Friday, May 28, 2010

Angelica, in and out of the rain

A fellow lover of plants sent me angelica seeds a few years back.  I put them in a corner of the patch that I was just starting to transform from a former playset pit into a garden.  I knew their height and durability would be just the thing to help visually and philosophically anchor a corner that sat at a point into which decorative, cutting, crop, and wild areas all ran.

When I got the seeds, I was excited.  But the only thing I knew of angelica was from my readings.  And my readings focused on its herbal properties, its suitability for low maintenance gardening, and the quiet but powerful role it could play in visual design.

If anything discussed how good the flowers smell, I don't remember it.

I do like their odd sweet with herbal bitterness aroma.  Which starts wafting a few inches away from the flower heads and invites you to stick nose down into the umbels, where you can inhale deeply.

Angelica, if you have not made its acquaintance, grows tall.  Quickly. Here's three foot stalks that shot that high in less than two weeks.  The bulk of the vertical growth happened in less than a week.  The stems are light but strong, hollow tubes with fern like fronds positioned opposite each other but spaced generously apart.

People tend to inhale, draw back a bit sharply...then go back for more.  The sweet wins...and because it's so high up, it's easy to revisit.

Angelique Sous la Pluie has long been one of my favorite in the Frederic Malle collection, and has been hovering at the "next full bottle purchase" list for a while now.  (When I do get it, it will join En Passant and L'Eau d'Hiver, suggesting that I might have a preference for the understated...but I think of it as finding a beauty in these scents that is hard to find in most lines.  I also adore Parfum de Therese, and there's no way that one is going to be interpreted as "quiet" or "understated.")  When I went out to harvest some angelica the other day, I realized I needed to revisit Angelique Sous la Pluie, not only in tribute...but because I had reached a new level of appreciation for Jean-Claude Ellena's creation.

Standing there in the garden, inhaling the flowers, I was struck by how honest the perfume was in terms of the smell of the herby sweet flower.  My memory even suggested that perhaps I needed to re-categorize Angelique... as a semi-soliflore.  When I actually came back and spritzed the perfume, a little bit of trompe l'schnozz was unveiled.  Yes, the idea of the actual flower was in there.  But it was as if the flower had been given a bit of Diorella-ish bite, with an aldehyde-like lift.  "Diorella-ISH"..."aldehyde-LIKE"...true flower IDEA...put together constructs which conjure, and the gestalt is what is Angelique Sous ls Pluie.  It's as if you are looking at an attractive picture full of depth and with saturated colors in some areas but with light passing through in others...and then realize you are looking through a series of transparencies, but translating the assembly into a whole.

At this moment, blowing back and forth between hot, humid and cool, breezy weather, with a long holiday weekend in front of me and plenty of angelica still left standing in the distance, I conjure a drink that suits the plant and the perfume.  At the moment, it's an elderflower liqueur that comes to mind to stand in for the angelica element, and a Plymouth gin to capture both the Diorella bite and the not-quite-aldehydic lift.  Because ASlP not full out bubbly, I'm not bringing in a sparkling wine or seltzer.  It needs shaking over ice, of course, to bring in the chill, and then being served martini style, to allow the sweet elements to hover at the surface of the liquid.

And as you lower your lips to the glass, it will be a little like putting your nose down to that angelica flower umbel...and the sip will be like the transparent layers of floral herby sharp refreshment that is the perfume.

P.S. There is a bubbly Elderflower pressé made by a British company, Belvoir, which would be a nearly suitable non-alcoholic beverage pairing for Angelique Sous la'd really need to mix in some tonic to cut the level of sweetness and make it be right.

And, if it were really hot, I'd turn the the alcoholic proposal into something stirred with tonic over ice.  And a slice of bitter cucumber to garnish.

all images author's own

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Neighborhood Cadillac

Once upon a time, in a major city once more powerful and not so far away, there was a phenomenon among less wealthy citizens:  the neighborhood Cadillac.  Families would pool their money to buy one car, one VERY NICE car, and work out a shared arrangement for custody.  Driving to church, to social functions, around the neighborhood...all could be done in a fine set of wheels, despite an annual income that suggested a midrange used car might be a bit of a stretch.

Zipcar, eat their cooperative exhaust.

Today, "car sharing" is a business, and the emphasis is on eco-friendliness as much as economic feasibility.  The neighborhood Caddy was more about reconciling economic reality with the desire for upscale goods.  The ZipCar blends eco-consciousness with budget concerns, often with a healthy dollop of the challenges of warehousing a car in a dense urban environment.  Either model appeals.  Only buying a piece of the cake, rather than the whole, appeals to my share the planet / don't hog / but go ahead and appreciate the finer things in life self.

I like this model for things beyond consumer goods, too. The first two can be found in museums and libraries that allow greater distribution of the experience for less cost to the "user."  Full ownership is available...for a price.

Music is tricky, of course.  What would you "buy"?  There aren't too many Habsburgs around these days, employing their own full time musicians and composers.  In terms of live music, we consume per performance.  And while a performance is "shared" with every member of the audience, seating capacity limits how many "users" or recipients can enjoy a given performance.  Recordings were an innovation in access.  "Owners" of a given performance can just keep pressing and selling those recordings until the cows come home. (Yes, people from a certain generation took advantage of cassette recorders to make mix tapes for friends or swaps of full album tapes.  Most people I knew ended up going out and buying their favorites, because they wanted their own for their collection.  Swapping tapes did not curtail any retail urges...though, when we were young and poor, it helped both develop and whet our tastes.)

Perhaps you see where my rambling ruminations are headed.

