Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Nosy Interview: Anne Stameshkin

Anne is pictured in the Cat's Paw Nebula, © ESO, DSS2

Anne and I met while studying fiction at the University of Michigan (which is now shaping up to be as fertile ground for nosy-interviewing as it was for friend-making). She is the founding editor of Fiction Writers Review, one the best spots on the internet.

What do you smell like? 
I smell like it’s my job. Note the overdeveloped feature I wear: a summa cum schnoz. Despite an adolescence spent in loathing (and some rather awkward kissing), I can imagine neither my reflection nor the world without it.

Oh. What do I smell like? Like a pillowcase in the morning. Yogurt, too much coffee, and the orangeblossom ginger body scrub I use. In summer I smell like there's seawater somewhere nearby, not exactly here, and like deodorant: a salty peachy powdery person. I attract gulls. My hands smell like the keyboard of my laptop: more coffee, crumbs, plastic heat. If I’ve been cooking, add garlic and a pinch of burning flesh. I own and love Fresh’s Fig Apricot Eau de Parfum, which promises “Turkish apricot, peach skin, lychee, fig leaf, petitgrain, dandelion, green tea, musc, marine notes”— and I go through phases of jubliant spritzing, then of wary dabbing, then of perfume silence, certain I smell of beer. (Like Charlotte, I detest the overly cologned and live in fear of joining them.) To mosquitoes, I smell like sweet-sweet blood; I get fifty bites while my picnic companion gets zero.

What do you like to smell?
I like to smell Oliver’s—my cat’s—breath (warm wheat, scallops) and let him smell mine. White wines. Pillow Talk mead from Drake Brothers: spicy honey. Warm bread doused in olive oil and vinegar, not yet tasted. Horseradish! The smell of Aaron’s omelets sizzling in the pan, and of his head after he’s shaved it. My aunt’s kitchen. Fresh cilantro. Sage, burning. Dried roses. Farmland…I grew up in Lancaster, PA, so that rich, sour smell of manure makes me feel homesick and safe. Campfires. Horses. The air after heavy rain in the summer. Sun on wooden decks. Wet grass, even though it makes me sneeze. An old theatre, when every seat is filled and it’s dark and the overture starts. Rosining a cello bow. The laundry scent that hits you in warm little blasts on any side street in New York. And I know it’s gross, but I relish the odor of a chlorined pool, wet hair that’s been in one. And gummy frogs. What haunts me are those familiar-yet-unnameable smells that waft up and, rather than triggering a memory, fill us with unexpected yearning: something lost. How I wish we could google a smell!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

stars! they smell just like us.

All week I've been wearing By Kilian's Beyond Love and I smell amazing. I'm like this buttery, floral angel of aroma just floating around town, upstaging even the lilac bushes and lilies of the valley. I suspect the only reason more people aren't stopping me on the street to ask why I smell so good is that they're weirded out by how focused I am on smelling my own arm.

I went to the Class Day ceremonies at Harvard today because I wanted to hear Amy Poehler speak (like every smart young lady in America, I am morally bound to support any event at which she is featured). The crowd was full of girls in bright, floral dresses, hair and skin and smiles gleaming. Poehler herself wore this gorgeous shade of saturated teal and a metallic blazer, bright as the blonde froth of her hair. There were huge Veritas flags strung up everywhere, and the trees in Harvard Yard were shedding the tiniest golden leaves, like tasteful, perfectly-timed confetti. A sucker for ceremony (even ones I am not a part of), I walked home feeling restless and nostalgic, optimistic but a little bereft.

The blue was much better than this.  © Reuters, via

Poehler told the students that if they could manage to add kindness and the ability to fix a tire to their existing smarts and bravery, they would just about be the perfect people (not just sweetness & light, she did flip off the kid who referred to her as the "blonde Tina Fey" at the start of his very funny speech). She was more earnest than any of the student speakers. She told them to put down their iPhones and look at people's faces. Her own facenot just that custard-colored hairwas radiant, but I believed her when she said she'd stayed up late writing her speech. I get the feeling that she is the sort of person who, even when exhausted, emits a kind of sunshine. She just seems so undeniably good. Though there is nothing goofy about Beyond Love (apart from its stupid-high price), it is also undeniably good.

My mom has said that if writing doesn't work out for me, I should try to become a scent adviser to the stars. (Is this a real job? Has anyone seen a "Scent Adviser to the Stars" offer intimate-seeming insight in US Weekly followed immediately by a disclaimer that they have never met, let alone sniffed, the celebrity in question?) If writing and manure-ranking both fail to keep me in perfumes, I'll start with Amy Poehler: Get your hands on some Beyond Love! No doubt you'll look adorable even with your nose buried deep in your own elbow crook.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Nosy Interview: Rebecca Hoogs

 Rebecca pictured in The Seagull Nebula, © Michael Sidonio

Rebecca was my boss at Seattle Arts & Lectures, and though I am no longer paid to brainstorm with her, I still consider the activity one of the most valuable ways to spend an afternoon. You can buy Rebecca's chapbook, Grenade, at Open Books, and read some of her poetry here.

