Quelle est cette odeur?

by jemma margaret

In my youth I sagely observed that the truest thing you could say about a person is they smell.

By smell, I do not intend the verb (which is also true for my most, not all, people), but the adjective. Think about it. Most of that stuff coming out of the human body is a bit foul. At best it’s neutral–never pleasant. Even if you don’t smell on the outside, you most certainly smell on the inside.

Paris also smells. Unlike your guts, which unequivocally stink, Paris smells both amazing and terrible.

Let us start with the good news. According to fairly reliable sources there were 1263 bakeries in Paris in 2006. Probably some of them make flavorless baguettes, greasy croissants, or dry madeleines and others will blow your mind away with the power of wheat, water, and salt (and butter). Yet even the least inspired bakery is a welcome smell on an early weekday morning. If there was a freshly baked perfume I would buy it. And then I would have thousands of friends (and probably some unwanted rodents and ants as well).

Now the bad news. Everyday sometimes twice a day the streets are washed. This is troublesome for me since it usually happens early in the morning when I am running and would really like to blow a snot rocket except someone is hosing down the sidewalk and I worry that would be a very rude gesture. However, perhaps it’s better to keep the snot in my nose as a shield against the inevitable parts of my journey where I must pass into an area with less than optimal ventilation. This could be under a bridge, or along a narrow street, or even up a bounded stairway. All of these places, and some others too, are strongly scented with urine. There may be other gross odors in their, but urine is the piercing high note. I am sure, this being Paris, that the street cleaners have gone on strike and I am also sure they must have immediately had their demands met.

On Saturday I was in the park, and every so often this terrible rotten dog poo smell would draft in, which I concluded was from the flies who were carrying little pieces of it with them past my poor nose. Later, in the grocery store, I was disturbed to find that the smell hadn’t entirely gone away. Is it me? I thought, and began surreptitiously sniffing myself. I do not think that it was, but that is always a fear. Even though it’s inevitable to be part of the smelly billions, I do not want to be the smelly one.