Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Smells of The City

Ahhh...the smells of the city. I rarely notice any vomit smells, but I think those happen mostly on the weekends. The smells of the city do waft together to create that special blend that I would call 'Eau de Subway.' The smells combine in an amazing way. The street vendor sells the sweet French burnt peanuts, and that scent is always present, along with a light but persistant damp moldy smell. The guy who eats from a bucket of KFC on the train, sitting a few seats away from the girl giving herself a full manicure somehow cancel out the odor of Mr. Whiskey Bum and his friend, Mr. Urine Bum who are also along for the ride. I stand crushed in next to a well dressed gent and discover that his coat reeks of mothballs. Mothballs--ugh. Have you ever smelled a mothball? You have? How did you get your head between his tiny legs? (old joke, sorry.) I saved the worst for last. Body odor just chokes me, I have a very low threshold, and human feces? If a bum is shitting way at the other end of the subway platform, I can barely take it -- This has only happened twice in my lifetime, and both times I was grateful that I carried a scented scarf in my handbag. There is no escaping body odor on a crowded subway, and there are many types of B.O. There is the acrid and the fierce, the metallic and the cabbage-y; and there is the freshly showered person who did not get his laundry done, and so is wearing the nastiest B.O. saturated dirty clothing. The smells of the city. Perfume is the least of our worries.

Perfume is not a pervasive smell in the city, (hair products, especially hair spray, along with soaps, and moisturizers often are thought of as perfume) but if you hate 'Polo' by Ralph Lauren, you always seem to get trapped in an elevator with a guy who has bathed in it. Perfume is more an evil inside stink in Manhattan. An ugly office phenomenon that shares space with chemicals like toner, body odor and burnt microwave popcorn. Co-workers who want you to notice and remark on their parfum always splash too much on. An office can become smell hell.

But there is something comforting about leaving a winter cocktail party late at night and digging through a mound of slightly perfumed coats to find your own. That is a perfumed moment that can be almost sensual, with silk linings, cashmere topcoats, leather and fur that hold hints of tobacco and mint, along with a trace of the wearer's perfume or cologne.

On the street blasts of perfume blended with expensive, heavily applied makeup always come with the approach of some ancient tiny lady, walking carefully atop high heels, dressed to the nines to go on some ordinary errand. She may stop someplace for a cup of coffee. You might see her several tables away from you, staring into space, stirring sugar into her coffee, or re-applying her bright red Chanel lipstick. On the street she might 'sort of' blend with the smells of the city, and in a coffeeshop the smells of coffee, pastry and grease neutralize her a little bit. Stand her near Mr. Urine Bum and you are most grateful for her presence.