Thursday, November 07, 2019


In discussing smells I half remembered people and places from the distant past. Having grown up in North Brabant, where my parents moved the family when I was five years old, some aromas are deep-seated and vibrant. Dead Autumn leaves. Fresh strong coffee. Gasoline. Tar. Cow dung. Maryland ribbon ("baai") smoked in a pipe. Frying chili paste, because everything goes with sambal. Sweet Indonesian style soy sauce. Coriander seed powder ("ketoembar") and ground nutmeg added to meat dishes on the stove. Lemons, and over-ripe Autumn fruits. Zware shag tobacco.

[Lived in the Netherlands since I was two. First three years in Utrecht province.]

During the rainy time of year, wet woollen clothes.
You know, soggy classmates and sweaters.
Still damp at the end of the day.

The eastern end of North Brabant reeks a little. It's a moist part of the world, with peat bogs, oaks, pine trees, and rich evocative stenches.

"They've got cows there, boy, what do you think it smells like?!?"
---Bucko James, in Gentlemen Wear Lace

Valkenswaard of course also smelled of cigar factories -- a smell I love -- as did Eindhoven near the old Karel 1 factory, whereas in my mind Tilburg must pong of pee (cloth industry) and Breda of drunken soldiers. Weert, Aalst, and Leende are all beer and frying potatoes, Dommelen for some reason is fresh coffee and hay. But aroma-wise the entire area was dense and fecund; things grow there. No burning hills, like Northern Califonia where I live now (a dry sterile odour), or antique sewers (the SF Financial District), or unwashed crazy people. Or the peculiar funk of druggies.

The perfume of cigar leaf hung over Valkenswaard, almost always present in the background, dominating the closer you got to Willem II or Hofnar. Thick, velvety, a bit sharp. Besuki filler ("binnengoed"), Sumatra wrapper ("dekblad"), a touch of Brazil for spice.

The town had grown prosperous because of the cigar industry.
Paved streets, running water, electricity, education.
Nowadays not a single cigar is rolled there.

What does it smell like now?

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