Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12.12.12 smells

At 11:11, we wish, and on 12/12/12, we list: 

1) Smell of generosity: Perfume-world-mensch Andy Tauer is in the midst of his annual advent calendar giveaway-spree. May each of you win something fragrant! 

2) Smell of paper flowers:  Courtney Mandryk is selling her beautiful conceptual calendar. 'Tis the season!

Smell of stars: My spacesuit arrived! Thanks to those of you who encouraged this purchase via Facebook.

3) Smell of innovation: The Institute for Art and Olfaction is launching soon, and has already taught me that John Milton invented the word fragrance (along with moonstruck, pandemonium, and lovelorn).

4) Smell of superheros: Special Powers and Abilities is Raymond McDaniel's awesome new book of poems for your brain & your heart.

5) Smell of heartswell: Adam rescued Billy from a place that smelled horrific, and, as my friend Hillary put it, we all cried and gave Billy money.  

6) Smell of Wisconsin gone Hollywood: Since we last saw her on Nosy Girl, Emma Straub published her dazzling debut novel, Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures

7) Smell of cocktail sparkle: Mandy Aftel introduced Aftelier Chef's Essence® Sprays just in time for you to flavor-up your holiday cooking.

8) Smell of sweet music: We're lucky that Nitsuh Abebe has shared his rad list of 50 favorite songs of 2012 (you can listen here via Spotify).

9) Smell of Dancing Girl: Lucy Biederman's wonderful chapbook, The Other World, has gone on sale since she graced us here on Nosy Girl.  

#10's smell, but not one of his library books
10) Smell of library books: My husband, Nosy-Interviewee-to-be & PhD-student extraordinaire, is nearly finished with his toughest semester of graduate school yet, and I admire his work ethic & his restless intelligence more than ever.

11) Smell of new baby: Since her interview posted, Katie Miota Stolzman started a badass blog (and became a mother)!

12) Smell of va-va-voom: Charlotte Boulay (the first-ever Nosy Interviewee) had her gorgeous poem, "Talking to the Dead," in last week's New Yorker. Wowee!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Nosy Interview: Alyssa Harad

 Alyssa in a rotated Clouds in Cygnus,  © Bob Caton, Al Howard, Eric Zbinden, and Rogelio Bernal Andreo

In a dusty corner of my drafts folder, I have a few eager paragraphs responding to Alyssa Harad's "The Perfume Diet," published in the June 2011 issue of O magazine. I never managed to make my response presentable, but in November of that year, Alyssa contacted me to say she was enjoying Nosy Girl. I was so flattered! Hers was one of the very first encouraging e-mails (from someone not obligated in any way to offer one) about this here endeavor, and she has since been a great supporter of the nosy blog. I was thrilled to learn that Alyssa was working on a much bigger project related to the essay: Coming to My Senses, her smart & beautiful memoir, is available now (and it would make a great holiday gift!). Additional Alyssa to tide you over until you get your copy: this super-insightful interview (conducted by Elisa), and Alyssa's blog (I especially loved this post). 

What do you smell like?  
I suspect most of us would be as disconcerted to find out what we smell like to others as we are when we first hear our voices on tape. That said, I probably spend a lot more time sniffing myself than most people do, because I collect and write about perfume and I love to follow along as it unfolds on my skin. On any given day I might smell like an orange grove in full bloom, a New York dowager in diamonds and furs or the inside of a Japanese temple. When I'm not wearing perfume, and perhaps even when I am, I'm guessing I have the rumpled, slightly musty, libraryish smell of someone covered in cat and dog fur who drinks tea all day at home, alone, in front of the computer, surrounded by old books. In the evenings, and on weekend afternoons, I smell of whatever I'm cooking. 

A perfumer I know named Neil Morris--a big friendly bear of a man--once thoroughly snuffled the skin between my inner wrist and the crook of my elbow, up and back and up and back again,and declared that my base scent was milky, sweet and slightly woody. He wanted me to try a perfume of his called "Scrumptious," because he thought it  would meld with my skin. Though I have no doubt he was right, I was smitten by another perfume from his line, one called "Midnight Shadows," a dark, smoky number with just a touch of burnt caramel. Make of this what you will.  

What do you like to smell?  
As long as I have an escape route, I'm up for a quick whiff of nearly anything, though I do get overwhelmed by too much scent in an enclosed space. I can't go into Abercrombie & Fitch, for example. (That may not be the only reason)

For some reason, whenever I get this question I think of scents that conjure up beloved places. I went on a trip to Seattle and the San Juan islands this summer, my first visit in many years, and it made me remember how much I love the scent of old pine forests--not just the sharp, turpentine scent of the needles, but the combined scent of living and decaying trees and damp humus underfoot. I love everything about  the smell of a ferry landing, too--the creosote and old wood smell of the dock and the diesel engine of the ferry mixing with the briny salt and seaweed of the harbor. I've written about the dry summer dust, blonde grass and sagebrush scent of the foothills that surround my hometown of Boise, Idaho, and the first time I drove down the coast of California I went crazy for the mixed scents of the ocean and the eucalyptus trees--eventually I just pulled over and piled a bunch of old branches into my rental car. But I think, even more than all those wild, outdoor smells, I love the smell of a crowded city street in New York in the fall--that crazy mixture of car exhaust, road tar, bourbon, concrete, sweat, dying leaves, damp wool, garlic, roasted nuts, hairspray, metal, coffee, cigarettes and a thousand other things appearing and disappearing in rapid succession like bits of overheard conversation. My perfume makes more sense on a New York city street than it does anywhere else.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

nosy girl gift guide vol.2

It's that time of year again! When the gift guides multiply like wet mogwai, and my debit card, melty due to overuse, starts to smell like a perm. Gross! Here are some gifts that smell so good you'll forget you were really trying not to buy so much this year: 

1.  Topping my personal wishlist is this tremendous vanilla fragrance from CB I Hate Perfume. Even before reading the story behind 7 Billion Hearts, I thought it smelled like it had a soul. 

