Thursday, December 31, 2009

I wish you all a happy new year

Year after year
The leaf and the shoot;
The babe and the nestling,
The worm at the root;
The bride at the altar,
The corpse on the bier—
The Earth and its story,
Year after year.

From "The Mystery" by George Francis Savage Armstrong (1845-1906)

Young Bacchus, Giovanni Bellini, c. 1514

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Celebrating 2009

Perfumeshrine has kindly organized a little blogfest so we can collectively celebrate stuff that pleased us in 2009. The only rules are that we must write about things we first encountered in the past year, and we can't leave out perfume (as if that would ever happen). Since I'm the critical type who can't seem to adore very many things at once, my list is short--just a couple of books and fragrances. Be sure to click on the links below to see where other people are spreading the love.

Best New Perfume: Moondance from Anya's Garden, of course. This gorgeous white floral proves that a natural perfume can be easy to love and satisfyingly complex. It also confirms that Anya is an extremely versatile perfumer. It's amazing that the same woman who created Temple and Fairchild also produced the ethereal Moondance. You can read my full review of Moondance here.

Best Vintage Perfume: I rarely meet an oldie I can't like, but my encounter with Voeu de Noël, a long lost Caron, was the best perfume experience I've had in a decade. It's a good thing I had only a small sample, because if I owned more I'd just hoard it like an idiot, thus staining my pleasure with guilt. Who needs that? I wrote a few words on Voeu de Noël here.

I can't bear to use "best" in reference to a book, so I'll just say that these are books that delighted me in the past year. It's an odd little list, but I'm an odd little reader:

The Last Witch of Langenburg: Murder in a German Village by Thomas Robisheaux--This account of a 17th century witch trial is fascinating and deftly written. I wrote a brief review of it here. The Literate Housewife has an interesting interview with Robisheaux that will probably do a better job of convincing you to seek out this book than I can.

Blues & Chaos: The Music Writing of Robert Palmer--Palmer was a wonderful writer and a brilliant critic. Anyone who cares about music will find something to love in this collection of his work. You can read my review of it here.

Doctor Sleep by Madison Smartt Bell--I've been meaning to write a real post about this novel, and I may yet do that, but for now I'll just say it's a wonderful book and deserves lots of readers. It's a clever thriller, often quite funny, but it's also a story of spiritual torment and revelation. The perfect seamlessness of the narrative is stunning, and Bell's prose is always beautiful. I'm tempted to start blathering about the ideas Bell explores in Doctor Sleep, but I'll spare you that and just encourage you to get a copy and enjoy.

My fellow Best of 2009 bloggers:

Perfume in Progress


1000 Fragrances

Ayala's Smelly Blog

Notes on Shoes, Cake & Perfume

Suzanne's perfume journal at Eiderdown Press

Scent Hive


Illuminated Perfume

A Rose Beyond the Thames

The Non-Blonde

Under the Cupola

Perfume Shrine

Savvy Thinker

All I Am - A Redhead

Notes from the Ledge

I Smell Therefore I Am

Monday, December 28, 2009

Attack of the killer deer pee

In the fall when the deer are in rut there's always a pretty strong smell of deer piss in the woods. Sometimes I'll come upon a fresh puddle and the smell will be overpowering. It tends to linger in the nostrils for quite a while. This is not my favorite olfactory experience. In fact, it makes me faintly queasy--I don't understand how hunters can bear the stink of the store-bought pee they use to lure horny bucks.

By late December the mating business is mostly over and the aroma of love subsides, but this morning I walked into a little hollow where the air reeked of it. I kept walking, thinking I'd get past the source of the smell, but it just got stronger. I felt a little sick, and then a little dizzy. There was no way to get a clean breath so I decided I'd just stop and ponder the experience.

