The Smells of The City

The City smells.  I don’t know if it smells better or worse than other cities but odor is defiantly part of the San Francisco experience.  When I was a little girl, growing up in the Marina, the smell I associate with childhood and San Francisco is tar.  I lived in a flat with my parents.  My Dad was going to law school and my Mom worked.  I didn’t have kids my age to play with.  In fact, my 4th birthday party is a tapestry of middle-aged adults and old Italians.  Not one other child except for me.  I liked it that way.

However, one day they were taring roofs for what seemed like forever and that smell just stuck in my mind like a perpetual tar baby.  San Francisco = Tar.  Every time I smell it, I go right back to Steiner Street in my head.  The other smell that is prevalent to me, especially now days is fish.  Hey! we are on a bay and fish is part of the landscape when you are on the edges of our wee metropolis.  Sure, the fish smell is more pronounced at the wharf with its open crab pots and docks and sea lions and flying velociraptors (sorry, I mean seagulls).  But there are days when you are on the fringe of the financial district, the wind is roaring through the canyons created by the skyscrapers and you get hit in the face with the smell of sea and sewage.  Yeah, fun.  Do I have any good smell memories of The City?  Actually I do!  It is that damp leaf, woodsy, fresh ocean smell that I associate with The Presidio.  It was always one of my favorite places to go when I just wanted to chill.  It was peaceful and lovely and just reminded me there is beauty all around you, even if it is an out-of-the-way place.

Scientists tell us smells and memories are linked.  I’m not going to mess with stuffy white coat wearing peeps with a degree but I think they are right.  Just think about the smells of your life.  Perhaps it is freshly baked chocolate chip cookies that remind you of your Mother or spring grass that remind you of picking berries with your BFF in vacant lots in Pasadena.  Smells are tricky things.  What are your favorite smell memories of The City or somewhere else?

Posted on April 1, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I grew up in North Beach just a few blocks from Fisherman’s Wharf. My grandparents were immigrants from Italy. My grandfather was a fisherman for many years off the coast and he would go also to Alaska for crab seasonally. My smells are naturally fishy. When I the smell sea air, the tide or seaweed, I think of home.

    Also the smell of polished wood. Our school and church was (is still) an old building rife with wooden pews, classroom furniture and and the nuns kept it shiny and spotless. I wonder if they still do. I don’t think there are enough nuns left. That place is huge.

    Lastly, fermented grapes – because we had a huge oak barrel that my grandfather used to make wine in the garage, if you could call it wine. It was more like grapa. That barrel stuck up the whole garage area, so when I went outside in back, that smell was always there.

    Those are just the ones that come to mind immediately.

    Thanks for that. It was a nice trip back.

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