2.  For my money, Theo is the best bean-to-bar chocolatier in the country (and if you're in Seattle, a factory tour would make for a fun & fragrant gift to share). Choose their Eastern Congo Initiative Bars for their festive packaging, amazing flavor (The Pili Pili Chili has a real kick!), & support of important work being done in a troubled region.

3. Help fill your friends' kitchens with delicious aromas courtesy of two cookbooks I loved this year: The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman and Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Aftelier’s Chef Essences Food 52 Starter Kit makes a lovely addition for a more experimental chef. (You should probably buy yourself something from this section as well, and bring a homemade treat for your host.)

4. A scented candle in a pretty package is still my go-to hostess gift, and you can find sweet little mercury glass votive holders all over these days. (Some of my favorite candles are discussed at great length here.)

5. If you've deemed Campfire Cologne a safety hazard, or your mountain man is beardless, I recommend Juniper Ride Natural Room Spray, as it's the most forest you can get indoors (all real tree, no Little Tree-rearview-window-dangling tree). If you want to help someone smell irresistibly dapper, go with the grown-up, balls-to-the-wall beauty of Sir by D.S. & Durga.

6. For the nosy writer in your life who still hasn’t finished her novel, why not pair the promise of a fireside celebratory toast from a bottle of this cheeky whiskey with Freedom, a tool to help her spend less time online (and more on her writing). You're such a good friend! 

Bonus ideas: Everything on last year's inaugural gift guide still smells great, and I recommend stuff all the time around these parts, including & especially these amazing books by past Nosy Interviewees. Happy gifting, and may everyone you love enjoy the smell of your hugs. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Nosy Interview: Gallo Fall

Gallo in Wisps of the Veil Nebula, © Joaquin Ferreiros

Gallo and I met through a dear mutual friend. Others occasionally refer to me as "Nosy Girl" in their interviews, but I think Gallo may be the only one to call me this in person as well, and I always liked how it sounded in his Senegalese accent, "Hello, Nosy Girl. How is Nosy Girl?"  

What do you smell like?  
Yay, it is Nosy time. Well, I smell like Soapwalla Deodorant Cream. I started using it since I moved in with my girlfriend. As my girlfriend has an allergic reaction to any perfumes, I want to save her from sneezing. 

I have been very aware of her fragrance-free world and am using a natural smell neutralizer that works even after a 5k jog. I smell like Soapwalla, kind of lavender-ish and peppermint since this is the only deodorant that am using.  

What do you like to smell? 
Great question! Well, Nosy Girl, I miss the smell of my family’s house in Senegal. Growing up, the scent of thiouraye (pronounced “choo-rye”) was the most prominent smell in our household. The smell was very distinct, heavenly good and magical.  

Thiouraye is made from diguidja (pronounced “dee- gui-jah) which is bits of wood and seeds soaked in a mixture of perfumes such as musk or other types of oil and spices and usually kept sealed in an old jar for a period of time. The way my mother makes it is very different from others as there isn’t any particular formula. After the thiouraye is fermented, my mother would sniff it to ensure it passed the smell test— her quality assurance, so to speak. The incense is burned on an “ande” (pronounced “ah-nde”), which is a handmade clay bowl filled with ashes. Then burning charcoal is buried under the ashes. Once sprinkled on the ande-thiouraye, the scent of thiouraye wafts through corridors and fills the house.

Occasionally, I pass by someone on the street and can recognize them as a fellow Senegalese—their clothes, hair, and belongings are all infused with thiouraye.

Monday, November 26, 2012

smellgiving & thanksmelling

I baked (& ate) this for you.

Are you still eating Thanksgiving leftovers? I have leftover thanks to give, too, that I meant to offer last week. Thank you for reading! I'm so grateful to you, and to the nosy interviewees, who have indulged my curiosity over so many weeks, and who make me think about smell in sharper, better, weirder ways with each passing day. Thank you for reading, for lurking, for sharing, for commenting, for sending me smelly links, and for supporting me as I use this space to think out loud about smell in my sustained and scattered way. I go through the days more attuned to my sense of smell than ever before--more appreciative of pecans caramelizing in bourbon and brown sugar, more alert to the way that smells poke out like loud noises or beautiful faces, and still more fascinated by what we say about how we smell--and I have all of you, in no small part, to thank for that. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Nosy Interview: Letha Myers

Letha in NGC 6357: Cathedral to Massive Stars, © NASA, ESA, & Jesús Maíz Apellániz (IAA, Spain

Letha and I met when we both lived in the Biltmore, a former hotel with The Shining-esque hallways and a primo location in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. Get a glimpse of the world through Letha's beauty-hungry eyes by peeking at her Instagram feed, visiting her Etsy shop, or perusing the archives of her blog

What do you smell like? 
I think I primarily smell of baking soda and apple cider vinegar because that’s what I wash my (hippie, sustainable, cheap ass) hair with. I probably also smell like the ‘Yes to…’ brand of products. I like and use their cucumber body butter a lot (it smells better than the straight up lotion of the same cucumber persuasion.) Also Tokyo Milk’s ‘Sencha Bleu’ solid perfume. According to their web site ‘Sencha’ smells like “Hyacinth, Iris, Citrus Zest and Crisp Greens.”

What do you like to smell? 
Fresh ginger, avocados, tomatoes from the farmers market, pickles, cheese,  bread, olives….oh, olives! Spices; dill weed, rosemary, peppercorns before they're ground, cardamom. Gin, a super hoppy beer (Pliny the Younger!), just-pressed and poured coffee. Tea before it’s brewed, how promising it is, how potent. Mexican hot chocolate. Olive oil in a hot pan before anything joins it. The dusty smell of uncooked rice. And again, cheese. (Always cheese.) Also: antique/thrift stores, memories wafting out of inanimate objects from all directions. Such a smelly clamor. Cracking open a book and inhaling the headiness of paper with ink on it-- escapism before I even get to the story. Slowly becoming a bona fide bicycler and finding lots of neat byproducts about commuting via two wheels…one being that there are lots of smells involved. And each day’s ride smells radically different. The first day of public school here in Seattle (I kid you not) smelled like fruit loops. Other times it's apricots or cashews or just grass and growing things. Often this summer I’ve smelled lavender so hard I choke. Particular spots, late at night as I roll by, smell like whiskey just poured into a glass. Today it smelled as if someone had dumped fresh wood chips over everything in creation and then stirred in some velvety moss. Heaven. Pressing my cheek against my twin niece and nephew’s 6 month-old faces and breathing in new life. How a just-made bed smells of both cleanliness and of dust (dusty smells, a running theme with my nose it seems). The way the person I love to curl up with often smells--ever so faintly-- of the smoking he’s constantly trying to reign in, but doesn’t, not really. The few times a year I catch a whiff of the odor of really hot sand in summer. The complex, deep smell of wet earth after rain. Earth smells are far and away my favorite. Dust. Pines. Decaying leaves. Clay. Earth smells tell me that--despite the chaotic rhythm of we and the planet--“this has all happened before, will all happen again.”

