When does a city begin to smell like a city?
And what is it that makes it so unique to the city?
It’s not a particularly nice smell, or I should say at least not in the vast underground city mazes of the metro where one can easily spend a week trying to navigate all the exits and moving walkways.
The smell of the metro specifically is a mechanical cranking smell – as the gears protest under their ceaseless toiling, of metal scratching metal and thick rubber belts running between the gears – sort of mixed with a lot of other smells that is hard to describe, but none too present.
There is the smell of the cold winter outside, one that makes your nose run but somehow also smells of gasoline.Then of course there is the unmistakable, unforgettable, nose-scrunching, gasping-for-air smell of homelessness and urine.
I cannot particularly blame the homeless for sleeping at the metro stops – it gets as cold a -8 in the dead of night outside and the metro stop looks a lot better for your chances of survival than a corner tucked away between newspapers and old mats probably crawling with all sorts of pests. But it is also the smell of urine and unwashed hair and unbrushed teeth from many people all stuffed together at once, that can leave a person choking. It’s an assault on even the hardiest of noses, and traveling more than a stop or two can be rather unpleasant.
Theres also the oddity of people drinking at all hours of the day. It is not uncommon to see people discreetly sipping from their beer cans as they wobble back and forth with the lurching of the train, and when they exhale it’s a cloud of beer breath gently wafting its way over to your nose.
These are the sorts of smells that are distinct and unique to true living, breathing, cities – smells that one does not find in like likes of Washington D.C or suburbia.
The greenness of the grass has all but been paved over with tar and cement and there are a million cigarette butts and chewed gum smeared across the grey roads.
Winter has a special smell to it, but city winters are even more unique in that sense.
There are the boulangeries, and the boucheries, and the cafes, and the pattiseries, all of the best fresh food that makes a person want one of everything. It’s something that has all but been obliterated in the states for the likes of Wal-Mart and superstores, but here the small shop way of life still thrives and the smells that waft through the doors onto the streets make a person want to follow their nose, wherever it goes.