Saturday, October 31, 2009

SOTD: Chanel No. 19 Parfum, or, what would a witch wear?

This one is my favorite.

WARNING: Rhapsodizing ahead again.

Given that I've sampled hundreds of perfumes and own dozens, and that more of them than I can list were absolutely delicious, that's no small statement.

I'll say it again: This one is my favorite.

I can't do it justice in description. The best phrase that I've seen isn't mine - it refers to No. 19's "unsheathed green claws".  There are companions to the green, the rose most apparent, but galbanum is the queen. Today, the witch queen.

This one is my favorite. I have no more words.

Review Roundup: Perfume-Smellin' Things and Bois de Jasmin and Legerdenez and PeredePierre (the EDT) and The Non-Blonde and Yesterday's Perfume and ScentsOfSelf and MossyLoomings and ScentLessSensibilities and Now Smell This.

Modified to add to the Review Roundup.

Photo: Mine

Rambling: Type Faster, Type Faster!

So this November I'll be participating in both National Novel Writing Month and National Blog Posting Month. This is all The Enchanter's fault.

(Does that mean that I have to give The Enchanter a share of the royalties if I actually write a novel?)

National Blog Posting Month is just posting every day for thirty days. That, I can do. I just finished doing it for October. (Woohoo!)

National Novel Writing Month is writing a first draft of a novel, fifty thousand words, in thirty days. That one... we'll just see, now, won't we?

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

BOTD: Growing Pains: Time And Change In The Garden, by Patricia Thorpe

When I pulled this favorite book off the shelf, the flap of the dust jacket was inserted near the middle of the book, serving as a bookmark where I stopped reading it the last time I picked it up.

That's appropriate, because while this is a favorite book, I keep it and re-read it for the first few chapters, seldom consulting the second half.

Those first chapters are a wonderful take on an interesting, exasperating, sometimes funny, and seldom-discussed subject: The aging, and particularly the overcrowded, garden. The names of the first four chapters describe the theme pretty well:

Chapter 1: Discovering the Midlife Crisis in your Garden
Chapter 2: Too Much
Chapter 3: Too Little
Chapter 4: Sins of Omission

I love these chapters.

The lead-in discusses recent history in garden fashions, and how that's led to a frequent, specific set of problems in modern gardens. It also discusses, more generally, garden decisions and their impact after a few years of gardening. It offers advice that looks simple, but is really seldom seen, perhaps because it's too obvious to experienced gardeners.

For example,

"All gardens, even those of experienced horticulturists, need serious reassessment and replanting every seven to ten years. The knowledgeable plantsman accepts this as a matter of course; the beginner discovers this in the course of a nervous breakdown."

How often does a garden writer offer this essential piece of advice? Gardening is often seen as a straight-line process - plan, plant, maybe correct a few problems, and grow in maturity and beauty. The fact that it's really a constant process of experimenting, re-evaluation, and successes that then proceed to age out of existence, is seldom stated. Henry Mitchell said it, too, but he's no longer here to remind us.

Moving on, "Too Much" discusses the problems of success and how to solve them. The author offers advice on dealing with excessive numbers of excessively successful plants - what can be moved, what can't be moved, when to be ruthless, and how to keep it all from happening all over again. This problem is illustrated on the book's cover - it depicts a cartoon gardener climbing into his house through an upstairs window because excessive growth has made all ground-level entrances impassible.

The obvious-but-not-obvious good advice continues. For example, she assures the reader that moving plants "is an integral part of life in a maturing garden", and explains what to do when the advice for moving plants is laughably far from reality. ("... if you had enough space to dig a trench a foot wide around this particular plant, you probably wouldn't need to move it.")

"Too Little" is, of course, about the opposite problem - what's failed, and why. (Plant postmortems, as she puts it.) And how to keep it from happening again, whether by doing it right next time, or giving up on hopeless quests. Here, she also offers courage in getting rid of the "living dead" as she puts it - those plants that refuse to die, but refuse to live.

"Sins of Omission" offers information that, while less unique to this book, still seems related to the theme. Seasonal planting, timing, spatial gaps, making use of the special opportunities of a southern climate, and other interesting discussions.

After that, the book seems to shift away from the topic of "time and change in the garden" to just good, solid gardening advice. Her advice about paths, about trees, about structure and scale, is sound and well-written, but other people have said it. The same for the discussion of perennials, and pesticides and pests, and water conservation, and wildflowers, and soil, and hardiness, and shade. It's good. It's quite good.

But I can get it somewhere else.  I would give up these last chapters for an even fuller discussion of the issue of the aging garden. But even so, the first chapters are well worth the price of admission.

First Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Second Photo: Anguskirk, Wikimedia Commons. Click for Details
Third Photo: Mine

Friday, October 30, 2009

SOTD: Robert Piguet Bandit

The classics continue.

When I read that Robert Piguet was very kind about sending out free samples, I left a blatantly-begging message on their website, and quite promptly received vials of Bandit, Cravache, Fracas, Baghari, and Visa. Woohoo!

So, Bandit. Bandit was created in 1944 by Germaine Cellier, the creator of Vent Vert. It was re-introduced in 1999 after a long absence, reformulated by Delphine Lebeau. If I understand my perfume history correctly, it's the leather perfume of leather perfumes, the originator of a leather dynasty just as Vent Vert is the originator of a green floral dynasty. This is a, the, big classic leather.

While is why, when I first dabbed this on from a sample vial I was startled with how very mild it was. This is what all the fuss is about? Maybe the excitement is in the development.

Three and a half hours of development later and, no, it's even milder. So I came to my senses and decanted the vial into a sprayer, spritzed it on, and, yowza! There's Bandit.

Leather, indeed. Serious, intense, no-fooling-around leather. And while I can't tease out the galbanum, I was enjoying something bitter and sharp in the opening, and few things make bitter and sharp that I enjoy more than galbanum.

That faded, and we're back to just leather - no doubt with other things to wrap and direct it, but all I get is leather. And that is certainly not a complaint.

I mentioned before that someone, somewhere said that leather fragrances smell more like the substances used to treat leather, than like leather - because those substances are what we think that leather smells like.