Monday, November 19, 2012

snowcake season

My neighborhood is not messing around, sunset-wise.

The week before last, Boston got a foot of snow. It all melted, and I was in Atlanta at the time, but the chill is still here, even as some fire-colored fall leaves keep hanging on, too. It seems I'm constantly talking about how fall is my favorite season, so it will surprise no one that I'm in no rush for winter to arrive. There are, though, a few winter-is-coming olfactory pleasures that help assuage any anticipatory angst: the smell of our ancient free-standing radiators when they clang into action after a long rest is so beautiful, and still surprises me most mornings; the smell of cold weather clinging to people's clothes, that almost-visible mix of static electricity and thin fresh air that makes those come-in, come-in hugs all the more essential; and the smell of Snowcake, my favorite Lush soap (described in last year's gift guide as the sudsy equivalent of a comforting embrace), which is back in season, and back in my regular shower rotation (used in conjunction with Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Liquid Soap, it's as Chrismassy as tinsel and twinkly lights). Stay gold forever, fall; I miss you even when you're around.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

fired up

[photo via And I Am Not Lying]

My friend Funlayo spotted incense like the Barack Obama Type (pictured above) in the Harvard Square T-stop and I knew I had to smell it (and maybe pick some up to burn today for luck). But incense-man has been out of the office every time I've popped into the station, and I suppose I'll have to wait until after President Obama is re-elected (knock on all the wood) to burn this in celebration rather than to mask the smells of full-court stress. American readers, don't forget to sniff your fellow progressive citizens at the polls today & VOTE!

Friday, November 2, 2012

nosy's smelloween

My friend Lauren in her jellyfish getup, with one of my fragrant petals creeping into the frame.

This year I was a BOOquet for Halloween (glamour-shot below). I weighed down a flimsy green dress with a dozen hot glue sticks worth of fake flowers, tied a florist's bow around a cellophane skirt, and topped it off with a flower headband so gigantic I'll need a royal wedding-invite to have occasion to wear it again. In the interest of verisimilitude, I coated myself with Rossy de Palma Eau de Protection. Though my costume didn't feature any roses, the scent matched the bright green and iridescent gloss of the dress, and seemed tough enough, somehow, to stand up to the chaos of Halloween. Maybe it's the bloody knife note that Chandler Burr describes in an article about The Art of Scent: 1889-2012, his upcoming show at the Museum of Arts and Design:  
The fragrance is called Eau de protection, Burr explains, and it is “one of the most fascinating works ever created, in any art form.” It was designed as “a portrait of a woman who is so beautiful that rose runs in her blood. And a man comes with a metal knife, and plunges it into her heart. And it is the smell of her blood, running down the blade.”
It was interesting to wear so much perfume (the dress hangs like a giant sachet on the closet door, scenting my whole bedroom even days later), especially since I'm usually a pretty restrained sprayer, perhaps in part due to my love of big ol' overpowering fragrances. But I went bananas spraying this costume, and this meant a lot more reaction to my smell than I typically get, ranging from the positive: "I just want to keep hugging you to breathe you in!" to the not-so-hot: "You smell like that one women's deodorant, you know, the famous one." Okay! 

Boo! Highly-filtered selfies are the Glamour Shots of our time. 

Another guest at the Halloween party, lanky and in all black, was dubbed Vanilla Bean due to her lack of costume and the serious waft of lovely vanilla she was projecting. She told me it was Jo Malone's Vanilla & Anise, a perfume I'd never sniffed before, but will definitely try when I next have the chance, even though I think part of its appeal might have been the ease with which she wore it, and the way its homey tonka bean comforts contrasted slightly with her sharp wit, luminous North London accent, and "nihilist's wardrobe." I'm on a serious "non-yicky vanilla" (term courtesy of Katie Puckrik) kick at the moment, though, having fallen in love recently with the smokey, soulful vanilla in the gorgeous CB I Hate Perfume's 7 Billion Hearts (so like me to fall for priciest car on the lot) and the woody beauty of Le Labo's Vanille 44. Maybe my nose knows that winter is coming and wants the warmth of rich, real vanilla, worn by humans huddled together around a fire.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

storm smells

(last night, in my neighborhood)
Nosy readers, I hope you are safe, dry, and warm. Last night my quiet Cambridge neighborhood smelled of burning leaves on every block, the burning-leaf smell carried even on wet leaves in the strong winds, so much like late-autumn backyard bonfires that it was a genuine surprise to have the smoking chimneys pointed out to me, of course no maniacs were burning their yard waste during a weather event, rather, they had their fireplaces going for maybe the first time this year. My friend Carla remarked on Facebook at how beautiful the storm smells were from where she stood: "The stormy air in Boston smells fantastic. Scent mixture of ocean, autumn leaves, and damp earth." (Scientists have names for some of those beautiful storm smells: ozone, petrichor, and geosmin.) Even here, where my own stroll around the neighborhood was decidedly low-risk, I wrestled with the urge to tell anyone I saw to Get inside! and had a stronger version of this reaction to the live photo-tours of New York I was privy to via Instagram and Twitter. But I also understand the need to go outside and see, to feel in the whip of high winds just how vulnerable we all are, always, to breathe that in and call it beautiful, knowing how lucky we are for the chance.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Nosy Interview: Kathleen Rooney

Kathleen sits in Zodiacal Light and Milky Way, © Babak Tafreshi (TWAN)

Kathleen Rooney is a nosy nomination courtesy of Elisa, her frequent collaborator. Kathleen is an inspiringly prolific poet and essayist; a founding editor of Rose Metal Press; and, so I've heard, a consistent wearer of dazzling frocks. Her latest book, the novel in poems Robinson Alone, comes out this very day! 

