Thursday, October 31, 2013

kigaloween, and the tale of the scary spice

Kigaloween spirit 

Happy Halloween! Or Kigaloween, as I'm celebrating this year. The scariest smell of the week was definitely the overpowering olfactory force of the seeds of dozens of urusenda, or hot peppers (very hot peppers), that I was preparing for pili pili sauce (I followed these guidelines, plus olive oil and salt). Having been in Rwanda only three months, I am already at pains to tolerate a potato without the homemade hot sauce that's available at most restaurants. We use (and love) Akabanga and Sabana at home, but I wanted some of the fresh stuff, so I set about deseeding dozens of the beauties pictured below with the protection of some latex gloves (kindly provided by my friend and housemate, from her stash dedicated for use in archival research--who says it doesn't pay to live with graduate students?). I was not prepared for the power of these seeds! (My hands may have been, but my nose, throat, eyes, and brain were unguarded.) Even the next day--when the bulk of the seeds had been discarded, but a few remained, along with the peppers, waiting for the superglue to dry on the food processor (owned by that same beloved, well-prepared researcher)--everyone who entered the kitchen came away crying and coughing. 

My apologies, housemates! Please enjoy the hot sauce in the fridge, now de-weaponized. 

So I have even more sympathy than I otherwise might for the residents of Irwindale, California, who have filed a suit against Huy Fong Foods, maker of the indispensable Sriracha (and, even more delicious in my estimation, chili garlic sauce): 
...[In] Irwindale, where the hot sauce’s production facilities are, residents are complaining of burning eyes, irritated throats and headaches caused by a powerful, painful odor that the city says appears to be emanating from the factory during production. The smell is so aggressive that one family was forced to move a birthday party indoors after the spicy odor descended on the festivities, said Irwindale City Atty. Fred Galante.

The spicy odor descended! This is the kind of smell news I savor. I can just see the ghoulish little phantasm of a fiery pepper (probably baring teeth similar to those pictured on the pumpkin above) snaking into this celebration, forcing everyone to clutch their party hats and run inside with their cake. A judge will decide whether Huy Fong must "stop production until the smell can be reduced,"and I suspect I speak for hot sauce lovers worldwide when I say I hope the company and the city can come to a speedy resolution. Huy Fong produces 20 million bottles of Sriracha each year, and it's certainly scary to imagine all the foods out there, counting on that delicious spice, remaining bland in its absence.  

fall harvest

Kigali kindly provides some relief for my leaf-longing. 

Autumn offerings from talented Nosy Interviewees: 

Jesmyn Ward's memoir, Men We Reaped, is out now, and it's every bit as harrowing, gorgeous, and essential as early rave reviews have suggested. Here's a scent-related fragment from Jesmyn's essay honoring the memory of Trayvon Martin, as well as her brother, Joshua: 
"I don't know if I imagined it or not, but his dog seemed quieter, subdued after my brother died, as if he spent his days wondering where his owner, the tall boy with butter yellow skin who smelled like coconut oil and hay burned fragrant in the sunshine, went."
Frequent collaborators Elisa Gabbert and Kathleen Rooney have a new chapbook, The Kind of Beauty That Has Nowhere to Go, available now from Hyacinth Girl Press. Here's one line from a suite of five smart, lovely poems you can read at Nailed:  
Don’t start thinking about how smells smell to anyone else. You’ll only start freaking out about the limitations of knowledge.
Kate Lebo has a very exciting year in store (and, woah, a gorgeous new web site! Perhaps you can meet Kate on her tour in support of A Commonplace Book of Pie) and her poem, Rhubarb, the Green Age will appear in the fall issue of Gastronomica. The first two stanzas: 

          What puckered honey was potted last fall,
          its rootball a muddy peach, split dead 

          center and buried to kindle a pair 
          of pie plants. What bitterleaf 

My nosiness most certainly extends into (perhaps excessive) interest in the contents of people's handbags (and refrigerators and medicine cabinets), so I was delighted to get a peek into Katie Puckrik's purse, and read the accompanying interview, which includes this ringing & tingling endorsement of Safran Troublant (a favorite of my own main squeeze): 
I love turning people onto the off-beat seductive powers of Safran Troublant by L'Artisan Parfumeur. With its saffron, rose, vanilla and sandalwood, Disturbing Saffron is an unusual variation on a gourmand. And sexxxaaaayyyy....hoo boy. Put it this way: in ancient Rome, the expression 'sleeping on a bed of saffron' referred to a long hard night of making whoopee. 
Rebecca Hoogs and Maggie MK Hess have beautiful poems in the Fall 2013 issue of FIELD. What luck that you can read two of these poems online! But FIELD clearly has very good taste in poets, so you may also wish to order the issue. (You'll get a bonus poem by Rebecca!) The first two stanzas of Maggie MK's poem, "Role Play": 

Let's be lesser known suns.
You love me up close and I'll love you
from over here. We'll be ok if our legs 
are strong against the horse. Oh, quick,
quick, he's getting away. Let's rub
our noses until we smell of home.

Not available online, but so worth seeking out, are Britta Ameel's amazing poems in the September/October 2103 issue of The American Poetry Review. Here is the opening of "Self-Portrait with Planet and Hypothetical," one of my favorite poems by Britta (one of my favorite poems, full-stop): 
Yes, my body, my boss, my blood, yes,
my sucking heart. The world radiates
forth in its phosphorescent slump. 
Nosy friends and former interviewees, please let me know if you have something to add to this fall bounty! 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Nosy Interview: Saskia Wilson-Brown

Saskia in NGC 2170: Celestial Still Life, © Ignacio Diaz Bobillo

Saskia is the fearless founder of the awesomely innovative Institute for Art and Olfaction. If you're in the Los Angeles area, you should definitely check out their events and stop in for an open session. No matter where you are, I recommend nosing around (how could I resist?) the IAO website and liking their Facebook page (they post great links!), and not just because I'm proud to be have their support for my nosy research in Rwanda. You can find and follow Saskia (and the IAO) on Twitter, too. 

What do you smell like?  
Right now it's Sunday night, and I think I smell like a day well lived: Sun baked skin, myriad bits of displaced leaves and grass, steer manure (unfortunately hard to remove), a smidge of 'Jeux de Peau' by Serge Lutens, and, inevitably, coffee and cigarettes. Every perfume I buy has to compete with a base of cigarette smoke. It's a unique challenge, but I like to tell myself it makes my life a little more Brigitte Bardot. 

So let's just say I smell like Brigitte Bardot (minus the steer manure: I sincerely doubt she gardened).

What do you like to smell? 
Other than the obvious pleasant smells like flowers and frying onions and such, some smells I've always loved are: Los Angeles after it rains (steaming cement, basically: strangely earthy), sandalwood, grapefruits, tacos, an art studio (oil paints make me nostalgic), chlorine, an empty ski run in freezing weather (solitude!), cigarette smoke after an especially long meeting, jet fuel, the nape of my husband's neck... 

What I always enjoy spending nose-time on is an unfolding idea. I've never had a hyper-developed nose like so many folks who are into scent. For me it's been an extremely strange process of learning how to identify and put words onto what I'm smelling. But the concepts behind the scents are what really get me. When someone is using scent as an art medium, and can use elements in a symbolic way-- when a perfume becomes an illustration of a concept or a story. So I guess I love the smell of a good story.