Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Thanksgiving Story

John received a parrot as a gift.

The parrot had a bad attitude. Every word out of his mouth was belligerent and profane.

John tried and tried to change the parrot's attitude. He spoke to it in a soft, soothing voice. He played it soft music and brought it live crickets. He did everything he could think of, but the parrot just got worse.

Finally, John had had enough. He began yelling at the parrot, and the parrot yelled back. He shook its cage, and the bird swore like Tony Soprano. He covered the cage and the parrot just screamed louder. Finally, he throttled the parrot and threw him into the freezer.

The parrot continued kicking and screeching, and then, suddenly fell silent.

John began to feel guilty. And then more guilty. He opened the freezer door.

The parrot calmly walked to the edge and then perched on John’s hand.

“I believe I may have offended you with my behavior,” the parrot said. “I’m sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate speech and actions, and I fully intend to do everything I possibly can to make it up to you. Please try to forgive me.”

John was stunned speechless. Finally, as he was about to ask the parrot just what had occasioned this dramatic change, the parrot continued.

“May I ask,” He said, “what exactly it was that the turkey in there did?”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Random Thoughts

(Uma – winner of the vintage “Heaven Sent” drawing – claim your sample by leaving a comment! )

Don’t wear perfume when you have stomach flu. You’ll never want to smell that one again, ever. (There is much behavioral research that supports this theory.)

I think I’m done with heliotrope.

Chicken soup has a definite, er, indolic quality.

Bill Maher is brilliant.

Critics say Daniel Craig is the best James Bond because he reveals his interior life. Who wants James Bond to have an “interior life?” Give me the stoic bon vivant in “From Russia with Love!”

Mind-candy posts about classic movie stars and perfumes they wore get the most hits. (Look for one soon in these pages.)

Religious-right pinheads: it’s over. Don’t forget to turn out the light and lock the door on your way out! (p.s. Alaska is waiting.)

Jack White.

I always said vinyl would come back.

Thanksgiving food is way overrated. But the smell of turkey roasting is perfume that says “I’m home.”

Sick of food/travel shows where the hosts gobble down whatever it is and then make beatific faces and orgasmic noises at the camera? I am! (The latest offender: "On the Road Again: Spain" starring Mario, Gwyneth, some condescending New York food writer and his Spanish Tootsie Actress)

Food writers in general.

I have just one word for you, Benjamin. Plastics.

Do I really need another Skankmonster? Even in decant? (Well of course I do!)

Another winner in the presidential race? Saturday Night Live. Now we can all go back to doing something else, like most of us have been doing since about 1978.

Get three people in a room, right away you have politics.

The worst vice of them all? Ad-vice.

From the archives - Smelling On the Right Side of the Brain

I'm taking a couple of weeks off to work on another project. I'll be back with a brand-new post on Tuesday the 31st. In the meantime, I'm putting up a couple of my old favorites you might not have read, hence:

From the archives: originally posted on Nov. 30, 2008:

Awhile back, I was evaluating perfumes, using smelling strips. (A hint: make them from a good-quality watercolor paper; it’s thicker, the base notes last longer, and you’ll get many hundreds of strips from one sheet.)

I noticed that the scents I tested seemed much stronger and more pleasant when I covered my left nostril and smelled only with my right. I have a slightly deviated septum on the left side, so that pathway is a bit smaller on me, but I began to wonder: is smell more a right-brain function than a left-brain one?

For years, it has been an axiom that the left side of the brain is, let’s say, the “Lawyer:” verbal, analytical, somewhat condescending (well, not really) – the brain’s Cop, in other words. The right side is the “Artist” – chaotic, spatial, creative, impractical. Assuming that this is true, I began to think that perhaps it wasn’t so much my narrowed sinus passageway as general neurophysiology that resulted in the difference I perceived. So I decided to do some (very) primary research.

By cutting narrow enough smelling strips, I was able to get closer to the olfactory nerve endings by on that side by, well, the rather gross procedure of, um, introducing…oh all right, shoving…the strip further up that nostril than the other one.