There's certainly a lot of that in Bandit, but there's also a very strong undercurrent of animal here. There's contented cow, clean stable, clean-cat-sleeping-in-the-sun. I've always thought of the circus-horses smell of Dzing! as some avant-garde innovation, but here's that same idea, from way back in 1944.

Freakishly, that warm-cat vibe means that after it dries and settles for a while, this isn't the shocker fragrance that it's reputed to be, at least for me. It's almost a comfort scent. An adult's scent, without a doubt, but there's something comfortable about that big cat.

Review Roundup: Bois de Jasmin and Perfume-Smellin' Things and Perfume-Smellin' Things again and Now Smell This and The Non-Blonde and PeredePierre and Perfume Posse and Aromascope and Yesterday's Perfume and Nathan Branch (on the parfum) and Polish, Platforms, Perfume and Left Coast Nose and Perfume Nerd and Perfume Patter and Perfume-Smellin' Things yet again.

Edited to add to the Review Roundup.

Photo: Art G. Wikimedia Commons, click for details

Thursday, October 29, 2009

BOTD: Fabulous Fakes, by Carole Tanenbaum

I mentioned earlier that I sent off for a book on costume jewelry. This is the book. It's written by Carole Tanenbaum, the owner and retailer of a substantial costume jewelry collection.

It's beautiful  - it's packed from beginning to end with gorgeous photos. The only flaw in this area is that the photos might raise the reader's standards to the point that she may reject the pieces that she encounters in real life.

It's informative, with chapters about seven different eras, from "Victorian and Art Nouveau" to "Into The Twenty-First Century". Each chapter offers information about the era's styles, materials, and the societal changes that drove trends in jewelry and jewelry manufacturing.

I like it. I'm pleased that I got it. But my mind is on munchy books after the last post, and I'm realizing that I want a companion book, a munchy book about costume jewelry. I want more details about how the author started her collection, I want stories about the pieces and the collecting and... well, whatever there is to tell stories about in that world.  I want the costume jewelry equivalent of Herman Herst's Nassau Street.

Yeah, I'm demanding. It is a lovely book as it is, and the author also has a blog. But I'd like her to start writing the munchy book version, please.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Answers: So what is a munchy book?

So you may notice that I have a post tag of "munchy books". I feel an obligation to explain what on earth I'm talking about.

A munchy book is a book that's suitable to be a reading snack - to be picked up and read for twenty minutes before falling asleep, or in the bathtub, or while waiting for the oven to preheat. Or when you want to gorge, it's the book that you take with you to the park for an afternoon, knowing that you're going to enjoy yourself.

A munchy book is so packed with stories or thoughts or factlets or theories or amusing phrases that you can open it at almost any page and start enjoying yourself. It's also likely to add to your store of knowledge, even if it's your store of knowledge about some esoteric and relatively useless topic.

Now, that's not to say that a munchy book is _only_ suitable as a snack food.  In fact, a really good munchy book, the kind that's worth re-reading and reading aloud to those around you (thus driving them mad, but the stories are so good that you just can't stop) is quite likely to also be a very good book.

Photo: Sakurai Midori. Wikimedia Commons; click for details.

SOTD: Balmain Ivoire

Today's sample is Balmain Ivoire, another green, this one a descendent of yesterday's Vent Vert.

It's not at all as I remember it from my last sampling - then, I thought of it as a shy, ladylike, powdery little fragrance, careful to avoid offense. Frankly, I thought it was boring. I was wrong.

It starts with a fair blast of aldehydes. This is normally one of my least favorite notes, but here they're coupled with a flat-out claws-extended green, and the trumpets seem appropriate.

That all settles within minutes, perhaps even seconds, and then I smell a soft, creamy soap and gentler green - the vetiver has receded and the other greens are using company manners. And I think that I'm getting just a hint of the sandalwood. I don't like soapy scents any more than I like aldehydes but, again, I like the soap here. No doubt the green helps, and perhaps the appropriateness of sandalwood with soap is contributing.

As time goes on, the soap fades away. The scent is dominated at this stage by sweeter florals, bitter moss, and now-creamy sandalwood, with the green notes waxing and waning. I'm getting none of the clove scent of carnation, but I think that without making itself recognizable, it's contributing the sparkle that I detect in the sweet-and-bitter mixture.

So Ivoire is quiet and civilized after the initial triumphant entrance, but it's not sweet, simple, or shy, and it's emphatically not boring. The soap, the green chorus, the sandalwood, and the moss all show their bitter side, only lightly sweetened by the florals, and that works very well. It's an old-fashioned fragrance, but not in the "old lady" sense. Instead, it gives me a glimpse into a time when perfume wasn't all about sweet florals, or even all about undilutedly pleasing scents.

Review Roundup: Fragrance Bouquet and Basenotes and 1000 Fragrances and Yesterday's Perfume and ScentLessSensibilities.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hoarding: Souvenirs, Heirlooms, History, and Junk, by way of a handkerchief

So I just wandered to the coffee shop to get myself some hot chocolate, wearing a little handmade purse that hasn't seen use in some time. When I opened the main pocket of the purse to dump in my change, I found a handkerchief.

It's a pretty handkerchief. It's white lawn with a woven-in yellow border, with a bouquet of what look to me like Japanese anemones (my favorite flower) embroidered and appliqued in yellow. It was my grandmother's - or possibly it was my mother's and I "borrowed" it from her in my youth. I think that it was mass-produced, but at a time when standards for such things were higher than they are now.

It's a very nice thing, but it's also a usable thing, and I'm using it. It's a useful possession, and it's a souvenir, and an heirloom, and a link with the past.

It was also an ordinary possession of ordinary people. These days, ordinary people would use a tissue instead of a handkerchief. Instead of pulling a minor piece of art out of a purse, people would pull out a piece of paper  that would, after use, become a piece of trash. The handkerchief has beauty and a link with the past. The tissue is empty.

I found myself wondering, is this some small part of what causes hoarding? Do people crave possessions that have some meaning - art, or beauty, or craftsmanship, or history - and, failing to find that meaning, do they assign meaning to things that have none? Is this part of what drives a hoarder that can't throw away a sports cup or a used bandage? Part of what motivates them to buy yet another discounted T-shirt that they won't wear? Part of what makes them unable to throw out the World Almanac from twenty years ago? ("But it's a _book_!")

