Thursday, April 29, 2010

One review, one Who Knew?

actually, just an impression
I was driving down the road last week, grooving on music, the scenery, and my first round with Parfumerie Generale's Papyrus de Cyane.  And while there's more going on in this one then I am about to suggest, I have to admit I got fixated on a particular idea hiding in one of my scent impressions.  I had to drive a few miles to put my finger on reminded me of...AH!

Impregnate one

with a weaving of


Ever played with a new pinky ball?  It's got a smell somewhere between rubber and leather.  I totally imagined a pinky ball with many, many veins of galbanum at the surface and underneath.



About a year ago, one of my side and small addictions was a game on The Evil Empire Social Network called "ChainRxn."  Colorful little bubbles slowly bouncing around in a box.  If one hits a second, you get 2x points, if ball two hits a third, 3x, if the third hits a fourth, 4x, etc.  Sure, I tried to top my high score.  Numerous times.  But what really drew me in was the pleasant semi-chime sound each colored circle made, different tones which I recall as corresponding to color (but might not have).  The more "connections" were happening at once, the more tones at once.

Imagine my surprise when I finally tried out an iPod app I downloaded a few months ago, called "Bloom."  What I knew was it was going to display some sort of color show on the screen.  I thought it would be correlated to music I was playing.  Not.

The app creates its own sound, whether per its choosing, or your direction.  Guess how you "select" the tones?  Through a menu palette which has choices that include "neroli," "labdanum," "orris," "benzoin," and "tolu."  Whaaaa???  I go back to the beginning.  Look at the credits.  Surprise! and yet, it makes perfect sense:  Brian Eno is one of the co-creators.  Brian Eno, of popular music fame (his own and as an engineer), interesting thinker, and longtime fan of fragrance and perfume.

Sheesh.  Right under my nose, and I didn't know.

And there it sits, as I write this, soothing me.  Silly thing.  (Listens...) I'm back.  Oh, yeah, right; I liked ChainRxn for the same reason in the end.  I liked the show, the pictures + sound, in a kind of not-complicated way.

I'm in orris mode at the moment, should you be wondering.

Have a great weekend.

images both lifted from the interwebs; gazoodles of the same Pinky Ball image on various websites; the galbanum plant is from Sophy.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


When I first started falling down the rabbit hole of perfume, there were loud voices on the way down, insisting that if I was doing this right, my nose would respond to a given perfume like any other [trained] nose.

Even then, when the "lock and key" system of receiving smell was at the top of the theoretical heap (a few changes in the last two-three years, with more to come), I had some issues with that assertion.  So I continued falling, all the while grappling with on the one hand the notion that proper training would teach me how to "know" smells, and on the other hand, knowing full well that context affected my experience of smell.

This is a complicated ball of wax, with threads of language and meaning and cultural parsing and stubborn emotion and primacy effect and such coming in and out, along with the need to step beyond the science of the nose.  WHAT?!?  But, if I am being true and scientific and evaluative and objective, I will stay within the bounds of the observable.  My outcomes will be duplicated by other objective observers across the globe.  Right?


EXHIBIT A:  Fun with staying with "the observable"

A while back, in the nascent era of filmmaking, an enterprising director by the name of Sergei Eisenstein decided to conduct an experiment.  If you are an actor, you don't like the theory this guy came up with.  You see, he said that...oh, wait a minute.  Let me lay one on you.

Here.  Here is a picture.  Of a person.  Discernible data, right?  What you see is what you get?  What do you see?

Here is a woman, trying to decide whether she should wake up her child from a peaceful nap, because a book she just read told her she should make the child stick to a particular schedule.

Here is a woman who has just learned that her beloved dog will be euthanized.

Here is a woman who has just slain her youthful lover because he told her he was going to leave her and move to another country with her niece.

Eisenstein's theory was that, depending on *what* information you were given about the situation, and *when* you received it, the viewer would form (potential very different) opinions of what the character portrayed was feeling.  And he demonstrated this in an experiment with film footage that used the same images, but cut in a different order.  Depending on which cut a viewer saw, they interpreted the "story" differently.  But the stories reported were consistent within the context/cut viewers saw.

Therefore, the image of the woman above, taken from David Bordwell's Website on Cinema, has a range of potential interpretations in terms of "what is she feeling/doing," depending on where it is placed in the action.  And the amount of empathy you feel for her will vary, too.  Imagine if I had told you that this was a portrait taken in a jailhouse interview, by a photographer doing a series on serial killers?

EXHIBIT B: Just the facts, ma'am

Detective Joe Friday, a character in the television series "Dragnet" (sorry, I figure I'd better explain), had a signature line in which he directed witnesses to stick with "just the facts."  Intrepid reporters, too, were trained to sieve and distill witness accounts and get to the "truth" of the story.  An editor once warned me that it was important to get three accounts of a situation, to gain balance and perspective...but that much more than that, and you'd end up with a Rashomon situation.  (Go ahead, Google away on Rashomon effect.)  Essentially, Rashomon was a film that explored the same event through different witnesses eyes, a device employed many, many times since then, and which has obviously leant its name to the idea that just because accounts of something are *different* doesn't mean they are *wrong.*

Facts are facts.  But they are assembled into meaning.  (For a recent article on witnessing events and how our brains make meaning/create narratives, see this article in the May issue of Smithsonian online.)

EXHIBIT C:  My Grandma's perfume!!

Not "granny perfume," in which historical context in the form of time/era association is the first reaction to a given perfume.  I mean a literal "this smells like Person X," and Person X is a real-life, tangible (at least at one time), meaningful person in the smeller's life.  A person who conjures up a stew of memories, of associated smells, of associated emotions (both caused by Person X and connected to the era in which Person X had a significant effect on the smeller's life).  In other words, olfactory emotion.

