Thursday, April 29, 2010

One Sentence Perfume Review: Eau de Noir, Bourbon French Parfums

Grim, moody, hard to love--but just so...mesmerizing.

Notes (as near as I can guess): Bergamot, Sandalwood, Vetiver, Incense, Musk

Illustration by Gustave Doré, c.1860s, for Dante's Inferno, Canto 34 "The emperor of the despondent kingdom"

*In honor of Jazz Fest, I'm giving away a taste of my Bourbon French lovelies. The winner will choose decants of any TWO of the following: Eau de Noir, Carré, Bourbon French, Kus Kus, Mon Idée, or Olive Blossom. Leave a comment or email me to enter the draw.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

True crime

Two very different stories of murder are featured on Chapter 16 at the moment. I have an interview with Beth Bachmann about Temper, her debut collection of poems, which were inspired by the violent death of her sister. I can't think of any contemporary poet whose work has more resonance than Bachmann's. Her poems are razor sharp, but they stay with me and reveal new meanings each time I return to them. The Q & A is here.

Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides is a study of the King assassination that focuses on petty-crook-turned-killer James Earl Ray. Reviewer Clay Risen says the book is "a great narrative historical account." Read more here.

Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime, Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, 1808

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sometimes it's easy...

 get the idea that you are conjuring the universe to your benefit. Case in point: I’ve been fretting for months about getting rid of some expensive lawn equipment, including a riding mower. It’s fairly new, in pretty good shape, and it’s just been sitting under the carport for a year, decaying from lack of use. Before I left to go to Chicago last weekend, I swore to myself (and at myself) that I would do something about it as soon as I got back. Monday morning I woke up with a little pang of dread--How am I going to unload that effing lawn mower?

Of course, I got busy with the day and put it all out of my mind for the umpteenth time. Around 10 am the dogs commenced the special whooping commotion that they save for human intruders. I heard the rumble of a truck out front and went to the door. A weathered man about 60 climbed out of the cab. He was looking for a guy who lived down this way who had a riding lawn mower for sale. He mentioned a name I’d never heard. I told him I didn’t know the house he was looking for, but I happened to have a lawn mower to sell. I said it mostly just to make conversation, but he bit immediately. “Where is it?”

We looked, we dickered, and even though it wouldn’t start he wound up handing me a little pile of cash and driving away with the thing, along with some other unwanteds. I let him have it all for less than I’d hoped to get, but the whole thing was so fluky, I was reluctant to bargain too hard for fear of insulting the household gods who were clearly trying to smile on me.

I wouldn’t think too much of this incident, except it’s just one in a string of synchronicities that have occurred in my life over the past week, all of them helpful, or at least amusing. I ought to be enjoying my lucky streak but it’s a little unsettling to feel that the universe is paying attention.

Chance crowning a sleeping man, Paolo Veronese, 1560-61

Monday, April 26, 2010

"A woman's form, in beauty shining"

What do I see? What heavenly form revealed
Shows through the glass from Magic's fair dominions!
O lend me, Love, the swiftest of thy pinions,
And bear me to her beauteous field!
Ah, if I leave this spot with fond designing,
If I attempt to venture near,
Dim, as through gathering mist, her charms appear!--
A woman's form, in beauty shining!
Can woman, then, so lovely be?
And must I find her body, there reclining,
Of all the heavens the bright epitome?
Can Earth with such a thing be mated?

From Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, translated by Bayard Taylor

Faust's vision, Franciszek Żmurko, 1890

"...the egg of the world"

These others stand with you,
squinting the city into place,
yet cannot see what you see,
what you would see
—a vision of these paths,
laid out like a star,
or like a body,
the seed vibrating within itself,
breaking into the open,
dancing up to stop at the end of the universe.
I say your vision goes as far as this,
the egg of the world,
where everything remains, and moves,
holding what is most against it against itself,
moving, as though it knew its end, against death.

From "Benjamin Banneker Helps to Build a City" by Jay Wright.