I don't like the idea of attachment to possessions - that's how hoarding happens in the first place. On the other hand, is it a mistake, some sort of societal illness, that most of every modern person's possessions are essentially worthless, in terms of beauty and craftsmanship and meaning?

When we look at "vintage" items, even the relatively cheap and commonplace ones, they so often seem to have more presence, more beauty, than the average commonplace item today. Of course, there's a selection process here - the more beautiful and durable things were kept and collected, the less so were long ago discarded. But I still persist in seeing a difference.

While I'm trying not to collect, and determined not to collect the useless or unused, I'm increasingly drawn to possessions with a history - a history that already exists, or one that will grow as time goes by. Possessions like handkerchiefs instead of tissues, and preferably interesting or beautiful handkerchiefs. Or hardbound ex-library copies of my favorite books from my childhood instead of new paperback versions, or the vintage desk chair that I use as a lamp table. And that handmade purse, even if it is modern. Someone chose three different tapestry fabrics for it, made the corded trim, and assembled it all. It's art, if only in a small way.

I still can't afford to overvalue it - that is, again, where hoarding lies. If that purse is torn or stained someday, or I stop using it, I need to be able to throw it out or give it away. But all the same, the purse satisfies a craving for meaning that a waist pack, for example, just doesn't.

Today's theory is that we're all more or less starved for that meaning in our possessions, and that hoarders create it where it doesn't exist.

Photo: Mine

SOTD: Balmain Vent Vert (Modern)

Today I dug into the Classics Ziploc and pulled out a sample of Balmain Vent Vert - the modern version.

Technically, I'm not sure if the modern Vent Vert qualifies as a classic. The fond descriptions are always about the vintage, which is one of the galbanum classics, and I am without a doubt a galbanum freak. But it's also a struggle to obtain, so I'm trying to evaluate the modern Vent Vert without reference to the old, to see if I like it as a separate perfume.

And I think I do, but perhaps not even enough to buy one of the heavily-discounted bottles widely available.

It starts out powdery, a girly-powdery, but that settles down to a reasonable level almost immediately. And there's galbanum, of course, severely tamed. It shows its bitterness and intense green for a few minutes, but then it's muffled with soft florals. And then I think it's done - a slightly powdery, not-too-sweet floral veiling a declawed galbanum. Compared to Issey Miyake's A Scent and Estee Lauder's Jasmine White Moss, it's less sweet and less cluttered. Compared to Cristalle, it's less sharp. Compared to Chanel No. 19, it's less wholeheartedly, aggressively, bitterly green.

The vintage Vent Vert is a critical ancestor of all of these green fragrances. Even the modern version seems somewhat true to this history, in that it makes galbanum the center and purpose of the composition - it may be afraid to let the green loose, but it also makes no attempt to pacify with other notes, disdains to offer sweet floral candy like the Miyake scent. (And, yes, I love the Miyake scent, but it is a scent that's eager to please, unlike many of the classic greens.)

But in the end, it fears its central player and works too hard to protect us from its sharp edges. It ends up just Nice, and a classic deserves better than that.

Review Roundup: Bois de Jasmin and Now Smell This and Basenotes (modern) and Basenotes (original) and Legerdenez and Yesterday's Perfume (original) and The Scentimentalist (original) and hortus conclusus and Perfume Posse.

(Edited to add to the Review Roundup.)

Photo:  Christian Staebler, Wikimedia Commons. Click for details

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

SOTD: Jo Malone Sweet Lime & Cedar

Pulling on my sweater this morning, I got a lovely whiff of cedar from yesterday's Navegar. Rather than fighting it, I decided to continue the cedar theme with Jo Malone Sweet Lime & Cedar.

There's a note in Jo Malone fragrances that I can't identify, but find very satisfying. It's like the olfactory equivalent of being comfortably fed after waiting a little too long to have a meal. That note, whatever it is, gives these otherwise light and fluttery fragrances some weight, something that makes them worth sniffing after one might otherwise get bored with the lighter notes.

As for describing this fragrance, it describes itself pretty well. There's cedar, a somewhat sharper cedar than Navegar, without the slightest hint of floral in it. And a surprisingly long-lasting lime note, so much longer-lasting than your usual citrus note that I wonder if it's something other than lime. (I see from the reviews that it's kaffir lime leaves; maybe that explains it.) There's said to be coconut and other things, but my nose isn't educated enough to find them.

I read that this fragrance is inspired by the flavors of Thai food, and I see that the reviews tend to regard it as a summer cologne. None of that is true for me - I don't perceive it as at all foody or even food-garnishy, I use it as an autumn fragrance, and it's stronger and longer-lasting than a cologne. (In fact, it seems to be getting stronger, not weaker, as I go into the second hour; I'll have to spray on a little less next time.)

But none of that is a criticism; I like this one, and I should wear it more often.

Update: Six hours later, it's still growing! Don't overspray this one, no matter how vanishingly light it seems at the beginning. Really. Don't.

Review Roundup: Now Smell This and Perfume-Smellin' Things and SmellyBlog.

Photo: Sarah Katzenell. Wikimedia Commons; click for details.

Monday, October 26, 2009

BOTD: Danger Point, by Patricia Wentworth

I read a lot. A whole lot. Not always new books, but there's generally at least one book sitting around with a dog-eared page, or actually in my hand.

So I'm adding Book Of The Day to Scent Of The Day. We'll see how this works out.

_Danger Point_ is a murder mystery by Patricia Wentworth, in her Miss Silver series. It's set in England, it's copyrighted 1942, and that appears to be approximately when it's set. Much of the action takes place in the massive family estate of Tanfield Court.

Miss Silver is one of those respectable little old ladies that goes around solving murders, in this case one who once worked as a governess but moved on to making a nice little living going around solving murders professionally. She also knits, naturally.

