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Frank Deis

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The smell of a place

by Frank Deis » Wed Jun 20, 2012 8:48 pm

Technically perhaps this doesn't belong in the Kitchen topic. But what I was thinking of was the "garrigue" -- the smell of the countryside in parts of Provence. It is remarkable how sweet and pervasive that scent is. The hills have lots of lavender, thyme, and I think a kind of heather.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garrigue

"Herbes de Provence" is supposed to call up that memory, and some wines of the south of France are said to smell of "garrigue".

A couple of days ago we were walking out to Tomales Point at the northern tip of the island at Point Reyes State Seashore in California. This is a triangle of land which is on the Pacific plate, and has been sliding up the coastline of California at the average rate of 2 inches per year. The movement happens in jolts, though, during earthquakes, and we saw where a fence had been split into two sections 16 feet apart during the 1906 quake.

Walking out to Tomales Point (we didn't make it all the way there) the 2 dominant impressions, at least this week, were 1) the scenery is just astonishingly beautiful, stark cliffs, blue waves breaking far below, rocks and islands, hard to describe, and 2) the SMELL was overwhelming, there were all sorts of flowers and plants covering the hillsides and it was like being in a perfume shop, a constant strong scent the whole way. Occasionally you saw some Tule Elk here and there, which added to the impact of the walk. And you saw vultures all around you, above and below, and during the walk back I had the sense that they were really kind of checking me out. Not yet, guys.

There have been lots of really good smells in California. I wonder if you can think of examples elsewhere??

My home town of Hampton has a smell, the smell of low tide, which is not necessarily a "good" smell but when I go back there I know I am home when I smell it...
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Re: The smell of a place

by Karen/NoCA » Wed Jun 20, 2012 9:07 pm

Frank, we have a 23 year old grandson from Ohio living with us for a few months. He has vacationed with us through the years, but now that he has been here for three months, he has told me so many times that CA smells so good. I keep asking him what he smells, and he says, "I don't know, just very clean stuff". I thought maybe it was the jasmine in my yard and the roses in bloom, plus my herb garden, but he says no, that CA smells good all over town! He is working as a medical equipment technician and the company services three counties, he says he can smell "clean, and fresh" in the mountains, along the interstate, everywhere. It is a mystery to me, but maybe all the rules CA has is paying off.
I also know that he is speaking with some degree of knowledge to what he is smelling because he can take my recipes apart just by smelling them.

By the way, we have visited that triangle of land you speak of, it is indeed beautiful. Have you been to the Cow Girl Creamery there in Point Reyes? Last time were were there, that complex was a fun visit.
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Re: The smell of a place

by Frank Deis » Wed Jun 20, 2012 9:45 pm

The Cowgirl Creamery shop was closed when we were there, unfortunately!

But now I will have some really nice associations when I buy their cheese back in NJ.

I really have to agree that most of the parts of California we have been in smell quite good.

I was disappointed that San Francisco has an occasional smell that's too reminiscent of New York City...
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Re: The smell of a place

by Mark Lipton » Thu Jun 21, 2012 1:30 am

Frank Deis wrote:
A couple of days ago we were walking out to Tomales Point at the northern tip of the island at Point Reyes State Seashore in California. This is a triangle of land which is on the Pacific plate, and has been sliding up the coastline of California at the average rate of 2 inches per year. The movement happens in jolts, though, during earthquakes, and we saw where a fence had been split into two sections 16 feet apart during the 1906 quake.

Walking out to Tomales Point (we didn't make it all the way there) the 2 dominant impressions, at least this week, were 1) the scenery is just astonishingly beautiful, stark cliffs, blue waves breaking far below, rocks and islands, hard to describe, and 2) the SMELL was overwhelming, there were all sorts of flowers and plants covering the hillsides and it was like being in a perfume shop, a constant strong scent the whole way. Occasionally you saw some Tule Elk here and there, which added to the impact of the walk. And you saw vultures all around you, above and below, and during the walk back I had the sense that they were really kind of checking me out. Not yet, guys.


