30 4: Walking While Smelling

4: Walking While Smelling
Most dogs are not employed to find bedbugs or spot cancers. Most live in owner-controlled smell environments,
asked to do little smelling beyond locating and cleaning up any food the resident child has dropped from his
high chair. Moreover, in dogs’ peculiar indoor world, the smells of the day that accumulate on hardwood and
carpet are periodically vacuumed up (which period depends on the dirt tolerance of the co-inhabitants) and
scoured with substances rude to the nose. In this world, crotch-sniffing is frowned upon, and even a
surreptitious lick of an arm or mouth is only sometimes tolerated. The evocative and emphatic smells that
people saturate their clothes with during the day—piles of smelly reminders of their presence—are mysteriously
spun and heated away in large, noise-making machines, emerging as replacement “fresh” odors that call to mind
nothing at all. And on very, very bad days the dogs are led to the fecal-urinous room, piled into a
slippery-bottomed vat, wetted, and made to smell like taxi air freshener.
But oh! when it’s time for The Walk: the olfactory scene changes. The great outdoors provides stimulation
on the ground and on the breeze, on objects passed and passing objects. Each time the front door opens a new
scene arrives, a scene of what has recently happened, what is now happening, and even a bit of what might be
happening down the street. Not for lack of seeing, but clearly my dogs’ journeys down the block are not made
of visual landmarks. We launch outside a few steps above the sidewalk, and before we turn onto it the dogs’
noses are in the slipstream of sidewalk currents, three feet above the ground, occasionally raised up high for a
tall sniff. As we proceed, we pass a loamy tree pit, whose iron rail is messy with the passing dogs of the day;
the sulphurous emissions from a work crew on the street, wafting from between parked cars; a frightening
garage door that sometimes belches open with activity and rushes of air; the busy passage of a community of
birds from apartment house to low tree branches, the berries dropped by the birds on the pavement, from mouth
or ass; the edge of the corner building, where winds race uphill from points south; the slick-slippery feel of the
marble stairs down, requiring more deliberate steps; the bench where a man sleeps at night, littered with his
leavings and the stale, fetid odor of his clothes.
When I came to realize how central smelling can be to the dog, I began doing concerted “smell walks” with
both of my dogs. On these walks we are not trying to make good time. Never do I pull them away from that
spot they’ve been at for impossibly long; I celebrate rather than worry over their abiding interest in other dogs’
rumps. We do not hurry to get around the block, to get home, to get anywhere but wherever their noses lead us.
There is no place we need to get to, or time by which we need to get back, to satisfy smell-walkness. Instead,
the walk is defined precisely by how long and how much my dogs can sniff in. Sometimes the walk involves a
lot of not-walking: standing, nose buried into the earth; nostrils pivoting their heads around to find the dog who
left that message; even lying down with nose high in the air.
Our dogs’ smell-walk routes are almost never the routes—or the paces—of the walks that we humans
concoct for them. As with many owners, when I head out on a walk, there is often a rectangularity to the
episode: down, over, up, back. A walk in the human book has a time limit: “until I need to leave for work,”
“until he does his business,” “until one of us is tired out.” A walk in the dog’s book is much more determined
by circumstance: the course is irregular, doubling back and turning suddenly. On many days, there is no end in
sight—until one suddenly arrives at it.
It occurred to me that, should I truly want to grasp the dog’s sensory experience, it might make sense to
begin with the dog’s walk. I’m already along for the ride. As dog owners, we are implicit—if rather
uninformed—accomplices as our dogs sniff their way down sidewalks, along road edges or park paths. How
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much more might it take to convincingly experience what they smell? After all, everyone who walks a dog
surely sees, after a few goes around the block, the dog’s heightened interest in fireplugs, a tree branch fallen
overnight, or a building scaffold newly erected. Over many, many walks I began to get better at predicting what
would be of interest to my various dogs, following their noses. That fencepost looks recently moistened, I found
myself thinking. Or, Oh, that leaf pile looks pretty appealing. This is, of course, but a tiny minority of the dogs’
smelling experience. Everything they (seem to) put their eyes to, they are nosing: the passersby, the wash of air
from a car door opening, the ground around the park bench, the plastic bag being swelled up by a breeze, or the
helicoptering maple seed being sent down by the trees. I see it. But do I dare to smell it?
“Do you ever smell what the dog is smelling?” Avery Gilbert first says when I ask him for a suggestion of
