This time last year I was just beginning to send out advance review copies of Coming to My Senses to friends and family–to the people, that is, who were in the book or intimately connected to the world of perfume bloggers and collectors that meant so much to me.
I was nervous about it. Very nervous. For example, I brought a couple of copies home for my parents over Christmas. (Two! So they wouldn’t have to share!) My chicken-out plan had been to leave them behind to find after I was gone. But that seemed silly once I was there, so I bucked up and put them under the tree. Three hours later I became violently ill with the stomach flu and spent the rest of the vacation throwing up or asleep. Coincidence? (True, half the town had the same illness, but still.)
I spent so much time worrying that I was truly unprepared for the wave of help, goodwill, generosity and understanding that washed over me as the book began to circulate. I was completely undone by gratitude. A year later, I still am. Of all the things that happened in 2012 I think that’s the thing that will have changed me the most, the thing I’ll remember best as I go forward into the open field of this year with all its uncertainty and promise.
I wish all of you a Happy New Year. May all your fresh starts come to fruition, and may you find the luck, love, courage and beauty you need–and a little extra to give away.
P.S. In the background of the photo you can see the scrubby little plant that is my Osmanthus (Sweet Olive) tree/shrub. We’ve had freezing temps lately so I brought it inside. It has rewarded me by perfuming the living room with the most incredible waves of sweet apricot and fine leather scent. Half the time when I smell it I think it’s my perfume and then I remember…
I’m here in Austin for Christmas this year. So far my holiday smells of black tea, sleeping cats, jewel-bright Satsuma tangerine peels, star anise, the pine branches I gathered up at the Christmas tree stand (we don’t have a tree, but I have to have that scent in the house), the sweet-smoky burnt brown sugar of the Scotch I drank with a friend last night (it was aged in rum casks), the rich floral citrus of candied citron–first, bubbling on the stove and then, surprisingly, in the air when I cut up the candied strips into the amber triangles above–the apricot-and-soft-leather scent of my tiny osmanthus tree, staying inside until the night temperatures rise above freezing, and, unfortunately, a huge overdose of piñon smoke, because the cats, in a more active moment, managed to close the broken flue vent and then forgot to tell us.
First published in 1977, architect Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language is an odd, ambitious, humorous, deeply humane project rooted in a late 1960′s sense of possibility–the kind of thing it’s hard to imagine anyone attempting now. Alexander and his team spent years researching and observing the ways people most love to live and shelter themselves–the spaces and paths we bend toward even when we’re thwarted along the way. Then they tried to offer these up as replicable pieces or “patterns.” The book moves from macro to micro: a pattern can be large and fairly abstract (“Magic of the City,” “Identifiable Neighborhood,” “Old People Everywhere,”) or very small and specific (“Windows Which Open Wide,” “Seat Spots,” “Pools of Light”). The result is a book that is part manifesto, part practical handbook, part lyric meditation. It is both a dream of a better world and directions on how to build one, a single piece at a time.
I love all of Elizabeth’s posts, but my favorites are her Nosy Interviews. The concept is simple but powerful. Drawing from a pool of people that includes writers, artists, teachers, social workers and more, Elizabeth asks two questions: What do you smell like? What do you like to smell? The answers are sensuous, funny, poignant and often startlingly intimate. I always learn something. Browsing through the archives today, I discovered the heads of babies smell like potato chips, what it’s like to discover one has synaesthesia, and (with some trepidation) what the pleasures of an “extra, extra scent-free” space are for someone with severe allergies. This summer, when Nosy Girl interviewed Arielle Weinberg (who makes me laugh every single time she posts over on The Scents of Self) I learned about the scent of man rays. As if all that weren’t enough, Elizabeth asks her interviewees to submit a photo of themselves, preferably in profile (she wants to see your nose, people) so she can put them up in the stars.
I’m very excited to report that today it’s my turn. I’m up in the Cygnus Clouds with my favorite raspberry lipstick on, talking about the scent of scrumptiousness, midnight shadows, ferry boats and the beautiful cacophony of smells on a New York street, among other things. I hope you’ll drop by, tell me what you think, and take a look at Elizabeth’s archives while you’re there.
Image: Photo of me, by me. Collage created by Elizabeth Ames Staudt. Full credit for photo of star clouds on Elizabeth’s blog and at the Cygnus Clouds link.