Frank,
You were visiting one of our favorite parts of the world. Did you see any of those white deer imported to there from the SF Zoo way back when? That smell, of course, is the local chapparal, the CA equivalent of garrigue. There's plenty of wild sage that contributes to it, but also loads of wild rosemary and eucalyptus. There are those who would claim that the "minty" character of some of the wines from Napa and Sonoma is the result of the eucalyptus growing locally, a clear echo of the garrigue of the S Rhone and Provence.

There have been lots of really good smells in California. I wonder if you can think of examples elsewhere??


We do quite of bit of hiking in the desert of the SW US. There is a characteristic smell to the desert that is again related to the chapparal, although creosote bushes add their own special character.

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Re: The smell of a place

by Frank Deis » Thu Jun 21, 2012 2:02 am

Mark, we didn't see white deer, but down near the lighthouse, we saw the little Mule Deer. It was comical, first we saw a few of them, and then on the walk from the parking lot to the lighthouse, we saw a ridge, and poking up over the ridge were a couple of "V" shapes -- Mule Deer ears! It was just like some sort of cartoon.

The hotels here in CA frequently plant jasmine around the front door, that and roses. We're at the Wine Country Inn in St. Helena and when we are leaving it always smells kind of like nutmeg for some reason.
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Re: The smell of a place

by Frank Deis » Thu Jun 21, 2012 12:46 pm

Mark, thanks, chapparal has to have been part of what we were smelling but in June the yellow lupines bloom in a riot and part of what we were smelling was really sweet and floral.

http://www.sunset.com/travel/california ... 000015425/

It has to change with the seasons.

Which reminds me of New York City. Perhaps I shouldn't do this: but in summer, it is a mixture of diesel exhaust, dried urine, smoke, changing cooking smells. In a way you can get to like the stinky combinations but you wouldn't want to bring it home with you. In winter, on so many street corners there are hawkers roasting chestnuts or heating soft pretzels, and those smells, the roasted and burned chestnuts particularly, are kind of romantic. And when it snows, New York almost smells sweet... So many of the bad smells get covered up...

Many parts of SF smell good, particularly the parks, but it's a big city and the urine smell comes and goes. I don't remember that in Boston. Maybe I stuck to the "good" neighborhoods in Boston.
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Re: The smell of a place

by Rahsaan » Thu Jun 21, 2012 2:44 pm

Frank Deis wrote:Many parts of SF smell good, particularly the parks, but it's a big city and the urine smell comes and goes. I don't remember that in Boston. Maybe I stuck to the "good" neighborhoods in Boston.


Depends on the time of year I would imagine. Boston is cooler, windier, and practically empty. Nothing like the smell density of Nyc.

And speaking of this issue, I was recently back out in the Bay Area for a weekend after not having been there in four years and was immediately struck by how clean, clear and invigorating it is, even in SF, compared to Nyc. Ahh, the memories... (Of course it all depends on your comparison. Oslo is another level of cleanliness and invigorating air indeed. But the Bay Area has that whole floral thing going on, which is great)
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Re: The smell of a place

by Robin Garr » Thu Jun 21, 2012 3:58 pm

Frank Deis wrote:...on so many street corners there are hawkers roasting chestnuts or heating soft pretzels, and those smells, the roasted and burned chestnuts particularly, are kind of romantic. ...

You should have gotten over to Greek Astoria, where there's a souvlaki man grilling lamb chunks over charcoal on every corner.
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Re: The smell of a place

by Carl Eppig » Thu Jun 21, 2012 4:40 pm

Robin Garr wrote:You should have gotten over to Greek Astoria, where there's a souvlaki man grilling lamb chunks over charcoal on every corner.


Amen to that. When we lived in Bayside and had to change to an uptown train, I had to change to a train coming out of Astoria. As soon as the door opened, even at 7 am, you were hit with an overpowering odor of garlic!
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Re: The smell of a place

by Max Hauser » Thu Jun 21, 2012 4:52 pm

Seasonal flowers etc. aside, natural smells around N. America also reflect overall Northern-Hemisphere macro-meteorology. I became sharply aware of this when I started living and traveling in widely-separated parts of the US.

