What did Paris smell like in the mid-18th century? Try skunked red wine, wet cats, and gingivitis-tinged sputum, all bubbling in an open sewer on a record-setting summer’s day.
I can say this with some authority as I recently jammed my schnoz into “Paris 1738,” a scent that recreates the fetid odors of the olden city. France’s Christophe Laudamiel made the unusual odor as a tribute to the novel Perfume, whose murderous antihero was born in a fish market amid the stench of overflowing gutters and unwashed bodies.
Now, thanks to a nose-tingling exhibit in downtown San Francisco, anybody can smell how the City of Love may have once reeked – and thank their lucky nostrils they live in an era with hot showers and shampoo. “Urban Olfactory,” which runs until March 31 at SPUR, is a history lesson made entirely of smells: pine and cedar pulled from the imagined court of Louis XIV, spice-laden air over the Strait of Bosphorus in the Middle Ages, river water and hashish of modern-day Rotterdam.
Those are the ones people might actually, you know, wear. There’s also the New Jersey Turnpike during a rainstorm, air pollution in San Francisco, and fresh manure in the French countryside. All these perfumes are presented in a line of lidded vitrines; visitors take a whiff of one, then go breathe into a glass of coffee beans to clear the nose.
The Nasty Stench of Cities, Throughout History)