What do you smell like?
I wish I could be sure. But just as it’s almost impossible to tickle yourself, it’s almost impossible to smell yourself. Or at least it’s almost impossible for me. At the moment, I smell like Tendre Madeleine, which is what I’m wearing today because it’s a good fall smell. But I just emailed my husband, Martin Seay (who happens to be one of the best-smelling people I know) to see what he thinks I smell like and he said, “I think you smell like dryland herbs being lightly crushed under the hooves of a juvenile bighorn sheep.” Then he added, “To be clear, you smell like the herbs, not the sheep. I just added the sheep because the herbs needed to be crushed by something.” I’ve had other people tell me I smell “clean” and like “cut grass” or “green plants,” so he seems to be onto something. Also, typically, green scents don’t work well on me, so maybe that’s partly because I’m already “green.”

What do you like to smell?
Skunks, cool damp basements in the summertime, and birthday candles that have just been blown out
(which I always associate with the smell of ghosts). When I was little, I thought that gray hair smelled like smoke. I also love—and have always loved—to smell my sister Beth, who is three years younger and my best friend. We used to share a room, and when we were small and traveling as a family we’d usually share a bed, and I always felt comforted by having her near and specifically by smelling her. She’d usually fall asleep before me and I would feel reassured by being able to lean over and smell her hair, her scalp. She still is one of the best smelling people in the world to me. Funny smell story: when Beth was pregnant with her first baby, Rose, before she and her husband had told anyone, I knew by smelling her. She had me and Martin and her in-laws all over to our parents’ house in the Chicago suburbs for dinner (without telling us why, and it wasn’t unusual because we get together often). When I came upstairs into the kitchen to hug her, I could somehow smell that she was pregnant and knew that she was going to announce it. We made eye contact and she looked at me all, “Don’t spoil the surprise,” and of course I didn’t, but it was an amazing feeling to be able to know something so major without being told in words. Now, not surprisingly, I love to smell my niece, who is 14 months old and smells quite a bit like Beth.

Monday, October 22, 2012

nosy recommends engine

images via elana's pantry & Origins 

If you like chopping kale, try Origins Vitazing™ SPF 15 Energy-boosting Moisturizer. If you know me IRL (as the kidz say), you are aware of my deep and abiding love for kale. I especially love the bright, earthy smell that comes when chopping Lacinato kale, a scent that so matches the rich, deep green of those beautiful leaves. So I was delighted to find that this moisturizer sample I've been using starts with a little zing (no ™)  of fresh-cut kale, a smell I love so much I guess I do want to spread it all over my face. The kale scent is short-lived, but enjoyable enough that I'm thinking of buying a full bottle of this stuff.

If you liked the Gap Scents '90s fragrance dreamteam (Grass, Dream, Heaven, Earth, & Om), try Old Spice Pure Sport High Endurance. It reminds me especially of what I'm pretty sure was Gap Dream, but it's been so long since I smelled those fragrances (& I had the entire lineup, in those little brushed aluminum bottles). From the stick, the Pure Sport (is that name supposed to suggest the fragrance? imply a best practice for use?) doesn't smell so different from countless other manly-man-on-a-boat-scented deodorants, but when my main squeeze puts it on, something alchemizes and I get this  dreamy blast from the Gap-scented past.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Nosy Interview: Carissa Halston

Carissa in a rotated Galaxies, Stars, and Dust, © Ignacio de la Cueva Torregrosa (Capturandoeluniverso, A.A.E.)

Carissa and I met at a going-away gathering for Elisa (miss you, girl!), and since that time I've had the pleasure of watching Carissa completely command a big, rowdy audience as she read from her novella The Mere Weight of Words. In addition to writing books, Carissa runs a small press and a reading series, and still somehow finds time to tweet

What do you smell like?
I like to think that I smell like the things I wear/do every day. Each day, I wear two white gold bands (one on each hand). My right hand has the advantage of tiny sapphires and diamonds. I walk and I read and I write every day, so add sweat to the mix (two parts cerebral, one part physical). As a writer, I'm fond of em dashes and as an editor, I'm fond of compression (delete, delete, delete), so I also smell of punctuation and absence. According to my best friend, I smell "warm," which I find comforting because it's sentimental and pleasantly surprising because I'd never describe myself that way.

What do you like to smell? 
I like to smell books, though it's very rare that I find a great book smell. Often, they smell like spaces (obvious ones: libraries, used book stores, dusty shelves, boxes). Though occasionally, they smell like books, which is a pulpy, inky, old (or sometimes new) smell. It's the faint scent of glue and cloth. Some books have very non-book odors. Health textbooks have a distinctly skunky scent. The very first book I remember smelling was my health book in second grade. It smelled foul, but I couldn't keep my face out of it. Its stench was compelling in its strangeness.

I love smelling freshly cut lime. I also love to smell nutmeg. And hyacinths. And hot pavement after a dramatic pour. Summer days by the ocean (for the salt water), autumnal days in the city (for the leaves). The smell of winter right before it snows. The smell of spring right before the thaw. Cloves, which make me think first of ham and second of cigarettes and the boy I used to know who smoked them. Sandalwood, which my best friend wears. Cedar, which my father's shoe-
trees were made of. For nostalgic purposes, rubber cement--it reminds me of fifth grade and a friend I haven't seen in years who was my very first smart friend (i.e., he was the first person I ever met who I knew I could be smart with). Juniper. Anise. Earl grey.