It didn't make any sense for the stink to be so powerful and I wondered if it might be some sort of hallucination. I bet I'm not the only perfume freak who occasionally smells a familiar fragrance that isn't actually present. Maybe the deer funk was a figment of my imagination, aided by sense memory. More likely, though, it was another phenomenon that is common among the scent-obsessed--something I think of as The Blob Effect. That's when a scent that is objectively mild and inoffensive suddenly takes over your environment, smothering you with its presence even though other people might barely be able to detect it.

In any case, the longer I stood there breathing in the aroma of pee, the less horrible it smelled to me. I even began to like it a little. It still made me dizzy, but dizzy isn't necessarily bad. I saw one small doe about 40 yards away, ambling through the trees. She looked so sweet. It occurred to me that I was channeling a horny buck, and that was slightly disturbing so I decided to head back to my car.

More than 12 hours later, as I sit here anointed with perfume in a house scented with candles, I can still smell a faint scent of deer pee. Not so nice, but there are worse things I could be smelling.

Photo by Emery Way from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

In dreams...

Last night I had a peculiar dream that featured a certain well-known novelist riding around the streets of New York (or was it Philadelphia?) on a unicycle. I've been enjoying this novelist's work recently, so it's not surprising that he would turn up in a dream. I can't explain the unicycle.

The dream has been in the back of my mind, providing a nice little note of absurdity in a dreary day--which is what prompted me to click on a link to the World Dream Bank when it popped up during my Google search for Irish music (can't explain that either.) It's a fun site, well worth some time if you have a weakness for peeping into strangers' psyches. The Bank's creator, Chris Wayan, is an artist and a furry. You can read an interview with Wayan here.

Happy peeping. Enjoy your Monday.

The Dream of the Doctor (also called The Temptation of the Idler), Albrecht Dürer, 1498.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

In honor of Christmas...

...and those who celebrate it, here is my favorite depiction of the Nativity. You can read an analysis of it here. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Mystic Nativity, Sandro Botticelli, 1500

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"the still point of reality..."

You realize that in silences
things yield and almost betray
their ultimate secrets.
At times, one half expects
to discover an error in Nature,
the still point of reality,
the missing link that will not hold,
the thread we cannot untangle
in order to get at the truth.

You look around. Your mind seeks,
makes harmonies, falls apart
in the perfume, expands
when the day wearies away.
There are silences in which one watches
in every fading human shadow
something divine let go.

From "The Lemon Trees" by Eugenio Montale, translated by Lee Gerlach. The complete poem is here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A little Christmas rant

I was in Nashville’s most popular bookstore today, looking for gifts. I was happy to see that the place was fairly mobbed with shoppers. I enjoyed browsing, although as usual half the things I wanted weren’t in stock. Every time I go searching for titles in a brick and mortar store, I am amazed at all the good books that don’t merit shelf space. And all the crappy books that do.

After diligent hunting I did find suitable books for all the adults on my list, then I ventured into the children’s section to get something for my niece’s little boy. He’s almost nine, and I was happy to see that there was a whole wall devoted to fiction for kids his age. He loves sports, has been an amazing little athlete since he was a toddler. Surely there would be plenty of things to interest him.

Nope. There were precious few books about sports, or anything else that would appeal to a kid like my great-nephew. Instead there was volume after volume of what can best be described as the demon spawn of Harry Potter. I swear more than half the books were blatant Potter rip-offs. It was ridiculous. I felt a faint sympathy with the Christian loonies who rail against J. K. Rowling. Hell, I’m a witch and seeing all those books kinda gave me the creeps.

Believe me, I’m not opposed to magical fantasy for kids. I wish there had been more of it when I was a girl, I would have loved it. I just don’t think a steady diet of it is necessarily a good thing, especially when everybody’s getting a steady diet of it. It’s all a little too grandiose, too fixated on power struggles. I think it encourages an unforgiving, oppositional view of the world.

