Scents of Cities : Kyiv

Springtime_kiev_3

I can give you a long list of reasons why I am scent obsessed. The main one is that nothing captures better the feeling of a place than its smells. Therefore, I would like to paint an olfactory portrait of each city that made an impression on me and take you on a journey. The first city I selected for this series is the city of my birth, Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. The turbulent history of the city, from its grandeur as a capital of Kyivan Rus to the post-Soviet confusion, marks every stone on its streets. The gilded domes of the numerous Orthodox churches emerge from the lush greenery of the historic city on the Right Bank, while modern high-rises crowd the Left. Burial caves for medieval ascetic monks neighbor WWII memorials. Billboards advertising Nokia cell phones crown the baroque Stalinesque buildings of the 1950s. Most of my early scent memories are connected to Kyiv, and no matter where I find myself, I only have to think of a few scents in order for all its streets, sounds and people to spring from my memory. …

Chestnuts

Portrait: Kyiv’s coat of arms includes a white cluster of horse chestnut blossoms framed by green fronds. Indeed, every street is lined with these elegant trees, which bloom in the spring producing white to pink flowers. They smell of spice, jasmine and mineral powder, a gentle and distinctive scent. Also, the woody, leathery, and animalic scent of the ripe chestnuts touched by the damp aroma of fallen leaves is likewise quintessentially Kyivan to me.
Perfume: Without ever intending to find it captured in a bottle, I was surprised and excited that Serge Lutens Sarrasins captured these two contrasting impressions, thus giving me a small glimpse of the familiar. Also, Frédéric Malle Le Parfum de Thérèse conveys the fresh scent of blooming chestnuts, with its airy, jasmine rich composition.

Acacia

Portrait: False acacia, Robinia pseudoacacia, has a rich orange blossom, coconut and jasmine sambac fragrance. It is an intoxicating scent, especially when it is experienced in the city with its peculiar mineral odors of cobblestone streets and brick buildings heated by the sun.
Perfume: L’Artisan Parfumeur La Chasse Aux Papillons best captures the idea of acacia for me, given its layering of jasmine, tuberose, and orange blossom in a delicate accord. If Serge Lutens Fleurs d’Oranger were more transparent, it would be the fragrance to most closely convey a balmy evening filled with the heady scent of acacia.

Lilac

Portrait: Perhaps, this scent is part of my DNA, because my mother tells me that when she was pregnant with me, she smelled lilacs everywhere. Certainly, Kyiv in the spring is filled with their characteristic scent of green rose, honey and marzipan.
Perfume: Frédéric Malle En Passant may be its creator’s, Olivia Giacobetti’s, idea of Paris in the spring, but whenever I smell it, I distinctly see delicate lilac blossoms scattered on the rain stained asphalt of Kyiv’s streets.

Orthodox Incense (Ladan)

Portrait: One step under the round arches of Orthodox churches, and I find myself surrounded by a golden mist comprised of incense smoke and the shimmer of opulent priestly robes. As a young child, I was both entranced and frightened by these images. My family likes to recall that during my baptism at the age of five, I behaved so dreadfully that the elderly priest simply sighed, “What a difficult child!” However, when the incense censers were brought in, I stopped my antics and stood mesmerized by the smoke.
Perfume: Frankincense, myrrh, opoponax, and labdanum capture the velvety and warm fragrance of Eastern Orthodox cathedrals. Armani Privé Bois d’Encens is a gorgeous incense, although it is a touch too dry to evoke the sweeter, more ambery note of Orthodox ladan. On the other hand, the entire Annick Goutal Les Orientalistes series (Ambre Fétiche, Myrrhe Ardente and Encens Flamboyant) offers a journey into the incense filled churches of my childhood. Ambre Fétiche has an almost eerie semblance to the fragrance of incense and prosfora (leavened bread prepared for special liturgies.)

Fur and Leather

Portrait: In the northern climate of Kyiv, furs and leathers were traditionally favored over lighter materials. The animalic, creamy, warm scent of a full length fur coat is an aroma I cannot separate from my memories of Kyiv. Since boot leather was treated with birch tar, its dark, resinous scent reminds me of the city as well.
Perfume: One of the most perfect fur perfumes one can have is undoubtedly Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khan. On the other hand, Chanel Cuir de Russie offers the most luxurious and elegant leather note imaginable.

