Sunday, November 30, 2008

Holiday in NYC

Dave saw a note in the NY Times several months ago that said the play Black Watch was going to be returning to St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn this fall. Since I was dying to see it when it came out last year, and since it would still be running on my birthday--which happened to coincide with the Thanksgiving holiday--he asked if I'd like to go. Answer: Yes! So, we spent our long weekend in New York, enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with some old friends, saw the play, and of course, shopped for perfume.

Yep, this is me at the Caron boutique, as transfixed with desire as Gollum before the Ring, or a dog at a deli counter. Note the hunched shoulders, the clasped hands--I swear I didn't pose for this. Dave secretly took it with his cell phone. Apparently, this is just how I look when I'm shopping for perfume.

Or maybe I should say, this is how I look when I'm surrounded by great perfumes, and there's a charming, knowledgeable person to help me sniff my way through them. Diane Haska was wonderful about encouraging me to sample some new things without seeming to push them at all, and it was a lot of fun to have some serious perfume chat with a flesh-and-blood person. I don't get much opportunity for that in White Bluff.

Courtesy of Dave--official sponsor of the 2008 BitterGrace Black Friday Sniffathon--I snagged a little of the doomed Alpona, and I also got some French Can Can. FCC has recently disappeared from the Parfums Caron website, and I asked Diane about its fate. She said she's had no word about it being discontinued, but I figured I'd nab a drop just in case. It's such a lovely, romantic scent. While we're on the subject of the urn perfumes, I would like to say that I sniffed several that I have known for a long time, and they do not seem substantially changed to me. I am aware of the critical wailing and gnashing of teeth about the cheapening of the classic Carons, but I would encourage Caron lovers to take it with a grain of salt.

That said, Diane did let me sniff an edp version of N'aimez que Moi, which seemed like a very pale shadow of the extrait. I wouldn't buy it, but of course that's because I have loved the extrait for years. She also had me sample both the old and relaunched versions of Montaigne. The 2007 tweak is, predictably, a lighter and less interesting duplication of the original. Dave and I both loved the old Montaigne so much that he bought me a bottle of that, too.

Our New York sojourn also included visits to Takashimaya and Aedes de Venustas. I'll blog about those later this week, and there'll be a post about the play, too. Meanwhile, back to Sunday chores ...

ENABLER ALERT: Caron, by the way, is having its annual sale this week, Dec. 1-6, with 20% off fragrances. The phone number is (212) 319-4888.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

By the way...

I am going offline for a few days, in observance of Thanksgiving and other things. I'll tell you more when I get back. I hope all the givers of thanks have a fine holiday, and the rest of you enjoy the weekend. Cheers.

Sarah Vowell explains the Puritans

A humorous book about the Puritans just sounds hopelessly dweebish, doesn't it? Probably the kind of thing you buy but never read, and leave lying around so people will know you're smart but still have a sense of humor. Heh, heh, don't you just love Sarah Vowell?, etc.

Now, I admit, I do suffer from a mild case of dweebishness myself. I listen to NPR, I subscribe to The Nation, I'd rather read Edith Wharton than Mary Gaitskill--my lack of hipness is undeniable. Nevertheless, trust me when I tell you that The Wordy Shipmates really is funny and smart, and hardly dweebish at all. You'll find my review of it here. If you don't already know Vowell from her work on This American Life, you can see her here in a recent appearance on The Daily Show.

Monday, November 24, 2008


It rained all day today--one of those cold, steady rains that come in the late fall. ...(more)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

At the sports bar

Dave and I went into a sports bar last night--not the sort of place we usually go, but we needed to get a quick dinner and there weren't a lot of other options. The dozen or more TVs were tuned to various stations, and it happened that the one in my line of sight was showing a tabloid news show rather than football. The sound was off, but the subject of the story was obvious: A toddler's horribly bruised face glowed on the huge screen, looming over the sports fans as they went on drinking and eating, completely unengaged by yet another report about a battered child.

