You lot know how I feel about jasmine. It’s still top of my list of spring smells, but recently Neighbourhood asked me about some others, the scents of the city in Spring. As the earth warms and the dreaded damp of dark terrace houses retreats, the scent of man-made stone emerges, and you’ll find me sniffing buildings as surreptitiously as I can.
Unlike that snowdrop peeking out from a fenced church garden, have you ever stopped to inhale the smell of stone? Sweet steaming-hot asphalt laid and re-laid in a patchwork of repairs; the necessary hop into the gutter to avoid the gaping holes left by council workers on their lunch breaks. Beside me again as I regain the pavement, the softly radiating concrete of office buildings, dry and warm and scented paradoxically like sandalwood, worthy of a perfume. (Comme des Garçons agrees – their latest release is a tribute to the grey matter. Read Candy Perfume Boy’s fabulous review here)
Walking towards Oxford Street, I find shelter from the sudden wind and press against one of those thick industrial slabs. It’s the side of St Vincent’s Hospital, now imbued with warmth. That stillness in the air entices stillness in me. Weeks ago, concrete turned a brutal cold shoulder – but today, suddenly, it’s a suntrap and I linger: the sweet stone and I are hunting partners.
These traps are set everywhere. By ocean pools, the clear icy water creates a marine accord of ozone and algae so pure without its summer overtones of sun cream. Outside the pub, smokers emerge from hibernation with spring’s blossom and I take a clandestine breath of second-hand cigarette, the ex-addict’s guilty pleasure, almost exotic now.
And tucked behind the grandstand of the local oval is a favourite spot to stop for spring’s best smell. There’s a guy cutting the grass with a petrol-powered ride-on mower. The ground is wet and he’s probably cutting too short. Did you know that cut grass smell is a distress call from each broken blade? The scent of compounds rushing to provide first aid, seal wounds and offer defence. Scientists call the chemicals ‘volatile’ and actually they’re mostly alcohols. Perhaps it’s possible to get drunk on that scent, the scent of spring. A few inhales might get you there. Breathe deep.