Thursday, December 30, 2010

Made by God and Man

Godowsky and Mannes, that is.  A couple of musicians.  Who also happened to invent Kodachrome.

Which renders its last impossible color today in Kansas, at the last plant to develop those crazy saturated colors.

Sometimes I think it was the impossibility of the colors that both underscored and made palatable the shock that my grandparents' youth actually transpired in color.

I know that it was Kodachrome that made the Pepto-Bismol pink jello stuff featured in the Junket advertisement (full color!) in my mother's copy of Dr. Spock look so otherworldly good.  I could spend an hour imagining myself eating it...and did so, often.  What flavor COULD that pink be, after all?  Early musings, I suppose.

Not just the colors, but the blacks and the browns, which are of course a color, but...again, hyperreality.  So clearly not sepia tones.  A blackness that wasn't an absence, but something that could swallow you up.

I just found this out this morning.  Polaroid, I knew in advance.  I didn't care so much...Polaroid was my uncle's camera, for gadgeters.  With a most memorable smell when you wiped the squeegee across the prints that came out the first generation of those cameras/that film.  Polaroid was a good film to highlight the fleetingness of memory, always needing protection, always doomed to fade no matter what.

Kodachrome, though...Kodachrome made memory more than it could be.  Or so it seemed.  Now that I am older, I sometimes wonder if what Kodachrome did was capture a detail so full, I had trouble accepting how real it was.

Not realizing that even that intense amount of detail was not capable of rendering the full truth.

Life is beautiful.  Reproductions try.

They took my Kodachrome away.

It was a heckuva thing to find out on New Year's Eve eve.  But I do have some prints.  And my memories.

The Irish Times
The New York Times
a Kodachrome documentary is in the works, says the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle 
other food on Kodachrome at CHOW, "The Last Kodachrome Christmas"

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


A cull to action:  Did you have plans for your collection in 2010?  Do you for 2011?

Last poll of 2010 on the bar to your left there.  You can pick more than one answer.

Image is not meant to suggest that only women can/should vote.  It does happen to be from the first year they were able to in the United States.

image from Here, There, Everywhere blog; otherwise unattributed.  If you know, please share.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Storage, or, A Trip Down Memory Lane

Am scrapping other posts in the hopper, as I was visiting the Perfume Posse this morning, where March summarized her approach to storage.

The wise thing would have been for me to read and move on.  But, as often happens, I feel compelled to open my mouth.  And, as often happens, I attempted to find the balance between responding and oversharing.

Guess which direction I failed toward?

And guess what I am going to subject you to today?  Further meandering on the topic.  I'll start with my comment:

Erm…more than one storage system. Should I really tell?
Because…there’s the first “discovery sets” I picked up from Perfumed Court. Which I keep, still in their category grouping (“roses” “101″ etc) stuck into sea salt which is in odds and ends vintage stemware. Then there are the miniatures and precious morsels, a.k.a. put in the bottle by the maker items, which stay in the velvet lined drawer in my dresser. Then there are the Precious Decants and Smalls, Influenced by the Early Years which reside in a place of honor in my, erm, lingerie drawer. (LOL…lingerie in my mind conjures images of pegnoirs and camisoles and other dainties…suffice to say they are well cushioned, but not so much by silk and lace.) A few full bottles in the front of the other two drawers.
Decants in boxes, loosely grouped by house, unless they are workhorses grouped by season, in which case they are likely to be in a bigger bottle anyway. Back up bottles (yes, I have as many as five of those) with odd vintage things (Intoxication, Hay, etc) up on the high shelf in the clothes closet.
Sigh. I almost feel like this is a confessional. I can almost hear the perfume years zing past…I remember when I first fell, I had a bottle of Norell (picked up at an estate sale as a curiosity in memory of my grandmother), a few samples plus the discovery sets, and then a full bottle of Magie Noire, my first “real” perfume since I had KL in college and Carolina Herrera from my wedding day. (I didn’t wear perfume then, but felt like I should have something for a wedding.) Husband purchased that for me the summer I fell down the rabbit hole.
Smile. As long as I’m confessing…there’s one more box. Not full. But overflowing with memories. I keep the perfume I purchased in Paris in that one, along with a vintage bottle of Apres L’Ondee that I split with friends who came to me via perfume but have become very dear to me.
Which would probably summarize the storage system overall. There is logic and method to it, but all considerations are subject to and generally molded by sentiment and history.
I didn't even bother to mention the whimsy of how certain splits end up out and on display.  They are there to remind me to play with them.  Unless, of course, they are carefully packed away, a game of hide and seek I play with myself when I squirrel away treasures to be re-found at another time.  The display:

 One of the stemwares mentioned in my comment.

Vintage manufacturers samples, about to be gifted for the new year.  Samples somehow mixed with other ephemera in an eggcup.  Samples from long ago, still in the (intact) cup where I first put them.  Because when/how they came into my life is sometimes a better way to retrieve from storage than "A-Z" or "Manufacturer" or "author."

Mind you, I admire Bonkers' perfume refrigerator.

Hmm, this one must be a misfit.  

