Monday, January 10, 2011

Sorting Out the Meat in my Lily

I had heard the talk for years.  "That lush tropical flower smells like meat [often ham, or rotten]."  I always thought of it as a concept, as gestalt of smell that when looked at from one angle, was reminiscent of meat, or meatish.  Perhaps meat-y, or meatish and meaty.


Then this opened among the supermarket bouquet sitting on the kitchen counter.  Oink, oink, people.  Not as an idea, or an association, or something seen on the other side of a transparency.

I could have sworn the langorous sow on the flyer for my preferred porcine purveyor was looking longingly toward the counter.

Or was that fright on her face?

Over the weekend, Victoria at Bois de Jasmin asked about changes in perfume taste.  I was so already there.  You see, on Friday, I had an arranged date with Musc Ravageur, goosed on by a friend who thought it was a crime against perfamity that I had given my sample away to another perfume person.  The decant arrived unannounced earlier in the week, with a lovely note, saying "For Pete's sake, you need some Musc Ravageur."  How to tell her that thing had been a beast on me and in my nose whenever I smelled it on someone else?  And by beast, I mean half-skank animal.  Not in a good way.  Just...beast.

I waited until the next day.  Then, out of a sense of duty and perhaps morbid curiosity, I sprayed.  There was the animal...but also something warm and spicy.  And the drydown?  Be still my heart.  Which is to say, my heart slowed down.  In a purr of comfort.  Sure, the animal was still there, but now it was in a pen with things spicy (cinnamon?) and things warm (musk, the non-dirty veer).  Other things bouncing around, but unidentified.  Maybe even vanilla?  In a way, it did not matter, because it wasn't all about the beast.

The animalic perfume Grinch's heart grew two sizes that day.

Meanwhile, a stargazer lily became Roast Beast.

So, with not one, but two exemplary anecdotes about changes in smell, I started to formulate this post.  Not the first time I'd dealt with situations in which I'd changed my mind about a perfume, but the first time I had crossed the zone into enjoying bedding down with a beast.  It was time, I thought, to bring out Psych 101:  the "I Like You THIS MUCH" chart. A little foursquare that has been in my head since I first laid eyes on my "good heavens, are they all going to cost this much???" textbook by Philip K. Zimbardo.  Anyway, the idea I could never get out of my head never forgot was something like this:

  • When you meet someone, you make an initial decision about whether you like them or dislike them.  You get to know them.  You come to a conclusion, a sort of game show Final Answer about how you feel about them.  The interesting observation made by the study?  Of those people the subjects ended up liking, or deeming "friends," they felt the most strongly about those whom they had initially disliked.
I have passed a lot of life through the foursquare illustration I can still see in my mind's eye (left page, toward the bottom), checking off examples that fit nicely into the chart.  Perfumes are the latest something.  I'm still thinking about it...

...but this thing with Musc Ravageur is going to be interesting.  Because suddenly, after years of avoiding it, I want more.  I had to work HARD to find a way to like this one.  In fact, it was probably a little birdie in my ear, a friend who I trusted who said "really, I find value in this person perfume," that encouraged me to give it another try. But I did.  And would not predicted the thought I heard pass my brain.


Are we fickle?  Do our noses/tastes/sensibilities learn, and therefore adapt, and therefore change their minds?  Or do we need to consider another principle in the equation, one I learned in cognitive psych --humans have very powerful mechanisms to justify their choices and/or actions in the face of dissonance.

Meanwhile, the Roast Beast was wafting.  Trying to trap me inside, I think.  Swoop my right past those powdery anthers into the heart of the beast.  Meanwhile, yet another voice joined the chorus: "do you ever change your mind about perfume?"

A ha ha ha ha ha.....

Sure, I do.  Witness Chanel No. 19, which was a welt-raising slap of galbanum the first time I tried it.  But I really hate when people call things that seem "cold" "heartless," which was what I kept reading from others.  I lucked into a 1/5 full bottle of vintage edp.  "Heartless"?  Silly people.  It keeps a cool exterior for the get to know you period, because it is so heartbreakingly beautiful on the dry down.  Score another point for that "you love best that which is first difficult" idea.

Witness also Apres L'Ondee, which when I first tried it seemed like a wan flower, and not much more.  Mind you, I am a fan of quiet, in people and in perfume; this one just didn't seem to have much...depth.  Interest.  And was offering a note I wasn't particularly fond of.  WAIT!! No need to scream "heretic!" I tried some parfum.  Vintage.  And saw into its depths, and found its development, and saw just how beautiful that one main something was.  Changed my mind again.

