Friday, July 31, 2009

"Ah gentle pair, yee little think how nigh your change approaches..."

Ah gentle pair, yee little think how nigh
Your change approaches, when all these delights
Will vanish and deliver ye to woe,
More woe, the more your taste is now of joy;
Happie, but for so happie ill secur'd
Long to continue, and this high seat your Heav'n
Ill fenc't for Heav'n to keep out such a foe
As now is enterd; yet no purpos'd foe
To you whom I could pittie thus forlorne
Though I unpittied: League with you I seek,
And mutual amitie so streight, so close,
That I with you must dwell, or you with me
Henceforth; my dwelling haply may not please
Like this fair Paradise, your sense, yet such
Accept your Makers work; he gave it me,
Which I as freely give; Hell shall unfold,
To entertain you two, her widest Gates,
And send forth all her Kings; there will be room,
Not like these narrow limits, to receive
Your numerous ofspring; if no better place,
Thank him who puts me loath to this revenge
On you who wrong me not for him who wrongd.
And should I at your harmless innocence
Melt, as I doe, yet public reason just,
Honour and Empire with revenge enlarg'd,
By conquering this new World, compels me now
To do what else though damnd I should abhorre.

From Paradise Lost, Book 4

Satan Watching the Caresses of Adam and Eve (illus. for Paradise Lost), William Blake, 1808.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

"On the other side of a mirror..."

On the other side of a mirror there’s an inverse world, where the insane go sane; where bones climb out of the earth and recede to the first slime of love.

And in the evening the sun is just rising.

From "Antimatter" by Russell Edson. The complete poem is at Poetry Foundation. You can hear Edson read it on Youtube.

Nimm dich selbst bei der Nase, 17th century. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The paradox of tolerance

I posted this article from The Independent on my Facebook page yesterday, primarily for its considerable freak value, but I've found myself thinking about its observation that "the espousal of unusual beliefs should not be interpreted as proof of mental illness." I'm not sure that assertion really applies to Mr. Shayler. Believing you are Jesus, that he was a "tranny," and that hemp will save the Earth is a trifecta of wackiness that strains the psychologist's theory, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, I think it's generally worth remembering that a person's ideology is not only a poor indicator of his mental health, it actually tells you almost nothing else of importance about him.

I look around at my circle of friends and acquaintances, and I marvel at the variety of odd beliefs we hold. Our politics range from the edge of fascism to way left of Moonbatville. Religious weirdness is rife among us. We include all varieties of Christian, a few Buddhists, Hindus, devout atheists, an ex-Moonie, and of course, my own cohort of tree-hugging Pagans. All these traditions are equally strange, if you consider them objectively. But somehow, happily, all these troublesome beliefs never get in the way of our human connection. One of the smartest, best people I know believes that the earth is 6,000 years old. I think that belief is completely irrational, but I know my friend well enough to understand that it would be a terrible mistake to confuse the person with the tenet. That said, there's no denying that this dubious belief is part of my friend's chosen identity, and I am compelled to respect that if I hope to honor our relationship. This is the paradox of tolerance; of all love, really. We have to acknowledge our deep differences without letting them divide us.

A Protestant Allegory, Girolamo da Treviso, 1538-44. (Read an account of this work here.)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

One Sentence Perfume Review: Prowl, Neil Morris Vault Parfums

Prowl is a Siamese cat: seductively elegant, but noisy and inclined to play rough.

Notes per NMF website: Black pepper, Honeysuckle, Jasmine Sambac, Tuberose, Patchouli, Oakmoss, Amber, Civet

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

"The flush of the known universe is in him"

The male is not less the soul nor more, he too is in his place,
He too is all qualities, he is action and power,
The flush of the known universe is in him,
Scorn becomes him well, and appetite and defiance become him well,
The wildest largest passions, bliss that is utmost, sorrow that is utmost become him well, pride is for him,
The full-spread pride of man is calming and excellent to the soul...

From "I Sing the Body Electric" by Walt Whitman. Text from Poetry Foundation,

Male Nude, Jean-Baptiste Wicar (1762-1834)

Friday, July 24, 2009

"We wear the mask that grins and lies"

We Wear the Mask

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

Text from Poetry Foundation.

Image from the Ex Libris collection at A World History of Art.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Martha Graham's Night Journey

I was prowling the Web today, looking for clips of the ballet "Appalachian Spring." There are countless clips of orchestras and schoolchildren playing the score, but precious few of the ballet itself. Someone has put up an intriguing clip with the original cast, including Graham (see it here), but unfortunately it's quite glitchy and annoying to sit through.