A short bio of Benjamin Banneker is here.

Garden of Earthly Delights (detail), Heironymus Bosch, c.1500

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"It is only April"

It is only April.
I can’t stop my own life
from hurrying by.
The moon, already pacing.

From "In Your Absence" by Judith Harris

Mountain path in spring, Ma Yuan, Song Dynasty (c.1200)

Oprah, Echo, et al.

I usually choose a nice image of a reader for my Chapter 16 posts, but this depiction of Echo and Narcissus seemed an apt way to prepare you for my review of Kitty Kelley's Oprah: A Biography. It's hard to imagine a more challenging subject for Kelley's brand of exposé, and the book winds up being a fairly interesting lesson in literary futility. The review is here.

Other new posts at C16 include Ed Tarkington's review of a collection of stories by Jay McInerney, as well as a Q&A with poet Joy Harjo. Go look.

Echo and Narcissus from a 14th century illuminated manuscript of Le Roman de la Rose. You can read an English translation here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"...come closer and sniff an excellent perfume"

“—My beautiful dog, good dog, dear bow-wow, come closer and sniff an excellent perfume, purchased at the best scent shop in town.”
And the dog, wagging his tail, which I suppose, in these poor creatures, the sign corresponding to laugh and to smile, approaches and, curious, puts his moist nose to the unstoppered flask; after which, drawing back in fright, barks at me, clearly a reproach.
“—Ah! wretched dog, if I had offered you a bundle of excrement, you would have sniffed its scent with delight and perhaps devoured it. So you too, unworthy companion of my sad life, you are like the public, to whom one must not present the delicate perfumes which exasperate them, but carefully selected crap.”

"Dog and Flask," from Paris Spleen: Little Poems in Prose by Charles  Baudelaire, trans. by Keith Waldrop. (A Blogger curtsy to Isola di Rifiuti for the text lift. You'll find the original French there.)

Study of a Dog, Jan Fyt, 1640s

Monday, April 19, 2010

"dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free"

If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.

From "At the Fishhouses" by Elizabeth Bishop.

The Wave, Gustave Courbet, 1870

Friday, April 16, 2010

"The secret of love..."

The secret of love, how can it be contained
The heart and the tear are talebearers.
The heart is restrained from what it seeks,
Shut up and be passion of him besieged,
Unable to obtain its desire.
If it presumes to attain to the stars,
Its pride is brought down, laid low.
Beloved like a hart, with heart of a panther,
If you desire to slay,
My heart is in your hand as clay.

Isaac Ibn Abraham, 12th century. (More here.)

Two nudes, Jacopo Pontormo, 16th century

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Haitian art, Junot Díaz, etc.

The lovely painting above is by Armand Fleurimond, a Haitian artist whose work is on exhibit here in Nashville thanks to novelist Madison Smartt Bell. Bell has been helping a group of painters from the north of Haiti since the 1990s, and he has some fascinating things to say about the nature of creative expression in Haitian culture. Click here to read my Q&A with him at Chapter 16.

Chapter 16 is posting new content daily now, and some good stuff has piled up since my last update here at the blog. Among the goodies are an interview with Junot Díaz, and a review of Batt Humphreys' historical novel, Dead Weight. There's also a fine essay by Serenity Gerbman about the future of Southern literature.

Bateaux, © 2010 Armand Fleurimond (See more work by Haitian painters here.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"I am a slave...'

I am a slave to the nudity of women.
I do not know with what resolve

I could stand against it, a naked woman
Asking of me anything.

An unclothed woman is sometimes other things.
I see her in a dish of green pears.

From "Teodoro Luna Confesses..." by Alberto Ríos. The complete poem is here.

Das Bad, Sommerabend, Félix Vallotton, 1892

Monday, April 12, 2010

"O pitiable most was this..."