I like Miss Silvers. While she doesn't have the flaws of, say, Agatha Raisin, she's also not a flawless little white-haired bundle of perfection. Or, actually, aside from her taste in decorating and clothes, she is rather perfect, and that's her imperfection. She's clever, she's collected, she's tidy, she's frugal, she rarely says anything stronger than "Dear me!", and at times others are properly irritated by all that.

Patricia Wentworth, in general, wrote Good Reads. Varying characters, interesting if cozy psychology, events that are enjoyable to follow. The core conflict of the plot can generally be summarized in a sentence or two ("sweet heiress marries dubious money-hungry husband" is the summary for this one), but that's OK.

I do have an unfortunate tendency to throw modern psychological jargon at the situations in Patricia Wentworth's books, and to see some of the situations as textbook cases - which is actually rather interesting, considering the age of the books. The wife who's desperate to make her husband smile at her, the daughter who can't pull away from her self-absorbed mother, the hard-working woman who enables (see? jargon!) her slacker brother-in-law, all of them seem startlingly modern, among the tea and crumpets and well-tended gardens.

This particular book is about the desperate wife, and this is at least the third time I've read it. So I think I'd recommend it.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

SOTD: L'Artisan Parfumeur Navegar

Navegar always smells to me like cedar. Period. So this time I wanted to keep a nose on it and try to catch those other notes that other people always seem to smell.

I sniffed industriously from the moment I sprayed and there were brief ghostly hints of other things. (Is that the cucumber they're talking about? Is that the black pepper? They're talking aquatic, I'm not getting the aquatic, unless it's the cucumber? Wait, he says he's getting _lime_?) Very brief. I'm ten minutes in, and it's cedar. Just cedar.

That's not to say that cedar is insufficient. I love cedar. Cedar is why I wear Navegar. But few people like... OK, what do you call a soliflore if it's not about a flower, but about wood? Solibois?

Anyway, as I was saying, few people like single-note perfumes. And in fact, Luckyscent declares that this perfume contains "red pepper, ginger, lime, absolute rum, black pepper, incense, star anise, juniper, cedar wood, guaiac wood". I get, again, cedar. So there's got to be more in here, but perhaps I just can't smell it.

"Can't smell it" is a problem that I and apparently many people have with some L'Artisan perfumes. And it doesn't seem to be the same perfumes for everyone - for example, scanning the Review Roundup, I see one reviewer who can only briefly smell L'Artisan Dzing! and dislikes Piment Brulant (which suggests that he can smell it), while I have no difficulty smelling Dzing!, and can't smell Piment Brulant for more than a second or two.

So: Cedar. A lovely light cedar, not too aggressive or resinous. There might be the faintest possible floral note, because it sometimes smells the way I'd imagine a cedar flower to smell, if cedar produced sheaves of little white flowers. Except floral notes are the one thing that _isn't_ listed in that notes list.

Navegar is lovely, to my nose. If you have my nose, I recommend it. But it would probably be safest to smell it first, to make sure that you can, well, smell it.

Review Roundup: Bois de Jasmin and Fragrantica and Basenotes.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, October 25, 2009

SOTD: L'Artisan Parfumeur Tea for Two

Tea for Two is, IMO, a niche classic. Or just a classic - is L'Artisan niche any more? It's been around long enough, and widely enough loved, that people don't ask "Have you tried Tea for Two?" but instead exclaim, "And Tea for Two! How could I forget Tea for Two?" It's a comfy staple in the wardrobe, but that's not a reflection of any boring simplicity, just of how very good it is.

Tea for Two is spicy, but saying that somehow seems misleading, because I rarely like spicy. It's not uncomfortably challenging, it's not something that, in food, would have you reaching for a drink to wash it down. It's a gentle spicy, quenching rather than needing to be quenched. It's, well, tea. With anise and smoke, and you can smell gingerbread in the oven. And there's a little something else that I enjoy in the same way that I enjoy burning autumn leaves.

It's good any time, but for me it's particularly a late summer and autumn fragrance. You'll probably be hearing from me about it again.

Review Roundup: Perfume-Smellin' Things and Bois de Jasmin and PeredePierre and Perfume Posse and Fragrantica and Daniel Tharp and 1000 Scents and Feminine Things.

Edited to add to the Review Roundup.

Photo by Agon S. Buchholz, Wikimedia Commons. Click for details.

Hoarding: The Red Reeboks, and other souvenirs

(Very brief context: I'm not a hoarder, but it's In The Genes, so it, and the need to maintain strict control over my Stuff lest I fall over the edge, is something that I keep myself aware of. And think about. And read about. And write about. And like that.)

When I was in college, I had a pair of red leather Reebok high-tops. (No, that's not them in the photo, nor do those look like mine. But mine were great, like those look great.)

I loved those shoes. I wore those shoes so constantly for a while that they were What My Feet Looked Like. In those shoes, I was sturdy and I was practical but I was also, well, _red_.  Red is the color of balloons (all other balloons are imitators) and candy apples. It's an essential component of every happy color mix. It's _red_.

Just recently, I was remembering those Reeboks, and thinking how nice it would be to still have them... and as I have before, realizing that, no, it wouldn't.

If I still had them, they'd be sad, dusty, and worst of all faded, jammed in a box somewhere, only coming to light occasionally to make me feel guilty, make me debate whether to get rid of them, and then stuff them back in the box.

As it is, the memory of those shoes is undilutedly good. It's a memory of me as a young adult, out in the world for the first time, making friends for the first time, expressing my quirks, at least in a crazy pair of shoes. It's just good. Having a sad, dusty, sticky (you know how neglected leather gets _sticky_?) pair of Reeboks would just weigh those memories down.

I still have another pair of shoes, not as old but just as important. When we bought this old house, we didn't have a car, and I was here by myself for several days because Himself couldn't escape from an obligation. I remember feeling bad for for him being unable to join me in playing with our new and life-changing toy right out of the box, and I remember being guiltily, intensely happy at being able to play with it myself.

I also remember my feet hurting. There was no car, and I had to walk out for every little thing - forgot the Windex, forgot the butter, forgot the salt, need hedge clippers! I could barely sleep at night, for my feet twitching. So I went to the hiking store and got a pair of shoes that seemed like a likely solution, and they were. I wore those shoes through almost every moment relating to the house, for the first year and a half, maybe more. They're infused with memories of the house, and Himself, and the things that we did. But now they're worn out, and I can't wear them any more.

