(a "postcard" from Robert)
Its August in New York, the pavement is fermenting, there's an abundance of what my friend Robert calls, far too evocatively, "curb chowder," so perhaps its not quite synchronicity that the New York Times had an article about smells in the Real Estate section yesterday.I've been thinking about odors: good, bad, memories related to. The other day I passed a store that exhaled an odd combination of cat 'spray' and a very specific mustiness-- the kind that, to me, indicates old water pipes, a mossy dankness. Immediately a vision of myself at about 6 or 7 with my parents, visiting an aunt in Lynn, Massachusetts, popped into my head. At that time she lived in a very working class neighborhood, in a New England version of a rear tenement: three or four stories, 19th c., wooden. I remember my mother attempting to make tea and recoiling from the ring around the insides of cooking pots left by boiling water. A discussion ensued on the state of Lynn municipal water supply. All this, in an instant, came back to me on Seventh Avenue in Brooklyn as I passed that store on my way to lunch. I have several olfactory connections that aren't typical, lyrical associations. Oil-based paint, for one. That will always bring back my grandmother. A small-statured but hefty woman in her early 70s, she was, in my memory, always up on step ladders painting her rooms colors I would never choose but seemed right back then, pale pink, yellow, a soft blue. A certain kind of diesel fuel reminds me of Paris. I was on my first trip there with my parents and we stayed in a small hotel-- the Ideal-- that had an astonishingly tiny--lilliputian!-- elevator that put-putted along on fumes of diesel... This elevator could accomodate 1 slim French person with, perhaps, a baguette. Large American baggage was sent up, unaccompanied, piece by piece.
A "trick" I have that seems so saccharine it belongs in Real Simple is to begin wearing a new perfume at the start of a trip. Thereafter, every detail of that trip--breakfasts, museum highlights, clouds, purchases, persons met--will be contained in that bottle. I haven't smelled the perfume I wore (I think it was my first bottle of perfume) on that Paris trip in years, but I remembered the commercial!
*see Luc Sante The Factory of Facts