Along the Pacific coasts in N. America, refreshed air normally arrives flowing eastbound after traversing the planet's principal water body. One effect is temperature stabilization (so despite sometimes heavy precipitation, the W. coasts don't get as hot or as cold as many points inland, or even the E. coasts). Another is a general air freshness that can't be taken for granted where the air has flowed further over farmlands, cities, industries, or fermenting vegetation in Spring thaws (an unforgettable smell memory from moving to Massachusetts that time of year).

One spectacular example of this (not, I assume, on Frank's itinerary) is right in California, just 100 miles or so inland from Pt. Reyes and somewhat south. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in part of the Central Valley collect literally tens of thousands of cattle together, standing around, feeding, and scenting the air for literally 10 miles north and south with their waste. You can see these animals clearly when driving northbound on Interstate 5. The immediate area has only light human population, but even miles from the feed lots, stopping for gas etc., the smell dominates everyone's impression.
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Re: The smell of a place

by Rahsaan » Thu Jun 21, 2012 4:57 pm

Max Hauser wrote:Seasonal flowers etc. aside, natural smells around N. America also reflect overall Northern-Hemisphere macro-meteorology...Along the Pacific coasts in N. America, refreshed air normally arrives flowing eastbound...


Good point. I understand this is the reason why many old cities in Europe had wealthy districts in the west and poor districts in the east.
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Re: The smell of a place

by Max Hauser » Thu Jun 21, 2012 5:14 pm

Mark Lipton wrote: There are those who would claim that the "minty" character of some of the wines from Napa and Sonoma is the result of the eucalyptus growing locally...

One professional, who did business with Heitz during its harvest of the "Martha's Vineyard" grapes (a great wine, but specifically the one that got the original publicity, since the 1970s, about minty nose and an oft-speculated connection to nearby Eucalyptus trees) remarked to me that during the harvest, open trucks collecting the picked grapes were parked under those Eucalyptus trees, and that Eucalyptus leaves visibly mingled with the grapes pre-crush. (All just fortuitous coincidence, I'm sure it could be claimed ...)

This informant, who when we spoke had been growing wine grapes himself for a few years, mentioned it while showing his own vineyard and its carefully chosen herbal "ground cover" planted between the vine rows. The ground cover can impart benefits related to soil, pests, etc., he said, but its own aromatic role shouldn't be overlooked. (As this was in Mendocino County, a place familiar to me, I made the customary quip re one particular herb prominent in the county's economy; the winemaker acknowledged that, but said that among other considerations, it wasn't agriculturally useful for the purpose of grapvine ground cover.)
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Re: The smell of a place

by Frank Deis » Sat Jun 23, 2012 2:54 am

If you have been to Amish country in Lancaster PA in the spring -- you see Amish farmers with teams of horses plowing or harrowing -- and the overwhelming smell is of horse dung, and the surprising thing is that it smells pretty nice. Definitely a "natural" smell.

On the other hand there are places we used to drive past in Maryland where Frank Perdue had chicken concentration camps. Not a good smell...

When I see "Witness" -- I can't think of many other films that involve Amish life -- that horse smell really comes to mind.

All of my genealogical research has taught me that I have some distant Amish cousins, and maybe that's why I find them so fascinating. Of course I learned about their wonderful quilts before I realized I had a personal connection. The use of solid colors has made several people see Amish quilts as a valid branch of Modern Art. There are some quilts that truly put one in mind of Mark Rothko. And the fact that the ladies who made the quilts are utterly without artistic pretensions only makes the situation more charming...
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Re: The smell of a place

by Jenise » Sun Jun 24, 2012 6:55 am

When I was a little girl growing up in Southern California, we would go to the beach several times each summer, about a 40 mile drive. As we got closer, we kids had a contest of sorts about being the first to note, "I smell the beach!"--a smell that is kelp and salt all at once. I idolized that smell, and it is a great part of why I now live where I have the opportunity to smell that every day, even though it's really only evident on sunny days at low tide and we don't have California's routine sunniness. Back home we were surrounded by mature pine and eucalyptus trees, smells I love to this day--even in my wine. And it's why though I prize modern furnishings and beach life, I would be very happy in a foresty place in a house whose walls were lined with planks of knotty pine.

