Friday, January 28, 2011

Special - A Surprising Image

This image is made from stacking nearly 200 CT slices of a patient's sinus cavity. It was done by Dr. Kai-hung Fung, and tied for first place in the 2007 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge.

I noticed this on Flavorwire, an arts newsletter I get. What does it look like to you?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Art of  Weekend : Food , Friends , Perfume

When I started writing this blog, I didn’t have any particular expectations. Certainly I didn’t expect to feel part of a community, but I do. This is due in large measure to some very generous and open-hearted people. 

Carol (of WAFT by Carol, for the uninitiated) for instance. I was an utter naive at Sniffapalooza last fall, but she — a veteran — guided me through it, became my pal, made me feel like I belonged, and that made all the difference in the world to me. So I was thrilled to find out that we’re next-door-neighbors, or close — a not-too-hard day’s drive.  Carol and her DH Michael had some doings in Atlanta, and Carol and I cooked up a perfume/food/wine/tourism weekend.

My house smells so good now! Seriously — it’s wonderful to talk and sniff with an expert, someone who knows, for example, if my fifty-year-old Arpege parfum has seriously turned or just degraded a little in the topknots (hallelujah, it’s the latter). Who knows all the possibilities in fragrance. Who is just a fine human being, and a great guest.

So we shared a terrific time, and I was overwhelmed by her generosity. Artisanal rosemary bath salts and vials of extremely rare essential oils — one from the blossoms of coffee plants and one blue lotus (the Lotus that was sacred to the ancient Egyptians, for its habit of rising and sinking below the surface of the water every day — it became a symbol of resurrection). I wore these last night, and both are unique, like nothing I’ve smelled before. A whole bag of Miller Harris samples. So far I’m loving the fig one, exactly like the cottony green stuff inside a fig leaf when you break it open. No supersweet fig jam here! Full bottles of Nohibia, a woody delight that smells of vetiver, although none is listed in the notes. Another of Rodier. Homemade plum jam. And more!

I was happy to see that Carol thought as much of the La Rose Jacqueminot as I did. And the Rosine d’Homme. And, well, just everything, and we hardly made a dent in my cabinet. Next time. There was a lot of other stuff to do, too.

People come to Atlanta, visit our cookie-cutter suburbs, and think they’ve seen the place. But the city still has some secrets. It takes years to find them. The old mill village of Cabbagetown, on the edge of downtown, is one. Now, it’s an only slightly gentrified bohemian enclave with one of the best cafes in town, source of all that chocolate. Another is Fox Bros. Bar-b-que, a roadhouse that tells you exactly where you are as soon as you step in the door. A third is the DeKalb Farmers Market, the Times Square of food on weekends, the size of a Wal-Mart, filled with every kind of ethnic delicacy and ethnic person you can possibly imagine, and the source of a Bulgarian cherry wine we gleefully polished off in front of the fireplace Saturday night. 

All in all, one delight after another, and yeah, we’ll definitely take you up on those caramel rolls, probably sooner than later!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Off-Topic: Torn & Frayed -- Keef's Book

Ladies and Gentlemen:  Put your hand over your heart and tell me that you’ve never, ever wanted to be Keith Richards. 
“Life,” by the patron saint of Getting Away With It, is harrowing and funny and sort of, well, sweet. The back cover photo, which I think is Keith now, or Keith at least sometime in the last decade, isn’t exactly unretouched. But there is black dirt caked under the hero’s fingernails, and that kind of says it all.
My copy was delivered the day before last week’s snowstorm started, and so I got to spend a few days in Keith world. I came away from it with the impression of the artist, someone who, like Robert Johnson, seemed born to play. Yet he speaks of his grandfather Gus, a working-class bon vivant and musician, who bought a guitar and put it on top of his piano, so the grandson could see it;  just see it. No suggestions were made. No lessons were urged. One day the boy picked it up. 
Richards (and his collaborator, James Fox) knows what we want to hear about; the drugs, debauchery, the women traded around, and so on. He writes about all that all very matter-of-factly, and then suggests another book (Stanley Booth’s “True Adventures of the Rolling Stones”) for those who want to delve further. It's not his real interest. 

