Monday, June 21, 2010


Somebody hid Archimedes under a painting.
There's something of my grandmother in my grand-aunt, and of my Papa in my son.
I'm pretty sure I found Emeraude in my Ormonde Jayne Woman yesterday.

I have been fascinated by palimpsests since I was a kid.  What a combination of issues:  The need to reuse media, and therefore actually *write over* previous text (the idea of writing in, dog earing pages, or cracking the spine of a book was anathema to me until grad school, where suddenly books became giant notepads).  The idea that something lay beneath.  The literal layering of history.  Mysteries to be discovered.

I was just at a family reunion.  Happens every three years, and I see people descended from my maternal great-grandparents that I would never get to know otherwise.  My own two children, who have no cousins and started their lives with only three grandparents and one uncle find themselves suddenly in a world of large, extended family full of cousins (removed in various ways, but still related) and (grand- and great-)aunts and uncles and bodies and noise and immediately observable similarities and a ream of differences.

At these gatherings, I approach a doorway, and hear my grandmother speaking, even though she has been dead nearly ten years now.  I sit behind one of my grand-aunts, and see a gesture that was entirely grandma's from a body six inches taller.  The hauntings are very strong and frequent here.

Of course, these hauntings happen all the time.  I saw one in the face of my first born when he was two years old, when he looked at a new food and his face flashed "curious/wary/preparing to jump in" in a way I had seen on my Papa and my brother.  I see a flash of my grandfather-in-law's impish humor crinkle the eyes of my other son when he prepares to deal out a particular type of joke.  In fact, these are often the most powerful hauntings for me--the gestures, rather than the physical replications.  The cadence and timbre of speech when they echo a person the child was never able to meet.

I traveled, as usual, with an assortment of perfume samples.  The one that I came back to in the thick, humid, 94 degree heat was Ormonde Jayne Woman, which seemed at first would be too thick itself for those conditions.  I found myself using it more than once, because it had a delightful "green dust" aspect to it.  A little raspy, as I've mentioned I like, suspended in sweetened green.

It ended up being doubly appropriate, because as we were driving home, I could swear I smelled my mother's Emeraude, as I did when I quietly "visited" her darkened bedroom sometimes when she was busy elsewhere and once or twice dared to venture to the perfume and give it a sniff.

It was, of course, the Ormonde Jayne.

Today is one of my favorite days in the calendar, the summer solstice.  As opposed to the equinoxes, when day and night are in balance, this is a day that is a physical manifestation of extremes.  We here north of the equator get to enjoy the longest term of daylight in the year.  In childhood, this was exciting, as it meant rules like "be home when the streetlights come on" were stretched as far as possible.  Always, I feel it is like the moment you crest on a roller coaster; you know things are about to start tumbling away, but for this moment, this day, this dusk, this day into night, it is as full as possible.  And you get to witness it.

Cultures across the globe and throughout history have had various ways of noting this day.  Sometimes I feel that, as I glance up to the sky when day turns to night, whether I am lighting a fire or letting darkness finally fall around me, I am echoing the gestures of people whose language and culture I could not otherwise understand.  They could sit behind me, and recognize my behavior.

Looks like it might be an OJ Woman night tonight.  Or is it Emeraude?

image is the Archimedes Palimpsest, which contains three layers of content:  the painting seen on the right, 13th century prayers, and text by Archimedes.   Walters Art Museum image visible at this article from National Geographic, and this article, among others.  See the Archimedes Palimpsest Project here.


La Bonne Vivante said...


I met some of my grandfather's cousins in MI this past week, and my mother said that his cousin flora shared her grandmother's nose. The look on her face, as she told me of her grandmother, and wished I could have known her to see the similarity, was poignant. I know what you are talking about here--these palimpsests have been very much on my mind lately, as they always are when I see my family.

Here's to the heartachingly existential beauty of the palimpsest....

happy Midsummer Night's Eve!

ScentScelf said...

A family's palimpsest is never complete...quite something to locate yourself among the layers.

A toast to palimpsests in various expressions. And a follow up one to Midsummer Night!!

Musette said...

Beautiful post, as always.

Happy solstice! I both long for and dread this day - it is, of course, the anticipation coupled with the knowledge that it will be downhill from here (in a manner of speaking).

I've been saving my Cartier Brillante, not to hoard but because I think of it as a very Urban perfume, perfect for a steamy Concrete Jungle day. But it's so hot today that I decided it'll be perfect for a Peoria afternnon meeting, on a patio (though Peoria isn't the 'urban' I had in mind, it'll have to do). It's the perfect scent to usher in summer!

Glad you enjoyed your family, on this plane as well as the 'other'.


ScentScelf said...


I know what you mean about the double-edged sword. I once knew someone for whom this was always a depressing day...because he knew the days only got shorter from here. He'd happily anticipate the Winter Solstice.

Ah, the turn it around maneuver. Cast against type. Love it...may the Brilliante reflect beautifully on the first, and all, the days of this Peoria summer!

Thanks for all.

Ines said...

I have goose-bumps all over. Your post was so true on so many levels.
I'm spending a lot of time these day with my bf's family and they all talk about their family members appearing all the time in those little gestures the rest of the family does. It makes my heart glad to see family remembered in those who stay behind.
And bringing back my childhood! Oh, I remember those days when we were supposed to get home when dark started to fall. :) How some childhood moments are universal the world over. :)

ScentScelf said...


It can be goose-bumply, that experience. I am grateful for it, even if I recognize what it means for my own impermanence. After all, it is also a kind of transcendence.

Ha! So your curfew was nightfall, too? Love that. For me, there was the added benefit that we lived in the western reaches of our time zone...while the sun setting was the sun setting, our clocks said it was delightfully late in the evening at this time of year.