In perfume, there are practices known as decanting, and splitting.  The former run as a business, the latter, as a co-op effort.  Call them, if you will, the K-tel car share and the Cadillac.  The former buys product, repacks it in smaller amounts, and sells it to willing consumers.  One shot at the jukebox, or a few, depending on how many coins you put in.  (Oh, rats, I'm muddying the metaphorical waters here.  Which I'm going to call my Muddy Waters move for the moment--I can do that, I veered into music, see?--and proceed.)  In cars, this single investor model is the ZipCar; they take on the risk, you pay for a certain amount of use.  Somebody else invests in the car in the first place, handles distributing the shares of the product, and insures the vehicle.

Splitting with friends is buying a neighborhood Cadillac.  You can't afford a full bottle; you're not ready for the commitment; you want the option to drive a Caddy sometimes, but increase your opportunity to drive other models as well.  You agree to work with a group of friends to figure out who "hosts," and does the work of distributing the shares.  Unlike the decant model, where the purveyor offers a shopping list that you can go to at any time, the split is a one-time dealie.  Which will only happen if you can get critical mass for a purchase, and which, once fully spoken for, is no longer going to be available.

There is unrest about decanters, mostly from The Big Companies.  This didn't happen in auto world; Ford/ Cadillac/ et al never chased after the neighborhood car arrangements; as far as they were concerned, if the purchase was legitimate, the purchase was a deal.  Of course, they didn't worry that once you drove off the lot, you'd alter the vehicle somehow and then drive around in non-genuine product, impugning the quality of the product.  (They WOULD, however, chase after you if you didn't pay for your purchase; hence, the glamorous world of the Repo Man.)*

So, are the corporate suits going to come after people who buy a perfume with pooled money and divvy up the goods?  If so, this could mean trouble the next time a bunch of teachers gather to unwind and all toss some money on the table to buy, and share, a pizza.

I understand protecting product.  You are talking to a person who made her child de-install music sharing software that didn't use appropriate licensing.  I am a proponent of intellectual property rights, a person who puts believes artists should be paid for their product.

It just seems to me that, as long as nobody is messing with the art, and the original owner is getting their self-determined price for their product, there's nothing wrong with a purchaser/new owner deciding to share custody.

You can co-own real estate and call it a time share.  You can purchase a piece of owning a company and call it a corporate stock.  Heck, you can even break up your Aunt Claire's intact set of LuRay dinnerware and sell each piece to the highest bidder.

I plan on purchasing a portion of a Cadillac bottle of perfume.  I'm safe, right?

*This altering of product is not to be confused with selling a bunch of Escalades to Houston dealers for one price, to dealers in Dubai for another price, and then the Dubai vehicles ending up cheap in Baton Rouge.  Mind you, your Baton Rouge vehicle won't come with the manufacturer's warranty, but if your game...they'll sell.  That's grey market, and that's not what the corporations are accusing the decanters of doing.

See more on grey market in the perfume industry in the Feb 2008 Perfumeshrine article "Dirty Secrets of the Grey Market and Fakes," or more reflections on the grey market in this Dec 2009 article from Intellectual Property Watch which takes a look at various laws, trademarks, and the concept of "material difference."

Images from the very cool Shorpy site, which plays with images from Library of Congress, which means you can go to LoC or Shorpy all on your own and enjoy poking around, but should not share or redistribute these images as if *I* offered.  I have no rights to give you permission to redistribute them whatsoever or pretend that I do.  I love the wording of the LoC Rights section.  Straightforward.  Clear.  

Monday, May 24, 2010


The weather took quite a turn yesterday (Sunday).  All last week, it was stretching to reach 60.  Beautiful weather for a gardener in the spring, actually;  plenty of overcast, cool days to go out and work comfortably, in weather that was gentle on plants being divided/transplanted/attended to.

If you had been eyeballing an unusually tall thermometer, and putting those eyeballs at level with the top of the mercury, and found yourself squatting a bit to meet those temperatures...well...yesterday was your chance to straighten up.

One degree shy of 90.
And humid.

Aiy yi yiy.

I was heading out to meet a friend...had to put on real clothes, and had another meet up following...and I wanted to be scented.  But, despite the chatter that's been going on recently about how awesome it is to experience a heady floral or oud-y wonder in the full on heat -- yes, Denyse, I agree that there's a reason why that's the weather Nature chooses for opening up those beauties in the garden -- I wasn't ready to put my head in that space.  This was just Too Soon.

I went for cool.  Not cool-me-off-in-summer citrus.  Or cool green.  But, the uncanny rooty cool of iris root, unsweetened, straight up.  Which one?  The one that some people complain is too grey, too rooty, too austere.  Hermes Hiris.

This is the one that I long ago wrote about taking up to the northern woods, and found that it suited the shady green near the water environment.  A complement, as it were, to my natural context.  As if I were one with what I was moving about in.

Yesterday, the note was the same, but in a different tune.  This time, instead of a harmonious third, it went to a full 7th.  Starting on the 7th, filling the chord out from there.  Slightly in tension against the hot, humid air, as if going to my arm were like finding the shady spot under some ferns.  A welcome respite, which did not clash with what was going on around me, but offered yet another tone to the whole.

I'm not a fan of hot and humid.  In general, I find it oppressive and somewhat boring.  I love that characters in books--especially mysteries, hmmm--are sometimes all about digging the vibe that you find in the slowed down but thick and heightened miasma of, say, the bayou.  I love that people love that.  I don't love that.

I do love having the option of spritzing on Hiris.