Friday, October 12, 2012

nosy recommends: burt's bees baby bee multipurpose ointment

This smells so sweet! Not sweet like frosting, sweet like darling. Burt's Bees Baby Bee Multipurpose Ointment just smells adorable. It's light streaming in the open windows in the farmhouse bedroom where your white sheets were just air-dried the day before and the host, one of your oldest friends, left a little mason jar full of gummy bears on your bedside table (just the orange, yellow, and adhesive-colored ones). This tub's pudding is cuddly but not cloying, and comforting with a chewiness I associate with that tantalizing pull to bite the brand-new nub of pink eraser on a fresh yellow No. 2 pencil (it doesn't smell like that eraser, but like the feeling you imagine it will have between your molars). Even though I've learned that petitgrain is a bitter orange note, there's a homier smell I associate with the word petitgrain that comes to mind when I sniff this ointment. I would like to smell coumarin (one of the ingredients listed, along with shea butter, almond oil, beeswax, and coconut oil) and see whether the compound accounts for the dollop of countryside I'm getting, since its Wikipedia entry says coumarin is "readily recognized as the scent of new-mown hay," and is found in plants like tonka bean, vanilla grass, sweet woodruff, sweet grass, cassia cinnamon, Deers Tongue and sweet clover.

You can use this ointment, intended for babies' bums, however you might use Vaseline, and it's especially nice on rough heels (sandal season is officially over here in Cambridge) and dry elbows (the season for which is fast approaching). I mainly use it at night, but it's subtle enough that it doesn't interfere with perfume.

 "Mr. Autumn Man, enjoying a seasonal stroll." --The Onion 

Other things I recommend right now, from past Nosy Interviewees and from the planet: 
  • Elisa has been doing some great perfume writing on her blog lately, on her new favorite leather, lilies, and underwear perfumes. I loved this line: "From a distance, the impression is not unlike my vintage Shalimar – a powdery floriental with a smoker's cough." Elisa and I disagree about Agent Provocateur, which she thinks goes from uptight to dirty, and I believe to be so raunchy in its opening that I leave a small grace period before leaving the house with it on. 
  • Rebecca has a wonderful poem, "Self-Portrait at San Carlito," up at Verse Daily (and a book coming out in 2013!!!).
  • Natalie wrote an excellent review of Zadie Smith's NW for Fiction Writers Review, and highlighted one of the book's best lines: "Overnight everyone has grown up. While she was becoming, everyone grew up and became."  
  • FALL! I am definitely a shameless version of Ms. Autumn Woman, and if you encountered me on the street yesterday, you would have been subjected to a six-minute (minimum) reverie on how incredible fall smells and feels and looks. I like to celebrate its arrival with an annual reading of Colin Nissan's brilliant "It's Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers," and suggest you do the same, whatever the weather where you are.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

your breath smells in the news

In last week's issue of New York magazine, Jason Feifer tests the Topland Etiquette Checker, a personal breath-stank analyzer that uses a smiley face system to rank your mouth on a scale from "infinitely kissable maw" to "dead animal baking in the summer sun." Feifer "soiled his mouth with garlicky onion dip and coffee," used a series of "masking agents" including gum, mints, mouthwashes, strips, natural remedies, and whiskey, and subjected first the Etiquette Checker, then his wife, to the waft. You can check out a chart detailing the results, and the verdict (a the machine deviated 43% from Feifer's wife!) here. I'm so curious about this project. How many days did it take? Did Feifer use these masking agents in the order listed? How many did his wife smell in one sitting?
Screencaps via Jezebel and Huffington Post

In other smell-your-loved-ones'-breath news, Honey Boo Boo Child (aka Alana Thompson) & family recently participated in what Tracie Egan Morrissey delightfully described as "an interesting parlor game" called Guess Whose Breath. You can watch the clip here (scroll down to the second, smaller video screen) and if you're in the mood for more but need a little nudge, let Rachel Shukert convince you that "your mind is [not] too beautiful to sully with the Victorian freak show that is modern American television" in her compelling essay on how the fascinating Thompson family provides "a reflection of the classic immigrant experience."

In still timelier breath news, when I went looking for the Neil deGrasse Tyson tweet screencapped above, the first thing I saw in my twitter feed was an assertion that "Romney breath smell like canned yams and taco meat," as speculated by @seanverde and re-tweeted by Heems of Das Racist (@HIMANSHU), who is, at the time of this writing, on a real Romney smells tear, RT-ing lots of poop & bullshit-themed tweets, but also speculation that Romney might smell like crayons, gravy, mildew, or Cheetos. And there are so many post-debate tweets about Romney's smell and breath to choose from (balloon air, baking soda, old bath water, Lay's Dill Pickles + Spicy Ketchup--these all come from real tweets)! As @silvyysilv says,"ppl are going ham on Romney breath."

Monday, October 1, 2012

the first thing you put forward

This wonderful talk from fellow nose-aficionado Masha Turchinsky is well-worth your next four minutes. Watch at this link for more information on the art Turchinsky discusses.

Thanks to Andrea Sparacio for sharing this link with me, and thanks to those Nosy Interviewees who have, over e-mail and in conversation, remarked on their varied relationships with their own noses, be those noses prominent, "imperious, weak, playful," beloved, or begrudgingly accepted. Your noses will always celebrated here on Nosy Girl.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Nosy Interview: Karyn Schwartz

Karyn in the Cocoon Nebula Wide Field, © Fabian Neyer

Karyn is the proprietor of SugarPill, a delightful little shop filled with salts, sweets, and other treasures. She lets me browse (and sniff) for ages, shares samples, and answers all my questions (even the nosy ones). Visit SugarPill online here, and be sure to stop by the shop if you're in Seattle. 

What do you smell like?
I smell like 500 different herbs and spices all mixed together, because that is what I have been surrounded by for the past 20 years.