Black Tea

Portrait: Tea was brought to the Russian Empire in the 1600s from China via the Silk Road. The scent of this dark amber liqueur follows one around the streets of Kyiv, although the aroma of roasted coffee beans is quite common as well. Add to it the nutty creamy fragrance of Kyiv’s famous torte (which is a decadent cashew nut meringue slathered with butter cream,) and you have my idea of bliss.
Perfume: Comme des Garçons Thé, Annick Goutal Duel, and L’Artisan Tea for Two are the olfactory versions of this beloved drink.

Carnation

Portrait: Carnations were both a symbol of the various socialist holidays as well as a luxury item during winter time. In fact, the most famous of all Soviet fragrances, Red Moscow, was a L’Origan type with a dominant, spicy carnation complex. Rich like velvet, simultaneously woody and creamy,  the scent of carnation paints a portrait of Kyiv that perhaps is left behind in my perestroika era childhood.
Perfume: Classical carnation is a beautiful note, and Comme des Garçons Carnation, Caron Bellodgia, and Guerlain Metalys offer a few interesting themes to explore in our journey across Kyiv. While CdG Carnation is closest to the carnation in nature, Metalys is a baroque and opulent rendition, befitting a stroll through the gardens of Mariinsky Palace.

Champagne and Madeira

Portrait: The Eastern European predilection for sweet sparkling as well as fortified wines is well-known. In the 19th century, restaurants on the Côte d’Azur would stock up on these  wines to please Russian clients, from wealthy merchants to aristocracy. Thus, the sweet, plumy scent of champagne is a typically Slavic association, and so is the caramel, apricot, and tobacco bouquet of Madeira. If vodka is more of a Soviet era drink to me, champagne and Madeira are of the old imperial past. The mélange of alcoholic vapors in the streets of Kyiv truly justifies the remark by the Grand Kyivan Prince Vladimir made in the 10th century, “Drinking is the joy of the Rus.” Some things simply do not change.
Perfume: Coty Chypre knock offs were a preferred choice of beverage for Soviet era alcoholics when vodka was not in stock. If you are after the opulent side of Kyiv, Yves Saint Laurent Yvresse and Etat Libre d’Orange Vraie Blonde provide a lovely glimpse with their sweet champagne notes.

Photo credit: dorogami.ru.

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49 Comments

  • sweetlife: A lovely tour of your remembered Kiev, and with enough realism to resist pure nostalgia (drinking Coty Chypre knockoffs–my god!).

    Reading your list of Kieve “notes,” it makes me wonder what you think of Ambre Russe, with its little topnote joke of vodka giving way to black tea, honey, champagne, and fierce incensey amber…

    I want to smell those chestnut trees! May 13, 2008 at 11:02pm Reply

  • Veronica: Wow, thanks so much, it really reminded me of the time spent in Kiev throughout different years. One of the smells I also associate with it is the smell of dampness and old books experienced in Kievo-Pecherskaia Lavra. I miss lilacs, acacia and kashtani so much. What do you think of Caron Acasiousa as an acacia scent? Or PG Ether de Lilas for lilacs? May 13, 2008 at 11:32pm Reply

  • Ina: I’ve never been to Kiev but I feel like I’ve just made a short visit with you. 🙂 This time of year is full of chestnut and lilac blossoms in my part of the world, and you’ve just inspired me to think on what captures the smell of Riga. Looking forward to more posts of this category! 🙂 May 14, 2008 at 3:40am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: A, thank you! I recently realized to what extent I was marked by this place. What would be your place like that?

    I am of two minds on Ambre Russe. I love the name and the sweet amber, but I find it somewhat flat. That dull leather note really keeps it grounded for me, and too much so. May 14, 2008 at 7:09am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Veronica, I am so glad to hear that this post brought back memories. The smell of books is indelibly linked to my childhood memories in general, and to this day, it is still a favorite. I miss kashtany too. I actually just discovered that the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens have a large collection of lilacs from Russia. Also, acacia is going to be in bloom soon here on the East Coast. I just need to find some chestnut trees. 🙂 May 14, 2008 at 7:22am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Inochka, I would love to hear what you think of Riga from the olfactive standpoint. I immediately think of coffee shops, amazing milk products and the damp scent of Gothic cathedrals. It is such a beautiful city. May 14, 2008 at 7:35am Reply