Northern California DOES have a lot of great aromas, though. The move up here required me to drive all three of our cars north as well as the final truck with all the wine on board. I took different routes each trip, and I saved Yosemite for the trip in the convertible so that I could have the sheer pleasure of being able to stare straight up in such a vertical place. What I remember being affected by the most, however, wasn't what I saw so much as what I smelled as I got deeper into the Park from the south entrance. Growing up we spent two weeks of every summer in Yosemite, and though I remember it smelled good up there I didn't remember anything like the complex aromas that swamped me that November when there was absolutely no barrier between me and it. Heavenly.

Another place I strongly associate with a particular smell is the green chile cloud that hangs over most of New Mexico in August, when 50 or more pounds of that lovely fruit per household are being roasted on street corners and grocery parking lots throughout the land. I had always liked green chiles, but it was that ritual's aroma that turned me into a green chile addict.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: The smell of a place

by Frank Deis » Sun Jun 24, 2012 1:30 pm

The "chile cloud" in New Mexico reminds me of Richmond, Fan District, 1968-1972. There was a McCormick spice factory only a few blocks from our apartment, and you would unpredictably smell intense vanilla or black pepper or nutmeg. And in the fall, trains would come in from all over Virginia and maybe North Carolina with cars packed with tobacco leaves. I suspect that even tobacco-haters might have enjoyed that, because this was un-smoked tobacco. As a little kid -- my dad smoked a pipe for a while, and I loved to stick my nose into the round tobacco tin. Sometimes it was "Cherry Blend" and it just smelled great to me (even though I hated the smoke at family gatherings). Probably it's like how some people (including the young me) love the smell of roasted coffee beans but can't take the bitter flavor of brewed coffee. At any rate, for at least a couple of weeks, the air everywhere smelled like my dad's tobacco tin.

On rare occasions, even though the big chemical factories were pretty far out of town, they would have some kind of problem and an acrid gas would be everywhere making people cough and tear up. I was trying to be an eco-activist back then and I made phone calls and tried to do something about that but Richmond was a town that was very friendly to industry and not very worried about the environment, so I got absolutely nowhere.
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Re: The smell of a place

by Robin Garr » Sun Jun 24, 2012 2:24 pm

Frank Deis wrote:And in the fall, trains would come in from all over Virginia and maybe North Carolina with cars packed with tobacco leaves. I suspect that even tobacco-haters might have enjoyed that, because this was un-smoked tobacco. As a little kid -- my dad smoked a pipe for a while, and I loved to stick my nose into the round tobacco tin. Sometimes it was "Cherry Blend" and it just smelled great to me (even though I hated the smoke at family gatherings). Probably it's like how some people (including the young me) love the smell of roasted coffee beans but can't take the bitter flavor of brewed coffee. At any rate, for at least a couple of weeks, the air everywhere smelled like my dad's tobacco tin.

Richmond and Louisville had much in common, with a once booming group of cigarette factories that went back to the 1800s and, well out of town, high-tech neoprene plants, DuPont and others, built quickly to make "artificial rubber" during WWII. When the cigarette plants and Bourbon distilleries were both adding their scents to the skies it could get very interesting. :D And the big Ralston Purina and Pillsbury silos added yet another dimension.

Air pollution regs have changed everything, but my home town did have a very distinctive scent when I was growing up.

Also, I remember Dublin smelling a lot like strong black coffee thanks to the dark malt roasting at the Guinness plant at St. James's Gate.
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Re: The smell of a place

by Jeff B » Sun Jun 24, 2012 2:37 pm

This is not entirely related but one of my favorite "place scents" is the post office. It's that scent of freshly minted stamps mingling through the office. I just love it. It's kind of a sweet yet clean type of scent.