Baby torture porn is a media staple, right up there with animal cruelty and grisly murders of young women. People just can't get enough of it, apparently. It must be a ratings grabber, or it wouldn't be such a perennial favorite of news outlets. When a particularly pretty child is abused in a particularly brutal way, as in the Baby P case, it becomes a global round-the-clock story. Baby P doesn't seem to have been worth much to anybody in life, but in death he's become a valuable commodity.

I didn't use the phrase "baby torture porn" just to be snarky. This kind of journalism stimulates the psyche very much the way sexual pornography does. It's a rush. It makes our hearts beat a little faster, causes us to flush with anger at the same time we feel a tiny pang of shame at our excitement. It offers the combined pleasures of titillation and outrage.

But, like porn, it gets us revved up for nothing. For the person sitting in front of the TV or reading a newspaper, it's all a fantasy. It's a sad story that either has a happy ending where the evil parents go to jail, or provides a pleasant lingering fury if they get off. Either way, the fantasy's targeted consumer can put the drama out of his mind and get on with his business. There's nothing real about this encounter with someone else's suffering. It's just TV. That's why all those people in the sports bar could blithely ignore the battered baby on the screen. They had more important things to do. They weren't in the mood.

I think this is where I'm supposed to say something somber about our jaded, media-glutted society, but the truth is that I'm not sure there's anything wrong with those sports fans' unresponsiveness. I think it may be a very good thing that they can simply turn away from what is, after all, a crass attempt to lure and manipulate them. The world is filled with abused children, but crying crocodile tears in front of the television screen doesn't help them any.

Aside from being a sort of emotional masturbation aid, the standard reporting on abused children--which invariably follows the lurid details with a lot of hand wringing about what's wrong with our society--is also a collective exercise in self-deception. All our claims of being shocked, horrified, mystified, etc. by such stories are complete bullshit. We're not really shocked, we're just unhappy to be reminded that we as a species mistreat and kill our children. It's something humans have done in every era, in every part of the world. It's a trait we share with any number of other animals. That doesn't mean it's right or acceptable, but it is inevitable, which is an ugly truth you'll never hear spoken over the televised image of a broken child.

Medea about to Kill Her Children, Eugène Delacroix, 1838.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I'm not only gender neutral

Apparently, I am also a dual personality. While visitng a very fine blog, The Bleeding Heart Show, I found a link to the Typealyzer, which is supposed to classify your blog according to what appears to be the Myers-Briggs Personality system.

BitterGrace Notes is designated an ISTP blog:

ISTP - The Mechanics

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment, are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like to seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

Policemen and firefighters, eh? Oh yeah, this blog is so pro-law enforcement. Maybe the porn is skewing the results.

Turn Outward is deemed more of a lightweight:

ESFP - The Performers

The entertaining and friendly type. They are especially attuned to pleasure and beauty and like to fill their surroundings with soft fabrics, bright colors and sweet smells. They live in the present moment and don´t like to plan ahead - they are always in risk of exhausting themselves.

They enjoy work that makes them able to help other people in a concrete and visible way. They tend to avoid conflicts and rarely initiate confrontation - qualities that can make it hard for them in management positions.

Well, TO does concern itself with sweet smells and other sensual pleasures. It's pretty lost in the moment, too. Not much of a helper, though.

Oddly enough, the ISTP description is a bit macho, with the references to cops and mechanics, while the ESFP qualities are much girlier. The web page illustrates the ESFP with something that looks like a go-go dancer/Hooters waitress. You'll note in the post below that BGN is supposedly written by a man, TO by a woman. It's interesting that the gender split is consistent, though I'm sure that says more about the cultural bias of the tests than it does about my own twisted brain.

Each description includes a chart that purports to show areas of brain activity associated with the dominant modes of thinking expressed in your blog. I found that pretty intriguing, but unlike Neil at The Bleeding Heart Show, I am not smart enough to figure out how to import the images. Follow the link above to get your own results, and you'll see what I'm talking about.

