An Olfactory Tour of Salamanca, Spain

Scent is the strongest sense tied to memory. Ok, that might not be entirely true as I am basing my science off of an Old Spice commercial from 2008, but I deeply and vehemently believe it. I also believe it is the single most overlooked aspect of any study abroad experience, however one of the most influential, important and telling of daily life.

And while I realize it is just about impossible to effectively describe a scent in words, and it is one of those things that “just doesn’t translate” (a concept I am becoming all too familiar with), I’d like to take a stab – just for all those underprivileged smells out there. Below is a 10 (7) stop olfactory tour of Salamanca, Spain based on my daily walk to class. Before you begin, please be sure to blow your nose and prepare your olfactory bulbs for a transcendent experience to the pungent, cobblestone streets of Europe.

1.) Home stay – I awake every morning to a somewhat oxymoronic slurry of smells, those being cigarettes and freshly cleaned linens and clothing. My host mom is a smoker, and also an obsessive cleaner, hence the  confusing combination of Chesterfields and Downy that greets me every day.

 Scented candle fragrance: Nicotine Dreams

2.)Kebab La Via – Directly under my apartment is an exquisite establishment that oozes greasy, meaty splendor. Kebab La Via, sells what in Spain are referred to as Kebabs, which are essentially just Greek gyros on steroids. The workers there periodically slice off tender, perfectly cooked slices of lamb that could make even the most dehydrated person’s mouth turn into a saliva tsunami.

Scented candle fragrance: Slow-roasted Splendiferousness

Kebab La Via

3.) Cigarettes

4.) La Tahona de la Abuela – The next stop on my journey, just might be the best part of my day. Eyeing it across the street my eyes glaze over and my mind is immediately void of all thought save the otherworldly aroma about to cross my path. With unrelenting fervor, like a child waiting to feverishly tear open that long-awaited present on Christmas morning, I dart across the street and stand for 5-10 seconds giving the largest, most satisfying inhale this side of the Iberian peninsula. The scent is a mixture of strudels, pastries, cakes and any other Willy Wonka-esque item your mind can conjure up – striking a poignant balance between sugar-plum dreams and sugar-drenched reality.

Scented candle fragrance: Confectionary Ecstasy

La Tahona de la Abuela

5.) Cigarettes

6.) Garbage – One of the most unexpectedly rank parts about this walk and I think Europe in general is that you can go from being subjected to the sugar-laced bliss described above to seconds later being subjected to a stench that seems to have come out of the armpit of Satan himself. I don’t know where these foul molecules of air come from, but it often results in a nasal invasion that is something between a can of Starkist that has been left out in the sun for a week and the wrong end of a dog a few hours after it has gotten a hold of an entire sheet of brownies.

 Scented candle fragrance: Sanitary Sensations

7.) La Plaza Mayor- This really is a roll of the dice any given day – could be exceptionally good, or could be extremely, horribly, atrociously bad. You could be fortunate enough to get a whiff of the tortilla someone is hastily enjoying, or Karma could be exceptionally against you that day and you could wind up with an unexpected inhale of pure gas from the exhaust of a Mahou truck plowing through in the early morning, or the oh-so-unfortunate fragrance of someone’s regurgitated paella from a recent walk of shame. Like I said, roll of the dice.

Scented candle fragrance: Sugar & Spice…And Everything in between

8.)Cigarettes

9.)Rua mayor – This street is a somewhat gruesome assault on the senses, although I would have to qualify and say it is a meticulously planned and calculated ground attack…as opposed to the firestorm air raid that I think is often associated with that phrase. There is always a slew of stank brooding, from the delectable tapas, to cigarette smoke (of course), to the general stench of human existence on an 85 degree day. This is the final stretch of my walk, which is fitting to say the least, as it is a true snapshot of the aromatic Spanish lifestyle.

Scented candle fragrance: Essence of Salamanca

Rua Mayor

10.) Palacio de Anaya (school) – My final destination produces an aromatic aura that is a fitting end to the daily thrill ride for my battered and beaten nasal cavity. The final scent comes compliments of the actual classrooms, these halls reek of academia in the most traditional sense of the word; decades-old creaking desks, combined with stressed and anxiety-filled students produce an oddly satisfying musk that exudes intelligence, must and restlessness. The only description I can conjure up is that they are redolent of how I imagine the library of some great philosopher/mathematician would smell as they frantically put quill to scroll.

 Scented candle fragrance: Archimedes’ study

Addendums: (In no particular order, but bound to be encountered at some point).

-Jamón – I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some sort of cured meat on the list. Although, the very fact that it is so heavily salted and cured doesn’t lend itself to a very distinct smell…just a sort of muted, fleshy scent. The sight is really more jarring than the odor.