And looking at the still-bright memories of the Reeboks, and seeing the way that the actual physical Reeboks would have dimmed those memories, I realize that it's time to let those shoes go.

Photo by Alfonso Romeo, Wikimedia Commons. No, those aren't my shoes, nor do they look like them, but they feel right.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Garden: Final Fireworks - Updated

It's fall. The garden knows it's time to sleep. So like any sensible toddler, it's going to make some noise first. I can't resist the temptation to offer a couple of photos of its best tricks. But I know what baby pictures can be like, so feel free to just scroll on without clicking.

SOTD: Parfumerie Generale Cadjmere

Again. Yep, I've posted about this before, and before that. Three wearings in a month doesn't seem like much, but I believe that this is the only repeater in a sample-heavy month. I'm in love with this scent, at least right now.

It's edible, but it's not... filling? You can enjoy eating one thing for only so long, but you can enjoy smelling it cooking, anticipating it, for much longer. This is like that.

Or maybe I don't even react to this one like a gourmand - maybe it's not registering as "edible" in my brain. Catching a whiff of it is rather like putting on a cedar-scented sweater just pulled out of winter storage - it's comforting and familiar, and was that way almost on the first sniff. Maybe it's the powder and vanilla that give it that familiarity, and then the coconut and sandalwood that make it exotic enough for a perfume snob who won't be satisfied with simple comfort.

It's a theory. Maybe I'll have a new thought the next time I put this on, and I'm betting that will be this month.

Photo: Meursalt2004, Wikimedia Commons

Friday, October 23, 2009

SOTD: Parfumerie Generale Harmatan Noir (And L'Eau Rare Matale, and The Grass Is Greener)

I want this. It would be wrong, because I already own L'Eau Rare Matale, and they're very similar. But I still Want.

They're both tea and crushed stone and sun and water and wind. And they both yearn. But they're not the same.

(Warning: Rhapsodizing follows.)

L'Eau Rare Matale is sitting on the gravel bank of a stream fed from melting snow, dabbling your feet in the shock of the water. The light flickers as the leaves move in the breeze, and you're leaning your head back to catch just a little more sun on your face, to dry the splashes and feel your skin warm. There's tea, icy  and stern. L'Eau Rare Matale glories in the cold but still yearns for a little more sun, a little more sweetness.

Harmatan Noir is resting in the shadow of a boulder in the desert, the sun shimmering-hot just a few steps away, the sand still warm against you. You sit very still, waiting for the hot wind to cool the sweat from your skin. The only water is a little tea with sugar and mint, still warm from when you brewed it, not as much as you want but all the more precious for its scarcity. Harmatan Noir yearns for coolness and water and brighter air, while still taking pleasure, catlike, in being soaked in heat.

Harmatan Noir yearns for L'Eau Rare Matale's world, if only for a moment, and L'Eau Rare Matale is just as eager to change places. And when I wear one, I want to smell the other.

Review Roundup: For Harmatan Noir, Legerdenez and Perfume Posse and PereDePierre and Perfume-Smellin' Things. For L'Eau Rare Matale, Now Smell This and Perfume-Smellin' Things.

Photo: Flr0002, Wikimedia Commons. Click for details.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

SOTD: Parfumerie Generale Aomassai

I generally try to write about my SOTD before refreshing my memory as to what others have written. I'm not sure if this is a logical strategy - would it make more sense to be fully informed before I start typing? But would it be as much fun? After all, at this point this is more of a diary than a publication, so fun should be the point.

Anyway. I don't know what to say about Aomassai. My thoughts come down to: "Toasted sugar. Yum." And, well, that's all very well, but there's not much to it. So I'm going to read the reviews now.

Except, first... one other thought did come to mind: I realized today that I do wear fragrances, to a limited extent, for other people. Not mostly for other people, but I guess that I do think of them as projecting an image. Because while I think of Cristalle as a sophisticated woman in pressed white linen, and Daim Blond as a Hitchcock blond in furs, and Mandragore as a thirties-movie city girl in a flawless suit and tappity-tap heels, Aomassai is... a pastry.

I'm not quite positive that I want to be a pastry. I'm visualizing myself walking around in a wonderful-smelling, flaky, burnt-sugar-encrusted, artisan-croissant version of one of those giant hot dog costumes. Is that really what I want?

Apparently it's not a deterrent, because I'm sniffing happily and asking myself, "Why haven't I been wearing this all week?" But is the Wearing A Giant Food Suit vibe a positive thing? I suspect that if this were just as foody, but not so very, very delicious, I might have skipped it for something else. Cadjmere, for example, which at least turns me into a grey cat, rather than a Baked Good Item.

But it is that delicious, so I think I'm just going to get used to my pastry identity.

And I'm done talking, so I'll go re-read the reviews now. After rambling, as usual.

Review Roundup: The Non-Blonde and Now Smell This and Perfume-Smellin' Things and Fragrantica and Nathan Branch and PerfumeCritic and Bois de Jasmin.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

SOTD: Parfumerie Generale Cedre Sandaraque

I continue to puzzle over the seasonal fragrance thing. Why should the same fragrance smell fundamentally different to me, depending on the season? I'm in a house, for heaven's sake! Heating, air conditioning, all that.

But Cedre Sandaraque is a completely different fragrance in the fall. I sniffed it a couple of times in the spring and summer, and was quite seriously debating giving it away. But now, on my first wearing in the fall, it's lovely, and it's not going anywhere.

In summer, it was dull and flat and mealy. Now, it's tangy, bright, sprightly, living wood, lit from the inside. I've raised my wrist to my nose a dozen times since I started trying to type this paragraph. For lack of a more literary description, it's great stuff. It's even better than I remember it being the day I bought it.

However, unlike almost everyone else, I don't perceive this as a gourmand. It evokes a cabinetmaker's shop, not a kitchen - freshly cut exotic wood, sawdust, glues and finishes. It's a little unexpected, a little bit foreign. And very civilized.