Score one for once loved bottles waiting patiently in the drawer, waiting for their moment again.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Indigenous Scents, or, Love the One You're With

Outside my bathroom window, pressing against the partially opened casement glass, generously wafting throughout that level of the house, is a Miss Kim lilac.  So full of blooms, and so distracting, when I try to come up with adjectives for how smothered and ponderous with panicles it is, my mind keeps on half-attending and only comes up with words like "abundant" and "smothered."  (As if "ponderous with panicles" isn't trite AND awkward.)  Yeah, sure it's got all the benefits of being nature's air freshener and all that.  But there is so much could be any is the idea of this, this *offering,* being made again this year as every year, that distracts me and fills my brain with thoughts of each of those little tiny flowerlets with their mole-nose like openings and walking the alleys to find overgrown shrub-trees hanging over fences so I could gather a few and looking for them while walking home from school as a kids and thinking about how those were grandparent flowers because they talked about smelling them when they were kids and imagining my great-grandparents burying their noses in lilacs in the Great Plains and the North Woods and the Ozarks and oh, it's heady but it won't last long.

So why don't I think of it as "serious" for perfume?

Here am I, cheering on any yard I see harboring an old-fashioned lilac.  Holding all sorts of powerful emotional memories tied to their presence and triggered by their smell.  But it took me three years to build the courage...and find the right space...for an old style (full height, loose looking most of the year) lilac.  Even with that, I picked one with white flowers.  I was, and am, grateful for the Miss Kim, which blooms later than the traditional lilacs, but which holds to a more modest height and looks more like a shrub than scrub the rest of the year.

It seems that I treat the stalwart old-fashioned like the stereotypical well-heeled person would a trusted member of the staff...appreciate it, will sing its praises in the right company, but want it to stay out of sight unless I need it.

Funny, when I see a bottle of perfume marked "lilac," my first reaction is to think of my Nana's scented talc, and move on.

When I see a listing for Patou "Vacances," I get all moony, and linger on the write-up for something I'll never have.

One way or the other, dismissed or beatified, lilac is...beyond reach.

Perhaps this is why one of the few lilac scents I love is En Passant?  It is both messed up lilac (I mean, seriously, do you rise your bread dough in your lilac bush?), and fleeting (so I can only "hold" it for a limited time).  Like the name says, it is an impression in passing.

But what of this other element that haunts me, this attribute of being..."common"?  Does this spell doom for garden flower scents?  That is, flowers from MY garden?  After all, jasmine and champaca might be outright weedy in other, say, orange blossom in Arizona or Southern California, or bougainvilla in San Francisco...

Uh-oh, I just complicated my train of thought.  Do we have tiers of privilege at work here?  Those tropical flowers are "special" (oooh, exotic...), the edgy climate ones "worthy," but the workhorses of the midwest?

Let us review.

Lilac.  Iris.  (Which is to say iris FLOWER, not root.)  Apple blossom.  Peony.  Lily of the valley.  Mock orange.  Tartarian honeysuckle.  

Rose could be tossed in there, but I think that's a side issue that deserves a discussion unto itself.

Iris, we toss outright.  Nobody has done that.  Why, I don't know.  I'm going to turn that into a separate discussion, it just too darn hard?  Did nobody pay attention to the fact that the flowers smell so blasted good they are practically narcotic?  Is it because you can only smell them if you chance to catch their "throw" (and can identify what is the source), or if you stick your nose right inside the petals...and let's face it, that's kind of like sticking your schnozz into a Georgia O'Keefe painting?

And we know what *that* means.  (And sorry, skanky fans, but that is NOT what the inside of an iris smells like.)

But discussions of iris are moot, because there is no flower based perfume.  Harumph.  Of course, given the variations I smell in the irises I grow, you'd first have to pick a "baseline" iris.  (Just among the beardeds, there is what I would call "traditional" iris smell, a grapey smelling one, a clearly lemon smelling one, and a softened "lemon chiffon" smelling one.  Of those that smell.  That are bearded.)

Let's pick a trio.  Lilac, Apple Blossom, Honeysuckle.  What's your first thought?  Raise your hand if you thought "good perfume for a girl who wants perfume but is really too young to wear perfume."  Hands down.  Raise your hand if you thought "something my grandma would be comfortable wearing." Hands down.  (And take a moment to think about the conflicting ways grandma gets hit with "unh-uh" reaction when it comes to perfume...too aldehyde-y...too mossy...too garden flower-y...really??)  How about a show of hands for anybody who thinks "Avon"?  Okay, anybody not raise a hand yet?  Please take a moment to comment RIGHT NOW if your first thoughts for any one of those is "serious perfume."  Seriously.  And, to keep the game challenging, tell me what apple blossom or honeysuckle perfume you find "serious."  If you insist on lilac, go anywhere but Vacances or En Passant.  

Maybe I'm pursuing a dead end.  But seriously...doesn't something smack of privileging the exotic over the backyard here?  I don't mean to invoke evil Colonialism, either; I just mean...maybe...the grass is greener over the fence?  You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone?  Something along those lines.

To be fair, there are some small perfumers who use their backyard.  Roxana Villa champions her local oaks in her politics, and features their essence in some of her perfumes, notably "Q." Liz Zorn has teased Facebook followers with images of mock orange blossoms she is currently putting through enfleurage, and will some day end up in one of her bottled creations.  

But what is on my mind, right now, is the idea that there's plenty to be found in the realm of tropical white flowers, or the root of a florentine iris.  (I'm going with the belief that "florentine" refers to Florence, Italy, not Florence, Alabama.  Orris root.  There is, incidentally, a Louisiana or swamp iris, but I haven't smelled that one.  I digress.)  Nothing of the iris I find inside the flowers in my garden.  Nothing of the apple tree I fell asleep under as a child.  Nothing from the flowers that not only smelled good as you rode past, but also tasted flowery sweet if you plucked them and sucked out their backsides.  

