Scent of the City

Willy-WonkaI’ve seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory a few times, and wondered what it would be like to stroll next to a chocolate river, pluck candy berries from the bushes, and watch the Oompa Loompas frolic. But, having never seen the movie in a theatre enhanced by Smell-O-Vision, I didn’t know what that scene smelled like – until now. Coming out of our condo some mornings, the air smells like chocolate. A wonderful, rich scent – as if someone has made a giant fondue. Looking around, there are no open kitchen windows, no pans of cooling fudge. When you think of big cities, you imagine bright lights, tall buildings and the sound of traffic, but do you imagine a scent? Turns out there is a chocolate factory in the city, and a website that tracks where you can smell the chocolate on any given day.

Last week I caught a whiff of donut glaze from the neighborhood bakery. I was transported to a Sunday morning in Plehn’s Bakery, my ten year old nose pressed against the display case, waiting for our apricot kuchen to be boxed and tied up with string. Like Proust’s madeleine, just the suggestion of that kuchen sends me back.

I do so much more walking in the city that I ever did in the suburbs; part of my daily commute, an errand, or an add-on to my work-out. It’s fun to take in the sights, the progress of a construction project, or flowering trees starting to bloom. The appearance or reoccurrence of scents is often seasonal – the neighbor’s grill, new mulch, or the outdoor seating area of a restaurant. But other scents are around all the time. That musty, wet smell as you walk down the stairs to some train stations, the frat house beer smell outside the corner bar, the earthy smell of fallen leaves. All parts of the vibrant outside world. Then the wind blows through and clears it all out for another day.

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