He recounts the early days, thusly: “We needed to work together, we needed to rehearse, we needed to listen to music….You we supposed to spend all your waking hours studying Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson….Every other moment taken away from it was a sin.” 
Success came relatively quickly to the Stones, a few of years of squalor and scuffle, and then “Satisfaction” hit big and worldwide. That opening riff -- Richards writes about how he dreamed it, sat up on the edge of the bed, played it into a cassette recorder, went back to sleep, and had no memory of it in the morning. It was delivered, like a gift. 
Richards gets all nerdy, as is his privilege, to tell us exactly and at length how he did it. How he filtered the black Delta blues and gave them back with a twist. Who he learned from. All his favorite obscure records. The exact mechanics of an open five string tuning. I’ve read some reviews that get a little impatient about all of this; obviously, if you’ve never played a guitar chances are it would bore you, but this is what he does. It’s his art. This work, not his other art: survival.
That art appears to be inborn, too. It seems that Keith only needs to sleep a couple of times a week. He’s set to 78 in a 33 1/3 world (look it up). It was this, he tells us, that led him to heroin. The need to come down to everyone else’s speed. To focus. To work; always, all about the work.
Well, ok; Keith, if you say so. He takes great pains to tell us: don’t try this at home. Everything he had, the coke, the smack, was “pure pure pure.” He attributes the fact that he’s still alive to that. Later on, after kicking for the last time, he calls heroin “the most seductive bitch on earth.” It was all true. And it was a good time. In that sense, he’s unrepentant, my favorite quality in this age of tearful guilty televised confessions and much-too-public oft-repeated P.R. generating rehabs. 
There is, though, a lot of sharing here, especially as concerns Mick: he misses his mate, he says, and then rips Mick a new one. I’ve always felt that the Stones greatest album, (imho) “Exile on Main Street,” came from tension between the two, with Mick being pulled into a sort of parasitic Continental aristocracy and Keith wanting to stay down and dirty. Well, ok, but anyone who’s ever had business or any other sort of dealings with a junkie might have a thing or two to say; we’ll see. In the meantime, the honesty here is appreciated, but here’s the thing. He’s an immensely rich and privileged rock star, and has been one for so long that he’s, um, a little out of touch. One of my favorite passages is when the bashful suitor goes to meet his fiance, Patti Hansen’s, family.
“….I’d been up for days. I had a bottle of vodka or Jack Daniel’s in my hand,
And I thought I’d just walk in the house with it….It was just a question of
getting the family blessing.”
(dinner commences, and one of the Patti’s sisters remarks that Keith may
be a little too drunk to play a particular song.)
“….bang. I went berserk….And smashed my guitar on the table. It could’ve
gone either way...I could have been banished forever, but the amazing thing 
about this family is that they weren’t offended.”
Well of course not! Isn’t that just adorable? The charmed Mr. Richards thinks it’s all just, well, normal!
Carry on, Keef. 
“Life,” by Keith Richards (with James Fox) is available wherever books are sold; ISBN 978-0-316-03438-8 (hc)
Photo of Keith Richards from Google Images.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Snow Day Scatterings

I haven’t seen this deep a snowfall since I was a kid. I think the Inner Child is throwing a fit. Meanwhile, the Responsible Adult keeps saying it’s too cold, and I’m too old, to go outside and ride a flattened cardboard box down the street. The result? I can’t concentrate, so this week’s post is going to be a litte, um, scattered.
Bag o’ botanicals: I ordered twenty botanical samples, pure essences of things like orris root butter and davana from a company that offers samples of them by the drop. Fabulous stuff, pure and strong. Some of the resins are thick as tar. I diluted the thickest and scantiest of the samples with perfumers’ alcohol. Each 1 ml sample vial is enclosed in its own little plastic bag, and an outer plastic bag holding all of them. Still, when I open the drawer they’re in, their combined scent rolls out and fills the space around me. Now, that is impressive.
My favorite so far is the Somalian myrrh essential oil. Its smell is like divine dust, certainly not sweet. Almost none of these are sweet, and I doubt that many of the perfumes of antiquity were, either.
Orris butter: dry, rough, silvery, incomparable; a waxy drop the color of and as precious as gold. I now understand the appeal of iris-based scents. They are for the initiated.
Jasmine Sambac. Green, fresh jasmine. Yum.
I’ve been asked what I plan to do with these. Nothing, maybe; just keep them around and smell them. Maybe experiment with making scented oils for hair and skin. (The catalog mentions the aromatherapy properties of each. I’m not sure how I feel about aromatherapy. You?)
Each of these -- well, most of these -- essences deserves its own post, really. Or at least a paragraph. Another time.
I’ve also been reading a book about the history of pigments. So many turn up in both places! Spikenard oil. Dissolved amber resin, which I’ve seen in art supply catalogs as a ridiculously expensive varnish, rumored to be the secret of the Old Masters. Mastic, as a varnish ingredient. Saffron, you name it -- what hasn’t saffron been used for? Pandanus leaves, still used as a mordant (dye fixative) in parts of Australia, to make paint for native art. Gum arabic and gum benjamin (benzoin), used by ancient lute-makers to bind wood, and oils of clove and aniseed to season it. (How wonderful their workshops must have smelled!) I’ve also read that the ancient Egyptians sometimes used linseed oil as the basis for perfumes. People ask me why I continue using oil paints instead of the more modern acrylics. I tell them I like the smell. 
One discussion that caught my eye was about madder root. I once bought a tube of the watercolor “Rose Madder Genuine,” from the British company Winsor-Newton. I remember being intrigued by its pleasant floral scent, so unlike the vague chemical smells of most modern watercolor paints. It’s not much used now, because it’s “fugitive” (artspeak for “impermanent”) and has been replaced by the take-no-prisoners synthetic quinacridones, with color names like “Permanent Rose.” But madder dyes were once used to make the best Persian carpets. 
A German chemist, Harald Boehmer, was dismayed by the carpets he saw being made in Turkey in the 70’s, with newer, synthetic colors. His subsequent research revealed that the old dye recipes were disappearing. “Synthetic dyes,” Dr. Boehmer explained, “contain just one color. But in madder there is red, of course, but blue and yellow are in there as well. It makes it softer, and at the same time more interesting.” 
Sound familiar?
Dr. Boehmer and his wife started a cooperative to encourage the weaving of carpets using the old dyes. It has been a success, so much so that madder plants are once again being grown in Turkey. 
One can always hope.
The book is “Color, A Natural History of the Palette” by Victoria Finlay, Random House © 2002, ISBN 0-8129-7142-6. Quote, p. 189.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

