Friday, July 30, 2010

BitterGrace is going to be busy...

...catching up with old friends this weekend, so there'll be no new posts until Monday. Hope y'all have a great weekend and see a few friends of your own.

"Friendship requires that rare mean betwixt likeness and unlikeness, that piques each with the presence of power and of consent in the other party. Let me be alone to the end of the world, rather than that my friend should overstep, by a word or a look, his real sympathy. I am equally balked by antagonism and by compliance. Let him not cease an instant to be himself. The only joy I have in his being mine, is that the not mine is mine. I hate, where I looked for a manly furtherance, or at least a manly resistance, to find a mush of concession. Better be a nettle in the side of your friend than his echo. The condition which high friendship demands is ability to do without it. That high office requires great and sublime parts. There must be very two, before there can be very one. Let it be an alliance of two large, formidable natures, mutually beheld, mutually feared, before yet they recognize the deep identity which beneath these disparities unites them."

From "Friendship" by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Owls, William Holbrook Beard, 1851

Thursday, July 29, 2010

"...the frolic and interference of love and beauty"

"Flowers and fruits are always fit presents; flowers, because they are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world. These gay natures contrast with the somewhat stern countenance of ordinary nature: they are like music heard out of a work-house. Nature does not cocker us: we are children, not pets: she is not fond: everything is dealt to us without fear or favor, after severe universal laws. Yet these delicate flowers look like the frolic and interference of love and beauty. Men use to tell us that we love flattery, even though we are not deceived by it, because it shows that we are of importance enough to be courted. Something like that pleasure, the flowers give us: what am I to whom these sweet hints are addressed?"

From "Gifts" by Ralph Waldo Emerson

A Bouquet of Summer Fruits and Flowers on a Mossy Bank, Olga Wisinger-Florian (1844-1926)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fuzzy Blue Blanket, Skye Botanicals

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: That blanket isn’t blue, and it’s made of ethically questionable material. It is plenty fuzzy, though--and it certainly seems to be making her feel all sweet and cuddly, doesn’t it? So Gaston Guedy’s Young Woman Wrapped in a Fur Blanket seems like a suitable visual for a few words on sweet and cuddly Fuzzy Blue Blanket from Skye Botanicals. When the heat index is over 100 degrees, even the word “blanket” is enough to make you feel smothered, so I’ve been hanging onto my sample of FBB, hoping the heat wave would subside at least a little bit. No such luck, but yesterday was filled with work frustrations, crabby people and uncooperative pets, and a little sniff of something that promised comfort seemed like a good idea. Here’s the report:

FBB’s introductory notes are more perky than soothing. The combination of linden flower and blue chamomile makes for a bright, sweet herbal opening, reminiscent of a morning walk in a sunny meadow. It takes a few minutes for the mellow heart notes to emerge, offering an abundance of coffee blossom and musk rose that carry FBB into the realm of comfort scent. I’m reminded a little of another fragrance with a coffee blossom note, Belle en Rykiel, but FBB completely lacks the cloying gourmand aspect that makes Belle a near-miss for me. As the base develops, musk and iris create a nice dryer sheet aura--something I usually dislike, but it really works here. The final dry down is rich and warm thanks to ambergris and vanilla, but that fresh-from-the-laundry note hangs on and does indeed evoke the feeling of being enveloped in a soft, clean blanket.

I can’t wait to try FBB again when the heat dissipates. It will be a wonderful bedtime scent on cool fall evenings. Lasts really well for a natural, too.

Young Woman Wrapped in a Fur Blanket, Gaston Guedy, early 20th century

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Chapter 16: Hass, et al.

As promised in my last post, you'll find my review of Robert Hass's The Apple Trees at Olema here. The book is a good retrospective collection for any Hass fan, and has some wonderful new stuff, too. While you're at Chapter 16, check out Ed Tarkington's review of Safe from the Neighbors by Steve Yarbrough. Ed says this story set against the backdrop of the 1962 Ole Miss riot is "superb." And if you are in the market for some "white-hot suspense," see Liz Garrigan's review of Ice Cold, the latest thriller from Tess Gerritsen.

Have a good weekend, y'all--and happy reading.

The Poor Poet, Carl Spitzweg, 1837

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"In the life we lead together every paradise is lost."

