Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Nosy Interview: Wilson Diehl

 Wilson in The Antennae Galaxies in Collision, © NASA

Wilson and I met in a conference room, in a beautiful brick building in Pioneer Square. Our work-friend to real-life-friend transition was probably inappropriately speedy, and solidified by a marathon phone date that took the place of a coffee date made impossible by a rare Seattle snowstorm. Join Wilson for some virtual-friend tea-time yourself at Not Quite What I Expected.

What do you smell like?
Wow--that's a surprisingly hard question to answer. On a really good day, I'm pretty sure I smell like melty butter. Salted butter, just to be clear. Not margarine. Definitely not margarine.

I have a super-sensitive nose (not as precise and perceptive as yours, nosy girl, but still pretty persnickety) and find most scents-in-a-bottle too olfactorily overwhelming to put on my body. That said, I recently discovered this rosewater hand cream (yes, I'm a 36-year-old granny), which I love so much I apply it to my neck and upper chest region to make sure its warm, slightly sharp rosy splendor is as near my nose as possible. Why don't I just apply it to my actual nose? Unclear. Acne anxieties?

One semester in college I bought some cheap but delicious honeysuckle lotion from Bath & Body works (the worst!), and numerous strangers stopped me to tell me how good I smelled. It was almost as exciting as the two times in my life I was told I had a nice singing voice.

What do you like to smell?
It's so much easier to say what I don't like to smell...patchouli, incense, scented candles, dogs, cumin, lilies, the inside of my summer clogs, any garbage can anywhere, rat pee, my rat-filled garage, old coffee grounds (which smell like rat pee), stinky diapers, decay, Tacoma. When I was pregnant the smell of my husband's peppermint foot lotion and (non-peppermint) hair gel made me want to die. Same with the smell of smoke, fish, soap, the compost bin, and my favorite leather purse. Worst of all was the smell of coffee, which is a real problem since I live in Seattle and there is, in fact, a Starbucks on every corner.

I like to smell bread, muffins, cookies, pie (notice a trend?), nutmeg, rosemary, just-cut wood, roses, vanilla (again with the baking!), and bacon. When I'm not pregnant I love the scent of smoke, leather, and coffee, too.

I like to sniff my baby's head, even when she's three or four (or six) days post-bath and her head smells like wet dog. When she was tiny and exclusively eating breastmilk, her poo smelled like rhubarb, and I liked to smell that, too.

When she was just-born she smelled like brown sugar (even my husband with his less-refined sniffer agreed), and it was the best smell in the world. I've been trying to find a close approximation in lotion form, so far to no avail. For some reason every cream that's advertised as smelling like sugar smells like sweetened lilies. Why, nosy girl, why?

Monday, September 26, 2011

perfume dreams

The advertisers have reached me in my dreams! How else to explain that I dreamed of Prada Candy last night, dreamed of loving the smell of it on my arm, dreamed of that same frustrating back-and-forth of-course-I don't-need-it that happens in real life when it comes to any perfume purchase. But I've never even smelled Prada Candy! And though I love both candy, and the girl in the ad's hair, I think it's the perfume blog reviews of this benzoin bomb that have me dreaming candy perfume dreams.

This isn't the first time I can remember dreaming about perfume. This summer in sleep I was outrunning a storm, or the law, or some other encroaching menace, but I still took the time to spray my arm with huge amounts of Keiko Mecheri's Tuberose, and then, in my dream, in the night, in reality, I smelled that scent as clearly-- more clearly maybe--as I had when I sprayed it during waking hours, which I did as often as I could get away with at Colonial Drug's stuffy (depending on the employee) fragrance counter this summer.

Anyway, I'll try to get to a real life fragrance counter sometime this week, and I'll let you know if Prada Candy is as sweet in real life as in my dreams.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Nosy Interview: Jenny Di Meo

Jenny in Young Stars in the Rho Ophiuchi Cloud, © NASA

Jenny and I met in the aisles of a grocery store before starting kindergarten together. As I recall, she was hiding behind her mom's legs, and I was sort of foisting myself and my friendship upon her. Her home is second only to my own on the list of interiors I remember from childhood, and while the grocery store is long gone, we are still friends, thank goodness, a quarter of a century later. 