  • Andrey: Thank you so very much, Victoria. All that you’ve said was really a kind of journey, well into the past of course. And as each trip into yor own memory it was a bit idealised, refined and restored. And doubtlessly it was sweet. Thank you again.
    As a memory of my own (but sure you too DO remember the time when all the perfumes were devided into “FRENCh” and “OURS”) I would name Climat de Lancome as an equivalent of I think February or March with its cold dampness and gleams of sun through heavy fog.
    And I have to say you were absolutely right about En Passant. Thank you once more May 14, 2008 at 7:46am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Andrey, thank you for your kind words! I understand that Climat and aldehydic fragrances are still big sellers in the whole former USSR area.
    I go to Kiev on regular basis, and I was there just recently. I must say that it has improved dramatically over what it was in the 1990s (not to mention the Soviet times)–it is very clean, restored, elegant. My memories of it were much less so, but also special nonetheless. That being said, in my idealized version of Kiev, I would get rid of the billboards and drunks, but it has them in spades…

    What would you include in your own recollections? May 14, 2008 at 8:34am Reply

  • Anonymous: Dear Victoria, I didn’t want to say “you forgot” or “you live there and don’t know”. I meant that we all incline to embellish our memories,it’s our nature. And I’m really sorry if I hurt you in any way.
    And as to defaced by extreme overuse Climat, it had really moist and foggy feel in it (well, I must admit I was 15 when felt it last time, more then twenty years ago, so I could have mixed up my every memory). That is why and not for any other reason… May 14, 2008 at 9:11am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Dear Andrey, I did not take it that way at all, please do not apologize! I agreed with you actually, but I just wanted to mention a surprise with the city’s rejuvenation that I observe on my visits. In fact, I am now re-reading Bulgakov’s Sukhodol and the question of what was and what we remember is at the center of the plot. It is fascinating. Sometimes I think I remember things (like I vaguely remember the baptism I described above,) but then I realize that my memories are really fed by the stories. I hear my grandmother telling me that I did not want to give a lock of my hair to be cut, and I actually see 5 year old me protesting and stomping feet. May 14, 2008 at 9:39am Reply

  • Andrey: Yes, I took it all wrong. And how not to: I’m in St.Petersbourg and lilac is beginning to flower and it is snowing today and all these with thunderstorm… I’m surprised I still remember my name.
    By the way, what is your olfactive memory of Petersbourg? I just wonder… May 14, 2008 at 9:53am Reply

  • jenavira: Thank you for such a lovely tour, I cannot wait to see your posts in this category. And I am absolutely intrigued by the famous Kiev torte. May 14, 2008 at 10:51am Reply

  • Sveta: V, this was a nice post! I felt like I went on a trip there. The last time I went to Kiev was when I was little. I remember Kievskii tort and konfety Vecherniy Kiev. 🙂 Do they still make them? May 14, 2008 at 11:25am Reply

  • marianne_k: I came across your site by chance and I really loved what I found on it. I wouldn’t call myself a perfume collector but I’m now becoming more and more interested in scents thanks to you and Perfume Posse.

    I was excited to read your post because I’m planning a trip to Russia and maybe Ukraine. I want to go to Kiev but I’m not sure if I have time to get a visa. May 14, 2008 at 12:09pm Reply

  • Cara: Lovely post! Oh, I so want a bite of that Kiev torte. What does it taste like? May 14, 2008 at 1:17pm Reply

  • Elizabeth: What a wonderful portrait of a city! I had to chuckle at your memories of the Orthodox church. I was baptised in the Greek Orthodox church and I’ve been told that I screamed through the whole ceremony. I need to try Ambre Fetiche to see if it calls up some memories. May 14, 2008 at 2:03pm Reply

  • minette at scent signals: i loved this post! i felt as though you took me there, and now i’d like to go there “for real.”

    i’ve found the orthodox incense note in chanel no. 22 – it smells like the incense the greek monks use here in a texas monastery.

    have you smelled weil zibeline? it reminds me very much of buttery fur. very close to animal that one. May 14, 2008 at 2:41pm Reply

  • Yelena: Wow, Vika:

    You just took me back home in so many ways, so unexpectedly and so enjoyably. I, too, always remember the acacia, lilac, of course the tea and damp furs as well. Add to my recollections the scent of lily of the valley just when spring warms up and the citrus scent of the lemonade machines that dispensed the syrup and carbonated water for Soviet citizens to drink one at a time, all from the same re-used glass. Oh, I forgot the birch juice that we would drink as well. So many memories- I actually stay away from Kiev for fear that reality would shatter all of my treasured childhood recollections. I am so glad to hear that my scented memories of Kiev resound with you as well. May 14, 2008 at 4:20pm Reply

  • Solander: What a lovely post! And such a great idea to make a series of different cities – I can’t wait for the next one… I love how you have incorporated fragrance recommendations too so it’s not just about olfactive memories, even if that’s worth reading all on its own. May 15, 2008 at 5:14am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Andrey, snow and lilacs in bloom is such a contrast! I hope that the warm weather comes to you soon.

