Saturday, December 19, 2009
That Dorchester aroma
When someone says something smells like Dorchester, they don't mean it smells like urine in a back alley. They don't mean it smells like surreptitious marijuana being smoked behind a cupped hand at the Mattapan T stop either. They don't mean it smells like overripe garbage dumped in an abandoned lot on a street few people travel. They don't mean it smells like gunpowder. They don't mean it smells like a paper mill and neither do they mean to say it smells like a chocolate factory. Fish guts, rat droppings, deep fat fryer drippings, mold, industrial exhaust, dirty diapers, rotten fruit, sweat...you can smell these things in Dorchester, but other aromas linger in the air as well.
I was in a bakery in Concord this morning. An older couple walked in as I was buying a buttered roll. The lady said to the gentleman, "It smells just like Dorchester here." They were from Adams Village.
I was in Flushing, Queens a month ago, in a Vietnamese neighborhood, reading the menu of a local pho restaurant. An elderly Asian couple passed me and pushed open the door. When the air from inside hit their faces they exchanged comments I didn't understand except for the word "Dorchester." I impulsively said to them, "It smells like Dorchester?" The man gave me a big grin and a thumbs-up followed by a Victory sign followed by a vigorously pumping thumbs-up again. "Dorchester, Mass. A-Okay! Best pho number one!" he said in reply as he walked into the dining room.
We were in Topsfield, Mass., just passing through, but we needed a restroom so we stopped at a pizzeria for a soda and the chance to rest and relieve ourselves. While sitting in a booth, we overheard some fellow, teenaged travellers. The girls were all giggling, saying it smelled funny in Topsfield. The boys played along, "It smells like s**t," they guffawed. The girls agreed but they also said parts of Topsfield smelled like nothing at all. "It's either nothing or s**t," one girl said. One of the boys chimed in, "This doesn't smell like Dorchester."
In Wewoka, OK, of all places, I was in front of the public library a few years ago, before I even knew Dorchester was part of Boston. I was still living in Connecticut at the time. I was taking photographs when a passer-by stopped me. He asked me to take his picture while posed like he was sleeping on a park bench. I agreed but I asked why. "Because," he said, "This pure air in front of this fine library reminds me of Dorchester, Mass. I don't know why because no Dot library looks like this, but the whole communal knowledge of Wewoka is stored in this building the way the best knowledge in Boston is tucked away in Dot. Plus, the wind off the plains smells so pretty it reminds me of home." I took his picture and a few years later I moved to Dorchester.
It smells good here.