Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
One man with synesthesia has mapped it out.
Today's postcard comes from London, where one man with synesthesia has mapped out what flavors he tastes at every single Tube station.
54-year-old James Wannerton has lexical-gustatory synesthesia, which means a word, spoken or written, triggers vivid sensations of taste, texture and even temperature. Since the age of 5, when Wannerton started taking the Underground to school, he noticed distinct taste associations with each station. As he got older, he started to keep track of them, compiling a list of each station name and their taste starting when he was 16. He would then visit each station to make sure the the flavor association was the same from a visit as from simply reading the name on a London Underground map.*
It's taken him 49 years to visit and record the flavor of all 360 tube stations. His final one, visited in February, tasted to Wannerton like onion rings and HP sauce. For the most part, the tastes don't change, "Neasden was cold, sliced potato when I was five and it’s still cold, slice potato today," says Wannerton, adding, "consistency is one of the defining features of synaesthesia."
After recent visits, Wannerton was able to do similar projects on the subway systems of Toronto and New York. As for future taste maps, he says he's "convinced the Paris Metro would be a great system to taste." In the meantime, Wannerton is working on art projects that attempt to graphically express the synaesthetic taste experience, something that Wannerton says "for obvious reasons is very difficult to achieve."
James Wannerton's best-tasting Tube stations:
"There are quite a few nice tasting tube stations. My top three would definitely include Baker Street which has the taste and texture of a Jam Roly-Poly pudding. Another personal favorite is Paddington which comes with the beautiful taste and texture of a Flump (pink marshmallow). Top of the list though has to be Tottenham Court Road. It has the taste and texture of an English breakfast – sausage and a fried egg, done just right!
Some routes have interesting taste combinations that go perfectly together and there are others that produce a smorgasbord of mismatched tastes such as crispy bacon followed immediately by condensed milk."
And his worst-tasting?
"One that immediately springs to mind is Bond Street which has the horrible nasal taste and texture of hair spray. Another would be Cannon Street complete with the taste and texture of 3-In-One lubricating oil. Or Bethnal Green which tastes very strongly of boiled cabbage."
*I've added a sentence to explain why Wannerton visited each Tube station as part of his synesthesia project as he explained to me in our interview. Apologies for any prior confusion.