Keep checking back for further Smell Maps this summer
S M E L L W A L K
No matter where we are, smell constitutes the space around us. Walking in the city, I cannot help but pay attention as I pass through varied realms of aroma. Yet trying to describe smell is like trying to describe color. With little common vocabulary to assist us, we must turn to memory, association, and the utterly idiosyncratic nature of our perception of smell as our linguistic tools. In this project, I hope to build a readable “smellscape” of Siena by inviting others to join me in attempting to describe the smells that make up this city.
To access some different S M E L L W A L K routes, click below. I invite you to take the same route and write in your own smell interpretations by using the comments feature. Or create your own!
27 April, 2013
1) 16:01, Next to swan pond.
Strong smell reminds me of my dog who died last year. His black paws and unbearable breath. His was a smell like rotten peas and day-old omelet that emanated from his skin as he got older. This smell by the pond has something of the sweet aftertaste of pecorino, but in a sneer-face kind of way.
2) 16:09, Backside of Fortezza
A man just passed wafting imagery of leather and marble, gold rings, gold-trimmed bathrooms. The way I imagine the smell of the men in Scorsese films.
3) via F. Corridoni, 16:31
Wisteria scent so heavy it’s sexual. Like vanilla almost, but more violet at the core, like it has a secret. Like it’s being coy. Thrilling because more difficult, it causes me to lose my head, unable to think in words: the feeling of having a crush on a girl. She is giving but she won’t have you; not a kind smell, but not unkind either.
4) passing back past Fortezza, 16:38
A smell pretending to be citrus but fooling no one.
5) Candy stall, 16:40
Licorice, both dark and bright: a black haired lady with burning pink cheeks. A mean aunt you grow up to love, realizing it was only that she wasn’t good with children.
23 April, 2013
1) 11:27 Here, on Piano dei Mantenelli, under the scaffolding, I catch the dry, sweet smell of woodshavings. The smell of a freshly lined hamster cage. In the air there is something very lightly toasted, as though someone lit a piece of paper on fire yesterday, and brought it to my nose today.
2) 11:33 A man with a cigarette, walking his dog on the curving road that overlooks the orto behind Santa Maria Della Scala. When the warm burn of him passes, the sun raises the sweet grass from the orto and the urine from the street. There is one smell that is both grass and urine. There is a way that the cigarette is a glimpse into the throat of an old man, or the corduroy chair where he sits. When the wind changes directions, I smell my own hair, and know it should be washed. And then the light wisteria, which is a purple smell, and quiet.
3) 11:44 Via di Vallepiatta. Suddenly: A clean, bright, white tile smell. Almost neon. Ashley Posada and the four sisters who lived next door to me growing up. How clean their little apartment was. How it smelled always like this, and also like hairspray. The mother would sleep on the couch with a blanket with Elvis’ face on it while the sisters shared the one bedroom. There was a poster in the hall that said “If you love someone, set them free”. This sudden clean smell is the smell of diners at closing time, after being mopped. Clean plates, shining silently in their places.
Where I stand at this wall, there comes also, again, overwhelming urine, from the thousands of dogs who have lifted their leg just here.
4) 11:52 At the top of the steep hill by the escalators, the one that leads down into Fontebranda, a woman clomps by with cigarette in hand. This tobacco smells heavier, richer, dark maroon; a nighttime smell, despite the hour. Once she’s gone, I smell water, cool and almost metallic. A smell that reminds me of tidepools, elephant seals at Año Nuevo. The smell of starfish.
5) 12:00 On the stairs going up toward San Domenico from Fontebranda. The yellow flowers (wild mustard) have the basic smell of spring. Basic as opposed to acidic. Basic in the way they enter your nose roundly and not sharply. If I pick one it smells something like breath after wine, something almost digestive, even. A human smell, the sweetness light compared with the pinch of body odor. Then there are the green smells—California school trips. Everything runs back to age nine, ten.
6) 12:05 On the bench next to Il Pomodorino. The hot mineral smell of sun-warmed asphalt.
7) 12:06 Passing the steps of San Domenico—A crowd of women’s perfume. Dried roses, potpourri, a widow’s bureau filled with old photographs and letters. Something sweet sprayed on to feel young or sophisticated, but it is flat.
8) 12:09 By the fence on the way toward Fortezza. A warm, creamy, yellow smell. Sun on dandelions.
9) 12:12 Left at Fortezza.
Diesel (this like using up an entire stick of graphite on a piece of paper and rubbing my face in it. Dark, smudgy, quietly violent)
Straw hats (dry grass)
Walking punctuated always by rhythms of tobacco.