Late August Ramble

Chile-roasting in action.

Hey, everyone – short meander today. It’s almost the end of August, such a transitional time of year — back to school, late summer vacation, etc. In D.C. it was sultry and/but the city empties out in August, so just staying put could be nice and quiet. We’re heading into Labor Day weekend and then Fiestas the following weekend, so there are loads of people in town right now, bringing a lot of wild energy (maybe all that tequila?) I’m hoping the folks along the gulf coast/southeast U.S. don’t get whacked too hard by the approaching hurricane.

As of earlier this year, New Mexico is the first state with an Official State Aroma – the smell of roasting chiles. (The backstory is kind of sweet, a bunch of schoolkids learning how legislation works by proposing it.) Anyway, the chile roasters are just getting set up in parking lots and the farmers market with early harvest. It really is a wonderful smell, but I’d argue there are more ubiquitous aromas they could have chosen. Marijuana for one, although I guess that’s true in a lot of places now. The resin-y pungency of sage/evergreen is a constant in the background, that’s a great smell, especially after a rain. Or they could have chosen the smell of pinon burning, it’s popular to burn in fireplaces and on some summer mornings it’s cool enough here that people have fires and I can smell it around my neighborhood in all its incense-like glory.

A basket pre-roast.

Most of us are familiar with all the “scent of X city” candles – like coffee in Seattle, etc. I think they’re a fun idea but in general don’t do much to conjure a place for me. What would a New York candle smell like? There could be a summer version that captures its specific fetid smell, asphalt and garbage and exhaust. I find it really evocative, but okay I probably wouldn’t buy it. Summer in the D.C. suburbs where I grew up would be cut grass, bug spray, sunscreen and chlorine, maybe a hint of swampy undertone. The corresponding ambient soundtrack would be cicadas and lawnmowers.

If where you live (or where you vacation, or another spot) were a room spray or a candle, what would it smell like? Any special plans for the upcoming holiday if you live in the U.S.?

  • Musette says:

    And here? Right now it smells like anhydrous ammonia and ripening corn. Horses (Sale Barn is this weekend and it’s a block from my house).
    A hint of smoke – not sure if it’s coming from CAN or my firebug neighbors.

  • Musette says:

    The scent of NYC is, for me, Liz Zorn’s (now Soihvole) Violets & Rainwater. I’ve written about how it evokes this little florist on Irving Place – a pot of violets has overturned on a post-rain sidewalk… it’s heartbreaking, the idea of this overturned pot – a metaphor for Life in Chaos… then pragmatism rears its head and says if you just pick the damb pot up and set it aright – it will be fine.

    I love that.

    • Musette says:

      sounds like a heavy lift for a perfume but Liz pulls it off.
      Or else I’m just making all of that up. Your call.

    • March says:

      I remember your admiration for this, it makes sense! I’m trying to think of another fragrance that makes me feel the same way, can’t get my brain to come up with the name…

  • cinnamon says:

    Literie Candles of NY offers some things that truly smell of the city. I have the caramel nut one (ie, of the nut carts on street corners) and it does truly smell of NYC to me. As to where I live, well … salt air (I’m near a tidal estuary that dumps into the Atlantic), and at different times of the year silage spread on fields, spring flowers (lilacs and mock orange in particular), and honeysuckle and cows in the summer.

    • March says:

      I would love to take a walk in your area and do a lot of deep inhalations, it sounds wonderful. Even the cow note! Those Literie candles sound worth exploring…

  • Dina C. says:

    You nailed the scent and sound of the DC metro area. Here on the Virginia side it’s all about grassy lawns, kids playing outside after school, (the pool has only a few more days to go), and cars driving by. Your part of the world seems like it smells much more atmospheric. This weekend we’re dog-sitting our granddog. He’s a sweet, goofy pittie mix.

    • March says:

      Oh, the end of summer pool season! I loved those late August days there, with very few people. Have fun with the grand-dog!