What do you like to smell? 
I like to smell someone else cooking dinner. I like to smell cardamom and vanilla and bay. I like to smell snow and thunderstorms. I like to smell the back of someone's neck when they are sleeping.

smells like 'a particular human consciousness'

[image via New York magazine]

"It turns out that Clive's book smells like literature and looks like literature and maybe even, intermittently, feels like literature, and after a while Clive himself has almost forgotten that strange feeling of untruth, of self-betrayal, that his novel first roused in him." --Zadie Smith, "Fail Better" 

I heard Zadie Smith speak at the Cambridge Public Library last week, and though I didn't stay after to get my book signed and try to see what she smelled like (is such an investigation even creepier than asking?), I have no doubt she smells brilliant. Here are some other lines I love from "Fail Better" and "Read Better," companion pieces published in the Guardian in 2007: 
That is what I am looking for when I read a novel; one person's truth as far as it can be rendered through language.
Fiction confronts you with the awesome fact that you are not the only real thing in this world. 

And here's a fragrant fragment from NW
Even the bottle of perfume in her hand was shaped like a woman, a cheap knock-off from the market. He wished he could buy her the things she wanted! There were so many things she wanted. "And if you go past Wilsons on the high road--Fee, listen to me. If you past ask Ricky--you know which one I'm talking about? Little light-skinned boy with the twists. Ask 'im if he can come round and look at that sink. What's the time? Shit--I'm late." He watched her spray herself now in the hollow of her neck, the underside of her wrist, furtively, as if he was never to know she ever smelled of anything but roses and sandalwood.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Nosy Interview: Lucy Biederman

Lucy in the Orion Nebula: The Hubble View, © NASA, ESA, M. Robberto (STScI/ESA) et al.

When I think of meeting Lucy, I think first of her voice. Lucy has best kind of voice, sort of throaty and excited, a voice that immediately suggests you are in for a very good time should you be so lucky as to talk with her. You can get a taste of Lucy's written voice by visiting her web site.

What do you smell like? & What do you like to smell? 
The world I live in is hypoallergenic, dust-free, air-purified, and fragrance-free. You may not know that there is a difference between unscented and fragrance-free, but I know, oh I know. Fragrance-free is for the more hardcore, superallergic of us, those who cannot tolerate scent and other additives (in fact, my mouth and armpits are itching as I write this, thinking of fragrances); unscented means scents were added, just nothing specifically perfume-y smelling.

Which is to say, I probably don’t smell like much. Most of the products I use, from dryer sheets to tampons, are fragrance-free. There are some rogue regular-person products I use, deodorant and what-not, that for whatever reason don’t give me rashes or reactions; 31 years’ experience suggests that this is less a matter of the products themselves than maintaining enough of a hypoallergenic environment—no flowers, no pet—that my immune system doesn’t hit its very low-set freak-out point.

Anyone who’s traveled with me is acquainted with what one of my brothers once referred to as my “hermetically sealed, hypoallergenic, sterile, silken sleeping sleeve.” I need this because otherwise I won’t take in enough air during the night; if I don’t take in enough air during the night, I will have a migraine the next day. A friend recently asked, ever so delicately, how I am able to have sex in it. It turned out she thought I used it at home, too, silly girl! I explained to her that at home I have my own system of mattress, pillow, and duvet encasings, and weekly extra-hot washings (in fragrance-free laundry detergent) to reduce dust mites.

I hope this doesn’t sound like complaining. There are many things I am perfectly happy to complain about, but this isn’t among them. As chronic conditions go, moderate (occasionally severe) allergies and migraines aren’t bad; and at this point in my life I am mostly able to control them through environment and a lot of medication.

My bedroom is extra, extra scent-free. I love to smell its nothing-cold air at the end of the day. I am so tired. I have lived in so many places, too many places. I think I am the oldest 31-year-old in America, I’ve seen too many things. I love it when I open my bedroom door, and hear my huge Honeywell Enviracaire Air Cleaner’s industrial drone. I even have a little pink rug for it, like a pet bed. My bed is crisp, crunchy, hard with encasements, and that’s what makes it mine. It’s more comfortable to me than any other comfort, those smushy, scent-smelling comforts of other people.

Monday, September 17, 2012

locker rooms & burning leaves

Photo credit:  Petra Collins,  Rookie

I recently finished Megan Abbott's "sexy and sinister" (apt adjectives courtesy of the New York Times) Dare Me, and the teen girl smells of the locker room are still swirling:
In the locker room, 40 minutes to game time, we are Vegas showgirl-spangled. The air thick with biofreeze and tiger balm and hair spray and the sugared coconut of tawny body sprays, it is like being in a soft cocoon of sugar and love.
And there’s Emily keening over the toilet bowl after practice, begging me to kick her in the gut so she can expel the rest, all that cookie dough and cool ranch, the smell making me roil. Emily, a girl made entirely of doughnut sticks, cheese powder and haribo.

The smell of leaves--burning, dried, wet--is important in the book, appearing in moments when Addy, our narrator, feels a rare, real connection, or longs for a connection she once had:
Where’d that world go, that world where you’re a kid, and now I can’t remember noticing anything, not the smell of the leaves or the sharp curl of a dried maple on your ankles, walking? I live in cars now, and my own bedroom, the windows sealed shut, my mouth to my phone, hand slick around its neon jelly case, face closed to the world, heart closed to everything.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

pocket treasure

In June, my friend Tina sent me a sweet, chocolate-themed care package that included a stick of ISUN Antioxidant Lip Balm. She wrote that it was "incredibly nutritious and delicious," and implored me to "Read the ingredients!" I'm sharing the ingredients with you here as they appear on the tube, since a list like this brings me such delight (especially since it catalogs the herb oils by name, rather than lumping them together as "fragrance" or "essential oils," as so many ingredient-lists do):
Beeswax;  Mango seed butter, Olive butter, Herb oil (Jojoba oil, Life everlasting, Green tea, Gotu cola, Rosemary, Calendula, Lavender, Milk-thistle, Lemon balm, Licorice rt, Roobibos, Hibiscus, Rodiola, Gingko, Plantain, Amla, Ashwaghanda, Acai, Goji berry, Horsetail, Comfrey lvs, Comfrey rt, Rose petal, Echinacea, Ginseng, Lotus, Boswellia, Blue violet); Avocado butter;  Aloe butter;  Buriti oil; Kokum butter; Vit E tocopherols; Goji berry oil; Acai oil; Urucum oil; Raspberry oil; Rosehip ext; Seabuckthornberry ext; Cocoa absolute; Vanilla absolute; Orange oil 
Isn't that a lovely list? Seabuckthornberry,  I could say it all day. And the best part is that this lip balm is reminiscent of Aftelier's Cacao, enough so that using it brings back some of the same happy memories that Cacao does when I dab it on my wrists. Cacao is one of my favorite perfumes, and I travel with the mini, so wearing it transports me especially, to a cement room in a 12th-century house in rural France; a hot-rock beach in summertime Nice; and a pine-strewn Pacific Northwest forest, clouds heavy with rain. I'd love to own the Cacao EDP one day, spray myself silly with it, dab a bit of the perfume on my wrists, put on a little ISUN lip balm, and take myself out into the world smelling like some of the happiest days I can remember (and like cocoa and blood orange and jasmine, too).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Nosy Interview: Cienna Madrid