Jeff
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Re: The smell of a place

by Mike Filigenzi » Sun Jun 24, 2012 7:27 pm

Near my in-laws' place in Green Bay, there's a pickle factory which definitely lends an interesting smell to the neighborhood, at least when the wind is blowing in the right direction.

Another place that had a distinctive smell was the area in Monrovia, CA where I had my first laboratory job. There was a smokehouse nearby and the place often smelled like ham or bacon. That was hard to ignore...
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Re: The smell of a place

by Mark Lipton » Sun Jun 24, 2012 11:23 pm

Mike Filigenzi wrote:Near my in-laws' place in Green Bay, there's a pickle factory which definitely lends an interesting smell to the neighborhood, at least when the wind is blowing in the right direction.

Another place that had a distinctive smell was the area in Monrovia, CA where I had my first laboratory job. There was a smokehouse nearby and the place often smelled like ham or bacon. That was hard to ignore...


And of course that brings to mind the notorious smell of Coalinga, CA, where the cattle stockyards lend a particular nuance to the air. :roll:

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Re: The smell of a place

by Jeff Grossman/NYC » Mon Jun 25, 2012 12:43 am

How can one ignore Northern New Jersey -- all kinds of industry including tanneries. That is a smelly business.
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Re: The smell of a place

by Mike Filigenzi » Mon Jun 25, 2012 9:59 am

Mark Lipton wrote:
And of course that brings to mind the notorious smell of Coalinga, CA, where the cattle stockyards lend a particular nuance to the air. :roll:

Mark Lipton


Yeah, when you drive through there you always hit that initial moment when everyone in the car is looking sidelong at each other before realizing that the smell is coming from outside of the vehicle.
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Re: The smell of a place

by Frank Deis » Mon Jun 25, 2012 10:08 am

Jeff Grossman/NYC wrote:How can one ignore Northern New Jersey -- all kinds of industry including tanneries. That is a smelly business.


When I moved to NJ in 1972, I just accepted that the whole place was a joke. And about all I knew about the state was that there were tank farms and bad smells when you drove through Elizabeth on the Turnpike. That's all a lot of people know about NJ.

Fortunately we soon got deeply involved in birding, and joined a couple of clubs and went out really frequently. And the field trips took us to the salt marshes and barrier islands on the coast, down into the heart of the Pine Barrens, off to the sod farms in central NJ, and up into Bergen County which is largely hills and trees and lakes. We birded the Great Swamp, and the wonderful woods and marsh hidden behind the Princeton Institute for Higher Studies.

I'm not sure how many NJ residents are as aware as we are of the beauty and diversity of the state. Certainly very few people who don't live here have the slightest clue. Without all that bird watching, we wouldn't have the complete picture either.

Birders routinely flock to NJ for "Big Day" birding experiences in May. We are smack on the migration routes for several species, and the fact that you can drive from a fresh water bog to an oak forest, to the Pine woods and then a salt marsh -- the habitats are so very different and yet reasonably close together so a really good birder can break 300 species in 24 hours if he chooses the right day and has some luck.

BTW the famous old sci fi movie "Blade Runner" was shot before there was any such thing as CGI. So if you saw something on the screen, it was real (well, the flying cars were on wires etc.). Some of the hideous depressing "future" city architecture was shot in a refinery that you can see from the turnpike in Elizabeth. I think of Blade Runner whenever we drive past that. And roll the windows up tight.
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Re: The smell of a place

by Jeff Grossman/NYC » Mon Jun 25, 2012 10:50 am

Northern New Jersey is really a different state from the rest of New Jersey.
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Re: The smell of a place

by Robin Garr » Mon Jun 25, 2012 11:53 am

Jeff Grossman/NYC wrote:Northern New Jersey is really a different state from the rest of New Jersey.

Bergen's not bad, or it wasn't in the '90s when we used to nip over there from Queens when we wanted to go to Carlo Rossi's or the Japanese mall or just have a suburban experience. :lol:
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