Sunday, May 31, 2009

Encountering Rumi

If I said a perfume named for a poet was too beautiful for words, you'd think I was being cute, wouldn't you? Of course you would, so I'll try to come up with a description of Rumi by Neil Morris that is at least accurate, if inadequate.

Imagine a fragrant gift to the heart and spirit composed of the headiest rose enhanced with a velvety touch of ylang ylang--that is the opening of Rumi. No perfumista who loves the rose could resist such an exquisite presentation of its scent. If I believed in heaven, I'd want it to smell like the top notes of Rumi.

Encounters with the divine are always brief, however, and Rumi quickly descends to earth on a blanket of resins and patchouli. It's sad to leave paradise so soon, but the landing is pure pleasure. Soft, warm and close to the skin, the base offers calm simplicity after the intoxicating rush of the opening. Its lingering aura is a sweet reminder of the soul journey Rumi provides.

Many thanks to Chayaruchama for introducing me to Rumi, along with some other gorgeous NM Vault fragrances. Check back for reviews of Prowl, Mystic Dragon and others.

Here is one of my favorite Rumi poems. I think Neil captured some of the wisdom of this verse in his perfume:

Be Lost in the Call
by Rumi

Lord, said David, since you do not need us,
why did you create these two worlds?

Reality replied: O prisoner of time,
I was a secret treasure of kindness and generosity,
and I wished this treasure to be known,
so I created a mirror: its shining face, the heart;
its darkened back, the world;
The back would please you if you've never seen the face.

Has anyone ever produced a mirror out of mud and straw?
Yet clean away the mud and straw,
and a mirror might be revealed.

Until the juice ferments a while in the cask,
it isn't wine. If you wish your heart to be bright,
you must do a little work.

My King addressed the soul of my flesh:
You return just as you left.
Where are the traces of my gifts?

We know that alchemy transforms copper into gold.
This Sun doesn't want a crown or robe from God's grace.
He is a hat to a hundred bald men,
a covering for ten who were naked.

Jesus sat humbly on the back of an ass, my child!
How could a zephyr ride an ass?
Spirit, find your way, in seeking lowness like a stream.
Reason, tread the path of selflessness into eternity.

Remember God so much that you are forgotten.
Let the caller and the called disappear;
be lost in the Call.

Love is a Stranger, Kabir Helminski
Threshold Books, 1993. Text from this website

Dervish with a Lion and a Tiger, Mughal painting c.1650

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Random Rave: Roma, Laura Biagiotti, 1988

Pain is one of the things that has kept me away from the blog since Monday. I took a hard fall during my hike Monday morning and did some serious damage to my back. I can walk perfectly well, but anything that involves much movement of the torso can cause breathtaking pain, and that includes working at the computer. I am living on Advil and keeping my fingers crossed that I have not screwed up a disc or cracked a vertebra. So far, I have learned two things from this experience: 1) Do not wear your old hiking shoes with worn out tread on a rainy day when the trail is slick; and 2) The ability to plié to the floor and rise back up without bending your back is a skill worth maintaining even if you took your last dance class a quarter century ago. I have never been so grateful to have good knees.

What does all this have to do with Roma? Well, that beautiful, underrated oriental has been my comforter since the mishap. I was introduced to Roma a few years ago by Besotted at Perfume of Life, and I fell in love with it almost in spite of myself. I am not the biggest oriental fan generally, and I am especially dubious about complicated melanges like Roma, with its odd fruity/minty opening and its base of vanilla-scented beast. But in Roma's case, a multiple personality is part of its charm. The drydown progresses smoothly from one stage to the next, without those awful I-am-a-perfume-at-war-with-itself moments that afflict popular messes such as Black Orchid and Euphoria. Each of Roma's faces is nicely composed, and gives way to its successor before I have time to get bored with it. Depending on what's happening with my chemistry, I find the civet can be a little overwhelming, but that's my problem, not Roma's--and anyway, there's nothing wrong with a touch of excess skank now and then.

