At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Years ago I read an account by a smoker of Balkan Sobranie (no, this post is NOT about pipe tobacco!) who claimed that his children just loved coming up and burying their noses in his tweed coats, because they smelled so divinely old-fashioned.
It's a charming idea. And as a pipe-smoker myself, I just sheerly love the concept.
I also have a tweed coat.

But there may be more there than meets the eye......

The office where I worked nearly a decade ago was right over a hot-lunch place run by Greeks. They roasted about three dozen chickens every day. Entering the building in the morning, your nose was welcomed with the thick sultry perfume of thyme and warm chicken fat, yes absolutely heavenly!
Why, I bet that when mr. Whatsisnameopoulos went home at night, his little kiddies would run up to bury their wee noses in his jacket, inhaling deeply of the comforting greasy aroma!
Voicing shrill graeco-squeals of pleasure and recognition!

And right about now, the crucial flaw in that Balkan Sobranie story comes into focus, doesn't it?

My coworkers just wouldn't stop bellyaching about the chicken reek.
Sure, none of them were the children of cooks, but evenso. Some smells are NOT universally appealing, much though I wish they were.


Personally, I like the smell of Balkan tobacco blends. I also enjoy the robust fragrance of multitudes of cooking chickens, as well as the whiff of hot tar, the stale-sweat perfume of freshly sharpened pencils, and the tang of certain metal alloys.
Burning mosquito coils, fountain pen and printing inks, old cardboard, extinguished candles.

Some smells just induce a deep sense of bon temps.

In that category, of course, one also finds some 'nose-memories' that are more "traditional".
Your mother's eau de Cologne, the fresh washed smell of a classmate's long long hair, chalkboard erasers, an aunt who carried with her the hint of pak fa yau or jing gwat soei, a favourite teacher's lunch-time bourbon, or the faint faint whisper of lilacs in an old neighbor woman's hallway.

[Pak fa yau (白花油): white flower lotion; a mentholated oil available in small bottles in Chinatown, often used for minor ailments. It's a very old-fashioned smell.
Jing gwat soei (正骨水): 'rectify bones water'; a sharp-smelling liquid rub for sore muscles and bone aches much appreciated by the kung-fu and soccer crowds, also fine for promoting circulation in tired old legs and ankles.]

Cassia. Camphor. Cedar wood.
Distant pasture.
Vermilion seal ink.
Scented stationery.
The soft fore-arms of a young girl in mid-summer.
Wet grass.
Jasmine tea.
Slightly rotten leaves in Autumn.
Hot chocolate.
Roasting coffee from the Caffe Trieste.
Fog on Jackson Street, between Jones and Leavenworth.
Bruised oranges and tangerines at fruit sellers before Chinese New Year.
Wild herbs on Telegraph hill.

You can probably come up with a similar list. And some of the things that olfactorily speak to you may be a little strange too.
We all have different noses.
You show me yours, I'll show you mine.

I'll even let you smell my tweed coat.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


  • At 4:18 PM, Blogger Tzipporah said…

    Sounds like somebody's been sniffing too much Felix Felicis.

  • At 4:38 PM, Blogger Spiros said…

    The smell of roasting pork on Clement Street in the morning.
    And the smell of fog-bound streets.
    And roasting peppers, any kind.
    And the dry oak and grass smell of Bay Area hills in summer.
    And Indian restaurants, even not especially good ones.
    And the vegetation that grows just above the strand of the beach.
    And the stale beer, tobacco, and puke fugue that old, established bars give off.

  • At 7:07 AM, Anonymous Ari said…

    Coffee bean
    Vacuum cleaner
    City bus exhaust
    Carbon stencils

  • At 10:29 AM, Blogger Steffy said…

    Dried ingredients in Chinatown
    Frying garlic and ginger
    Fresh apples
    Coco by Chanel
    Dark Amber by Jo Malone
    Gardenia Elizabeth Taylor Perfume
    Clean laundry
    Wooden furniture
    Old car smell (WITHOUT the nasty candy airfresheners that Hongkongers)
    Boiled rice
    Car engines
    Red envelopes

    And the complete and total ABSENCE of tobacco smoke, or smoke-ghosting on clothes.
    Nasty. Vile, repulsive. Ick poo.

  • At 6:53 PM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    Except for the very last two sentences, this feedback is fabulous!

    Thanks, you all.

  • At 7:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Fermenting Autumn leaves. Hot tar. Rose oil. Brine from the Bay. Frying garlic and ginger. Cassia. Star anise. Jasmine. Sandalwood incense. Eucalyptus trees after rain. Tangerine peel. Apples. Daffodils. Wild rosemary.

  • At 10:43 PM, Anonymous Snoo! said…

    Wild anise.
    Lemon gras.
    Petrol lamps.
    Sizzling pork fat.
    Fountain pen ink.
    Bruised oranges.
    Garlic in the pan.
    Black bean sauce.


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