Friday, February 27, 2009

The seamless world

I am always astonished by the connectedness of things. Nothing is discrete. Every action, thought or sensation is embedded with all others. The work of consciousness is selecting which connections to value, which to ignore.

Today I went hiking after a heavy rain, and when I returned to my car I found that a wolf spider had taken up residence in the cup holder of my car. I suppose she was looking for a dry spot. I like wolf spiders, so I let her stay and she rode around with me all day. I went to a violin lesson, made a grocery run, met Dave for coffee, drove the 40+ miles back to my house--and the spider stayed right there in my cup holder. A couple of times she climbed up to the edge and waved a leg in my direction, but mostly she just hung out at the bottom of the well, happy with her new home. I won't be surprised if she's still there in the morning.

My new buddy seemed to beg for a blog post, so I went looking for a spider poem, but couldn't find a good one that seemed appropriate. The way she hitched a ride made me think of hitchhikers, so I switched to searching for hitchhiker themes, and found the outstanding Diane Wakoski work below. One of the reasons it caught my attention is its recurring image of the mountain ash tree. I recently had an exchange about the fruit of the mountain ash--also known as the rowan tree--with Olfacta at her blog.

I love that perfect circle of event, art and memory.

They burn you
like the berries of mountain ash in August,
standing by the road,
clearly defined,
Autumnal brilliant, heads
scorched from waiting
in the sun.
How can
you pass them up?
But you do,
and dream each night of a hell,
where you are a hitchhiker,
and no one will ever stop to pick you up.

From "The Hitchhikers" by Diane Wakoski, 1977. Complete text at Poetry Foundation.

Photo of wolf spider carrying her young on her back by Clinton and Charles Robertson, from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Measured resistance

Fights between hawks and crows are usually noisy and brutal. Crows generally gang up to attack a lone hawk, and I find it disturbing to watch, even though I know the crows are only defending themselves. I can't help identifying with the predatory hawk, just trying to survive, all alone against the mob. ...(more)

Blogging the Madinis: Ambar Gris and the white florals

Chaya's up first this week, with a meditation on one of her favorites, Ambar Gris. Join me below for a quick run down on a passel of florals.

Chayaruchama: It’s a mystery to me…and that’s the way I like it.

Madini tells us that ambergris is a natural panacea, harvested only from material washed up on Atlantic shores; that it inspired John Singer Sargent to create his masterpiece, Fumée d’Ambre Gris. Ambergris --“grey amber”--is aged sperm whale vomit. Every year that this dubious flotsam lurches upon the waves, it acquires added character , depth, and value. There are multiple descriptions of its odor: animalic, salty, rosy, marine, sweetening over time.

Madini’s version is a smoky, viscous wonder, tenacious beyond your wildest dreams. I am mad for it, beyond all reason. I could wear it solo, or layer it all day with classic perfumes, cheapie deals, other oils.

It’s broodingly dark--in scent, substance and hue--and literally so thick it wrestles with the rollerball. I don’t perceive this as animalic, not like civet, real musks, or castoreum; but it stirs the collective unconscious, reeking of primeval fires, ancient rituals, and honeyed, burnt wood, rich with resin, more conifer than birch-like.

It’s spicy, but not redolent of cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, or ginger. My nose suspects a drop of fine coriander essence. There is very likely labdanum and/ or frankincense [both are characterized as possessing spicy, “old woody” terpene balsam/ resin properties.] These contribute to the sweet, scorched, sylvan effect that characterizes this fragrance.

Ambar Gris is a polarizing aroma; either you’ll adore it, or you will detest it--but you won’t be indifferent to it.

BitterGrace: With the exception of Fleur de Nuit, the Madini white florals are all simple, single-note creations, so I’ll just give a quick thumbnail impression of each. (Four Seasons, a lily scent, could have been included on this list, but I think it deserves a real review. For my thoughts on Azahar, go here.)

Narciso: A glorious, shrieking narcissus. Do not expect the subdued gentility of Je Reviens’ narcissus, nor the smoldering mystery of Narcisse Noir. I happen to enjoy the feeling that someone has just dumped a truckload of daffodils on me, but if that thought does not appeal to you, avoid Narciso.

