Monthly Archives: July 2016

Antique Oleanders

Oleanders in bloom

Oleanders in bloom

One final thought on the smells of Italy, and that concerns the scent of oleanders.  Oleanders do well in dry heat. They sprout into huge sprawling bushes all over Rome and because of their size, often grow near the ruins, especially around the Palatine and Santa Maria in Cosmedin, or wave in the desiccated wind off the autostradas.  The reason is space. Conditions in Rome are too cramped for oleanders and their expansive growth habits.

Their perfume, though, is one of the most recognizable ones of the city.  It’s heady, and  heavy, there’s a sweetness underwritten with toxicity. The toxicity is fair comment, because in fact oleanders are quite poisonous.  Somehow it’s fitting that oleanders with their narcotic scent of almonds (similar some say to arsenic) should drift about the Palatine.  The Roman emperors and their wives knew a thing or two about poison.

The smell, however, was very familiar to me.  As in nearer in time to me than my last stay in Rome.  This was a scent I had been on intimate terms with, and since perfumes are rather like old lovers, apt to bring up inconvenient memories at inopportune moments, this was one I had to re-visit. Continue reading

Parisian Atmospheres

Dalloyao Paris from

Dalloyao Paris from

So I did very little perfume shopping in Paris!  What!  Really?

Well yes.  For starters I was with my daughter and at fifteen you tend not to care about perfume, and Guerlain, and so forth. You care about food.  One aspect of French culture my daughter understood at once: eating.  French bread, and gallettes, and quiches and eclairs, and butter and cheese, and chocolate croissants for breakfast and no one saying, ” Shouldn’t you really be downing a power fruit frappe with seaweed and kale?” the way they often do in the States. (There’s a term for this in France “rabat joie”)  Plus the beefsteaks with Bearnaise sauce.  Oh, and did I mention the frites?

We therefore spent a good deal of time eating. What can I say?  French food is good. You should have some! Continue reading

Confederate Jasmine and Garbage

Current Roman Garbage

Current Roman Garbage

Rome has a problem with garbage.  I used to live there quite a long time ago and recall that the garbage problem existed back then too-from time to  time.  It’s nothing like this though.  Garbage piles up even in the more famous locales like Piazza del Popolo where the tourists collect every day, sit on the lions surrounding the obelisk fountain, and  leave behind plastic water bottles and candy wrappers…

The Romans are mortified.  Worse, they can’t seem to strike a deal with the sanitation people, who show up in snazzy jump suits in the civil colors of Rome: orange and  dark crimson, driving the smallest and most stylish garbage trucks ever seen, but they never seem to pick up more than a sack or two of garbage (well OK that’s about what they can fit in those adorable trucks) but this leaves behind la maggioranza of the problema on the sidewalks. Continue reading

Versailles, Chinese Tourists, and the Short Goodbye

XXIst Century Versailles from the palace website

XXIst Century Versailles from the palace website

Ah, Versailles! All the French kings from Louis the XIII th onward seem to have loved it.  Louis had a little hunting lodge there and his son decided to enlarge the hunting lodge until they got… Versailles.

It would be nice to think of the process as organic, similar to that of expanding flowers in water, but the evolution was actually long drawn out, involving casts of thousands. Very impressive are the results: a huge, golden palace radiating avenues like rays of the sun, and these days radiating half mile long lines of Chinese tourists waiting patiently to visit  this monument to the glory of France, and in the mean time trailing selfie sticks while posing in front.

As a piece of absurdity on a very grand scale, you can hardly improve upon the palace, and since these days the gilding has been re-done, the blinding bling is enough to attract a good deal of out of town custom.  But what do I know?  This time out, I never even went inside.  My whole reason for visiting Versailles was to donate two rare old bottles of perfume to the Osmotheque Continue reading

The Emperor’s New Scent

It was Mrs. Bonaparte, aka Josephine, who turned the general on to scent.  Left to his own devices, Napoleon might have preferred the smell of gunpowder in the morning, but he was besotted by Josephine and perfume was – civilizing.

It is something of a stretch to say that he brought perfume back into fashion.  Those who survived the Terror needed some cheering up, and if that meant champagne and perfume,  so be it.  He certainly did nothing to stop it, as a more dour sort of dictator might have done.  The coast was officially clear, the old royal perfume house of Houbigant returned to Paris, and the good times began to roll once more.

Continue reading