I once gave a Lily of the Valley hand creme to a friend a generation older than me, and she put it on her hands, and cried.  She immediately assured me I had done no wrong, but that she had not smelled LOTV in a long time, not like that, on her hands...that the last time she connected LOTV and her hands was in her childhood, when her father, now dead, had gently helped her with a task that had caused her some travail and was happily concluded with picking some lily of the valley flowers.

I don't care who's nose is going to whiff some LOTV this May Day, and how trained it is; they are NOT going to have that response.  And I am hard pressed to agree that this kind of response should be ignored as part of the scent reaction.

EXHIBIT D:  Lock and Key no more, a.k.a. Viiiiii-braayyyyy-shunnnnnnNNNNnnnnsssszzzzssss

Turns out that theory about molecular shape and similarly shaped receptors and the limited number of each was troubling Dr. Turin, and he's been working on a theory.  Good.  Because simple math made it pretty clear that even the bumbling schnozzes among us are capable of discerning more smells than the number of "shapes" identified in the receptor mechanism.  Dr. Turin explains to Nancy Sinatra in a recent interview in MIT's The Tech Online; also see a quick overview in Science Daily from December of 2006.

I *love* this theory, for all kinds of reasons.  At the top of the heap is a connection I see between this theory and the physics and physiology and psychology of music.  But I'll come back to that in another ramble.

So, what we...that is, I, presenting to you...have here is this:

Scent, and therefore perfume, is perceived through one sense.  Mostly.  (Do those sparklies in SJP Lovely make anybody else think it's going to feel greasy?  Or that a greenish scent is by nature going to land in a certain part of your nose?  Or how about that hissing sound that comes out of a vintage atomizer...anybody else think ruh-roh, here comes an alde-blast? or granny pants?)  Okay, I cheated.  Take out the sight and the sound.  Stick to your olfactory receptors, only.  But how discriminating can we be?  How "objective"?

If the only other time we've smelled cinnamon is in a baked good, will we perceive a perfume containing it as sweet?  If we've never smelled cinnamon before, will we isolate it as a note, or reinterpret it as something else?  If the our major association with cinnamon is a delicious cinnamon bun, will we be happy when we smell it (mmmm, those delicious rolls), or anxious (argh, those annoying rolls of fat)?

What about familiarity?  If a note is "exotic," will we recoil?  Approach cautiously?  Embrace something different?  If we smell that same note on two different people, one a stranger, the other an intimate friend, will the effect be the same?  Will any difference we perceive be due to skin chemistry, or psychology, or both?

Brother, I am rambling.

And I haven't even tried weather yet.

Here's what I know:  I didn't know from perfume when I started.  And while smell might be a sensory input that goes straight to my limbic system, it had been the least explored and/or "practiced" of my senses.  I've put my eyes to work interpreting graphemic communication systems, interpreting 2-D and 3-D input for pleasure and survival.  I've put my ears to work learning how to translate phonemes into language, translate tones and pitch into music, identify pleasure (waves lapping) and danger (engine revving).  My fingertips can tell me if a wood surface is fully sanded and ready for sealing, if my child has a fever, if there is a leak in my bicycle tire.  My tongue can tell me if there is enough cilantro in the salsa, if another dash of bitters would be good, if the bread might be starting to get moldy.

Up until perfume, my nose was basically used for "eew" things.  You know, "eww, that's dirty laundry, alright," or "eew, that needs to get out of the fridge."  Or maybe a "yow" like "yow! something's on fire!"  Okay, wait a minute...I did get pleasure, too...honey locust in the spring...fresh breeze through the pines over the lake...compost ready to be called "humus."

Mmmm, I think I'm getting into issues of framework and language, or the absence thereof.  That's next week.  Suffice to say for now, I've got language up the wazoo for visual input.  A fair amount for auditory.  A working lexicon for tactile data.  A smidge for taste.  But not much for olfactory.

Back to context.

How we understand things is affected by what structures we have to process and express input.  We can try to be objective about how we take in that data.  And in many cases should strive to do so to the best of our ability.

But the idea of one scent, one meaning?


Friday, April 23, 2010

Door #1 : Ways of Storing

When someone comes to my house and says, "Okay, where is this perfume collection?," I'm in a bit of a quandry.  Because there is no "here" or "there" to point to.  No wine refrigerator dedicated to perfume.  No shrine of bottles on top of the dresser.  No drawer or chest of drawers, no special basket, no pie cupboard.  No linen closet with dedicated shelves.

Oh, no.  Not that.

Some of that (a drawer, a basket, a shelf).  And some other (old glasses, egg cups, boxes, candle holders).  And general drops here and there for good measure.

The "filing system" is the same way.  Some things are gathered by source, others by house, others by season.  It makes sense for me.  Hey, one must adapt the best of Melvil Dewey, Carl Linnaeus, color theory, vintage formulation changes, frequency of use, and general attractiveness of bottle, right?

Not to mention that when it comes to sourcing, I have places/people that I am confident I got what I asked for.  Then there are those forays into the unknown, with varying degrees of risk, but those procurements often go into quarantine until I determine with greater or lesser certainty whether or not the contents inside are a) what they are supposed to be, and b) even if they are, what shape they are in.

Right here, at this point, if you'd like to make a judgement about how much mind space and time I allow for this little interest of mine, feel free.  All I ask is that you consider:  A) my mind works this way anyway, so the time factor is minimal (sorting everything into One Grand System and cataloguing Every Last Vial would indeed be time consuming, and frankly, a little mind numbing).  B) If this blog were about something else, we could go through a similar investigation of the way books are "stored" in my house.

