Between home and the Spanish language school, Escuela Falcon, are a variety of smells that cannot be sent home, captured in photographs, or otherwise communicated easily to friends and family back in the United States. When we travel, there are many smells that waft around us as we go about our travel-related activities. The smells wake us up in the morning or sometimes signal that we’re getting close to “home”. I’ll walk down certain streets just to experience the ambience, including the aroma of a place or roll down my car window in dangerous places just to catch a wiff of a fire pit and food nearby. Smells are a part of travel that can’t be experienced by those who stay home. There are so many different smells to smell in the world and some of them are more wonderful than non-traveling Americans could even imagine.
Meandering through the streets of Guanajuato, we encounter so many different fragrances that simply don’t exist in the U.S. Vegetable stands give off a distinctively fresh scent. They smell ever-so-slightly of fresh soil, oranges, and bare naked vegetables. A few paces further and the hot dog stand selling salchichas de pavo crackles as the man places the meat on a hot oily surface. The intoxicating smell of warm, fresh sausages fills the passageway from here to there.
Most Americans wouldn’t even believe how the world smells outside our carefully regulated country where all things ultimately stink of money and fabricated aromas. Here flower stands are set up in various places on the streets. The flowers are proud and
immaculate and they give off their fragrance in mundane places like bus stops and back alleys.
Standing in any U.S. city, the only smells there are to smell are those that have been carefully calibrated by chemists to get people to respond to the addictive properties of the food we’re served in restaurants. The only time I ever catch a whiff of real food in the United States is when one of our neighbors grills food in the summertime. Otherwise, our food and smell experiences are carefully controlled and designed to elicit a certain psychological response. We are rats in a cage and big corporations just watch how we respond when the nut is placed in a different corner. I don’t enjoy the smells outside a fast food restaurant the way that I enjoy the smell of food in the alleyways of Guanajuato. The smell outside a fast food restaurant is designed to pull me in and get me to buy. The real smell of the authentic tortillas and tamales and salchichas, in contrast is an experience by itself. It’s the smell of families, home, and community. It’s the smell of tradition and resourcefulness. I don’t even have to eat the food to enjoy it. The food is part of the atmosphere and a very basic sense of being alive.
I don’t smell these smells in the United States because much of the food in the United States isn’t real. The meat is filled with nitrates and the fruits and vegetables aren’t “fresh”, they’re “preserved”. Fake smells are pumped out of restaurants in big cities. Fake flavors are pumped into the food. The scent of tortillas being cooked on a hot platter can only be compared roughly to the smell of a campfire in the U.S. Fresh warm tortillas are a mixture of popcorn and oven-baked bread, but sweeter. It’s a gentle, embracing smell. The organic aroma will bring me back to Guanajuato for the rest of my life. Whenever I smell the smell of warm, fresh tortillas I’ll be here on the cobblestone streets where women set up primitive stove-tops and sit on five gallon buckets to prepare food all day. Tortillas in the United States are made in factories far away under sterile conditions and with plenty of preservatives. They are never served fresh and certainly not still steaming. The food in our country is dead and it kills us. The food here is alive and still has something to say about culture and health. Our food speaks volumes too about the importance of the almighty dollar over individual human beings. It’s an amazing difference.
You can smell it.