I was lucky enough to come across the partial video of "Night Journey" below, however, which plays beautifully. I'm not the greatest Graham fan--the prowling was research for a writing gig--but I was riveted by this piece. Granted, I can't help seeing it as a tad comic. Portions of it bear an uncomfortable resemblance to one of the pantomime fight scenes in the original Star Trek (curse my low culture frame of reference), but the technique of the dancers is just amazing, and the set and costumes are perfect.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

BitterGrace is busy

She's watching the mockingbird wars, admiring the phoebe outside her window, and trying to get some work done. She'll be back to the blog shortly.

Eastern Phoebe photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sunday, July 19, 2009

"It is hard going to the door..."

It is hard going to the door
cut so small in the wall where
the vision which echoes loneliness
brings a scent of wild flowers in a wood.

What I understood, I understand.
My mind is sometime torment,
sometimes good and filled with livelihood,
and feels the ground.

But I see the door,
and knew the wall, and wanted the wood,
and would get there if I could
with my feet and hands and mind.

From "The Door (I)" by Robert Creeley, 1959. Read the complete poem here.

The Path to Paradise, Dieric Bouts the Elder, 1450.

Joe Bageant explains the underclass

"Armchair sociologist that I am, I have a theory about this: Millions of American women are in poverty because they are paid poverty wages. I could be wrong, I often am, but there seems to be a connection between poverty and money. "

That's a snippet of wisdom from Joe Bageant at full throttle in this column from Counterpunch. I encourage you to click over and read the whole thing. Warning: JB is a radical, not a liberal. If you adore Obama, Bageant will annoy you. That's the point.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Summer scent party

Ayala was kind enough to invite me to join a blog mob on favorite summer scents for every occasion, and of course my immediate response was "Sure, I'd love to." Than I started trying to put a list together, and was reminded--not for the first time--that I have a deep attachment to some rather marginal perfumes. I'm tempted to list the classiest summer numbers in my collection, just so everyone will think I have fine taste. But no--I cannot lie to you. I'm going to give you a list of true favorites. Don't judge me.

For a sultry big city evening: Midnight Flower (Neil Morris)--This cocktail of tropical florals and tea punch is perfectly suited to even the hottest weather, yet it has a sophistication that can carry you through a fancy night out. Goes perfectly with a silk slip dress and strappy heels.

For sightseeing, museum-going, and other tourist tortures: Marguerite (Bourbon French)--Marguerite is a light, green floral with a slightly soapy quality, and a spicy/mossy base. I sometimes call it Eau de NOLA Debutante, because it strikes me as rather young and sexless, but it's not fruity or childish at all. It has a refreshing quality that sustains me while I'm tromping around on a muggy day. One caveat: I have found it tends to cause a bit of sun reaction. I wear it under my clothes if I expect to be outdoors a lot.

For a barbecue: Blue (Ralph Lauren)--I can hear you groaning, but Blue is the ideal cookout fragrance. It's both light and lighthearted, and so bland that there's no danger of it clashing with the aroma of charring meat or boiling crawfish.

For the beach, or fantasies of the beach: La Plage d'été (Hové)--Just a clean coconut scent with a hint of bitter lemon, La Plage d'été is aptly named. It is not the least bit sticky or cloying, and can be worn by all genders. Sand & Sable, the drugstore oldie, is another perfect beach scent. Just don't tell anybody what it is and you'll be lavished with compliments. Get an older bottle off ebay if you can, but the current stuff is just fine. (Dawn Spencer Hurwitz used to make a dupe of S&S caled "Black Beaches." It was fantastic, better than the original. If you ever run across any, email me immediately.)

For walking in the woods without drawing bees, mosquitoes, etc.: Tilleul (Provence Santé)--Sweet, clean, and spiritually uplifting, Tilleul captures perfectly the experience of standing under a linden tree. This perfume will let you be one with nature.

For plays in the park, concerts on the lawn, and other high culture summer outings: Narcisse Blanc (Caron)--Narcisse Blanc is nothing like its sister, Narcisse Noir. NB is pure, virginal, brainy. Even though it's rich with sexy white flowers, it has a quiet, contemplative quality. It feels less alluring than receptive.

I could go on blathering about my summer faves, but I think that'll do. Starting tomorrow, July 17th, you'll find the lists of other guests at this party by clicking below. Happy summer sniffing.

Perfume Shrine


The Non Blonde

I Smell Therefore I Am

+ Q Perfume Blog

Scent Hive

Savvy Thinker

Moving and Shaking

Ayala's Smelly Blog

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hard times

Yesterday I saw a guy leaning against a pickup parked on the roadside. He’d propped a hand-lettered sign against the truck that said he was a “Christian electrician,” drug free, and would work for gas money. At least I think that’s what the sign said. I didn’t slow down to read more carefully. I didn’t want to gawk at the guy. I felt sorry for him. Not sorry enough to hire him to do any wiring—call me risk-averse—but still, he was clearly in trouble and I wondered about his story.