Of course, you can find fault with just about any literature for children. When I was ten I loved Black Beauty, which is a pretty twisted book in its fascination with cruelty. But the shelves in libraries and bookstores weren’t filled with dozens of Black Beauty clones. When I’d wallowed in all the suffering I could stand, I moved on to something a little happier—I had to, if I wanted to keep reading. Kids now could read nothing but wizard fantasies, and obviously a lot of them do or the store wouldn’t keep so many in stock.

Another problem with the glut of Potteresque books is that they don’t leave much space for books to suit kids whose imaginations don’t run in that direction. Not every kid digs wizards. Think how disheartening a visit to the bookstore would be if you were one of those kids.

I wonder what those of you who have young children think about this. What do your kids read? Am I being unnecessarily cranky?

Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith for A Child's Garden of Verses, R.L. Stevenson, 1905.

Monday, December 21, 2009

"Thy sunbeam comes upon this earth..."

Thy sunbeam comes upon this earth of mine with arms outstretched and stands at my door the livelong day to carry back to thy feet clouds made of my tears and sighs and songs.

With fond delight thou wrappest about thy starry breast that mantle of misty cloud, turning it into numberless shapes and folds and colouring it with hues everchanging.

It is so light and so fleeting, tender and tearful and dark, that is why thou lovest it, O thou spotless and serene. And that is why it may cover thy awful white light with its pathetic shadows.

From Gitanjali, Rabindranath Tagore, 1913

The Angel Standing in the Sun, William Turner, 1846

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winter Solstice

Sometimes, usually on days that are very cold or when a storm is threatening, the birds and animals hide themselves, and the woods go very still. That’s when the spirits come out. They’re not bold. They reveal themselves in brief glimpses—a shadow that appears for a moment, or a fleeting image that forms on the ragged bark of a tree. When I was a little girl I used to pursue the spirits and try to capture them in my sight, but it never worked and I learned to let them be.

When I got a little older I began to fret about whether they were real or just something I imagined. Eventually I came to understand that my question was a mistake, the result of my training in how to chop the world into pieces. Growing up, for most of us, means forgetting how to see the world whole. My Yuletide wish is that we seek to remember.

Waldlandschaft im Winter, Conrad Alexander Müller-Kurzwelly (1855-1914)

Friday, December 18, 2009

One Sentence Perfume Review: Sublime, Jean Patou

An anatomically correct porcelain doll--beautiful, but lacking the sweet nastiness of real life.

Notes per Jan Moran's Fabulous Fragrances II: Jasmine, Rose, Amber, Musk

La Pose, Luis Ricardo Falero, 1879

Thursday, December 17, 2009

New stuff...

...this week at Chapter 16 includes a consideration of poet Eleanor Ross Taylor by Diann Blakely, and some thoughts on the dangerous allure of words from Silas House. I review Blues & Chaos, an anthology of Robert Palmer's work. (I enjoyed this book a lot--highly recommend it as a gift for the music lover in your life.)

There's more, of course. Visit the home page to see it all.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"All the complicated details..."

Winter Trees

by William Carlos Williams

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

Het Pelsken, Peter Paul Rubens, 1636-38

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Have I a body or have I none?"

Have I a body or have I none?
Am I who I am or am I not?
Pondering these questions,
I sit leaning against the cliff as the years go by,
Till the green grass grows between my feet
And the red dust settles on my head,
And the men of the world, thinking me dead,
Come with offerings of wine and fruit to lay by my corpse.

Han Shan (Cold Mountain), 9th century. Trans. by Burton Watson, text via China Page

Jacob the Hermit Kneeling at a Sarcophagus, Daniel de Vos (1568-1605)
**Can anybody translate the Latin for me?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Quiet, please

Olfacta has a nice post at her blog about the demise of some—no, let’s be honest—all of the great perfumes we were raised on. She ties this sad development to our revved-up, media-enslaved way of life, and I’m sure she’s right. People in a hurry have no time for difficult beauty.