Jamón

-Perfume – It’s guaranteed you’ll get at least one blast from some dolled-up Spaniard along the way.

-Exhaust – As anyone who has lived in any-sized city can attest, it is a victory if you make it to your destination without being doused in a murky cloud of CO.

-…..Cigarettes….one last time.

That is pretty much that. As I stated in the introduction, I realize it is nearly impossible to fully convey the aromas of a place without actually being there, but hopefully this list gives an inkling as to what any given nose goes through on a daily basis. And although not all of the descriptions above necessarily please the holes between my eyes, I wouldn’t change a thing about it, because it is this giant melting pot of odds and ends that make up the experience and make up the identity that is Salamanca. So the next time you’re walking around wherever you are, stop, pause and take a nice, long, sustained whiff. As much as you and your nose may hate to admit it, that’s what you’ll remember when you are back in the good old Sturm wanting to smack your head against your desk – at least, that’s what Old Spice says.

–Quincy Snowdon, DUSA Blogger

Advertisement

Big(ish) Person, Small(er) Spain

I guess I first realized it at El Escorial in Toledo. To most people, the 16th century monastery/palace is a grand and awesome display of Golden Age architecture, brimming with culture and reverence. For me, it was a maze of lethally low doorways and staircases that I probably would have been better prepared for by watching the classic montage from “Dodgeball” rather than the historical pep talk our group received from the tour guide.

El Escorial

I remember thinking, “Man these doorways are really low, but then again, it was built in the 1500’s – people were way shorter then. I’m sure Spaniards have accounted for evolution and the overall growth of the human body.” Well, it seems that wave of science hasn’t quite made it over here yet – that or there is something in the water in America, because everything in this country seems to be just 3-5 inches too short/small/cramped for my lanky 6’5 frame.

I realize I’m not exactly a skyscraper by American standards, but to Spanish eyes I seem to come off as this uncannily large person and someone with dimensions there simply has never been a need to accommodate for.

I have had to do some serious adjusting in the way I carry myself, my posture and even the way I wake up in the morning. To name a few particularly problematic structures:

1.)        Doorways. – This one is probably the most obvious, but also one of the most injury-inducing. All of the doorways in my homestay have been pleasant greetings for my forehead on many a morning. These greetings are often accompanied by a cackle from my host-mother and a semi-concerned, semi-sarcastic “Hombre, Cuídate!”

2.)        Desks. – Freshmen year at DU I put three bricks under each corner of my desk in halls in order to elevate it and try to fit the stilts that are my legs. I don’t know how practical it would be to carry around a bag of bricks with me at all times, but I am seriously considering it. The desk in my bedroom is all but unusable and everything at the university is essentially the same. Although, at school I don’t have a choice so I end up kind of swinging my legs to the side, or, if I get agitated, just putting them to their normal, natural height, causing the desk to come off the ground 2-3 inches. I have gotten some puzzled, freightened looks, but it just feels so right.

3.)        Beds. – I have a twin bed in my homestay. Here is what it looks like when I lay down with my head as far back as possible. ‘nuf said.

4.)        Lights. – The soul source of light in my bedroom is a jerry-rigged lamp hung at an uncomfortably low level, so that when I wake up I either hit it, or end up wearing it like a hat. Although it looks extremely fashionable, it isn’t exactly an ideal wakeup routine.

One more example that is not really a structure but more of an item is that I had the naive impression I would be able to buy shoes here once I arrived, after I lost a pair at the melee that was Tomatina. To my chagrin, my requests for a size 50, or just anything larger than a 45, were met with puzzled stares and a few mutterings of “hombre…no,” which in this case can be translated to, “’Da heck you mean you looking for a size 50? You crazy?” The most comical factor of this in my mind was that nobody even apologized or offered to check the back room, it was as if they had simply never heard of a company manufacturing such an absurdly unnecessary size.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to complain and vent about my femur frustrations. I realize that in the scheme of things, a few bruises is a small price to pay for the dream life I am able to live here – I mean the idea that I am allowed to galavant around Europe for a year is almost too awesome to be true, but it is and I am. I am simply pointing out the, often comical, differences in size appropriation between America and Spain. If anything, my bruised noggin has in fact taught me something, that being that while you are abroad, you can’t change the culture of the country you are in, but the country certainly can and probably will change you. So while I may not be the biggest fan of having to walk around my house like Quassi Moto, I’ve gotten used to it and adapted to the situation and culture around me. I think that is the entire point of studying in a foreign country, so although I may have had to endure a few welts on the forehead, I’m slowly but surely letting Spanish culture sink into every aspect of my life, and that feels pretty awesome.

Also, I’ll gladly  endure hitting my head and scrunching my legs for the rest of my life if I can continue seeing things like this:

Zarautz, Spain

— Quincy Snowdon, DUSA Blogger