|Scents of the City|
The Scents of the City
This morning was the first chill of fall. We've had some glorious fall days - clear, bright sunshine and cool, fresh air - and last week, some ridiculously warm days that felt like early summer. But today it was chilly, damp, and reminded us that winter is coming.
I walked down Broadway to the office where I was working today, and caught the smell of hot bread pretzels, sold from street stands. And it smelled like fall. I don't even like pretzels, but I like that smell. And it, and a derivation of it - the smell of chestnuts roasting on an open pan - is the smell of Christmas to me.
My first Christmas in New York was more than thirty years ago. Memories of Rockefeller Center angels, Lord & Taylor windows, breath steaming in icy air, and the "fun fur" coat that was my first winter coat fit for a New York winter, are all tied up for me with the smell of pretzels and chestnuts bought at street stands.
Today, I started thinking about other smells that say "New York" to me. The smell of fall leaves in Central Park, for example, and the perfumes that scent the air in the entrances of stores like Bloomingdale's and Saks Fifth Avenue. The smell of fresh bread and pies in bakeries that are ever-so-carefully vented to the sidewalk to draw customers inside. The smell of the herb gardens at the Cloisters (a medieval museum at the north end of Manhattan) and in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.
Some that aren't so nice - the smell of Chinatown in the summer, where fish stores and fruit/vegetable stands are open on the street, and garbage isn't always picked up quickly. And the worst of all - the smell of the garbage strikes that always seem to happen in the hottest days of August. And one that never bothered me, but Steve hated - the fish smell of the businesses that were the less visible side of the tourist-oriented South Street Seaport. That was before the Fulton Fish Market moved from downtown to Hunts Point in the Bronx.
Walking across Canal Street (a crowded center of discount electronics stores that is the dividing line of sorts between downtown and Greenwich Village, and was once an actual canal), the smell of cooking food is irresistible. No matter that you've just had brunch, and even if you hadn't, you probably wouldn't eat one of those meat-on-a-stick snacks - the smell of cooking onions gets you every time.
A smell that to me says "the feast of San Gennaro" - the smell of deep-frying zeppole, airy little balls of dough that are then dusted with sugar and sold by the half-dozen in a brown-paper bag. (If you're lucky, they're airy - sometimes they're just doughy.)
Funny how so many of the smells of New York have to do with food! Another is the faint smell of Indian curry that hangs around 6th Street between First and Second Avenues, where the joke runs that there is just one big kitchen and a long conveyor belt to all the Indian restaurants on the street.
And last, but by no means least, the smell of spring - the lilacs in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and the Conservatory Garden in Central Park. Both places make me feel blissfully intoxicated and full of hope for the coming summer. Mmmm....
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