Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Nosy Interview: Natalie Bakopoulos

 Natalie glows in The Great Carina Nebula, © Robert Gendler, Ryan Hannahoe, & ESO

The main reason to go to graduate school for writing is in the hopes of meeting a lifelong reader and friend like Natalie. Her first novel, The Green Shore comes out in 2012. While you're waiting, you can read Natalie's work in Granta or in The PEN/O.Henry Prize Stories 2010.   

What do you smell like?
I followed Charlotte’s lead and asked my own husband what I smelled like. He didn’t say I smelled like a person, though he’s been known to say like a pup. Warm, he said. You smell warm. I don’t think that’s specific enough, but there it is. I think it’s the sandalwoodsy smell of my hair products and the orange blossom of my perfume. When I smell his head it smells like powdered donuts. My hair is long and thick and it absorbs smells, from cigarette smoke (which I love when it’s smoking but hate when it lingers), to whatever it is I’m cooking for dinner, though I must say I don’t like arriving somewhere smelling like my kitchen. If I spend too much time in the coffee shop I smell like coffee. I love to wear perfume, though I haven’t always, but I’ll save that for What I Like to Smell. I love knowing what my friends like to smell, too (Ooh! You smell so good! What are you wearing?), and Nosy Girl has provided the perfect place to find this information.

What do you like to smell?
Dill and mint, and oregano, particularly when it’s blooming. Beer, all beer, from the skunkiness of Heineken to the wet-dog-smell of some IPAs, though I prefer the former. Ouzo. Anis. Fennel. Sun-baked earth, with the salty sea and the smell of grilled meats in a taverna. Cinnamon. Red wine. The smell of white wine provokes this unpleasant back-of-the-throat thing, like mall perfume (see below). 

I love chicken noodle soup but don’t love the smell of chicken noodle soup cooking, and this aversion was in place long before Michael Cera’s character in Juno noted, pejoratively, that another character’s house “smelled like soup.” I love to cook when not exhausted and otherwise like the way cooking, and obviously baking, make the house smell. Cloves and allspice and cinnamon when I’m cooking stifado, a Greek beef stew. Chicken with honey and figs (thank you, Zuni Cafe), baking tiropita, and is there a better smell than Thanksgiving, what with the mulled wine and the turkey and sweet potatoes? Roasting chestnuts? Pumpkin pie? My friend Beth took me to City Bakery in New York and I remember falling in love with the smell of that place, and the hot chocolate. Earl grey tea, even though I prefer to drink English breakfast. There are certain teas whose smell is so intense that they nauseate me. I of course love the really strong smell of roasting coffee but understand why it drives pregnant women to wretch.

I like the way building exhausts systems smell in Athens, something about the air conditioning. Walk past a department store or apartment building door opening into the heat of July and you’ll know what I mean. Like fresh tar, almost, another smell I like. The smell of street-food souvlaki and gasoline, the way they mix in Monastiraki, with the smells of the bakeries and leather goods. I, too, like chlorinated pools (several of the Nosy Girl features have noted this, I think?) and the smell they leave on skin. New leather bags and new Frye boots. Lilac bushes, crunchy autumn leaves,sun-drenched pine. Lemons and limes and leather. Wool.

The smell of night-blooming jasmine could drive me to madness—I am not in control or responsible for my actions when flooded with such intense olfactory sensation.

Once while riding with a friend on a train from Piraeus to Athens, in the summer, he had with him an assortment of delicious stinky cheeses from the island of Naxos. It must have been 100 degrees and I think the entire train was offended. I don’t think I ate cheese for a while after that. I lived for three months in France and I thought that would help me appreciate the more pungent, runnier cheeses, which I have come to really like in an open-aired space. The smell of milk makes me gag; in general I suppose I could do without the smell of dairy.

Ann Arbor is the skunk capital of the world.

A box of crayons! New pencils! Library books! Antique wooden desks! Of course these things. There’s a particular smell of this brand of crayons—Prang, not as good as Crayola but particularly distinct—I remember from my childhood, which I had forgotten all about until I smelled Korres’s fig body wash, which I like but it is not my favorite fig scent. I guess I prefer it in a box of colors. The rest of Korres’s smells are much more lovely.

The smell of fall, the way the cold smells on a sweatshirt when you’re back inside, snow, or brisk air. Fireplaces, wood-burning stoves. You don’t come in with the same smell in the summer. Can you smell the salt of the sea on someone’s skin, or only taste it? I think I can smell it, salt and sweat and sunscreen maybe all in one. Skin. Why is it that the discussion of smells almost always leads to the sentimental?