I'm going to go outside and find one of the spots where the irises are currently throwing their scent.  Happy invisible pockets that stop me in my tracks and make me remember that I am here, right now, this year, inside this moment, which is incredible.  

But will pass.

And, if fate allows, will come again.

A mole nose is shaped like a star.  Learned that a while back, thanks to some reading or other with the kids.  When they were short.  And would wander the garden with me, going on a "scent hunt."

ADDENDUM:  Sonofagun.  Zeitgeist.  I leave, go to check some of my favorite blogs...and it seems that granny in the guise of "old lady" was on Helg's mind today.  See her discussion of "Old Lady vs. Older Woman."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Draw (Vintage LOTV Edition)

So, today there was a drawing.

Erm... a "draw."

No, not arrows.  Sheath yourselves.  Stop quivering.

Mosquito drawing blood?  Now you're being silly.  (But hey, this gives a handy overview of what happens after a mosquito bites you.  For those of you who care to know.  Or who have 5 year olds.)

Surely you saw that one coming?

No, no, no; a drawing of a name from a vessel for purposes of identifying who shall get smidgens of vintage iterations of  Diorissimo and Coty Muguet.

The procedure went like this.

All who registered their interest were entered onto a list.  Same font, same size for each person.  (Gotta work the fair mojo.)  Then the paper was halved lengthwise (same width for each slip), and each person's name was cut out (same height).

Slips were folded in half and put into a magic vessel.

Also known as "the pottery urn thingie."

The Muguet and the Diorissimo then rested atop the entry slips to allow their vibe to permeate every entry.

A mojo making period lasting approximately the amount of time it takes to leave the room, prepare a cup of tea, let the dog back in, and make sure there are no forgotten freelance deadlines impending.

But how to extract?  Other bloggers use their cats, or their offspring, or the (now for-fee) services of an online randomizer.  Sure, I have cats, but their prehensile abilities are not so refined.  Yes, I have offspring, but I figure I like to press them into servitude for things like fetching the mail and helping me figure out where I lost my keys this time.  Besides, this was to be a hand wrought affair, reflecting the care and appreciation for every reader who participated.

And yet somehow I needed to place a distance between me and the deed, because I was going to feel badly that I could not simply send samples out to everybody.

I needed a device that required me attending to, but not actually touching, those slips.

Toaster tongs were required.

And so they were used.


Krista, please contact me with your mailing info.  You'll need to scroll down through the rigamarole I've set up in the left column, to "Biographical Sniglets."  Click on "View my compete profile"; there you will be given an e-mail link.

images first through fourth, from (respectively) Union Jr/Sr High via Ball State U; Toy Haven blog; Washington Post online; Sierra College "Snowy Range Reflections" Journal.  

all other images the author's own.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

No more Douce? Skip the Amere, go for the Amour

If you follow fragrance, you've no doubt caught the (now old) news that Serge Lutens has removed Douce Amere from the export line.  It's a lovely little scent -- gadzooks, did I just say "little" in relation to Lutens?? -- if you like lightly sweetened milk.

(Robin over at NST got a bit more out of it...her review is here.)

Honestly, though, I'm not shedding any tears.  I can get Kenzo Amour more easily, and less expensively.  It, too, is a very kind sweet milky something; again, someone else finds it somewhat more complex than the tasty rice pudding I get.  (This time, that someone is Victoria over at Bois de Jasmin.)

I'd like to think that whenever vanilla enters the game, certain of my olfactory receptors dedicate themselves to that input only.  And NOT that I am not as discerning.

I am practicing full disclosure, nonetheless.

Travel sizes of Serge Lutens Douce Amere and Kenzo Amour both from my own collection.

Hey!  Have you let me know if you are interested in a shot at the vintage LOTV pair of samples yet?  Scroll down to the Lily of the Valley have until end of day today.  

Monday, May 17, 2010


While I prepare the next post...

Remember to check out the post on Coty Muguet and Diorissimo (Lily of the Valley...), especially if you are interested in entering the draw for samples.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


There is in souls a sympathy with sounds;

And as the mind is pitch’d the ear is pleased

With melting airs, or martial, brisk, or grave:

Some chord in unison with what we hear
Is touch’d within us, and the heart replies.

William Cowper
from "The Task: Book VI, Winter Walk at Noon"

It is a music weekend for me, so my attention is drawn for the moment.

Intellectually and emotionally, I find sympathetic chords in the reception of music and perfume.  Overlays in language and expression when it comes to describing construction and reception.

All fascinating.

Tied in to that is a thought that was most recently expressed in comments to Denyse's second post on Gender and Perfume over at Grain de Musc.  The commenter observed how many language-stimulated/facile people were attracted to perfume...or at least, could be observed enjoying and discussing it over the blogs.  I agree, you can see plenty of literate folks who love language chiming in to the conversation.

But that is somewhat a factor of the medium, no?  We are not, after all, exchanging abstract videos or short musical compositions to express how we feel about the topic.  A thing which would be, I think rather cool.  But is time consuming, and would require devoting a lot more time on one "perfume" or aspect of perfume than quickly landing on and moving from topic to topic, creation to creation.

I'd love to hear/see it, though.

They say language is cumbersome, and is dying.  And yet it remains a useful medium.

I must go make my contribution within an orchestra voicing the expressions of Brahms and Dvorak.  The collection of us playing as one organism, laying out an overarching idea and subplots over a single thread in time, in various tonal expressions at any given moment of the performance.  Ideas and mood expressed through music as language.

