Tuesday, February 16, 2010

smells like...

I am a very sensual person - I react emotionally to sounds, smells, and sights more than the average bear (though touch isn't sensitive for me - I apparently have a high pain tolerance).  Today I would like to give you a tour of my favorite smells and why.

Coffee is one of those things that is best experienced through smell.  I love the taste of coffee, but it will never be as good as that freshly ground coffee bean smell.  Heaven.  I am sure this is due, in part, to growing up in Seattle - the jet city.  We have our choice of both corporate-controlled and artisan coffee houses.  My fellow Seattlites will have their strong opinions who who is worth frequenting and who is evil.  I am not a corporation-hating hippy-dippy soapbox-standing coffee drinker, and I distribute my coffee business as is convenient for me.  I don't discriminate, and I most definitely know what I'm talking about.  

The well-run machine that is Starbucks may not have the best cup or that beatnik coffeehouse atmosphere, but they do have the best customer service (at least in Seattle), and they are consistent: every time you order a vanilla latte, it will taste like the one they made you last time; they're dependable.  They employ all those out-of-work young lawyers and architects who have flooded the job market in the last couple years, and offer benefits and reasonable wages to boot.  However, the accolades I'd like to dole out are for another Seattle coffee roaster.  I will always love Starbucks and the time I spent with them slinging espresso during the college years, but the best coffee in all the land comes from Stumptown Coffee.  No contest.  Don't even try to tell me different; I know I'm right and deep in your heart, you know I'm right too.

Ahhhhhhh.... fresh cut grass... it's a serious stress-reliever for me.  Seattle is always wet and drizzly during the fall, winter, and spring.  As soon as the sun comes out, everyone who owns a lawn-mower makes good use of the short-lived opportunity.  I love driving home with my windows down on a sunny day, filling the car with sweet, grass-scented air.  Fresh cut grass (and maybe a little bit of the fumes from a the mower) make me think of sunshine and summer.  It's a clean, earthy smell unlike any other.  You know what I'm talking about.  When I smell it, a weight feels like it's been lifted from my chest, and I get a sense of excitement, as though something good and unexpected is about to happen.

When I was growing up my family co-owned a sailboat with my best friend's family.  Summers were spent on low-budget camping trips in the San Juan Islands.  We'd run up and down the docks (always wearing serious life jackets - the kind that strap not only around your middle, but also around your legs and have the added head-support flotation attached.  We'd catch shrimp right off the dock and zip around with dad in the dinghy setting and pulling crab pots.  I love the mix of the salty air, the wood of the dock, the slight mildew on the canvas sails, the gasoline of the motor boats, and even the tar painted on the pilings.  The compilation of those things can be classified as one distinctive scent: saltwater marina.  A saltwater marina is the smell of life and freedom. It is the smell of adventure and of home.  A trip to Ballard or to the Seattle waterfront is a good quick-fix for a marina craving.  It's not unique to my home city, but to me it is quintessential Seattle... Seattle at its best.

In 2002 I was studying abroad in Paris.  It's an amazingly beautiful city full of history, gastronomy, art, and romance.  I loved it there.  Still, after a period of time I started to feel a heaviness.  I was stressed about classes, about my French language skills, and the struggle to make friends at my American school and yet wanting to assimilate as much as I could with the French culture.  I would take long walks through the historic cemeteries of Paris, kicking the fall leaves as I strolled.  I was happy as a student there, but still I carried a heartsickness I couldn't put my finger on - it's hard to be ungrateful for any day spent in Paris, really.  Then we got news of a tragedy that sent ripples through several circles of people I knew; the accidental death of a classmate of mine in London was enough motivation to buy a train ticket, and I made a plan to meet my roommate from SCU for the weekend at a halfway point between Paris and Alicante, Spain, where she was studying.  We chose Barcelona.  We were both feeling down about the loss of our classmate (someone I'd gone to school with since age 12), and we both felt the need to spend some time in the company of someone who understood how we were feeling.

I took an overnight train out of Paris and arrived in Barcelona the next morning at about 11.  I was on my own for the next several hours, so I disembarked and started walking.  I had no idea where I was headed, but I let my internal compass guide me.  Then, I smelled it: a saltwater marina.  It was glorious.  I took a deep breath in, and as I exhaled, a huge weight lifted off.  It wasn't home - Seattle is never 75 degrees in late November - but a little piece of home had come to me.  I was elated.  I walked toward the water, soaking in the sunshine and the smell of a Mediterranean city.  All the stresses and heartaches I had felt minutes before had temporarily evaporated and I just enjoyed the present.  It was just what I needed.  At that moment, I realized I need to spend my life in a city built on a body of saltwater.  It's how I center and recalibrate my attitude.  Who knew?  (Later that night we drank too much sangria, danced, laughed, and cried.)

When I was in high school I went out for cross-country.  I'm not a big sports person.  I'm not really a team-player... in general.  This is not to say I sabotage group work or refuse to carry my weight when I'm on a group project; I just prefer to work independently when I have the choice.  Cross-country is the perfect sport for someone who likes to work individually and still enjoys the camaraderie of a team.
Cross-country starts in late summer.  Those first couple months are grueling - I hate running in heat and late August can get downright HOT here.  Then, sometime in early October the temperature drops and the rains really set in.  By late October leaves turn colors and begin to fall.  My high school cross-country team often held practices at Woodland Park at the south end of Green Lake.  I loved running the loops at Woodland Park; the terrain is varied (as far as Seattle goes) and the earthy sweet smell of decaying leaves is strong and distinctive, yet surprisingly fresh.  The way that crisp air fills my lungs, sometimes even shockingly cold, helps me push on with my run.

This is my most favorite smell of all time: the blooms of a Daphne-Odora shrub.  To me, there really is nothing better.  Whenever I'm out on a walk or on a run and I smell this fragrant flower, I stop in my tracks, look around to find the source, stand next to it, and take a deeeeeeeeeeep breaaaaaath innnnnnnnnn.... Ahhhh.  This plant symbolizes for me the closing of winter and a transition into spring.  It has a beautifully floral-citrusy smell that is indescribable.

This year for Valentine's Day Andrew gave me a daphne plant.  I. Love. It.  LOVE.  I can only keep it for another couple weeks before I will have to turn it over to my mother.  There are two reasons I must give it up for adoption: firstly and most importantly, I am an accidental plant-killer.  I don't know why; it stumps me too (pun intended :) ).  Secondly, it can't stay in its cute little red pot for more than a month; it's an outdoor pet and I live in an apartment.  Happily, my mother has an amazing green thumb and a giant yard (for city standards) where it can play with other plants.  This is a fantastic solution because I completely trust my mother's gardening skills and her dedication to her flora.  When she has a day off, she spends it in her yard.  

I called her today and told her my plan - she happily agreed and we started brainstorming the perfect location.  I can't wait to share this gift with her.


Koriann said...

When I was in Salamanca, I started feeling really homesick. I had made friends and that was fine, but there was something missing.

When I visited Lisbon, I knew. I sat down on the ground at the waterfront and inhaled deeply. It was the salt water.

Monica said...

I wonder if most Seattlites transplanted to land-locked cities have that experience. :)