Review Roundup: Now Smell This and Aromascope and Sniffapalooza (scroll down).

Photo: Wikimedia Commons, by TUBS. Click for details.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

SOTD: Le Labo Patchouli 24

While I love "tea" fragrances, they never actually smell like tea to me. They smell like the idea of tea, of something refreshing and liquid and slightly bitter, but they don't actually smell like tea. I never get the feeling that leaves were involved.

Patchouli 24 makes me feel like leaves were involved. It smells like tea - to me. I get a vision of an old-fashioned square metal tea tin. I'm just opening it and getting a faceful of dusty, smoky, tea-soaked air that's been caught in there for months.

Oddly, the consensus of reviews seem to be, no, that's not leaves, that's not even patchouli, that's birch tar.  Hmph. To me, it's tea.

Which separates this fragrance, for me, from the whole patchouli vibe. This isn't what a sixties flower child smells like, it's something that would be in Miss Marple's pantry. It's crumpets, not flowers. Linen napkins, not protest signs. Tea chests in ships' holds, not backpacks at Grateful Dead concerts. If I want the other vibe, I'm going to have to find a different patchouli.

I might do that sometime, but meanwhile I'm very happy with my quiet, smoky, just barely exotic "tea" fragrance.

Review Roundup: PereDePierre and Perfume-Smellin' Things and Now Smell This and I Smell Therefore I Am and Grain de Musc and Eiderdown Press and Confessions Of A Perfume Nerd and Nathan Branch and Perfume Patter and Basenotes and MakeupAlley and Perfume-Smellin' Things again and Fragrantica and Perfume Shrine (very brief mention) and Notes from Josephine.

Edited to add to the Review Roundup.

Photo: Laurel F., Wikimedia Commons. Click for details.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Rambling: Sugar Fest

Halloween is coming, so my mind turns to candy.

Now, not much of this is candy that I would give to trick-or-treaters. It's the stuff I'd eat after closing the door on the little goblins and witches and Nixons and starting the horror movie back up.

Such as:

Southern Candymakers Turtles. I can't remember who it was that said that to children, the possession of turtles, the ability to buy turtles whenever you want, represents ultimate riches. Southern Candymakers makes the very best turtles (well, they call them tortues) I've ever had. I prefer the simplest version - caramel and pecans with just a topping of dark chocolate - but they make them in many elaborate variations. They also make other things that I'm sure are fabulous. I've just never looked at them.

Twila's English Toffee. Thin, crunchy toffee, your choice of milk or dark chocolate. Eat it out of the fridge for even better crunch.

Heath Bars. The king of the chocolate that you can get at the checkout. A salesman that my father worked with used to give him boxes of these. I don't know how much this influenced my father, but it sure won over us kids. Put these in the fridge, too.

After Eight Mints. The queen of checkout chocolate.

Junior Mints. OK, these are somewhere in the royal family, too.

Teuscher. Chocolates. Yum. The mint truffle wrapped in green foil is my favorite.

Lindt Lindor Chocolate Mint Balls. OK, these are the emperors of checkout chocolate. Yeah, Lindt makes many other wonderful things, but if you have the mint balls, why would you need anything else? Except milk. And a fridge. Put these in the fridge, too.

There's more, I'm quite sure, but my mind is in a purely fantasy-induced sugar haze. Perhaps I'll be updating later with more. I might even remember something that doesn't include chocolate.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

SOTD: Parfumerie Generale Bois de Copaiba

I'm in the market for an orange fragrance. I've gone off most of my citrus fragrances - they're all too bright, cheerful, and brief. But I've been keeping an eye out for a winter orange - not fruity and beachy, but something intense and a little bitter. Something Sophisticated.

Sadly, Bois de Copaiba is more sophisticated than I am. I can appreciate the bitter orange, the spices, the odd note (myrrh?) wrapping it all. But I don't love it. I just appreciate it, the way that I might appreciate a wine that's too challenging for me. It's fine, it's admirable, but I won't even be using up the sample.

Review Roundup: Perfume-Smellin' Things and Nathan Branch and The Non-Blonde and Aromascope and Perfume Posse.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, October 18, 2009

SOTD: Estee Lauder Jasmine White Moss

I thought that this was a summer scent, but I was wrong. In the summer, it's a little "big" - it's definitely a Lauder. Today, on a somewhat chilly day, it's a wonderful soft green, just aggressive enough to keep it from fading away, not so aggressive or chilly as to offend others. Himself didn't even notice, in a closed car, that I was wearing two sprays.

It's not also such a grand, distant green that it makes me feel that I must live up to it. Chanel No. 19, for example, does need living up to, especially in the parfum. I love that about it, but it does mean that I don't apply No. 19 to run out to the hardware store - or if I did, I'd feel that I should dig out a pressed white linen shirt and probably at least one piece of jewelry.

Jasmine White Moss, while perfectly comfortable at a nice restaurant, would also be perfectly comfortable at the hardware store.  Or an Easter egg hunt. Or a wedding. Or while driving car pool. There's no vamp about this fragrance; it's a Nice Girl.

The consensus in the Perfume Freak world seems to be that this scent is a very good sign of new trends. (Trends also represented by Issey Miyake's A Scent.) It's dry, it's green, it's (somewhat) mossy, and there isn't a peach, apple, strawberry, or pitcher of vanilla syrup anywhere in sight. It recognizes history - for that matter, it may be history, because it's reputed to be a formula started by Estee Lauder in the 1980s. (I pause here to be horrified that the 1980s were almost thirty years ago now.)

In part, I suspect that I bought a bottle to support the trend. But I'm not sorry.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Books: Miss Manners' Guide To Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, and others, by Judith Martin

Miss Manners is coming out with a new book!

It's about weddings.

I'm not getting married. Nobody I know is getting married.

I'm going to buy it anyway. I may very well pre-order.

Miss Manners, aka Judith Martin, is my authority on matters of etiquette. And I love reading her books. Given a choice between a new book from my favorite mystery author, and a new Miss Manners? I'll pick the Miss Manners without a moment's hesitation.

Miss Manners has opinions. She looks at the infinite complexity of etiquette, and pulls all the threads together into a structure that simply cannot be criticized. She acknowledges changes in the world, and necessary changes in behavior, and always makes the right call between the traditional and the new.

