May 21, 2018

"New York City is rife with scents that make it a diverse 'smellscape'..."

According to "New York Today: Smelling Your Way to Work" (NYT).
On one recent work-bound walk to the F train, I was puzzled to meet a half dozen separate smells along just one block. Garbage, which seemed peculiar on a decently clean sidewalk; skunk, which left me wondering how prevalent the animals are in the city; cookies, which nearly caused me to detour; and burned rubber, then grass, then dish soap.

The scents may come from miles away, according to Kate McLean, a Ph.D. candidate at the Royal College of Art in London, whose research has focused on mapping urban “smellscapes.”...

She noted... subway stations and pretzel stands... [and] a composite of fried garlic, wheat grass and tarmac.... “The smell from the sidewalk, and the reflective qualities of the tarmac, and garlic — it’s very, very New York. It’s healthy living alongside the traffic alongside the heat.”
McClean conducts "smellwalks" for tourists. And here's one of her "smellmaps."

31 comments:

Darrell said...

I avoid Ritmo's neighborhood.

MayBee said...

skunk = pot

LordSomber said...

They fail to mention the overarching smell of NYC in the summer -- piss on hot concrete.

Michael Fitzgerald said...

Must have been an undergraduate at P U...

Loren W Laurent said...

I distinctly remember the smell of a particular taxi from when I was in Manhattan a few years ago.

Unfortunately it was not exotic and evocative; it was simply the pungent odor of the driver, combined with a cheap cologne that was reminiscent of vinegar and not up to the task of disguising the smell.

He was a pleasant man, friendly and blessed with a warm voice, but the smell made me feel claustrophobic and vaguely suicidal.

I stopped my ride a few blocks short of my destination to escape his inversion layer, and found that I was sweating even though it was a cold evening in March. A sense of paranoia engulfed me: did I smell like that now? Was I marked?

Retrieving the hand sanitizer from my purse, I madly rubbed it into my skin like I was Lady Macbeth; I briefly considered ingesting it, thinking it might burn its way out of my strangled pores.

Meeting with friends, I spent the evening distracted and uneasy: could they smell it? Were they simply being polite and not telling me that I smelled like gypsy ass and cloves?

A friend excused herself from the table, and I was sure it was so that she could get away from me, me and my smell of medieval death.

I left the gathering early: I could not be in the moment when the moment smelled like this. Back in the hotel I took a long hot shower and used an entire travel bottle of shampoo. When I checked out for the airport in the morning I left those clothes of shame behind for the hotel to burn.

LWL

MayBee said...

Loren W Laurent = Lazlo, right

MayBee said...

?

Tommy Duncan said...

...Kate McLean, a Ph.D. candidate at the Royal College of Art in London, whose research has focused on mapping urban “smellscapes.”...

This makes a PhD in Philosophy look practical and pertinent.

Caldwell Titcomb IV said...

I've always been interested in data visualization (SIGGRAPH used a bunch of my images back in the day), so I researched how these so-called "smell maps" are made, and found a lot of stuff like this:

"Explanation of the mapping: Speculating that future generations will foreground alternative sensory modalities as ways of knowing, this work treats smells as affordances of visual perception, equally facts of the environment and of human behaviour. This work is a mapping of ephemeral information along a route of woven, olfactory trails."

Which is obviously just a buncha BS.

The maps are generated by having people walk around and write down what they smelled and how strongly it smelled; there's no calibration between people or measurements by a device. Each observation becomes a dot on a map, surrounded by concentric circles, whose number varies according to the strength of the smell, which a misleading visualization. Then the circles are deformed in an undefined way, perhaps based on some subjective feelings about wind, by some map company in Spain.

Darrell said...

Loren W Laurent = Lazlo, right

That was my guess.

Caldwell Titcomb IV said...

IOW, the maps look like contour maps, but they're not.

Sebastian said...

"It’s healthy living"

I heard they are bringing back asylums, for the sake of healthy living. Didn't know NYC was an experimental site.

MadisonMan said...

The drive into Milwaukee always used to include the smell of Yeast from the plant that used to border the interstate. Maybe it still does.

Cooke said...

I love how you (mis?)typed McLean's name as "McClean."

Ignorance is Bliss said...

In my freshman year dorm, you could always tell what floor you were on by the smell. Thanks to my roommate, my floor smelled of Korean noodles. As did my room. And all of my possessions.

EDH said...

Reminds me of more than one of those kooky Moody Blues poems...

Breathe deep the gathering gloom...

Be it sight, sound, smell or touch
There's something inside that we need so much

The sight of a touch
Or the scent of a sound
Or the strength of an oak
With roots deep in the ground

The wonder of flowers to be covered
And then to burst up
Through tarmac
To the sun again

Drago said...

Every now and again a certain...."aroma"...wafts on over from the Jersey side and it is anything but...er....ambrosial....

Drago said...

If you've ever traveled through Gilroy CA in the summer you will find yourself pleasantly surprised by the aroma of fresh garlic in the air from the many fields their.

Assuming the powers that be in CA haven't purposely diverted all the water away from the farms so that the high and mighty can have greener lawns.

Yancey Ward said...

I am sorry, but New York City stinks, even in the Winter, and in Summer literally reeks. So does Chicago where I lived for 4 years in grad school. You get so used to it after a time, you stop noticing it, but once out, you notice it again on going back.

Wilbur said...

This is just the olfactory version of the New Yorker map of the country as seen (of course) from the center of the universe, New Yawk City.

There are no other people on earth quite as full of themselves.

walter said...

San Francisco has their map of shit.

tcrosse said...

Here's a Nineteenth century Stench Map of NYC from when they believed that bad smells carried disease.

Rae said...

I hear San Francisco also has a notable aroma. I wonder is they do tours.

SayAahh said...

If you have anosmia you might not find your way.

Humperdink said...

I am reading this post after having just returned from cleaning out the horse stall. Having been exposed to both aromas, I prefer the smell of a horse stall versus DeBlasio's neck of the woods.

mikee said...

Did the idea for this research come from the recent Sherlock Holmes movie, wherein Rboert Downey Jr. determines his exact location after a blindfolded carriage ride by describing the series of odors he detected along the way, and the locations associated with each scent? Because if such credit isn't given, I suspect the author isn't telling the whole truth.

Howard said...

You have to head east off the 101 on the 152 to smell Gilroy Garlic. The worst are the Brussels Sprout fields north of Santa Cruz.

They now using e-noses to detect cancer in people. Dogs can smell cancer along with fear and stupidity.

Brian said...

New Orleans has always had a more distinctive smell than NYC. At least to me.

One of the reasons I've always loved New Orleans is that the city truly smells like decay, but is vibrant with activity. It's a true Yin/Yang experience.

New York's smells always seemed... artificial. Good or bad.

tcrosse said...

The old Gansevoort market and meatpacking district of Manhattan's lower west side was quite a treat for the nose until it got gentrified in the 1970s.
s

mikee said...

Flying into Seoul, one can smell garlic - well before landing.

Tom T. said...

The entire summer that I lived in NYC, there was a pool of slime in the gutter outside the back entrance of the restaurant next door. The smell is not something I reminisce about fondly.