Smells Like Summer

Friday, July 26, 2013

girl smells flowers (William Hoffman)

Beau Friedlander, Brooklyn-based writer talks about his Harper's article, "A Brief History of Scent" which looks at the way in which we smell, and what makes for a truly awful stink.

We're trying to find NYC's worst smell. What smell has made an impression on you this summer? 

Excerpt: Beau Friedlander from "A Brief History of Scent" (Harper's, August 2013)

The smell of a place at a particular moment could be said to follow the same rules as any perfume, but with a far greater degree of complexity. Typically, a perfume is composed of some head notes (bright smells that dissipate quickly), heart notes (heavier molecules that define the overall smell), and a bottom note (a smell such as sandalwood, which doesn’t dominate a fragrance but may stay on your clothes for days). On a midsummer afternoon after a light rain, the smell of my block in Brooklyn might include petrichor as a heart note. But that would only be the simplest part: there would be head and heart notes of gasoline, rotting food, fallen leaves, pollen, flowers, car exhaust, a great variety of feces from organisms sharing the space, and perhaps bottom notes from the soil, grime,and soot ground into pavement, with an occasional contribution from the East River when the wind is right. My own Wythe Avenue smell-of-rain moment would compare to an isolated attempt at synthetic petrichor about as well as a Big Ten marching band to a tin whistle.


Beau Friedlander

Comments [25]

KenWade (carrot) from West Village

Dog pee drying in the hot owners might be encouraged to carry a water bottle along with there plastic poop bag and "give it a squirt"

Jul. 29 2013 09:58 AM

What a dirty trick and disgusting episode! "Smells Like Summer" accompanied by a attractive photograph of a woman smelling flowers brought pleasant thoughts and curiosity. I was thinking of the fresh scents of Union Square' Farmers Market or the salt/fresh water mix breeze blowing off the Hudson River. I clicked on the link only to be assaulted with the most lowbrow show I've ever listened to on WNYC. It was a caller competition for dopes. What's next - your favorite Porta Potty visual?

Jul. 26 2013 08:08 PM
Eva Garfield from Queens

The exceptional EMPTY SUBWAY CAR ON AN OTHERWISE CROWDED TRAIN. When the doors open you see why. There's a poor homeless person on board. Politically incorrect but true, the stench is overwhelming.

Jul. 26 2013 03:27 PM
Mike from Long Island City

Worst smell: The moment after the downpour has just started. You are standing on a corner trying to find shelter when a deluge of water rushes downhill in the gutter. This flood carries with it all smells, garbage, fish, vomit, excrement. After a few minutes the rain washes the smells away, but than initial rush collects all odors at once.

Jul. 26 2013 12:40 PM
jc from Brooklyn

Two of the worst smells-

Getting in a cab, when there is the faint remnant smell of last night's vomit, combined with a mile of cheap air freshener trying to mask it. UGH!!

Also- Gingko Trees, the smashed berries smell foul!

Jul. 26 2013 11:47 AM
Nathan Goldberg from Bronxville

When I think of bad smells, nothing compares to the smell of NYC after 9/11. For months, every time I rode the subway from Brooklyn, on my way through Manhattan to the Bronx, passing through lower Manhattan the smell of death and decay was almost intolerable, and left an enduring stamp on my psyche. Whenever I smell anything like it, I go back to that sick, sad feeling.

Jul. 26 2013 11:47 AM

I find this conversation as unsavory as the smells I encounter in NYC in the summer! Vomit and human feces? Please!

Jul. 26 2013 11:45 AM

I'm not a PC type so I'll say no one wants to be in the same subway car with a homeless man who might not have cleaned in weeks.

Jul. 26 2013 11:45 AM
Andrea from Manhattan

Apparently things haven't changed much in a long time, the Rogers & Hart lyric from "We'll Have Manhattan" is:
"And tell me what street
compares with Mott Street in July
Sweet pushcarts gently gliding by."

I suspect it was meant ironically...