The old idea that the divorced should celebrate their second marriages quietly, as if ashamed? Feh; she rejects that. The new idea that wedding guests should provide a gift of a high enough value to "cover their plate"? Feh; she rejects that just as thoroughly. (And, no, she doesn't say 'feh'. That wouldn't be polite. Would it? Hmm.)

She rejects the idea that the rich have a corner on etiquette. And the idea that people of good hearts and good intentions have no need for etiquette. And the idea that American etiquette is in any way inferior to European etiquette. And the idea that etiquette ever requires one to be a doormat. And the idea that all people need to get along is better communication. (Hmmm. On this, I find myself wondering if she's read Douglas Adam's discussion of the babelfish, which agrees with her.) She has opinions, and I rarely disagree with them.

And she's just plain fun to read. The stories. The humor. The sarcasm. How often do you expect to laugh out loud while reading an etiquette book? You will.

I want that new book and I want it now.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

SOTD: Serge Lutens Serge Noire

I continue to be surprised at how much I love this one. When I first sprayed it on my arm, long ago at Barney's (visualize nostalgic Mists of Time... OK, it was just last year or so) I thought that it was somewhere between unimpressive and unpleasant.

I had something much sweeter and more inviting (Chergui?) on the other arm, so when we rushed away (Barney's usually needs to fit in after a show and before dinner) I was happily sniffing that, and occasionally checking in to see what the deal was with that weird, sour stuff on the Serge Noire arm.

Then the weird, sour stuff started to develop, and became not sour, but dry. And still weird, but a dark, wonderful sort of weird. When I smell it, I see an endless desert of jet-black powder-fine sand. Maybe with a volcano nearby, long cold, but you can still smell the fact that there was once fire there.

After an hour, I was sniffing the arms equally. After ninety minutes, it was the sweet arm that was only occasionally getting a sniff. After two hours, I'd forgotten the sweet arm entirely and was dividing my attention between my dinner (a very fine dinner) and the wonderful black dust.

I still delight in this transformation, every time I wear Serge Noire. I don't like the top notes much better than I ever did, but they make me happy, because I know what's coming.

Review Roundup: Love it or hate it, this one gets a lot of opinions! Perfume Posse and Fragrantica and Perfume Shrine and Grain de Musc and Pink Magenta and Nathan Branch and Now Smell This and WAFT and StyleCaster and BitterGrace Notes (one sentence review) and EauMG and Grain de Musc and Basenotes and Fragrantica and Perfume Shrine and Perfume-Smellin' Things and Fragrantica again and Pink Sith.

Edited to expand the Review Roundup.

Photo by Mila Zinkova. Wikimedia Commons. Click for details.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Books: Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, by Paco Underhill

This is another book that isn't the least bit useful to me, but is a good read - a very good read.

Paco Underhill uses anthropology to study shoppers. He could be seen as The Opposition, since his goal is to help merchants make more sales from customers like us, and he seems to be very good at it.

But that really doesn't worry me, and the book really is great deal of fun. It's another book full of stories, and bits of information that you didn't know, just the kind I like. Where's the best place to position dog treats to increase sales? Why shouldn't the soda cooler be in the back of the store in the mall? How long will a man look for a fitting room before he gives up? What can be done with the answers to increase sales?

It's a munchy trivia and story snack, entertainingly written. I recommend it.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons. Click for details.

Books: Nassau Street, and others, by Herman Herst, Jr.

It's been a long time since I collected stamps. And even when I did, I wasn't particularly serious about it. I had a kid's collection of ordinary stamps, and my interest waxed and waned, usually waned.

But I still love reading these books, because while they're technically about stamps, they're mostly about stories. About people, and quirks, and what triggers an enthusiasm, and what makes value, and business in a more casual age, and, well, stories. And Herman Herst was a leader in the stamp world, making them all that more interesting.

So I recommend them in the Good Read category. That is all.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Books: The Essential Earthman (and others) by Henry Mitchell

Henry Mitchell was, among other things, the garden columnist for the Washington Post for many years. He is also, in my view, the best garden writer. Period. In writing, in knowledge, in entertainment value, in philosophy, and in attitude, he wins.

Henry Mitchell's books, I believe largely drawn from his columns, will teach you a great deal about gardening. Not in an indexed, carefully categorized, classroom sort of way - they are, instead, a very knowledgeable and also very entertaining gardener giving you his views on something that interests him.

But they're mainly about entertainment and the sheer joy of absorbing the thoughts of someone passionately garden-obsessed. They're not reference books, they're reading books

The full list of Henry Mitchell's garden books consists of The Essential Earthman, One Man's Garden, and On Gardening. It's certainly worth reading all three, and I believe that all are still in print.

Photo: By Rasbak, Wikimedia Commons. Click for details.

Rant: What happened to dessert?

Dessert used to be better.

I'm talking about purchased dessert. On a plate at a restaurant or in a box at the bakery. Dessert at home is whatever the cook at home makes, and it's usually still pretty good.

Purchased dessert used to have flavors. Butter, and chocolate, and cream, and nuts, and caramel, and burnt sugar, and like that. Now it just tastes like sugar.

Now, I'm not one of those people who says, "Oh, it's got sugar in it." Or "I never eat white sugar." I eat lots of white sugar. Yum.

But sugar can't stand alone. It needs something else, and it needs something else that's at least a little bit challenging. Strawberries should have some sour. Chocolate should have some bitter, or some of that dutch powderiness, or something. Butter should taste like butter, like you are indeed (gasp!) eating fat - and by the way, the chocolate should have fat, too. And so should cream.

I've lamented more than once the once-fabulous dessert at a restaurant that shall go un-named. It was a small flat slice of deadly-rich seriously-bitter chocolate cake, in a pool of wincingly sour raspberry sauce, topped with a soft plop of unsweetened whipped cream. Taken alone, the cake was too rich and too bitter. Taken alone, the sauce was too sour and screamed too loud of raspberries. Taken alone, the cream was too fatty-rich and too bland. Taken together, a carefully assembled bite, the combination was miraculous.