Given its lively character, I wouldn't have pegged Roma as a comfort scent, but I reached for it instinctively, and as usual, my subconcious has turned out to be a fine judge of perfume. Soothing but not soporific, Roma has been the perfect quiet companion for a time of minor trial.

Notes per Fragrantica: Black Currant, Sicilian Bergamot, Pink Grapefruit, Mint, Hyacinth, Carnation, Jasmine, Lily-of-the-Valley, Rose, Amber, Sandalwood, Singapore Patchouli, Musk, Civet, Vanilla, Oakmoss, Myrrh.

Roman Charity, Peter Paul Rubens, c.1612.

Monday, May 25, 2009

"Each bird that lights and twitters is a friend."

by Paul Verlaine

When I had pushed the narrow garden-door,
Once more I stood within the green retreat;
Softly the morning sunshine lighted it,
And every flow'r a humid spangle wore.

Nothing is changed. I see it all once more:
The vine-clad arbor with its rustic seat. . . .
The waterjet still plashes silver sweet,
The ancient aspen rustles as of yore.

The roses throb as in a bygone day,
As they were wont, the tall proud lilies sway.
Each bird that lights and twitters is a friend.

I even found the Flora standing yet,
Whose plaster crumbles at the alley's end,
--Slim, 'mid the foolish scent of mignonette.

Poems of Paul Verlaine, translated by Gertrude Hall.

The Triumph of Flora, Master of Flora, c.1560. Image from Web Gallery of Art.

(I'll be away from the blog for a couple of days. I hope this second helping of bittersweet Verlaine will entertain you until I get back. See you soon.)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Conditional love

This week I moved my walks from the rural state park near my home to a nature preserve in Nashville. This was not a happy choice, since I really prefer the big park. The paths there are rougher, there's more wildlife, and during the week I rarely meet another person on the trail. Unfortunately, the heavy rains we've had lately have created perfect breeding conditions for mosquitoes, and being the lone hiker for miles around makes me absolutely irresistible to them. Why should they bother tormenting the deer and the birds, with all that troublesome fur and plumage, when they can chow down on a thin-skinned human? They nearly drained me dry on a couple of outings early this week....Click here to read the rest.

Friday, May 22, 2009

"O what embraces, kisses sweet and wild!"

O what embraces, kisses sweet and wild!
Myself, from brimming eyes I laughed to you
Those moments, among all, O lovely child,
Shall be my saddest, but my sweetest, too.

From "Birds in the Night" by Paul Verlaine, translated by Gertrude Hall. The complete poem is here.

Illustration by Martin van Maële, 1907.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

One Sentence Perfume Review: K de Krizia, Krizia (1981)

She looks lovely in mourning, but she can't quite stifle that slutty streak.

Notes per Fragrantica: Aldehydes, Peach, Hyacinth, Neroli, Bergamot, Carnation, Orange Blossom, Orchid, Orris Root, Jasmine, Lily-of-the-Valley, Rose, Narcissus, Leather, Sandalwood, Amber, Musk, Civet, Oakmoss, Vanilla, Vetiver, Styrax

A Widow, James Tissot, 1868

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Missing the narrow fellow

The whole purpose of walking in the woods is to leave longing behind. I walk to take pleasure in what the world offers, not make demands or chase fantasy...Click here to read the rest.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"The sea hath fish for every man"

And If I Did, What Then?

by George Gascoigne (c.1539-1578)

“And if I did, what then?
Are you aggriev’d therefore?
The sea hath fish for every man,
And what would you have more?”

Thus did my mistress once,
Amaze my mind with doubt;
And popp’d a question for the nonce
To beat my brains about.

Whereto I thus replied:
“Each fisherman can wish
That all the seas at every tide
Were his alone to fish.

“And so did I (in vain)
But since it may not be,
Let such fish there as find the gain,
And leave the loss for me.

“And with such luck and loss
I will content myself,
Till tides of turning time may toss
Such fishers on the shelf.

“And when they stick on sands,
That every man may see,
Then will I laugh and clap my hands,
As they do now at me.”