I’ve spent the past couple of days immersed in the poetry of Robert Hass, writing a review of The Apple Trees at Olema. (Review will be out Thursday—I’ll post the link.) I love Hass’s poems, mostly. He has his weak spots and dreary moments, like any great writer, but my usual response to his work is pure pleasure—the pleasure of words, the pleasure of regarding beauty, the pleasure of peeking into the less well-lit corners of the heart. Even the poems that force me to look at things I’d rather not offer the satisfaction of clarity. This puts Hass in my personal pantheon of delightful poets, who rank somewhere below the maddening poets. They often bring no pleasure at all, but they have the power to disrupt my world. Robinson Jeffers is one of those. What an exasperating crank of a poet he was—angry, preachy, sometimes utterly incomprehensible. And yet, reading a poem like “Apology for Bad Dreams” leaves me feeling that I have slipped into a consciousness I could otherwise never have experienced.

But back to the more lovable Hass, here’s a snippet of “Against Botticelli,” a popular poem of his that I rediscover with every reading. You will find the rest of it here. The final lines explain the choice of art for this post.

In the life we lead together every paradise is lost.
Nothing could be easier: summer gathers new leaves
to casual darkness. So few things we need to know.
And the old wisdoms shudder in us and grow slack.
Like renunciation. Like the melancholy beauty
of giving it all up. Like walking steadfast
in the rhythms, winter light and summer dark.

From "Against Botticelli" by Robert Hass

Primavera (detail), Sandro Botticelli, c.1482

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Oh, it's you

One of the trails I frequent has a resident pair of coyotes this summer. I see them once or twice a week. They must have a den in the area but I haven’t seen any sign of pups, though there is a third adult that joins them sometimes, possibly their offspring from last year. They fled the first few times I came across them, as coyotes generally do hereabouts. Ours are not bold, suburban coyotes—not yet, anyway. But I’ve become a routine presence to this little family now. ...(more)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

"The ache of marriage"

The ache of marriage:

thigh and tongue, beloved,
are heavy with it,
it throbs in the teeth

From "The Ache of Marriage" by Denise Levertov

Great Lovers (Mr. and Mrs. Hembus), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1930

Friday, July 16, 2010

"...a very special kind of pollination"

"To this day, when reading, I have a habit of periodically holding the book at a length to look at it, and then bringing it, open, to my face, to breathe the fragrance, old or new--and each has its specific satisfactions--that is always there and rises from each of them like something offered by a flower to the air, a very special kind of pollination. I have bought books without the slightest idea what is in them (yes, I said 'is' in that sentence, for books are always in a beautiful present tense); I bought them merely and only because I liked the way they looked and smelled. I have finished reading books that were not very well written because I liked the print, and the feel of them, and the fragrance (a ponderous biography of Einstein comes to mind). Indeed, some part of me is always slightly aloof when reading, standing back to enjoy the physical act of it, for itself, the textures and the sounds the paper makes, and the weight of the volume, the heft and solidness of it in my grasp. For me, nothing can ever replace that. And I treat all my books, paperbacks and otherwise, as valuable artifacts."

Richard Bausch, from a short essay, "Valuable Artifacts," which you can read here.

The New Novel, Winslow Homer, 1877

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"We'll tell the hive, you died afloat."

Better late than never, I say--and I say it a lot. I'm finally getting around to posting thoughts on the rest of the Mystery of Musk entries. I suspect y'all have already decided which of these babies is suitable for a test drive, but if I only shared my opinions when they were useful I'd never get to bloviate at all. And so, on to today's musky creations, Dionysus from Lord's Jester and Drifting Sparks from Artemisia.

Dionysus could not be more aptly named. Booze and barnyard in a bottle, that pretty much sums it up. I confess my first reaction was Uh, No--but after Dionysus and I got to know each other I decided I like him. Can't take him out anywhere, you understand. He's a little too real for polite company. Lovable all the same, though.

Drifting Sparks is just plain pretty. Honeyed orange blossom and touches of rose over a slightly smoky skin scent. Of all the perfumes in the MoM series, this is the one I know would make it into regular rotation if it were part of my collection. Wearable anywhere, and lasts like crazy.