What do you smell like? 
I know I must smell like the things I consume most, especially because I’m prone to spilling at least one of them on me daily--coffee, Greek yogurt, red wine, and ice cream. Thanks to my absolute favorite perfume, Ginger Origins (also one of my favorite things to smell), I hope I also smell strongly of spicy gingery goodness.  I’m pretty sure I also smell of the scent of runny noses and waxy crayons after a day with my first graders.  

What do you like to smell? 
I like to smell things that remind me of home—lilacs blooming on the bush, old library books, dog breath, the whoosh of air from a can of freshly cracked tennis balls, cheap sunscreen, tomato vines from the garden, rubber bike tires, towels line-dried in the yard, a deck of well-used cards, dusty fumes from heating vents turned on for the first time each season, the spice of a pine tree, warm dryer sheets in the cool air outside, and lemon pledge sprayed straight from the can. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

'some scent of yourself that you can hold up high'

 [image is a detail from the tour poster, post title is a lyric from "Three Peaches"]

Just typing "I saw Jeff Mangum perform on Friday" makes me tremble a little, filled again with disbelief, but this time at something that actually happened, rather than something I couldn't believe would. Waiting in line to pick up our tickets, I warned my companions that I might start sobbing during the concert. What is it about devotion that can make us sound so disturbed?

When we took our seats in the pews at Sanders Theatre, my friend Dorothy remarked immediately on how amazing it smelled. I agreed; it felt like being inside a roll-top desk: old wood, old books, varnish, worn lacquer, and leather blotter. Plus some dusty human smell that comes from sitting still for long stretches of time.

I was wearing East MidEast that day, but added Avignon because I couldn't imagine not wearing it to this show. The way Neutral Milk Hotel and Avignon make me feel are not similar, but they are related. More and more, this has become what interests me about perfume. Of course I like to smell good, but even more I like what I smell to make me feel a certain way, or think about things a bit differently, and I also appreciate being able to put on a certain fragrance and remember more fully a time or a moment in my life. Avignon, a fragrance that it's easy to feel religious about, now has this added weight for me, having risen from my wrists in the church-like atmosphere of Sanders Theatre during what, in some ways, is the closest I get to any kind of church at all.

Some people find Avignon distant, too dark and cement-like in its heavy Catholic incense, too cerebral, too cold. And some people surely find Neutral Milk Hotel somewhat inaccessible, too strange, too distorted or obscure. But they are two of the most beautiful things I know, and they came together for me, warm as fingertips, in a theater that smelled like a well-loved desk, sitting among one thousand weepy, joyful, reverent people who knew nearly every word.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Nosy Interview: Beth Mattson

 Beth in Hickson 44 in Leo, © Stephen Leshin [BONUS: Nosy Beth gif!]

Beth and I met in Madison, Wisconsin, on the fourth floor of the Memorial Union, in the Campus Women's Center, where we both worked, and where we shared many a meal purchased from food trucks. In Portland, Beth is lucky to still have plentiful food truck access. Wherever you are, you are lucky to have a bit more Beth access in the form of her website and Little Guy Alive, her zombie preparedness guide. 
What do you smell like?
*Vaseline lotion in bulk from Costco (the same variety that my mom used to buy in a higher price-per-unit volume from a normal grocery), Kirkland Signature laundry detergent (lightly lavender, biodegradable), some bougie Angel Baby Earth Mama coco butter nipple cream, one of several flavors of name brand Chapstick and Oil of Olay sensitive face lotion and sunscreen. I aspire to wear colognes, but the ones I love are out of my price range.

*The diner where I had brunch in this hoodie. The sunscreen I sprayed yesterday before wearing this hoodie. I used to smell like the camp fire that I sat around in this hoodie. 

*The lip ring-turned-stud just below the corner of my mouth smells a little bit like bellybutton no matter how often or with which soaps I wash it diligently. My mouth may be infected with some kind of plague germ that oozes from my interior through the passage of the stud post and into the air around me. I do not enjoy this particular facet of my scent.