I recently helped judge a round of a film competition, where we evaluated how "successful" were cinematic expressions of a set length and goal (narrative fiction).  So many choices the filmmaker has, in what is presented on the screen, from what view, for how long, with what type of performance, in what photographic style, with what sonic mix, etcetera etcetera etcetera.  Ideas and mood and story expressed through cinema as language.

There is a blog (Inspire!) devoted to representations of perfume in visual art.  No playing out over time in the way that the procession of words, or linkage of tones, or motion of pictures does.  But an expression in a language nonetheless.

And then there are all the similarities we find in other human activities, like cooking, which only sometimes get thought of as "expression."  And yet, sometimes I wonder...

Hope you are enjoying your weekend.  See you after the curtain.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lily of the Valley -- The Path Less Travailed

There is an apocryphal story about Edmund Roudnitska lying in a bed of lily of the valley, absorbing the scent so that he could create Diorissimo.  The fillip to the challenge?  You cannot extract the scent via perfumery methods (enfleurage, etc.); it has to be represented via alchemy, erm, chemistry.

So, off goes Roudnitska, with one of the quintessential retorts to Mme. Chanel saying:
“I want a perfume that is composed. It’s a paradox. On a woman, a natural flower scent smells artificial. Perhaps a natural perfume must be created artificially."  

I tend to think that Chanel had a point, though that quote comes from stories about the creation of No.5, such as this one.  Simple florals are simpletons, in a way--not to offend those who love them--they are never as fabulous as when you smell them in the garden, and on most people they remind me of something proper for girls or prim maidens.  Ironically, I still haven't wrapped my head around No. 5.  Soap bubbles.

Before you get mad at me, or want to come to the defense of your favorite floral (which I want you to do, by the way...bring up your favorite florals, not necessarily get mad at me), let me point out that a) I do harbor a certain fondness for rose, when done a certain way.  A certain way I haven't been able to pin down, yet, because roses that work for me include Bulgari Rose Essentiale, Magie Noire, Rive Gauche, Twill Rose, and, when I'm in the mood for having my mind warped, SIP Black Rosette.  There is no common thread I can discern there.  If you've got an idea, toss it my way.

Anyway, I wander off into roses on a post titled "Lily of the Valley" because I wanted to show that I am not opposed to straight up florals across the board.  There's a crazy indie "mystery white" floral, for example, called Summerscent that I find myself oddly drawn toward (I remember a commenter on another blog once saying it smelled of gasoline...okay, that is a sort of connection to Black Rosette...), but of course not only was it limited production, it is now gone apparently.  But, when push comes to shove, I'd rather get my garden-variety florals from (quality) essential oil concoctions.

Enter the case of lily of the valley and Roudnitska's Diorissimo, a perfume become legend.  This was a tale that seemed predestined to not go well for me.  Indeed, the path has been rough, and even appeared to end.  But today's telling will show that I found where the path continues again, and have found a way to love LOTV following the path less travailed.

You see, I secured a bottle of Diorissimo parfum very early in my perfume curve.  Luck smooshed together a good price and my first-year apprentice's knowledge that the stuff was a sort of holy grail, so I'd best snatch it.  I did, and I tried it.  With all the appropriate reverence and ginger handling of bottle and pause just as the cap came off and a whiff of the cork lip of the opening and a careful application of precious fluid to a virgin clean wrist.  And I felt...nothing.  I mean, it smelled like lily of the valley, if a bit fluorescent.  Or DayGlo.  Or so it seemed.  It felt hyper.  And simple.  And the earth didn't move.

I quietly put the Diorissimo in a safe place, and vowed not to share my secret with anyone.  

But I took it out twice a year or so, just to check.  And...the result was essentially...the same.

Then I got something *really* cheap at auction.  Coty Muguet.  Heck, if I was going to practice collecting artifacts, this one was a small investment.  I put it in the drawer next to the Diorissimo, unopened (literally--this one had evaporated a bit, but the seal was still intact).  And it sat there for a year and a half, because I had proclaimed I would "uncork" the bottle as a celebration of the start of spring, but forgot to do that last year.  

This year, I didn't forget.

And that has made all the difference.

For beneath the green cello seal lay a wonderfully green threaded lily of the valley, one that had some sap and rasp to it.  One that had that LOTV smell in context.  Subtle context, mind you; this doesn't go toward abstraction/compilation like Temps d'Une Fete, for example.  (Oh, happy scent, that.)  And it doesn't reverberate through your core with luxurious ingredients.  But it is...nice.  Oh so nice.  And a happy way to encounter LOTV.  Flowers laced with foliage.


But I should go back, right?  Give Diorissimo its day?  And so I did.  Today.


I believe it.  I believe Edmond Roudnitska -- he who brought us Femme, and Diorella, and Parfum de Therese (okay, that one he didn't bring us, but thanks to Fredric Malle, we have it now) -- laid down among the lilies of the valley and put into a bottle that which he found there.

They are kind of hyper flowers, anyway.  A couple of stems will fill a room with their fragrance.  To me, they smell best outside...and across the way.  (Is it any surprise my entryway to their scent in perfume was a greened-up version?)  So perhaps I had been unfair to judge as I had.

And you know what?  It settles down rather nicely.  Takes the edge off.  Like the ice has melted in your drink a bit.

So, NOW comes the time when you can be mad at me.  Because both perfumes I have discussed here have been reformulated.  So if you wish to come to your own conclusions, you need to go forth and seek them.


