International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year:Inhale if you dare
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single sniff"
- not exactly the Lao Tzu quote that made the philosopher famous,
but its close enough. Point being, do cities or countries
possess a unique odour?
Image from Honolulu Bus
Travel should broaden
the mind but more often dilates the nostrils, depending on the destination.
You dont have to possess the prominent feature of Cyrano de Bergerac
to catch a whiff of the Guinness factory in Dublin, nor do you require
a GPS to let you know that you have reached Faridabad, a sprawling industrial
city north of New Delhi. The schnoz will let you know you have arrived.
However, in a blindfold test, hooter at the ready, could you sniff the
difference between Marrakech and Hong Kong? If you have ever visited
these places, the chances are you would instantly recall the aroma.
Marrakech with its wood-smoke, spices and aromatic resin combined with
the tanneries of the Medina - a pungent mixture that stays with you
long after you depart - to the dried fish, over-cooked noodle infused
fragrance of Hong Kong.
Cairo has the unfortunate claim of having the highest levels of aromatic
hydrocarbons of any similar sized city - a rather flowery scientific
term which translated means the air stinks and its polluted, but you
know where you are. On the subject of science, the smells we receive
come from molecules that evaporate off objects, everything from the
cheese of Stilton (which is actually made in Melton Mowbray) to a dead
possum in 100 degree heat on the road to Alice Springs (which by all
accounts beats a dead skunk any day). All these aromas go to make up
the waft of a region.
Some cities are proud of their pungent reputations. Rotorua, New Zealand,
for example, is the self-proclaimed, most noxious city on the planet,
where the volcanic sulphur fumes can choke a horse at 100 metres. No
mistaking where you are here, just watch for the wheezing gelding at
the Air New Zealand counter.
Singapore, on the other hand, could lay claim to being the only city
(and country) to leave the nostrils empty, unless you are sensitive
to the smell of money.
Before being accused of vilifying any of the destinations mentioned
so far, bear in mind that not all aromas leave you reaching for a gas
mask. A warm summer breeze kicks up the scent of evening primrose in
the Jardins de Touleries in Paris or an afternoon stroll though the
Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen with its magnificent spring flower display.
Then again, one wrong boarding pass and you could be ingesting molecules
from Jacksonville, Florida - some claim the city to be the foulest smelling
place in the western hemisphere, the attractive combination of sewer
and swamp gas .
We all have photographs and videos of travels to remind us of places
visited, but what about an aroma souvenir? And perhaps one day a scratch
and sniff system will allow travellers to pre-sample the air of the
city they are about to visit. Some of course will come with a warning
"Care should be taken when about to scratch the cover off Vientiane,
Laos, as it the home of Cha om, the worlds smelliest vegetable",
a staple in its sour curry and just another example of a scent that
permeates the air of most far off lands.
So breathe deeply the next time you travel and let those molecules tell
you where you are.
© Paul Lynch October 2009
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibility
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.