    My scent memories of St.Petersburg are of the leather and oil varnish at the Hermitage, coffee and freshly baked bread, and new books–there are so many great bookstores around. I just love this city! What would be yours? May 15, 2008 at 7:11am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Jenavira, this cake was always one of the most famous desserts during the Soviet era, as it was created at the Karl Marx (yes, I know, I also associate him with desserts 🙂 confectionary factory in the 60s. It is based on layers of nut meringue and chocolate falvored buttercream. I actually have a recipe someplace, purportedly obtained from the factory itself. May 15, 2008 at 7:26am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Sveta, they still do, but I have to say that these candy simply do not taste the same. The chocolate is not as dark and kind of chalky. For a similar candy (hazelnut in chocolate), I prefer Il Bacio by Perugina. They are very similar. May 15, 2008 at 8:33am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Marianne, thank you and good luck with your trip preparations! Yes, now you need visas for Russia and Ukraine, so it is somewhat of a burden. If you are Canadian, you can travel to Ukraine without a visa. May 15, 2008 at 8:40am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Cara, rich and airy, creamy and crunchy at the same time. Absolutely decadent! May 15, 2008 at 8:48am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Elizabeth, yes, it was apparently traumatic for all, the priest included. 🙂 My mom tells that there were many children, but the only one who misbehaved was me.

    Please let me know what you think of Ambre Fetiche, I swear I get a note of prosfora in it. May 15, 2008 at 8:54am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Minette, Zibeline is one of my favorites too in that respect, and you have just reminded me how well it captures the scent of fur. I have a tiny bit, so I do not wear it often.

    It is nice that you mention this incense note, because yesterday morning I sprayed some No 22 on a blotter, left it on my desk and walked out of the office. When I returned, I swear I could smell a faint scent of incense in the air. May 15, 2008 at 9:41am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Lena, lily of the valley, mimosa, son-trava… I love all of these spring flowers, which I hardly ever see here. Yesterday walking past a florist, I spotted a few bunches of lily of the valley in the window. I rushed in and almost pulled out a wallet to pay. However, $40 price tag stopped me as well as the fact that they were wilting and had hardly any scent.

    I am so happy that our memories resonate! I still remember those soda fountains too. 🙂 May 15, 2008 at 9:43am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Solander, thank you! It was really enjoyable to write this post. 🙂
    After all, a scent of the places where we live marks them so strongly.

    What about you (and others too)? What scents represent your city, street, etc.? May 15, 2008 at 9:48am Reply

  • Cara: Yum! Sounds very delicious.

    Ok, I want to play! I grew up in Milano and the scents I remember are:
    freshly washed laundry
    pastries
    my mom’s Femme de Rochas
    my dad’s Eau de Guerlain
    my grandmother’s violet cologne
    dusty asphalt
    pigeons
    mimosa in the spring
    diesel fuel May 15, 2008 at 12:01pm Reply

  • Peter: This was a very enojoyable read. You really took me on a journey with you. My own earliest childhood scent memories are Johnson & Johnson baby powder and Ivory soap. Then things got more complicated. 🙂 Maybe that;s why I like powdery fragrances on women. May 15, 2008 at 12:54pm Reply

  • Sveta: I will play too! I grew up in Novosibirsk. I never thought about smells of my city before but it was fun to remember. It smells to me like pine tree wood, car exhaust, bubliki (bagels), wet fur, petuski (candy made of burnt sugar) and newspapers. May 15, 2008 at 2:49pm Reply

  • minette at scent signals: i’m so glad you caught that incense note! it delights me each time i wear no. 22. the first time i tried zibeline, i found the fur note startling… it was unlike anything i’d ever experienced… truly from another time. now i quite enjoy it. May 15, 2008 at 4:05pm Reply

  • tmp00: congratulations on your Basenotes award! Well deserved! May 15, 2008 at 10:24pm Reply