I happened to read Olfacta’s post right after I’d been out hiking. We had a soft, gray morning here, unusually warm for December. I had the trails to myself, and the solitude was pure pleasure. Moisture dripped from the trees and the birds chattered, but otherwise there was no sound except my footfall on the sloppy path. I stopped for a while and looked up through the trees. My mind became quiet. The words that tumble around my brain all the time turned to smoke and then disappeared altogether.

Something miraculous happens when I silence my talking self. Everything around me becomes alive. The stones, the fallen leaves, even the air shimmers with life.

That moment in the park came back to me as I was thinking about Olfacta’s post. One of the problems with all this “connectedness” is that it has absolutely no place for silence—no place for the silence of solitude, and no place for companionable silence among friends. To fall silent in the world of Facebook and Twitter is tantamount to dying. You cease to exist.

And awe suddenly
passing beyond itself. Becomes
a form of comfort.
Becomes the steady
air you glide on, arms
stretched like the wings of flying foxes.
To hear the multiple silence
of trees, the rainy
forest depths of their listening.

From "To Live in the Mercy of God" by Denise Levertov. The rest is here.

St. Mary of Egypt, Tintoretto, 1582-87

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blogging the Madinis: Four Seasons

Talisman** is having their annual sale on Madini perfume oils, and Google tells me that lots of people have been hitting the archive of "Blogging the Madinis" posts, so this seems like a good time to give a quick review of one of my Madini favorites, Four Seasons. So many of the Madini florals are pushy, shrill creations (not that I don't love them) but Four Seasons is a completely demure, generic lily blend with just a touch of powder. If you enjoy the exuberance of Stargazer lilies, well, you won't find them here; nor will you find any hint of sticky (fake) muguet. Four Seasons is a very dry floral, with an unusual, almost salty character. Heady it is not. Although this may sound unappealing, trust me when I tell you that the effect is very pleasant and soothing. Anya claims she has seen it calm women in the grip of hormone-induced rage, and I don't doubt her. So far I haven't had to employ it for that purpose, but I've got a bottle and a backup, just in case.

Sicilian boy with lilies, Wilhelm von Gloeden. c. 1900 (The boy seems a little out of keeping with the character of my review, but how could I resist him?)

**Enter "HOLIDAY09" at checkout to get your discount

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Fall according to Mahlon Blaine

This illustration is taken from Nova Venus (1938), an idiosyncratic creation story drawn by Mahlon Blaine. It's pretty wonderful, but, alas, doesn't end any more happily than the Genesis version. You can see more of it here. Blaine didn't have a very happy ending, either. Read his story here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thursday book post

Yes, it's that time again. There's a new crop of reviews and book news at Chapter 16, including Susannah Felts' interview with Sherrilynn Kenyon, and--continuing the supernatural theme--a review by Lacey Galbraith of Amy Foster's debut novel, When Autumn Leaves. My contribution this week is a short review of Life as We Show It, a terrific anthology of writing about film.

Oh, and I keep forgetting to encourage you to check out the podcasts. For those of you who have read The Help (am I the only one who hasn't?), you can encounter Kathryn Stockett here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"pleasure pleasure garden"

...she shudders her first shudder
pleasure pleasure garden
was she sorry
are we ever girls
was she a good lay
god only knows

From "seventh heaven" by Patti Smith. Read the rest here.

Voluptas, Daniel Hopfer, c.1500

Avery Gilbert...

...offers some insight on the seasonal scent binge here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Words of encouragement

"The getting stuck is a very important part of the process. I know younger people and students often feel that if they get stuck on something they're working on, that it's time to give up; that they don't have what it takes, they don't have the talent, they don't have the patience, whatever. But I have found that getting stuck is a very important part of the creative process. That when you're stuck, your subconscious mind is catalyzed and you actually do a lot of very good thinking that you wouldn't have done if you weren't stuck."

Alan Lightman

From an interview here.