(Aw, what the heck; real quick--largely assembled by type (fiction, reference, cookbooks, gardening books, history + historical fiction, antiques, series, nostalgia, more than one pile of To Read, in process next to the bed, in process out and about, oversized books, books of interest that are in public places (coffee table type and other, try to rotate), vintage cookbooks (a subcategory of cookbooks, further sorted into "from the family" and "collected on my own"), professional reference and interest (further sorted into "film" and "education"....)

((Don't ask about the CDs and LPs.))
the minis have their own lounge; more precious ones tend to hang together

A lot a Fume Folk eventually get around to talking about their collection, where and how it is stored, etc.  I loved when Brian came clean on sheer volume; when Kevin calculated just how long the juice would last; and when FlitterSniffer fretted about defrosting.  As it turns out, just today Nathan reveals he has been taking pictures of Abigail's collection.

I've been wondering how to publicly address this myself.  And when I threatened offered to show what was behind Door #1 in this week's "Let's Make a Deal," I pretty much planned to start the reveal.  I figured I'd spread it out over a few entries, letting each entry be a "portal" into the collection, with the mega confession Big Reveal at the end.

I think that, instead, I am offering up a mind map first.  That's right, I'm using the term "mind map," not "brain {flatulent event}."

I'm not going to go inside each of my drawers.  The filing isn't perfect, it's always in process, and unmentionables by definition shouldn't be, even if only visually.

But, look-see here; there's a pull-out, which is a sort of drawer.  Which, for those keeping score at home, doesn't see the light of day unless the door is opened.  Where it was all going to be kept.  "It" being the perfume.  All of it.  Or so I thought when I started.  Said I to myself, if it doesn't fit on this shelf, well, then, I've a problem more than extravagance.  (Speaking of which, no, that Amarige isn't Extravagance; it's the regular variety, not a flanker.  And it was no lower case extravagance, either; dirt cheap at T.J. Maxx.  Just so you know.)

Hey, has anybody been playing the "I recognize that!" game?  No, not psychological disorders.  Bottles and what is inside.  I kind like doing that with other people's pictures.  I've gotten a lot better at it over time.  But I'm still a piker.  

Here's a basket that hides under a bunch of scarves.  Bottles too big for my boxes, and bottles I want relatively easy access to.  Also in there is One Big Lesson that I've talked about in the past.  (It has to do with reputable sellers...mmmm hmmm....)

Hang on--what was with the muffin tin of stuff?  That's samples I've recently gotten that await testing before being assigned to a more permanent location.  That high shelf in a closet?  Full size, non-regular rotation; vintage peculiarities; a couple of back ups for beloveds that are discontinued.  Note the Ivoire edt prominent in the front, ready for swappage.  Oh, and though that splash of red on the right is distractingly close to Malle's red, that is actually a box with a collection of miniatures inside.  (I *know* I've talked about how awesome those are, right?)  The last thingamajig is a lipstick holder, which it turns out is a great way to hold 5ml decants.  If you like to display them/have them easily accessed and don't mind a some light exposure.  (Not a bad option if you are screaming through a decant.)  Notice the lid open onto 1mls, held inside the powder compartment.

Okay, OKAY!!  Sometimes things get left in the light.  Just how much time and energy do you think I spend on this, anyway??? 


Honestly, really, not as much as you might think.  I've been at this for a few years now.  I spend a lot more time writing or thinking about it than I do storing it.  And, to be honest, I kinda like thinking about it, in the ways that I do.  

Brian, it's almost been a year and a half since you threw out your invitation to share pictures.  Consider this my late reply.  The rest of you, I offer a hint of my Big Reveal.  I promise, temperature is stable and cool, and the most precious are not exposed to light.  But this is a living collection.  Sorted by my brain.  And asking to be visual in at least some respects.

 Thanks for coming by.  Have a great weekend.

All photos the author's own, which I hope is apparent.  Also apparent is that I have not yet quite "formalized" my ownership of this photos, so sure, if you're unscrupulous, you can grab them and share them without attribution.  I'm working on making it easy for one-click honesty; meanwhile, just include my name and a link to my blog/today's entry.  You know, if you are documenting personality disorders, or who you know with Nuit de Longchamp, or want to send an amusing note to An Official Nose saying "I know that people talk about powdery scents, but do you suppose this person knows that *powder itself* is not classified as perfume?"  Or something like that.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Umami. Marmite. Cupcakes.

Wasn't it just last week I mentioned "umami" in passing?  While discussing Niki Saint Phalle in a pairing?

Where did my schoooshing across the intertubes take me today but a recipe for Marmite Cupcakes.  No, really.  Take a look here.

Report back if you bake them.  Or bake them and bring them over.  I'll make green tea lattes and spritz all with Niki.

Let's Make a Deal

Who can show me an oddball selection of perfume samples?  First person who can show me at least three seemingly unrelated perfume samples gets to see what's behind Door #1.

What's that you say?  Simmer down!  You...and you...and you... have a stash you brought with you to the blog studio today?  That purposely or accidentally travels with you beyond your temperature and light controlled shoe box once upon a time sweater drawer special place for keeping perfume?

Ah.  Very good.  I'll show everybody door #1.  But first, let's take a look at the silly little organza pouch which caused my perfume knowledgeable friend to say "That's the oddest collection...that's just weird.  Hmmm..." as she looked through my bag o' treasures.

This bag is one I tossed together for a weekend trip out of town.  I had to satisfy multiple goals:  Have something I could wear if I decided I needed perfume (and one of my own at that), have something I could try if I decided I wanted to test drive a perfume (very different from comfortable tossing on a scent and knowing what the result will be), have something to share with a friend.  And then there were the oddballs--one that I might put on if I decide not only do I want perfume, I'm up for a challenge.

And then there's the simple "I dunno, it ended up there somehow."

