Get a whiff of this: summer scents

Lilac FlowersBy Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
July 17, 2001

The nose knows when it’s summer.  For some, it’s the tangy smell of barbeque that clues them in. For others, it’s that telltale scent of chlorine in the swimming pool. Fact is, people smell better in the summer than in the winter. We’re not talking body odor here, but rather the olfactory senses.

“People usually aren’t as sick in the summertime, so they’re not as congested,” says Dr. Alan Hirsch of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation. “They can take in more scents than when its cold. Theyre also outside more, so instead of smelling a stale home, they experience a diversity of smellsbe it flowers in bloom, the smell of bus exhaust fumes or mowed grass.”

Not all these scents signify happy memories, though.

In a study of 989 people from 45 states and 39 countries, the smell of freshly cut grass was a happy connotation for folks born before 1960, according to the foundation. Not so for the Generation Xers born afterward who weren’t as keen on mowing the lawn for mom and dad.

Then there’s the scent of summer around the world. Just because barbecue sauce evokes happy thoughts in our minds, doesn’t mean it does in, say, Italy. Whatever Italians associate with happy experiences is likely to be their summer scent.

In Venice, for example, you’ll catch a big whiff of fish, says Fedrico Bulfoni, 28, a lawyer visiting here this summer to brush up on his English. Fish, or feesch, as Bulfoni says, is also the main food of summer — fried, grilled or broiled.  The salt in the sea is very unique, he says. It picks up your nose in some way. Very spicy. Lake Michigan made an impression on Bulfoni, but not like the Gulf of Venice or any of its canal offshoots. The lake looks like a sea, but its not a sea from the smell. Its a little sweeter.

The point is, Hirsch says: “People sometimes become conditioned to what smells good to them. If you go back from 1900 to 1930, people describe natural smells such as trees, hay, horses, pine and meadows as things that remind them of their childhood. But from 1930 on, the smells associated with childhood are artificial Play-Doh, jet fuel and things like that.”

Think about that the next time you soak in the chlorine smell at your neighborhood pool.

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What scent signifies summer to you?

“The smell of cut grass. I just said that to my daughter the other day and she said, ‘Mom, it’s just grass.’ But it smells so great. i just love it. It’s so summer.” Margie Chaneske, office administrator, 40, Southwest Side.

“Street fairs with hot, sweaty bodies.” Maria Gracias, dentist, 37, Lincoln Park.

“Barbeques do it for me. Lilac bushes are another one that just gets me in the summery mood, too.” Kristie Felix, executive assistant, 28, Streamwood.

“Swimming pools and fireworks, which smell kind of like freshly lit matches.” Joel Glad, systems administrator, 34, North Park.

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Summer around the world

What summer aromas will you find in cities around the world?

Manila: roasted food, such as barbequed pig, mangoes and flowers

Paris: lavender and peaches

London: strawberries and freshly mown grass

Rio de Janerio:  beach and ocean smells

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