Saturday, 22 November 2008

I Smell A Story


When I write about different locations, I must remind myself to include smells as well as sights. We often describe odours in bars, houses, flower shops and on people. The delicate smell of a special perfume or comfort food can trigger memories, but cities and towns also have a their own brand of olfactory uniqueness.

The lovely old city of Saint John, New Brunswick smells like hot road tar mixed with sea salt because of the proximity of the oil refineries along the Bay of Fundy. When I smell tar, I go back to the days when I was a kid, wandering with my cousins in search of mischief. I see in my mind's eye the multicoloured wooden houses with white trim. I remember steep hills leading down to the bay.

Northern Ontario smells like wood smoke and pine needles. It will always remind me of camping and warm rocks.

My husband says Toronto smelled like rising dough when he was a kid, due to the flour and sugar mills along the shores of Lake Ontario.

Then there were the little lumber towns in northern Quebec. We lived in Chandler on the Gaspé Peninsula when I was seven years old. It always seemed to smell like an enormous fart.

From a WIP: "The Chandler pulp and paper mill on the west side of town served up its usual sulphuric stink with extra sauce on the day JC Bernard decided to kidnap his best friend Alphonse."


Newmarket doesn't have many distinctive odours, except perhaps the smell of newly cut grass on a summer day, or lilacs. Each season brings its own memorable smells.

What does your town smell like? Do any smells take you back to a place you once lived?


Image: A view of Saint John from Martello Tower

15 comments:

Kanani said...

Where I live smells of smog. Yuck.
When it rains --it's wonderful. The leafy wet smell that washes all of it out.

But as of late, mostly we've been smelling fire... a real stench!

Kanani said...

Oh... word verification:
Pracison -The art of practiced recklessness.

ChrisEldin said...

This is a great question for writers! I think it pulls you into the scene more intimately when you can write the 'scents' well.
Pretty pic!!
:-)

Dawn Anon said...

When the humidity and/or the breeze is right, we smell yeast in our neighborhood. There's a bakery just down the road that has a distinct smell at night. You can always smell it when you pass by the building itself. We regularly smell it in our neighborhood.

Good reminder about smells.

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

What does smog smell like, Kanani? An underground garage? That's what jumps into my mind.

BernardL said...

Comic books have a distinctive smell. When sold on a rack at a bakery, as I bought them growing up, they had an incredible smell combining fresh dough and newsprint.

Holly Kennedy said...

"hot road tar mixed with sea salt"

I really like that one!

Where I live? It smells like...spruce needles mixed with the crisp edge of a snowbank just as it begins to melt :)

Doreen Orion aka Queen of the Road said...

I spent a lot of time in Israel growing up, and sometimes, even in the states, I'll be taken back there in an instant, thinking, "This smells like Israel." I don't know that I can explain it, other than it smells old... like, really, really old and hot. When I went back to Israel most recently two years ago (after not having been there for quite some time), it was comforting to see that it still smelled the same.

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

Mmm.... spruce and snow. Did you ever have spruce beer? It's like ginger beer with a treeish nuance.

Doreen, I wonder if Israel smells like Algeria? I associate Algeria with apricots and hot rocks for some reason. Maybe it was the picnic in the Atlas mountains when the ants tried to carry off my can of apricot nectar.

cindy said...

i also smell the salt of the sea. we also get the awful acrid smoke of acres burning during wildfires. =( we barely ever get rain, but it's such a unique rebirth type of smell--wet earth and grass and concrete.

Barbara Martin said...

Whenever I smell sulphur, I think of the Upper Hot Springs at Banff in the Rockies.

The Long Branch streetcar reminds me of the smells of baking from Christie's and the woods and pond from High Park.

spyscribbler said...

Good point! For me, it's the smell of chlorine. It does something to me. All those hours swimming, growing up.

writtenwyrdd said...

Smells are extremely evocative. I don't know why, but the scent of fresh rain on dry concrete always makes me sneeze, and it always evokes my childhood in California, where it rained only in the winters.

I hope you and yours are doing okay, Chumplet.

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

Feelin' okay, Written -- just trying to finish a novel and now I have to draw twelve funny Santas in two days.

Thanks for thinkin' of me!

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