Thursday, 30 April 2009

Smells of home

The palmeraies of Morocco sometimes remind me a little of the oases of Oman. But one thing is very different; the air. Oman has a dry spiciness that makes my nose prickle; Morocco's air is softer, less pungent.

Few travel writers are much aware of smell. The smell of a latrine, the smell of a good meal, perhaps; but the hints of ozone and salt in sea air, the smell of decaying seaweed on a beach, or the smell of dry earth when the rain hits it - those are so often forgotten.

I was reminded of that out jogging this morning by the Wensum. As I ran over Whitefriars bridge, I smelt soggy cardboard, a smell like that evil glue on old envelopes when you've just licked it, warm and wet, the effluent from the packaging factory. And I realised, for me, that's one of the smells of home.

When I was a child in Ipswich I loved passing the Pauls maltings, for the rich, sweet smell of roasting cereal. It was like breathing in a Christmas pudding. That smell, alas, has been chased out of the docks by commercial development. (A malt floor is an amazing place; hot and wet like a rainforest, with a moist breath that blasts you in the face when you enter, and the fulness of the aroma. You shiver when you come back out, even in the middle of summer.)

You can even smell the weather, and the season; the grassy smell of spring, the heavy, almost rotten smell of hawthorn in a good May. Hints of woodsmoke in the air herald the winter.

And the other smell that lets me know I'm home; warm cat fur...

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