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.