Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Leaves…leave…summer lives & leaves

And what I assume you shall assume;
For every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my Soul;
I lean and loafe at my ease, observing a spear of summer grass.         5

Houses and rooms are full of perfumes—the shelves are crowded with perfumes;
I breathe the fragrance myself, and know it and like it;
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.

The atmosphere is not a perfume—it has no taste of the distillation—it is odorless;
It is for my mouth forever—I am in love with it;  10
I will go to the bank by the wood, and become undisguised and naked;

I am mad for it to be in contact with me.

The smoke of my own breath;
Echoes, ripples, buzz’d whispers, love-root, silk-thread, crotch and vine;
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs;  15
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore, and dark-color’d sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn;
The sound of the belch’d words of my voice, words loos’d to the eddies of the wind;

A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms;
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag;
The delight alone, or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields and hill-sides;  20
The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun.

~Walt Whitman (1819–1892), from  Leaves of Grass

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ancient Fragrant Lore (part 3): Classicism

Classical civilization thrives on this dichotomy of "the Dionysian and the Apollonian," of Bacchanal chaos and Sun God rational forms, as Nietzsche would have said. Indeed the German philosopher, originally a philologist and only 28 at the time he penned the superb The Birth of Tragedy; Or: Hellenism and Pessimism, explains that it is these two clashing forces that merge to give birth to the classic world, but also those that eternally battle for control over the existence of humanity. And thus this dichotomy, as expressed by fragrant essences used, manifests itself clearly throughout Hellenic thought. […]

The Latin origin of the word perfume, fumare, i.e., to smoke, brings us to rituals involving fumigation and votive offerings. Hesiod in his Theogony stresses "May the purest incense burn on the altars, so as to obtain the favors of our gods."

Alfonso Savini, the incense burner

Indeed the very word incense in Greek (θυμίαμα) comes from the verb thuo (θύω), meaning to sacrifice, originally denoting both the fragrant smoke of the roast of sacrificed animals on the pyre rising to please the gods (the flesh was served to the congregation) and the ritual burning of precious locally harvested—such as cistus labdanum—or imported resins like myrrh and frankincense, their smoke also rising to the enjoyment of the Eternal ones. But scents had a markedly prophylactic use beside their Olympians' appeasing one. […]

In Euripides's famous Helen play, the prophylactic use of fragrant smoke is stressed. The heroine is assumed to have never sailed to Troy but to have been whisked away by the goddess Aphrodite to Egypt and to its ruler Theoclymenus, sworn to her safekeeping. News from the exiled Greek soldier Teucer, washed upon the shores of Egypt, that Menelaus never returned to Greece from Troy and is presumed dead, puts Helen in the perilous position of being available for Theoclymenus to marry. She consults the prophetess Theonoe, sister to Theoclymenus, to find out Menelaus' fate. Theonoe purifies the air of the altar by having the servants burn sulfur and resins, conjuring shadows and images to tell her of her husband's impending return.

On the other hand the philosophical treatment of olfactory excess as a sign of decadence and deviation from the path of a free civilian is palpable through the texts of the classical authors. The Athenian statesman Solon, adored by his fellow citizens for alleviating the accumulated debts of formerly free land owners that had lost their land and freedom to the greedy lending gentry (the famous seisachtheia regulation) tried to ban perfume use altogether. He considered it represented the corrupt—and ethnically dangerous—lifestyle of Persia, Greece's (and for that matter Europe's, since Greece was the critical gateway to gain passage to the continent) prominent enemy.

The article in its entirety can be read on Fragrantica.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Summer Love Potions

Imagine sipping on a cocktail that tastes just as sexy as your favorite perfume smells. Combine your scent with your drink as an unforgettable aphrodisiac pair. The scent: Safran Troublant, by L'Artisan Parfumeur THE DRINK: 1 ½ oz Dry Gin, ¾ oz saffron and vanilla bean syrup, ½ oz fresh lemon juice, Rosé champagne, White rose petal.

Read on this link to see how Mindy Yang of MiN New York’s apothecary and cocktail architect, Yusef Austin, created delicious, drinkable counterparts to five seductive perfumes.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Vintage Advertising Champions: Let Them Talk (Coty Sophia)

The first "real" celebrity perfume is probably Sophia by Coty, issued in 1981 after the persona of Sophia Loren, Italian superstar and Hollywood legend to give many a run for their money. No Liz Taylor, you ask? Elizabeth Taylor's white Diamonds and Catherine Deneuve's erstwhile Deneuve perfume deal with Avon (1986) historically follow Sophia. I'm not counting the (semi-promotional) claims by Creed or the historical figures like Empress Josephine (for Guerlain's Eau Imperiale) or Sarah Bernard who had a penchant for cosmetics anyway; their commissions didn't come across as "product" till very recently,  in essence ~pun notwithstanding~ negating the very concept of "celebrity scent" (aka, jus and packaging produced to harness the power of a fan club into strengthening a person's "brand").

If you're curious about these little fragrance trivia you can check out an interesting timeline for the Celebrity Fragrances Craziness History on this link.  And if you're not, it's still sort of fascinating to find out that Loren apparently had such a big following in America that the giant Coty was interested in promoting a fragrance after her!

But my focus today is the print ad. I mean, wow! Doesn't it give you that nudge, nudge,wink wink to go out and try out Sophia because it's everything that prim little "old ladies" with sour lips (yeah, I know!) wouldn't approve of? Please note that by 1981 Loren was no spring chicken herself, proudly displaying her 47 years of age (All the more so since back then 40s was most definitely not the "new 30s", we've come a long way baby…). Far from the feminist issue it appears on first glance, this little fact gives nuance.

A mature woman that probably sports some serious eyeliner,   a good smattering of blush, some flesh-toned lipstick not to divert from her gorgeous almond eyes and a good ol' hair spray cloud (before "product" became standard code for hair gels & mousses). And one who pretty much has caught her man and kept him too; not for lack of admirers, it is most convincingly hinted at. That sex appeal of Sophia is always on the surface but done in a classy manner (ms.Loren never gave cause for press scandals). The wording of the ad text lets us feel that sex appeal is OK (transcribed in its humanity rather than its outré reputation, as further consolidated by the crying & laughing bit) and that it's maybe only small minds of a dowdy, spinsterly nature that condemn it as such. Therefore, non sensical, negligible… The grace of the cultural divide is there too. Exotic, European actresses (and ladies from abroad in general) have always had a greater leeway with American audiences. Maybe partaking in their fragrance could impart a bit of this non mi interessa to their suburbia existence.

A case study for sociology and for perfume advertising.

Granizado de Limon: Andalusia in a Glass

Throughout Granada and Seville in arid southern Spain there are tiny shops and street sellers peddling their icy cold wares to thirsty travelers. Among them the crisp granizado de limon is probably the most refreshing, the tart and juicy flavor trickling down the throat with the deep "aaaaah" of genuine relief. If you have a drop of vodka added the "aaah" factor increases (I'll save the limoncello recipe for another day to share with you). 


These past few days have been so hot that the granizados de limon have been numerous around here, though not all alcoholic of course. In a moment of sharing I unearthed this home recipe for granizado: you'll need 1 kilo of fresh, heavy for their size lemons, 1 kilo of water, 1/2 kilo of sugar and some caramel color. You can see the rest on the video. The drink also goes great with ginger or mint leaves. 

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