My next post will be about something other than blogging, I promise.

Photo of actor Richard Mansfield as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde from Wikipedia

Does this mean I have to get rid of my stuffed animal collection?

The Gender Analyzer claims to decode the secret clues to gender in a blogger's prose. This was the response to my query about BitterGrace Notes:

"We guess is written by a man (55%), however it's quite gender neutral."

Alrighty, that's an understandable mistake, given that BG Notes actually includes a lot of quotes, many of them from men. So I decided to analyze Turn Outward, in which the posts are written pretty much 100% by me:

"We guess is written by a woman (57%), however it's quite gender neutral."

Well, at least they give me a toehold on femaleness there. I don't want to be drummed out of the sisterhood.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008


There is no downside to wrens. ...(more)

Something to look forward to

"Tennessee is likely to be hardest hit, according to the study that sought to gauge the impact of a 7.7 magnitude earthquake in order to guide the government's response.

In Tennessee alone, it forecast hundreds of collapsed bridges, tens of thousands of severely damaged buildings and a half a million households without water."

That's from a Reuters story today, relaying a warning from FEMA about the inevitable massive earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone. You can read the full article here.

We get these dire warnings about once a decade, and everybody worries for a couple of days. Then we go back to not worrying. It's a little like the way people in New Orleans used to talk about the Big One before it actually arrived.

*USGS comparison of damage-range for similar earthquakes along the New Madrid and San Andreas faults from Wikipedia.

A very good op-ed on the auto bailout

From The Hindu, of all places. I first came across it at Counterpunch.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Something to think about

"In spite of the fact that Socrates studied with all diligence to acquire a knowledge of human nature and to understand himself, and in spite of the fame accorded him through the centuries as one who beyond all other men had an insight into the human heart, he has himself admitted that the reason for his shrinking from reflection upon the nature of such beings as Pegasus and the Gorgons was that he, the life-long student of human nature, had not yet been able to make up his mind whether he was a stranger monster than Typhon, or a creature of a gentler and simpler sort, partaking of something divine (Phaedrus, 229 E). This seems to be a paradox. However, one should not think slightingly of the paradoxical; for the paradox is the source of the thinker’s passion, and the thinker without a paradox is like a lover without feeling: a paltry mediocrity. But the highest pitch of every passion is always to will its own downfall; and so it is also the supreme passion of the Reason to seek a collision, though this collision must in one way or another prove its undoing. The supreme paradox of all thought is the attempt to discover something that thought cannot think."

From "The Absolute Paradox: A Metaphysical Crotchet," Chapter 3 of Philosophical Fragments by Søren Kierkegaard, trans. by David Swenson. Text via

The season of giving

Last night I got an email from my pal Troy Clarke, the president of GM North America. Troy says he needs my help. He wants me to write to Congress and ask them to give him a measly few billion, just to tide him over. He says it's a "bridge loan." He promises he's good for it.

"Despite what you may be hearing, we are not asking Congress for a bailout but rather a loan that will be repaid."

Troy says that very bad things will happen if I don't do this. Personal income in this country will be reduced by $150 billion, and tax revenues will decline over three years by $156 billion.

Troy thanks me in advance for "helping keep our economy viable."

Poor Troy. These are tough times and he's doing his best. His letter touched my heart and I really wanted to help him out, but then this morning I was reminded why I can't.

I got another email--this time from my pal Eric Garris, the webmaster at Eric pointed out that this whole war thing has me just about tapped out, and the bills are going to keep rolling in. It looks like I'm around $3 trillion in the hole. Amazing the way it adds up, huh?

Of course, Eric hit me up for some spare change while he was at it, and I may be able to swing that. I sorta think of it as payment for his services as financial adviser and all-around messenger of bad news. And I appreciate the frankness of his appeal; i.e., no empty promises to pay me back.

St. Martin and the Beggar, Unknown Master (Hungarian), c. 1490. Image from Web Gallery of Art.

