We live in what is rapidly becoming a smoke-free world. No smoking of cigarettes. No more smoke from power plants. Warnings from the State as to whether you can build a fire in your fireplace or not(blue days, red days). Even commercials for the new diesel powered cars that don’t smoke anymore. The adverse health affects of smoke are proven. Clean air is a good thing. Although today’s stringent rules are bordering on the insane, we all benefit from cleaner air. In a recent conversation about the smoky smell of brain tanned leather a friend made the following comments:
“I think the smoke smell that we all like so much would have caused comment among more civilized Anglo customers, but I don’t find those comments.(In his research,) I’d think they would have mentioned the smoke because it was exotic or because it was annoying. With whole armies clothed in leather breeches in the 18th Century, and cavalrymen in leather breeches and pantaloons through the Napoleonic Wars, if they were brained and smoked more people would have said something. Just like if we went to Ace Hardware and found work gloves made of smoked braintan, we’d comment.”
My reply follows:
“They probably didn’t remark about a smoke smell because every day life was filled with smoke. Exotic, no. Annoying, sure. Every dwelling would’ve had a fireplace or a stove. All cooking was done on wood fires. Outdoor fires would have been everywhere for everyday chores: heating water for clothes washing, scalding pigs, etc,etc,etc. I would think a wood fire and smoke smell would have been as common(and unrecorded) part of life as your daily bowel movement. For people living in the smoke, the smell would simply be part of life. As we have progressed our sensitivity to the smell of smoke has increased. The same for cigarettes. Did anyone preach against the evils of second hand smoke in the 1950’s? People were more used to it. As my great Grandfather used to say “You can get used to anything but a hanging.” When I was in Boy Scouts we would come home from our weekend camps and my Dad would say “You smell like an Indian”. To him, growing up on the Fond Du Lac Indian reservation in the 30’s & 40’s, all Indians smelled like smoke. Maybe the very refined of Europe had found some escape from smoke but it would be very few.”
Smoke was an everyday fact of life. Prior to the conversion to gas and electricity as means of heating and cooking, smoke from wood or coal was inescapable. The use of tobacco was prevalent. Candles and lanterns gave us our light after sunset. Think about it. Let me know what I have missed.
Yes Sir, Gabe you are right. If the olfactory nerve is constantly exposed to a smell it will become desensitized to that smell. So, because smoke was part of everyday live for everybody I doubt anybody even noticed the smoke smell at all; whether on a person, in a building, or even in the air.
A personal example. When I was station in Korea, we Americans, talked about the “smell of Korea”. This was a smell of seaweed and fermented cabbage. This smell was everywhere: the people, the buildings, and in the air. For me personally, this was not a pleasing smell. The Koreans, on the other hand, said that they could smell Americans. We smell, to Koreans, like sour milk. You see, they don’t consume very much dairy, but we do. We don’t eat seaweed and fermented cabbage (kimchi) but they do, every day and at every meal.