As I was writing yesterday's post at Turn Outward, I thought about the grim final passage of De rerum natura, which describes the plague of Athens during the Peloponnesian War. Lucretius preached rational detachment but he certainly knew how to conjure a horrifying scene. The lines that stay with me, though, are these--not gruesome, but so poignant in their depiction of the human struggle against invincible death:

In those affairs, O awfullest of all,
O pitiable most was this, was this:
Whoso once saw himself in that disease
Entangled, ay, as damned unto death,
Would lie in wanhope, with a sullen heart,
Would, in fore-vision of his funeral,
Give up the ghost, O then and there. For, lo,
At no time did they cease one from another
To catch contagion of the greedy plague,—
As though but woolly flocks and horned herds;
And this in chief would heap the dead on dead:
For who forbore to look to their own sick,
O these (too eager of life, of death afeard)
Would then, soon after, slaughtering Neglect
Visit with vengeance of evil death and base—
Themselves deserted and forlorn of help.
But who had stayed at hand would perish there
By that contagion and the toil which then
A sense of honour and the pleading voice
Of weary watchers, mixed with voice of wail
Of dying folk, forced them to undergo.
This kind of death each nobler soul would meet.
The funerals, uncompanioned, forsaken,
Like rivals contended to be hurried through.

From Book VI, De rerum natura (On the nature of things)

In Ictu Oculi, Juan de Valdés Leal, 1670-72

Friday, April 9, 2010

"The hour of steaming tea and banished books"

The rosy hearth, the lamplight's narrow beam,
The meditation that is rather dream,
With looks that lose themselves in cherished looks;
The hour of steaming tea and banished books;
The sweetness of the evening at an end,
The dear fatigue, and right to rest attained,
And worshipped expectation of the night,--
Oh, all these things, in unrelenting flight,
My dream pursues through all the vain delays,
Impatient of the weeks, mad at the days!

From Poems of Paul Verlaine, translated by Gertrude Hall

Ruhendes Paar, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, c.1907

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"I saw a chapel all of gold"

I saw a chapel all of gold
That none did dare to enter in,
And many weeping stood without,
Weeping, mourning, worshipping.

I saw a serpent rise between
The white pillars of the door,
And he forc'd and forc'd and forc'd,
Down the golden hinges tore.

And along the pavement sweet,
Set with pearls and rubies bright,
All his slimy length he drew
Till upon the altar white

Vomiting his poison out
On the bread and on the wine.
So I turn'd into a sty
And laid me down among the swine.

From The Selected Poems of William Blake

The prodigal son among the swine, Albrecht Dürer, 1497-98

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tango, Aftelier Perfumes

When you’ve been obsessed with perfume as long as I have, you rarely meet a scent that seems unique. Everything reminds you of something else. There is nothing new under the nose. The only sui generis perfume in my collection is Fairchild from Anya’s Garden—at least, it used to be. It lost that status with my first whiff of Tango. I immediately recognized the weird, lovable combination of champaca and roasted seashells that makes Fairchild irresistible to me. Tango did have some fleeting top notes preceding the flowery seashells, but I can’t identify them, and in any case I was glad to see them go so quickly. I found them weird in an unlovable way, with a strange undertone of camphor and hot rubber.

Tango reminded me so strongly of Fairchild that I put a dab of Anya’s creation on my other hand to see if my memory was playing tricks. It was, sort of. Yes, the champaca / seashell loveliness is something the two perfumes share, and it gives both of them a distinct smoky sweetness, but that’s really where the similarity ends. While Fairchild is essentially a sharp, green floral featuring jasmine, Tango is an earthy oriental with a floral heart. Fairchild’s base is all brine and moss, and it’s quite sexy in a funky sea nymph kind of way. Tango goes a completely different direction, finishing with a pretty, delicate spice blend. It winds up a feisty kitten, rather than the femme fatale its name suggests.

I’m afraid that sounds like faint praise, but it’s actually a recommendation. Kittens are a lot easier to handle than temptresses, and the gentle base of Tango makes it an easy scent to wear, dubious top notes notwithstanding. Now that I think about it, I realize that Tango reminds me of yet another perfume, Ginger Ciao by Yosh—not because the notes are similar, but because it makes the same journey from unpleasantly odd to warm and cuddly. I doubt I’d ever fall in love with the opening of either scent, but knowing I’m headed for such soft sweetness makes the first part of the trip easy to bear.