Text from Poetry Foundation

Sommeraften ved Skagens strand, Peder Severin Krøyer, 1899.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The philosopher's sermon

Click here to see a brief exchange between Robert Wright and Daniel Dennett on the subject of ethics as an evolutionary Good Trick. You can read a bit of Dennett's book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by going to the preview at Google Books.

Have a thoughtful Sunday. Be good. It's only natural.

Danse Macabre: The Preacher, Hans Holbein the Younger, 1523-1526

Friday, May 15, 2009

Hey, a gig's a gig

Achille Devéria (1800-1857)

One Sentence Perfume Review: Gold, Donna Karan (2006)

Granted, she's not brilliant or especially beautiful, but she's a cheerful little thing, and very diligent about her work.

Notes per FragranceNet: Acacia, Casablanca Lily, Gold Pollen, White Clove, Golden Balsams, Fluid Amber Patchoul, Jasmine Templar

Woman Weighing Gold, Jan Sanders van Hemessen (c.1500-1556)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"Already I feel the heart of Spring vibrating"

A Song of Departure

by Li Qingzhao (c.1083-1149)

Warm rain and soft breeze by turns
Have just broken
And driven away the chill.
Moist as the pussy willows,
Light as the plum blossoms,
Already I feel the heart of Spring vibrating.
But now who will share with me
The joys of wine and poetry?
Tears streak my rouge.
My hairpins are too heavy.
I put on my new quilted robe
Sewn with gold thread
And throw myself against a pile of pillows,
Crushing my phoenix hairpins.
Alone, all I can embrace is my endless sorrow.
I know a good dream will never come.
So I stay up till past midnight
Trimming the lamp flower’s smoking wick.

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth. Text from the Bureau of Public Secrets website.

The Inconsolable Widow, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, c.1763.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The day has gotten away from me a new post will have to wait until tomorrow. Meanwhile, click here to read JoAnn Wypijewski's latest column in The Nation, all about the phony crisis of teen sexting. JW says it brilliantly, as always.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A minor thing to mourn

One of my oldest bottles of Ma Griffe seems to be feeling the effects of time. I dabbed on some of the juice today, and even though it's still beautiful, still the same Ma Griffe that never fails to bring me comfort and pleasure, something has changed. The top has lost a little of its clarity and bite. The heart has faded ever so slightly, and there's a hint of (I can hardly bear to say it) mustiness lurking in the flowers. Happily, the smooth cinnamon and moss in the base retain all their youthful charm.

Senescence dismantles all great beauties eventually. Careful preservation, whether of people or perfume, can only do so much to postpone decay. The gentle aging of Ma Griffe is a poignant reminder to me that hoarding is futile. I should enjoy and share all my vintage delights before they fade away.

Portrait of Frau Reuss, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1503.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A morning with the turtles

There had been a storm with heavy rain before dawn last Wednesday, and it was still drizzling when I got to the park around 6:00 a.m. The air was warm and the trail was a soggy mess, which made conditions perfect for the box turtles. I came across one every fifty yards or so, and they were all moving along at a pretty brisk pace by turtle standards, heads up, looking alert.

I was really enjoying the turtle parade, thinking how nice it was to see so many emerge at once, and then I came across the star-crossed lovers. Boy had succeeded in meeting girl, but something had gone haywire with the consummation. ...(Click here to read the rest.)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I was going to tell you a story about a turtle...

...but Dave invited me to go to a movie with him, and who would turn down a date with Dave? I'll report on the turtle later. Meanwhile, bird-loving readers can go here for a little entertainment.

A Quiet Pet, John William Godward, 1906. Image from Museum Syndicate

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Nio's quote of the day

"We are playing when we spend time in the supermarket or a highway rest stop, both of which offer you a cornucopia of mostly useless objects, so that, although you go in to buy a tin of coffee, you stay for an hour and come out with dog biscuits--you don't have a dog, but if you did, it would be a Labrador, the most fashionable dog of all, which is no use as a guard dog, can't be used for hunting or for finding truffles, and will lick the hand of the person stabbing you, but it's a wonderful plaything, especially if you put it in the water."

