The answer, in all cases, is self-evident. The smell of a city is the collective sensual tapestry of each individual that inhabits it. In other words, urban aromas cannot fail to offer a narrative imbued with history, belief, habits, customs, lore, love, and sin combined—all the essential, and inevitable, elements of city life.
But what about my aural abilities?, I hear you ask. Well, yes, there’s no doubt that there is something wondrous about the ability of sounds like the crowing of a rooster in Palermo, the sonorous echo of a call to prayer in Muscat, and the frantic ringing of a rickshaw bell in Vientiane to make me feel alive (and, in the latter case, to make me perilously aware of how close I’m standing to the edge of the sidewalk). But, to my surprise, it’s smell, more than any of my other remaining fully functioning senses, that I feel tells me the stories I want to write about and leads me to others I otherwise wouldn’t have found.
As my vision enters an autumnal period of decreasing evanescence, perhaps it’s not a coincidence that I’m, now more than ever, addicted to the aromas of a city at first light. It’s in those early hours between the last moments of sleep and the first encounters of the day that I feel the most charged, the most alert, and more than ready to take on a new environment and let its aromas guide me towards my next story.