The Essence of Absence

Caitlin Van Dusen

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© Helle Hanghoj and Henrik Haase

Joel Leonard is afraid he may be coming down with a cold. As we walk along Copenhagen’s lakeshore, the February winds have caused his nose to run. His adopted city, Joel has written, smells to him of “Baltic salt, cold mud, broken reeds on the lakes’ surfaces, and damp woolen coats.” Removing a black leather glove, he reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out a handkerchief, which he presses gently to each nostril. Joel, who is sixty-two, hasn’t blown his nose since he was four years old. “It ruins my sense of smell,” he told me once, his native Bronx accent untamed by forty years in Denmark.

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