Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fata Morgana, Trompe l'oeil, and other visions

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

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

Are you game?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think I've only developed a keener appreciation.

I'll take it.

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

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

Morgan Le Fay
from Project Gutenberg

Morgan Le Fay perfume
available at Luckyscent

Monday, August 9, 2010

A-musing: Iggy the Oracle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 6, 2010

Tsutsumi et Cigarette

No, not a fragrance.

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

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

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

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

Tactile and psychological pleasure from all?  Immeasurable.

As Tilda might say...like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was the process.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Keep the wood, hold the sweet: 10 CC Uomo

Through the miracle that is decanting and sharing, I have a portion of the new 10 Corso Como Uomo.  That would be 10 Corso Como for Men, you know.  Though when you read through the release materials, there seems to be a little back and forth, dithering, playing both sides, on whether this is "for men" or "the 'next' Corso Como."

I'd call it "10 Corso Como for those of you who find the original too sweet."

Personally, I'm doing a little happy dance.  I have to be in Just The Right Mood to handle syrupy sweetness in my perfume, and I've a tendency to be willing to interpret "sweet" as "syrupy sweet."  Not immortelle maple syrup sweet (though that would be a sub-category of what I'm talking about).  No, I mean sweet that has body, like simple syrup, that stuff I'm always cooking up for the bar.  And recipes in general, of course.  That stuff that you make by boiling water and sugar.  Go heavy on the sugar, and add a touch of corn syrup for viscosity.  THAT's what can happen to the "sweet" in perfume for me.  Heck, I sometimes find that in DK Black Cashmere.  So I'm going to guess that I'm a sweetness amplifier.

No matter.  10 Corso Como Uomo can handle that.  Sort it out to the farther reaches, with YSL Nu, but not quite THAT dry.

And color me happy.

I've run it through paces twice so far.  First day was warm, summer warm with lots o' humidity.  And I must have been doing my sweet amp thing, because I found a pleasant underlying tone of sweet, like you get when you slap sandalwood and make it shimmy a bit.  (You know how sandalwood is; that gorgeous element of sweetness is there all along, and it seems like all you have to do is agitate it bit to bring it right to the fore.)  Today, it's cooler, low 70's, and rainy, and it is drier, playing all like cedarwood.  I can only find the sense of sweetness if I snarfle with my nose assertively pressed to my skin.  Which, okay, I admit I've done a few times, and just did again, because hey, that's nice, too.

That's your Uomo for you.

Hot tip!

In the aisles at Target, I found a shower gel in the men's aisle.  Brand name, Everyman Jack.  (Sense a knock off here?)  They had two options on the shelf:  citrus, and cedarwood.

I'm telling you, the cedarwood is more than serviceable.

And would be a logical layering option to reinforce the 10 CC Uomo.  So go buy a bottle.  $5.  Now, with the money you've saved, buy some more perfume.

See?  I provide service to readers and the general economy alike.

image from the 10 Corso Como website, which will also give you the notes in top/middle/bottom form. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Scents of the Mediterranean

a.k.a. Freshwater conjures Saltwater 

The Mediterranean is the world's largest inland sea, at 965,000 square miles, and makes contact with three continents and, in 46,00.  The Great Lakes cover 94,000 square miles and create 10,900 miles of coastline which touches six states, two countries...but only one continent.

Today I journey to the Mediterranean at the invitation of a fellow blogger.  I told her I am not well versed in things Mediterranean.  She said that was okay.  We'll see.

Ines has asked me to write about my sense of the Mediterranean.

I grew up near freshwater lakes, inland seas between coasts, on a hand that is visible from space.  The Mediterranean was a place far, far away from me, which for a large portion of my early years was somewhat confused with things Carribean.  They did after all share a sense of water, and beaches, and sun, and of course that "-ean" ending.  (Words have always been important.)

Youthful adult word association of the Mediterranean:  boats, water, white (sand, artifacts, wash on the sides of buildings); rich people taking a vacation; Aristotle Onassis; olives; ancient history; Alexander the Great.

Older adult sense of the Mediterranean:  Elena at Perfume Shrine, Ines at All I am - a Redhead, sailing, giant yachts.

I am, in general, completely lacking sense when it comes to the Mediterranean.

What's that you say?  "Scents of the Mediterranean"?  Oh.  That's very different.

Let me try again.