how to become better at using my nose. “You want to get as close to the ground as you can get to smell things,”
Stuart Firestein tells me, “because that’s where the molecules are.” While I know this logically, I had not
followed it through, to, as Gilbert tells me, “get down there and sniff at it.”
Indeed, we don’t generally sniff it, whatever it is. And so I determined to sniff at it. To smell my
neighborhood as my dogs did.
I found myself surprisingly unworried about the obvious: that the reason we don’t sniff what dogs are
sniffing is, essentially, simple self-preservation and survival. There are funky, foul, downright fetid smells on
the sidewalk. Our species may be the robust, successful species it is because we do not ingest the noningestibles
down there. Instead, I considered the logistics: how could I get at the smells? To start, I figured, I must be
willing to lose some of my restricting bipedal configuration. If indeed being upright, nose too far from the
ground, is what keeps us from smelling, why, I’d go on all fours. When my dog lingers with nose planted at the
base of a tree, so shall I plant my nose. If he gets intimate with a patch of invisible interest in the grass, so shall
I pursue that interest. If he makes inquiries about the pant cuff of a passerby, so shall I. Passerby willing.
I began strongly. On a cool summer morning Finnegan, Upton, and I launched out off the stairs in front of
our apartment building. Right away Finn angled for a tree guard: the impotent short iron fences that ring street
trees in New York City. He examined the edge, which looked recently moistened, with the precision of a
watchmaker diagnosing the innards of an ill watch. When he came up for air, I took over. I had to kneel
awkwardly, one hand ringed with leashes and the other on the rail. I bent very, very close—too close.
Emboldened by Finn’s thorough vetting of the spot, I sniffed with abandon. A strong, bright smell hit me. I
sniffed again. It was not urine, I thought with appreciation. It was, simply, the cool astringency of paint on
metal. As I pulled back my head, my dogs stood to the side, watching me. A couple walking up the hill took a
wide berth. I got up, suddenly self-conscious, brushed off my knees, and let Finn pull me away and down the
“No one questions a dog when they smell the environment,” says Kate McLean, a self-described
“multisensory” artist from the UK who has herself been pursuing urban odors. It was only too apparent to me
and everyone else that I did not have the canine bona fides to get away with sniffing tree guards. After that brief
foray into sidewalk sniffing, I lost my courage. To build some smelling bravado, I followed the brave—in this
case, McLean, who bravely smells her way through cities with an interest in depicting the particular smell
clouds to be found in each.
McLean was visiting New York and invited me along on a “smell-mapping project” in Williamsburg,
Brooklyn. I found her, a bit flushed and with a black stingy-brim fedora atop her head, waiting on the sidewalk
on a warm September evening. She is lean and fine-featured, with an easy smile. Her shoes were well worn,
presumably having walked her nose along many miles. Umbrella in hand, a cheeky nod to the UK style of “tour
leader,” she addressed a cluster of two dozen smell-interested folk gathered around her. They included artists
who worked in multimedia, photography, and with olfaction; memoirists and science writers; a couple of
interested hangers-on; and two professional children. We were, McLean instructed, to take a tour of six or eight
blocks and simply smell, recording what we noticed.
Well, it was not so simple.
“Be aware that there are many different kinds of smells,” she cautioned. “There are episodic smells, which
drift past in a moment—a person, a draft from smoking, a truck—brought on the breeze. Especially at street
corners. So at corners, stand and turn around.”
Apart from the wafting smells, there are also static smells that have been absorbed into materials. “So sniff
walls, touch plants, go into stores,” she instructed, watching smiles creep onto every face. A few people
exchanged raised-eyebrow glances.
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And furthermore, “smell voids” are just as important, she said. Given that we get acclimated to smells, we
should be alert to when we are not smelling anything. McLean recommended using one’s own smell as the
natural resuscitator of one’s sense of smell: by burrowing your nose in your own skin, the receptor cells have a
moment’s pause to recharge and resume their attention to the environmental odors.
McLean handed out handmade accordion-folded maps of our route, with “nose points” along the way to
remind us to pause; to smell high, low, close, and deeply; to breathe in passing smells and constant smells. At
each stop we were to record five scents. Five! I inhaled through my nose as we listened to her. I smelled
nothing, but by the walk’s end my handwritten notes would be overflowing the page, turning around corners
and ducking under other notes much like the routes of the smells we were chasing.
McLean has traveled the globe smell-mapping, from Amsterdam to Pamplona; Glasgow to Newport, Rhode
