It was poet Mahmoud Darwish who said “Cities are smells: Acre is the smell of iodine and spices. Haifa is the smell of pine and wrinkled sheets. Moscow is the smell of vodka on ice. Cairo is the smell of mango and ginger.” I am just a week shy of uncovering the aromas of Oviedo.
I have my assumptions based on my Google Maps bookmarks: San Francisco Park (prediction: deciduous foliage and humidity), Museum of Fine Arts Asturias (prediction: dust and glass cleaner), Pub Picos and Jazz Bar (prediction: cigar smoke and musk), etc. From a never-ending list of Spanish locations to bounce to via the beauty of European public transportation infrastructure, my hitlists are the most type-A thing about me.
I hail from the smells of cumin and asafoetida in a pan, report cards and pen pal letters under onion skins in the trash, and the wooly smell of breath from secretly texting under covers after hours. The way I grew up, demure and obedient as per expectations, forced me to bend myself rather loquacious and passionate about my own southern Indian culture. It also opened my hunger for excitement and living life to the fullest through the nose like good Indian cooking. One day, the medley of scents of my childhood succumbed to the force of teasing worse than just how my food smelled to my elementary school classmates. I was fiercely aware of my own existence as a “smelly” brown child in a white English period classroom both (undesirable) object and subject (of ridicule) at the same time, from the alienation to the name-calling to occasional escalations of physical assault even. Therefore, it only makes sense that I temporarily reject Americanness to explore Spain for a month in the summer, though I know it will come with its own culture shock and attitudes toward diversity.
Truly, I am elated to immerse every fabric of my being in the undeniable beauty and scenic offerings of Oviedo. My younger expectations to reject hyper-independence, lest I be shamed for misbehaving, caved to the adult desires of doing what the younger me wanted to by padding my course load with frequent trips to every museum, cultural square, and natural landmark available to me. Furthermore, something I realize as I get older, I value the therapeutic power of solo excursions just as much as I enjoy my power as an extroverted social butterfly to make connections with anyone anywhere at any time. Thus, I am excited to chronicle just exactly what Oviedo smells like, from a “smelly” brown girl who wants to know what exactly the attitudes of diversity are like, through my excursions and antics.
When I first read the Darwish quote, I remember trying on my favorite perfume, Seville a l’Aube, a warm citric aroma that the perfumer created to encapsulate a night of passion under orange trees in Seville and l’Aube meaning “at dawn.”. I picked Oviedo because of the historical architecture and decadent streets lined with multicolor shops and foliage unique to Spain. Through my time in Oviedo and the rest of Spain, perhaps I can find my footing through the Spanish language immersion I desire by communicating the intricacies of perfumes in a new tongue. My first assignment for myself in Oviedo, therefore, is to find a local fragrance there to wear that strikes an equally unique memory.