Gardenia: A sweet, old-fashioned, clean gardenia—basically, a corsage in a bottle. The skunky tang that many people hate is mostly absent, but it’s still a fairly aggressive scent. There’s no trace of modern wateriness, and it’s much heavier than Yves Rocher Pur Desir de Gardenia.

Nardo: First, a clarification: Contrary to Talisman’s website description, spikenard and tuberose are not the same plant, though both are used in perfumery. I’ll leave it to the sticklers for accuracy among you to decide which is the source for Madini’s Nardo. That said, most people would recognize this as a tuberose scent, and it might make a nice tuberose for the Fracas-phobic. It’s potent but never shrill, with an odd but (to me) delightful nut-like note that is also present in Bourbon French’s Tuberose.

Honeysuckle: Very sweet, slightly green. Not quite true to the flower, but still very pleasant and soothing. Takes on a slight powdery quality as it fades.

Jasmine: A true, fairly powerful jasmine. Smells like a combination of J. grandiflorum and J. sambac. Definitely not funk-free, but not the most indolic jasmine I’ve ever sniffed. Very good lasting power, and quite linear.

Fleur de Nuit: I would call this a blend of plumeria and jasmine. It’s sweet and slightly soapy. There are faint indolic notes, but if you are in the market for a “clean” jasmine, this might fit the bill.

Fumée d'Ambre Gris, John Singer Sargent, 1880. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Narcissus illustration from Gottorfer Codex by Hans-Simon Holtzbecker, c.1649-59. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I'm a little swamped at the moment

But I promise there's a Madini post with Chaya's review of Ambar Gris coming up, along with a few words about the white florals from me. I will resurface shortly.

Photo of a humpback whale by M. Buschmann from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Random Rave: 1905, Detaille

I remember seeing an entry for Detaille on the list of perfumeries at Now Smell This, and thinking their traditional fragrances were probably just my sort of thing. But Paris is far away and I try to resist unsniffed lemmings, so I promptly forgot about Detaille--until last week, when I opened a Mardi Gras gift from our friend Jean, and it turned out to be a bottle of Detaille's 1905. Jean was in Paris with her husband recently, and since she's seen what I'm like after a binge at the New Orleans perfumeries, she thought a bottle of something from the Parisian equivalent might be appropriate for me. Good woman, that Jean. In addition to being a sweet, thoughtful friend, she also turns out to have a great nose. 1905 is a beautiful fragrance, and as I suspected, just my sort of thing.

It opens with a violet note, tinged with galbanum, but there's no grassy harshness--just a sunny green wave that lifts the violet's earthy sweetness. A bit of aldehydic fizz helps in that task but never threatens to sear through the tender flower. The heart is a perfectly composed floral accord, which Detaille's website catalogs as iris, rose, jasmine and ylang ylang. I detect all those, but the shifting notes also suggest hints of lily and peony. "Classic" is the only word for the character of this scent. It brings to mind a host of great florals: Quelques Fleurs, Evening in Paris, Caron's French Cancan, even vintage L'Air du Temps. It has a brightness all of those lack, however, which I think comes from the lingering green note and an exceptionally tame, almost creamy jasmine.

The base is light moss and sandalwood, with no resinous notes and only the tiniest hint of musk. It reminds me a little of Caleche or VC&A's First, though it's much higher pitched than either of those. The bottom notes are surprisingly dry after the abundance of flowers in the heart. Happily, it completely lacks that rain-on-a-rusty-lawn-chair aura that modern florals often take on as they fade. 1905 doesn't pull any surprises at the end, just quietly disappears with a ladylike discretion Edith Wharton would have admired.

Enabler's note: If you're not planning a trip to Paris, I believe Detaille perfumes are available at Takashimaya.

Portrait of Elizabeth Drexel, Giovanni Boldini, 1905. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fair use and abuse

While searching for a Mary Oliver poem mentioned in a comment to Saturday's post, I came across this recent account of a website being forced to remove Oliver's poems for copyright infringement. While there seems to be no doubt that the website owner was in violation of copyright law, she makes a persuasive case--to me anyway--that she is really operating to the benefit of the writers whose work she posts.