Island; Milan to Edinburgh; and Paris to Singapore. After each walk, she has translated the walkers’ records
into beautiful maps with a colored, topographic styling marking the sources and spread of odors. Washes of
colored dots mark migrating smells. Each city, she suggests, has a background smell that specifies the place. In
Amsterdam in the spring, it is the “sugary, powdery sweetness of waffles” and the water of the canals. And each
city has distinguishing particulars: Edinburgh’s map, for instance, includes fish and chips, malt spewing from
breweries, and the scent of “boys’ toilets in primary schools.” Heaven knows how she knew that one.
On an earlier visit to New York, McLean mapped what she described as the city’s “smelliest [square]
blocks”—on the Lower East Side between Allen and Eldridge, south of Delancey. While this part of the city has
a varied history—partly manufacturing, partly sordid—its recent sprouting of multimillion-dollar
condominiums challenges her claim. Still, the final smell map included landmarks of sawdust, trash, car oil, and
cabbage, as well as long swaths of dried fish and cheap perfume.
Geographer J. Douglas Porteous called olfactory landscapes like those McLean maps “smellscapes.” Cities,
it has been claimed, are identifiable by their scent. As a freshly baked baguette invokes contemporary Paris, the
characteristic odor experience of a city may come from food or spices sold on the street, the marine air that fills
the city’s avenues, or the detritus of the teeming populace. Certainly there have been smellscapes, celebrated or
not, for thousands of years: in ancient times, temple builders mixed milk and saffron into the plaster; mosques
were built with musk and rose water worked into their mortar. On being rained on or warmed by the sun, the
buildings effused fragrance. For many years there were regular weekly smells: the warm wet smells of washing,
the hot iron on linen; the scent of “baking day.”
The idea of smellscapes has caught on in the field of urban design, whose proponents have an eye to
celebrating and improving the sensory experience of city residents. Some of the programs cities have enacted
are pleasingly quirky. In the Netherlands, pedestrian plazas have been designed to include plants that may have
relaxing, therapeutic effects. Since 2001, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment has supported the
maintenance of “One Hundred Sites of Good Fragrance” countrywide: national landmarks as significant to the
history and culture and life in the country as visual landmarks. They include “the smell of deer seen at Jinhua
mountain”; a house smelling of the animal glue used to paint papier-mâché dolls; “one hundred thousand peach
blossoms at a glance”; and, in the biggest city in Japan, “Kanda’s streets of used bookstores.”I
This turn into designing and celebrating smells follows a long history of complaining and worrying about
smells in cities. And most of this cogitation was because cities smelled utterly, horrifyingly disgusting.
The streets of Manhattan were designed as a grid not only for ease of way-finding but also for ease of
smell-letting. What this implies is that smells needed to be let out. Indeed, the curvy, narrow streets of old
European cities—Paris and London, for instance—were widely seen as attracting and providing breeding
ground for stinks. “Paris may be smelt five miles before you arrive,” it was claimed; the atmosphere around the
cities of Italy was saturated with garlic. The smells of nineteenth-century Paris were described as “intolerable”;
the “monstrous” city of London was “strewn with excrement, mud, decomposing animals, meat, vegetables, and
blood”; odiferous industries like tanneries and breweries were cheek by jowl with residential sections. Both
London and Paris had episodes known as the Great Stink—both caused by a failure of the prevailing sewage
treatment approach.II
The idea with the Manhattan grid, reaching from river to river, was that smells would swirl down the streets
and out to sea. The New York commissioners reported that this would “promote the health of the city” and used
words like free and circulation to vaunt their approach.
The grid did not save the city from its smells. And “smells” in this context were mostly “noxious, horrible
smells.” Consider the state of New York City in the mid-nineteenth century, when horses—then the city’s main
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transport devices—shat freely and plentifully in the street and were often left where they fell and died; the
contents of chamber pots were summarily dumped out of windows; and fear ran rampant that miasmas (foul
gases emerging from the ground) were leading to a cholera epidemic. Conditions were sufficiently bad that a
governmental “smelling committee” was officially called together, tasked with seeking out sources of ill smells
by nose(s).
The notion of contamination by smell continues today, in small doses, with fear and retreat from people who
smell bad, as though disease were conveyed by odor. Though long discredited, this anxiety had its root
hundreds of years ago, when “deodorization” projects began. In particular, streets and sidewalks were paved to
