As spring dawns, city dwellers welcome the return of The Stink
CITIES—The signs of spring are finally upon us. And while in rural areas, people might anticipate the scent of flowers in the air or the earthy smell of fertile soil, those in the cities await the inevitable rebirth of The Stink—a ubiquitous yet ever-changing odour brought on by the warmer, moister air of springtime.
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"I do look forward to it," says Felton Wale, longtime resident of Vancouver and owner of olfactory café The Two Nostrils.
"I think what people really connect with is how variable it is. You just start adapting to one smell—diesel exhaust, say—and with a slight change in wind direction, suddenly it's totally different: decomposing roadkill, maybe. Or fast-food grease-trap. It's glorious!"
Parisian-Canadian smellologist T. Jajeune has written an entire book on the matter.
"From each city's terroir comes its essence," he explains. "Its own special perfume." Asked to give a brief overview of some of Canada's cities, Jajeune rises to the challenge.
Closing his eyes, he rattles them off. "Vancouver: decaying compost, vomit, dead fish. Halifax: outhouse, pungent rot. Calgary: barnyard. Very potent, very fecal. Toronto: hot garbage, flatulence, mouldering dog poop. Saskatoon: cow manure, sewage."
"Of course, these are just the top notes. Each city has its own unique and extravagant bouquet. Each is a rare and beautiful snowflake."
Though each city's odour is distinct, The Stink is also what binds us together. Every urbanite knows the special feeling that percolates deep down in one's gut when the temperature rises.
It's a feeling of belonging. Well, if you're new to the city, it might also be nausea.- Felton Wale
"It's a feeling of belonging. Well, if you're new to the city, it might also be nausea," Wale concedes. "But once you're part of it, you embrace it. You have to. It's patio season."
Jajeune points out that the defining smells of a city never go away, even during the winter. The cold air simply masks them, in the same way that its citizens are swaddled in their heavy overcoats and toques during the frigid months. Now that the season is changing, The Stink will come out of hiding again, like an old friend with hygiene issues who wants a hug.
Just as our interview is wrapping up, Jajeune snaps his fingers, amazed he hasn't yet mentioned what he calls the most "delicate and esoteric" of a city's scents: wafting urine. "This, this is the pièce de résistance. As individual as is the person it issued from. And every place you turn, there it is."
For those city first-timers worried about the oncoming stench, perhaps it's Felton Wale who best sums it up.
"When you open your nostrils to The Stink, you open them to life," he smiles fondly. "Even if it makes you gag."
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