Friday, May 24, 2013

twitter sniffer no.3

A few fragrant tweets for your Friday enjoyment:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Nosy Interview: Victoria Frolova

Victoria (whose blotters from the original photo were burned up by the sun) in Blue Sun Bursting, © Alan Friedman  (Averted Imagination)

Victoria has taught me so much about fragrance that I should probably pay her some kind of tuition. Instead I asked her for still more of her insights in the form of a nosy interview, and, lucky for all of us, she obliged. Bois de Jasmin, Victoria's wonderful blog about "perfume and other fragrant pleasures," is an absolutely essential resource for anyone interested in perfume. I have so much faith in her taste and expertise that I should probably also warn you about her blog, as regular reading may lead to a serious uptick in your perfume cravings.

What do you smell like?
Cacophony! Since I work with perfume and research raw materials, by the end of the day I smell like a mixture of things, often strange ones. If the project involves gourmands, I come home smelling like a cotton candy factory. If I’m working with aldehydes, I smell of snuffed out candles and dirty hair. I suppose, if you still love perfume after this kind of experience, you’re either very passionate or crazy. Or both!

Off-duty, I smell of whatever perfume I’m infatuated with at the moment. I also like to spend at least one day smelling of nothing to give my nose a rest. Plus, in the spring, there are so many great scents in the air that you don’t even need to perfume your skin. On the weekend if the weather is nice (and this is not a given in Belgium), I’m usually outdoors soaking up the sunshine and the fragrance of magnolias.

What do you like to smell? 
Anything at all! My husband is used to it, but whenever I go for walks with my friends, they’re often surprised that I pick up various leaves and pieces of bark and smell them. And although they find it an eccentric habit, they always join in, because smelling is so enjoyable and we don’t do it consciously often enough.  

If I’m to name my favorite things I love to smell, I risk boring you, since my list would be too long! But bread and jasmine are among my absolute favorites. Whenever I walk past a bakery and notice the smell of freshly baked bread, I instantly feel happy. It’s such a comforting, cozy scent.  At home we never baked bread, but my grandmother made a brioche-like Easter cake, and when she prepared it, the whole house smelled of yeast, nutmeg, vanilla, and rum soaked raisins.  

Jasmine is another scent that makes me happy (hence, the blog name). It’s such a strange smell if you think of it—apricot jam, horse sweat, white petals, but it’s incredibly sultry. On another level, it reminds me of my childhood summers.  Since my family is scattered all over the world, I miss them very much. Thinking about the time we spent together and recreating some of it through scents and tastes is how I approach my nostalgia.

I also love catching a whiff of perfume on people around me. It doesn’t matter what fragrance they are wearing, even if it’s something I don’t like on myself, it’s always a pleasure to notice what others are sporting and what they pick for different occasions.

Monday, May 20, 2013

smelling of nothing & pretending to be someone else

"Princeton, New Jersey, 1960s" [via]

I've been anxious to read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah since I heard her give a fantastic reading from the novel-in-progress last year at the Radcliffe Institute, long before I laid eyes on the book's beautiful opening paragraph: 
Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemelu liked the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops, and the quiet, abiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of a smell, that most appealed to her, perhaps because the other American cities she knew well had all smelled distinctly. Philadelphia had the musty scent of history, New Haven smelled of neglect. Baltimore smelled of brine, and Brooklyn of sun-warmed garbage. But Princeton had no smell. She liked taking deep breaths here. She liked watching the locals who drove with pointed courtesy and parked their latest-model cars outside the organic grocery store on Nassau street or outside the sushi restaurants or outside the ice cream shop that had fifty different flavors including red pepper or outside the post office where effusive staff bounded out to greet them at the entrance. She liked the campus, grave with knowledge, the Gothic buildings with their vine-laced walls, and the way everything transformed, in the half-light of night, into a ghostly scene. She liked, most of all, that in this place of affluent ease, she could pretend to be someone else, someone specially admitted into a hallowed American club, someone adorned with certainty.
Adichie is back in town this week, reading from the recently released Americanah on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Harvard Book Store.  Local readers, I hope to see/smell some of you there!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Nosy Interview: Gina Balibrera

Gina in The Horsehead Nebula in Infrared from Hubble, © NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team

Gina and I have not yet met, but she left a lovely, smell-related comment on a link to V.V. Ganeshananthan's interview and, when I immediately pounced, asking if she'd be willing to write more on fragrant matters, she was gracious enough to accept. (Readers, please remember that I welcome your nominations for potential nosy interviewees!) Gina is currently at work on The Volcano-Daughters, a novel set in El Salvador, Hollywood, and France, during the 1930s and 1940s. While you wait, you can read more of her nonfiction on the Michigan Quarterly Review blog.  