These photos are mostly pictures from a favorite spot to write. The perfumes are not those that I generally wear, or that are "in storage."  They are..."in process."  
Kind of like me, when I am here.
I tried to speak about storage before, in this post ("Door #1: Ways of Storing").  Go there for more pictures, if you like.  There will be madness.
What I did not try to address before is what I recognized in my comment to The Posse.  Which is...I treasure memories.  And this exploration into perfume is mapped by memories as much as it is by scent families or style or even type of bottle.  Memories of where I was in the journey, to a great extent.  Memories of how a certain perfume anchors outward, certainly -- usually broader questions like does it connect to a geography/vacation/season? does it remind me of a certain friend, because they introduced me to it/helped me learn to love that scent family? does it evoke a certain period in my life?  But sometimes simpler ones, like "did I panic houseclean when this one was out and it ended up in my son's closet?"
And, it turns out I not only treasure memories, I have allowed myself to allow them to trump any Dewey Decimal style of organization that I might try.  A fair number of what I have are entered onto a spreadsheet, separated into sections labelled "Sample" "Decant/Partial Bottle" and "Full Bottle."  But not all.  A number of my "regulars" are sorted into boxes by season (warm v cold, basically), but not all.  
A number of my treasures are cloistered in the dresser.  But not all.  
treasures, yes, but whimsically collected here, largely because size allows
It occurs to me that if I end up fully charting, with this combination of words and pictures, in serial post form, I might actually accumulate a functional mind map.  A portrait of How Things Work in there, as it were.
(That laughter you here might be yours, but it most certainly the author's own.)
Anyway, I offer you sincere happy wishes for warmth and good cheer as the holidays wind up and the year winds down.  I'd like to give you a hint of what else is coming this week.
But I know enough now to know that what I would offer is the muscle of plans hung upon the skeleton of intent.  All of which would be subject to that little box of whimsy.

all photos author's own

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Belief Willingly Put Into Suspension

A heterogeneous mixture in which solute-like particles settle out of solvent-like phase some time after their introduction.

Yesterday morning, I opened my newspaper to find a dream nearly smashed.  Fortunately, the author insisted it had been so.  Thus, despite the valiant attempts of the fact checkers, the dream remains.  

Around here, Jean Shepherd's A Christmas Story has become legend.  Yes, TBS runs the marathon on Christmas.  It's part of the culture now, so I'm thinking most of you know what I'm talking about.  But Shepherd hailed from the base of the lake, that area in Indiana where smelters used to light the night sky in a way that could be seen for long, long distances.  In his myth, he cobbled together a place that took a department store from Cleveland (Higbee's) and a department store window experience from Chicago (Marshall Field's) and put them in Santa's lap in a small town in Indiana.  With a "Red Ryder carbine action two hundred range shot and [here is the key] a compass in the stock and a thing which tells time."

My paper (The Chicago Tribune, a real live something in my hand, though some would say is also now a myth) informs me there was no such thing.  That when the production staff called Daisy, asking for a few models to use on set, Daisy tried to inform them there was not and never had been such a model.  Though another company once offered one.  The author, Jean Shepherd, insisted YES, there had been such a thing.  Daisy consented to create one for purposes of the magic of movies.  

And because Jean Shepherd insisted it was so, a gazillion people now know that in the Ralphie era, one could put one's eye out with a BB gun that said "Red Ryder" and located you in space and time.

Or, to put it another way, an author and the cinema once again successfully adjusted space and time.

Except for my father, who when he first saw that movie laughed his way through, but when it was over, said "I'm pretty sure the gun he asked for was really a Buck Rogers."*

(*see, what I heard; the Trib story tells me that what he probably said was "Buck Jones.")

Without an intervening structure, all of wheel's vertical energy is transferred to the frame, which moves in the same direction. In such a situation, the wheels can lose contact with the road completely. Then, under the downward force of gravity, the wheels can slam back into the road surface. What you need is a system that will absorb the energy of the vertically accelerated wheel, allowing the frame and body to ride undisturbed while the wheels follow bumps in the road.

My mother hated going to movies with my Grandfather.  Because my mother would be feeling imperiled by, say, passengers on a ship being tossed about in a storm, and my grandfather would start chuckling.  Because he was seeing clearly how the model was being worked.  Soon enough, he didn't need to say anything; his process was understood.  And understanding what was going on with him completely took her out of the movie.

Take the suspension out of a Cadillac and you get tossed from a pillow on a cloud to a few tons of steel crashing down into every bump and fissure in the road, with some question whether or not you'll be able to keep your land yacht pointed straight ahead.

There is an art to putting the facts in the right way, so that those who need them don't get their suspensions shaken...while those who would be interrupted by them are not shaken, either.

The particles in suspensions are larger than those found in solutions.  Components of a suspension can be evenly distributed by a mechanical means, like by shaking the contents, but the components will settle out.

We are nearly to the apex of one of the most willingly suspended times of year when it comes to belief.  A fat men puts his finger alongside his nose and immediately ascends and descends a chimney, about a bajillion times in one night.  A child, conceived without the typical introductions that lead to a zygote, is born.  Though days have clearly been getting shorter, we trust things will turn around and they will start to lengthen once more.

One spritz of No. 19 will successfully lead you through battle in the boardroom.  One of No. 5 on your bare skin is all you need to wear at night.

Personally, I am all about the magic.  Which sometimes surprises people, because I know, I'm a skeptic.  I like to pull things apart.  Heck, I spent a number of years with editors and foley artists and thespians and gels creating the storms at sea.  I know what what goes into the sausage.

Facts.  Work.  Perspective.

And magic.

That willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.

 - Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Night sky, Isle Royale
(possible tapestry of curse words hanging over the lake?)
Tall Boy Adventures

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Perspective / Happy Solstice

There is an optical illusion that impressed itself upon my brain in my youth.  You are likely aware of it.

I retired last night, wondering if conditions meteorological and somnambulogical would allow for me to see a lunar eclipse on the solstice.

Alas, the heavens brought snow to ease the way for jolly old sorts in sleighs later this week, but obscured any hope of seeing glowing orange orbs hovering overhead.

Real ones, in the sky, at least.

My meandering thoughts took me past things razor's edge.  Lean this way, and things appear so.  Lean a little in another direction, and they are something else.  A lamp.  Two faces.