Then the restaurant added a bale of sugar to everything, and that was the end of that. That was about the time they stopped flattening and seasoning their chicken breasts, and made you pay extra for the fabulous fried bread and the miracle-of-simplicity butter lettuce salad. Then we stopped going. Then they closed.

It's all a lesson in attention to detail in food, but the dish that I grieve most is the dessert. And dessert in general, because most other restaurants made the same "add a bale of sugar" change even before that one. With rare (and much-appreciated) exceptions, dessert has become a waste of menu space.

That's why I tend to order rare tuna at the end of a meal. Yum.

SOTD: Bois 1920 Vetiver Ambrato, and amber.

Back to the sample box, and I love Bois 1920, so let's try Vetiver Ambrato. Just a couple of drops; I'm already getting miserly with my new hoard of mini-sprayers.

I'm used to vetiver being fairly transparent and green, or dark and muddy. This is neither. In the first couple of minutes, so far, this is nutty, and with that pencil eraser note - iris? Let's do the review roundup early and read the notes.

No, amber. Hence the name. Silly me. Well, that's unexpected. I don't like amber. Also embarrassing that I still haven't even remotely nailed down what iris smells like, but let's move on from that.

The pencil eraser and nuts have dried away, and, yep, that's amber. Soft, quiet, almost but not quite powdery. I don't love it but I don't hate it, so perhaps this one could be amber "training wheels" for me. Because I want to like amber - there are so many scents that would otherwise be delicious.

It's odd that the note that may sell amber to me is vetiver, not really one of my favorite notes. Then again, it's not at all odd that Bois 1920, one of my very favorite houses, might be the one to do the job.

We'll see how this goes.

Picture: Wikimedia Commons

Review Roundup: Sweet Diva and Nathan Branch.

Books: The Perfect Scent, by Chandler Burr

The Perfect Scent is an entertaining read, though perhaps only if you're a perfume freak. It follows the creation of the Jean-Claude Ellena scent Un Jardin Sur Le Nil, and the Sarah Jessica Parker scent Lovely - both well-known perfumes. (The perfumers for Sarah Jessica Parker's scent were Laurent Le Guernec and Clement Gavarry.) The two stories alternate chapters throughout the book.

In the process, the book tells us a great deal about the perfume industry - and two different ends of the industry, the loftier artistic side and the less-lofty mass market side. Though, really, the two sides don't end up looking that much different. Parker's perfume seems to involve a good deal more artistry than one might expect, and Ellena's perfume is certainly heavily driven by the commercial process.

The general consensus in the World Of Perfume Freaks is that Sarah Jessica Parker is the rare celebrity who's actually interested in perfume, and had some involvement in the creation of the perfume that has her name on it. The book bears that out, and it's enjoyable to read about Ms. Parker (can she really be that charming?) and to also to imagine the idea of world-class perfumers creating a scent to reflect the preferences and personality of a non-perfumer. Reality is unfortunately injected, since the scent that came out of this process was not the edgy, "dirty" scent that Ms. Parker had in mind. But it's fun all the same.

If the first story follows the perfume enthusiast (who happens to also be a multi-million-dollar earning acting star), the second follows the artist. I'm somehow embarrassed to say that this story interests me far less. I was fascinated by the story of SJP Lovely, and also by Chandler Burr's other book, The Emperor Of Scent, which I'll be posting about any day now, and which follows Luca Turin's efforts to create and publish his theory of scent.

I guess this reflects that I am an enthusiast, and a geek (though not a Nobel-prize-contender, quantum-physics-theorizing level of geek, so do I really have much in common with Luca Turin?), but not an artist. Ellena's travels to find inspiration in the landscape, his excitement at smelling a world-class... er... see, I don't even remember the scent material. His excitement at smelling a world-class something or other and his disappointment at realizing that it wasn't right for his perfume, all of those steps in the artistic process - they just don't grab me.

I think that I'm too much of an engineer to really get into the Ellena story, too much of a "very good is good enough" mindset. At best, I'm a craftsman; I'm never going to be an artist.

But the book is, again, a good read, and great material for a perfume freak.

Review roundup: Perfume Posse and Now Smell This.

Photo by Ayala Moriel, from Wikipedia Commons. Click for details.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

SOTD: Hermessence Osmanthe Yunnan

I can't make up my mind about the Hermes Hermessences.

On the one hand, they're very pretty. People seem to agree that Jean-Claude Ellena perfumes are pretty, but then they diverge on whether they're masterpieces of transparent simplicity, or just plain simple.

I would have been in the first camp, but putting this on on a fall day, it appears that I'm in that camp only in the summer. In the winter, I'm finding Osmanthe Yunnan, just... pretty. Nice tea, lovely osmanthus, pretty relaxing scent. I'm not sorry I have some, but I'm not doing the eyes-closed drinking-in-the-scent thing.

And then there's the exclusivity thing. You can only buy the Hermessences in a Hermes boutique. (Well, maybe you can also mailorder them from a Hermes boutique; I don't know because I haven't tried.) And while they're very generous with samples if you're standing in the boutique, they're not interested in mailing you a sample - I've tried. Now, to be fair, Hermes is wonderfully generous with samples of their regular line, more than most other houses.

And then, going on to the very superficial, there's the bottle. It strikes me as well, dull. The full size does include the leather cap; I suspect that the combination reflects the leathery, horsey Hermes vibe that I just don't get.

And the size. They had the foresight to produce them in 15ml bottles, but you have to buy a set of four. If you just want one fragrance, you have to buy the big bottle. Or get your hands on a 15ml bottle from someone who bought a set, which is how I got mine.  I guess it's not realistic to expect an expensive house like Hermes to offer a bottle of perfume of any size, in their exclusive line, for less than fifty dollars. But I can still want them to.

And the strength. You might need to buy the big bottle, because you have to spray a fair bit of these on to really smell them. I'm a one-spray person with most perfumes; with Osmanthe Yunnan I apply seven sprays without really thinking about it.

So no doubt I will return to the topic of Osmanthe Yunnan in the summer, and swoon all over the page. But right now... it's OK.

(Updated to expand the Review Roundup.)