Monday, February 27, 2023

Smelly cities

Watching a video of Imperial Rome reminded me of an experience I had visiting Singapore in 1971. Staying overnight in a modern hotel on the outskirts of the downtown, I ventured into the heart of the old city where narrow cobblestone streets had an open sewer running down the middle.

In fact, if you approached the downtown from downwind, you could smell it a mile away. Eventually you get used to it but the initial impact is quite powerful.

And so it was in Imperial Rome, a city with some 1 million people, many of whom lived in poverty and squalor. A hive of activity and breeding ground for all manner of infectious diseases.

On the other side of the ledger, I lived in the City of Baghdad in 1961 where dry heat day temperatures in the summer ranged between 40 and 50 degrees Celsius. It did not have open sewers (the water would likely have evaporated) but the smell was so different, and not unpleasant, that I experienced it in my dreams long after having returned to Norway.

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