Scents and Sensibility

A Nose for the City

There is, everywhere, the scent of candles, New York having been transformed apparently into some vast ecclesiastical retailing temple: Flame of Desire, Glimmer of Nature, Light of Spirit, Brightness of Sky, Ray of Sunlight, Spark of Fire at Sephora; Diptyque Heliotrope, Foin Coupé, Bois Ciré, and Thé at Takashimaya; Casablanca Lily at Banana Republic to remind one of the idea of spring as imagined in the middle of winter and purchased and gift wrapped by late fall.

There is the unadorned paraffin smell of the nave at St. Patrick's Cathedral, where pilgrims light $1 candles and give wide berth to a homeless man sprawled in a pew and smelling of eons-old crotch funk. There is the vaguely cat's-pee aroma of eucalyptus at the Union Square Greenmarket, always a sure sign of seasonal transition. There is, at Rockefeller Center, the merest whiff of 75-year-old, 73-foot-tall Norway Spruce from Richfield, Ohio, which, as 41-year-old patrol officer Tom Lake explains, "You can only really smell if you stand in just the right place."

On blocks throughout the city there is the ubiquitous cloying reek of honey-roasted peanuts. And, by way of Proustian compensation, there is also— in a solitary brazier on the east side of Broadway between Spring and Prince streets— that loveliest and most indescribable of endangered urban aromas: the roasting chestnut. Artist friend, when coming to that one, stands stock still with eyes shut tight and drinks it in.

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