Why, I asked my New York City neighbor about her unusual scent. “Whenever I come into the house and it smells this good, I come over and look,” she replied. “The garden is so beautiful!” It’s understandable that people enjoy the scent of the earth and floral stems.
Smells matter to our brains. Even if it’s not rarified garden basil, a smell that conjures up memories of hot markets in Florence, “ground truth” — “the truth about something,” your nose interprets — often gets stronger when it comes into contact with something new. “Scent has some really amazing properties,” says Andrea Deak, who has created scent libraries for Maison Kitsuné, Diesel and much more. “Like with fragrance, it just becomes part of the experience.”
Deak sees scent’s capacity to capture our imagination as no different than sensory perception, like in scent’s potential to shape associations and emotions. “When you smell,” she says, “there are certain triggers that trigger certain responses in the brain.” An overpowering aroma would seem counterintuitive. But if your nostrils crave plants, in our brief town just on the edge of the City of New York, there must be a reason.
The secret, though, is that the native smells of the land are inextricably linked to our native structures — bridges, old houses, streets, trees, overpasses. So, as Williamsburg’s residents have discovered, to break away from asphalt walls and weathered cobblestones, we can enjoy the wonder and not immediately regret it. Even smelling the earth can be a mystery, too.
A soil sample is extracted from the pine needles of an oak tree and blended with microbes, meaning an aroma that one observer at a recent air quality conference described as “subtle, strange and tranquil,” has lingered throughout the Big Apple for decades.