Mushroom.  The ghost of Apres L'Ondee.

The second would be, of course, Frederic Malle / Maurice Roucel's Dans Tes Bras.  In a phenomenon different from "morphing," when a perfume progresses from one something to another something, but consistently behaves as such from wearing to wearing, the olfactory illusion creates a different experience depending upon approach.  With Dans Tes Bras, if I come to it at just the right point in its drydown...just as the opening notes start to settle, before violet and heliotrope really first start to appear, the overlay between the opening and next unfolding smells like...mushrooms.  Yes, I get what people were saying when this one first came out.  Mushrooms.  Which I missed at the time.  And yet got something earthy.  Fifth trip in, I ran around with an "aha! Apres L'Ondee!! it's in there!!!" moment.

Fall.  Spring.  Something its own.  Something that puts a ghost in a prism.

All depending on what your perspective is that day, and where/when you put your eyes/nose to it.

Which got me to thinking about winter, and long nights, and icicles.  And how radically different scents come up as "winter," depending on who is talking or who is looking.  L'Eau d'Hiver, because it is white (Tom), or because it smells like that icicle (actually, she says snow) when it melts in your hand (Bois de Jasmin, who is writing again btw, oh happy happy).  Nuit de Noel, because it is the smell of that which is wonderful about Christmas Eve, snug and happy with loved ones (Patty), or because it's simplicity conveys all that is good about Christmas, simple pleasures and time with friends (Yesterday's Perfume).

There they are.  Both winter attached.  And yet very different, the light ethereal shimmery Hiver and the simple thick orange confection Nuit de Noel.  Perspective.

There is something fitting about these contrasts that should be either/or but become "and" when they pass through a certain part of your mental process.  Something fitting when apehelion and perehelion become bandied in ways you usually don't hear unless you are in science class.

Something a little wonderful about the fully "lit" moon, which is really just reflecting the sun's light, being obscured by your/our/the earth's shadow, which allows it to change color and character, if only for a little bit.

May your solstice allow for many happy discoveries.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day

Today the local newspaper featured a story on local veterans, including some who had served with the Merchant Marine.

Immediately, I remembered old movies and toss off lines in conversation about being sent to serve in the Merchant Marines.  And realized I knew precious little about these mariners, other than some mangled impression that being sent to serve was akin to being in the Foreign Legion, but with water, rather than sand, under your feet.

Here are a few corrections to my imperceptions:
*Rather than foreigners choosing to serve in another country's armed forces (the Foreign Legion), the Merchant Marine is composed of citizens of their country.
*The Foreign Legion has an elite reputation, and is not Abbot and Costello bumbling through the desert
*The Merchant Marine is not composed of U.S. Marines on punitive duty, but seafaring folk who come to the aid of their country...without the artillery of a fighting ship.

Every year, when Veteran's Day comes around...the day formerly known as Armistice Day, in honor of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, when there was a "cessation in hostilities"...every year on this day, I dig around, and every year on this day, I learn something new about this history of those who have served.

Of course, just about every day of every year, I find myself reminded of that which I don't know.

Today I take that reminder in more somber form.  Because something I will never know, no matter how much I recognize what I don't know, is what it is like to give your life in service of country.  Or spend your days serving, knowing that you might cross the bar before the day is done.

photo from the Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives, an online source of things marine from 1800s-1954, including information and documents from the two World Wars, the WPA...and groups working the inland seas.

manuscript copy of Tennyson's "Crossing the Bar" from the University of South Carolina rare books and special collections section of their Libraries site.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Speaking the language

Syntax is key, but it is not written in stone.

When you transition from one phonemic language to another, when you go from one pot of words-to-sentences to collections thereof which make thought clouds to another pot using the same constructs, it helps to remember that the conventions of assembly can vary.

It's the same in music and poetry.  There are structures you are familiar with -- the verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus of a popular song.  The rhyme and rhythm of a limerick.  The syllable per line allotment of a haiku.

In perfume, you fall down the rabbit hole and learn about the opening, the development, the drydown.  You get excited when you start to recognize these these things, and appreciate when certain perfumes perform their acts well, whether because of the composition of each, of the transitions, or the new notes they hit which end up having the effect of tickling your fancy.

Then, perhaps, you get used to this structure, this particular form of the language, and get accustomed to communicating in it.  So when another Romance language comes along, you might recognize the phonemes, the fact that something is being fact, the language might be analagous enough to your own that you can identify cognates and comprehend in some sort of pidgin listening way.

But no matter how much you are catching on, there comes a point when, at least for a little bit, it's best to shake off your "knowledge" and just listen with fresh ears and clean slate.

You might find that, in the end, combining the two approaches leads to your best understanding of what was being said.

A few weeks ago, I applied to be a "tester" of a flight of perfumes offered by Essentially Me.  Lo and behold, an e-mail arrived from "Alec and Sian" letting me know I would be sent a sample set.  "Alec" I am presuming to be Alec Lawless, a perfumer who has written about the subject.  I had a certain set of backdoor information about Lawless and the Essentially Me operation, because I troll the blogs (and therefore had read Helg's review of the book) and had come across a piece on Lawless consulting to a BBC show.

The perfumes themselves weren't really on my radar.  For one thing, Essentially Me is based in the U.K., and my explorations with independent perfumers admittedly started either with Big Names (ah, those days when The Different Company seemed like a radical independent) or locals (and I remain a fan of folks like Liz Zorn, Laurie Erikson, and Ayala Sender, even as I still need to get to know more of offerings from Dawn Spenser Hurwitz and Mandy Aftel).  Add in one more adjective differentiator to indpendent, the "natural" perfumer, and the list gets even shorter.  I have played in the sandbox with Roxanne Villa and Anya McCoy, and a little bit with Abdes Salaam.

