What Does It Smell Like Where You Are?


Welcome. Typically, when it begins to get chilly in New York City, the subways refill. Those who, like me, have been biking or strolling for transportation within the hotter months, ultimately capitulate to the season, bundle up and hunker down, pack in underground with the remainder of the commuters of their down parkas and boots.

This 12 months, everybody’s pushing their tolerance for the weather to the brink. Whether we’re sticking near house or commuting, we’re avoiding others in enclosed areas, their our bodies and breath. It occurred to me not too long ago that it had been months since I’d smelled fragrance. Once, each third individual on the prepare smelled of the identical perfume, a sandalwood-heavy quantity referred to as Santal 33 that I realized to affiliate with fall, with metropolis dwellers in a rush; the uptown 2 prepare to Times Square on weekdays at eight a.m. within the fall was the Santal Express. What does the subway odor like now?

The Times restaurant critic Tejal Rao has constructed a “personal smell museum of Los Angeles,” the place she lives. She’s cataloged the smells she encounters in her workplace, her neighborhood, “the glorious, artificial vanilla sweetness of a commercial bakery, and then, with absolutely no warning: the high stink of garlicky cured meat” she notices whereas driving.

In “A Natural History of the Senses,” the author Diane Ackerman bemoans the inadequacy of language in relation to describing smells. We have a tendency to check scents to different scents (“it smells smoky,” “it smells floral”) or we articulate how a odor makes us really feel (say, “good” or “disgusting”). More highly effective, she writes, is the hyperlink between scents and previous experiences. “Hit a tripwire of smell and memories explode all at once. A complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth.”

We have “petrichor,” a single phrase which means “the scent of rain on dry soil,” which is wonderful (one phrase for such a posh scent!) and disappointing (why isn’t English considerable with such concise phrases to explain particular scents?). It’s a noble pursuit, although, making an attempt to explain what we odor. It’s inventive, intimate, pulling out of your reminiscences to convey to a different the expertise of your personal inhalation. Take how Rao describes a near-universal present-day expertise: “If your sense of smell hasn’t been affected in the last few months, then what you smell in your own mask is familiar, private and monotonous — and impossible to ignore.”

That’s what I think folks odor much more of on the subway now, that personal inside of 1’s personal masks, itself ripe with reminiscences. In her ebook, Ackerman calls breath “cooked air”: “There is a furnace in our cells,” she writes, “and when we breathe we pass the world through our bodies, brew it lightly, and turn it loose again, gently altered for having known us.”

What scents would you place in your personal “personal smell museum?” What is the odor that, for you, is so singular and particular that you just want you had one phrase to explain it? What does it odor like the place you might be proper now? Write to us: athome@nytimes.com. Include your name, age and location. We’re At Home. We’ll read every letter sent. If you were forwarded this newsletter or happened upon it online, sign up to receive it here. And as always, more inspiration for leading a full life at home appears below.




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