I sort of fell off a cliff after that last post. Or, more truthfully, I began pacing back and forth at the edge of a cliff, taking measurements, biting my nails and making guesses about what will happen if I jump, trying to decide if I need more courage or more common sense–all the usual push-pull that happens when I’m thinking about a new project but not quite committed yet. It’s an absorbing, nerve-wracking process. I forget things. I lose time. I lost a whole day this week. It was only when my husband showed no signs of leaving for work that I realized, to my dismay, that it was Saturday, not Friday. And since I’m thinking all the time about something I can’t talk about yet, I have a tendency to get quiet.
But I can say this: among the many, many things that no one told me about writing is that every time you stretch toward a new beginning you have to change a little–sometimes a lot. You have to become the person who can do the work. You write the story, but it writes you, too. If that sounds spooky and a little magical, well, it is. But it’s an everyday kind of magic, like planting a garden, cooking a meal, or collecting stones and shells from a beach.
I’ve been amazed and overwhelmed by the response to my post on the perfume and art debate. The comments–including those that never made it on to the blog–were so rich and thoughtful it took me an extra day just to read and respond. Thank you all. My main aim was to broaden the conversation and I think we’ve made an excellent start. A few thoughts about our exchanges before we move on (for now):
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Is perfume art? Could it be? Or is it something else: a craft, a commercial product, an ornament, a luxury, a prosthetic, an aphrodisiac, a love letter, a prayer, a con? Why does it matter?
Until recently, these kinds of questions rarely made it out of the perfume world. The exceptions–stories about professional provocateurs, like Sissel Tolaas, who captured the scent of fear, or Christophe Laudamiel, who created scents for the world economic forum at Davos and put on a scent opera–suggested perfume is considered art only when it escapes the beauty counter and begins to look and smell like something barely recognizable as perfume.
But, as many of you already know, thanks to “The Art of Scent 1889-2012″ now on exhibit through February at New York’s Museum of Art and Design, the is-perfume-art discussion is having a mainstream moment. Today I’m using this space (A lot of it. I apologize in advance for the un-bloggish length of this post.) to outline a few broad points that I think have been missing from that conversation. I’m aware that this level of perfume geekery may not be of general interest. Do come back on Monday for those long-promised cocktails if it’s not.
I’m feeling thankful for so much this season. High up on that long list are all the kind, intelligent readers out there who’ve sent me emails, tweets, Facebook messages and actual real-life letters or just dropped by the blog to hang out for awhile, and all the other readers I haven’t heard from and never will but who I know are out there anyway. I never thought my life would look like it does right now, and it wouldn’t without you. Thank you.
So, I wanted to make you a couple of drinks tonight–two creme de violette cocktails, sparkles and velvet. I had it all planned. I would get up early in the morning and work on my Friday post about the Art of Scent exhibit and the surrounding “Is perfume art?” brouhaha, and then I would take a break and make the drinks. I already knew what was in them, I just needed to figure out the exact measurements so I’m not giving you directions like “a third a glass of bourbon and the same of black tea” (what kind of glass?) or “a skoche of gin–just enough to make it a bit drier” (what exactly is a skoche anyway?).
The windows have been revealed and gorgeous photos of all the Christmas windows are up on the Bergdorf Goodman blog. Click on the images to enlarge–they’re worth a long look–and don’t miss the commentary which begins, “You can call our Holiday Windows a study in maximalism.” After my own heart.
Now if only they would work out that teleportation thing so I could walk down Fifth Avenue on a frosty Christmas Eve and stop off for a drink with friends…
Just a little glimpse of glamour and impeccable stagecraft today, courtesy of Bergdorf Goodman’s blog. The grande dame of department stores is in the midst of being prepped and primped for her Christmas windows. This year’s theme is “Follies” as in Ziegfield. I cannot imagine a more perfect combination, though I say that every year.
While I was scanning the site for preview images, I spotted this photo of an earlier display. There is a point at which decoration and illustration become so fine and so elaborate, so committed to being just themselves beyond any advertisement or purpose, that they tip over into something like magic. You will have to imagine for yourselves what it’s like to catch a glimpse of that wonder walking down a noisy, crowded city street in the dark and cold of December.