Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts


The Smells of New York

posted by Mark D. Roberts

I recently posted a series of photographs of New York, souvenirs of a sprink break trip. Undeniably, there is more to see in this city than in just about any place else on earth.
And more to smell. This fact hadn’t quite invaded my consciousness until I read an AP news story today. “Volunteers amble through olfactory jungle of NYC” describes the results of a Rockefeller University research project on New Yorkers and smells. In a five-year study (!), researchers attempted to create a “smell demography” of New York City, showing how people’s sense and valuation of smell varies according to a wide range of factors (age, gender, ethnicity, etc.).
It turns out the the most popular smell, across the board, is vanilla. The least favorite smell is Isovaleric acid, the smell we associate with sweaty socks.
Reading this article reminded me of just how many different smells greeted me as I walked the streets of New York. Many were fantastic, emanating from Italian or Chinese restaurants. Yes, I did catch a few whiffs of chesnuts roasting on an open fire. (Though I have happy associations with this word picture, I don’t love the smell.)  One of the more omnipresent smells on the streets of New York was cigarette smoke, which was not so pleasant. Since smoking in office buildings is prohibited by law, smokers are forced to share their smoke with pedestrians.
On some future trip to New York, I think I’m going to keep track of what I smell while walking through the city. It is, indeed, an “olfactory jungle.”



  • Mariam

    Well, you are generous if you think cigarette smoke is the worst of it!

  • http://www.markdroberts.com Mark D. Roberts

    Mariam: Well, the garbage left out to be picked up was pretty bad.

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