A Letter from the Editor

June 21st, 2017

Dear Reader,

Welcome to StepAway Magazine’s twenty-fourth issue.

Whilst walking, how often do you think about the smell of a city? Not the many smells: the bakeries, the parks, the chimney smoke, the drains. No, not all those. The one smell that defines a city. The smell that, if it were to waft below your nostrils right now, would transport you instantaneously back to specific city streets. I began thinking of this regularly after visiting Vancouver as a seventeen-year-old. It was my first experience of long distance travel, and everything felt so new and unusual in comparison to the European cities I’d visited. I spent a lot of time walking alone in the city, and it was here that I fell in love with flanerie, although I wasn’t aware then that the act of strolling and observing had a name and a history. Tormented by jetlag, I’d wake early and walk from Canada Place to Gastown. As the sun rose to warm the buildings I noticed that the city has a pervasive smell; one that seemed to linger as much in Stanley Park as it did on the bustling Robson Street. I tried to hunt it down, but without any immediate luck. Then, just before leaving the city, I stumbled across some tea-lights in a gift shop. Their scent was labelled as ‘burnt pumpkin’. And there it was. The smell of Vancouver in a tea-light.

I have no idea why Vancouver smelled like ‘burnt pumpkin’, or indeed if this was simply my own very personal perception, which I expect it was. Still, it set a pattern which remains today, whereby I strive to ascertain the defining scent of each city I visit. Cities such as New York are easy: the acrid smoke smell that curls around every street corner hotdog stand. But other cities, Edinburgh, for example, prove trickier. I’d like to think that I know Edinburgh rather well. I’ve been visiting the city since I was a child and continue to do so at least four times a year. In adulthood, Edinburgh has given me refuge in a time of grief, and warmth and pleasure in times of celebration. Whatever my mood, I’d crack open a window late at night and try to understand and define the smell of the city. And decades later I couldn’t quite place it.

In my long-lasting frustration, I googled ‘what does Edinburgh smell like?’ and came across an interview with the writer Alex Musgrave and discovered this little gem of information: “Edinburgh is a city where the smell of hops mingles with the odour of leaves and greenery coming from Princes Street Gardens, along with the smoke and stone of the city, the smell of which changes depending on the weather.”

Edinburgh’s breweries tinge the streets with the smell of hops. But the smell of the city is, of course, an amalgam, rather than one specific scent. Captivated by Alex’s description, I searched further for more of his work. What I found was an education. His blog, The Silver Fox, is an erudite exploration of olfaction. No other writer has made me ponder scent so deeply – whether that be the smell of a specific location, or how the fragrance we wear is tied to a specific mood or location.

I was eager to share Alex’s work with StepAway readers and asked him if he would like to publish his essay “SmokeStoneRain (Redux) – The Melancholy Perfume of Autumn” in this month’s issue. He kindly agreed, also offering his photograph “Stockbridge Autumn” – which compliments his essay beautifully – as our cover art.

The theme of the issue in its entirety seems to embrace the onset of the colder months, unusual for a summer issue, but perhaps fitting given the dastardly weather we’ve experienced at the beginning of July. Nevertheless, each of the writers featured has a masterly talent for transporting the reader to new or familiar cities, from Glasgow to Zagreb.   We have some thoroughly evocative and thought-provoking work from: Jeff Bagato, Nina Bajsić, Francesca Baker, Berni Dwan, Mark Mansfield, Mike McNamara, Isabel Miles & Maeve O’Sullivan.

I hope that you enjoy reading their outstanding writing which forms this, our twenty-fourth issue of StepAway Magazine.

Yours faithfully,

Darren Richard Carlaw