Thursday, November 1, 2007

Not much news in the Globe today...

In the cooler months, when you have to close the windows and turn on the heat, indoor air quality suffers. That is to say, a lot of unwelcome aromas develop. And you have a choice: You can actually clean your home and find every last dirty sock, old banana peel, and pet-related disaster area, or you can search out sweet smells and give your nose some relief. We chose the latter.

Into the wild
Once upon a time, I had a house full of overgrown houseplants, which left my home smelling fresh and green. Several pets, three children, and a move later, they're all dead, except for a few spindly African violets with leaves full of puncture wounds from the cats' teeth.

My quest this day was to find places that would let me inhale the clean, healthy scent of growing things - from a place with reliable central heating. I set off for the suburbs, where wealthy widows with a fondness for flowers have endowed all manner of exotic plant zoos.

My first stop was the Margaret C. Ferguson Greenhouses at Wellesley College. Alas, the humid greenhouse rooms are designed to foster students' botanical educations, not their olfactory pleasures, and the place smells a bit like a wet rock.

I decided to try my luck with plants grown under less stringent conditions. A few minutes down Route 16 I reached the Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, stepped out of my car, and smelled the richness of a sun-warmed field in autumn. I started wandering the paths through the meadow, sniffing the overripe wild grapes, mugwort, and goldenrod, made my way through a pine-lined forest path and a pond filled with sweet pepperbush and blueberries - and gradually realized that I had no idea where I was, or how to return to my car. I resolved that, instead of following my nose, next time I would follow a map.

On a hunch, I drove to the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston to visit the Orangerie, a 4,000-square-foot greenhouse perched on a hill with a view of Mount Wachusett. When I stepped into the vast glass-walled room, I knew I had reached the perfect indoor oasis. The smell of orange, lime, and lemon flowers was sweet, but not overwhelming - as though you had just laid down on a tropical beach and caught the scent wafting on an island breeze.

The spice islands
On my second trip in search of the perfect scent, I decided to explore our heritage as a coastal city: importer of exotic substances from the Orient, host to the spices of a thousand lands, and distributor of stinky cheese.

My first stop was Formaggio Kitchen on Huron Avenue in Cambridge, known not only for its selection of cheeses but also culinary curiosities like fennel pollen and juniper berries. Alas, Formaggio Kitchen possesses a formidable ventilation system that sucks out the fragrance of cheese and the preserved animal haunches hanging on the wall. I crept over to a little pile of Livarot, a cheese I remember fondly from an ill-considered purchase at the Paris airport some years ago. The memory of that cheese lingers in my suitcase still. And one close-quarters sniff of that pile confirmed that yes, Livarot is just as stinky as I recalled.

Globe Correspondent Meg Muckenhoupt should support the class of 2008 and buy some scented candles.

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