Here, the path is wide enough for two.  If you want to jump right on to this path here, where I am, with even less travail than I had, mention it in the comments.  I'll draw a name from all who express interest and send a smidgen of each.  Don't worry, I know people bop in and out on odd schedules.  I close collecting names for the draw on...Tuesday, May 18.  Draw is now closed.

If you haven't commented before, I'd love for you to introduce yourself, too.  :)

For further readings on the history of Diorissimo, see for example "Perfume Profiles," or Helg's history of the bottle at Perfume Shrine.
There is a page on Edmond Roudnitska with many helpful links at Art et Parfum.
Both bottles from my personal collection, purchased via online auction.
All images the author's own.

If you need a refresher on Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," or have missed being pummeled by it in your schooling, find it here, among numerous other locations.  (FWIW, I use, and appreciate their existence, though if you travel among certain circles, you know well there's a bit of a brou-ha over the politics at they too mainstream? Do they ignore certain poets?  Perhaps so, but it's a convenient, non-threatening way to put your toe in the water.  IMHO.  Discuss.)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Twists in the weather

Our local meteorologist is off being a storm chaser.  He's found cluster cells in Oklahoma.  He's excited...probably extra so because it seems his group came this|close to being hit by a tornado.

Further north here, we're simply dealing with a return to chilly with threats of frost overnight.  People are muttering, but it's not unexpected for this time of year.  It *is* a bit discombobulating, because we just went through one of our warmest Aprils on record, ever.

In the garden, this means pulling out the covers for everything you put in knowing it was early but thinking you'd give it a go anyway.  A most foolish behavior when one is past the "fool me once, fool me twice" series of blame.  And a siren, the soil called, and tomatoes begged "please," and would-be gardeners across the region said, aw, okay...

No correlation between this brand of gardener and Cubs fan has been investigated.

Anyway, the tomatoes have been in for a couple of weeks, and thanks to dutiful gauzing at night, they still look healthy.  But I do feel like the little hairs on the leaves are on end, sometimes, wondering if one of these nights I'll be too tired, or gone, or the rain will have begun early and it seems inhospitable and pointless to go out and cover them now...

It was cold enough last night to make a fire in the pit a necessary accessory to a gathering of friends outdoors.  And so we did.

In the past five days, I have seen sun kissed days that invite bare skin, played with new babies, watched seedlings emerge.  I have tracked storm clouds as they squooshed to my piece of sky, felt temperatures drop twenty degrees, added layers for protection, and witnessed friends say goodbye to beloved family members or brace themselves for the inevitable.

The soil has started to yield, and the soil continues to receive.

Spring is in full swing.  Still.

In my wearings and doings, this is the time of year that will take even old hands by surprise.  Paper calendar and solar day and trends in temperature all begin to lull you into believing the turn is full.  But the season still holds potential for sharp surprises.  Do you choose to be prepared, or to just deal when/if one rears up?

Ah, be prepared.  Sweaters are easy.  On and off.  I love sweaters.  They provide such comfort if called upon, but also a sense of happy looking forward if it is time to discard them.  You'll read about "sweater scents," perfumes that either provide that same sense of enveloping comfort that a cozy sweater does, or that seem to evoke the texture and complement the softest concept of cashmere.

Today is a chilly day.  The heat is on.  The sweater is out.  I've looked beyond some of my sweater scents, though (they vary: Chene; Attrape Coueur; Jolie Madame) and gone right to luscious.  Because I can, thanks to the weather.  And because I want a hit of depths to contrast with the Bel Respiro I wore the other day.  I want to mark the contours of this season.

Feminite du Bois, I think I love you.

I dared take it out today.  I actually held my breath a little bit before I sprayed.  It could be too much--a danger any time of year, but more so now.  After all, I had just learned to find happiness in a lily of the valley soliflore, had inhaled the gateway drug to galbanum that is Bel Respiro for the first time this season, had started playing with "warmer weather" scents.  Had kept in touch with the darker earthier side with Silences, yes, but also started eyeing citrus scents.

Yet here I am, all plummy.

On me, Feminite du Bois gets all warm and sweetened animalic.  The plum note hits thick, but is carried by a honeyed vaguely woody 'did somebody lace this with castoreum?' viscous but not suffocating aura. And I mean both hovers close above and emanates from the skin to which it has been applied.  It is almost Too Much...but never crosses that line.  For me.  It is decadent, in a way that isn't wanton, but that plays with the edges of excess and yet absolutely knows what it is about and appreciates every lush element.  Nothing wasted, but man, that bag is packed full.

For a lot of this hemisphere (northern, I mean), the transition into spring is pretty much done.  Here, Mother Nature is not done reminding us that it's not that she's fickle, it's that she has power.  You can ride the waves, or you can get pummeled by them.

I've got shorts, shirts, jeans, sweat pants, sweat shirts, camisoles for layering beneath shirts beneath jackets.  I've got Bel Respiro, Silences, Bois des Iles, Tabac Aurea, Fleur de Narcisse, Bois Blond, Gap Grass, Visa, Diorissimo, Vol de Nuit, Grin, Arpege, all ready for the vagaries of spring.

Somewhere, between my favorite cozy puffy Shetland sweater and my elegant fits just right cashmere sweater, somewhere beyond the fluctuations, an outlier, is this Feminite du Bois.

It's rainy, and cold, and I'm both eager to see the developments of this spring, and mourning a few losses.

Me and FdB are staying in today.  We're fine.  I'll be out again tomorrow.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


A friend of mine keeps bees.  She has been trying to persuade me to do the same.

This is very funny, because I have a primal reaction to any insect that buzzes in the air around me.  I whimper.  Those vibrations resonate with me, alright, and not sympathetically.  My nerve endings tingle and get nearly frozen with the need to choose between "fright" or "flight."