But it adds up to a nice, if odd, little wardrobe.  That travels well tucked into a side pocket.

Here's the line-up:

  • Cuir de Lancome
  • Daybreak Violin
  • L'Ombre Fauve
  • Pierre de Lune
  • unmarked green citrusy
  • micromini of Chamade
  • unmarked 2ml atomizer...bitter...old...leather? (just sniffing the orifice without spraying)
  • manufacturer's samp of Parfum de Therese
In light of the subject matter of the previous post, I am having a juvenile chuckle at the expense of that parenthetical clarification of the 2ml atomizer.  (Namely, my dog.  He of the hot spot and the metal chewing habit.)

Any hoo-how, whatcha got up there is one Emperor's Clothes scent (Pierre de Lune...are you sure you applied that?), one easy leather (the Lancome), one fascinating but challenging (Parfum de Therese), one proven winner (Chamade), one something to give a drive before making any judgement (Daybreak Violin), one proven winner that has for some reason been on hiatus (L'Ombre Fauve), and a couple of things that I think I knew what they were once but whose mystery could provide a little recreational investigation if I were so inclined.

Come to think of it, this is NOT the collection I packed for my weekend.  That one was a little more purposeful.  What the heck is this?


To channel Ronald Reagan (perhaps in more ways than simply parroting), "I do not recall."  Hmm.  All I can say is, the Patou Cocktail and vintage Miss Balmain samples I've collected since will make a nice addition to the mystery bag.  The Cocktail adds something with sparkle, and the Miss Balmain adds another something to test drive.

Of course, I'm preoccupied with trying to remember what I purposely gathered for that weekend.  Am going to go drag THAT pouch out shortly.

And making a mental note to self:  Be sure to pack labels with those empty vials you always have at the ready.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Metallica -- Taking a bite out of Calandre and Zen

I had to take my dog to the vet last week.  While one of my children tends to get snorfly in the right season, and has a life-adjusting allergy to peanuts, the most allergic member of our family is 74 pounds, furry, and has a tail.

And has a vexing habit of chewing himself "hot spots" if the allergies flare up too quickly without medicinal intervention.

Spotting a hot spot means I need to load him up into the creaky-mobile.  Off we go for the look-see, the shave, the steroids, the anti-bac spray, the recommendations for OTC anti-histamines.  It occurs to me that even though 'twas allergies that brought us in, I can ask about other dog "things."  I mention my dog's wacky tooth.  "It's become...transluscent," I tell the vet.  "Has a couple of lines, but looks like you can see through it."  Vet takes a look, and starts chuckling.  "It's hrmmmabllrrrphexiodon," citing some vaguely Latin sounding name, "Does your dog chew metal?"  Because, as it turns out, if a dog gnaws on metal, their teeth will become galvanized.  Sort of.  Their teeth get this coating that makes it look like you can see into the tooth, kind of milky shiny.

I've got a beast with a dully gilded canine tooth and a spot on his haunch that I've got to keep him from licking.


Meanwhile, this same weekend, I had an "aha!" moment when reflecting on a test drive of Calandre.  (Yup, I lemminged; two folks mentioned Calandre–Patty over at the Posse, and Helg at Perfume Shrine–so I dug some up.  Unfortunately, not from my yard a la the dog, but via online sources.  Hey! Perfumista game! Remember the "find the treasure in the sand" box at school carnivals?  Tweak it to "find a bottle and keep it."  Duds and treasures buried.  Hmmmm.)  ANYWAY, I have an "aha," and am pretty sure I am on to something.  I get out the Calandre, teeth on edge, ready to spritz again.

Why teeth on edge?  Because Calandre has this odd note, which I think is the "metallic" note Turin refers to in The Guide.  It hangs out in your upper nose, not all bubbly like an aldehyde, but like a menacing aluminum multi-edged shiv.  It doesn't move, exactly, so it doesn't cut, and it doesn't actually hurt...but the threat is there.

What was the "aha!"?  It was the realization I had had this sensation before, if ever so slightly lower in my nose.  Or, to put it another way, with a sympathetic tone that about a musical third lower.  Where?  From my beloved but often challenging Shiseido Zen, the original in the black bottle.  Especially in the edt.  The one with the hefty cylindrical glass bottle and the industrial gold sprayer.

Because I am a weird creature perfume explorer, I get all excited.  I put my hands on this bottle of Calandre, my teeth brace for trouble, and I find myself liberally spritzing my left wrist.  A sniff of the opening, and yup, there it is, that gray metal presence, embracing (armoring?) a cloud of green flower.  Pause...personal inventory...nope, my teeth don't hurt this time.  But I know we're not done yet, not with this one, or its track partner in the pretty black bottle.  Up with the Zen, and a dousing spritz on the right wrist.  I brace my nose, and my teeth, and lower my face to my wrist.  What's the first thing to hit my nose?  Woody rose.  Oh, Zen, I've done you wrong.  Slandered you, cast asper---wait, what's that? hang on!!  There it is!!  (Nose clenches.)

A galvanizing experience, this.

Yup.  It's the olfactory equivalent of what I imagine it would feel like if I rubbed my teeth against that aluminum serving ware I was so into collecting a while back.  Not the smooth modern stuff, but the older style stamped metal.  You know, so that the embossing would act like, oh, maybe something between a bumpy road and a microplane?  NOT that I've ever done this.  But maybe I did at one point in my life chew on a piece of aluminum foil, because a friend told me it would feel weirdly awful.  Maybe.  All I'm saying is that if I did, my teeth don't look translucent, so if I had, I obviously did not do so too much.  Like, maybe, a certain dog I know.

ANYWAY, the metal.  That note that is a bit raspy, but not in the comfortable way I spoke of last week, that sandpaper easing away a problematic surface way.  This is just...dangerous, a little bit.  Keeps you on your toes, by hanging out in a not quite comfortable area and reminding you it could do damage if it had a mind to.