Monday, November 17, 2008

One Sentence Perfume Review: Jazzelle, Lagniappe Oaks Perfumery

"So she said to me, Don't you think chocolate is better than sex?, and I said, You poor thing, is that what he told you?"

Notes per Lagniappe Oaks: Orange Blossom, Rose, Cinnamon, Chocolate [and I detect a light touch of musk]

Hot Chocolate, Raimundo Madrazo (1841-1920)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Home sweet home

It’s been nice and quiet in the woods this week. The chilly, wet weather has kept a lot of the other hikers at home and encouraged the birds to sleep in. Gun season for deer doesn’t start until tomorrow, and muzzleloader season ended last weekend, so there hasn’t even been the sound of distant gunfire. The only commotion I’ve encountered on the trail was a squirrel that decided to bless me out this morning. I didn’t do a thing to bother him, but he still squawked at me and gave me the propeller tail. I think he was bored.

Here at our place things have not been so serene. ...(more)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"The dead fed you ..."

The dead fed you
Amid the slant stones of graveyards.
Pale ghosts who planted you
Came in the nighttime
And let their thin hair blow through your clustered stems.
You are of the green sea,
And of the stone hills which reach a long distance.

From "Lilacs" by Amy Lowell. Complete poem at Poetry Foundation.

Les Lilas, Temps Gris, Claude Monet, 1872.

(This unseasonable post was inspired by Bourbon French Lilac.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Nio's quote of the day

Words of wisdom for the new president-elect:

"Whoever examines, with due circumspection, into the annual records of time, will find it remarked that War is the child of Pride, and Pride the daughter of Riches:—the former of which assertions may be soon granted, but one cannot so easily subscribe to the latter; for Pride is nearly related to Beggary and Want, either by father or mother, and sometimes by both: and, to speak naturally, it very seldom happens among men to fall out when all have enough; invasions usually travelling from north to south, that is to say, from poverty to plenty. The most ancient and natural grounds of quarrels are lust and avarice; which, though we may allow to be brethren, or collateral branches of pride, are certainly the issues of want. For, to speak in the phrase of writers upon politics, we may observe in the republic of dogs, which in its original seems to be an institution of the many, that the whole state is ever in the profoundest peace after a full meal; and that civil broils arise among them when it happens for one great bone to be seized on by some leading dog, who either divides it among the few, and then it falls to an oligarchy, or keeps it to himself, and then it runs up to a tyranny. The same reasoning also holds place among them in those dissensions we behold upon a turgescency in any of their females. For the right of possession lying in common (it being impossible to establish a property in so delicate a case), jealousies and suspicions do so abound, that the whole commonwealth of that street is reduced to a manifest state of war, of every citizen against every citizen, till some one of more courage, conduct, or fortune than the rest seizes and enjoys the prize: upon which naturally arises plenty of heart-burning, and envy, and snarling against the happy dog. Again, if we look upon any of these republics engaged in a foreign war, either of invasion or defence, we shall find the same reasoning will serve as to the grounds and occasions of each; and that poverty or want, in some degree or other (whether real or in opinion, which makes no alteration in the case), has a great share, as well as pride, on the part of the aggressor."

From "The Battle of the Books" by Jonathan Swift, first published in 1704. Text from the 1886 Cassell & Co. edition, via Project Gutenberg.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Odocoileus sniffapaloozus*

Last week was muzzleloader season for deer, and as I walked along the trail Saturday morning I heard a few shots in the distance. There's no hunting in the park, but there's private land nearby where people are free to blast away, provided they have a permit. ...(more)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I can't resist

I know everybody's sick of the election, but I feel the need to record a few random thoughts about it. Those of you who just can't take any more politics can enjoy this classic number from Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. The rest of you may rejoin me below.

While waiting for the results on Tuesday, I kept flashing back to the 1968 election. I was six years old, and my mother took me with her to vote. My home town is tiny--probably about 1200 people at that time--and there was only one polling place. The line of voters stretched out the door and down the sidewalk. The wait seemed to take forever. Everybody in line knew everybody else, so there was a lot of gabbing to pass the time. There was very little conversation between blacks and whites, though in the usual course of things there would have been.