The whole copyright issue is something that isn't discussed much among bloggers, but it probably should be. There are precious few blogs that don't break copyright laws on a regular basis. For instance, except for images in the public domain, all photographs or artworks are covered by copyright. You are supposed to get permission to use them. If you lift an image from a site that doesn't expressly allow sharing, you are technically breaking the law, even if you link back to the source.** I'm always amused by bloggers who go to the trouble of putting up a copyright notice to protect their original content, and then slap "stolen" images on nearly every post. (FYI, stuff at Wikimedia Commons is usually released under a Creative Commons license, which means it's fine to use it as long as you attribute it. That's why so much of the stuff on this blog comes from Wikimedia.)

I have mixed feelings about the issue. I think we should respect an artist's proprietary interest in her work. As someone who occasionally writes for money, I've felt mildly annoyed when I've seen my articles reprinted in their entirety on blogs. There's not much of a reprint market for what I do--I've sold exactly one article that way; but still, I do own the stuff, and it would be nice if the bloggers bothered to ask before making my creation their post-of-the-day. At the same time, I realize that as long as the article is properly credited, they're kinda doing me a favor. The whole point of writing the stuff is to have it read, preferably by as many people as possible.

As far as my own blogging goes, I try keep within the bounds of fair use, while realizing that I am often operating in a gray area that an author could challenge. I never print a complete poem unless it is in the public domain or I have permission.*** What I generally do is print a brief portion of a poem, and link back to a source site that does have permission. According to my reading of "fair use," that's legal for me to do on a non-commercial website, but I'm not at all sure I'd win in a court of law, especially for posts that don't have any critical content.

I will confess to posting pictures without permission and then providing a conscience-salving link, but that trick backfired on me when an attentive website owner checked out my blog and demanded that I remove both photo and link. It seems she did not wish to be associated with some of the content here. Can't imagine why. Anyway, the run-in with her pretty much cured me of the practice.

Questions about exactly what's okay and what's not are complicated by the fact that copyright laws have become increasingly restrictive, so that a work can remain under copyright for what seems like a ridiculously long time. The other problem is that people sometimes try to claim copyright where none exists. For instance, some museum and gallery sites still try to say that all their images are under copyright, though the Supreme Court says otherwise.

It will be interesting to see if Ms. Oliver's watchdog Googles his way to my little snippet of "Wild Geese." Of course I'll take it down if I'm ordered to, but in the meantime I'll leave it up for y'all to enjoy.

**UPDATE: I should have said that's the situation under U.S. laws. Copyright law actually varies a lot between countries. The rule may be different elsewhere.

***Oh, and looking over my poetry posts just now, I do see a couple of complete poems from the early 20th century that may not be in the public domain. So, mea culpa--I'm as guilty as everybody else.

Catullus Reading His Poem, Stepan Bakalovich, 1885. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

"You do not have to be good."

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

From "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver. Read the rest of the poem at Poet Seers.

El descanso de la modelo, Antonio Cortina Farinós (1841-1890).

Friday, February 20, 2009

A note to the Madini lovers

For some strange reason, Wednesday's post on Hanane and Fougere lost its identity. It was displaying on the home page of the blog, but the permalink produced just a blank screen. Weird. Anyway, if you tried to link to it and failed, it's back now. Apologies.

Also, I think Chaya and I are going to do some solos. She'll do Ambar Gris, and I think I'll work on the white florals and some of the girlier blends like Aicha Aicha. Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hawk watching

It's been a good week for hawk watching. Like the rest of the birds, they're pairing off and getting ready to nest, so they're out and about a lot. The thing that always impresses me about hawks is their incredible agility in flight. They do wild contortions as they swoop down on their prey--wings askew, legs splayed, head tucked and turned; and yet, if the intended victim evades them, they effortlessly recover and fly off. How do they stay airborne? I've never seen one crash, though it must happen occasionally....(more)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Blogging the Madinis: Hanane and Fougere

Chaya and I are doing our doubles thing again this week, with a pair of Madini's unisex creations. I made a point of not looking at Chaya's review before I scribbled down my thoughts, just to see how much we'd agree on these two scents, which we've never discussed. We turned out to be pretty nearly in sync. Me first:

BitterGrace: The phrase that comes to mind for Fougere is “sweet and clean.” I don’t mean in the contemporary sense, a la the Philosophy Grace line; Fougere has the clean sweetness of cold spring water, the rich purity of a woodland breeze. It opens with a heavy dose of Madini’s signature smooth lavender, which lacks any hint of herbal bite. Within a few minutes the lavender is complemented by a birch note, which then gives way to a soft balsam and sandalwood accord. There are very faint hints of anise and honey. Fougere has the perfectly rounded quality of that great oldie, Canoe, but to my nose it completely lacks Canoe’s lemony opening, thus saving itself from olfactory association with the barber’s chair. The final dry down has a slightly powdery quality, with a touch of vetiver and (is this just my wishful thinking?) tonka. All in all, a scent for those days when you want to seem charming and unchallenging.

If you love galbanum (and I do dearly love it), then Hanane should be on your “must try” list. It opens with what can only be described as a blast of that wonderful super-green note, and somehow manages to make its briskness last all the way to the finish. The Talisman site describes Hanane as a balsamic-galbanum combination, but this is in no way a marriage of equals. I get barely a hint of balsamic sweetness, though I do get a mellower herbal/green note—sage perhaps?—and I would swear there is a gardenia lurking in there somewhere. In fact, Hanane reminds me very distinctly of the heart of vintage Ma Griffe, after the bergamot has mostly fled, and before the styrax makes itself known. Unlike Fougere, Hanane doesn’t develop much on me, just slowly fades to a pleasant tanginess on my skin. I’d call this a scent for green addicts only, though any perfumista with a respect for classic chypres might want to invest in it, given that the true chypre is rapidly going the way of the dinosaur.

Now, Chaya's turn:

Chayaruchama: Today ‘s Madinis are night and day...And which represents night or day is utterly subjective…

Madini Hanane is a scent I often overlook, simply because I’ve too many. This morning when I applied it, I was immediately stricken by its powerful resemblance to vintage Piguet Bandit, minus the leather. Not trusting my nose or instincts, I compared the notes available. To quote Madini: Hanane is “ an elegant Balsamic composition. A galbanum base carries tuberose, red rose, jasmine, clove, santal blanc, and patchouli with a hint of amber and musk.” Notes listed for Bandit are: galbanum, orange, neroli, jasmine, rose, tuberose, ‘leather’, patchouli, oakmoss, and musk. Nice to know you’re not being fooled, quoth I !

Hanane is very clearly chypric: elegant sophistication, ‘bon marche’. It opens up with a citrus-y top of what appears to be bergamot with a big dose of galbanum. The effect is very fresh and green, reminiscent of other great chypres: Y, Rive Gauche, Bandit, Scherrer. The rose and jasmine follow seamlessly on its heels. Clove is a sleight-of-hand, a parlor trick, barely perceptible. Tuberose is softly insinuated, more for its animalic quality than its floralcy, hence creating the illusion of a leathery note similar to Bandit.
The base is far more crafty--the santal blanc is as subtle as can be, cushioning only the barest suggestion of patchouli. Ambre is hinted at only when it all dries down, and then one senses whispers of musk.

Fougere is a completely different matter. Described on the Talisman site as “ferns, grasses and mosses. A fresh woodsy clean and dry composition.” I find Fougere to be woefully misconstrued. I’m certain, not on purpose. Perhaps there is a cultural perceptual variance at work. There is very little ‘woodsy’ about it, as I would recognize it. It feels very creamy and satiny to me, which I don’t associate with “clean and dry.” [Australian sandalwood is clean and dry; Virginia cedar is clean and dry, myrtle and pine are clean and dry!] Nonetheless, it follows a formula similar to classic fougeres: Lime or citron on top, lavender in the middle, and a vanillic base , laden with what smells suspiciously like opoponax to me. Possibly musks with tonka / benzoin , too. If the woodsiness is supposed to include patchouli, I find little olfactory evidence- but I suspect it must be in there, somewhere.