It's an interesting business, this, the natural perfume thing.  I've avoided writing about it, because I have felt I haven't been able to fully put my hands around it.  Including the fact that I was trying to figure out just how I felt about something I knew should be discussed with perfume, as perfume, but perhaps not as "Perfume."

A language and sorting thing.

Because, at a certain point, the naturals play differently.  That is neither good nor bad; it is what it is.  But when I fell into perfume, I had a past as a person who went through an aromatherapy zone.  I learned essential oil notes and applications, dangers, ways of blending, etcetera, and employed essentially oils for pleasure and practical purposes.  (Homemade house cleaners, anyone?  Potions to make boogey men afraid to enter bedrooms? Clearing of the sinuses? Calming of anxious nerves? Elimination of foot fungus? Oh, that and more.)  So I suppose, in a way, the fact that the way the notes were brought together (their aural presence, in a music metaphor), and the fact that their presenting structure was different (from the short story of aromatherapy to the elegiac sonnets of a Perfume, perhaps?), allowed me to leap languages and not pay much attention to the previous experience.

When I explored natural perfumes, I often found an extra sort of noise entering my processing.  Because I was recognizing specific notes and "accords" and associating them with the previous hierarchy (antibacterial? antiinflammatory? good for burns? dermal irritant?), and, they were, like, totally getting in the way of me sitting down with a perfume, dude.

So if a natural didn't at least follow the sonnet structure, I set it aside.  Because I was playing Perfume, and needed the participants to at least know when to insert verse, and when to jump to the chorus.

My experience with reviewing the Essentially Me flight reflects a transition.  Or perhaps an assimilation. Part of it is the perfumes themselves; they clearly have a form, they transition, they have different acts.  Part of it is me; I've been playing Perfume long enough that I can insert a little sitar into my Brit pop, a raga structure into my Coltrane chorus, without getting lost.  I'm going to post my reviews next, but I thought it was important to set out the context in which I experienced them.  For me, at least.

image from the Poem Shape blog

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Quote me

I don't like castor bean plant.  You can quote me on that.

I should.  I should appreciate its height, its architectual interest, its bold presence, the opportunity to splash some red into the garden by choosing certain varieties, etc.  I should welcome the opportunity for something that combines all of these elements, plus flowers and interesting seedpods, in one tall plant.

I don't.

But please take a moment to put quote marks around "don't like."  Because yes, its true...but I don't harbor bad feelings in my heart toward it, or badmouth it to fellow gardeners, or even wish it didn't appear in my neighbor's landscape.

I just don't want it in my immediate scope.

Which is just how I used to feel about hosta.  Silly pointless rather ugly green elements that form ubiquitous rings around trees and which often were recommended with the caveat that you cut off the flowers and just use them for their leaves.  Sure, I got their advantage in that they grew in shade.  But why grow something ugly just because it will grow there?

Guess what occupies certain nooks and crannies of my yard now, and happily so in my eyes' opinion?

Hosta "June," and not just because that is my birth month.  Love the variegated leaves with an odd bluish green.  Giant hosta...yes, giant, weirdly prehistorical almost, kinda like that castor bean.  Garden variety (nyuk, nyuk wink wink) unnamed cultivar with delightful smelling flowers, which might have been called "August lily" by our grandparents.  Ones that spread with runners.  Functional ones.  Specimen ones.

Of course, I don't cut the flowers off a single one.  Silly advice books.

So there they are, these things which made me go "blergh."  These things about which I once said "I don't like them," and was rather vociferous in doing so.

Fortunately, I knew enough then to never say "never."  So my turnaround didn't exactly bite me on the hindquarters when it came.  A fine lesson for life and it's subcompartments, not only gardening, but parenting.  And home decorating.  And reading preferences.  And perfume.

I've talked about it before, but I took a new route home today, and saw a big planting of castor bean.

I didn't like it.

Quote me.

picture from the blog "Danger Garden"

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Dans Tes Bras

I've been sniffing this one on occasion for, oh, say, a year and a half.

The two times previous to this one, I was all "hunh, it's another kind of somewhat powdery violet, really."  Which was a relief of a synthesis, because for a year I'd been waiting to smell these nearly rank mushrooms, thanks to the early word.  And, truth be told, when I finally had my "it's this simple" little epiphany, I also found the mushroom.  It was the effect of violet + something that comes out as it goes into stage 2.  Still figuring that one out, but for me at least, the mushroom "aha!" was all about the collective effect of the notes together, not a spot where one can dig and find a mushroom.

Yesterday, something new happened.  I'm going to try it again, to see if it happens again.  But all at once, I saw/sniffed the following:

Take one
and go bury it in some moderately rich soil.

Watch these sprout from the planting spot
but don't huff quite yet.  Wait until fall, when the roots have become established, and the plant is now fully established.

Now yank it out entire from the ground, and shake off most, but not all, of the dirt.  Sniff, but from the root end, not at the flowers.

Voila!  Dans tes Bras, my nose, early October 2010.

I had the best time with it ever.  There was promise in the not-quite-that-simple powdery violet opening, which revealed the reward of earthy foliage twiggy-ness, all cushioned in comfort softness.  

I want to go back.  I want.  I want even though the third act is, well, a bit of a drop off.  I'm going to drain my small portion, but right now, even as I remain uncertain of the finale, I'm ready to skip the larger decant stage and go straight to full bottle.

Which is partly intellectual--I like supporting Malle's project (as if my occasional relatively paltry investments count as "support"), but mostly emotional/pleasure based.  I want to go there, into that spot of mostly composted dirt where someone unearthed this strange new plant, wrapped in a cashmere blanket and ready to tuck in for a while.

