And I'm like "sorry, what's the problem".

So sense deprivation has its upside.

John said...

The blind man was walking past the fish market.

"Hello, ladies" he said

CatherineM said...

I have such a good sense of smell, it is a bit of a curse because scents can drive you nuts, but I am glad to have it.