This is exactly the thing that has prevented me from waxing rhapsodic about Zen in the past.  How to explain this element?  I'll bet it is more pronounced for some than others.  I'll bet it gets wrapped big time into an initial "old lady" impression for a lot of people.  Heck, I've been *willing* to give it a go, and while I am often happy with the results, I do sometimes have to clutch the armrest until the opening is over.  (Not really with the parfum, incidentally.  But if you find Zen in the black bottle, it's likely going to be a lighter concentration.)

The way Patty spoke of Calandre, I'm not so sure she gets the "metal" from it.  Or that, even if she does, it has that effect of putting her teeth on edge.  I know it does me.  But less and less so each time I've tried it.  I think that eventually (and pretty quickly), I'll have accepted that and folded it smoothly into the Calandre experience.

Zen, I takes my chances.

Have I made clear I decided long ago I liked Zen, and that I'm about to decide I like Calandre?

A question of perception.  Am I looking into the glowing depths, or am I stopped short by a metallic layer?  It all depends on the angle.

I will try, of course, to not gnaw a hot spot into my wrist if either should betray me.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Scents that sing "spring"...

So, here's the image that all of the participants in today's joint blog project were given for today's post:

Julie Andrews dancing in a field of mountain wildflowers.  An iconic moment of visceral bliss.  Puts a smile on your face, right?  Welcome. Glad you stopped by.  Take another sip of your current beverage.  And then step into my spring, and how it sings.

Here is the image I was ready to go with when the concept of "spring" came to mind:

To me, spring--as those of you who stop by on a regular basis know--is all about things rumbling in the dirt, a stirring to life, a difficult and messy and beautiful process that is all about energy bumping heads with rest and bringing color and smells back into the world.  Worms squirming around in the dirt are all about that.  They turn and aerate the soil, fertilizing it along the way.  They wriggle out of the soil when it rains, providing yet another reminder that the snow is gone and a new season has begun.  They provide a sort of endless fascination for kids and grownups, who might be entranced or repulsed but are somehow always compelled to take a look.  They move under the soil and attract the attention of the returned birds, who cock their heads sideways and give a little "knock, knock" to the ground to get the worms to come to the surface, then yank them up like some sort of stop-action spaghetti slurping.

Worms.  Dirt.  That's just the start of it.

 Things start pushing up out of the ground.  Green emerges from muck, even as the detritus of the last cycle of life continues to litter (and eventually nourish) the ground.  Fresh energy, alongside stasis.  From a bland landscape of hard frozen texture and monotonous color, rumblings begin.

I love this moment, when you can be like a forest creature and put your nose up to the air and start smelling changes in the air.  Even the breeze smells and feels different.  It could be a misty grey day, or it could be one of those suddenly brilliant sunny days when you are reminded that the sun can actually cast a warm light, and not just the sharp white light of winter.

Once you get enough of that light, changes come.

Early life pops out, and you can feel things starting to hum with potential energy.  

It is this crazy conflagration of clinging chill and insistent warmth, of final rest and yawping birth, of messy sludge and impossible blooms, that sings spring to me.  It is difficult, it is easy.  You can jump in and be part of it, or you can passively observe.  But it's gonna happen--a proposition that seems questionable in the early going, but eventually becomes undeniable.

☃  ☁ ☀ ☼ ☺
What fragrances help sing this process?  Ones that either echo the whole big mess, or that pull out elements of the orchestration.

An example of the whole orchestration:  Niki Saint Phalle.  It's all in there, the dirt, the herbal bitterness, the lift, the knowing that if you stick it through, you'll have a drydown that is "interesting" if you come in at the end, but absolutely beautiful if you went through the pain of its development.

Examples of elements of the orchestration:  The easy entry here is Diorissimo.  Lily of the Valley hasn't arrived here yet; that is a note that sings toward the end of the spring symphony.  But it is powerful, and so uniquely recognizable that its call has entranced many a wearer.  The wink-wink nod-nod entry is CBIHP Black March, because it sounds the note of dirt.  If I'm in a picky mood, I point out that in my nose it is the smell of potting soil, and not of humus rich earth dirt.  But I'm okay with that.  I like hearing this particular voice, which coincides with the gardener's activity of starting seeds and potting up outdoor plants.

Then there are the Impressionist versions of the symphony, which capture the mood, the experience, even suggestions of particular voices, without being so direct.  This year, Temps d'une Fete has been getting a lot of chatter.  And deservedly so.  When I found this last spring, I found myself wanting to twirl around like Julie Andrews up there.  Oh, green goodness that knows how to balance a sweet floral lift and a raspy sort of something that makes sure the potion isn't cloying going down.

In this spirit, I offer you a down and dirty (could there be any other?) short list of scents that sing spring.  Please share what's not here that you'd add, or how you'd change things around.  I might come back and mess with it myself.

Isolated voices/notes
Coty Muguet
Bel Respiro
AA Herba Fresca
Black March
Wild Hunt
Violets & Rainwater (Liz Zorn)
Fleur de Narcisse

Niki Saint Phalle
No. 19
Grin (Ayala Moriel)
Bois Blond  --note: this is a shorter piece, played by chamber orchestra

Le Temps d'une Fete
Green Oakmoss (Liz Zorn)
Un Matin d'Orage

Happy spring, everybody.  Thanks for spending a little of it here.