Umberto Eco

(From the essay "From Play to Carnival" in Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism, 2007)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

"Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame."

A High-Toned Old Christian Woman

by Wallace Stevens

Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms,
Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle. That's clear. But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began. Allow,
Therefore, that in the planetary scene
Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed,
Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade,
Proud of such novelties of the sublime,
Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,
May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves
A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.
This will make widows wince. But fictive things
Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.

From Harmonium, 1923. Text from Poetry Foundation.

Bacchanal, Paul Cézanne, 1875-1880.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Fear Rules

Our back porch is partially enclosed and covered with a metal roof. There's a ledge where the roof meets the support beams. Years ago I put a pretty ceramic skull in each corner of that ledge, just as a little memento mori. At some point, and without my noticing, a bird decided to build a nest behind one of them and dislodged it from its secure spot. Yesterday Kobi and Nio were playing on the porch--"playing" in this case means that Kobi was chasing Nio around trying to mount and hump him, and he was playing hard to get. He made a clumsy evasive maneuver and slammed into the wall, which sent the displaced skull crashing down onto the concrete floor.

Now, of course this would startle any dog, but Kobi is the Chicken Little of the canine world. She went completely nuts--barking hysterically, trembling, frothing at the mouth, etc. I was busy with something in the kitchen, so I went to the door and told her to be quiet, hoping I could put off cleaning up the mess until later. The sound of my voice will usually interrupt Kobi's panic attacks, at least temporarily, but not this time. She just went right on barking and drooling, her body in a half-crouch. She looked at me while she carried on, eyes wide, as if to say Do something, for god's sake!

I got a broom and swept up the pieces of the skull, which actually freaked her out even more. I know from bitter experience that it's a bad idea to bring her inside when she's in such a state. She has been known to eat the walls. So I shut the sliding glass door and watched her progressive meltdown. Most dogs would eventually just get worn out, but not the Big Yellow Ball of Crazy. She stood on the other side of the door for a while, spattering it with drool in her frenzy.

When it finally became clear to her that I was not coming back out, she wheeled around and went after poor Nio. Mindless aggression is always part of Kobi's fear response, and the more intense her fear, the more vigorously she attacks any available innocent target. (Does that remind you of anything?) Nio has a good 40 pounds on Kobi, so I'm not really worried about her hurting him, but he is pretty pathetic when she beats up on him. He looks to me for rescue, just as she does. Can't you do something about her, Mom?

Eventually, she did settle down enough that I could bring her in last night. Today she has been calmer, but periodically some tiny event I can't even perceive will remind her of yesterday's catastrophe, and she'll go back into panic mode for a while. That should stop in the next day or two, and this whole episode will be filed away in Kobi's tiny brain along with along with all her other imaginary brushes with death. Unlike most dogs, whose interior lives revolve around food, Kobi's mind is largely devoted to Things That Could Kill Me. I've always thought being wired for fear caused her to suffer, but after years of observing her, I'm not sure it does. Indulging panic almost seems to be a diversion for her, a way of relieving boredom and drawing attention to herself.

Amazing how much our pets are like us, isn't it?

Mors Ultima Linea Rerum, Flemish copperplate print, c.1570. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

One Sentence Perfume Review: Madonna Lily, Parfums des Beaux Arts (DSH)

She's a remarkably pretty child, but that melancholy air she puts on can be a bit exasperating.

Notes per DSH website: Bergamot, Lily of the Valley (Muguet), Spice Notes, French Lily, Jonquil, Kenya Lily, Ylang-Ylang, Galbanum, Vanilla Absolute, Violet Leaf Absolute

Mater Dolorosa (detail), Hans Baldung Grien, 1516. Image from Web Gallery of Art.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Passing season

May arrived here with heavy rain that knocked the last of the blossoms off the dogwoods. The woods are littered with fallen petals. ...(Click here to read the rest.)