The first time I went to New York City, the smell of the city nearly knocked me over. Acrid yet warm, a little like something had gotten burnt. I didn't know what caused it, but every time I visited, that scent filled the air, stronger than the exhaust from buses, taxis and limos. It permeated my clothes and I'd bring the scent home with me like a memory of my visit.
But then I came to the city in the summer. Got out of the car and noticed right away that the aroma I associated with New York wasn't there. Why not? What had changed? When I figured it out it was one of those doh! moments we all shake our heads over.
All my visits before had been in winter, when the chestnut vendors hawk their wares from nearly every street corner in the tourist areas. The bitter tang was roasting chestnuts, some of which, inevitably, got burned. No one roasts chestnuts in the summer, so no scent.
That experience, however, has stayed with me and now, when I visit the Big Apple in winter, I look forward to the warm memories that scent invokes.
But that begs the question: what about Rome? And Palermo? And Barcelona and Dublin? Do they have unique scents? Is there an aroma that is theirs and theirs alone? Their sights I've seen in pictures, their sounds I've heard in videos -- but the scents? They are a mystery waiting to be experienced.
And I, for one, can't wait for those experiences.
PS. Yes, I will post my olfactory perceptions once I've visited. This is a good lesson for writers not to forget this sense!