*Here's a quick tip: to get a little, tiny insight into what you yourself smell like, not only can you analyze your commonly used products, but you can just press your nose down onto your upper lip. Your upper lip is likely to be tainted by food, make-up and lotion, but in a different way from whiffing your own pits, shoes, excretions or forearm. Combine all these factors together for an impressionist painting of your smell landscape. And pay attention when you first walk into your bedroom or entire house after a long-enough absence -- you sweat all over those sheets and seep all over those halls.

What do you like to smell?
*Water that dripped off of metal: most often found in cities near where dumpsters get rained on -- which makes it a dangerous smell because ... dumpsters. It is heavily into iron, like red meat and spinach. It makes for very, very richly scented puddles. It is really similar to hands right from the monkey bars or a nice set of keys.

*Wounds: I like the smell of a tiny bit of blood -- not enough to be life threatening -- which maybe means I should seriously seriously discuss my iron deficiency with my doctor. Skin always smells nice and you can make sure that a wound is clean by catching whiffs of iodine, triple-antibiotic, hand soap and fresh gauze or adhesive bandages. Also, if somebody trusts you enough to let you sniff their wounds, you get a cozy feeling of being truly loved. I'm not going to lie ... a small amount of pus as a base note isn't half bad.

*Old men in elevators: a grandpa wearing a sweater or button-down shirt in an elevator is usually headed some place vaguely formal, so he has recently showered, shaved and put on clothing that may have lingering traces of his awesome smell from last time he wore it. He is in a confined space that makes sniffing him much easier than when he walks past in an open space with his wife, who usually smells stronger than he does. I wonder if I like a combination of some common old man products -- perhaps Stetson, Gillette and ... what do grandpas use for shampoo? I would investigate the specifics, but no matter how friendly I am, I'm fairly certain that sniffing their faces, necks and wrists is a faux pas and that I would not be able to stop myself at a basic question of "Do you mind if I ask what your cologne is? I love that smell," and I would stumble into "And your shaving cream, sir? Do you use your wife's shampoo? I don't want to presume that you don't help with laundry, but do you know what kind of detergent she uses? What kind of closet, dresser or chest do you store your vaguely formal clothing in?" So I hope to personally replicate their smell through sheer luck.

*Everyday things that I like to sniff: blooming jasmine, lilacs and roses. Food being baked or cooked, for both the pure enjoyment and, more importantly, the technical aspects of whether or not it is finished and which other ingredients it may benefit from. Books, old and new, as I aspire to collect knowledge of binding glue, paper stock and ink type in addition to storage factors such as sun, damp or dust. My baby when he is not covered in his own bodily functions. My partner's armpits and neck, because it drives him slightly nuts and makes him worry about stinking, but of course I love his smell, except when he was made nervous by a power meeting.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

tree tomato


I had never eaten a tree tomato before visiting Rwanda, but I would happily eat one every day from now on if I could. Tree tomatoes taste tart and sweet, like hibiscus and tomato leaf and maybe pomegranate (though that could be the texture talking). In Rwanda, I also saw them referred to as a plums, 'Japanese fruits,' and prunes. A little online digging reveals they're also known as tamarillos and love fruits. Preeta says that in Malaysia, they eat them by biting off the top and sucking out the seedy insides. I consumed them mainly in juice form, but also as part of fruit salads, and in messy little piles, all by their tangy selves.

One of the best smells I experienced in Rwanda is related, though I don't believe it came solely from tree tomato trees. A powerful tomato-leaf-esque smell seemed to emanate from the hills themselves. I noticed it in particular when riding a bus with the window open or, even better, riding a moto and letting the breeze carry this scratchy green smell straight to me. In the evenings, there was sometimes a nightfire smell that mixed that same tomato leaf aroma with smoke and wood and a little bit of eucalyptus. Green and heady and rich enough to calm you no matter how fast the automobile carrying you is going.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Nosy Interview: Elizabeth Mathews

 Elizabeth in Galaxy NGC 474: Cosmic Blender, © P.-A. Duc

I was lucky to join a Seattle writing group that Elizabeth started, and though she was away at graduate school during much of the time I was in the group, I did gain the nickname Shiv to avoid the inevitable confusion associated with having two Elizabeths-who-go-by-Elizabeth in one group. 