But let us consider the other corner on the "I've gotten to know you" side of the foursquare.  Bois des Isles, I have always loved you.  Poeme, I'll never tell anyone publicly, but I'll never trade you away.  Bulgari Au The Vert?  Prada Infusion d'Iris?  Hermes Hiris?  All loves at first sight.  And I still feel it whenever I spray.

Consider also something that falls outside the chart, or better put, beyond the left edge of the chart, items whose entry point is not yet decided:  people foods perfumes I have no idea what to make of at first, so I make sure to have multiple meetings, in various contexts, until I can sort out just what IS my initial feeling.  Generally, with these, there is something new enough, or jarring enough, or puzzling enough, that I just can't get my balance at first.  Eventually, usually, I'll get my land legs, then be able to move forward through the experience.  Right now I'm getting to know a vintage Houbigant, Apercu, and there was an amount of learning a foreign language involved.  I'm liking it.  But I wouldn't call it a dislike turned into a like; more a "what kind of creature what planet are you from what language can we communicate with" into a "aha let's talk and see if we can be friends or simply coexist in this universe."

So, let's see, on the positive integration side, there's "I have always loved you" and "I learned to love you," plus the nether zone known as To Be Determined.  On the negative outcome side, as yet unconsidered, is "I loved you at first but now I don't" and "I have always disliked you."

Yeah, I've got ones for those categories, too.

Oh, and there's the far right, the side beyond conclusions.  The part I call "changed my mind," even after making conclusions.  Yes, Victoria, there is a changed my mind clause.

Meanwhile, the Roast Beast continues to blast its meaty call.  Another bud is threatening to open.  There is something obscene about this flower, about this ostentatious display in the kitchen.  Not the ridiculous juxtaposition of ordinary brown freckles against exotic deep pink petals--which is pretty showy--but this horrible intense food smell coming from not fauna but flora.  Double ridiculous is that it seems wrong in the kitchen, but equally wrong in the living room.  Or the bedroom.  Or the bathroom.  Whether I should separate it from the more decorous flowers in the bunch.  I can't figure out what to do with it.

(Maybe it belongs in a vase next to my Love Speaks Primeval.  A visual and olfactory pairing of voluptuous ham and seductive foie gras.)

When it comes to what I now get out of that flower, we've got a strong case of "Take Me to Your Leader."  As in, the alien has landed, right there on my kitchen counter, next to the sink.

While our drama unfolds, the lunchmeat languishes in the refrigerator.

And musk, civet, and castoreum whisper from the drawer and closet upstairs.

mug shot of the carnal perpetrator in floral clothing is author's own


Marina said...

I see you on meat and I'll raise you on pickles. It's all about pickles for me, clearly. I mean how on earth can orange blossom (perfume) smell like pickled eggplants and ginger lilies like gherkins?

Carrie Meredith said...

Your review is insane in a gorgeous way, and in the spirit of the context, I'm going to say that I immediately liked you and always will. :)

Josephine said...

I want to comment intelligently on your post, and engage in witty banter, but anything I said next to your brilliantly convoluted concepts would come out with a stutter.

Then I would drool down the front of my shirt.

'Wow' seems appropriate.

Musette said...

I am speechless.

And considering that you know me - at least somewhat fairly well? - that takes some doin'!

Got the 'meat' in narcissus today - our bedroom is loamy right now - combo of the humidifier and the narcissi/amaryllis that are doing their thing on the Lady Desk. Nothing 'flowery'. All meat and loam. Spring. Love.

Gorgeous post.

xo A

Vanessa said...

A meaty post indeed! Coincidentally, I was given a bouquet of those stripey pink stargazer lilies by my neighbour the other day. As Mr Bonkers doesn't like the pollen detritus in the living room, I had placed the vase in the kitchen, with its easy wipe surfaces in mind. As time went on, the indolic stench from the flowers reached unprecedentedly nauseating levels, and I decided that Extreme Lily (in perfume or floral form) must be banished from the house henceforth. So a kind gift morphed into quite the beast in our house.

I have been mulling over my flipflop behaviour with regard to scents a lot lately, some of which I think may be explained away by external factors like climatic conditions or hormonal turbulence. But I do agree with you on this point:

"...have very powerful mechanisms to justify their choices and/or actions in the face of dissonance."

