I had never thought of myself as having a particularly keen sense of smell. But in the last few years it has become increasingly clear that I do.
I can walk into a market and smell ripe peaches and strawberries and be filled with delight. I think my sense of smell has helped with my sense of taste -- nearly 70 percent of what we taste is related to what we smell. I like to think I can identify different ingredients in my food.
But it's not all roses out there.
I am also finely attuned to unpleasant smells. Paul can never smell these things. He says he's blessed. (Yesterday at work, I told him one of the stray cats must be annoyed; I was certain I smelled cat in one of the hallways leading outside. He didn't notice)
But forget pet smells and other unpleasant things like Metro stations or foreign taxi drivers. The thing that bothers me most is the smell of mildew.
One summer in Paris I was plagued by the smell. For weeks, everywhere I went it overwhelmed me. I was sniffing everything. It wasn't my clothes. Nobody around me ever noticed it. It was driving me mad. Finally, with the help of a very understanding friend, I realized it was me after all. My hair had mildewed.
Yes, it's gross. I know. It must have been during the heat wave in 2003 and I was always hot; it was impossible to cool down. So each morning I would take a cold shower and go out with my wet hair tied up. This went on for several weeks. Ultimately, it never dried, and thus the mildew. Ewww, huh?
That particular smell isn't one you encounter often in the states, because people have dryers in their home. There is usually no problem of leaving the clothes in the washer too long (and if you do, you know right away) and clothes dry fully.
This is not the case here. Clothes never dry fully. Even when they are put outside in the heat, there's always a dampness to them. And always a dampness in the apartment. It doesn't feel damp, but I can smell it in my freshly washed clothes.
It drives me crazy to put on clothes that smell like this, even faintly. And at work, it's not uncommon to sit near someone who also has that smell. How does everyone else not notice this?
One solution may be to send everything to the laundry, instead of just sheets and towels and clothes that need to be ironed.
The other might be just not to breathe too deeply.
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