Summertime in New York has a distinct funk that is easily detectable. It is the suffocating aroma of sweaty subways, mixed with garbage and urine. The smell is strong enough to be recognized as a specific New York smell. While most fast-paced New Yorkers have learned to ignore the stink, others go on Smellmap guided tours where they walk and stop and smell the city.
Our minds associate certain smells with certain places, like the aroma of fresh baked croissants in Paris or the marijuana smells of Amsterdam. But British "multisensory artist and designer" Kate McLean says that in reality, Amerdam's poignant "background smells" are of warm waffles and coffee and the less fragrant smell of canal water. McLean says New York has "a warm, musty smell that comes from the cellar."
On Sept. 10, McLean led a team of followers on a New York tour of smells. The two dozen sniffers got up close and personal to the stink of green trash cans and restaurant orders, all mixed with the smell of car exhaust, stagnant sewer and the occasional overpowering cigarette.
People on the Smellmap walk took out pens and paper, noting the odors like the sewer smell on the corner of Fifth and Berry Streets in Williamsburg. The artsy hipster Brooklyn neighborhood was found to carry the smells of sewer and marijuana.
The tour group walked around Bedford Avenue, stopping from time to time to take in the fragrant smells from European tourists, the artisanal coffee and the occasional garbage smell. The smell of another kind of green was also noticeable in Brooklyn.
"There are a lot of juice places around here," said team member Nate Havens while noting the wheatgrass odor that followed from Bedford Avenue's Juice Generation to Tiny Empire. "Is that a Brooklyn thing?" the 11-year-old asked.
Other New York City odors include the various mouth-watering smells from foodie favorite restaurants, but other times it's the restaurants scraps that stink up the sidewalls.
Other tour members got down and dirty, crouching down to smell the old coffee cups and empty vintage soda bottles.
McLean's map of Williamsburg smells is not her first nose-guided tour. The artists previously created a Smellmap for Amsterdam, Edinburg, Milan and even Greenwich Village in New York.
The Brooklyn sniffers found parks to be the smelliest. Sniffers concluded that Williamsburg smells of garlic and tarmac.
The tour allows nosey tourists and New Yorkers to experience the city from another sense.