Open racial antagonism was not an everyday occurrence back then, especially not in little country towns where the remnants of Jim Crow lingered. Civil exchanges of the "How are you? Nice weather we're having" variety were the norm between blacks and whites. Of course, at the slightest threat to the caste system the hammer would come down in one way or another, but among white people such things were talked about in hushed tones, or not at all--at least not around children. We did think and talk about race all the time, though. We talked about it as a fact of life in our community, as we always had; and also in the more abstract (to us) terms of the civil rights movement, the King assassination, etc. Even at six, I was very aware that I lived in a world where your skin color shaped your life.

I don't know how long blacks had been voting where I lived, or if they were hassled at all when they tried to register. I certainly didn't see any trouble that election day. There was no hostility or rudeness toward the black voters, just silence. Blacks and whites avoided looking at each other. The blacks didn't talk much among themselves, and whenever there was a lull in the chatter among the whites, the quiet seemed to open the way for a collective self-consciousness that filled the air like a presence.

Remembering that scene last Tuesday, I thought, On that day, this day was inconceivable. But now I don't think that's quite right. It would be closer to the truth to say that this day had just become conceivable as we stood together in line. I think that's what created the tense silence between us.


It makes me sad that I live in the swathe of America that moved rightward--or should I say backward?--this year. You can see the hard evidence of our recalcitrance here. How much of that is down to simple racism? A lot, probably, but religion has everything to do with it, too. The red gash corresponds very neatly with the majority white portion of the Bible Belt. (The increased number of black voters in the Deep South states offsets any increased Republican support among Christian whites there.)


I have to confess, knowing that McCain was certain to take Tennessee, I had some serious thoughts about going for a third party candidate once I was in the voting booth. I considered Nader, who has gotten my vote twice; and McKinney, who has been an admirable troublemaker, but seems slightly unhinged. In the end I voted for Obama, mostly because it seemed to me that, since he was going to win, he should win big and get the popular vote as well as the electoral college. The last thing we need is the Republicans harping on about Obama stealing the election for the next four years.

Now the question is, how much do I actually want to support this guy? He's already staffing up with some very dubious characters. It's not looking good, especially re Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. I remember all too well how happy I was when Clinton took office after the 12 long years of Reagan and Bush the Elder. Within months, he was bombing Iraq.

Still, I can't help wanting to give Obama the benefit of the doubt. Partly because of the race issue, sure--but also because, whatever crimes he may get up to, his supporters embody some of the best things about this country: openness, intelligence, some sense of civic and social responsibility, a belief in human rights, a desire for peaceful coexistence with the rest of the world, etc. I am not much of a joiner, but I like being part of that crowd.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

"I languish alone; my heart grows cold"

Pearl, the precious prize of a king,
Chastely set in cherished gold,
In all the East none equalling,
No peer to her could I behold.
So round, so rare, a radiant thing,
So smooth she was, so small of mold,
Wherever I judged gems glimmering
I set her apart, her price untold.
Alas, I lost her in earth’s green fold;
Through grass to the ground, I searched in vain.
I languish alone; my heart grows cold
For my precious pearl without a stain.
* (more)

*From a modern translation of "Pearl," a 14th century poem by an unknown author generally called "the Pearl poet" or "The Gawain poet." This text is from Poetry Foundation, which incorrectly attributes the poem to a different medieval English poet, William Langland. PF does not provide a translator credit, and if anybody recognizes this version, please let me know where it's from. For another translation, along with the original Middle English, click here.

