Nothing smells like much in California unless you’re walking. I’ve started walking to think more clearly and get more exercise, and I’ve noticed all the smells I’ve been missing in my car all these months.

When I walk out of my apartment, I’ll quickly smell the woody acid scent of the jacaranda flowers, fallen and rotting in a carpet on Del Mar. A strong pine smell carries me for a block or so, mixed in with the there-and-gone-again exhaust, which doesn’t really hit unless an older car drives by. Once in a while, I’ll smell cement, if I walk too close to walls, heated the entire day by the oppressive sun. For lack of a better word, cement smells dusty, sandy.

Further along, as I get to Caltech, all the cooking smells mingle happily in between the student apartments. Tonight someone made Indian curry, and it was inviting, wrapping an entire block of buildings in the ribbon of spiciness. It made me hungry, and made me feel like I was in a small paragraph from a Jhumpa Lahiri short story.

On the western part of Del Mar, cat urine alternated with moldy wood siding. Moldy wood is an odor I associate with roaches, because it’s their preferred dwelling, so I sped up. I slowed down on the next block to inhale jasmine, and another heady white flower, planted along next to cleaner-looking buildings.

Taking Euclid, I smelled wet earth and grass, wastefully doused by a sprinkler gone mad. In this ninety-plus degree heat the grass yellows and burns, so the water is of no use. Your lawn won’t be green, baby. There might be others but I’m not remembering.

Sometimes in the late Spring and early Summer, a tree will smell like yeast, and make me salivate from the sheer acidity of the smell. It’s an unpleasant smell, but overpowering.

I wish we had magnolia trees, orange blossoms, lavender, plumeria, ylang ylang. The smell of tropical rain, washing away dirt and all our sins. Even the smell of wheat fields in the upper Auvergne sun. But you can’t be every place at once. I’m just here, in between my pleasant cooking smells and jacaranda flowers.


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