Yesterday was one of those freakish May-in-February days we get here on the Piedmont Plateau — 77 degrees, balmy breeze. It’ll be over later today when a big storm passes and the temps dive back down to the 50’s. But the natural world all around me seems sure it’s spring, and has for weeks, with birds chasing each other and all the daffodils in bloom. So do I.
I’ve been tumbling through my florals like a bumblebee. Roses (Rosine’s Folie de Rose body cream layered with their Rose d’Homme EDP). Lily of the Valley (Odalisque and a drop of kinda-vintage Diorissimo). Orange blossoms — a vintage Avon perfume I have which isn’t bad, Serge Lutens Fleur d’Oranger and Bourbon French’s Orange Blossom perfume from New Orleans. Layered, these comprise a skin bouquet. (I work alone, so don’t have to deal with any perfumeophobes, who would probably be made quite unhappy by it.) Oh, and Lutens’ Tubereuse Criminalle and Fracas extrait — not at once through! That would be too much even for me. And I got a great deal last week on an old favorite — Jean-Claude Ellena’s Eau Parfumée Extrême, which I was almost out of. I’ve meant to replace it for some time, so finally did.
What is it about cardamom? I’d never experienced it until we moved to this town inside a city, with a significant South Asian population and a farmers market that sells green cardamom pods by the pound. It’s one of the most compelling scents I know. It was Eau Parfumée Extrême that got me started on this perfume thing, five or six years ago when I picked up a tester and tried it. I didn’t know then that this combination of rose, tea and cardamom would be irresistible. But it was, and, as the saying goes, I haven’t looked back.
Anyway, the smell of cardamom sent me to the spice section of the aforementioned farmers market to familiarize myself with all the Indian spices I could. I haven’t made my own curry powder yet, but that’s only because the varieties they sell there are hand-blended by people who know what they’re doing.
I have been experimenting by making chai and cardamom based iced tea. If you want to try it, take equal parts of your favorite chai mix — mine includes cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, cardamom, black tea and cloves — and loose Earl Grey tea, for the bergamot note. Lightly crush six green cardamom pods and add them to the mix. (I use an old Melita filtration setup for iced tea, but this can be simmered all together and strained if you like.) Put a half cup or so of the tea mixture in the paper/cone filter, pour a kettle full boiling water through it, dilute to taste, serve over ice. I like this strong. It’s like drinking perfume.
The other day I got a sample of “Hindu Honeysuckle,” by Providence Perfume Company, in the mail. It’s a floral, with a twist; in this case, coriander, another spice used often in Indian cooking. The first stage of this scent isn’t spicy, though. It’s sweet and floral, featuring Sweet Indian Jasmine Sambac. Now, I know something about jasmine sambac absolute. I have a bit of it, just a bit — more might involve a second mortgage. To me, it’s got all the great stuff of jasmine without the indolic bitch-slap that can sometimes be, well, a bit much. The card also lists rose, vetiver, ambrette and coriander, but that note doesn’t reveal itself until the drydown, which is really spicy and interesting, like a creative encore. It’s one of the best botanicals I’ve smelled in a long time, and it lasts.
The interactive olfactory exhibit called “Scents of Place,” which was part of my art exhibit in January, featured one scent I named “Indian Spice Market,” which included sandalwood, Himalayan cedar, Nagarmotha, Sambac jasmine, cumin, saffron, black tea, ginger, black pepper and, you guessed it, cardamom. While not a skin perfume per se, it was one of the most popular ones in the show, eliciting sighs and surreptitious dabs. More than with the “Rose Garden” and “Tropics” scents. I was surprised. A trend in the making?
So, India. It’s a subcontinent, of course, with many cuisines and ways of life, and can’t be generalized. I find myself suddenly more interested in India. I think the spices might have something — a lot, actually — to do with it.
The sample “Hindu Honeysuckle” EDP was sent to me by the manufacturer, http://www.providenceperfume.com. The perfumer is Charna Ethier.
The Kerala spice market photo is from an Indian travel promotion site, http://www.bluebirdtravels.in. The photographer was not credited.