Jul. 26 2013 11:44 AM
Amy from Manhattan

First, if you ever smell gas on the street, call 911, not 311 (which I did once & was told to call 911).

Second, if you live near a park, chances are that at some point you'll smell skunk.

Jul. 26 2013 11:43 AM
Mickey from Harlem

Harlem, exhaust and burning rubber from the dirt bikes.

Jul. 26 2013 11:42 AM
Alvin from Manhattan

"And tell me what street, compares with Mott Street in July"
It was true when Rodgers and Hart wrote those lyrics almost 90 years ago, and they're still true. (From [I'll take] "Manhattan").

Jul. 26 2013 11:40 AM

one of my neighbors moved out and left food rotting in the fridge. The super cleaned it out and carried the leaking garbage bag down the 3 flights. the smell filled the whole building. he tried to correct it by spraying flowery air freshener. it became known as the day of the stink!

Jul. 26 2013 11:38 AM
antonio from baySide

SORRY the location of the train station is herald square!

Jul. 26 2013 11:38 AM
Marcio from Brooklyn

While waiting for a train, I would get a whiff of a horrible hobo stench, like those guys in train cars that have the power to empty those cars. Once I boarded the train, I kept feeling the stench as well.. turned out it was coming from my hand.. essentially my watch strap picked up some hobo juice... and I still haven't been able to wash it off.. I threw it away..

Jul. 26 2013 11:38 AM
The Truth from Becky

lol...What C George and Linda Lopez said below. *whew*

Jul. 26 2013 11:37 AM
antonio from baySide

In the end of platform of 'm, f, d, b' train, I guess there's an area where garbage is left...But it smells like poop, vomit and urine! Trifecta!

Jul. 26 2013 11:37 AM
Nick from UWS

For me the most disgusting smell in NY is the smell of cockroaches and waterbugs that is often near filthy moldy old air conditioners blowing out into the unmistakeable stench. Absolutely revolting.

Jul. 26 2013 11:36 AM
joan from Astoria.

Rotting garbage is the worst smell. Body odor takes me back to growing up in Italy; it's a fond memory.

Jul. 26 2013 11:18 AM
Linda Lopez from Manhattan

Dog urine! No one loves animals more than I, but one reason I don't have a dog is that I can't reconcile having one urinate in the streets several times a day. It's just not fair to everyone else. Poop you can pick up - sort of - but urine is there until it rains or the street gets washed. Many people allow their animals to urinate against trees, flowers, and buildings, like it will just dry up and disappear. Well it doesn't! And it kills the trees and flowers. Cities of the future will need to find a solution for this problem.

Jul. 26 2013 11:15 AM
C George from NYC

Dog piss.
It's the worst smell because of its ubiquity.
How many thousands of gallons of dog urine are released everyday on the sidewalks of NYC...
Summer in the city = dog piss

Jul. 26 2013 10:53 AM

Considering the concentration of people, cooking aromas, garbage, exhaust fumes, etc., New York, like many cities, is largely and amazingly bereft of malodor. That's both good and bad. I'd welcome back the smell of industry. And strange as it sounds, I love the smell of NY grit emanating out of the subways. Subways in other cities smell differently.

Jul. 26 2013 10:32 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

I think the worst smell is something I have encountered in subway stations. I can barely describe it, but it is sort of a combination of old urine, ammonia, bleach, and something truly indescribable, and when you inhale it, it feels grainy. I think it's mostly found in platform areas where the platform is still concrete, but I've smelled it once or twice in subway system elevators. Unbelievably horrible!

Jul. 26 2013 10:05 AM

The worst smell of summer comes from horses relieving themselves in Central Park

Jul. 26 2013 09:27 AM
Eleanor Dionisio from Manila

The worst summer smell in New York City is the hot stench that rises from a grating at Washington Square East, near the corner of Washington Square South. I have often imagined a corpse rotting beneath the sidewalk.

Jul. 26 2013 04:10 AM

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