tamp down the miasmic emanations; plaster covered walls that might seep with foul-smelling vapors; industries,
reeking of paint solvent (vaguely banana) or cleanser (soapy), were moved away from residential areas.
Today’s city has done away with the horse and chamber-pot leavings, but it still smells of the city’s
occupants and wares. Concentrate as you walk down the street and you’ll notice the wash of odors out of open
store doors, warmed inside and released in bursts by customers’ entrances and exits. People are perfumed with
bottled fragrances—or the bodily odors that bespeak a lack of fragrances. But one can walk many miles in an
American city without being hit by any specific smells. One of the responses to the overwhelming array of
noxious odors in cities has been to try to do away with odors altogether (as “deodorization” implies) or to cover
them. Ubiquitous chain stores homogenize cities, and there is a booming business of branded scented
environments, in which retailers diffuse a fragrance intended to invoke “car showroom” or “fancy hotel.” The
result may be the waning of the characteristic odor of a city. Should Paris stop smelling like bakeries and
Gauloises, Vancouver like the spray of sea salt, or midtown New York of hot garbage and food carts’
emissions, some part of the place will disappear.
The British urban planner and designer Victoria Henshaw started thinking about characterizing—and
perhaps commemorating—the remaining smellscapes. Building off the idea of city “soundwalks,” in which
urban explorers actively listen instead of just listening in the background, Henshaw thought to bring the notion
to collecting smells, too: smelling actively, searchingly, and intentionally—instead of passively and
accidentally. McLean has used the noses of others, in addition to her own, to take off from Henshaw’s early,
labor-intensive work.
On the street in Williamsburg, our group was slow to begin smelling. To rally us, McLean brought our
attention to a handout she had prepared. Stay hydrated, it instructed. Find hidden corners. Be not embarrassed.
Finally, “Sniffing in public is completely legal,” she thought to add.
Apparently, the activity is sufficiently nonstandard that she has had to consider this.
We set out at a meandering pace. On the sidewalk, among the generally steadfast and quick-footed New
York City pedestrians, our group had a vaguely disoriented look. I came to learn that this is characteristic of
those who are sniffing the air: a faraway, unfocused look to the eyes, head cocked or raised, expression
somewhere between “Did I leave the oven on?” and “I just remembered a dream I had last night. I was in a car,
with no pants . . .” Passersby step around you.
At our first “nose point” we formed a scrum of confused loiterers, nosing around for something to zoom in
on. Stepping to the curb I got my first waft: a nose-pinching, clean-but-not-clean smell. A warm, scrubbed
sidewalk: chlorine at battle with filth. Across the street, a food truck gave off an unmistakable taco-shell/chips
smell: fried corn and used oil. The evening was sufficiently warm, we realized, to be full of smells: just as hot
foods have more odor than cold, summer days have more odor than winter ones. Warmth makes many
substances airborne, volatile, wafting up to meet any sniffing noses.
Our group began to self-organize, alternating poses by curb and by building, sniffing, then scribbling down a
report. By the next street we were all but choreographed in our movements, flocking in pairs to local
landmarks—a tree, an outdoor bench, an exhaust fan—and pointing our noses in unison into the air. People
themselves become clues as to where to sniff. A photographer who had traveled with McLean from the UK,
Sam Vale, bent under a bench backed against a food shop. I followed his nose. Wheatgrass (source: juice shop)
prevailed on the sidewalk. But at the altitude of the bench, the pith of a leaf mixed with a definite spring-onion
smell coming out of the exhaust fan. “This smells amazing!” he said and smiled.
We were into it. I sniffed the base of a tree: urinous. People walking by brought a chaos of fragrant odors:
hair products, lotions, perfumes. Fried food followed a person with a takeout bag. “Use your other senses to
guide you,” McLean reminded us. I touched and crushed a leaf (pleasingly fresh). I followed my ears to a
dripping air-conditioning unit (dank basement) and to a clean towel spanking the air as it was shaken out (dryer
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sheets). Each new or different feature spotted on the sidewalk aroused interest. A construction site’s temporary
fencing yielded a peephole into the site (dust, caulk, and warm brick) and, on its surface, a place for posters
(fresh paper, paste). Even sights I would ordinarily veer around I began veering toward. With but a moment’s
hesitation I dipped my head into the olfactory space above an open trash can. It smelled sweet, almost tangibly
so. The remains of recently chewed mint gum cast upward to my nose. What was usually stomach-turning had
turned into simply news of the street.
Virginia Woolf once tried her hand at smell-walking, in a manner of speaking, through her biography of
