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My advice for the most interesting smell experience: go when the beer is brewing, when the street market is open, on a warm still afternoon when blossoms and pines perfume the air. Go out before breakfast in the fog, or after a rain.

Recently, on the radio program The Splendid Table, Lynne Rossetto Casper interviewed Dr. Victoria Henshaw about “smellscapes,” urban environments that are recognizable by scents and odors. Dr. Henshaw, from Manchester University in Northern England, described a “smell tour” she conducted in Seattle. She explained that the tour began at a park in the international district which had a street market on some days but not on the day of the tour. Henshaw said there were not many “. . . smells in the area . . . situated very close to quite a busy road . . . and that in itself is very telling and offers us insights into . . . the influence [vehicles and traffic have] on our urban environmental experience and smells . . . the traffic fumes also influence our ability to smell and make us less likely to be able to detect smells on a temporary basis . . .”

How disappointed the smellscape tourists must have been. If they had only visited the Pike Place Market instead they would have immediately encountered the mingled scents of fish and meat, vegetables, fruit and flowers. Descending a couple levels, they would have smelled the thick botanic scent of incense mixed with woody must of old clothing, used books, and racks of records (“vinyl”) in their cardboard covers.

Field trip: Visit the Seattle Public Market. You’ll encounter a heady mix of smells that have changed little since the 1970s, and before, and a noisy crowd of shoppers, and vendors explaining their products. Take a notebook (or record notes on your phone). You won’t need a guide.

Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington

Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington

If you were designing a smell tour, where would you have it?


Source: The Splendid Table, Lynne Rossetto Casper on American Public Media, 3/3/2012. http://splendidtable.publicradio.org/listings/120303/

Photos from Katie Eberhart’s personal photo library (Pike Place Market, July 7, 2011).