Cienna in The Sun Unleashed, © NASA, Goddard, SDO AIA Team

Cienna and I met in Seattle through mutual friends, and were part of the same writing group (started by Elizabeth Mathews), where Cienna shared excerpts of her novel-in-progress that have me desperate to read the entire book. While we wait, we can placate ourselves with her writing for the Stranger and follow her on Twitter @ciennam

What do you smell like?  
My smell changes throughout the day as old smells are overshadowed by new. Picture a smelly sundial. On an ideal day, I get up at 6:30 a.m. smelling like really rank morning breath. I'm sure my boyfriend does not appreciate this smell, but my dogs do, and for that reason I've come to enjoy it (and put off brushing my teeth about a half hour). When I awake, Wyatt is under the covers behind my knees and Rio is next to the bed, staring at me. I flip back the covers and she jumps up to cuddle and lick my face--especially my mouth, which must smell like a combination of last night's dinner and fresh animal scat because it totally drives her wild. Doggy aphrodisiac. Wyatt struggles up from under the covers and they take turn getting pets, lapping at my neck and cheeks, and trying to stick their tongues in my mouth. It is incredibly gross and endearing. 

I get up at 6:45(ish) smelling like morning breath and dog. Rio and I go for a run. I come back smelling like dog and sweat. I make a pot of French press and jump in the shower. My soap is that round oatmeal hippie soap; I love the smell. I was using dog shampoo on my hair (I ran outta human stuff) but this weekend I finally got around to buying the fancy Aveda shit that smells like Rosemary. It is my favorite. 

I brush my teeth in the shower because I am a messy tooth brusher. I like foaming and spitting in the shower. My belly often smells like Arm & Hammer peppermint toothpaste. 

I come out of the shower smelling like oatmeal, Rosemary, and toothpaste. I get dressed, grab my coffee, and go to work at about 8:30. 

My main smell at work is coffee. I drink coffee all day long; I pee coffee all day long. It's a smell I associate as calming (whenever I'm feeling too stressed, I walk to Oddfellows to get a coffee) and productive. Being sick this last week, I haven't drank any coffee. It's a small, stupid ritual but it feels like a loss of self. 

After work, about 5:00 or so, I walk home (provided I don't have to go to a drinks thing for work--in which case I'll soon smell like whiskey). I wear sensible shoes and I'm a fast walker, so by the time I get home, I smell like sweat again. If it's been an especially stressful day, I'll put this lotion on that a hippie friend of mine sent me from N. California--a redwood moss lotion. It's a musky, fresh smell, like a hike in a bottle. 

At night, before I get into bed, I put peppermint oil on my temples and underneath my eyes and nose. It stings a bit and makes everything water but it does the job; it's relaxing. I go to sleep smelling of peppermint. 

On weekends, my sundial is simpler: I just smell like morning breath, coffee, and dogs all day long.

What do you like to smell?
When summer glances by Seattle, I miss the warm summer desert--specifically, the smell of sage, which grows wild where I grew up, and crops of mint, which is farmed not too far away from that. I miss cow smells. Roasted green chili--that's another smell that I love but don't get often enough. My poor nostalgic nose. People in Seattle don't eat, let along roast, green chili unless they're from Mexico or New Mexico. So I don't have any chili-roasting or eating friends. Even thinking about roasting green chili makes my mouth water. 

In Seattle, I make do with the smells of tomato plants and lilacs. I still live in the p-patch (miracle of miracles!) and at night sometimes I'll sneak around and smell people's tomato plants. I hate it when they're rooted too close to roses; Roses ruin everything. One of my recent tasks as an adult (I'm trying) was to plant a lilac bush in my front yard (I don't get enough sun for tomatoes). The bush is too young to bloom but I watch her like a hawk from my front window. And I obsessively water her. Even when it's raining. Last year, I killed two lavender bushes that way but I have great hopes for the lilac, which I've named Hillary. I've nearly drown her with love but she's still green; The bitch is tough. 

This may be weird, but I'm absolutely entranced by the smell of a (straight) dude friend of mine. He smells like fancy construction projects and margaritas. I asked him what he cologne he used awhile ago and he said none. Since it's an oddly intimate subject to press someone on--"what deodorant do you use, then???"--I've been working for weeks on deciphering his scent. I think the base is a sandalwood soap, with notes of mint (maybe a shampoo?). Whatever it is, I love getting whiffs of him. 

One final smell I love: Dog paws. They always smell fresh and sweet and outdoorsy, like hay.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

back to school smells

It's the first day back-to-school for my graduate-student husband and he has a new backpack, filled with very old books. I have the itch to buy pencils and something plaid. I smell like L'Artisan Parfumeuer's Séville à l’Aube, a fragrance I've been wearing nearly every day for two weeks, with the occasional interruption from Güd's Vanilla Flame Natural Body Mist, which sounds like it would be a Yankee cupcake candle sugarbomb, but is instead a subdued, creamy, beachy vanilla perfectly suited for summer's last gasp.

