Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Nosy Interview: Nitsuh Abebe

 Nitsuh in M57: The Ring Nebula, © Subaru Telescope, Hubble Legacy Archive, & Robert Gendler 

My empathy muscle is best strengthened by reading fiction, but there are certain cultural critics so astute in their observations of human entanglements, ambitions, and desires that they light up some of those same empathy hotspots in my brain with their sentences. The music critic Nitsuh Abebe is one such critic, and I relish seeing his byline in New York magazine or on Pitchfork, as it guarantees a dose of generous, intelligent writing that will make me look at music, culture, and human beings in new ways.  Follow Nitsuh @ntabebe on Twitter for the latest on where you too can find his welcome byline. 

What do you smell like? 
A person who smells much, much better than he used to. I mean, I'm a little tempted to try and flatter myself here, and claim that I spent my mid-twenties as the olfactory equivalent of an attractively scraggly beard, right out there among all the twenty-something guys who manage to make being scuzzy and hygienically dissolute pass for being incredibly masculine and alluring. Stale laundry, cigarette smoke, spilled drinks, the slightly irregular shower schedule of someone who stays out late and wakes up ten minutes before he's meant to be at work, and a few dots of some cheap drugstore scent intended to camouflage them all -- so youthful and charming and picturesque, right? But that would be massively stretching the appeal.

So these days I smell (I hope) like a clean and serious adult person who does laundry at a socially acceptable pace, wears a typically sporty deodorant, and has historically had people who already love him and therefore can't be trusted say that his fundamental body-scent is relatively pleasant. Except there was one day when I had to borrow someone's Tom's of Maine natural lemongrass deodorant and wound up smelling like bad Thai food.

What do you like to smell? 
Dogs' paws. I'm really fond of dogs. The pads of their paws often have a Frito-like corn-chip scent that makes me feel all the great feelings dogs are capable of making humans feel. I honestly do not care how much time my dog spends rubbing those paws on sidewalks that are constantly being urinated on by other dogs, and then strewn with dropped and rotting take-out food, and then scurried over by rats fetching the food, urinated on again by humans too dumb and/or drunk to locate a bar bathroom, and then probably vomited on around 3am. They get hosed down now and then, and I just love that dog's-paw smell too much. It actually has something in common with another of my favorites, a nostalgic and long-dead one: the card inserts of cassettes, in the early 90s, when one might still go out and purchase a new album on cassette. That smell was less corn and more flour, less Frito and more burrito. I grew up in the southwest, where "burrito" was a scent category as fundamental as "floral" or "citrus."

Dogs' breath can be pretty lovely, too, with the right dog. (It has to be a small dog, just a little gust of panting in your face.)

I like cardamom, which figures heavily in some of my favorite Ethiopian dishes; a spice called mitmita, which ditto; sweet medicinal smells, from serious-business cough syrup to Red Bull; that candy-banana stuff that seems only tangentially related to actual bananas; swimming pools, and skin that recently in a swimming pool; and the nicotine-stained spot on a smoker's index finger. I like smelling things that are horrible, things that make others say "this is horrible, you have to smell it." (I am not up for "you have to taste this," but for smells I will get right in there.) I have great feelings about the odor of old overworked radiators, especially if they make miasmic steamy noises to go with it, and even more especially if they're in Chicago. The smell of onions and garlic browning seems beloved by more or less all halfway-decent people, but I get the feeling I love it more than average. Same goes for rain, or post-rain greenery, or whatever that smell is -- combine rain and cut grass and I will actually start to feel as if everything about my life is a tragic failure, because my world has failed to turn out as pure and wonderful as rain and cut grass. In college I was completely in awe of an otherwise ordinary girl who'd show up last to intro psychology lectures and sit next to me in back, because her hair invariably smelled like rain, even when it wasn't raining and hadn't rained all month. Rain with a hint of apple. For a while I would stop in drugstores and sniff any new apple shampoos I noticed, hoping to find an explanation for that girl. I never did. If anyone reading this understands the secret to always smelling like rain, please email me. 


Anonymous said...

I, too, love dogs! When I get home today I will be smelling Emma's paws for that Frito-like corn-chip scent. Puppy breath - the best. I even love the way Emma smells when she comes in from the rain - wet dog smell. If I didn't love dogs, their smells might not be so appealing to me, though.

annie said...

i love this one.

Lola said...

I'm charmed. And smitten.

Jason said...

Witty conversation! I would like to see the some attractive 'hotspots' of our interesting brain. I'm extremely pleased to see your deep love for dog and its paws ;). Thanks for an interesting share.
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