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May 12, 2012


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Leanne -- I'm looking for the section on Kennan's heightened reactions to the olfactory & auditory of cities. Kennan himself was a superb writer, and there is a great passage from his diary on the literary & sensory sensations of Leningrad/St. Pete --- p. 204.

Kennan's haunting description of post-WWII Berlin on pp. 344-345 -- (Gaddis notes that "Kennan had permitted himself again -- as if with relief -- to filter a diplomat's observations through an artist's eye, a historian's ear, and a poet's emotions.")

I found the section that made the impression -- Here's an excerpt from Kennan's diary that Gaddis excerpts (on p. 53): "Riga, February 2, 1929: A furtive, fitful wind, smelling of dirty snow, and deserted wharves, sneaks in from the harbor. It rushes aimlessly through the empty streets, muttering and sighing to itself, seeking it not knows what, crazed and desperate, like a drunken man, lost in the dawn."

And here is Gaddis commenting on Kennan's literary efforts:

"But why this profusion of extracurricular prose? Maybe to practice observation, a useful skill in a diplomat. Probably in imitation of the German journalist, poet, and playwright Alfons Paquet, whose travel writings had made a deep impression on Kennan. Certainly out of an enormous sensitivity to landscapes, environments, and moods, in a way that he found difficult to explain. Kennan speculated, late in life, that he might have done better as a poet or a novelist, but only at great cost, "because art is open-ended, and I didn't have a balanced enough personal life to go into this expression of the emotional without being torn to pieces by it."" (p. 54)

Bucky S: Yaizu in the summer is like one gigantic tuna boat with a broken catch freezer And Vienna is caraway seeds (they seem to put them in everything there)

Douglas S: Reading John Lewis Gaddis's new biography of George Kennan -- Kennan had intense sensory associations of cities.

Colleen M: Nice piece L and so true.

Alexus M: So true!! It's one of the senses I associate cities with most. Delhi is sugar cane (I think that's what it is) and dust. That's always the first thing I notice as soon as I step off the plane, and it was the first thing I noticed on my first trip there. And when I find a book made in India, I smell the pages and it brings me right back. I love that scent.

It's interesting, I didn't recognize that my hometown (Washington DC) had its own distinct scent until I did more traveling and came back there as an adult, then immediately I not only noticed it, but also had the startling realization that I'd known it my whole life, and had simply failed to notice. That was an exhilarating moment.

Karen S: Yes, the smell of tatami in the summer is very evocative. It takes me right back to my little 6-jo apartment in Nakano. And by the way, Portland smells like espresso.

‎Alexus, I bet Delhi has changed so much since I was there but for me, the absolutely overwhelming smell--even in the new city-- was dung fires and dust (agriculture) I was there at that time of year so dust covered everything, hanging really low in the sky so dust and cows and the really unforgettably SWEET smell of the dung fires...could that be the sugracane? Delhi does smell very very sweet (neem flowers in the sweaty season?) You know, to me LA has NO SMELL... is it, then, an unreliable city like Darwish suggested or is it that I have not grown up yet?

‎Karen, me too, Karen... it is very evocative of that place, as is osmanthus. I bet Portland smells of espresso!!

‎Bucky --they do put the seeds in everything and I wonder why it isn't used in the perfume? I wore the Scent of Departure Vienna tester yesterday and it is mint and chocolate, coffee and cinnamon and cloves....liquorice. Actually, it is kind evocative of carroway seeds now that you mention it... It is nice and I think it does kind of capture Vienna... If you ever have a chance to read Taste of Conquest, I think you would love it. I am re-reading it now and am loving it the 2nd time too.. it is about the three big spice trade cities: Venice, Lisbon and Amsterdam and it is so hard to imagine that European food used to be spicy like Indian or like Hungarian... but it was and especially wines and meats were very spice-doused...It is an incredibly fun book and I have been begging my mom to make goulashes and spice cakes ever since (aren't I an annoying daughter?) Oh, and Shizuoka (where you know who had his jikka) always smelled of fresh fish to me too... not tea but fish--very much of the ocean and they were not right on the ocean but in 富士市!

‎Alexus, btw, this might be way too much for your wife but I tried this perfume on Friday called Jaisalmer that was too much incense and way too much for me and yet after I kept thinking about it-- by Comme des Garçons "each one is a painting an “olfactory portrait of a particular milieu” in the incense tradition"--Kyoto is the most popular but I really loved Jaisalmer

For me the initial smell of suburban Tokyo was that of the kumitori benjo (the pit toilets), which gave off a rich aroma as you walked down the narrow streets. Of course I think they've all disappeared now, leaving nothing more than a sentimental memory.

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