The closest cousin I recall is Guerlain’s Jicky or Mouchoir de Monsieur, except that they are far edgier, with a glorious dose of honking civet in the base. [Extremely animalic, verging on deliciously dirty, which I never perceive in Madini’s Fougere.] Caron’s Troisieme Homme is a distant relative, but it is very much MORE grassy and mossy, woody, and herbal/dry, due to the presence of rosemary, anise, moss, cedarwood, and patchouli. The top in Caron is bergamot--more commonly used--but the amber, musk, tonka and vanilla are in there, as well.

Bottom line: Whether you agree with the website’s definition or not, Fougere is a thoroughly delightful, lingering, creamy/spicy, softly herbaceous scent. It is delicate and comforting, although not complex, and wonderful for either gender.

Illustrations of fern and galbanum from Koehler's Medicinal Plants, 1887, via Wikimedia Commons.

Apologies--couldn't post last night

We had storms and I was busy wrangling my insanely phobic dog. I'm not sure who suffers more around here when the thunder commences. Check back later for a double Madini review: Hanane and Fougere.

Monday, February 16, 2009

"In the morning..."

In the morning
perhaps I shall find strength again
To value the immense beauty of this time of the world, the flowers of decay their pitiful loveliness, the fever-dream
Tapestries that back the drama and are called the future. This ebb of vitality feels the ignoble and cruel
Incidents, not the vast abstract order.

From "Night Without Sleep" by Robinson Jeffers, 1938. Read the complete poem at Poetry Foundation.

Night and Her Children, Sleep and Death, Asmus Jakob Carstens, 1794. Image from Web Gallery of Art

Sunday, February 15, 2009

One Sentence Perfume Review: Dioressence, Christian Dior (1969)

Dioressence is a brilliant, butch beauty--perfect for those days when you can't decide whether you want to argue or arm wrestle.

Notes per Basenotes: Violet, Rosebud, Geranium, Cinnamon, Patchouli

Minerva, Hendrick Goltzius, 1611.

Suvetar, Gjallarhorn

Here's a little dream of spring to brighten the February chill. You can sample more of Gjallarhorn's music here.

Uploaded by abecualann at Youtube.

I hope everyone had a nice Valentine's Day,

...but didn't get carried away or anything.

Illustration by Gustave Dore for Dante's Inferno (The punishment of Paolo and Francesca.) Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, February 13, 2009

"I speak downfall..."

I speak downfall, the ball of my foot
on the neck of the earth, the hardsong
of the rise of all trees, the jay
who uses the air. I am the recovered sickle
with the grass-stains still on the flint of its teeth.
I am the six-rowed barley
they cut down.

From "Merce of Egypt" by Charles Olson, written for Merce Cunningham.*

Video of Merce Cunningham and company in Septet, 1964, from Google Video.

*You should be able to read the complete poem as it appears in Selected Writings of Charles Olson (New Directions, 1966) at Google Books.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

To put us in the mood for Valentine's Day

...let's spend a few minutes with Cathy and Heathcliff. To hell with all the sloppy Hallmark sentiment--what is romance without agony?

Clip uploaded by creeper1981 at Youtube.

Wuthering Heights at the Internet Movie Database

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Blogging the Madinis: Papillon

As promised, BG Notes is inaugurating a series of reviews of the Madini oils. Since friend-of-the-blog Chayaruchama loves the line as much as I do, I invited her to join me. We’re going to steal a page from the folks at Perfume Posse and do she said/she said paired reviews, along with some solos from each of us.

We’re going to begin with Papillon, a gorgeous scent that doesn’t seem to get much love. Chaya pointed out that there are no notes or reviews to be found for it, not even on Basenotes. That needs correcting. Chaya, please start us off:

Chayaruchama: According to the Talisman website, Suleiman Madini is the “heir of a perfume dynasty 14 generations old “- 400 years in existence. Goodness knows, if one can’t find a Madini to suit, then you are simply not looking. I counted, and re-counted--93 on the site. Just to be sure. They run the gamut: spicy, floral, citrus, herbal, woody, watery, arid, incendiary, cooling…you name it. I’m not sure exactly how many of these I own--wait, I’ll count ’em up. 46 bottles. Exactly.

