Thursday, December 3, 2009

the senses of cycling

One of the things that I like about bicycling that I think you miss in a car is the scents that surround you.
Too often it's stinky car exhaust,  but sometimes it's like a secret window into the workings of the city around you.

Around MIT I often get to smell the candy factory.  Cambridge MA used to be "the Candy Capitol of the Country"  with Squirrel Nut Brands,  Necco,  DeHaviland and other candy brands which are or are on their way to being defunct.  One remnant is the factory between Main and Mass Ave.  The building sign says Tootsie Rolls, but it often smells like peppermint patties to me.

At the corner of Trowbridge and Broadway there's a little pizza place with a house above it. I don't know if it's pizza prep or breakfast but it always smells like bacon when I bike by in the morning.

This evening on the way to the grocery store, I could smell the coffee roastery at Whole Foods from probably 6 blocks away.  Coffee roasting is such an odd smell,  only distantly related to the comforting smell of a pot brewing.
I have two very different memories associated with that smell.  One is the seedy part of town down near the Port of Houston where I used to go for industrial scrap dumpster diving, good mexican food, and photography projects.   The port of Houston, if you aren't familiar with it, is 70 miles inland.  When Galveston got completely flattened in the Hurricane of 1900, the City Fathers of Houston decided that if they could create a hurricane proof port inland, it would be great for business.  It was a massive undertaking to dredge such a deep channel so far,  and it's really odd to see these HUGE ships so far inland.  Anyway, there is or used to be a Hills Bros coffee roastery there and the whole area reeks of it.

The other memory associated with this is when I lived in Italy and the high class coffee places would advertise "torrefazione nel propria"   roasted in our own.

More often the smells are commonplace- dinner being made,  fresh mown lawn,  sometimes something less savory.    Not only are there no windows between you and the smells, but you move through space more slowly so that you can appreciate (or suffer) them longer and more immediately.


  1. If I'm lucky, someone will be burning wood in their garden or farm and the smell of it will reach me on my bike in just the right quantity and quality. A little weird for a non-smoker to enjoy perhaps but it's a really earthy, outdoorsy smell that I love.

  2. Oh I love that smell of chocolate and candy on Mass Ave! There is also an area in Somerville that smells so strongly of freshly baked bread that i can hardly stand it. So mysterious, because there is nothing that looks like a bakery or baked goods factory nearby. I always get sad when I pass the Squirrel Nut building.

  3. hey, i work in the historic building that used to be the NECCO factory!!! (it has been renovated in keeping with its historical appearance, but repurposed as a pharmaceutical research building). and yes, the smell of candies in that area can be very welcoming. back in the 80s, i used to bike past the NECCO building daily, and i remember the smell of NECCO wafers wafting out of the building! altough NECCO moved to a larger facility in some suburb a few years ago, tootsie rolls and some type of pepperment candy are still made a block away (as biking in heels mentione), and i am welcomed by those smells as i bike to work!

    filigree, the bakery smell you are smelling might be coming from la rogna bakery on somerville @ spring street, down the hill from where i live. it is a very non-descript industrial building and they are a commercial bakery serving a lot of local businesses. i bike past them on my ride to work, and i often smell that wonderful yeast-y smell of baking bread!