Tango had pretty good lasting power—3 solid hours, followed by a quick fade. Sillage is restrained.

Flowers and Cats, Paul Gauguin, 1899

Monday, April 5, 2010

"some lovely, perilous thing"

I should have thought
in a dream you would have brought
some lovely, perilous thing,
orchids piled in a great sheath,
as who would say (in a dream)
I send you this,
who left the blue veins
of your throat unkissed.

From "At Baia" by H.D. The complete poem is here

Wild Orchids, Charles Demuth, 1920

Sunday, April 4, 2010

In the presence of animals

After posting that beautiful Levertov poem, I went walking in the woods Easter morning and encountered some less spiritual wildlife. It was clear and sunny, and couple of days of warm weather have the redbuds blooming. A cardinal was singing his heart out somewhere. I was just thinking how perfectly beautiful it was when I heard a scrabbling sound followed by ferocious snarling....more

Saturday, April 3, 2010

"Come into animal presence"

Come into animal presence.
No man is so guileless as
the serpent. The lonely white
rabbit on the roof is a star
twitching its ears at the rain.

From "Come into Animal Presence" by Denise Levertov, 1960

Two rabbits under a Chinese parasol tree, Leng Mei, c.18th century

Happy Easter

Friday, April 2, 2010


Mary posted something nostalgic about Easter dresses on Facebook, which got me thinking about the clothes I loved as a child. I remember a fabulous black velevet dress with pearl buttons, and a pair of white go-go boots that probably did not make me look as much like Goldie Hawn as I liked to think. And I had a truly awesome leprechaun suit my mother made. (I grew up in Erin, Tennessee, and on St. Patrick's Day the kiddies were all forced to dress up as leprechauns. I think they may still do this. It's sort of a cult.) What I remember most fondly, though, were the Mary Janes I had when I was about 6. They had a little heel and the perfect round toe. The strap was not too skinny and not too wide. And they were oxblood, just about the color of Giuliano de Medici's cloak in the Botticelli above.

Oxblood--isn't that just the most alluring word? Gruesome, sensuous and silly, all at once. I loved the color from the moment I saw the shoes, but I loved it even more after I learned its name. Oxblood is a wonderful word to say out loud--it starts deep in your throat with an exhalation like a sigh, and ends with the tip of your tongue teasing your front teeth. It's a word that comes to a climax.

Sad to say, oxblood seems to have almost completely disappeared as a fashion color, especially for women. You can still buy preppy oxblood loafers, and there are some truly hideous Doc Martens on the market that call themselves oxblood, though they're really just plain ol' dark red. A true oxblood must be a red that is graced with a discernible amount of earthy brown.

I can't say a feel a need for another pair of oxblood Mary Janes, but I'm craving the color, thinking of mulled wine, oxblood lilies, and lots of other things that are out of keeping with the season, since oxblood doesn't seem to be part of nature's spring palette. I'm craving the word, too, which is a problem because it's not one that drops easily into everyday conversation. There's a band called Oxblood, and of course there's the notorious Oxblood Ruffin, who I assume gave himself that moniker. I know I'm not alone in my lexical devotion. Nor in my color fixation. Even though oxblood might not be everyone's cup of tea, so to speak, color fetishes seem to be pretty common. Lots of us, apparently, find color erotic.

And for some of us, including me, color obsession gets all tangled up with perfume addiction. In my own catalog of correspondences, oxblood is the color of Rochas Mystere and Creed Royal Delight. I think I need to go dig out those bottles...

Portrait of Giuliano de Medici, Sandro Botticelli, c.1475

Thursday, April 1, 2010

"The river is famous to the fish"

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

From "Famous" by Naomi Shihab Nye

Two finches, Song Dynasty, c.12th century