  • alityke says:

    Growing up my town smelt of coal. Raw coal in cellars & coal holes (like enormous composters, cover lifted & coal went in the top, coal came it from a small hatch at the front), the smell of burning fires & if the wind was right the stink of the coking plants.
    Surrounding villages had the added layer of barnyard, blossoms, trees & neat gardens.
    Now? The coal is missing & there are fewer farms but the trees & gardens are the same.
    Town centre? Smells of food, beverages & building

    • March says:

      That sounds WILD, that coal smell, not sure I know what it smells like! We had a coal cellar (with leftover coal in it) in my house as a kid but I can’t conjure up any particular smell associated with it.

      • alityke says:

        Very mineralic in its raw form. A coal fire still brings memories of doing toast on forks during the electric strikes in the 70’s. I prefer not having black snot from the streets though.
        Other than the London Underground it doesn’t happen now

        • March says:

          That coal smell sounds really interesting! Laughing about the “black snot” — one thing I noticed having moved away from D.C. is I’m not wiping gray/black smog off my skin any more.

          • alityke says:

            I used to work on the top floor of “Jimmy’s”, the biggest Teaching Hospital in Europe. It sits on a hill over Leeds city centre. A city that still has traffic going through it. In summer there was a green/grey haze/smog hanging over it. On those days the ER was rammed with chest & heart emergencies.
            It was the acrid stink of rubber, exhaust fumes & humidity

  • ElizaC says:

    The smell of roasting chiles is so delicious! Seattle is the smell of chocolate and coffee, salt water and trees, damp concrete and, this August, a bit of smoke.

    • March says:

      See, your Seattle sounds so much better than the Seattle candles I’ve smelled, I’d buy that! Sorry about the smoke, though!

  • Portia says:

    What an excellent way to teach kids about process March. I love that they did it, it was a first and now the terrifying thought of making law is dispelled for them. Bravo.
    Sydney is pretty much DC smells. Parramatta you would add eucalyptus and the various smells of high rise construction.

    We are heading warm now. Next week we will already hit 30C/86f.
    Portia x

  • Tara C says:

    Well, Montréal smells a lot like hot asphalt, sometimes overripe trash, and a exhaust fumes lately, but we’ve had a lot of rain this summer which clears that out and leaves a nice wet concrete and dirt smell. But a favorite Canadian smell is the Atlantic coast where you get a delicate mixture of sea air, pine needles and beach roses blooming. I really want to smell some burning pinon.

    • March says:

      Ooooh, I want a candle with that Atlantic coastal smell! I feel like the “sea air” part of it never comes out right in candles, too marine.

    • carole macleod says:

      Funny, Tara C – I’m from Nova Scotia, and I wanted to respond to this post-and you described it perfectly lol. Plus sweetgrass, which smells amazing 🙂

      The idea of the smell of roasting peppers sounds delicious. There was a L’artisan fragrance based on that smell, wasn’t there?

  • Tom says:

    LA is too big and too diverse to do one candle. What I would smell in my ‘hood would be nothing like East LA or Santa Monica or Highland Park, etc. These days West Hollywood is reeking of pot, and since the bars are in full overserve mode, pot and puke. with whatever cologne du jour is popular on top. BH smells of coffee and car exhaust and flowers. we’ve been lucky that we haven’t smelled of wildfires thanks to Hilary and El Nino, but the year isn’t out yet. I am sticking close to home for the holiday weekend. I will use my newly minted senior bus pass to visit the museums on Museum row (since the pass now makes that $7 fare free!)

    Why am I bitter so early in the week?

    • Maya says:

      To get it out of the way and make room for the good stuff. 😉 Powerball’s getting up there.

    • rosarita says:

      We are living in bitter times.

    • March says:

      I’ve only been to LA a few times (three?) but I totally get that it would be some very different smells, it’s so spread out and you have the ocean nearby. You don’t sound bitter, you sound practical! I’m skipping downtown this weekend too, it’s just nuts now. Sunday is “free museum” day for NM residents so I’ll probably do that as well.

      • Pat Borow says:

        Back in the day, large swaths of LA smelled of sage, eucalyptus, all the aromatic shrubs in the hills, dust and smog. I had a bit of distillate f California sage from Big Sur. Made a hand cream from it. The city , as I remember it, was all bus and car exhaust, and sometimes night-blooming Jasmine.