Wednesday, June 24, 2009

It's the smell

If there is such a thing.

I took a semester off from college to -- you guessed it -- backpack through Europe. One of the things I remember so clearly from the green wilds of northern Scotland was a distinctive smell.

It was tarry and dark, slightly burnt and slightly sweet, and I always assumed it was burning peat. Later I suspected it was the distinctive tang of a coal fire. Once in Albuquerque I walked past a building that was receiving new hot tar on the roof, and smelled the smell.

Another time (more recently, though not this week) in London I walked out of the British Museum and through a cloud of steam from a hot dog vendor on the sidewalk. The steam had the smell! Or almost did: he can't possible have been running a coal-fired hot dog cart. I hope.

Anybody have any idea what this smell is? I come across it so rarely that when I do I'm instantly transported back to Scotland, and a host of other memories come crowding in.

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