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; 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.


La Bonne Vivante said...

Oh, I love the way your mind works! This is great, and hilarious.

Anonymous said...

Finding the right Medeterranean scent is my purpose in life, during the summer at least. Right now it's Miller Harris Coatian sage oil layered with IPdF medeterraneo. Then there are the scents from Pantelleria. I also like to Layer IPdF Rosemary with Profumo Aqua de Sale.

The Mediterranean is a big region. I seem to skew north east. It be interesting to see what's said about spicy, dry north African scents or the smell of Riviera beaches.


Vanessa said...

Fantastic! This has to be the most wonderfully whimsical, torturously meandering piece of yours on any subject yet. I would go so far as to say that you have been to the Med more comprehensively in your mind than some tourists who actually go there in the flesh. For flesh-related purposes, indeed.

Carol said...

love it love it love it! well done!!

Ines said...

You know, when the idea went into life, I was looking forward to all the variants that were going to come to life on the subject. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined these wonderful posts people were going to write.
It didn't cross my mind (I try never to think of it) but conflict has really been a defining part of this area. And you've given me so much stuff to smell and re-create what Flittersniffer so aptly termed "most wonderfully whimsical, torturously meandering piece" - that managed to make me laugh, enjoy the sun and feel sad about the weight of history we have on our shoulders all in one reading.

ScentScelf said...


I am glad...and relieved, for there are days that I wonder if I can ever go back, now that I've let the cat out of the bag. Or that bats out of my brain. Or whatever. ;)

Thank you.

Laurie said...

Lol! I've never been to the Med so I shared your trepidation about writing on scents of the Med, but you did something really creative with it!

ScentScelf said...


Miller Harris makes a sage oil? of Croatian sage?? Um, I think I'm going to need to huff your arm a bit here. I like the idea of this layering, but it sort of demands being brought to life. :)

It IS a big region, isn't it? I keep on wanting to treat the Mediterranean like some little body of water, but no way. And all those cultures, embedded for a loooonnngg time. So different from the American experience. Bicentennial. Hah.

Though I am fond of my vegetal smells from these parts...maybe I should start thinking about them, smell-wise, in terms of indigenous and imported...

ACK! Another train of thought. Oh, well, out of the station now. :) As always, good to see you here.

ScentScelf said...


Hee. I hope the emphasis wasn't too heavy on the "torture" inside "tortured." Hopefully, my trip to the Med wasn't so trippy they put me on meds...

:) @ your punny ways of the flesh...

ScentScelf said...


:) Thanks. (Nice to see you here again, btw.)

ScentScelf said...


How about that? I love the different directions people went. Everything from travelogue to short fiction to recipes.

There really is such depth there in your neck of the woods...I am glad my reference to conflict was received as you did. It can't be denied as part of the fabric...but I didn't want it to be the dominant thread, certainly.

Now I need to go back and learn more about those aperitifs you were good enough to tell me about. :)

ScentScelf said...


So glad to bring a smile. This has been fun.

(Notice how I didn't bring up how I'd love it if you got around to conjuring with that poplar bud absolute? I mean, I didn't press, or even say the name.)


Suzanne said...

Wow, you cover a lot of dizzying territory, ScentScelf. No accidental tourist, you; I love that you put your heart and soul into making sense of the (proverbial) scents of the Mediterranean.

Illuminated Perfume said...

What fun meanderings. I especially enjoyed the "-ean" correlation of Caribbean and Mediterranean, I'd never thought of that before!

Anonymous said...


I don't think the MH oils are sold in the US. The sage is really special and it's too bad that it isn't available here.

Yesterday I wore Gianni Campagna Gelsomino, a salty jasmine inspired by, yes, the Mediterranean. Sadly, it's discontinued.


Interesting, I have trouble thinking of two of the quintessential Mediterranean fragrances as scents that evoke the region: chypre (Cyprus) and labdanum. Well, sometimes labdanum if the fragrance is warm and dry.

I think there's something atavistic about my attraction to scents that I've deemed Mediterranean -- the call of generations past. Or maybe it's my desire to be transported literally and figuratively that's at work.

Anonymous said...

Whoops. How did my name get in the middle of that post?


ScentScelf said...


Thanks. (I hope that the dizzying was ultimately good, like a happy carnival experience... :) )

Incidentally, I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the fragrances you landed upon. Telling you here, since I can't tell you there. Your quilt might have been pieced together, but it was a pleasure to see.

ScentScelf said...


Glad that you had fun. As for those odd ways to associate things...I've got plenty, as my friends and family will attest. ;)

ScentScelf said...


Well, that just figures. Another motivation for finding the money for my private jet. And pilot.

Hunh. You may have noticed that I, too, did not land on a chypre.. "hesperidic," yes, but no chypre. My problem may have been images of sun tanned skin and Ban de Soleil getting in the way of a full on something. Or maybe it was those Keds...

Whatever your motivation(s), I think you should get yourself there sometime. Soon. With a traveling companion. Who you maybe anoint with a certain sage oil as you try to sort atavism from enlightened self interest. (What's that you say? You've already identified the enlightened self interest, and you know who has it?? ;) )

Rose said...

I'm a bit late to the party so just going to echo what everyone has said and say I loved this!

ScentScelf said...

The door is always open, Rose; you are welcome any time...glad you enjoyed your visit. :)

Vanessa said...

Oops - I think I may have meant "tortuous". Or if there was any Freudian slip involved, it will have subliminally prompted by talk of The Crusades. : - )

Vanessa said...

There should be a "been" in there. (

Perfumeshrine said...

Oh dear, that was the most insightful and most imaginative take ever. Thank you!!! You raise many valiant and sapient points, you know...


ScentScelf said...


Ha, blame it on the Crusades. Very Mediterranean. And a wee bit subterranean, mentally, metaphorically speaking.

There. I've tortured you with something tortuous AND tortured. No worries, btw; you'll see that I liberally interpreted another comment to mean that I was dizzy. ;)

ScentScelf said...


Hooray! I am glad you enjoyed it, and found it nuggets there.

Hugs returned. :)

Abigail said...

You are a fantastic writer.

This was an incredibly enjoyable read, and a hoot! I feel educated, entertained and oddly in sync with your rambling mind :0)


ScentScelf said...

Thanks much, Abigail. I'm glad you came along. :)