When I wake up, I'll put the plant back in the ground, so I can come back for more next season.

Please take a moment to enter a theory on Ondee On Ice, if you are inclined and have not done so already.  You can play "Clue" style, if you like...either suspect, or accuse....

Blue Violet taken by Scott Schwenk, viewable at the Hubbard Brook Project
L'Heure Bleue bottle from Octavian's 1000 Fragrances blog, in a post titled "L'Heure Bleue, Fol Arome, Pois de Senteur" 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ondee On Ice

Spy cam image.

What is going on here?  Dear heavens; look closely...that's...that's...a vintage bottle of Apres L'Ondee in the parfum.  And it is...on ice.

Is it time for the flashy newsmagazine reporter to jump out of the shadows and revoke some perfumista licenses?  Or time for FDA enforcers to stop this terrible new trend of infusing cocktails with body scent, because, as IFRA has taught us, they can kill you.

Or should Miss Marple just gather her tea and think for a moment?

(Go ahead.  You think.  What is going on here?  You tell me.  I'll tell you in my next post.  There just might be a Parfums de Nicolai nicely for the best yarn, as well as for the most accurate.)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fan girl

Scent strips of various vintage perfumes from the Osmotheque, resting in glassines.  Glassines handed to me by the hands of Patricia de Nicolai.

Who had just spent a few hours talking about them and modern interpretations from the same fragrance family she was using each to represent.

With Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez and Christophe Laudimiel and Christoph Hornetz sitting nearby, offering commentary.

Perfume geek nirvana.

I mean, look at the far left.  Iris Gris.  Who can put their nose on that?  Precious few.  And now the far right.  La Fuite Defendu, 1914.  A strapping...fruity floral.  In between, two of my all time favorites, Tabac Blond and Coty Chypre.  Both among those de Nicolai would call "the disappeareds."

Oh, oh, oh.

I had travelled to Washington, D.C. to sit in a seminar hosted by the Smithsonian.  The program I attended was the second of two that weekend; the night before, Luca Turin was the main speaker, and led the attendees through a session on perfumes with five specific notes forming a spine for discussion.  (Read more about this at March's Perfume Posse post; she attended that night.)  

I'm going to go ahead and write about it here, but you'll notice the writing style is a little different.  Because I'm still coming out of the zone I allowed myself to occupy while there:  Stupid.  Because when else was I going to be able to relax and soak up such a thing, and what might I miss if I was too busy trying to demonstrate what I knew already?  Which, of course, is pretty limited anyway.

Details of my day, served straight up:

De Nicolai was the main speaker, and opened with a summary of how and why the Osmotheque came to be.  "Conservation, not interpretation," given a kick start by the materials Jean Kerleo (he of Jean Patou scents including Joy) kept samples of when he retired from the Patou lab.  She then led us through a presentation that basically reviewed perfume families as defined by perfumers (including chypre, oriental, floral, etc.), with a few sidetrips into anecdote and history.  You could have been a newbie, or even just curious (as was one of my tablemates, currently a local resident thanks to her Air Force assignment, and taking in some of what being there had to offer), and be able to follow along.  As an accompaniment to the review of each family, PdN offered a scent strip of a vintage composition from the Osmotheque vault, and then a modern composition from that family.  Citrus was Eau de Cologne a Ste Helene (ca. 1815), with Ckone (1994) as a modern example; her side-by-side for the chypre family was Coty Chypre (1917) with Aromatics Elixir (1971).  Etcetera, etcetera.  

Nicolai concluded with a brief discussion of her own history as a perfumeur, taking time to emphasize that she did NOT ever work for Guerlain, despite her family history, and that her experience working for others included time on the business side before starting up her own company.  Which, she carefully pointed out, she considered to be both a Big Deal and a Big Gamble.  (My words, not hers, but the gist is the same.)

Details, with a twist:

As the talk progressed, Nicolai invited Turin and Sanchez to contribute thoughts about certain perfumes or ideas. If you've read the Guide, some of the comments would have come as no surprise, but it was fun nonetheless to hear them straight from the horse's mouth, as it were.  When fougeres were up, there was talk of whether or not the audience perceived them as masculines, which ended up leading to Turin opining "for a masculine to be successful, it should be a little bit grim."  Much sidechatter at my table about that idea.  (My table included a former decanter, a perfume enthusiast, and the Air Force newbie.)

A pair of nicely presented young gentlemen sat over with Turin, Sanchez, and Nicolai's husband.  They were nodding and clearly engaged throughout, but quiet.  Until, at the end of the day, Nicolai asked one of them to get up and describe his efforts to establish an Osmotheque in the United States.  Ladies and gentleman...Christophe Laudamiel.  Nice.  Next to him?  Christoph Hornetz.  Oh, shoot me now.  (See a Basenotes interview here.)

Nicolai did offer one of her perfumes as the modern example of an interpretation.  She used Violette in Love as the soliflore counter to Vera Violetta (Roger & Gallet, 1892).  I was a bit too fascinated by the green elements in the vintage soliflore -- something in there smells like an herb I use when I mash up for cooking, brain searches, comes up with pesto, not quite right, tries to also incorporate input from the Nicolai scent, is too caught up trying to solve the vintage riddle to register anything other than "pleasant" for the violet.  Fortunately, because we were given sample vials of a few PdN offerings, and Violette in Love was among mine, I can come back to it.  Meanwhile, I'll be huffing on this scent strip, trying to solve the green mystery before the evidence fades.