I thought, hmmm…left brain…from what I know about hemispheric dominance, it should be easier to identify the “notes” using that verbal, analytical side.

Guess what; it wasn’t.

I hit the books.

It appears, from a number of scientific papers I examined, that the right nostril is somewhat dominant in subjects with intact brains. I say this because brain researchers just love to use people whose brains have been “resectioned” – as is sometimes done to relieve severe epilepsy – when doing this kind of research. The crossover networks that make the two hemispheres communicate are, to grossly oversimplify the procedure for brevity here, cut. Therefore, when using FMRI – “functional” MRI, which shows imaged patterns of brain activity as they occur – they can see the two hemispheres’ activity with less interference from crossover circuitry than they would in a normal brain.

My own brain is reasonably intact, so it would be reasonable to assume that my right nostril would be the preferred one for scent evaluation, and it is. There simply is a bigger, more pleasurable sensory experience; when I close off the right nostril, the experience of smelling only with the left one is, well, puny by comparison, even with the scent strip placed closer to my olfactory nerve endings.

The research on this is not perfect, as with most research. Complicating factors include handedness – left-handed people do better in odor discrimination tests (analyzing/classifying the scent) when the odor is introduced into the left nostril, whereas there’s little difference in right-handed people. (I’m right-handed; interesting.) Women are better at “naming” than men, as women tend to be better at anything verbal. Re-test reliability is somewhat uncertain. Subjects tend to be college students, as with most research of this type. And so on.

What we do, meaning us perfume fans and bloggers, is experience scent, then analyze it. We classify, identify and label its components. We’re familiar with the ingredients of perfume; in this research, that’s called “priming.” They put you through a practice run, and test you again later; semantic, or verbal, memory therefore crashes the party. This kind of memory does not appear to be right-brain dominant.

Perfumistas “prime” ourselves all the time. It’s what we do. Is that jasmine, or tuberose? Hmmm…does it smell more like “A La Nuit” or “Fracas?”

My own guess is that, as we develop the olfactory sense with all of this “priming,” we establish better crossover patterns from right hemisphere (olfactory perception) to left (olfactory analysis). Also, it appears that neural activation patterns develop after repeated presentations of complex odors, which could be part of the process, too.

As a semi-noob, my crossovers aren’t all that great yet. But they’re getting better.

Want to do an experiment? Smell a perfume you’re not familiar with, using your right, then left, nostril. Write down your impressions, and what you think the “notes” might be, with each. Then ask a friend who is not a perfumista to do the same.

Let me know what happens, eh?

PLEASE NOTE: The comments are from the original 2008 post. This one is not connected with any drawing or contest. But if you want to leave a new comment, feel free!

For anyone who would like the read the scientific papers and abstracts I based some of this entry on, contact me in the comment; I’ll send you a list.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nothing is Guaranteed

I got a flu shot, but I have the flu anyway.
In the meantime, here is a link to a very amusing personality test. (Thanks to Patty and March at Perfume Posse for featuring this best of all time-wasters.) So get another cup of coffee and go to it...
Here's the link.
I never knew this, but having the flu makes perfume smell bad!
So don't forget to wash your hands, everybody.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Where There's Smoke

The first time I smelled CB’s I Hate Perfume “Burning Leaves,” I thought “L.A. Riots.”

I wanted to see if I could duplicate that experience conceptually, through scent. I layered it with some night-blooming jasmine, the signature scent of west Los Angeles. If I’d had Bulgari Black, I could’ve put that in there too, for the so very necessary burning-asphalt-shingle note. But how do you duplicate a fiery palm tree, burning like a torch? Tons of smoldering insulation? Exploding cars?

Christopher Brosius, the perfumer behind Burning Leaves, has been quoted as saying “perfume is the weather of our world, bringing life to an interior landscape.” Flashing on the smell of a burning city from a perfume meant to evoke peaceful autumns was not what I expected, either, but it was what I got. And it’s always good to be able to surprise yourself.