What do you smell like? 
I consulted several close friends to answer this question, and the consensus was nearly unanimous: rose. (My sweetheart, however, said that I smell “nice,” and “like the best.” Outlier). This rosy ruling flattered by vanity. My efforts have been rewarded! I tend to spray myself several times a day with a neon-pink plastic bottle of rosewater that can be found in many health food stores. The mysterious text on the bottle’s label reads: “Recommended in the Edgar Cayce Readings” and “Vor-mag Water (water that has been vortexed and magnetized to raise the energy to a higher vibration that we believe to be more beneficial).” Beneficial for what purpose, I am not sure. But I do find it refreshing, and I am fond of its reviving, rosy scent. I use this magic water in lieu of hairspray, and, often, in lieu of smelling salts. I use a German rose oil in a green glass bottle on my body instead of lotion, and I like rosehip oil on my lips. In a pharmacy in Geneva, I bought two cheap, tiny vials of perfume oil, which I like to dab on my wrists and neck after the shower: one is amber, the other vanilla. I love that amber in a glass bottle looks exactly as it should, honeyed and luminous, and smells just like the color of the veined golden stone. There are no cheap and luminous vials of perfume oil in the pharmacies of Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I now live. A dear poet friend of mine, Gala Mukomolova, who smells like sweet milk, told me that in addition to roses, I smell of baking bread. Perhaps this is also true. In the grocery store’s personal care aisle, I like to pick up those expensive handmade bars of soap and hold them to my nose--I usually go home with almond or bee pollen or camomile or red clay with rose, or sometimes, more rarely, cucumber. My very favorite soap is made of sandalwood, but I’ll get to that in the next question. 

What do you like to smell?
I love smelling cardamom and real vanilla, good gin that is particularly rosy, honey, honey, honey, Mysore sandalwood soap that comes in a red cardboard box with pink roses and a tiny elephant, amber oil in the glass bottle, violets, the Redwood forest, the sunwarmed calico head of my favorite cat, Olive, olive oil, truffle oil, creosote, a Sonoran desert plant that smells just like summer monsoons, and fresh rosemary.  Leather guitar cases (and the shiny wood  and inner felt and nylon strings of a classical guitar), a special tea made from bergamot oil and sage. Library books, of course, who doesn’t? Especially in the spring and summer, I love the scent of a golden hour picnic on a wooden porch: rosé, cantaloupe, strawberries. Also, lavender, champagne, fistfuls of mint, purple thai basil, lemongrass, cherries, and ruby-red grapefruits sliced in half. I am pleased that my plan to smell like roses has succeeded in the noses of my friends, because I like the smell of large, velvety roses in surprising colors--violet-streaked, magenta, and cream--best.

I like the smell of a new broom, which I suppose is just straw. My friend, fiction writer, Jide Adebayo-Begun, told me about a Hausa idiom which means the knot at the center of the straw broom, typically referring to a deep and lasting bond of friendship or love between people. There’s also the tinny, winterfresh smell of cheap men's shaving cream, but only on the skin of my sweetheart. A few years ago, I gave him one of those fancy-hippie shaving kits that smells of cedar and pine and the earthiness of some sort of real hair that was collected to make the brush. He didn’t really use it, and his beard smells sometimes like Walgreens shaving cream, when it is neat, and like a dense human forest--rosewood, clean wool sweaters, and river stones--when it is tufty.

In childhood, I was fond of a particular marker, a bright, Lisa Frank turquoise, that smelled precisely as that color should, like the Pacific Ocean, juicyfruit gum, and strawberry lipgloss, but was named, curiously, “mango.” Another strange dissonance: as a kid, I used to walk up a hill to eat ice cream, past an auto body shop with oily rainbows on the sidewalk. Then and now, the smell of diesel exhaust makes me crave ice cream, usually cherry.

When I was a bad teen, I would go to bonfires on Ocean or Baker Beach, and return home smelling exactly like a Honeybaked Ham. What did you do tonight? My parents would ask. Nothing, I would say. Once or twice I smoked those clove cigarettes, to which many sensitive, melancholy teenagers find themselves drawn for a quick moment of cliché, and which are terrible, but which attempt to smell, via crude, poisonous, chemical shorthand, mystical and leathery and like a good autumn cake. These days, when my nose desires such fiery warmth, I prefer the scent of lapsung souchang tea, which is campfire smoke and spice, or the scent of actual autumn cakes baked in my oven with real cloves and cinnamon and cardamom.

