Listen, Canada. We’ve been friends for a long time now. Good neighbors, too. You’re a decent pal and we appreciate that you never complain about that thumb Minnesota sticks into Manitoba by the Lake of the Woods. We know you’re on good terms with North Dakota too, and never talk about us with them. You got that Peace Garden thing going on, and it’s totally OK you did that with them and not us. Heck, even gave us an idea for a War Garden with Wisconsin.
But you’d trust a friend to tell you something, right? So don’t take this the wrong way: Man, you stink.
Earlier this week the Metro Air was full of Canadian perfume — Eau de Eh, if you want. You walked outside and beheld a haze so dense tourists from Beijing were putting thick wet towels over their faces. If it had been fog, no one would have minded; fog makes you feel all mysterious and Sherlocky.
This was an acrid cloud that made you think an enormous ball of human hair had wandered into a high-voltage power line. It had an eye-watering plastic smell as well, as if Canada had been invaded by an army of 50-foot-tall Barbie Dolls, and they’d been repelled with flame throwers.
Some characterizations of the smell from my Twitter feed:
Dirty laundry mixed with dirt and deteriorating plastics left in the sun.
That smell, comparable to hot vom in a canoe, can hereafter be known as “Saskatoon Delight” or “Albertan’s Revenge.”
Revenge for what, though? Is there some undetectable odor to which we’re accustomed that was wafted north by a breeze last week? Did Canadians wrinkle their noses and say, “Oh, do you smell that? It’s the smug self-satisfied aroma of someone gluing a handmade label to his artisanal home brew in St. Paul. We must retaliate.”
No, we’re just bystanders. It’s not personal. Canada is having horrible fires (as opposed to awesome, fun fires) and the smoke drifted south to wend its tendrils into our innocent lungs. It didn’t even respect the signs that forbade smoke within 20 feet of a building entrance. In fact I saw people walk up to smokers downtown and say “blow some of that my way,” because secondhand cigarettes smelled better.
Why? It’s a forest fire. Burning wood is supposed to smell homey and comforting. You come back from the cabin, your sweater has that campfire smell. You burn some logs in the backyard firepit, you get a nostalgic recall of autumns past: Ahh, roasted cellulose, takes me back.
But no. “Canadian forest fires” is apparently a polite way of saying “a volcano opened up under a 9,000 acre manure lot.”
It passed, and the air returned to normal. Which is … what, exactly? Is there a quintessential Minnesota smell we don’t register because we’re used to it? Certain cities have smells; I associate New York with ripe trash and electrified urine. Venice, for some peculiar reason, smells like a wet basement. Phoenix smells like a hot rock dipped in asphalt. But when I arrive back home and step out of the airport, what do I smell?
A wonderful fresh clean nothing. And that’s taking into consideration the exhaust of idling cars and the people having a post-flight smoke. If you’re used to stinky places, walking into Minnesota must be like getting slapped with a loofah soaked in astringent.
But that’s not the only smell. The real Minnesota smell is The Lake, something that not only speaks to our souls, and says in no uncertain terms “some fish died. Also, weeds.” I mean, lake water is essentially fish broth, and when you add the top note of algae you have something we love to whiff.
Add to this the smell of an old outboard motor, a hint of mildewed lifejacket, a tincture of mossy dock pile, and you have an ineffably Minnesotan smell that would make everyone smile if it floated through the streets of downtown.
If a person smelled like that you’d stand across the street and throw a bar of Lava.
Why can’t they make this in room-freshener form? Every time the candle-industrial complex comes up with a new line, you think you’ll get a new scent, but it’s always the same. Mountain Spring, Fresh Linen, Pine, and Some Sweet Floral Stuff that smells like a glazed doughnut married an orchid. There are seasonal scents in the fall, so you can bring back childhood memories of your sibling sticking cranberries up your nose while you slept. “Day at the Lake” would sell, especially if it had a hint of Off and “warm minnow bucket.”
There is a sweet smell that’s Minnesotan, but only if you’ve been here a while and gone to a certain place. The other day downtown by the romantically named Government Center there was a food truck that sold one thing: Mini Donuts. I have them once a year, when I go to Tom Thumb, get a sack, eat half, hate myself, throw them away, and tell myself that the act of throwing half away negates the caloric intake of the ones I ate. But I love them so much. The smell at the Government Center was pure State Fair and brought to mind all the other scents of the Great Get-Together: fresh straw, grease, horse plop, rudimentary diesel engines, seared meat, hot corn and all the other strands that braid together to let you know you’re back at the Fair.
Come August we should place giant fans in Falcon Heights to blow the scent north, just to let Canada know there’s no hard feelings. And if they complain — hog barn and carny sweat — then we’re even.