I have never been to the Mediterranean.  I have been to plenty of Greek restaurants, not all of them diners, and have eaten plentifully of that thing called "saganaki" (very confusing, that, to a youthful diner, who so wanted to ask why Japanese food was on the menu, why it was on fire, and why it tasted so good), olives, feta, ouzo (that decidedly NOT as a youthful diner), roditis (ditto), dolma, lamb.

By this immediate and limited association with things Greek, you see how I miss 20 of the 21 states the Mediterranean touches on.  Heck, I missed two of the three continents its coastline covers.  I'm sorry, Turkey Libya Spain Jordan Morocco etcetera etcetera.  Sorry, Asia and Africa.

I'm sorry, Malta.

"Mediterranean" is also a modifier I have clearly seen attached to sea salt I have consumed, lemon trees I have tried to grow, a diet that is supposed to be good for my health, and a sunny if laid back disposition. Unless, of course, one was at war.  But I'm going to leave that alone.  No, I'm not; that gives me the smell of gunpowder, and I may need to come back to that.

I had a friend whose mother was Maltese, as in the island with the groovy cross, and that was Mediterranean.

Peter Jennings seemed to mention Cyprus a lot during certain periods of his tenure.

A different friend went to Yugoslavia when it existed, and brought me a couple of pieces of the paper currency as a souvenier, which he suggested were even better suited to cover a wall than rejection slips.  We chuckled at his humor, because we were students and hadn't had enough rejection slips to understand the pain of the joking reference to a "joke."

Hmmm.  I seem to once again be meandering and demonstrating my lack of sense, this time with a strong lack of scents.  Let me try an entirely different approach.

Since the Mediterranean is nothing but a dreamscape, some culinary associations, and a spotty knowledge of history, I'll conjure a scent for a few associations from those areas.

ONE:  The Mediterranean Sea...a warm place of lounging on yacht deck or beach, of warm salty water, of many blues (water, sky) contrasted with white (buildings, sails, boats) and punctuated with brilliant color (flowers, umbrellas).

In this scenario, I am warm and relaxed, and able to take in intense colors without being agitated.  Sometimes there is a breeze, sometimes the air is calm.  When it is calm, I imagine it to be warmed air.  Throughout, there is salt.  There should be the smell of the sea, the smell of alewives washing up on the beach my imagination does not work properly in this direction.  Somewhere nearby are people in crisp but casual whites, the women in wide brimmed hats, unless they are in bright red bikinis, enjoying eating mollusks or octopi. They are wearing...Keds.  Not deck shoes.  Keds.  Their feet are cooler and more comfortable that way.  As part of this life, the perfume on my skin is...

...oh, dear heavens.  My brain just layered Bel Respiro with Eau de Merveilles.  I think that the Bel Respiro is the breeze, the deep blue of the ocean (I know, it's a GREEN scent, but certain blues ground me in the same way as greens in nature, especially when they are many fathoms deep)...and maybe the clean rubber of the bottom of those new Keds?  Eau de Mereveilles is, of course, the salt, the warm, and the sweet life.

TWO:  Mediterranean cuisine and the Mediterranean diet...luscious ripe fruit, seafood, fresh salads, olive oil, figs...healthy, eat it, it's better than Atkins...

Okay, I'm having trouble with this one.  After all, there are 21 government states and plenty of variety as you scoot around that coast.  Which makes me question this whole Mediterranean diet thing.  Which reminds me that I'm never sure I want food smell in my perfume, either.  Not big on the "gourmand" thing.  But it does make me wonder what perfume I would pack in a bag and take along to safely wear while exploring new cuisines.  Which is tough, because of the risk of there being a nasty battle between wrist and fork.  It would have to be something known (don't want to divert the curious brain processing away from the food), something inobtrusive (don't want something demanding attention, because I'm supposed to be learning/enjoying this Mediterranean thing).  It has been suggested that a chypre is a safe bet for a meal, but I'm thinking that a hint of citrus wouldn't be bad, especially here in this moderate to warm climate.

Ah.  I roll through things bubbly--after all, champagne goes with everything--including Calandre (cold enough to work, but that metallic part might feel like I keep biting my utensils), YSL Yvresse (Champagne) (fun, but could ultimately be too fruity and do that interfering thing), and Baghari (say, now there's an idea...that one is champagne without hinting at kir royale), I shift gears in search of something more hesperidic.  I float by Eau Imperiale (which has the advantage of also being a headache tonic, useful when travelling) and land on Eau de Hadrien.  Not bad.  Non-intrusive, pleasant, uplifting, and potentially complementary to a range of cuisines.

