Thinking about 2008, I immediately reflect on the olfactive impressions I collected over the course of the year. Sure, I had a chance to smell many interesting new launches and revisit old favorites, but the dominating memories of 2008 that made it a special year for me are not necessarily found in the bottle. They are the scents I found as I traveled, as I worked on new combinations of notes, as I cooked at home and danced at my ballet studio. I wanted to capture these memories to share them with you, therefore my list below will present my olfactive highlights of 2008, along with the photographs I took.
India: Weddings in India are indelibly linked to the ritual of mehndi, the application of henna paste in order to form designs on the hands and feet. The scent of henna with its soft leather and warm hay notes clings to the skin for days, if not weeks, as the henna stain wears off. Beautiful soothing aroma.
Thane, India: Being wrapped in yards of heavy silk is one thing; trying to function in all those layers is something quite different altogether. The sari makes one walk–no, not walk, glide–in the most beautiful manner (once you stop becoming entangled in your own train and get used to taking smaller steps.) The aroma of silk is the reason why I want to go through this whole routine again and again: warm, buttery floral and crisp.
Panjim, Goa, India: In Goa both Hindu gods and Christian saints wear the same garlands of marigolds. The delicate minty and spicy aroma of these flowers is a persistent note, a gentle reminder that whatever we choose to worship, we bring what we love and treasure most to our deities.
Mumbai, India: Mumbai attarwallahs, perfume makers and sellers, are renowned in India. Perfume is a Muslim preserve, therefore most scents are oil based following the alcohol prohibition in Islam. Oudh, rose, sandalwood, jasmine, vetiver, saffron, clay (and a range of decidedly synthetic oils–I spotted Firmenich labeled cans in one of the stores) are among the choices available. I spent a couple of hours smelling different grades of oudh (some in oil, some in pure wood form) and left lightheaded and elated. I am still under the spell of that oudh.
Thane, India: I love shopping for food more than any other kind of shopping. Living in New York affords one many interesting adventures–from Syrian butchers in Brooklyn to Uzbek grocers in Queens. Of course, when I travel, it is almost a given that I have to stop by the market. We went to the local market in Thane (a town near Mumbai) to buy some of the Marathi specialty, kala masala. It is an intensely aromatic spice blend that includes coconut, sesame, coriander, cumin, lichens as well as a host of other spices. It is roasted till the spices turn very dark, hence its name, kala masala, black spices. When we passed through the red chili lane, I could not resist stopping to smell different varities of chilies, their scents ranging as much as ther tastes–from fiery hot to sweet, from tomato green to ripe apricot.
Brooklyn Botanical Gardens: Tired as I was of winter, the sight of cherry blossoms made me indescribably happy this spring. I took different walks just to be closer to the blooming trees and made a visit to the Botanical Gardens in Brooklyn to see cherries in bloom. All the Guerlain Cherry Blossom flankers combined cannot capture the light, petally and ethereal scent of these delicate flowers, which is as evanescent as the gauzy petals themselves.
Istanbul, Turkey, Fishermen on Galata Bridge : My first visit to Turkey 10 years ago left me with strong memories of Galata Bridge and a delicious grilled sardine sandwich. I was thrilled to see this area again (changed though it was,) and I loved all of its sights and smells–cold seaweed, sharp saline odors of the water, and of course, the ever-present scent of grilled fish.
Istanbul, Turkey (Inside Blue Mosque): Nicknamed the City on Seven Hills (Yedi tepeli şehir in Turkish) because of its location, Istanbul has one of the most beautiful skylines I have seen. At night, when the lights on its numerous minarets shimmer a delicate green, Istanbul is especially beautiful and magical. I can write pages about its smells–coffee, buttery sweets, tangy pomegranates, pungent sea, hot metro cars, hordes of cats near every palace and mosque, spice markets and rahat loukoum shops.
Candied Figs and Fragment of Topkapi Palace Tile Work: As much as I like rahat loukoum, the quintessential Turkish sweetmeat also known as Turkish delight, some of my favorite discoveries in Turkey were dried white figs stuffed with walnuts. The rich, jammy aroma of dried fig touched with a subtle green note complemented the milky sweetness of walnuts. Now, this is an idea for a fragrance accord!
Flowers of Grasse
Grasse, France (Famous Jasmines and Tuberose Plantation): In order to smell the tuberose of Grasse, you can indulge in Frederic Malle Carnal Flower. Jasmine and rose of Grasse is still present in Joy and Chanel No 5 extrait de parfum. Une Fleur de Cassie by Frederic Malle is a quite exact rendition of cassie found in Grasse. Yet, to smell the history of Grasse you need to come to this town and experience it for yourself.
Marché aux Fleurs, Nice, France: Briny, salty, sweet, pungent, herbaceous, aromatic, bitter, tart, hot, leathery, smoky, milky, fruity… Olives of every size and hue….
Beaulieu sur Mer, France: Built in the early 1900s by a French archaeologist Theodore Reinach, Villa Kérylos recreates the design of houses built in the 2nd century B.C. on the Island of Delos. Stepping into its colonnaded atrium, one is taken into the world of Ancient Greece. Reinach spared no expense furnishing the villa, and he also planted herbs and shrubs with special significance for Greeks. For me, deliciously scented myrtles will always be associated with visiting this villa on an overcast November day.
With all my love,