When I let my cat Zak outside in the morning, the first thing he does is hop onto the fence and raise his head slightly and just smell the world. He’s revelling in the sampling of each and every aroma swirling around, sniffing and sniffing again, everything he can taste. I was thinking this morning how delighted and fulfilled he seemed, and how maybe I should do a little more of this myself. Take a moment and sample as many scents as possible in my realm. A few minutes of olfactory meditation.
The problem with so much of Los Angeles today, of course, is that too much of it is covered in asphalt and steel and plastic and concrete shopping malls and massive apartment buildings, and it doesn’t smell like very much of anything. Talk to Robert Towne about how Los Angeles used to smell in the 1940s, or read his screenplay of The Two Jakes for some great descriptions of the fragrances that were fairly commonplace. Or talk to anyone who remembers what it smelled like from time to time in the ’70s (despite the town being covered in horrible smog back then) or the early ’80s.
I remember walking down a ramp out of a DC-10 at LAX in the late spring of ’81, and leaning my head slightly back and taking a few sniffs and saying to myself, “This definitely doesn’t smell like New York.” You could taste the jet exhaust and melting tar and carbon dioxide, of course, but also the faint scent of dirt and sand and marshy grasses and the nearby Pacific Ocean, and the flowery fragrance of Jacaranda trees or something in that realm, and the faint smell of tacos or hot dogs or something like that.
You have to get out of your car to really smell this town. I’ve been savoring a lot more of it since I became a two-wheeled Yamaha guy, especially at night. You can taste it even better from your bicycle, which I ride almost every weekend.
Paris is probably the greatest aroma town I’ve ever sunk into. A feast wherever you go. The Seine at night, outdoor markets (especially in the pre-dawn hours), the aroma of sauces and pasta dishes coming from cafes, warm breads, scooter and bus exhaust, strong cigarettes, coffee, fruit stands, gelato shops, etc. Cannes is a heavenly aroma town during the annual May festival with the briney sea air, especially at night. And Tuscany and Rome and the Amalfi Coast. And how rotten it smelled in a town across the bay from Napoli that was run by the mafia. I could go on and on.
The “stink of L.A. in your bones” quote is from Charles Bukowski.