Monday, December 7, 2009


It’s getting to be that time of year. No, I’m not talking about the holidays, I’m talking about scent binge season. The madness always comes upon me in the depths of winter, and I can feel it building already. I’ve dabbed or sprayed on at least five different perfumes today. I’ve got scented candles burning and I just spritzed my bedroom with Bal a Versailles. I’ll probably dose the blankets with something else before I go to bed tonight. It’s not that I’m searching for just the right scent. I’m craving an olfactory smorgasbord. I want a little bit of everything, and then I want to go back for seconds. I’ll keep this up until I feel slightly queasy. Maybe I’ll scrub down and take a break for a few hours, or even a whole day. But restraint won’t last. Pretty soon I’ll be back to pawing through my collection like a fiend.

I would love to know something about the peculiar brain chemistry behind this weird behavior. I know I’m not the only perfume addict who goes on these benders, so I was surprised when a quick Internet search didn’t turn up much of anything. I checked Avery Gilbert’s blog (which is fantastic, btw), but came up empty. If anyone out there can direct me to information, I’d be grateful. Oh, and feel free to post a confession of your own perfume pigouts. It will make me feel better. Meanwhile, I need to get back to the juice. I’m thinking DSH Khyphi oil might be nice layered with a little Shalimar...

"A New Vice: Opium Dens in France", cover of Le Petit Journal, 5 July 1903.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

"each a miniscule muscle"

Over a dock railing, I watch the minnows, thousands, swirl
themselves, each a minuscule muscle...

From "Prayer" by Jorie Graham. Read the poem here.

The Waving Surface of the Autumn Flood, Ma Yuan (c.1160-1225)

Fun with Dante

There are several multimedia sites devoted to the Divine Comedy, but The World of Dante** is far and away the best I've seen. In addition to the full text and translation, it has comprehensive notes, a wealth of images, and best of all, recordings of the chants mentioned in "Purgatorio" and "Paradiso." It takes a little time and patience to get to all the material embedded each canto, but loitering on the site is part of the pleasure.

In one of those slightly disturbing instances of synchronicity, I went to Facebook right after visiting the World of Dante, and came across a comment on a friend's post that mentioned Dante's Inferno, a 2007 film that sends paper puppets through a Hell that looks like contemporary America. Dermot Mulroney, of all people, is the voice of Dante. The trailer below is very alluring. If any of you have seen it, let me know if it's worth hunting down the DVD.

**At noon today (Sunday), portions of the site were down for maintenance. Drat. Everything's been fine for the past few days, though, so I trust they'll be back up shortly.

Antaeus from Canto XXXI of Inferno by Gustave Doré, 1857

Thursday, December 3, 2009


I can feel she has got out of bed.
That means it is seven a.m.
I have been lying with eyes shut,
thinking, or possibly dreaming,
of how she might look if, at breakfast,
I spoke about the hidden place in her
which, to me, is like a soprano’s tremolo...

From "Rapture" by Galway Kinnell. The complete poem is at Poetry Foundation.

El despertar de la criada, Eduardo Sivori, 1887

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Billie Poole

While doing a little research on traditional New Orleans jazz, I came across this great clip of Billie Poole singing "Sugar Blues." I'd never heard of Poole, and a quick Web search turned up almost nothing about her. That's a surprise, since one of the great things about the Internet is that you can usually turn up at least a little bio on almost any musician or singer, no matter how obscure. I can't believe one as gifted as Billie Poole doesn't have a clutch of fans out there somewhere. If any of you know about her, please comment or email me.

I haven't been posting a lot of music lately, and I actually wasn't planning to post this clip, but then I read Julie's post about the Victoria's Secret tv special, and realized that the beauty of Billie Poole is the perfect antidote to that soulless freak show.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

One Sentence Perfume Review: Flora by Gucci

It's a shame when a creature who is so charming at first glance turns out to be trifling and slightly degenerate.

Notes per Fragrantica: Citrus, Peony, Rose, Osmanthus, Patchouli, Sandalwood

Two Children with Crowns of Flowers, Gaston Bussiére (1862-1929)