This is why I understand beekeeper garb.

Kinda "2001: A Space Odyssey," no?  I see just one problem.  Do you? gloves!  Ack!

As it turns out, people actually roam near the hives without garb.  Well, without beekeeper garb.  One assumes that they are generally clothed.  Which is, as far as I am concerned, something to be thought of in these situations as "the gift of garb."

The whole concept seems so sylvan in the abstract.

How pretty and peaceful.  How one with nature.  How pollinating.  The delights of the dripping honeycomb.  The thrum of Earth itself, raised in screens and travelling the air.

But then other realities settle in.

Mmm, yeah.

Ummm, no.

At this point, I need to make it clear that I love bees.  They are one of my totem creatures, with dragonflies and frogs.  (Oddly, I was once scared stiff by the turbulent appearance of a dragonfly in front of my 4-year old face...I seem to have a, erm, complex relation with some of my totem creatures.)  I keenly appreciate their role on our planet and in my garden.  I welcome them.  Literally.  I'll say "Hello, bee" when I'm working in the garden.  I'll note if it is a bumble or a mason or some manner of bee I need to learn about...or even if, as once was true and brought happiness to me, it is a honeybee.  Then, depending on my constitution that day, I will pseudo-blithely work on, taking note if I seem to be disturbing the bee.  Or, I might decide to check out something in the front yard.  NOW.  And amble away.

I do what I can to cognitively adjust my fear.  I sit and admire the bees.  I adopt a nearly meditative stance when I realize I have happened nearly on top of a big bumbler (or one upon me), and breathe through the first minute.  I have even achieved apiarian peace.

I try not to blame bees for the behavior and culture of other stinging flying things which also cause harmonic disturbances in my universe, like wasps and hornets.

I've been thinking about it for a couple of years now.  I go through data, and slide shows like this one at The Daily Green.  I smile when I see a mason bee emerge from a hole if its own creation that is next to a favorite plant.

Nonetheless, if you were an oddsmaker, you'd probably lay better chances with Mac Naked Honey on my skin this summer than a hive in my backyard.

Beekeeper suit found at Blossomland Supply.  Second two pictures, from a series detailing a nucleus hive install, from the blog Institute of Jurassic Technology.  Review of Mac Naked Honey coming up.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ernie Harwell, 92

I will have to mark Tuesday, May 4, 2010, as the start of the second half of my life.
The one without an external narrator, an easy pace, the knowledge there was always somewhere you could return to and find a universal order still in place.
That place?  760 on the AM dial.  Tiger Baseball.  Ernie Harwell.
I am not a traditional baseball fan.  I can’t cite statistics, or tell you who was pitching at the first professional game I went to.  There’s a big hole in my awareness of how the Tigers did during, oh, a decade or two, and I can’t blame ALL of that on the strike.  
No, I can't blame the strike.  I never was a true fan.  Couldn't argue strategy, didn't store trivia and stats in my head.  But I grew up with baseball.
Baseball in the car, almost as far as you could drive in a day.  Magically, farther when you drove at night.  Baseball in the background at my grandparent’s house, either on the television in the family room, or on the kitchen radio if the family room had been declared “for family” that night.
Baseball in your play, kids pulling up outside your door, on bikes, telling you “everybody’s going to the park to play a game.”  You could go with them right away, or join in a little bit.  Game would start in 10 minutes.  Which meant if you wanted any say in your position, you’d be there before then.
Baseball in the family, Sunday mornings driving to a baseball diamond to watch your dad play in a casual softball league.  
Here in this blog there’s been much talk of May flowers.  In my youth, there was another way to mark the arrival of spring--the first warm of day spring meaning you turned your closet inside out so you could find your glove, which hopefully still fits, but even if it doesn’t, is going to be an improvement over bare-handed catch.  A guaranteed sore arm the next day.  
Baseball season marked the rhythm of nature’s seasons and the school year, building a bridge between the last weeks of going to class and summer vacation.  Baseball was what connected houses and businesses and picnic blankets as you rode your bike around...somebody always had the game on.  Sure, it’s a cliche, but asking “How about those Tigers?” was an easy social bridge in conversation.
Baseball was both activity and ambience, something to schedule and something that just was.
So much so that when I read “The Old Man and the Sea,” and the old man talks to the narrator about “Los Tigres de Detroit” (see? even Hemingway, even in Cuba... Santiago says “how ‘bout those Tigers...”), and the old man takes his radio out to check on baseball, I know what he’s talking about. I know the rhythm of what he’s hearing, and I even know the voice he is hearing.
He hears Ernie Harwell.
Baseball defining the rhythms of a year, and years passing.
“A sa-wiiing and a miss...”
From the time the lilacs bloom to the putting to bed of the annuals, a lilting voice would mark time in nine-inning segments.  Kids calling out to each other, long drawn out first names through screen doors like some sort of non-linguistic call to prayer.  Cracks of bats, and the taste of dirt in your mouth even if you were just watching on t.v.
All of this in my head, and I don’t consider myself a fan of baseball.
It permeates my conscious, and my unconscious, as much as my Grandmother’s perfume and the words to the Pledge of Allegiance.
I hadn’t actually heard Ernie call a play in many a year.  He retired in 2002, but I stopped keeping track of the box scores and sitting down for at least a few innings long before that.
"That one went into the seat of a fan from Ludington..."

Perfume?  For today, let's just call it a surprise pitch in the top of the 5th.