Now that you are done, you might like to set a spell with the other bloggers participating in today's project.  They are:

Katie Puckrik Smells  |  Perfume Shrine  |  The Non Blonde  |  I Smell Therefore I Am  |  Notes from the Ledge  |  Scent Hive  |  Savvy Thinker  |  Roxana's Illuminated Journal  |  Perfume in Progress  |  All I Am A Redhead  |  Ambre Gris  |  Olfactarama  |  A Rose Beyond the Thames  |  Smelly Blog 

first image a still from The Sound of Music; second image from the Input to the Garden blog; all other images the author's own

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pairings: Odd Greenery

Today's pairing does not involve alcohol.  Not in the beverage, at least; barhounds should return for the next installment.  (All should refrain from quaffing their perfume.)

Conjure this:  vegetal, earthy liquid that is part tonic (as in the medicinal concept, not the quinine mixer), hint of bitters, salty-ish something that kicks the green toward seaweed.  All connected by something which smooths it out, makes the herbal potion not only palatable, but pleasurable, in an umami sort of way.

What is "this"?  In a cup, an iced green tea latte.  On my wrist, Niki Saint Phalle parfum.  Wonderful co-conspirators.  Potions, each of them.  Neither of them an easy down kind of thing.  But compelling.  And the more huffed or sipped, the more pleasure they offer.  Your tongue adjusts.  Your nose starts to tell you there's something sweet in there.

This is a simpatico pairing.  Very similar, these two, and definitely complimentary.

image of a 16" factice from "Silke's Giant Factice World"
(available for purchase)

I used parfum strength Niki Saint Phalle, from a beautiful cobalt bottle with the intertwined snakes on top, which I scored from online auction last year.  (Was the artist-perfumer conjuring a cadaceus there?  What form of witchcraft this? Hmmm...)  Just last week, I got some Niki in the edt.  It behaves differently, in many of the ways you might expect.  If you're doing this pairing, go with the parfum.  The extra viscosity provides a suitable equivalent for the milkfat in the latte.  Straight up green iced tea would probably be a nice accompaniment to the edt, though.

Sadly (yup, here it comes), Niki Saint Phalle is discontinued, but is at this point fairly readily available online.

My green tea latte was lightly sweetened and came from Starbucks.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Eating my hat: Tuberose Criminelle

And here I was, just telling Grain de Musc "no how, no way."  Too much camphor.  Bad joke.  A theme I've sounded many times over the past couple of years.

Today, something happened.  I need to take notes on the context, just in case this is the only situation in which this one will fly:  ❏ A late in the day shower.  (Some days are like that.  Other things get in the way.  Advantage is, anything that gets tossed onto a wrist on a whim in the a.m. because I feel ready to give it a short whirl ends up getting a full ride.  TC was NOT one of was a Mariella Burani duo...more on that another time.)  ❏ Temps in the 60's, high-ish but not outlandish for April in these parts.  ❏ Huge trench being dug in my yard.  Must consider the potential effect of watching one's planting handiwork nearly get decimated.  Nearly.  Surely extra hormones of some sort were flying.  Might have been a factor.  Will decidedly avoid trying to recreate that particular contextual element.

Anyway, I showered and, because it had somehow ended up in my drawer of tried & true "specials," I took out the SL Tuberose Criminelle.  Yup, there was that opening...but it didn't make me yank my head back and look around for the Candid Camera.  Hmm.  Another sniff...yeah, that's the note...but it's not...all consuming....

I am totally digging this tube today.  Feels like it catches the heady exotic aspects of the flower, while messing it up with other aspects of its reality.  The "camphor" settles into just a sharp something, just like what lingers in the air around a number of tropical whites.  Every other time, this one has been a viscous lipid with mothballs floating on top.  A practical joke, if you will.  Today, the joke is on me.  Today, it is a joy.

I'll take it.

Maybe this will just be a solitary glimpse, like that one good time I had with Kingdom.  But I'm glad to have had it, and wonder if perhaps this is what some of my 'fumey friends who love it live with every time they apply.

It's good to be reminded that patience can be rewarded.  Sometimes.

But no way am I going to dig a 9' hole in the yard just to try to get beyond the joke.  If the magic is gone, I'll live with the memory.  To adjust what Rick said to Ilsa, "We'll always have April 13th."

Monday, April 12, 2010

With a Songes in my heart

I love coming back to old loves.  It's a delight to rediscover the passion, and remember all the things that made it good.  Today, I return to an old starting with something new.

I've been playing with a sample of Guerlain Heritage I got last week.  I'm digging's a morpher, and I'm finding what I keep on returning for is the finish.  Gritty sweet amberish nuzzle my snurfle into and just settle in.

I'll play some more, and report back.

Meanwhile, notice that word "gritty"?  There's something about a it in Polly Bergen's voice.  Adore it in a scent.  PdN Le Temps d'une Fete has a green rasp to it; Heritage and Habit Rouge have a textured something going on; and here it is in my final hours of Songes.  I love it.

Each of those is quite different from the others in rather essential ways.  But, they share something, too; each settles into my skin with a depth that tickles as you push your way into it.  In a way that is no smooth meringue, or creamy pudding.  It feels good in the same way as...well, as chips on a sore mucousy throat.  WHAT? Repeat that?

When I have a cold, and I'm at that stage when my throat is somewhat sore, but also feels like it is somewhat coated with ick, it feels good to have something sharp or harsh go down, to cut through the dense coating.

Erm, sorry; that really was what came to mind.  I don't have a cold or anything.

Hey, how about I change tack a bit?  This principle can be found elsewhere.  Use some bitters to cut the viscosity of a sweet cocktail. Put a little lemon in that butter cream sauce.  Or...sprinkle some sand in that paint you are putting on the stairs, so you don't slip down them when it's wet out.

So much for the sidebar on things raspy.  Back to the Songes.  It makes me happy, in that snarf/huff/settle/smile way.  A creamy white floral that doesn't kill you with gas or oil.  Because, among other things, somebody had the good sense to cut it with a little grit.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Scent for a dental procedure

It is possible to overthink things.