I love perfume. I haven’t always. I once worked with a woman with horrible migraines and we had to all be scent free, which made me anxious, and I understand chemical sensitivities and the way in which many find our world to be overperfumed. It is. Most cloyingly sweet and un-complex mall perfumes that you can feel in the back of your throat for hours make me sick. But I feel sad when people need things to be scent free for their quality of life, or when Scent-Free becomes a part of one’s identity, like Greek-American, or Dancer. There are so many good smells! If I’ve ever been overscented, I’m sorry. Nosy Girl herself introduced me to Serge Lutens Fleurs d’Oranger, which is now my favorite, along with lots of other orange blossom scents, though I think this one is the best. It’s so warm and sunny. I bought the Jo Malone one once at Barney’s only because Parker Posey was also at the counter and I was intrigued by what she was buying, so I lingered. I also like Serge Lutens Un Bois Vanille. I’ve long loved Robert Piguet’s Fracas, so heady. Hermes Eau de Pamplemousse is nice, as is Diptyque’s Philoskykos and anything figgy. I love figs. I love Acqua di Parma and particularly love Britta’s description of the type of woman who wears it; in the summer I like the Blu Mediterraneo Fico di Amalfi; I love Creed’s Tubereuse Indiana, which was a very special gift. If I’m in Paris soon (yes, please) I will try Le Labo’s Vanilla 44. I love Le Labo’s Jasmine and Neroli and would like to try the Iris. Some day I will be the type of woman with a signature scent.

Other beauty products: Neutrogena’s Rainbath body wash, Nuxe’s Huile Prodigieuse dry oil, Korres Basil Citrus shower gel and the Nutmeg lotion, though I haven’t been able to find the latter recently. Lever 2000 soap. Philosophy Amazing Grace. I don’t love lavender and the way it seems to dominate so many organic beauty products.

I would like to go into the smells I like on men but worry it might become too revealing, the way writing a sex scene can be revealing: she likes it like that? But there’s something to be said about the nose and nostalgia, so I’ll say this: my male best friend in high school smelled like fabric softener, and it was fantastic, but even when I or anyone else used the same fabric softener—this was how good he smelled; we all tried to mimic it—it didn’t smell like he did. I don’t bother with fabric softener and now prefer my laundry to be less scented. But I like the smell of European laundry soap better than American, and love the way my clothes smell when I drop them off at a Greek laundry and they come back so neatly folded. I am attracted to faces, men’s and women’s, with distinct noses. My brother has a particularly cute snoot: check it out.


Britta said...

Oh Natalie. OH, NATALIE. This is beautiful. I long to smell you right now! I particularly love "the way cold smells on a sweatshirt when you're back inside." I've always loved this particular scent, but never quite been able to articulate it. I always tell Mike, mmmn, you smell so cold, and he's all, whatever woman, I don't know what you are talking about. Now I will direct him here. Thank you. holycowdoimissyou.

Beth Mattson said...

Oh wow. I need to walk past an airconditioned building in Athens!!! Added to life list.

Megan said...

Ann Arbor *is* the skunk capital of the world. I smell it so often that sometimes I think it's me!

And I hear you and Britta both on the cold sweatshirt smell! But dairy--that's all about the shed where my grandpa cleaned and kept all the milking equipment.

Anyway, this is gorgeous, Nat. And so are you. See you Thursday!

nosy girl said...

Yes! Ann Arbor is skunk city for sure. I remain convinced that my former neighbor (skunk-feeder extraordinaire) is partially responsible for the excess of skunks in town.

But Ann Arbor is also where I first learned to appreciate that skunk smell--perhaps due to sustained exposure as well as a new familiarity with the varieties and stages of skunk stinks. And now whenever I smell one (not nearly as often) I do get nostalgic for Ann Arbor, and that makes it a better smell, too.

Charlotte said...

The neighbor with the fake plastic deer? I miss walking by her house the way I miss being 22 again. Sort of but not really. Natalie this is gorgeous. Hello.

Nick Papandreou said...

What an olfactory! so nutty this site, really. Just the names of the perfumes and the smells that Natalie evokes (?) registers (?) are enough to set any writer writing. Good stuff Nat! Can't wait for your book to come out.
Nick from Athens
Oh Athens! half the time this city literally chokes you up not because of the Acropolis or the smell of chestnuts roasting or the sight of the Schliemman Home on Panepistimiou Street but from the fragments of tear gas hanging in the air the morning after.Like popping a funnel full of dry pepper right into your nostrils.

Natalie Bakopoulos said...

Britta, I am laughing at this: "whatever, woman. I don't know what you are talking about." Don't you think our entire lives could be summed up in that sort of exchange? I've been laughing about it all day.
Yes, Beth, I wish I could better explain that smell. A reason to visit Athens (as well as the roasting chesnuts that Nick mentions, though not the tear gas, though the dry pepper right up the nostrils is a great way to describe it...). And Athens does choke me up, though not only in this sense! Hello, Charlotte. You smell like a person. Meg, I don't know if I could walk into that shed, though I like the image. Thank you, nosy girl, for engaging all our snoots.

I can't seem to address people using "@": it makes me feel as though I'm pointing and shouting. When actually I am talking very quietly.

Anonymous said...

Ann Arbor is the skunk capital of the world!

Preets said...

Oh, Nat, I'll eat you up, I love you so!

Preets said...

P.S. I, too, love that Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse.

nosy girl said...

Nick, I just love the word nutty! Thanks for stopping by these nutty, nosy parts.

Nancy, have you been to Ann Arbor? Or are you just hoping to verify this claim one day?

Preets, me too (on both counts, really); I think I drained nearly a full bottle of that Nuxe oil this summer (so beachy!).

Natalie, snoot sister, thank you for commanding our attention even when you speak quietly.

Rita said...

Oh my goodness!!!! I love this, and I miss you writing little stories for me in college! Remember?! Will you move in next door to me, please? Or I will continue working on my shrinking machine so that I can put you in my pocket. I miss you Natalie!!! So good to smell you!

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