What do you smell like?
When I smell myself, I smell like skin and oil and sweet, tangy sweat. I like to pretend that other people can't smell me, or that if they can, they smell my soap (lavender) or shampoo (peony, I would guess, not knowing what peony smells like). But really they probably smell sweat sunk deep into fabric and rewarmed, except when I wear jasmine essential oil, and then they probably smell jasmine floating deceptively over sweat. Last winter I think I smelled like mildewed sweaters for months. That was a tough time.

I just asked Nick what I smell like, and first he asked what he smells like (rich, good sweat and skin), then he hesitated and said he'd have to think about it (he knows that women are supposed to smell like flowers), but when I told him what I smell like to myself, he got really excited and said "Yeah! We both smell like sweat. But nice sweat." My sister told me about a study that said that women can smell when a man has the right kind of genetic makeup to boost their immunity and make strong babies. I don't know how scientific this is, or how it accounts for attraction to people when baby-making isn't the goal, but I like the idea that the body seeks out what it needs in another human being by smell. When Nick and I met, he was wrapping book gifts in a hot little room all day, and not wearing deodorant. I think a lot about how I knew instantly that I wanted to be with him, and it might have been simply because of his BO. I do get a lot fewer colds than I used to. I wonder what else can be communicated by smell. Body language gets a lot of credit for sending nonverbal signals, but do I sometimes like people for their scent alone? Do my favorite qualities transmit themselves chemically? Can I smell concern for animal welfare? Can I smell kindness or love of books by tormented authors?

What do you like to smell? 
I just smelled a woman at the grocery store who was wearing lots of musky vanilla perfume, and that was really nice. I like food smells in general-soaps and essential oils that smell like almond and coconut and cucumber, and smells attached to things that are actually consumable, like coffee, wine, bourbon, vanilla pipe tobacco, baked things, garlic and onions, cilantro, basil... I also like the smell of a lot of toxic things, like gasoline, which reminds me of being a little kid riding around in the backseat of my mom's huge blue Dodge Dart, or darkrooms, which smell like magic. There are scents that make my heart beat fast, like thrift stores and libraries and schools, and there are scents that make my heart expand, like my nieces' scalps when they were babies, or my cat Sam, who smells like woodsmoke. I have a pretty faulty memory, so I love walking down a street and being jarred by red cedar, which smells like my favorite elementary school teacher and the bent-wood boxes he taught us to make, or my first boyfriend's cologne, with its accompanying rush of teenage hormones and newness. I almost never smell dry pine needles since leaving Washington State, but when I do, I am full of nostalgia for my grandma's rickety little cabin that her father built in the mountains near Lake Wenatchee, for days of hiking and hunting for tree frogs and swimming and luxuriating in boredom while waiting for an adult to drive us to Leavenworth, the Disneyland of Eastern Washington. California bay trees are the smell of the campus at Mills College, of sleep deprivation and my brain opening up. Now that I've moved away from Oakland, I'm sure every time I smell night-blooming jasmine or lemon blossoms or marijuana in open air, I'll be homesick.

Even though I can remember liking certain scents as a kid (light blue Mr. Sketches, grape Bubble Yum, the perfume inserts in magazines) and as a teen ("Smells Like Opium" room spray, Clove cigarettes), I am only just now learning to be a curator of my own scent experience. I grew up in an unscented world. My dad had asthma, so we never burned candles or incense or made a fire in the fireplace, and he had sensitive skin, so we used unscented soap, unscented shampoo, unscented laundry detergent. And my mom is a supersmeller who is prone to headaches, so she banned any pungent scents (we had to go outside to chew gum). I learned to seek out a ghostly underscent, to love Dove unscented soap's thick sweetness and hate Ivory's astringency. When my beloved oldest sister started college and moved across the lake to Seattle, she began wearing Sung by Alfred Sung, and every time she opened the front door to pick up some of her things, the whoosh of citrus and flowers and mystery reached me all the way at the back of the house, and the overload to my scent-deprived brain was intoxicating. When I moved out years later, my older sisters gave me scent-gifts like a patchouli plant and apricot incense, but before long I lapsed into my native scentless state. I'm making progress, though. My most recent good scent choice was to move to Long Beach, where the sweet leafy air that gusts in my bedroom window has a trace of the ocean.