The inside door was open yesterday.  It was beautiful out.  Homework would have been delayed, bikes would have been out, bats would have been cracking at the park.  Friends would be calling from the sidewalk.


Fall will be here soon enough.  It always is.  

Play ball.

1970's Topp's baseball cards here at

Monday, May 3, 2010


Nothing lasts forever.

Unusual are resurrections, real or illusory.

Nature provides us with a little bit of magic each spring.  Out of seemingly empty ground rises life.  Most of this life stays with us through the growing season.  Those that last the season and then return for another round are "perennial."  Those that pump up the volume, ever churning out the blooms for a constant production of seeds and propagation, but die at the end never to return, are "annual."

Then there are those that appear but briefly, disappearing back into the earth well before the growing season is over, nearly disappearing from our understanding of the very landscape they lie waiting beneath.

The most common of these is bulbs...the crocus, the tulips, the daffodils, the hyacinth, which come up, pump color into an otherwise still waking tableau, and then retreat as the others start to fully develop.  These bulbs are kind of showy, like the supporting actor in a show who chews up the scenery in the second act but has nothing to do for Acts Three through Five.

Less considered are the quiet, more fleeting ephemera.  The ones with gentler blooms, that lurk tucked in shady areas and under the emerging canopies of other plants.  Or which might pop up in plain sight, in an area that the rest of the year reads as "there's nothing there."

Just listening to some of their common names is fun: trout lily (aka dogtooth violet, lat. erythonium americanum)...skunk cabbage...bluebells...dutchmen's breeches...May apple...Jack-in-the-Pulpit...bleeding heart...coltsfoot...lady's slipper...wake robin.

From childhood on, a springtime activity in my life has been keeping an eye out for the ephemerals.  Some would appear in your yard; others required a walk in the woods.  You never knew just when they would appear.  You never could say precisely where they would appear.  Basically, you simply had to be aware and ready.

Looking for ephemerals carries an unfortunate similarity to snipe hunting for those who have never seen them before.  How can you know where to look?  Whether or not you've found what you are looking for?  You need a guide.  My favorite guides were not bound and in my pocket.  They were other humans, people I cared about very much, and who had this magic ability to find a sort of "abracadabra" in the humus.

Loving ephemerals requires both patience and a willing suspension of disbelief.  Patience, to ride the long interval between appearances.  Willing suspension of disbelief because, unlike those showy bulbs, ephemerals present no identifiable presence underground.  Ever.  So, if you miss them, you can't go digging for gold. They're just...roots.  Among other roots.

At the top of the post is a photograph of a patch in a shady part of my yard.  I went back there this weekend on a hunt.  I've been in this house but a few years, so I still find myself pleasantly surprised by the hosta and the bleeding heart that follow the daffodils, all of which are additions I made to a basically bare patch.  You can see they've come up again this year. You can also see a surprise that greeted me back there, a classic sign of the cycles of life, an empty bird's nest.  I look past the bird's nest, still searching.  I take note of something else.  You, of course, can't notice what I can't see, because it isn't there.  I, as you might have guessed, notice it because it isn't there. That something?  Trillium.

Somewhere beneath the dirt here, and in two other patches of "ideal conditions" of the patch of earth I tend to, are the defunct root systems of Trillium grandiflora.  Wake robin.  Ephemerals are tricky.  They tend to live where they choose, not so much where humans decide they should go.  Despite great care in site selection, the trillium I planted have not chosen to reappear.  What is not there is the substance of today's story.  What is not there...but might be.

Yes, my goal is to successfully bring into existence something which by definition will shortly leave.

I am not frustrated, though.  Fleeting beauty has a place in my does accepting that you can't grasp all that you reach for.  I'll continue to cultivate, and wait.

Non-gardening ephemera I cherish:  A belly laugh from a friend.  The "A-ha!" look on a student's face.  Those moments when an ensemble of musicians totally connects with each other in a live performance.  Witnessing an aurora borealis.  Flow.  The smell of En Passant.

En Passant?  Oh, yes; the perfume part.

Perfume is by standard definition ephemeral when an application's duration is measured against the wearer's life span.  But it is not horticulturally ephemeral; it doesn't magically reappear once it has disappeared.


Unless that perfume is En Passant.  Olivia Giacobetti's creation for Editions des Parfums Frederic Malle offers the kind of softspoken* scent that a woodland ephemeral could be proud of.  But it's the magic that En Passant pulls off on my skin...drawing me into the bread-y lilac dissipation through a cucumber-y rain with this haunting echo of the thing that connects Apres L'Ondee to L'Heure Bleu (what is that? heliotropin? it's that meringue marzipan desert thing)...making me love it...and then...disappearing.

And's back.  Pulling a wonderful meta-trick; the perfume that is supposed to allow the ghost of Apres L'Ondee to haunt it now haunts you.  You need to be can't watch the clock...but if you are open to'll find it.

Magic.  Real magic.  That creates the illusion of bottling the ephemeral.

Maybe by the time my bottle runs out, the trillium will come in.  

*please remember that softspoken does NOT equal "simple"

image credits:  Top image author's own.  B& W photograph of trillium undulatum from Chest of Books.  Third image of trillium grandiflorum appears on the Scottish Rock Gardening Club bulb log diary of 2006.

Today's post is included as part of a month long festival of flowers coordinated by artist/perfumer Roxana Villa.  Use the link on the upper left of this page to see Roxana's list of contributing writers and artists, or go to the opening page of Illuminated Journal here.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

First of May

image by ScentScelf 2010

...Beltane....Walpurgisnacht...going a-maying...celebrating Flora...being an international worker...

Whatever you celebrate and wherever you are...this muguet maybasket is for you.