Madonna and Child with Two Saints (detail), Giovanni Bellini, c.1490.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The tunneling vole

I startled a little vole this morning, and it scrambled to hide itself in the fallen leaves ...(more)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A long post for the perfume people

The trip to New Orleans last weekend was a pleasure, as always. This was our second trip back since Katrina, and the city was more relaxed, and a little more pulled together than the last time we were there. We stayed in the French Quarter (at this affordable little hotel), and things were reasonably lively for Halloween weekend. When we went to Jazz Fest last year, I was alarmed at how dead the Quarter seemed, but there were a respectable number of tourists around this time. Taxi drivers and hotel staff seem to have given up the habit of warning visitors about crime, which is a good thing.

Our friends' anniversary celebration was delightful. They're a smart, funny couple with a great family, and they do know how to throw a party. The people were interesting, the food was delicious and the music was perfect. Go hear Dr. Michael White if you ever get a chance. You won't be disappointed.

I hit Bourbon French and Hové on Saturday. Neither place was terribly busy, but the people who were in the shops seemed to be spending, not just sniffing. I spent my share, mostly topping up my supply of old favorites, but I did try a couple of new Hové' scents: Grandee, which is a drier, more grown-up version of Spring Fiesta; and Azalea, a delicate, faintly green soliflore.

The big perfume news on this trip was my find in a Magazine Street antique store. Actually, I should say Dave's find. Dave is my truffle pig in the search for vintage juice. This is the second time he has rooted out a great cache of old minis I would have overlooked. It's strange, because he has precious little interest in perfume, and his shopping skills are stretched to the limit by a grocery run. I think it's the combination of his desire to please and his intense boredom at being trapped in an antique store that makes him such a tenacious and successful perfume hunter.

That's a picture of our haul above, which included:

A 1/4 ounce mini of Le Dix, probably edp, though it's not labeled. The bottle has some age--I'd guess it to be at least 20 years old. The juice is a little faded, but not soured at all. The powdery drydown is still very satisfying. I am a fan of the current version, and this old stuff is surprisingly similar to it.

The bottle of very dark juice is, believe it or not, Je Reviens, and it is in amazingly good shape. The bottle suggests 50s vintage, but it could be older. There's no way it's less than 35 years old. The top notes are "crushed," as someone on POL used to say. The aldehydes are going off, just edging into olfactory nightmare territory. Fortunately, they disappear completely within a minute or so, and then you get the most exquisite classic floral imaginable. Nothing stale, sour, musty or anemic about it. It's gloriously potent and rich. Compared to the current juice, it is sweet and deep, with a wallop of narcissus that makes for a much more full-bodied character. I can't believe how good it is. It gives me a pang of longing for other ancient beauties.

The pretty gold bottle is Corday Toujours Moi, and the perfume inside it absolutely perfect. If you have only sniffed the current Dana TM, you just have a vague idea what the Corday was like. I happen to think the Dana version is perfectly nice--or at least it was until a few years ago. The last bottle I bought was very watery indeed. The original Corday, though, was a unique, vetiver-rich oriental. It was opulent, without a hint of tackiness about it. It could hold its own with the best of the Lanvins--in fact, I'd say you could almost call it My Sin's Eastern cousin. I got this lovely mini for $12, a fraction of what it would have cost me on eBay.

The Ma Griffe mini is PdT, and came with its original box. I would guess it as 70s vintage. It certainly pre-dates the 80s dilution. I have enough Ma Griffe to last the rest of my natural life, but I could not resist this little guy.

Finally, the precious Jolie Madame parfum was not part of my NOLA booty. It's a recent gift from a very kind and generous perfume buddy. I just wanted to show it off, because I'm so thrilled to have it, and it looked pretty sitting up there with the others.

I'm going to make a point of wearing all these great oldies, instead of letting them sit lonely on the shelf. The Je Reviens especially needs to be enjoyed before it goes south completely. I'm not going to let my good fortune and the talents of my truffle pig go to waste. If any of you would like to engage Dave's services as a personal perfume shopper, let me know. I think he will work for food, especially birria tacos and red velvet cake.

I am floating on a contact high

Joy is in the air and I'm gonna inhale. This is a good day to be an American. I've never felt that way before, and I may never feel it again, but I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008