Summer has hit Philadelphia, and I am suddenly awash in olfactory remembrances.
This happens to me every year at the beginning of the hot season. I spent a lot of time in Philly while I was growing up and the vast bulk of those days were during the months of June, July and August. My mom would bring my sister and me from the smoggy Los Angeles to humid Center City Philadelphia (I realize, not the best swap, but we didn’t have a choice in the matter).
This morning, when I walked out of my building, my nostrils were assaulted by the smell of sour humidity. Of warm moisture, tinged with pungent garbage. In that moment, I remembered being three years old, and trotting next to my mom down 19th Street, while she pushed my six month old sister in the umbrella stroller. I was wearing pink Strawberry Shortcake sneakers and pretending to jog, because I thought that’s what you were supposed to do in sneakers. I was pleased with myself and the rest of the world that day, and felt like everything would be good forever. It’s funny how such an unpleasant smell can bring back really wonderful memories.
As I boarded the elevator tonight, getting home after seeing An Inconvenient Truth (which was an amazing, terrifying movie), I was hit with another set of scent memories. The elevators are oppressively hot right now and there are enormous, loud fans running at all times in the shafts, stirring up the tepid air instead of cooling it down. The car smelled warm, of bodies and hair and of delivered chinese food and again, instead of being disgusted, I was transported. This time I found myself remembering being six, standing with my hand tucking into my grandmother’s and watching as she held a hankie she had squirted with perfume under nose, until the elevator ride was over. She was so relieved to get off the elevator, whereas I found the smells fascinating, and didn’t totally understand why she felt the need to scent her personal area with Estee Lauder’s newest cologne.
It’s interesting to me that because of the childhood experiences I had in this city, the ugly smells of summer are more evocative than offensive to me. Even the dank, mildew-y aroma that drifts up from the underground vents leading to the subway takes me back to happy times.
Just lucky, I guess.