Papillon is listed under the ‘spicy’ category. It clearly ain’t for the timid--that is a classic understatement: It’s a powerhouse in a 3ml rollerball bottle. Talisman cites as: “Exotic flowers and spices to capture those elusive reveries of the Shalamar [sic] Gardens of Lahore.” Tigerflag describes it a bit differently : “An oriental blend with exotic flowers, warm spices and amber. Somewhat similar to Olive Flowers, but a little brighter. For men and women, Papillon is a cheerful fragrance that radiates an aura of kindness and optimism.”

BRIGHT ? Oh, yeah, this is bright, all right. Loud, even. An extremely base-heavy, resinous , sweet beyond-measure scent, it nods to the extraits of L’Heure Bleue, Shalimar, and Bois de Copaiba in its balsamic intensity. There are echoes of other Madini oeuvres as well: Olive Flowers (opoponax–laden), and Musk Pierre (unctuous and velvety, creamy.)

The spice feels as if the sweet myrrh--aka opoponax--is mainly responsible, with its nutmeggy quality. If frankincense is in here, it is deftly rendered with a light hand. I sense the presence of Tolu balsam, vanilla, perhaps tonka bean in the base, along with a profoundly resinous amber - and not withheld. Big lashings, all around. Unctuous.

The top notes might well include citrus--bergamot/ lemon, I suspect aldehydes, too. With heart notes, possibly, of nard, exotics like a plumeria, and most definitely ylang ylang (or its less costly cousin, cananga.)

I tend to feel that the use of the word ‘reverie’ isn’t inaccurate, at all--far more descriptive than ‘cheerful, and optimistic.’ JEAN NATE is cheerful and optimistic. Daisy is cheerful and optimistic. Papillon is an odalisque, smoking a hookah, for chrissakes. Scantily clad, at that. Eunuchs waving vetiver fans are seedily present, edentulous grins revealing their blackened gums from chewing betelnut leaves…THAT’S what we’re talkin’ about here, folks. Now, I’m dying to know how my sister-in-sin feels about this one….

BitterGrace: First of all, I’m astonished to discover that I am even more of a Madini addict than Chaya. My bottle count runs to 52, along with a half dozen sample vials. It could take years to cover all these!

But getting back to Papillon, I’m going to be contrary and say I tend to agree with Tigerflag’s description of this beautiful oriental. I find no scantily-clad, hookah-smoking odalisque in my bottle. Not a eunuch in sight. For me, Papillon is a soft-skinned, laughing beauty with sparkling dark eyes. It is rich, without a doubt, but it also conveys a sense of buoyancy and joy. In fact, I’d say it perfectly suits its name. Like a butterfly, it’s graceful, extraordinary, and somehow embodies happiness.

That said, Chaya’s dissection of the notes seems right on target. Bergamot, ylang ylang, opoponax, Tolu balsam—all are very distinctly present along with vetiver, creating a wonderfully smooth character with just enough floral spark to add interest. (Madini's signature rose is nestled in there somewhere.) Amber is in evidence, but not terribly heavy to my nose. What I do get in abundance, lucky me, is tonka--a note I love. Its unique, lightly sweet nuttiness is always comforting, yet never dulling, as benzoin or amber can be.

Chaya’s reference to L’Heure Bleue is very apt, but if I had to pick a classic that Papillon brings to mind, it would be the original 1957 L’Interdit. (See the review at Bois de Jasmin.) Though Papillon lacks the subdued fruity notes of L'Interdit--except for a possible hint of peach--it has the same seamless blend of rich flowers, roots and resins. They all add up to a light-hearted, sophisticated fragrance that would have suited Audrey Hepburn as perfectly as the divine Givenchy creation. Papillon could have been the signature scent of the fiery, delicate Reggie Lampert in Charade.