It was love at first spray for me and Séville à l’Aube, as it immediately reminded of elements of other favorites: the incensey chewiness and powder of L'Artisan's Nuit de Tubéreuse, the sweet orange flower of By Kilian's Sweet Redemption, and just a splash of the root beer cream of Acqua di Parma's Mandorlo di Sicilia. But Séville à l’Aube is more changeable than any of these, and every time I go to sniff it, it shifts a little, always leaving me curious, wanting more. I don't love lavender in perfume. The plant itself smells wonderful, and I usually enjoy it in food or drink, but in perfume I often find it off-putting. As strange as it may sound, I swear the lavender in Séville à l’Aube smells different in each nostril, like dried lavender sachet in the left nostril and a bit like iris and basil in the right. I'm not familiar with Luiseiri lavender listed in the notes, but maybe my right nostril is? Séville à l’Aube has a hint of that plastic jasmine beloved-but-forgotten-childhood-toy smell, a creamy cloud of beeswax, and loads of beautiful benzoin. Its erotic origins are well-documented, but it doesn't read animalic to me, which makes it sexier in some ways, an invitation to provide those sweatier smells yourself, beneath a tree turning towards fall, with the help of your own black-clad soon-to-be lover.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Nosy Interview: Ayla Peggy Adler

Peggy in a portion of Star Cluster R136 Bursts Out, © NASA et al.

Did Peggy and I meet in Ann Arbor or in a past life? Either way, I know her better, now, courtesy of Facebook, than I know anyone on my street. That is strange in a way, I know, and I should put down my iPhone sometimes, but it's heart-expanding online-only friendships like hers that keep me from quitting Facebook, as I so often idly threaten to do. You could wonder later how you met her, too; start by visiting her blog.

What do you smell like?  
Oh, Nosy Girl, you have asked me questions I long to be able to answer Like most humans, my memory is triggered more by scent than anything else, even more than music. I can be walking down the street, and bam, I’m in my grandmother’s bathroom, with my high school boyfriend, at a college party. But, what did my grandmother’s bathroom smell like? Last year I was in Ethiopia and suddenly I smelled my Bedouin friend’s farm back in the Negev—the desert in southern Israel I call home. This connection felt profound, but what did I smell? And, does it matter? As a fiction writer, I understand that to bring our readers into place, sensory detail is the magic door, yet nothing makes me feel more false than when I’m writing sensory detail about scent. My grandmother’s bathroom smelled like powder, brown soap, and (because you need a third) Lysol. It may be true, it may help the reader, but I feel like a fraud. The sentence is overworked; the author more present than place. What did it smell like? My grandmother’s bathroom, dammit. 

So, what do I smell like? Really, Nosy Girl? Really? I can tell you what I don’t smell like: Perfumes. They irritate my eyes.The most scent you’ll find on me is from a cucumber soap or a grapefruit facial scrub.I also really believe that we find our mates like primates, via scent. I want to end up in the right cave. I want us to find each other sexier and more at home when we haven’t showered than when we have. I know that when I find my cave-mate, and you ask me what he smells like, I will have only one answer: his name. I also know that when we’re very old and I’m losing my mind and a nurse asks me if I remember him by stating his name, I’ll look blank. If he stands before me where I can see him, I still may not remember. But if he comes and lies beside me, close enough for me to smell, I’ll know it’s him. 

What do you like to smell? 
Others here have already beautifully described the splash of white wine into risotto, the smells of fall, of fire in winter. Yet something called me to the Negev, void of turning leaves and snow on pine. When I first moved here, I could only have described an absence of scent. Certainly the desert was lacking every smell from my childhood: pine, hyacinths, dogwood; nothing grows that effortlessly, here. Soon, however, I understood how much the desert smells like salt, which makes sense since when I look out at the desert, all I see is water. This is not only because I’m an optimist; water has, in fact, shaped, carved every bit of this landscape which is full of dry riverbeds, streams, the exposed roots of shrubs still leaning from the momentum of past floods. Every rock holds water; if only we would learn from Moses’ mistake and talk to the rock, not hit it, to quench our thirst. This place used to be ocean: ask anyone, whether they take their cues from Noah or Geology; it is still strewn with shells. But there I go, not describing scents. You see, Nosy Girl? Here’s what I can tell you: when it rains here, and particularly when it floods, the water awakens an orchestra of smells; a Chopin’s Nocturne meets whale’s song meets wolves’ howl meets heartbeat in the center of the earth’s womb concerto. What, can’t smell that? I’m only an hour and a half drive from the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth, and the saltiest. Even closer to me is the Machtesh Ramon—a geological formation described as a crater though it’s formed by water, not volcanic activity—and it holds 260 million year old sand. The collective memory awoken here by water might be why this is my cave. 

The most identifiable scent after the rain here is silt. This is very different than the smell of ocean. Ocean sand is refined, frequently wet, frequently in motion. Desert rock, however, holds every possible record; there is nothing it doesn’t remember. The ocean’s sand can’t imagine a meditation sit as long and deep as a desert rock’s. Talk to the rocks, listen; they’ll tell you anything you need to know. Sometimes I lick them, offering them water, watching how the wetness brings out their shininess, detail, depth. Then I smell them and I’m transported. 

In Bedouin tradition, mothers rub their newborns in a pungent mixture of herbs from the land and water. Then they don’t bathe the baby for a few days. They do this so the child will always know where he comes from, so that when he’s older, if he gets lost, he will always be able to find his way back. 

Just a few weeks ago, I was at a drum-making workshop in a place called Ma’agen Michael in Northern Israel not far from the Mediterranean coast. Something amazing about this country is the diversity in topography, and when I drove just a few hours and walked in, I was surprised to find myself immediately crying. At first I thought that maybe I felt something spiritually powerful; the workshop, though it hadn’t begun, was of Native American orientation. Then I realized what it was: cedar chips. I smelled forest, and it awakened such a longing in me, such a homesickness, I wondered if I’d have to move, to be closer to trees I can climb, in whose branches I can sit. Yet I’ve tried not living here before, so I know that when I’m not here, the homesickness I feel for the Negev is something like, perhaps, we all feel, longing to see the stars through the electrical lights, to remember how to make a fire without gas, to hear our own heartbeat, breathe our own breath, listen to the rock. I may not be able to describe for you the rock’s smell, but when I lick it and breathe it in, everything—no, really, everything—comes back.