In the back of my mind, I re-file Eau de Patou for another situation.  I do love it, and it does have pepper, which would seem to be a potential culinary complement.  But it would distract me just a little, because it's just a little off the beaten eau path.  Nope, Hadrien it is.  Well constructed, light, got the citrus going without being all limoncello like, say, Bond Little Italy.

THREE:  History.  Hmmm, now my idyll is subject to unrest.  There is, after all, a couple of millenia of conflict to be found on the shores of the Mediterranean, no matter which continent, no matter which century.  A contrast that is poignant at its mildest, and bloodily brutal at its worst.  Conflicts over land, over ideas, over religion...the usual things that drive some humans to decide individual lives are less valuable than a lifestyle.  Stereotypes of molasses time village life thrown against stereotypes of the agonies of war.  Never losing sight of the underlying beauty of the geography as well as of life itself.

What to do with this one?  Can I come up with a scent that is beautiful, but contains difficulty?  Oh, yes. Some which are always like that, some which behave that way under certain weather conditions.  Since we are going Mediterranean here, and I have never actually been, predicting a perfume's climate/weather-based performance is going to be a bit of conjecture.  Maybe I should focus on how I know it acts in terms of day versus night, since it just now occurs to me that all of my Mediterranean visions have been doused with sunlight.  Which, come to think of it, needs an adjustment, since there should be a healthy dollop of nighttime and constellations guiding sea travelers from Jason and his Argonauts to whatever teenager has decided to sail the oceans alone this month.

Which means my musings start with Vol de Nuit, a scent which is always the first stone in the path when nighttime travel is involved.  But it is too dark and powdery for our current turf, so I move on, thinking it needs to be cleaner without being marine.  Something featuring iris, perhaps?  Which can present as rich or sharp, depending?  Yes, that rings of deep water; keep it.  Add...a hint of flowers from land, to add beauty, with a light touch of musk, to bring in heartbeats.  (Therefore not white musk.  Goes without saying, but still.)  More of that salt, which can be both ocean and sweat.  Something...metallic? burning? gunpowder? to suggest a conflict, at least part of the way.  Hemp from rope, wood from oars...yes, it's good that all of this is coming in, because now it's going to be packed, which can mean noise, which is the intensity of human experience focused down into this one area we can trace back so thoroughly.

But what have I conjured?  At first I have to think in layers:  Heure Exquise (iris gobsmacked with galbanum with a haunting flower somewhere underneath...there's difficulty and cool and with a reminder of beauty) plus ruh-roh I got stuck here; couldn't reuse the Calandre, couldn't take the plunge and go Secretions Magnifique, which somebody recently commented on Perfume Posse smelled like "a crime scene," which in some ways is of course perfect.  WAIT! I've got it the original Zen, in the black bottle, which is a deadly beauty with it's insistently cold metal note in there...and now we're too cold, so I piggyback on the cold rose in Zen and add a dollop of Feminite du Bois on top, which not only warms up the rose, but by gum gives you the wood of the boats and shore and also spices and honey and beeswax and so many of the riches from the land that can be enjoyed when there is no fighting going on.

But do I really want to layer Heure Exquise and Zen and Feminite du Bois???  How about I just wear...Iris Poudre on my sweaty bloodied skin?  Ouch, no, I'm not supposed to be literally feeling the pain, just reflecting upon it.

Which, like my foot dangling over the edge of the boat on the sea on a sunny day, I'm going to do.  Reflect upon it, that is.  I'll get back to you if there's an answer.

Meanwhile, I've also clearly got to get up to to speed on things Mediterranean.  I suspect others will be mentioning figs and bees and honey and grapes in various states and breezes swooping down steep slopes.  I want to know about these things, too.

I want to know what perfumes I know in my home context smell like in the Mediterranean.

I want to know if I shout "Opa!," will I get kicked out of Greece?

And I'd like to walk up to a table in a cafe in Croatia, and sit down to an apertif, some nibbles, and a conversation with the redhead who started this whole thing.

Time for some virtual travels.  I am but one of a group of bloggers exploring scent and the Mediterranean; check out the others via these links:

satellite image of the Mediterranean from euromesco.net; simplified geo-political map from your child learns; the mediterranean diet pyramid from today short trends; maltese cross from educational technology clearinghouse.

topmost image courtesy Ines S./All I am - a Redhead.