Butterflies, Wilhelm von Kaulbach, c.1860. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Two eccentrics

At one of the parks where I walk there are bluebirds that hang out year-round in the woods at the edge of the parking lot. There's a single nest box there, but I often see as many as three couples sharing the area. It must be a good feeding spot. They were all out this morning, and I stopped to watch them on my way back to my car. ...(more)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Now that Bush is gone,

...and the woman-hating Religious Right is in at least partial eclipse, I'm feeling a little better about the prospects for women's rights in this country. Obama's signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and lifting the Mexico City gag rule within days of taking office--hey, that's more than W did for us in 8 years. (Actually, I think it might also be more than Clinton did for us, though perhaps my memory fails me.) But while we gain even more equality, life remains difficult for many of our sisters around the world. I never want to forget their suffering, or the good, brave people who work to help them.

Democracy Now! had an interview this morning with Eve Ensler and Dr. Denis Mukwege, the Congolese gynecologist who has made it his mission to treat the women who have been raped and brutalized during the war in DRC. You can see the clip here. The cruelty of the Congo war is horrifying, but Mukwege's work is proof that the best part of humanity can defy the worst.

Since Obama is determined to escalate the war in Afghanistan, I think we should remember that the situation for most women there has not changed much since the removal of the Taliban. For information about the real condition of Afghan women, visit the website of the ferocious Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). It's especially enlightening to read the articles at their news page, which will give you some idea of the violence and repression Afghan women routinely face. You can read a little more about the organization here, and at the group's Wikipedia page. I wish I had a fraction of the courage they possess.

They Carried Her Off, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, 1797-98.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

"Like a fiend in a cloud..."

Mad Song
by William Blake

The wild winds weep
And the night is a-cold;
Come hither, Sleep,
And my griefs infold:
But lo! the morning peeps
Over the eastern steeps,
And the rustling birds of dawn
The earth do scorn.

Lo! to the vault
Of paved heaven,
With sorrow fraught
My notes are driven:
They strike the ear of night,
Make weep the eyes of day;
They make mad the roaring winds,
And with tempests play.

Like a fiend in a cloud,
With howling woe,
After night I do crowd,
And with night will go;
I turn my back to the east,
From whence comforts have increas'd;
For light doth seize my brain
With frantic pain.

From Blake's Poetical Sketches, 1783.

Moonlight, Wolf, by Frederic Remington. c. 1909. Image from Artcyclopedia

(Okay, so this is not the best poem for battling the Monday blues. It was just irresistible to me, as was the painting. Come back later in the week for a Madini review--and yes, finally, Temple Grandin.)

Friday, February 6, 2009

The grief

I have a favorite shortcut in west Nashville, a winding little road nestled between a pair of steep ridges. There are apartment complexes on one side of the road but the other side is heavily wooded. It’s always a nice route to take, especially in the summer when the trees provide pretty, dappled shade. I’ve often driven along there and thought about all the living things that have found sanctuary in the woods, a place of safety away from the highways and vast expanses of concrete. ...(more)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Random rave: Azahar, Madini

If you asked me to name just one perfume to lift a dark mood, it would be Madini Azahar. This simple orange blossom fragrance is good cheer in a bottle, and it won't leave a hangover in its wake. In fact, one of the nicest things about Azahar is its slow, smooth fade. Unlike many of its natural sisters*, it doesn't disappear in seconds, nor does it slide into the nasty metal-and-vinegar stink that seems to be the trade-off for the greater lasting power of synthetics.

Azahar lacks the high-pitched clarity of that queen of all orange blossom soliflores, Serge Lutens' Fleurs d'Oranger; but it compensates with a depth the Lutens scent lacks. Fleurs d'Oranger has the kinetic joy of a honeybee buzzing from flower to flower; Azahar suggests the bee's ecstasy as it settles into the blossom's embrace. Azahar's quieter presence lets you enjoy its sunny sweetness even in midwinter, without feeling that you're screaming out your discontent with the season.

Perhaps it's a little crass to mention money in a random rave, but with Azahar affordability is part of the pleasure. You can get a 3ml roll-on bottle--which will last a long time--for well under $20. Tigerflag Natural Perfumery carries Azahar and a nice assortment of other Madinis. A complete selection can be found at Talisman. I've had excellent service from both, but Tigerflag usually has faster shipping and tucks in some free samples.

*The Madini perfumes are supposed to be naturally sourced. I have no idea whether Azahar is in fact birthed from real flowers, but it certainly smells true to Mother Nature. See the post at Tigerflag's blog for further discussion of the issue.