Details, on the side:

In addition to the fun woman who came because, as she said, "I know nothing about this AT ALL; where better to start learning?," there was a gentleman a few seats down on my other side who clearly was there of his own volition (and not a date or tag along).  The fact that I feel compelled to note his presence is a little disappointing, but I think bears pointing out, given that the audience was clearly majority female, and perfumers (as Nicolai pointed out herself) are primarily male.  I wish I had had a chance to talk with him, find out what drew him there, where he was at in an interest in perfume.

It was kind of funny to see a number of members of the audience start to get squirmy in their seats and hear a murmuring rise as the strips of Iris Gris were prepared.   When Nicolai was done with her part, Luca Turin got up and noted how he thinks it may be the finest perfume of all time.  You could tell who knew what he thought before PdN even got started.  The slide for that family (which she has as a "floral fruity woody" from the "woody floral" family) wasn't even in our handouts.  Methinks maybe it was added as an afterthought.  Thank you to whoever decided to put it in.  (The modern comparison, btw, was Dior Homme.)

The day included two "first time ever" experiences:  First time ever sniffing Iris Gris (on paper, at least). And first time ever asking for an autograph.  

Like I said, permission to be stupid.  

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Once again, a turn of the earth

Another equinox come and gone.

With me apparently lost in the earth's turnings.  Sorry about that.

I woke up with this morning with the Fleur de Narcisse I had applied yesterday afternoon a bit boozier, a bit sweeter, and still ever so wonderful.  There is something about this one that matches "equinox" so perfectly for me.  I suspect, as I have mused before, that it connects with the same part of me that so loves digging in the dirt, putting my nose in flower and foliage, and lifting a slightly cocked head to the air to catch wafts of cut grass and cooked compost.

FdN has been a guilty and peculiar passion of mine since I first smelled it.  It doesn't "develop," really, though I could swear it "integrates."  Especially during times of the year when your clothing and the temperature DO "develop" during the day.  (Layers on, layers off.  See your breath, get warmed by the sun.)  Fleur de Narcisse is something that I don't even bother to take out of its precious little crate during much of the year.

Kind of like I don't even bother to peek inside the compost pile during high summer or the depths of winter.

But's take the fork and poke in there a bit.  Naw, let's stab heartily and turn it over and see what we've got.

When life is good, in the pile you find something dark and easily crumbled and just the right moist and know it will be good for your garden.  In the crate, you find something bright dark and with depth and though it sings the same chord you are happy to let it ring like a prayer bowl and just get lost inside it.

Both smell good.

Once upon a time I was afraid to write about FdN, because it was/is so darn expensive.  I could pull the "what with the change in attitudes and prices when it comes to perfume, the L'Artisan harvest range is now more hiccup in thinking rather than deal breaker" attitude.  Because I won't.  Because putting down more than two C-notes (see, still the guilt; really, it's straight up three C's) for a bottle of perfume is putting down a lot of hours of working-persons paycheck.  Of course, why people were so comfortable picking on L'Artisan for this, and yet openly purchasing bottles of, say, Uncle Serge, which is nearly the same price per ml, I'm not quite sure.  The "exclusive" presentation?  Please.  There's no better run cult than that of Serge Lutens.  To be sure, I love Chergui...I mean, a LOT, especially in the right season...but I'd rank my Chergui experience in the same plane as my Fleur de Narcisse one.  As in, rich, heady, takes me away...but about the same in complexity and "evolution."

I'd argue that somebody did a much better job of selling one pile of compost over another.

Nonetheless, things are what they are.  Perfume folk are trying to decide how to get their hands on the juice inside an exclusive Scandinavian bottle.  Meanwhile, somewhere Eau de Polder sits unchatted about in a cute flask.  No, not an artisan bottle.  I get that.  But I'm just saying...

Oh, fie.  "Uncle," I cry.  Quality of juice and packaging and willing climate among consumers and adept sales machines and all get muddled together often enough.  I'm going to go back to my last wafts of Fleur de Narcisse, whose tobacco-y hay-ed somewhat liquered up narcissus has been such a source of pleasure this round.

Incidentally, patient readers with a good memory will recall that my bottle of FdN was an anniversary gift from my spouse of limited identity and only occasional mention.*  It occurs to me that there is no finer tangible substance to offer up as a gift marking many, many years of togetherness than a something which is not easily obtained, yet is easily identified (limited harvest, narcissus), and which brings hearty pleasure, yet only to the right audience (my experience, my peculiar nose).  It's nowhere near the date, but the ability to unearth the discovery of a Happy Anniversary is, as a famous fan of compost used to say, a Good Thing.

*Bonkers, as I like to refer to refer to Flittersniffer, author of "Bonkers About Perfume," once ruminated on how perfume bloggers refer to their significant others.  (See "Dear Husband...")  Nicknames abound, as she pointed out.  Here, there is none.  Whether that pronouncement should have a "yet" attached to it is yet to be determined.

Photo credit: author's own.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fata Morgana, Trompe l'oeil, and other visions

Would you dine in the dark?  Complete and utter darkness?

You can.  I could have.  Dans le Noir, a restaurant you may already heard of, seats and presents food to you in total darkness.  In London (previous link) or in Paris (LA Times article here).  Cell phones confiscated, no luminous watches, etc etc.

Are you game?

I find myself saying "no way."  The sensualist in me is completely trumped by the Security Monster.  The same SM that says "no way" to things like skydiving, or bungee jumping over the Snake River, or attempting to reason with an angry teenager.  It's not that I am risk adverse; I cross busy streets on foot all the time, and this even though I was once hit by a car as a pedestrian.  I have participated in a water rescue.    Etcetera, etcetera.  It's just...and this is very important...I simply don't see why I should actively and knowingly significantly increase the odds of risk to my life with no meaningful reason.