I know this.  I know it in my head, in my heart, in my gut.

That said, I am proceeding with this post.

You see, I found myself facing 1-2 hours in an endodontist's chair.  I am not a fan of any form of dentist, though my current dentist is affable enough and seems to be competent.  It's not him; it's me.  I don't like procedures going on in my mouth, I've got a troublesome gag reflex, I don't like catching flies.  My mouth is small.  Sometimes it hurts.  Once, in my youth, a dentist removed an "extra" permanent tooth, and made a joke about saving it for a transplant.  I believed him.  I still do.  Which irks me, because, strangely, I still have a baby tooth in the *same quadrant* of my mouth.  "Extra"?  Hmmmmm.  But I digress.

(Going off on tangents is NOT overthinking.  Don't worry; I'll get there.)

So, over an hour in the chair, pretending to be calm.  Just fine.  A perfect time for a comfort scent.  Except not.  Because...two people other than myself will be sharing my personal space.  And I'm a courteous person, who doesn't wish to make them uncomfortable for half of an afternoon.  Plus, I'm a practical person.  It wouldn't really be in my interest to have people wielding drills, needles, swabs, tweezers, and the like, finding themselves unhappy, or queasy, or uncomfortable as they dangle said weapons tools within inches of my face and gaping mouth, would it now?

On top of that, I'll be compromised when it comes to comfort huffing.  No putting the wrist to the nose for a relaxing snarfle.  No applying enough to the throat to send wafts my way...what merely "wafts" to me might be oppressive to someone else.  Not even behind my ears, for the same reason.

Which means I have to both waft to suit me, but not waft too much.   If that can be done.

But wait, there's more:  If I'm really considering the angles, there's the whole "do I want them to be comfortable?  Or alert?"  Better to be alert, of course.  But not too much so; a little relaxing is good.  Aware, but relaxed.  That's a good zone.  Good for all of us.

(Right around now is where you might think I'm overthinking the whole thing.  I would beg to differ, but we can take this up later.)

Ambers are therefore out.  Too much comfort, not enough focus.  Chypres are out.  Too much danger of seeming off-putting or distracting attention.  Florals don't even flitter across the screen.  (FOCUS, people; pretty has nothing to do with this purpose!)  Cologne-like somethings might be waft from that by the time I arrive.  And then my mind's eye sees the bottle before I can even articulate how/why it could be just the thing.

Poor thing.  It's been tucked away, one of the ones I keep in a box in the semi-accessible space.  That's right; I've got current rotation, deep storage, and something in between.  (Again, you might think this is overthinking, but it makes selection that much easier.  For me.)  Mint green, with silver raised print.  See, even the color is settling with a hint of focus.  I can smell it in my head, and I think that's probably it.  Spritz once before showering to make sure.  Which is kind of funny, given that my wrists were hosting a 1980's retro-session for my early in the day routine.  Funny, because this scent is all this decade.

Gentle touch, but carries just enough.  Never overpowering, but good lasting power.  A spank of citrus to sharpen your mind, but iris to provide comfort without somnambulance.  It was everywhere for a while...on people, on the blogs.  But haven't heard much about it in a couple of seasons.

Prada.  Infusion d'Iris.
Just right.

I'm back now.  All is well.  And I didn't really waft, but I *was* pretty relaxed.  Who knows if it was enough trace of scent, or simply being confident in my choice.  Or maybe Masters of Guitar on my iPod.

I can huff it still, *if* I raise my arm to my nose.  Very nice.  We'll see if it still works after all the anesthetic wears off.

I'm happy.

(If it all comes down to that, I can't be a horrible overthinker.  Right?)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Pairings: In Name Only

In comments to my last post, Nancy raised the possibility of Sortilege with her Sortilege, introducing the Name Game style of pairing.

Today, I notice in my blogfeed over to the left there that The Accidental Hedonist has reviewed a barleywine called Mirror Mirror.  Craft/microbrewery fiends might already be all over this one.

Haven't tried it, myself.  Hence, I shall chase down a bottle of Deschutes Mirror Mirror, and beg a sample of one of the Thierry Mugler "Miroir, Miroir" collection off of a pal.  Then I shall sit down to a tall one of the "creamy" "hoppy, but in a floral sense" beer, raising my glass to Nancy and her Sortilege while I suss out just what *really* would go with the barleywine from Bend.

It'll be tough, I know.  But I'm ready.  In fact, I believe I am ready to commit myself to regularly investigate the practice of pairing.

Should you make your own sacrifices in the interest of fragrance/beverage matches, please do let me know.  The blogosphere needs us.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pairings: Maple Syrup

A friend hepped me to a Canadian maple syrup liqueur.  Sortilege.  Canadian whiskey with maple syrup.  It's like the Drambuie of the Great White North.  Yummers.

Having dinner with friends today.  The invitation came with a comment I take as a compliment:  "Your company is like comfort food."  Which naturally affected my efforts to identify what to bring for the table.  Found a recipe for maple syrup cake in a recent Bon Apetit.  Calls for two cups of Grade B syrup.  Perfect.  Will be making that, and can bring the Sortilege as a house gift that echoes the maple theme.

Naturally, the issue of perfume is on my mind.  Maple theme.  Have been wanting to try this perfume that Nathan Branch reviewed, Bucheron by Claude Andre Hebert.  (Diacritical marks totally avoided.)  Have yet to put hands or nose upon it.  Still want to.  Meanwhile, as it turns out, I have found another maple syrup/immortelle goodie:  Immortelle L'Amour, from Ayala Moriel perfumes.  I ordered a sample based on Ayala's story of how she constructed the scent for comfort in her blog, and in Heather Ettlinger's mention of it in her Memory and Desire project.  (Is it really two years since Heather did this?  This project was part of my propulsion down the rabbit hole of scent.  If you haven't roamed through it, you really should take some time to wander.  Perfumers and their interpretation of a poem.  It's wonderful.)  Anyway, I was able to sample it today.  Gourmandy goodness.