What do you smell like?  
Well, you can't smell yourself, or if you can, that's usually a bad sign, so I can only imagine the things I must smell like, which are the things I've come into contact with in the past 24 hours or week or life. Right now I probably smell like box wine and wet wool. I probably smell a bit like my cats and though I'm fond of how they smell, I know this is a bad thing. Luckily I'm not a spinster. I have a husband who smells like cats, too, so that must make it more ok. I probably smell like Tom's of Maine honeysuckle deodorant which I've used for so long I can't smell it any more but I can still smell the word "honeysuckle" which I love. I probably smell l like old house given that the one I live is was built in 1924; and spilt coffee, since I'm always spilling it on myself on the way to work as I attempt to drink it from a defective to-go mug; and cheese and crackers. I love cheese and crackers. Sometimes I might put on Tocca's Aqua Profumata, Amalfi, but then I smell too perfumey and will feel a little pukey if we drive anywhere. 

What do you like to smell?
I love to smell lilacs in the spring, and rosemary, especially when I'm walking in my neighborhood, and raspberries in the sun in the summer in a field. I love to walk into a house where someone has been cooking, and smell that. I love the smell of the heat traveling through the vents the first time you turn it on in the fall. I love the hot woody smell of a sauna. I love the smell of the Korean Spa in Lynnwood, WA. I love the smell of coffee in the morning, and especially coffee in Italy. I love the smell of Rome, the smell of heat and even the smell of garbage. I remember returning from Italy and being fond of the smell of Pioneer Square in the morning in the summer because it reminded me of Italy, and then realizing that was because the streets smelled like urine. I still liked it. I love other bad smells, like manure, because it reminds me of home and hay and the farm. I love the smell of hamburgers at a ski slope. I love the whooshy smell of a new can of tennis balls. I love the smell of new clothes. I love the smell of a vintage clothes shop, or any thrift store, which is the smell of the possibility of treasure. Which is also the smell of sadness. I like passing someone in a crowd that smells like an old boyfriend and being whisked back in time for a moment. Now you are making out on a horsehair couch. I like the smell of a fair: elephant ear, roasted corn, Gravitron grease, prize chicken shit. When I was a kid I loved the way my Cabbage Patch kids smelled, especially the preemies; I loved sweet plastic. There are so many smells I love: salt air, lake water, campfire, cedar wood. My husband. Home.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

nosy about

Above is a list of how some Google-users recently wound up visiting Nosy Girl.  Welcome, fellow fans of Josh Charles' nose! It is I, your captain, Manure Girl, unsure how to vor-mag water, but very curious myself about that last string of search terms. Was the searcher concerned about her brother picking his friend's nose, or was she hoping to find video footage of such an activity?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nosy Interview: Roisin Meaney

Roisin in the Hidden Treasures of M78, © ESO & Igor Chekalin

Roisin and I met at La Muse Writers' and Artists' Retreat, where certain magical 12th-century smells still linger in the stone walls. A bestselling author in Ireland, Roisin recently celebrated the U.S. publication of her novel Semi-Sweet. To learn more about Roisin and her work, please visit her website, or connect with her on Facebook.

What do you smell like?
I think it depends on the time of day. First thing in the morning I probably smell lavender-ish, because I douse my sheets and pillows in a lavender spray every evening to help me sleep. (It's not all that effective, but I love the smell.) After my shower I smell like a grapefruit; I'm partial to the scent of citrus in the morning, so I tend to hunt down lemony/mandariny/grapefruity shower gels, and right now it's grapefruit.

After a walk I imagine I smell like the street - carbon monoxide with a dash of fast food - or the rain if I've been caught in it (damply woolly, or wetly cottony). After a session of baking (which happens quite often) I hope I smell of vanilla, or coconut, or almonds, or something equally tasty. In September, when I bake my Christmas cakes (about a dozen, for various households) I smell permanently of dark rum, mixed spice and oranges. After my weekly bums, tums and thighs class I smell rubbery, because I use my yoga mat for the floor work.

When I'm going out I smell of whatever perfume is on my dressing table. At the moment it's Chanel No 5. I use the body oil and the perfume, because I feel just one layer of scent doesn't last on my skin. I rarely buy the same fragrance twice in a row, because by the time I get to the end of the bottle I'm usually sick of it, but some of the scents I revisit every so often would be Jo Malone's Grapefruit, L'Occitaine's Jasmine and Vivienne Westwood's Boudoir.