I seem to be seeing more like him all the time; i.e., people who are recently destitute. The housing bust hasn’t hit as dramatically here as in some places, so there’s no plague of foreclosed and abandoned homes marring the landscape; but our unemployment rate is above 10% and it’s starting to show. There’s a stretch of state highway near my house that winds along a river, and limestone bluffs above the river provide natural shelter. There have always been people who sleep rough around there during the summer months, but I’m seeing them more often this year—and curiously, more of them are women. Sunday night I passed a young woman who was trudging along the highway in a pouring rain. She had draped herself in what looked like a flannel sheet, in a pathetic attempt to fend off the weather. She wasn’t hitchhiking, but I wish I’d stopped. I’m not sure what I could have done for her short of taking her home with me—there’s no shelter nearby as far as I know. But still, it seems wrong to have just passed her by.

Strangely enough, as I typed this post I had a mild sense of deja vu, as if I'd written these observations before. Perhaps I have. I wonder sometimes whether I’m actually seeing more destitute folks, or I’m more aware of them just now, thanks to the constant media drone about the economy. If it’s the latter, then I’d say that’s a rare case of manufactured consciousness being a good thing.

All this makes me think of one of my favorite sentimental songs, "Hard Times Come Again No More" by Stephen Foster. Click here to see a clip of Dylan performing it in 1993. He's a little ragged at the start, but stick with him. He really does justice to the song.

Photo by Dorothea Lange, 1935

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

One Sentence Perfume Review: Serge Noire, Serge Lutens

A sweaty lumberjack slathered with Vicks VapoRub--who wouldn't want one?

Notes per Aedes de Venustas: Incense, dark woods, cinnamon, amber, patchouli, cumin

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Something Nio would like you to know

Dogs have a different percentage of rods and cones in the eye than we do. Also, in contrast to our three kinds of color receptors in the retina, they have only two, which results in something like our color blindness. Contrary to what scientists once thought, the world of dogs isn't quite black and white. They can perceive the groups of yellow to green and red to orange and blue to purple, but they can't differentiate between the members of each group. Thanks to the differences between their eyes and ours, they can detect a distant squirrel's movements before you can, but sometimes they have trouble locating a neon yellow tennis ball that you just threw into green grass not 20 feet away. Yelling "It's over there, you moron!" will not improve their color perception.

From In the Womb: Animals by Michael Sims, (National Geographic Society, 2009) p.37

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Yet more scent-inspired art

Bourbon French Plumeria, (c) Joshua Buckman, 2009

I like the sensuality of Joshua's drawing: the expanse of skin rising out of the bedclothes, the mop of hair, etc. Bourbon French's Plumeria is an old-fashioned soliflore, sweeter and "cleaner" than the natural scent of the flower, but still quite heady. It's not softened or tarted up in any way. It screams tropical romance to me, but Joshua is clearly working off some very different association. I'm hoping he'll drop in at the blog and tell us about it.

Café Café
, (c) Erin Johnson, 2009

Café-Café is one of those obscure little commercial perfumes that seems to be kept alive by a tiny cult of devotees. Launched in 1996, I believe it's still in production (and dirt cheap.) Don't confuse it with the older, utterly different Café, also by Cofinluxe. Café-Café is a very sharp herbal/citrus melange, with a surprisingly rich patchouli base--a noisy 2nd cousin of Cacharel's Eden. I haven't seen all the drawings the class did, but of those I've seen, Erin's is the purest graphic representation of the scent itself.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Close encounter

I can feel the Dog Days coming on here. The leaves have lost the lush, green color of early summer. The woods seem a little dusty and worn. The air is muggy, and the yellow jackets are out. This morning, I heard a fierce buzzing in the leaves that turned out to be a yellow jacket locked in a death embrace with a winged beetle. ...Click here to read the rest.

Friday, July 10, 2009

"And he in story only rules..."

This is the only banneret
That ever Love created yet:
Who though, by the malignant stars,
Forcèd to live in storms and wars,
Yet dying leaves a perfume here,
And music within every ear:
And he in story only rules,
In a field sable a lover gules.

From "The Unfortunate Lover" by Andrew Marvell. Read the whole poem here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Two chases and a rescue

On Monday, my walk in the woods couldn’t have been more peaceful. The big event was watching a group of eight sliders hang out together in the middle of the lake. I love those little monsters, but nobody could accuse them of being exciting. They floated motionless in the water with their heads just above the surface. When they made a collective decision to dive, they did it slowly, reluctantly, as if it they were pretty sure the effort wouldn’t be worth it.