Sortilege (the liqueur, not the perfume house) arrived a few weeks ago.  Immortelle L'Amour arrived the other day.  In the word of fellow blogger Abigail over at I Smell Therefore I Am, both are "numilicious."

Maple syrup for the opening of spring.  No need to tap any trees.

So, today's pairing is:

Sortilege liqueur
  -- with --
Immortelle L'Amour 

Why?  Both liberally employ maple syrup (/immortelle), both are cozy, both linger, both invite investigation while comfortably ensconced in an overstuffed club chair.  Why now?  There will still be cool nights and grey rainy days that would be well served by this kind of comfort.  There must be a reason Mother Nature sends the sap flowing in preparation for warmer days ahead.

Enjoy a slice of maple syrup cake with either.  With wishes for a Happy Easter, and belated wishes for a pleasant Passover, for those who take note.  I will be sipping, sniffing and listening to the trees as the landscape turns green.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Newspapers: A different flavor of lament

If you knew me in real life, you'd know I love to read newspapers.  A habit I am being forced to give up, step by tortuous step, as newspapers disappear, morph into electronic form, excise and butcher content, blah blah blah.

But my lament today isn't about the death of newspapers in terms of Woe, Wither Goest the Fifth Estate?  Nope.  It's more along the lines of postage stamps.

Let me start again.

I get treasures in the mail.  The mail, UPS, what have you.  I tell you about some of these treasures, such as in my post about a fleabay score on a group of miniature perfumes.  Today, it was a mini of Teatro alla Scala (Krizia).  I savor this kind of search and procure activity.  Something in my wiring, I guess.

Also in my wiring is paying attention to the packaging.  Not just of the item itself, as in visual presentation of a product.  As in, what it the thing packed in.  Styrofoam peanuts that might outlast roaches as entities on this planet?  Bubble wrap that can be used as a tension reliever, but is a petroleum based product and also has landfill issues?  Or...rarely, but on occasion...newspaper.  Recyclable newspaper.

But hang on.  That's the eco-guilt angle.  What is the angle of my lament?  Local flavor, my friend.  Snapshots of life from other hamlets.  Whether advertising or editorial, words or pictures, you can still get a sense of the remnants of local culture from a local newspaper.

From Bakersfield, CA, I see why a local sheriff might lose their job.  Or how the schoolkids paid attention to Theodore Geisel's birthday.  (That would be Dr. Seuss.  And a teacher dressed up as The Cat in the Hat.  Just so you know.)  Classifieds tell me how much it would cost me to rent a 1BR apartment.  And I can see the brand of milk available at the local grocery store.  Somehow, in a world where the options for a cup of coffee at Panera are the same from Barstow to Bangor, this strikes me as cool.  Always has.  Because even as homogenization becomes more and more prevalent across regions of our country, unique elements remain.

Because I open a newspaper from somewhere, and it has a tangible sense of location, of "other," that their webpage will never give me.

Because I still get a thrill from getting a piece of mail with a postage stamp and return address from another country.

Because, I suppose, there is a romance to knowing there is something else out there.

I have a bit of an allergy to newsprint & ink.  But I never, ever wished for them to be out of my life.  Whether as a method to gather news...or get a view.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Water, water, not everywhere, and so many drops to drink

Greater Phoenix.  The Valley of the Sun.  Where saguaros grow as roadside trees, where centers of harmonic convergence are never far.

Where from the dust rose farms.  And golf courses.

Where the water comes from snow.

A person who thinks about water in the slightest has to think about it here.  When previous inhabitants give up trying live here after 1,000 years of working their own canal system to make the land arable, the place clearly has challenges.

When you stand high up on a mountain and look at the sprawl of subdivision after subdivision, most of them consisting of building construction that rather looks like the big boxes of any other U.S. urban sprawl, except with stucco siding and tiled roofs, one has to wonder just how this group of settlers is impacting their environment, and from whom they are taking the resources to make it happen.

My son is fond of pointing out that the energy impact of cooling a home in a hot climate is less than that of heating one in a cold climate.  I grant that.  But so many people.  So much sprawl.  So much traffic, with little to no public transportation.  So many homes volume but no ventilation, big panes of plate glass exposed to the elements with little to do but gain solar heat.  Not much evidence of shade as part of the structure, of thinking about making the patterns of the sun either work to your advantage, or at least do a dance with those patterns to minimize negative impact.

Unique to Phoenix?  Heck no.  But this is no temperate climate.  It has the hottest climate of any metropolitan area in the United States.

A while back, there was chatter about the impact of all the grass in Phoenix.  All these northern folk had come in and planted their new lawns with what they knew:  grass.  Which needed a LOT of water in the Valley of the Sun.  Phoenix has changed its water usage policies since then.  There is a 100 year plan, and folks apparently take care of their landscape with different habits (and regulations) than a generation ago.

But one still thinks about water.

☀ ☀ ☀

Perfume.  Available locally is a perfume called "Cactus Flower."  Based on the scent of the night blooming cereus--which is protected, and therefore cannot be harvested for purposes of enfleurage etc.--it is described in its promotional literature as a "soft floral scent."  I got some harsh raspy chemicals in there.  Since I haven't had the experience of smelling the one night out of the year event that is the blooming of the Queen of the Night, I can't really speak to how closely the overall effect of the perfume approximates that of the flower.

I declined getting some, even as a souvenir.

☀ ☀

For further information about Desert Queen perfume, see the website here.