Going to bed I smell of toothpaste and night cream, which has a talcum-y, floral scent. And overlaying every other smell is probably essence of cat, because I love to cuddle my two!

What do you like to smell?
Seaweed, jasmine, peat briquettes, frying onions, melting cheese, vinegary French fries, sweet pea, my six-month old nephew's belly, milk chocolate, country air after the rain, old books, new books, fat felt tip pens, barbecuing meat, just-picked strawberries, and freshly-brewed coffee (but oddly, I rarely drink coffee.) I also love the smell of the sea and just-mown lawns and flower shops. Oh, and wood smoke. And forests. And cotton that's been hung out to dry.

Friday, May 13, 2011

spring ring

The lilies of the valley are making their intentions known. Some magnificent human planted half of the whole front yard of our building with lilies of the valley, and while the white skirts haven't opened yet, the smell is already incredible. Did you know that it's nearly impossible to extract essential oil from lilies of the valley? All the perfumery devoted to the muguet, as it's also known, is the work of chemists trying to capture that perfect little bell of a note. 

All the brick in Boston makes me think it's a city made for the fall (the 46,000 universities here support my view), but it does pretty well for itself in spring, too. 

real red! no filters or funny business.
glitter confetti gutter

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nosy Interview: Maria Parrott-Ryan

  Maria and her fish friend somehow manage to breathe in the Monsters of IC 1396, © Geert Barensten & Jorick Vink 

Maria and I met during a study abroad semester in London, and have gone on to smell one another in more time zones than most married couples. Things occur to her from time to time at The Mepper.
What do you smell like?
It depends on the season. In the cold months my skin gets really dry, so I probably smell like whatever lotion I'm slathering on at all hours of the day. I don't like to buy the really heavily-scented ones, so my smell is (god I hope) pleasant, but subdued. Really, I think the primary ingredient of most lotions I use is water, so maybe I smell like water, which I maintain (and yes, I have had arguments about this) doesn't actually have a smell at all, but takes on the smell of many other things, like salt or chlorine or rusty pipes or musty wells or duck butt. 

When it's hot I still wear lotion, but the heat usually manages to render it powerless against my own natural body smells. The result is what I imagine one would smell like after receiving a gentle, full-body pat-down by a large man working one of the cheese curd stalls at the Madison Farmer's Market on a hot, humid day—a cheesy-palm-sweat smell, if you will.

What do you like to smell?
I love to cook risotto mostly for the moment after you dump the cup of white wine over the oil, onions, garlic, and rice that are simmering away. The great thing about risotto is that you have to stir pretty frequently, so you have a good excuse to stand over the pot and just inhale the warm, boozy smell for a while.

I love any rare smell that can take me back to a specific place. I like to smell that whiff of manure I get when driving past the farms on the way to my parent's place in Iowa. The smell of film developing fluid takes me to the back room of the newspaper office in my tiny Iowa hometown. My grandpa was the editor-in-chief, and my dad worked there, too. Sometimes I would visit them both at work, and I'd hang out drinking bottles of Cokes in the break room, which was right next to the dark room. That smell permeated the place so much that the Coke tasted like it was laced with developer. I felt pretty good at those moments, being allowed to hang out with the adults while they did their adult things. That's a smell I'll probably only smell a couple more times in my life, if at all, now that dark rooms are on the way out. Maybe I should see if Kodak is trying to unload any old bottles of film--I'd hoard them in my basement and occasionally pop open a bottle for a quick sniff, just to make sure I don't forget about the back room of the newspaper office.

By far my favorite smell is autumn, which luckily I get to smell every year in the Midwest. Those rotting leaves do something to me. That smell always makes me think something is about to happen. If I were to ever find a secret door to a magical realm, I would almost certainly find it in autumn. If by some cosmic mistake I happened upon one in summer or winter, you know what? I don't know if I'd walk through.

Monday, May 9, 2011

magical manure

I'd always assumed that the difference between beautiful (really!) and noxious manure smells was entirely a matter of what the cows ate. But my dad sent me an article this weekend that suggested it's a bit more complicated than that (as matters of poop so often are). If you're not inclined to read a four-page academic report on odor management as it relates to animal waste, let me at least share some highlights:
No single compound has been identified as a good predictor of odor sensation across situations in the field. Because of this, human panelists conduct odor measurements and quantify odor intensity and unpleasantness.
Manure sniffer-and-ranker! My future author-bio could put all those bricklaying, fish-gutting, sex-working writers to shame.

And this:
Based on psychological tests, seven primary classes of olfactory stimulants have been found to preferentially excite separate olfactory cells. These classes are: 1) ethereal, 2) camphoraceous, 3) musky, 4) floral, 5) minty, 6) pungent, and 7) putrid. 

