Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

Smells like toddler spirit

Talk about déjà vu. It seems like just yesterday that I sat down to write my first bulletin from Busytown. In one of those highly auspicious meteorological effects, it was snowing -- first real snowfall of the season -- the city looked gorgeous, and Busytot was bumbling about in a snowsuit, walking, talking and generally being a fount of blog material.

Fast forward a whole year, and I might as well swipe the first paragraph of that first blog to start off this one.

It's snowing in New York City today -- first snow of the season -- and there's a picture-book view from my fifth floor apartment. It's just like being inside a snow-globe, only without the plastic Statue of Liberty. The snow swirls up and around the brick buildings over the road with their ornate fire escapes, and obscures the water-towers on the rooftops beyond. Down on 112th Street, every third car is a yellow cab, as usual, but the parked cars have a good three or four inches of snow on the roof, with "total expected accumulation of six to eight inches."

Spookily, nothing’s changed, right down to the total expected accumulation. Except for Busytot. This time last year he was in laconic, declarative mode -- "Snoooooooh!"-- and taking a few preliminary steps towards walking about under his own steam. This year, he can describe in a sentence the particular urban treat of "Garbage truck with a bulldozer on it, pushing the snow!" and tell you exactly what he plans to do with the snow, from "I squash Mummy with a big big snowball" to "I making snow go boof! off top of cars!" And he can run like Rokocoko at the first hint of a move to drag him inside out of the cold.

The language explosion is enormous fun. It comes along with the classic two year old stutter, a completely normal speech effect that will disappear with time. As a sometime stress-stutterer myself I’m being careful not to make a big deal out of it. But it’s hard not to smile when the poor wee lad, who has no trouble at all with a verbose sentence along the lines of "Daddy want to hold the green Volkswagen Beetle car?", takes a full minute to get to the end of a three word request like "Wa wa wa wa wa wa wa wa wa wa wa want want want want want wantsome wantsome wantsome wantsome wantsome MULK?"

Funnily enough, the hesitation doesn’t kick in when he’s talking to himself. The other night I eavesdropped on him playing with a small plastic baby fur-seal he had liberated from a friend’s toybox. "It’s got a white head," he mused, "White feet, and a white tail, white tummy, white bottom, heh heh, white bottom…and it’s got a black nose…and too many eyes…"

Dunno where that too many eyes business comes from; probably he meant to say two eyes, but you never know. The other day in the lift he pointed at a tall, handsome undergrad and said "Look mummy! He he he he he he he he he he he’s got a got a got a got a he’s got a HEAD!" The guy in question looked a bit startled. "Oh, you wouldn’t believe some of the things we see in this lift," I told him, reassuringly, just in case he was new to the city.

Musical appreciation has kicked up a notch, too. Not only does Busytot know most of the words to No!, the new classic by They Might be Giants (yes, most of the words are in fact "no"), but he’s started making requests. "Sing the concrete mixer song," he demands, like I’m a jukebox or a particularly hard-up busker. It took me a while to figure out that you can wing it as long as you know a couple of standard tunes. The song about Flick the Little Fire Engine is endlessly reworkable for the gamut of vehicles, even if you occasionally have to jam in a couple of extra syllables in the first line (concrete mixer, front-end loader and garbage truck scan nicely; double-decker bus is a bit trickier) and get creative about what it is that said vehicle is not allowed to do ("someday I'll be big and strong and er... seal every lane"?).

But this morning it was "Sing the tree song." Hmmm. Hmmm. Oak tree? Willow tree? Is there a tree song? Don’t sit under the apple tree? Then it hit me: the perfect song for the season. "O Christmas Tree"! Their branches green are currently delighting us on every other corner, as the seasonal tree sellers stack up their goods under strings of coloured lights and giant inflatable snowmen. These street-corner Christmas tree stands spring up overnight like enchanted forests in a fairy tale, and they make for a welcoming whiff of pine scent as you exit the supermarket and brush past the wall of trees.

Speaking of whiffs, I was fascinated to see that the production team for the whole Lord of the Rings premiere hoo-ha included something to appeal to the most neglected of the senses. Not Helen Clark’s nifty chain-mail shawl -- which I wouldn't mind having a fondle of -- but the specially commissioned eau de New Zealand fragrance assembled by a New York based perfume company to go with the New York launch of the film.

It's true: thanks to the parfumier Christopher Brosius of Demeter Fragrances, you can now purchase the smell of New Zealand in convenient pick-me-up cologne or room freshener form. Brosius mentioned the last-minute New Zealand commission briefly in an interview on public radio show Studio 360 this weekend (listenable online for free, this week only). Alas, he didn’t go into detail about how he went about constructing the fragrance, or whether he’d actually smelt New Zealand himself before bottling it.

But this isn't just any old perfume repackaged with silver ferns on the label: Mr Brosius is the olfactory genius responsible for an astonishing range of nostalgic and unusual scents that include Dirt, Thunderstorm, Paperback, Wet Garden, Gin and Tonic, Condensed Milk, and my favourite, Playdough (under development).

So what does New Zealand smell like, then? What do you reckon? Wet sheep? Grilled sausages? Hangi kai? Gumboot? Car exhaust? Freshly mown grass? Freshly smoked grass? I haven’t been able to get my hands on a bottle of the stuff yet, but reading between the lines of the various descriptions I’ve hunted down, the answer might just be: All of the above. Here’s some pungent ad copy to get you in the mood:

A fresh and exhilarating blend of the mystical New Zealand landscapes.  Top notes of tangy kiwi and refreshing lime give way to a clean and crisp ozone accord.

Aaah, those mystical landscapes. Puhinui Rd. The Mount. Hoon Hay. And mmm, yes, love that tangy kiwi (they mean the fruit, I guess, not the bird) but what on earth is an ozone accord? Something to do with the Kyoto agreement?

Fortunately, a bunch of slightly more detailed and largely enthusiastic consumer reviews can be found here. "Sweet green grass with sunlight and running water" does sound awfully tempting, but the poor sap who wound up "smelling like a goat" (not a sheep?) probably won’t be booking a trip to our fair country any time soon. Still, according to that website, 75% of those who tried New Zealand would buy it again, which is flattering indeed.

So far, New Zealand is the only nationally inspired scent in Demeter's cult-favourite range, and it sits a little oddly among the food and mood-based titles on offer, like a tourism booth at a craft fair. But it could be just the right gift for the homesick long-distance New Zealander on your list. Tired of smelling like the Underground, or Bangkok? Spritz a bit of New Zealand about your person and you'll be fresh as a Mt Cook lily, or possibly redolent of the top paddock. Whichever, you'll be one tangy kiwi.

And think of the niche market spin-offs if it really catches on. I’d kill for a Proustian bottle of Old Papatoetoe 1987: top notes of creek, op-shop, boot polish, and bike oil, with faint hints of pink Chardon, giving way to a clean and crisp pina colada-flavoured sunscreen accord. Mon dieu. Sniff it and weep...