The ability to say "I did it" does not qualify.  And I don't personally feel any rush of "feeling alive" by bringing the very issue of being alive into question.  Near death experiences?  I've had a couple.  No desire to go there by choice.

Hold, you say.  We're talking food here.

Precisely, I respond.  Ingestion.  You know, like the word on certain poisonous material containers:  "Do not ingest"?  Like in, say...botulism?  Whoops...people do inject that these days.  Let me stick with poisoning???

Am I being too cautious?  Perhaps worried to the point of pathology?  Maybe.  But I know this:  one of the things my senses do for me is tell me when there is danger.  And while YES my olfactive powers are quite important when identifying food danger -- reinforced every time I do a refrigerator clean out, or use the classic line "smell this milk..." -- I still rely on, and apparently give great weight to, my powers of sight.

It's not just the issue of seeing whether or not the food is blue.  There's the issue of being able to see the server.  Of how clean the room is.  Of whether my table mates are trying not to snicker.

Funny thing...I've had nearly orgasmic experiences with food.  When that happens, the functionality of my eyes approaches something like 0%.  But that is voluntary.

Control issues?  Maybe.  But I don't think so.

I was sitting on the lakefront with a good friend recently.  The friend is recovering from surgery for a detached retina.  The weather that week had been very hot, and very humid, with the high moisture content making for unusual sunny day "fog" swirling at the water's edge.  There we were, with the heat and concrete behind us, and what should have been a cool breeze in front of us.  Instead, it was hot.  And wet.  We walked and talked.  A cool breeze snaked onto the shore, then went away.

We sat down.  I waited to catch the cool breeze again.  I did...but then something even more impressive: a fata morgana.  One, then another.

The first illusion was the consequence of the air being dense enough to collect a shadow of a building from the sun setting behind us.  The second was classic, cause by a boat emerging from the thick haze.  I first saw it as a Viking longboat; my friend saw something else.  We both caught a second something, and then it took firm shape as the modern vessel it truly was.

It was quite the sight.  And richer for having been shared, both in the vein of human friendship, and in the way that it helps to have a fellow witness to an odd experience, so that you know later you weren't simply crazy.

When you look at the juice of a perfume and it is pink, or blue, you know that chances are it was aided and abetted in its color appearance.  When you look at it and see dark amber, the harder core among us are going to start wondering about issues of "turning."

Perfume is frequently colored to make it "palatable," or "attractive."  (Sometimes I wonder about gender coding, but am not yet ready to get into that.)  I have no idea what color some of these products would be if they weren't altered; given their opacity, there is probably no dramatic transition from pre-coloring to post-coloring.

I'd sit in a dark room and spray perfume and smell it.  Sure, my eyes could give me warnings that a given juice might have spoiled, might have mysterious "bits" floating about in it, could be the color and/or viscosity of anti-freeze.  But I remain open to the idea of smelling it "blind"... I think because in the end, I accept that I am smelling without really using my eyes whenever I smell a perfume.

That is one of the joys of it, of course; it forces primacy onto a sense that generally either takes a back seat to other senses, or is inextricably linked with another sense (taste).

I did almost lose my sight once.  I've written about it before.  Almost exactly two years ago, I noticed as I created the link.  It was summertime then, as it is now, and I'm guessing there is something about this time, when summer is poised both at its height and also with the first hints of the transition to come, that both temporally and figuratively remind me of that time.

I wondered at the time if somehow I'd develop a keener sense of smell as a result.

I think I've only developed a keener appreciation.

I'll take it.

Along with an appreciation for abiding friendships, for the concrete ability to visually discriminate, and for the magical ability to be transported by a fata morgana.

Woodcut image, "Fisheye," from Samantha Shelton.
Woodcut image of God's all-seeing eye found on this Crystalinks page.
Paris trompe l'oeil architecture photograph taken from this Archelogue blog discussion.
photo of a fata morgana from the CUNY Offshore New Harbor Project blog.

Morgan Le Fay
from Project Gutenberg

Morgan Le Fay perfume
available at Luckyscent

Monday, August 9, 2010

A-musing: Iggy the Oracle

So, there's a fashion spread in the Italian Vogue.  They've finally found a trend to usurp heroin chic.  It elevates the threat of death (overdose) to a new level:  consumption by oil spill.  Think bird, Gulf, oil soaked, draped over rocks like feathery battered seaweed.  The best part is, the use of black can now be extended from rimming the eyes and the occasional bruise to the whole body...nay, the whole dang mise-en-scene.  Here, see the photos at Styleite and the links to various media stories and takes at the devil's handmaiden Google.

Oh, did I make clear that this was my opinion?  My opinion, it is, I say.  Go look at the pictures.  Share your opinion here, if you like.

While I wait to hear from you, I want you to know that in the Random Connectedness that is my life, one of my favorite websites, Letters of Note (there's been a link to them over on the left practically since I started this blog) happened to publish a rant letter from Iggy Pop himself.  Mr. Pop, as the New York Times would say, had this to offer, and I found it relevant:

I hate the inane worship of gross 'supermodels' and i positively loathe Calvin Klein ads and that whole school of photography. it is not beautiful. Our gods are assholes. 

There are continual 'shock and rage' movements in the performing/conceptual arts, but are they bringing anybody a good time? they bring filth death & loathing of self as fashion. I understand them, though. People are lost and frustrated, AND UNSKILLED. 
I offer you a direct link to that letter here, largely because if you go to the main page you have to scroll through is a slew of amusing screed from a gentleman bossman at Tiger Oil who I think I worked for once, except he was not in Texas but the midwest and the business was entirely different.  If you are ready for diversion, check out the whole site.