Ethereal in this case refers to Ethylene Dichloride (which the EPA says has a "pleasant chloroform-like odor"), but it's more magical to think of it as that heavenly part of the cow poop. Dirt to dirt and all of that.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

jay'z nose

"But now I'm so fresh you could smell me through a ziplock." Jay-Z's verse in Pharrell's "Drop it Like It's Hot"

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

sweat taxonomy

Peter's mention of airplane-specific sweat, along with Katie's description of the "clean sweat" smell of a dancer, made me think about the different types of sweat we become familiar with on our own bodies, and on the bodies of our loved ones.

"Ripe" is such a great word for describing sweatiness somewhat affectionately. Ripe goes both ways--repellent and sexy. Ripe is past fresh but not rotten. Pluckable.

I'm married to a graduate student who is in the throes of final papers, and I swear there is a specific "study sweat" that is different from any of the other sweats of his I know. There is something in the library books, then, that seeps into his fingertips as he's reading, noodles with his glands, and teaches everybody around him a thing or two.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nosy Interview: Peter Mountford

 Peter and Anna nuzzle in front of Comet Hale-Bopp over Val Parola Pass, © A. Dimai

Peter and I met through Seattle Arts & Lectures' Writers in the Schools program. His debut novel, A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism, was released in April, and if you're lucky you can still catch him on tour. For more on Mountford, please visit his website.

What do you smell like? 
There was a girl I dated for a while once, a long time ago, who used very pungent perfume, very trashy perfume. It was great. My clothes would all smell like I'd been at a brothel. It was a hoot for a while but unsupportable in the long run.

In high school, I worked as an ice cream scooper at Ben & Jerry's in DC and stank of sweet cream. That was six months of my life there. Ten years I didn't eat ice cream after that. 
Nowadays, when I take a long flight, I stink. Why is that? Like, at the end of a day at home, I don't stink, but if I spend twelve hours on an airplane, I need to put on some deodorant. What's up with that?
Otherwise, like, in general, I don't smell me, so I don't really know how I smell. I use the cheapest and plainest deodorant on the planet, just regular flavored speed stick. And, don't tell anyone, but I also spritz myself daily with a blast of fancy cologne. My wife, she doesn't ever complain.

What do you like to smell?
I have this baby who I used to like to smell. Her name is Anna and for a long time she smelled just great, like fresh milk and baby. No washing needed. Breath was pristine, too. Even her poo didn't smell that bad, just kind of like butter. It's hard to dislike someone who smells that good.
This was all, I've learned, part of nature's chicanery: it's just a ploy to trick parents into not ditching their babies, because the babies smell so damn good and have these big sweet eyes and then you think twice about chucking them into the river when they howl at night. 

That smell was incredible, though!  She got filthy and still smelled the same. That was great. Then she got a bit older and we started feeding her tiny cheeseburgers and buttered succotash and stuff and suddenly the poo became really horrible and her general smell was not far behind. We wash her all the time now, but at best she smells like a person who just got out of the shower. It's okay. Her breath is still good. And I still like her, but it's not the same.

Monday, May 2, 2011

recollected weekend smells

It was a super-fragrant weekend! Some highlights:

Elisa let me come over and sniff her impressive perfume collection. I was introduced to the number-one fragrance for off-duty cowboys, eau d'Haribo, and a whole bunch of beautiful perfumes to add to my already obscenely long wishlist.

(last spring in Seattle)

Violets were everywhere! I had to access deep reserves of self-control to not yank them up by the fistfuls and macerate them in my mouth. Here's Diane Ackerman on smelling violets:
Violets smell like burnt sugar cubes that have been dipped in lemon and velvet, I might offer, doing what we always do: defining one smell by another smell or another sense...The thing about violets, which many people find cloying to the point of nausea, is that no response to them lasts long; as Shakespeare put it, they're: Forward, not permanent, sweet not lasting, /The perfume and suppliance of a minute
Violets contain ionone, which short-circuits our sense of smell. The flower continues to exude its fragrance, but we lose the ability to smell it. Wait a minute or two, and its smell will blare again. Then it will fade again, and so on.
The smell of popcorn is an all-time favorite, and I also have a great deal of fondness for the smell of a good hardware store. So imagine the devotion I feel for my local Tags/Ace hardware shop, where they occasionally roll out a popcorn machine and give you a little Ace-logo-emblazoned bag of popcorn just for wandering in off the street. 

(last summer at the hardware store)

I was at the hardware store to buy a 9" springform cake pan (this hardware store keeps getting better and better, no?) so I could try this almond cake recipe, recommended by my friend Rebecca, who makes the best pineapple upside down cake in the world. On Sunday afternoon, the whole house smelled like almond paste and spring breeze and library books.

Yesterday was May Day. Did you play ding-dong-ditch and leave a paper cone of tulips on a friend's porch? It's probably not too late.