The innocent sweetness of Drifting Sparks and the drunken funk of Dionysus might seem worlds apart, but Philip Freneau married them, so to speak, in "To a Honey Bee":

Thou, born to sip the lake or spring,
Or quaff the waters of the stream,
Why hither come, on vagrant wing?
Does Bacchus tempting seem,—
Did he for you this glass prepare?
Will I admit you to a share?

Did storms harass or foes perplex,
Did wasps or king-birds bring dismay,—
Did wars distress, or labors vex,
Or did you miss your way?
A better seat you could not take
Than on the margin of this lake.

Welcome!—I hail you to my glass:
All welcome here you find;
Here let the cloud of trouble pass,
Here be all care resigned.
This fluid never fails to please,
And drown the griefs of men or bees.

What forced you here we cannot know,
And you will scarcely tell,
But cheery we would have you go
And bid a glad farewell:
On lighter wings we bid you fly,—
Your dart will now all foes defy.

Yet take not, oh! too deep a drink,
And in this ocean die;
Here bigger bees than you might sink,
Even bees full six feet high.
Like Pharaoh, then, you would be said
To perish in a sea of red.

Do as you please, your will is mine;
Enjoy it without fear,
And your grave will be this glass of wine,
Your epitaph—a tear;
Go, take your seat in Charon’s boat;
We ’ll tell the hive, you died afloat.

Bacchus and Ariadne, Titian, 1522-23

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The lady with a book...

...signals, yes, a Chapter 16 post. This week seems to be question time at the website. I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Spencer--doyenne of Southern writers, one-time student of the Fugitives, pal of Eudora Welty, etc. She's 88 years old, still writes beautiful stories and has lots to say. The interview is here. Serenity Gerbman has a fine Q&A with another Southern writer, Affrilachian poet Frank X. Walker here, and those of you who were intrigued by my review of Michael Sims's Dracula's Guest last week can hear a terrific interview with him on NPR's Here on Earth.

Nude Reading at Studio Fire, Bernard Hall, 1928 (I should have saved this painting for a wintertime post but it was too sweet to resist.)

Monday, July 12, 2010

"All is riddle..."

"Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood. All is riddle, and the key to a riddle is another riddle. There are as many pillows of illusion as flakes in a snow-storm. We wake from one dream into another dream. The toys, to be sure, are various, and are graduated in refinement to the quality of the dupe. The intellectual man requires a fine bait; the sots are easily amused. But everybody is drugged with his own frenzy, and the pageant marches at all hours, with music and banner and badge."

Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Conduct of Life: "Illusions" (1860)

The Riddle of the Sphinx, Gustave Dore (1832-1883)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"Things to be cherished..."

Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?

From "Sunday Morning" by Wallace Stevens

July Sunset, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, Frederic Edwin Church, 1847

Thursday, July 8, 2010

We have a winner...

...of the draw for a 5 ml bottle of Musk Nouveau from Providence Perfume Co. It's Kjanicki, who I hope will forgive the gruesome choice of painting. I just couldn't resist. Many thanks to everyone for dropping by. I've got a few more MoM posts to do next week. (Kjanicki, please click on the email link in my profile and send me your address, which I'll forward to Charna at PPC.

Death Offers Crowns to the Winner of the Tournament, Gustave Moreau, 1855-1860 (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dracula's Guest

If you are in the market for a dark, chilling, smart book to take your mind off the heat and other real-life unpleasantness, click here.

The Vampire, Philip Burne-Jones, 1897

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Mystery of Musk: DSH Perfumes, Musk Eau Natural

Anyone who keeps up with Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's incredibly prolific perfumery knows that she does wonders with musk, so I was eager to see where she'd go with the MoM project. Musk Eau Natural (yeah, the pun's intended) turns out to be a pleasant shock. Instead of being the floral or gourmand I expected, Musk Eau Natural is just musk--straight up, no chaser. It's a fiercely animalic brew with just enough spicy and resinous notes to lend a dirty opulence. Imagine Madini Musk Gazelle refined and moved uptown, but with all its tenacity retained. I have to say that Musk Eau Natural is a bit much in the heat of a Tennessee summer, but I'm sure I'll be hunting down my vial come the annual January scent binge. Read more about Dawn's work on the MoM project here.