I have tried to convince myself I liked an ill-chosen bottle many a time in the teeth of raging dissonance. Sometimes I come round to it, mostly not.

I do like Musc Rav, for the record, and am glad you do too!

ScentScelf said...

Marina, I just may have to concede to your pickles. An orange blossom morphing into a pickled eggplant awesome display of aubergine audacity.

The gherkins, you even managed to make me find them. What in the world is going on this winter??? (I still manage to enjoy that Coeur de Vetiver Sacre, mind you.)

ScentScelf said...

Carrie Meredith,

Wow! Your enthusiasm makes me blush...but you've also been immediately promoted to Full Bottle Status.

Nice to see you here. :)

ScentScelf said...


"Mwwwwaaarumph." (A dribble of drool out the corner of my mouth.)

There. That's how *I* talk when I get all brain tied. Marble mouth, touch of drool.

Does that help? :)

Thanks for the comment...and do come by again.

I may need help escaping the next alien landing.

ScentScelf said...


You are not.

Are you?

Paperwhites give all members of my family but me indoles. Baby diaper indoles. As in, during one visit, there was an awkward 15 minutes until I got up to attend to the then baby, and visible relief passed across faces. When I return, they were all pinched of brow again: "Did you leave the diaper in HERE??" (with great and obvious effort to be civil but also trying to figure out if I was being inconsiderate or slovenly or in need of mental assistance). NO!, I said. Stares...until...dum dum DUM! all eyes turned toward the paperwhites.

Ah, well. *I* still love 'em.

ScentScelf said...


Stench. Rot. Reek. Those lilies can put out a lot of olfactory decibel per square cm, can't they? Blergh...the thought of being ill, as I have gathered from your posts, and then having to suffer the indignities of stank and wanton pollen dropping...yes, I understand your position. Extreme Lily must go.

Quite frankly, I'm a bit worried what it means that I keep mine. Except maybe, some day, I'll learn to like it...nah. That's not it. It's the penny pincher in me. I paid for it, it's pretty...heck, I even wrangled some writing out of it. (Whispers in an aside, "when you put it out, how long did it take for it to be completely gone?")

You are quite right that other factors can adjust our perceptions of things--at least, I am in agreement with you. Whether it is because I enjoy something in a different way because of the season, or actually "see" it in a different way...or daylight...or hormones...or what I've eaten/had to thoughts are clearly mutable. (Which is to say, changeable, and not capable of being silenced.)

Perhaps I've a Big Sorting Taxonomy project in my future.

Meanwhile, I'm setting dissonance aside. You like Musc Rav also? Ah! (Waves across the pond with a cinnamon smile...) ((Isn't funny how we enjoy the "I like it too" moments, even when we're all embracing the idea that different 'fumes suit different folk?))

brian said...

Great post, Scent. I realized, reading it, that I don't really review or write about things for which I don't feel some amount of enthusiasm. And so the flip flopping I do doesn't get much ink. For me there's a lot of dismissal. I have things to do, places to go, other things and people to smell. So I can make snap judgments. "Not interesting." And over time... Hmmm, what's this here?

As for Lily, I still don't get the hammy, meaty bit. I try. It'll come to me, maybe?

You do all know the thing with Lillies, right; the thing where you first get them and you take a paper towel and pinch off the...what are those trembly, pollen-laden things called? Voila. Then you can put plant wherever without worry of stain.

Vanessa said...

But Brian, I tried taking the stamens out and the lilies just don't look right without them. Like eyes without irises, at the risk of mixing up my flora here.

ScentScelf said...

Brian, it seems to be my lot in life to muck about in process. I can be very Zen about it, and accept that the process is what is it about...or I can...well, get monkey mind.

I've done both. I make judgements, and even the occasional snap decision. But--and here is the real truth--I like playing in mud. Not only purposefully, but letting the ooze goo between your fingers just to see what it will do. So, in a sense, even if I don't have an enthusiasm for the thing (in this case, perfume), I may be intrigued by the process.

{Not you, Juicy Coture. Sorry.}

Let me know if you ever find the meat. You can cut out those stamens, with their furry pollen filled anthers...I don't think that's where the carnage lies. But I tend to agree with's kind of like shaving off someone's eyebrows. They're still them...but not.

You do know that you can pull a trick on your teacher by burying your face in an anthered lily and screaming "Agh! It bit me or something!!" and coming up for air, and bearing the mark of the offending flower, right? In a classroom full of people, at least one is going to screech.

Not that I'd know.