  • Eric_K: Congrats on your Basenotes award! I love your blog and I am glad to see you writing again. May 16, 2008 at 8:27am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Cara, I love this list! I can just picture these smells. Thank you. May 16, 2008 at 9:37am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Peter, that makes perfect sense! I still love aldehydic fragrances, because of Climat and Madame Rochas I have been exposed to since childhood. May 16, 2008 at 9:39am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Sveta, bubliki, petushki! You are making me hungry and nostalgic. I have not eaten the proper bubliki in ages (bagels that we get here are too doughy and dense for my tastes). May 16, 2008 at 9:43am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Minette, I love what you said of Zibeline–truly from another time. It is unlike anything else I have experienced before or since then. Too bad it is such a difficult fragrance to locate (or to locate in a proper condition). May 16, 2008 at 9:45am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: T, I had no idea until you posted. Thank you very much for your kind words! May 16, 2008 at 9:46am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Eric, thank you! I am so happy to be back to writing too. Few things are more satisfying than this, really. May 16, 2008 at 9:48am Reply

  • Marina: What a pleasure it was to read this!
    I associated my home town with the smell of chocolate (because I grew up more or less across the big chocolate factory :-)) and linden. May 16, 2008 at 11:10am Reply

  • Elizabeth: RE: Ambre Fetiche: You’re right! I managed to get a sample from Aedes, and it does have that smell. I haven’t been in an Orthodox church in years, but there it was, conjured up before me. I can almost hear Byzantine chanting in my head. It’s wonderful. May 16, 2008 at 3:26pm Reply

  • Elena: What an amazing post! I have never been to Kiev, but I feel like I walked the streets of that city while I was reading.

    OK, I’ll play, too! I grew up in Petropavlovsk Kamchatsky (Kamchatka, Russia) and my childhood smells were:
    smell of fresh grass and kiprei (kind of a tall pink wild flower)
    mossy, cool and crisp smell of tundra
    smell of newspapers from Soyuzpechat’ kiosk where my grandfather took me
    smell of fresh fish – metallic, marine and cold (I remember giant salmon, lying in our bathtub)
    smell of the ocean – salty, heavy and balmy, especially in summer
    smell of brezent backpack (those cheap green ones) – dusty and warm
    smell of my grandma’s Diorissimo and Lancome powder
    smell of freshly picked mushrooms that my dad brought
    smell of plastilin and watercolor paints from Leningrad (I loved to eat them while painting – :D)
    smell of mandariny for New Years
    And of course, there are smells of some old Soviet-era treats like Monpansie in those tin tight flat jars (that later were used to play Klassiki), then smells of dust, of Soviet school and that kindergarden smell that still makes me teary-eyed (milky, sweet, mixed with smells of food, urine (sorry) and clean laundry – not unpleasant, but very evocative and disturbing to me).

    Sorry for long post!

    I am also thinking of Bombay smells now…
    Are you going to do a post on India? That would totally made my day! May 17, 2008 at 2:34am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Marina, linden is one of my favorite smells in the world! We had linden trees surrounding our house, and the scent in June-July was unforgettable. May 17, 2008 at 11:01am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Elizabeth, I am so happy to hear that I am not the only one finding the connection. In general, the entire Les Orientalistes line (well, I have not tried Musc yet) reminded me of my church incense memories in one way or another. May 17, 2008 at 11:02am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Elena, thank you so much for sharing this! This comment made my day, as reading it I could feel my own childhood memories rising up–plastilin, brezent, fresh fish in a bathtub (we used to buy small live sturgeons), mushrooms, mandarins. I wish I could visit more of Russia than I have so far, especially Far North. So many people I know who went there mention the smells of tundra, which to them were unforgettable. I remember a relative who used to live in Siberia and the smell of taiga (pine resin and furs) that he would bring along whenever visiting.

    I will definitely do a post on India! This is what got me started on this topic in the first place, but then I decided to write a tribute to Kiev first. Looking forward to your comments on that. May 17, 2008 at 11:09am Reply

  • Sonia Kovitz: Dorogaya Victoria! I read your comment on David’s review of the book about Paris and am very interested in the topic of your friend’s dissertation on the influence of Russian emigres on Paris. My PhD is in Russian literature and language (I’m now retired) and now I have turned my attention specifically to the period 1900-1953, including the lives of Russians who emigrated to Paris. If your friend’s dissertation becomes available, please let me know! S druzheskim privetom, Sonia July 2, 2011 at 10:54pm Reply

  • Victoria: Dorogaya Sonia, thank you for your note. I do not think that my classmate’s and friend’s dissertation was published yet, but you can find some of her articles via Muse:
    http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/nineteenth_century_french_studies/v035/35.2foshko.html July 4, 2011 at 3:10pm Reply

  • ZachB: I am happy to see that I am not the only one who has considered a scent profile of a city. It is strange that scent, being our most powerful memory device, should be so overlooked in memorializing. April 6, 2012 at 11:51am Reply

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