*I'm afraid that this is going to be my last on-time post for the Mystery of Musk series. The event officially ends July 7, and duties of one sort or another are calling me away from the blog. Apologies to those I haven't gotten to yet, but I'll be writing a bit on the other beautiful entries in the next week or so. I will, however, close the draw for a bottle of Providence Perfume Co. Musk Nouveau at the end of the day Wednesday, 7/7. Be sure to leave a comment if you want to enter. And of course, do check out all the other bloggers, reviewers and perfumers at the links here.

Reclining nude, Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931)

Monday, July 5, 2010

One Sentence Perfume Review: Graines de Paradis, Sharini Parfums Naturels

Her Serene Highness will receive you now.

Notes from Sharini website: White grapefruit, ginger, green mandarin, cognac, wild cherry and rooibos tincture, white rose, linden blossom, tiare flower, neroli, jasmine, genĂȘt flower, ambrette seeds, angelica root, iris, sandalwood, agarwood, oliban, patchouli, vanilla, orange blossom

The Peacock Throne, Michael Putz-Richard (1868-?)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Mystery of Musk: A Wing and a Prayer Perfumes, Tallulah B2

Although its namesake was certainly no sweet, cuddly toy, the image that came to mind when I first sniffed Tallulah B2 was a teddy bear. This scent is as soft and comforting as a plush toy. Not that it's some girlish fruity floral or whisper-sheer baby head unperfume--it's a full-grown fragrance with plenty of floral kick from rose and mimosa, and the vanilla/musk base is rich as honey. There's something wonderfully retro about its smooth, rounded character. It doesn't echo the personality of Ms. Bankhead for me, but it certainly evokes her era, and it does have a kind of innocent sexiness--like, say, the Brox sisters.

Photo of the Brox Sisters from Wikimedia Commons

All the links for the Mystery of Musk event are here.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Mystery of Musk: Providence Perfume Co. Musk Nouveau

I'm starting off my MoM posts with Musk Nouveau from Charna Ethier's Providence Perfume Co. for two reasons: 1) Musk Nouveau is the fragrance for which I'll do a bottle draw; and 2) it's so gorgeous it deserves a place at the head of the line.

I'll say up front that Musk Nouveau is not a fragrance to wear if you're the type who wants to go unnoticed. If patchouli gives you fits or you can't bear the potent kick of champaca...well, forget it--this baby's not for you. However, if you're a fan of Anya's Fairchild or Aftelier Tango, then Musk Nouveau should be on your short list to test. Charna describes it as "a nostalgic blend of aged patchouli, angelica and oud made new with the introduction of champaca, night blooming jasmine and a dash of coffee." Truth in advertising there, although to my nose champaca absolutely dominates for most of the life of the scent, and the oud is a mere olfactory wraith lurking amidst the flowers and patch. Charna also makes reference to a sherry top note and black pepper, but I have to sniff awfully close to get either one. The coffee is most definitely present, lending a faint gourmand quality to what is otherwise a very brash and ballsy floral composition with an earthy, tropical character. And speaking of ballsy, yes, a guy could definitely wear Musk Nouveau (though, depending on who he wants to impress,  he might want to wait 15 or 20 minutes to let the champaca subside a bit before he leaves the house.) As for the musk note, it's embedded deep in the scent, quietly providing a little animalic warmth and softness--the proper job of musk, IMO.

If you'd like to enter the draw for a 5 ml bottle of Musk Nouveau, leave a comment or email me at the link on my profile. I'll pick the winner and then coordinate delivery of the bottle directly from Providence Perfume Co.

Rainy Season in the Tropics, Frederic Edwin Church, 1866

Thursday, July 1, 2010

We're all about the dark side...

 Chapter 16 these days. I've got a review up of Delta Blues, an anthology of new stories by a gaggle crime writers, including John Grisham and James Lee Burke. This one would make a great vacation read, especially for blues lovers--read about it here.

Unless you're stone deaf to literary buzz, you've certainly heard about Mr. Peanut, the ferocious debut novel from Nashvillian Adam Ross. Don't miss Ed Tarkington's excellent review, and check out the lively Q&A with Ross by C16's fearless editor Margaret Renkl.

On a gentler note, there are a couple of wonderful, poignant essays about lost loved ones: "A Natural History of Cemeteries" by Michael Sims, and "The Old Man" by Wayne Christeson.

And there's lots more, of course. Get to it all from the home page. Happy reading.

Les Aureoles, Louis Welden Hawkins, 1894