It was a warm LA evening a few nights ago, and Jim and I had just returned from Germany, Poland and Hungary. I was baking banana bread and sugar cookies in our apartment with the windows open. A neighbor’s cigarette smoke wafted into my kitchen from outside below. Normally the offensive smell would move me to temporarily shut the windows, but the heat from the oven prompted me to sit still. As the airy cigarette vapors intermingled with waves of fresh bread-y goodness, I was suddenly hit by a thousand memories of Europe.
Ever since my first trip as a teen in 2000, I’ve been struck by the smell of Europe. For me, it’s very distinctive and personal. It smells cozy. But I’ve never quite been able to place what that quintessentially European scent was until now. It hit me all at once. My head swum with nostalgia, and my heart beat hard at the realization — the smell of Europe is the delicate combination of earthy rich baked goods and faded cigarette smoke.
I’ve always associated cigarettes with Europe. In 2000, I remember seeing cigarette vending machines on neighborhood street corners in small Bavarian towns. On the same trip I saw a group of young elementary-aged boys puffing on a shared cigarette in the streets of Munich. Even now, fifteen years later with more restrictions on smoking and with German cigarette consumption nearly cut in half, Jim and I were still never far from the tracings of cigarette smoke. The same can be said of our experiences throughout Europe.
Another distinctively European tradition are its bakeries. It’s not difficult to find a good bakery in Europe — the still strong tradition of buying fresh baked breads daily creates a demand for bakeries that makes them easy to find on foot. I love everything they have to offer: The dense doughy sweet breads from German bäckerein are divine. The exquisitely flaky pastries from Italian panifici are perfection. My mouth waters at the thought of golden baguettes from French boulangeries and the complicated confections of French pâtisseries. My experiences have been so pronounced in fact, that I’ve even written about my favorite bakeries and baked goods in past posts.
But it wasn’t until I was baking in my kitchen in LA with a neighbor smoking outside that I realized that it was this delicate combination of scents that made my European aroma. There are many nuances to it, but the general scent is pervasive. I’ve inhaled it from all the way up in northern Germany down into southern Italy; from western France to eastern Hungary — even all the way out in Spain. And most recently, in my very own kitchen.
— Laura Rowley