Now, though, I’m looking for that autumn scent. Burn. Whatever that molecule is. It’s the opposite of what most people think perfume is. You could say that it’s the opposite of “perfume.”

A few discoveries:

Black Cashmere (Donna Karan) – This reminds me of a log cabin in northern California, the logs themselves aromatic with the absorbed smoke of many fires. Someone is burning vaguely floral incense, and there’s a hint of patchouli somewhere, too – maybe on a pillow left there thirty years ago. There’s an oak fire going. I’m drinking spicy, hot mulled wine. It’s everything good about autumn.

This is a love it or hate it scent, and even those who love it caution the uninitiated. It’s been called “dark” and “ink” and even a “fierce, growling beast” (March – Perfume Posse). On me, though, it’s perfect; not too sweet, not too much, just right for autumn. Eureka! I have found it! (This month anyway.)

The notes for “Black Cashmere” vary, but include (depending on the source) saffron, clove, rose, white pepper, incense, patchouli and African wenge wood.

Sycomore (Chanel)

I just love this. It’s so weird. It opens with a citrusy blast, and then it’s a dash through the tall grass, just ahead of a brushfire. At first I couldn’t identify the burn note, but, apparently it’s a particularly smoky variation of the Vetiver root, from Haiti; other accords include “smoke” (now, that’s illuminating) and “burning woods.” It really doesn’t smell like anything else. I suppose a better arena for comparison would be with Tauer’s “Vetiver Dance,” but that one just isn’t this…smoky. Here’s what else: it lasts and lasts. It’s everything “Beige” isn’t. Unisex, risky, unique. I love it on myself. It’s one of those where you can’t stop smelling your wrist.

Notes (from various sources) for “Sycomore” include grapefruit; Haitian vetiver, licorice root, cypress, juniper, pink pepper, burning woods, smoke.

Lonestar Memories (Tauer Perfumes)

This is the big-mack-daddy of the smokes. The Gary Cooper/High Noon imagery is unmistakable, of course; its aim is true. It is a European vision of the American west. Like all of Andy Tauer’s perfumes, it’s complex, multilayered, anything but simple. I’ve heard it compared to a campfire, but that would be too easy. It’s Guy Stuff. An old Western saddle, black with age and horse sweat. A V-8 engine in pieces on the floor of a barn. Hay, wood, smoke, desert-plant resins, that chaparral sap. An olfactory Frederick Remington. I would love this on a man.

Notes: Geranium, carrot seed, clary sage; birch tar, cistus, jasmine, cedar wood; myrrh, Tonka, vetiver and sandalwood.

Of these three, I’m pretty sure that only Black Cashmere was supposed to be a “perfume” in the old sense; something to put on that makes you smell intriguing, or alluring, or shocking, or whatever, and it does. Sycomore is, well, something, exactly what is unclear; like a grapefruit tree on fire, it makes no sense, and to me, anyway, that’s its appeal. Lonestar Memories is a fully developed concept, a beautifully crafted and executed composition, a work of art.

Oh, and “Burning Leaves?’ That’s an electrode in the brain, the purest scent-memory I’ve had yet.

Winners of the “Heaven Sent” drawing: you have until November 19 to claim your prize! See the entry below for details.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Special Edition -- We Have Winners!

Winners in the "Heaven Sent" drawing* are:


*chosen using random.org

Please e-mail me at olfactarama at gmail dot com to claim your sample of the real, vintage Helena Rubinstein "Heaven Sent"! I'll need postal details.

(If I haven't heard from the winners by November 20, I'll re-randomize and pick a new one or ones.)

Thanks for entering, everybody!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Way Off Topic

Can this actually be true?

This morning, I feel like I have my country back. You know, America. The one that was founded on ideals, not monarchy. Not cynicism.

You may not agree. That's ok. That's the general idea.