Anyway, so there you have it.  The Oracle had spoken.  Our gods are a**holes.

And then yesterday I opened the August 9 issue of The New Yorker.  Guess what The Oracle is up to?  Mr. Pop was apparently at the Barney's Co-Op in NYC, making an appearance in support of a line of t-shirts.  (The author of the piece gets straight to the anachronism; Iggy in ANY shirt?  In fact, he is apparently shirtless at the appearance.  But I digress.  A bit.)  We learn that Mr. Pop is equally dis-fond of underwear and socks, that he is not fond of The Shirts in the music industry, and when he is "the shirt" (minus the "r").

Following that item, comes a piece on the P&J Oyster Company in New Orleans.  A beautiful little bit of straightforward interview of a fifth-generation owner who, as he says, "needs a plan."

As you will recall, that oil spill that made for Steven Meisel's art has already somewhat blackened the state of affairs on the Gulf coast.  Mr. Sunseri, the fifth generation of P&J, is developing an exit strategy. Just in case.

I am going to try to learn a lot more about Hove perfumes.  If you want to come along, you can start with this article at Yesterday's Perfume.  I know there are other blogs I go to who have written about Hove; as I turn up the links, I'll add them here.  

Friday, August 6, 2010

Tsutsumi et Cigarette

No, not a fragrance.

A reflection of two areas I have come across which offer the amazingly limbic pleasures of taking apart packaging.  A third would be, of course, perfume.
tsutsumi tea whisk

Tsutsumi is the Japanese art of gift wrapping with paper, historically more recent than furoshiki, which is wrapping with cloth.  Given the centuries of culture we're talking here, both are, to use a simple word, old.

The cellophane wrapping on a package of cigarettes?  Less than a hundred years.

I'm still trying to chase down the historical evolution of perfume packaging...not bottle design, but how the bottle is presented.  Especially the introduction of cello wrap.  Cellophane, invented in 1908.  Used for wrapping the perfume box?  Not sure.

Tactile and psychological pleasure from all?  Immeasurable.

As Tilda might this:

Pick up the package.  Sniff, just to see if there is product odor.  Generally, no.  Already noticing the smooth, sometimes slippery outer protective layer.  Depending on material and tightness of wrapping, perhaps an element of crinkle, both tactile and auditory.  If there is that element, an indulgence in a bit of rubbing, to feel/hear the crinkle again.  Think of skin slipping, just a little bit.  Wondering how much pressure it would take to break the seal.

If you are a careful present opener, you don't dare cross the line.  Because you are next headed to either end of the package, where the folded over ends of the outer layer meet, and are either glued or sticker sealed.  (Or both.)  A careful teasing apart of the flaps.  If all goes well, you are going to have an intact outer layer, like a complete cicada shell.

Or, if you are feeling wanton, a release of ripping and joyful noise.

Either way, you are now at the box.  And have another choice point.

I must interrupt here.  Because if it is a pack of cigarettes, you have either the challenge of a foil seal or a flip top box and THEN a foil overlayer.  If it is perfume, you either have another glued box, or a flap-in flip open top, or a specially presentation box.  (Special presentations are often top-lift-off-the base types, but can have intricate fold outs, or a combination thereof, like that bottle of Niki de Saint Phalle in parfum.)

Either product, whatever way, means you are now to the heart of the matter.  And it is from here on out that you WILL be careful.  You WILL choose to preserve and protect the shell.  Because, in your heart, even if it is a simple box that you break down and put in a shoe box of other broken down boxes and don't see again because the bottle is going somewhere probably protected but definitely where storage space is at a premium and therefore the box is baggage, even if so, you have a hard time throwing away the box.  At least right away.  And maybe forever.

What do I know from cigarettes?  Other than that pack I shared with Ava and Maggie back in our youth, which we kept sealed in a plastic bag and hid in a niche in the alley?  And lasted for weeks, maybe months?  Because we smoked it one shared cigarette at a time, only on days when we could all get to the tree?

Well, I know that my father smoked.  Plenty.  And my reward for running to the corner store and buying him a pack (or two, but never more than two at a time) was being given permission to open it.  I loved the crinkle...the peel...the careful dissembly of the foil so that ONLY that portion of the top on one side of the label across the middle would be revealed, and you could do that cool "tap tap" and shake out one cigarette, just one, kind of like and advanced move when dealing cards.

In Tsutsumi, the unwrapping has a somewhat different dynamic, but is also intricate.  The folding has been deliberate, and so will be the unfolding.  There are layers within layers, and often packaging inside packaging.  The texture of the paper, the sometimes representative shapes, the origami elements...makes the unwrapping a very mindful moment.

If you aren't the type who tears off the wrapping and rips apart a box to get at the contents.

I have been slowly getting to the heart of my treasures from Paris.  I am being mindful of their origin, my memories of where they came from, the salespeople, the lighting in the store, the testing process (if there was one).  But I must confess, while the Paris packages are extra special, my undoing of them is not more mindful.

The mindfulness just yields a different, somewhat deeper scope of treasure.

I don't smoke.  Never have, except for that one shared pack in my two months of wanton youth.  Okay, and another pack equivalent of singles bummed off smokers during a certain year of semi-clubbing.  But cigarette smoke has always led to headaches and nausea and it was never really the tobacco that was ever appealing.

It was the process.

Could there be some connection between that and the fact that the only place I've ever enjoyed tobacco is in perfume?

Along with, perhaps, the shared joy of cello wrap led undressing?

Photograph of tea whisk from the Kansai Window : Essence of Japan website.

History of Golden Belt Manufacturing, responsible for packaging Bull Durham (the tobacco, not the movie), here.