Thursday, January 15, 2015


Continuing to draw the smellscape of São Paulo City I am bringing you today smells and odors that are very cosmopolitan, such as the smell of construction debris found everywhere in the city. 
São Paulo is a city in development and remodeling, so you will find parked in almost every street what we call CAÇAMBA DE ENTULHO or construction dumpsters/containers. Pieces of wood, ceramics, concrete, walls, cartons and plastics are deposited everyday in these containers under the sun or rain until contractors fill them up and call collectors to remove them from site. If you pass near these container you will smell dust, paint, rotten wood and wet concrete all together. It is the smell of change, modernity.

Although Brazilians try to copy movements coming from other countries such as being eco-friendly, selective garbage disposals are not very common. They exist but it is not enforced by any legislation. Usually you will find huge plastic bags mixing all sorts of meat, poultry and fish leftovers combined with fruits is decay, papers of all sort and used aluminum foils, broken glasses and vases etc... just waiting outside to be collected. In my neighborhood you can put the garbage outside 3 days a week and only 2 hours before the garbage truck passes by.

According to the City Hall website the city generates 20.000 tons of garbage per day which 12.000 come from private homes. Also it is known that Brazilian garbage is one of the richest garbages in the world. As experts explain, the more developed and richer the country is, poorer is its garbage. Our garbage still reflect a third world country condition.

If you take a walk in my neighborhood you will find a lot of plastic bags filled with broken tree branches, leafs and recent cut grass collected from the yards. They smell fresh, green with a hint of wooden decay and straw. 

Also if you pass by my street early in the morning on sunny days you will smell the scent of fabric softeners. It is the smell of recently washed laundry. Slightly powdery, very flowery and sometimes very sweet. Brazilians also have the worst habit of washing the outside areas of the house with water, not minding the challenges of water shortage that we are facing. They pretend it does not exist. So the green fresh smell of garden waste combines with the scent of laundry softener and detergents plus some sort of powder soap that runs out of the houses to the sidewalks. I must confess I love that smell, even thou it is selfish and not very eco-friendly. 

The backfire of this misuse of water is that sometimes it brings back the smell of dried urine of dogs. It is simple unbearable, but sometimes something magical happens. The smell of urine is combined with the scent of flowers in a way that you can create an holographic white tropical flower as you pass by. I love when that happens!
São Paulo is not like New York City where the smell of human piss and dog's urine is so strong sometimes that you feel nauseated. Since we have even more dogs than New Yorkers, I take it our dogs piss less or are dog owners are more educated...

Another common smell is the one coming from kiosks located on the sidewalks. These kiosks sell newspapers, printed magazines, cigarettes, candy and sometimes beverages.
As you pass by a kiosk you can smell the scent of recently printed papers. It is a particular smell of ink, mixed with the smell of glue and varnish. The smell is dry and fatty. Oily I must say. When it comes to women's magazine you will also find hints of all sorts of perfume printed ads with encapsulated fragrances. The old scratch and sniff or open and sniff techniques. I love the smell of the kiosks in São Paulo. They give a hip and classy touch to the streets. 

And since we are mentioning ink...São Paulo embraces street art like no other city. We simply love graffiti! They are everywhere including on the walls of private home commissioned by its owners. They are colorful, creative and real pieces of modern art. We have embraced them and we have an open gallery located in the neighborhood called Vila Madalena where you will find wall after all covered by beautiful graffiti. Probably the most famous and the one you all know by name is Os Gêmeos - the two brothers whose street art has travelled the world. Everywhere I pass by I smell the scent of fresh spray paint. Frankly I am allergic to it so it is not my favorite. Visually I adore it!

Remember I said that São Paulo has a rustic side? Well we still have street markets in every neighborhood. If you pass near one the strongest smell you will find is of coconut oil cooking pastries. It is not a good smell IMO. It is the smell of fat, flour and cheese burning. 
If you stay close to the fish stands you will find a cold smell of ice mixed with the briny - salty smell of the ocean. Fresh fish actually smell good! The only problem for me is when fish vendors open the fish to clean. The smell of guts and blood are not my favorite. They wash them after opening and this water runs down to the pavement which later on starts to evaporate and stink. I can't stand that. So if you happen to be here in town, try to have a street market experience early in the morning when the sun is not burning the skull and you won't smell rotten fish vapors.

The aroma of vegetables and fruits are a one of kind experience. It is simply lovely and fresh. Very tropical, very intense. You will also find spice stands where you will smell a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, oregano and bay leaf. Very intense by the way!

These aromas are so beautiful that a Brazilian cosmetic brand called DUCHA has all its products inspired by them. The founders wanted to bring the street market experience to the homes of its clients; specially to the bathtub.

Street markets leave a residual smell that is as disgusting as the smell of an old opened trash. Oranges in decay and rotten fish odors are washed with tons of water after they dismount the stands. Truth is that you can still smell that disgusting residual rotten smell of garbage in decomposition the day after.  A tip for people looking for apartments - check if the street has an open market. If so, don't rent; don't buy it!

So let's make a quick list what was mentioned till now:

1. smell of Pinheiros and Tiête rivers (rotten eggs)
2. basaltic and limestone rocks, dust, pollution, pavement, abrasive metallic haze, rain water evaporating
3. flowers and plants of the park
4. humidity, moss, fungus, wood in decay, 
5. spray paint, construction waste, garden waste, garbage
6. frech ink, glue, varnish, encapsulated perfume
7. laundry softeners and soaps, dog piss
8. fresh fish, rotten fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, rotten fruits and vegetables, spices, fat+flour+cheese burning

Stick around as I continue to smellwalk in São Paulo!

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