Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Unexpected Scent of Tulips

Tulip1Tulips are impossible to resist.  Certainly it was beyond me when I found a large escaped clump of bright scarlet tulips blooming in an out of the way corner of the lot, obviously former garden bed detainees who had decided on a prison break.  Out came the secateurs, and now I have a bouquet sitting on my breakfast table, drooping ever so slightly – well, okay, quite a bit – as tulips do after a first day in water.

The revelation is their smell.  They are large late tulips, which we used to call May tulips, with a correspondingly big scent: their smell is initially green with the freshness of ozone in it, then floral, a daffodil like scent with something powdery about it, presumably the pollen on those black pistils, and the base is honey, very warm and very golden, with a very faint component of dirty musk drowned in its sticky depths.  It is a perfume complete in itself, and most unfortunately, I cannot think of any fragrance on the market that really tries to replicate it. Continue reading


keeperaThe world of perfume blogging dearly loves a list.  Who knows why we are so very fond of these sequential processions of names and titles, but I do know that nobody who loves perfume can resist them.  I thought it was time to compose a list of the best of the last ten years, a list of the perfumes that have struck me as lasting presences on the scene, keepers, potential classics, if you like.

A list like that should have kept me deliberating for days, but actually only kept me busy for one afternoon. Why?  Well, despite the enormous numbers of releases these days, not much really strikes me as all that durable.

So here is a list that includes perfumes I don’t necessarily like myself, but which I think are classics or potential classics in the making. Just because I don’t care for it personally, doesn’t mean it isn’t in the running. Continue reading

The Rose of Nahema

bugsEver see those “flowers” on stems that, once startled, flutter off the plant in a scatter-graph of wings? In nature this imitation is not merely flattery, but a viable stratagem for survival. It is incidentally, pretty spectacular.

Sometimes perfumers pursue this same goal: mimicry.  On occasion a simulated note is better, fresher, a less clichéd version of the real thing. That’s true of rose perfumes, too.

Continue reading

Architectural Angelica

archangelumHerb gardens attract me, I do not really know why.  The plants are often low and uninteresting, but there are towering exceptions to this rule, notably angelica.  Angelica Archangelica (yes, that’s the real name) grows to six feet, and is the sort of weedy large plant that is understated in the extreme, but useful.  According to Wyman’s Garden Encyclopaedia, you can use the young leaves of this biennial to season fish, and the stems are often blanched and eaten in salads.

The French, of course, go us one better and candy the stems. The recipe for this procedure is in The Joy of Cooking, and involves 2 cups of angelica stems cut up.  You marinate them in a crock for a day with 1/3 cup salt and then boil them in a 1 to 1 water and sugar syrup for twenty minutes.  Drain them on a rack, cook down the syrup to 234 degrees fahrenheit, and two days later (what do you do with the syrup in the meantime, I wonder?) pour over the dried angelica until they are candied. Continue reading

Coty? Or Guerlain?

Lajos und Odon by Joseph Rippl-Ronai.jpgNot that you have to choose,  this is not one of those walk-the-plank propositions I see on other blogs, where the writer wants you to choose once and for all, usually between Guerlain and Chanel.  And anyway, this is not so difficult-  if you like more naturals and modern elegance you go with Chanel, of course, and if you like anything sensually baroque or gourmand, you go with Guerlain, right?

My question, however is a little more profound because once upon a time so many of the Guerlains were Cotys. Continue reading

Stage Setting or Mood Setting?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo many perfume blogs, mine included, gloss over the subject of when and why and how we reach for bottles of perfume. This tends to obscure the essential fact that there inevitably are perfumes or smells more congenial to one individual wearer than others.  Whatever you like to wear, whether it is green or floral or woody or oriental, has something to do with the particular set of tastes and habits that are native to you.  We all know when something is simply wrong.

So why don’t we trust our own instincts?

One culprit is distraction.  Too much comes out every year. A person can lose their sense of the scents that define them, lose a sense of what it is to have an olfactory identity.  Or, to put it another way, I can. I begin to tell myself hilarious fibs about how often I will wear a perfume.  Continue reading

The Mason Dixon Line and Those No ‘Count Girls

Women Boxing2There’s a new reality tv show in America that I just cannot bring myself to watch called “Preacher’s Daughters”.  Having grown up one, I simply cannot sit and watch another generation of them squirm their way into adulthood under the magnification lens of their local congregation. Been-there-done-that hardly begins to describe the déjà vu I would have to live through.

To begin with, the South, the part of the US that is below the Mason Dixon, the part with the un-pc flags and the occasional bumper sticker announcing to tailgaters that it “will rise again”, has always possessed a curious sorting system with regard to females – some of them are judged “no ‘count”. Continue reading

Spit That Out This Minute!

nunzillaIn common with many people who once upon a time attended parochial school,  I have a very curious selection of memories. One regarded the (prohibited) candy we ingested then.  My school was very elegant and situated in a suburb of Rome, and we were all expected to behave like little ladies.

Oh well, it must have been a desperate repetition of hope over experience for the nuns.  We never really behaved like ladies.  Whether it was at Mass when Sister would lean across three girls’ laps to slap the fourth girl on the leg because she was sprawdling during Father’s sermon, or sending another girl home because she was wearing panty-hose under her knee socks, or whether Sister had detected licorice on someone’s breath during English Composition, we none of us ever behaved like ladies.  Hooligans, yes; shakedown artists, yes; squealers and grasses, absolutely. But ladies? Never. Continue reading

Wind in the Lindens

LindenThere are a number of linden trees on the street where I live now in Northern New Jersey. They have one of the most distinctive growth patterns of any tree, always densely pyramidal, and along about late May, always the buzzing meeting place of bees. Their flowers are spreaders of a soft and pervasive perfume that smells faintly like honey.  It is one of the very best fragrances of late spring.

My sister loves the perfume of lindens possibly more than any purely floral perfume.  Every year when the lindens bloom I remember this fact, and every year I know she’ll ask me if I know of any good linden perfumes, and every year, I seem to get stuck on this subject.  It’s not that there are no linden scents around, they exist alright, it’s the descriptive “good” that worries me.  Are any of them any good?  I’m not sure. Continue reading

Does Guerlain Wear Green?

frog20One of my best friends in high school had a peculiarity.  He detested the color green. Nothing of his could ever be green, not a contrasting thread in a herringbone tweed jacket, not a sock, not a stripe on a shirt, nothing.  Green, he said, was just an ugly color and it didn’t look good on anyone.

Sometimes I think that the grand old House of Guerlain is of much the same opinion.  There are very few green Guerlains.  Citrus Guerlains there are in large numbers, everything from Shalimar to Eau Imperiale, and there are lots of florals, Chamade to Samsara, and equally, a large number of murky Chypres, Mitsouko to Derby, but green is sparsely represented. Continue reading