Tuesday was a different story. I wandered down a narrow trail I’d never been on before. I wasn’t sure where it would take me, but I had plenty of time and I like getting lost....(Click here to read the rest)


It's sunny and warm. The mimosa tree we planted a decade ago is 25 feet tall now. It's covered with pink blooms and butterflies, and the hummingbirds are zooming through the branches. The sunflowers are luring a crowd of goldfinches. The blackberries are plentiful and sweet. I have to fight the hornets for them, but I don't mind. I love summer.

Summer Landscape, Pieter Gijsels (1621-1690)

More scent made visible

Dark Earth, (c) Renyi Zhang, 2009

Renyi Zhang was working with Neil Morris' Dark Earth, one of his beautiful (but challenging) vault perfumes. If you haven't had the pleasure of sampling it, see the description at the website. I love the shifting figurative elements in this drawing. They seem to morph as I look at them. I see a face, then a torso, then two bodies entwined. There's a dynamic energy to the image that is intriguing. I think it evokes the scent very well. Dark Earth is not a static or linear perfume; it has a quiet restlessness, it evolves in the subtle way of nature. I think Renyi's drawing captures that quality.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

BitterGrace has been awfully busy...

...and is just too exhausted to post. Check back tomorrow for more scent-fueled art, and maybe a Turn Outward post.

A Tired Seamstress, Angelo Trezzini (1827-1904)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Scent made visible

Remember my post earlier this year about my encounter with some art students at a local university? (If your memory needs jogging, click here.) I gave each student a couple of scent samples to use as inspiration for a drawing project. The instructor, Billy Renkl, has sent me JPEGs of a few of the pieces they created. A couple of them are reproduced below, with the artist's permission. I'll put up more if/when we can track down the other students to get their okay.

Le Parfum d'Ida, (c) Sarah Andrews, 2009.

Yep, that's right, this earthy image was inspired by Neil Morris' tribute to the sweetly outrageous Ida, aka Chayaruchama. If you haven't been lucky enough to sample Le Parfum d'Ida, you'll get an idea of its character from the list of notes on the NMF site. It's rich, complicated, sexy, and warm. This was my review when it was introduced:

Le Parfum d'Ida--yes, named for Ms. Chaya--is a truly classic floral/leather/aldehyde. Ida says it's "skanky," and so it is, but in the most genteel sense. (Note to normal people: Perfumistas smile on skanky, within limits. Don't try to figure it out.) This baby is a real throwback to the great scents of the pre-WWII era. Think of the vivid richness of the classic Lanvins combined with the earthy sensuality of Tabu. But there's a bit of post-war wit and sparkle, too. Imagine the love child of Scandal and Miss Dior, and you'll have a notion of Le Parfum d'Ida.

Initially, I couldn't see much connection between Sarah's drawing and Neil's glamorous creation, but then I realized that the image references the perfume's base notes. Oakmoss, vetiver, myrrh, and black agar give Parfum d'Ida's drydown a dark, primitive character, perfectly in keeping with the organic quality of Sarah's work. It's interesting to me that the quiet base notes, which almost never get any attention in the promotion of conventional perfumes, seem to be what got the artist's attention here.

Oil of Almadina Musk, (c) James Linkous, 2009.

The Almadina musk James worked with is from The Fragrance Shop. It's an unconventional variety of musk--bitter, herbal, slightly leathery. The animalic quality of this musk is pungent, not sweet or creamy like most popular musks. I wear it occasionally, but it's very masculine, heavy and linear. I suspect if you asked me to "picture" this musk, you'd hear about images of vegetation, or maybe a rough, green cloth. James' drawing evokes the latter for me, though I doubt he had anything so concrete in mind.

Thanks to James and Sarah for letting their work adorn BitterGrace Notes.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"All that I saw did me delight"

A learned and a happy ignorance
Divided me
From all the vanity,
From all the sloth, care, pain, and sorrow that advance
The madness and the misery
Of men. No error, no distraction I
Saw soil the earth, or overcloud the sky.

I knew not that there was a serpent’s sting,
Whose poison shed
On men, did overspread
The world; nor did I dream of such a thing
As sin, in which mankind lay dead.
They all were brisk and living wights to me,
Yea, pure and full of immortality.

Joy, pleasure, beauty, kindness, glory, love,
Sleep, day, life, light,
Peace, melody, my sight,
My ears and heart did fill and freely move.
All that I saw did me delight.
The Universe was then a world of treasure,
To me an universal world of pleasure. ...(more)

From "Eden" by Thomas Traherne (1637-1674). Read the complete poem here.

The Garden of Eden, Unknown master of the Upper Rhineland, c.1410. Image from Web Gallery of Art.