I grew up in the South. I vaguely remember separate water fountains, bathrooms, schools, everything. I woke up thinking about my grandmother's housekeeper, Buelah. Who greeted us as if we were her own children. My mother's maid, Dora, who lived in a South Carolina swamp in a tar-paper shack without power.

Ladies, this one is for you.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Missing "Mad Men"

It was “Mad Men” that got me into vintage perfume.

Sure, I had the day scent and the night one. I had my good jeans and my everyday ones. I’d had enough of standing on a stool fidgeting while my meticulous mother, who would have been somewhere in her thirties in the time of “Mad Men,” hemmed my dresses so they’d fall perfectly. I, on the other hand, was all about authenticity.

But there was something about those women – Peggy and Betty, Joan, Rachel, Francine, Bobbi, all of them, with their careful coifs and pearls and gloves that made me remember: there was a different time, one in which secrets were kept and reputations guarded.

The genius of “Mad Men” is its subtlety. In most movies and nearly all television now, the actors explain the plot to each other. The writing in “Mad Men” seems to come from a much less ham-fisted time, when the spoken words and the filmed images didn’t even have to be on the same plane. Each episode, with its attention to the period, the clothing, Betty’s kitchen, Joan’s hair, the edgy Danish Modern furniture in Roger’s office, even the lamps on Don’s desk, is as perfect as a diamond.

As my fascination with the show increased, I began to look over the few things I had kept from my mother’s clothing from that time. Shirts with perfect stitching, silk or cotton dresses with seams large enough to let out or take in, meant to last. And perfumes, like Arpege and Moment Supreme, that were unabashedly grown-up; made for women, not young girls.

That came later, with the British invasion. Suddenly, women were supposed to look like boys, flat as ironing boards, and the girls went for guys with long hair like the bands had. Arpege and other heavy perfumes became passé. Yardley’s English Lavender replaced them. Women took to diet pills to get that sticklike look, and then took Valium to come down from the diet pills. And so on. None of this is news.

What I’m wondering, though, is how the creators of “Mad Men” are going to handle the changes.

Since the show jumps two years each season, the next one will be set in 1964. By then we may know what has happened to Don. Will he have become a Sixties icon, shedding the Brooks Brothers and the Brylcreem along with his secret identity, now that nobody gives a damn about background – or claims not to? I wonder about Joan, who has left herself few choices at this season’s end. I’m eager to see what they’ll do with Don and Betty’s daughter, who portends every baby-boomer rebellion, and her little brother, already acting out his parents’ conflicts (when his nose isn’t smashed against a TV screen). I can’t wait – and yet, part of me is saddened, too, because these people won’t be able to keep up their facades in the oncoming cultural upheaval.

Yeah, I know, they’ll probably be happier, more in tune with themselves, whatever. But I’ll miss them.

I miss them already.

The drawing for samples of vintage 60's classic "Heaven Scent" -- the real thing -- ends midnight, US Eastern time, November 5th. There will be two winners. Leave a comment to enter!

There is a special section on AMC’s “Mad Men” blog for discussing perfumes. The topic is “Perfumes from the 60’s”. Here’s the link: http://blogs.amctv.com/mad-men/talk/2008/09/perfumes-from-t-1.php

Photos of “Mad Men” characters courtesy of AMC.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Olfacta's post-Halloween debauchery Cure

Usually I post on Saturday, but...

Take some decent bread and spread it with remoulade sauce. Fry 3 or 4 pieces of bacon and drain them. Put two eggs into the bacon fat left in the frying pan, break the yolks and fry them hard. Put the bacon and eggs onto the bread, and if you have any tomatoes left on your plants, assuming that you have plants, slice one of them and put it on too. (It will provide much-needed vitamins.) Salt and pepper heavily.

Eat this with your third cup of coffee. Go back to bed for a couple of hours.

How was your Halloween? What was your costume? I went as a Plague Doctor. Nobody got it.

Love, Olfacta

p.s. Montale's Black Aoud is the perfect Halloween fragrance.