On "Safari"

People often ask me  “How in the world do you think of something to write about perfume, every week?” I just sort of mumble that something comes along. Those of you who also write about perfume are familiar with the question, and the answer: it just does. It is sometimes difficult to discuss a business seemingly so intent on shooting itself in the foot, but sometimes, a fragrance seems to find me, and makes me feel genuinely inspired.
I went to an estate sale, groaning at my own hope-springs-eternal foolishness -- I never find anything but cracked orange crockpots. But here was a bottle,  with about 5 mls left in it, of Ralph Lauren’s Safari for Women EDP.  I’d managed to miss this when it came out about 20 years ago. It cost $2.00, which I balked at paying, as I usually avoid Lauren products. Too much preppie imagery, along with the “Let’s take the Gulfstream to Kenya and bag a rhino” colonial-era-worshipping silliness. Then I took the cap off and sprayed a little on my hand.
If I had to use one word to describe this scent it would be “heady.” I’d never smelled anything like it. That’s aldehydes and galbanum, but there is something else here, too, so grassy and sweet and dry at once that I have to say the name fits, perfectly. Not that I’ve been to Africa or plan to go any time soon. In my own experience, it reminds me of the western hills in dry season -- arid, the color yellow ochre, dotted with black oaks. Dry, dusty grass that sweetens over time, like the California summers of my memory.
I started doing research, and hunting around for another vintage bottle. To my utter astonishment, I snagged a half-ounce of the perfume -- parfum -- on fleabay, for $2.99. Oh, stuff of myth! My best auction score ev-ah! I even felt a little guilty, like I was stealing, but the seller’s store was full of things like used bicycle seat covers, antique playing cards and old hood ornaments, and, like an afterthought, this one bottle of perfume. I was expecting the worst, but the heavy crystal, silver-topped bottle came boxed in its own, faux-crocodile coffin, lined with quilted white satin. (I found a vintage bottle of EDP, too, btw, for a very reasonable price.)
“Safari” was concocted by Dominque Ropion (“Carnal Flower” and many others) and features hyacinth as a floral in the topnotes, and black currant and mandarin along with the galbanum. I think it may be the combination of these that gave me that “gottahaveit” rush. This scent has a life, a clear beginning, middle and end. The midnotes are floral and the base means business, ambers and vetiver, styrax and musk. I would bet that the bottle from the estate sale is the original 1990 formula, because the base is a little richer. I think the other bottle contains a slight remix -- nothing like what is being done to perfumes now, just a little more emphasis on the top notes. The parfum stretches out the black currant and the midlife florals quite a bit, and is sweeter in the drydown, too. All have great longevity. A generous spraying of the EDP lasted all day, unusual for me. Combining these two reminds me of an ensemble you can wear to the office, then to a party, with a simple change of jewelry. Very American, practical but aspirational; easy; perfect.
So, anyway, in preparation for this post I began to check  the availability of “Safari.” I had heard that it was discontinued, discontinued but brought back, permanently discontinued, still in production -- depends on who you ask, I guess. None of that means much, since it’s everywhere online. The department stores, if they have it at all, stock only the men’s version, apparently a fougere. Sephora doesn’t have “Safari for Women.” Perfumania does. One version of Lauren’s website doesn’t show it, another does (in listings only), and gives a $60 price for 2.5 oz, which isn’t too bad. Vintage bottles on fleabay are priced from reasonable to ridiculous. I’ve seen soap and body products and even a 32-oz “refill” size on discount sites. And so on. This seems to be the end-of-life trajectory of fragrances now. As confusing as anything -- make that everything -- else. 
I have a few other green floral fragrances. Compared to classics like “Private Collection” and sleepers like “Silences,” this is sweeter, more haylike, more floral. But it is accessible, in keeping with the Lauren marketing imagery, as much as it pains me to admit that. I think it may have been an anomaly in its time, a kind of bridge fragrance, coming off the power-hitter 80’s as they shrank back into the timid, watery 90‘s. Whatever the intent, “Safari” is unique.
Photo © Keith M. Borow, all rights reserved.
Perfumer Dominique Ropion’s creations include “Amariage,” “Carnal Flower,” “Une Fleur de Cassie,” “Ysatis,” “Dune” (with Jean-Louis Sieuzac), and the new "Portrait of a Lady." 

Notes for “Safari For Women” include galbanum, “green notes,” mandarin, aldehydes, hyacinth, orange, daffodil, black currant (top); mugnet, rose, narcissus, carnation, orchid, honey, jasmine (middle); and cedar, musk, vetiver, styrax, vanilla, amber, tonka and patchouli (bottom).