Two old chestnuts most everyone enjoys smelling: chestnuts roasting beneath beaten-up pans on chilly city street corners and hot coffee. Right now, I’m working on a novel in which coffee plays an important role. Coffee is magic and nose-magnetic in the cup, but in the fields of El Salvador, just after the harvest, the rotting berries smell truly terrible, in a bodily sense. I was on a train there a few years ago, and the ticket-collector arrived beside my seat, a gust of something truly foul blew in through the window, and for a moment I thought that the ticket-collector was ill. But that foul gust was the coffee outside, those soft, red berries. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

twitter sniffer no.2

One of these days I'll just get over it & give in to Twitter. In the meantime, I found a few more fragrant tweets you might enjoy:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Nosy Interview: Eli Hastings

Eli in the (stretched) Sun with Solar Flare, © NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory

Eli and I met in Seattle, where, through the Writers in the Schools program, I got to watch him work a kind of wake-up magic on formerly-groggy high school students. His latest book, a memoir called Clearly Now, the Rain, was just released last week, and you can learn more about Eli, his writing, and his adorable "nutcase toddler" here

What do you smell like? 
I smell like dried spray paint and midgrade aftershave lotion.  I think.  But I’ve never really checked, I just make that assumption because I have to shave everyday or I look weird and I spend a lot of time in my “garoffice”/mancave, which is heavily tagged—though with words of wisdom not the scrawled hubris of taggers (that was way earlier).  Lately the scent of raw garlic is always on my fingers because my wife is a doctor and I am not and so I have had to learn to cook and garlic disguises the fact that I am, at best, learning.  To be honest, I probably smell like old dog (that’s dog + dust and decay) because I am overcome with love for my 14-year-old golden and embrace her unreasonably at least a few times a day.  I probably smell slightly like pee in the mornings because I often have to sleep with my 3-year-old dervish. 

What do you like to smell? 
I like to smell many things that rather universally are inviting: fresh ground coffee brand spanking new azaleas and whatnot.  But I also enjoy scents that may be more subjectively pleasant: gasoline, fresh tarmac, wicked cheese.  My favorite smell in the world comes in August in the north Cascades where my mom lives.  It’s an invasive plant of some kind that sprouts in spring and starts to dry on the vine as the sun slams away the weeks and is pungent and spicy by the end of summer and looks a lot like marijuana (I’m told), but is not.  I swear.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

peach pepper milk

Images via treesandempathy (photo credit unknown; painting is "Odette" by Ryan Pickart)

At the moment, I'm finding it difficult to do anything other than read Meg Wolitzer's wonderful The Interestings. I just read this paragraph, and wanted to share:
At night during that weekend in Underhill, Jules and Ash lay together in her bed, with Ash's head against the footboard. Many years later, they would lie across other beds with their children playing all around them, and it was a relief to know that even in getting older and splitting off into couples and starting families, you could still always come together in this way that you'd learned to do when you were young, and which you would have a taste for over your entire life. Ash, up close in Jules's bed in Underhill, having performed a series of elaborate nighttime ablutions in the house's single, peach-colored bathroom, now smelled milky and peppery at once. Maybe the soap she'd brought with her from the city was called Pepper Milk, Jules thought as she grew sleepy. Whatever it was, anyone would want to be around that smell, to drink it in from a girl if they couldn't drink it in from a bottle.
This one small smell moment is such an elegant evocation of some of the concerns of the book: class anxiety (Jules's single bathroom vs. Ash's sophisticated city soap), the overlapping intimacies of teenage friendship and desire, longing in general (to drink another in! to consume someone, in as many ways you can), and beauty (Ash is remarkably beautiful; Jules is not). Even though peach is the color of the bathroom, and not named as a smell, it falls in the olfactory mix for me, perhaps in part because peach--gleamy, smothering, plastic peach--was an important fragrance in my own adolescence, an early smell I remember seeking out, finding sexy and gorgeous and strange. This one choice--peach--makes the passage so much more potent: downy skin, juice & flesh, a mysterious stone. All of this along with the creamy, innocent/nurturing notions we have of milk, and the bracing spice of pepper makes this a standout moment for me in a book brimming with them. I'm not even halfway through and already I find myself slowing down (pausing to write this post, for example), wanting badly for this book, and my time with these characters, not to end.