Orange Blossom painting by Mary E. Eaton, from National Geographic Magazine, June 1917. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Mystery date

If you're checking back for the Temple Grandin post, I swear it's coming--Friday, probably. Meanwhile, I'd like to talk about woodpeckers; specifically, the quartet of pileated woodpeckers I watched in the park on Sunday. Their courtship season is underway, so the woods are filled with the sound of territorial drumming. There's plenty of calling and chasing, too, inspired by anger as well as desire. Pileateds, like most woodpeckers, are very contentious when they're mating and nesting. ...(more)

Monday, February 2, 2009

No time to blog today I thought I'd just do a little picture post of images that caught my fancy.

Here we have yet another Leda and the Swan, this one by Hans Baldung Grien (1480-1545), who has probably gotten more space on this blog than any other artist. (I wonder if I should be embarraassed by that.)

Staying with mythological themes, here is The Rape of Europa as depicted by Jan-Erasmus Quellinus (1607-1678). I've been on the hunt for nice cattle paintings since I put up that pretty cow for Imbolc. I'm amazed at the number of artists who seemed to do little but paint cows. Who knew?

Someone please explain to me what was up with Félicien Rops (1833-1898). His work is fascinating, but so deeply weird that I am a little worried about how much I like it.

Hans Baldung Grien and Félicien Rops illustrations from A World History of Art. Jan-Erasmus Quellinus painting from Ciudad de la Pintura.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Waltz with Bashir

I've been eager to see Waltz with Bashir since I heard about it last year, and it finally arrived in Nashville this week. Dave and I saw it Saturday night, and I've been racking my brain ever since, trying to think up something to say about it that isn't hopelessly cliched. "Powerful," "moving," "harrowing"--this film is all those things, but of course people say the same about every great war movie. I need words you haven't read a hundred times before, words that will grab your attention, because Waltz with Bashir is a film I honestly believe everyone ought to see.

The story is based on the experiences of the director, Ari Folman, who served with the Israeli army during the war in Lebanon in 1982. In the film, the character of Ari is haunted by his inability to remember the war, particularly the massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, which was carried out by Christian Phalangists with the complicity of the Israelis. (There is a brief account of the war and the massacre at the film's website--click on the link for "The 1982 Lebanon War." You can also read Robert Fisk's account of entering the camps after the killings here.)

Ari seeks out and questions his old comrades from the war, trying to find the key that will awaken his memory. The film shifts continually from past to present, and from Ari's dreams and piecemeal recollections to his fellow soldiers' stories. The whole film has the feel of an extended nightmare, where even peaceful moments are surreal, and confusion alternates with horror. The audience feels the terrible tension that Ari feels, wanting to know the truth yet dreading it. In the end, the audience confronts reality at the moment Ari does, and even for viewers who know the history of what happened, it's an almost overwhelming moment of shock and disgust.

There's nothing polemical about the film. It doesn't set out to make an antiwar argument, nor does plead a case for any of the participants in the incident. Ari's story is presented in entirely personal terms, and that's what makes this such an extraordinary and valuable film. It's set within a seemingly interminable, complex conflict, but by focusing on the individual story of Ari--a character who does not fit neatly into the category of victim or villain--the film transcends the playground morality of war rhetoric, and just shows us what war is, and what it does to the human beings on every side. I don't see how anyone could ever entertain the idea of a "just war" after seeing Waltz with Bashir.

This trailer doesn't really do the film justice, but it will give you some idea of how beautifully it is made. The music is phenomenal.

Imbolc is upon us

I could sense the Wheel turning as I walked this morning. The light of the rising sun had a new brightness and warmth, and there was a sweet breeze blowing. All the birds were courting like crazy.

Imbolc is often honored with foods containing milk, since this is the time of year when new life begins to arrive. Celtic tradition calls for sheep's milk, but since that's a little hard for most of us to come by, cow's milk will do. The pretty girl above is a White Park cow, the breed supposedly kept by the Druids. You can read a little more about them at, where I found the illustration. Click around the site for more nice images of the breed.