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A sensory slice

December 10, 2009

I stole an apple from the United Nations and smelled the worst breath ever in a day of sensations sweet and sour.

Right around lunchtime I headed towards an event across the Bella Centre, weaving in and out of suited delegates in a hallway. My stomach was growling. All of a sudden an apple cart appeared.

Note the exchange of Danish currency for an apple. On Wednesday I fell unwitting victim to the small text on the price tag.

“Oo, apples!” I said, and dodged to the left to pick one up. Taylor and Anthony walked slightly ahead.

I zeroed in on a juicy-looking specimen, barely slowed down, and grabbed it.

Maybe two seconds later I heard, “Excuse me sir! It’s not free!”

Great. I could hear Taylor and Anthony laughing.

I immediately turned back, deeply embarrassed, and paid my 5 DKK (about $1). The apple suddenly seemed smaller. The red and yellow patches turned from festive to disconcerting.

But it was sweet, and I steadily chomped away my shame.

Later in the afternoon, the appley flavor long gone, I embarked on one of many haphazard searches for an electrical outlet. I found a single empty seat and plug between two people at the edge of a sea of tables with circuit breakers.

A view down the table at a computer center on Wednesday in the Bella Centre.

After a few minutes the man sitting next to me leaned across the table to speak to a colleague.

When he opened his mouth, the odor was penetrating. Immobilizing. I stopped typing and shook my ever so slightly in disbelief.

It had to be me. I turned away and cupped my hand in front of my mouth (this never really works for me, but I felt compelled to check). I couldn’t smell anything.

Once the rancid, invisible cloud passed I got back to work. After the two or three breath blasts I got over my surprise, and the man moved on soon afterwards.

The sour halitosis fell into the general category of inconveniences I could do without: A 30-minute wait in line for cell phones. A trip to a briefing room for a press conference that never happened.

But these are the little realities, both exciting and frustrating, that fill in the gaps between major meetings at COP15.

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