Flush, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel. He wanders off into Florence “to enjoy the rapture of
smell” on the streets—“the rough, the smooth, the dark, the golden”—smelling brass being battered, bread
being baked, hair combed, cloth beaten, and men spitting.
I thought of Flush locating the “swooning smells” of the gutter as we hovered around a sewer drain and tried
to catch a spiral of air. Far from swooning, it walloped me. Was it salsa? It bit us with its sharpness. “Chinese
food” was offered. The photographer, Vale, poised over the drain. His head cast around, neck extended, the
very image of a newborn animal lurching for its mother. After a moment, he said, simply, “Garlic.” Our group
erupted in murmurs of appreciation. The question of whether or not we wanted to be smelling garlic from the
drain was trumped by the great satisfaction of identifying it.
Night began to fall. We had been walking for hours. We were shooed away from a restaurant where, even at
a distance, our interest in the outdoor diners’ food was a little too conspicuous. At the walk’s final
odor-promising corner, I faced a plain bricked building, the spent neon sign in a high window signifying a
particular kind of dark, stale-beer-smelling bar within it. Instead of stale beer, I caught a very pleasant savory
smell. It was suspended in just one small invisible cloud of air, and I had to stand on tiptoes, head raised and
nose up, in order to catch it. When I stepped off the curb, it was replaced by a cloud of something darker, gray
and waxy. I took a quick look around for likely sources—perhaps someone was walking by with a plate of
food—and found none. Come over here; there are smells here waiting to be caught I indicated to one of the
very good smell-catchers. He beelined over, stood facing me on the curb’s edge, and we sniffed. Gas? Tar? Not
quite. Then he stepped off the curb in front of a vehicle parked on the street and inclined his head toward the
grille—just about where you’d put your head if you wanted to be squarely concussed by a car. I went in for a
sniff. Warm air greeted my face: the car, an SUV, had been recently parked. A smoky, waxy note curled out
from the engine. It smelled delicious.
How did it come to smell delicious? When one begins actively searching for smells, one finds . . . not a lot.
Just opening your mind (and nose) to the possibility of smells isn’t enough to actually smell anything. And
actively sniffing is an oddly tiring exercise. Try sniffing now, and keep it up for just thirty seconds. Done?
Chances are, you quit about halfway there (or wanted to). And furthermore, you probably noticed not a single
So catching a whiff at all can be exhilarating. But here our undercooked relationship with odors kicks in. In
English, most words for smells are words for their sources. While the sommeliers and perfumers among us may
have a vocabulary to describe that whiff, most of us need something more. To name it—to know it—we want to
know where the smell comes from. If the name and the source are not the same, our work is to resolve them
satisfyingly. McLean remembers someone worrying to her that Paris seemed to have a background note of
honey. Why should the city, not a center of beekeeping, smell of it? She tracked it to its source: not to a hive
nor a covetous Pooh Bear, but to the wax polish popular in the city rife with parquet floors.
If a smell wanders off before being pinned, a beetle to an entomologist’s board, the frustration is stark. If the
smell is traced to its source and its name, it feels truly caught, captured, collected. The car grille smelled
delicious because it was, very clearly, hot oil on hot metal. I recognized the smell, but my certainty was
buttressed by my recognition that I was, after all, sniffing into a recently used engine.
Buoyed, I stepped into the street, momentarily free of traffic, in search of the savory smell still at large.
Catercorner to the bar across the broad intersection was a shop radiating light into the dusk. Its glass doors,
trimmed in red and thrown open, faced the intersection. Aha! This was the source: a bakery. A terrifically
obvious smell, now that I saw its source. The bakery was outputting a caramely, buttery smell, some of which
was surviving being tossed this way and that by passing cars and weaving its way across the street to my nose
as I stood on tiptoes. “I think I need to go there,” said one of the other walkers, catching the drift and darting
toward the light. I did not. I had my source, and the moment was complete.
At the walk’s end, McLean changed senses on us. Pulling out a flip book of paint colors, she asked for the
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We check all papers for plagiarism before we submit them. We use powerful plagiarism checking software such as SafeAssign, LopesWrite, and Turnitin. We also upload the plagiarism report so that you can review it. We understand that plagiarism is academic suicide. We would not take the risk of submitting plagiarized work and jeopardize your academic journey. Furthermore, we do not sell or use prewritten papers, and each paper is written from scratch.

