Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sense of the City (View from the Second City: renamed)

I renamed my column for the Journal Republican to open it up to more story ideas. Also, it will be on a regular schedule, due every other Friday. Pretty excited about that.

I changed the name of this column, from View from the Second City to Sense of the City, specifically for this article. Vision isn't the only way to navigate a city. Chicago can be mapped using all of the conventional senses.

Most think of maps as the visual likeness of a specific area. They are folded up pieces of paper with colored lines and symbols representing roads, parks, "areas of interest." But the map in my head uses more than visual cues. My instinctual understanding of the area around me relies on my other senses, including smell.

I love using my sense of taste and smell. I am a foodie at heart and I am happy with the smell of a great cup of coffee or grilled hamburger or locally brewed craft beer.

Chicago is a wonderful city to navigate by the nose. What a great variety. Chicago is not really known for its chocolate factory, but there is one. Sometimes the smell of cocoa wafts downtown and catches your nose for a second.

The brownie smell is quickly replaced by something else. Sometimes it's a food smell that changes depending on the neighborhood. Sometimes it's the sickly sweet smell of a sewer drain telling us something bad is in the area. We use are noses as a physical test of an area. We are attracted to the cocoa smell and repulsed by the sewer. Some ancient piece of our brain tells us were to go based on a mostly ignored sense.

The farm smells of my childhood behave differently. The city smells seem very binary. They are either there or not. One second you smell something and the next second it is replaced with something completely different.

My White Heath farm has an amalgamation of smells. There is an ever-present smell of flowers or trees with a hint of dirt. Perhaps there is a bit of mold or rust mixed in there. Sometimes manure or diesel or exhaust. They combine to make the unforgettable smell of my childhood.

They say smell is the sense most linked with memory. For me, the smell of freshly baked bread sends me back to my childhood when there would always be fresh bread.

Sometimes my nose plays tricks on me. I often walk by Lake Michigan. Something about the water in the air or the sight of the waves makes me think I smell something that can't be there. Even though I know the lake is freshwater, I still smell almost a hint of salt in the air.

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