The American Smell?

New York skylineIs there such a thing? I’d say not although there definitely are city smells.  In my extended family we refer to the New York smell, which is made up of car exhaust, uncollected garbage and yes a tiny touch of urine.  And before anyone says “How awful!” let me point out that members of the same family get nostalgic for this scent and have to go into the city just to huff.  True fact.

Charleston SC seems to have a pleasanter smell, with the exhaust cut by a bit of horse manure and flowers.  I quite like it.  Montreal always smells of frost and grit to me, Philadelphia has some frying oil in the air somewhere, Chicago has got that frost and grit thing going on plus some smell tossed up by railroad tracks and stockyards.  The  universal smell of North American cities  seems to be predicated on carbon monoxide.  I’m not certain that anyone has succeeded in bottling it.

New York BridgesNeil Morris has City Rain and Gotham which is supposed to smell a bit like New York but I don’t know if he captured that distinctive fragrance or not.

What does your locality smell like? If it’s anywhere in the US, tomorrow it’ll probably smell of barbecue. Happy Fourth of July!



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9 thoughts on “The American Smell?

    1. You have got a point! There are certain connecting passages in the subway near Times Square that …yeah, are a Pinesol 911 emergency.

  1. The very center of San Francisco, like NYC, smells mostly of urine and unwashed bodies. The homelessness problem there is really tragic. Outside the center, there are a lot of damp green smells, and there is a lot of jasmine growing in neighborhoods, too. And the smell of the sea.

    1. How I wish the human smell only came from bodies on subways, and not bodies in doorways. It does make you sad. At least the suburbs there smell of jasmine and the sea which sounds like a beautiful combination.

  2. That’s a good description of Charleston! Plus a slight salty tang maybe if you get right by the water? I have no idea what my area smells like – nothing that pervasive – you have to get really close to flowers and rubbish etc to catch a whiff, say.

    1. If your area smells like Devon when I was there as a child then it smells lovely.
      I remember grass, and flowers and the smell of rain, which does have a smell, and the scent of new milk every morning because we still got the milk delivered to the doorstep. Thick yellow cream on top of course!

      Charleston also smells like magnolias to me, and sweet olive, and you’ve remembered the salt in the air. Yup, it’s all that.

  3. Have only been to Charleston twice, but I must agree – magnolias and salt air. The other odor I noticed downtown was boxwoods.

    Just last night we flew into Reagan National in DC and my 15-year-old son noted, “Smells like Washington.” That’s a city I’m fairly familiar with, having visited many times in different seasons, and it does have a smell – car exhaust, yes, and dust and tar. Construction (restoration!) smells. Lots of stone, but grass as well.

    My hometown is a small city in the Virginia mountains, and it has a smell as well – exhaust and hot dogs and *humidity*. Out here in the country, however, we’ve got grass and hay (not the same), diesel fumes, cow manure, sunshine…

    1. Oh stop, I can’t stand it. The smell of hay makes me so nostalgic for Vermont I could cry. I always used to walk by a meadow that was used for hay only, and hayed twice a season the bales were circular.
      You are so lucky to live in a place that still smells of countryside.

      DC yes, smells of DC, your son has got it, and Rock Creek park is a good smell and Georgetown is a smell of restaurants, booze and garbage!

    2. And I’d forgotten the scent of boxwood in Charleston! Yup, absolutely, it’s there along with the salt and the manure and magnolias in season.

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