When will I get my paper?

You determine when you get the paper by setting the deadline when placing the order. All papers are delivered within the deadline. We are well aware that we operate in a time-sensitive industry. As such, we have laid out strategies to ensure that the client receives the paper on time and they never miss the deadline. We understand that papers that are submitted late have some points deducted. We do not want you to miss any points due to late submission. We work on beating deadlines by huge margins in order to ensure that you have ample time to review the paper before you submit it.

Will anyone find out that I used your services?

We have a privacy and confidentiality policy that guides our work. We NEVER share any customer information with third parties. Noone will ever know that you used our assignment help services. It’s only between you and us. We are bound by our policies to protect the customer’s identity and information. All your information, such as your names, phone number, email, order information, and so on, are protected. We have robust security systems that ensure that your data is protected. Hacking our systems is close to impossible, and it has never happened.

How our Assignment Help Service Works

1. Place an order

You fill all the paper instructions in the order form. Make sure you include all the helpful materials so that our academic writers can deliver the perfect paper. It will also help to eliminate unnecessary revisions.

2. Pay for the order

Proceed to pay for the paper so that it can be assigned to one of our expert academic writers. The paper subject is matched with the writer’s area of specialization.

3. Track the progress

You communicate with the writer and know about the progress of the paper. The client can ask the writer for drafts of the paper. The client can upload extra material and include additional instructions from the lecturer. Receive a paper.

4. Download the paper

The paper is sent to your email and uploaded to your personal account. You also get a plagiarism report attached to your paper.

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That’s why we have developed 5 beneficial guarantees that will make your experience with our service enjoyable, easy, and safe.

Money-back guarantee

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Zero-plagiarism guarantee

Each paper is composed from scratch, according to your instructions. It is then checked by our plagiarism-detection software. There is no gap where plagiarism could squeeze in.

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Free-revision policy

Thanks to our free revisions, there is no way for you to be unsatisfied. We will work on your paper until you are completely happy with the result.

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Your email is safe, as we store it according to international data protection rules. Your bank details are secure, as we use only reliable payment systems.

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