Every culture has a saying the gist of which is that the little joys make for the greatest happiness. Yet, as one’s routine threatens to overwhelm, even simple pleasures become something that one needs to carefully plan—a visit to the museum, an afternoon of doing nothing, a candlelit dinner. Nevertheless, there are certain things that are essential in the course of my day. They are my sources of inspiration and much more. They allow me to be aware of beauty at its most essential, and whenever the pressures of work or life threaten to push me over the edge, I only need to turn to my talismans to get things back on track.
Perfume is the most portable form of beauty, and it is the most intimate one. I could name many more than just five fragrances that capture my idea of perfection, but these five never fail to amaze me. They are the ones that allow me to discover new facets in them each time I wear them.
Guerlain Après L’Ondée
Après L’Ondée is not just exquisite, it is magical. It weaves iris, violet and soft oriental notes into a delicate accord. This beauty is more than a 100 years old, which is difficult to believe contemplating its perfect form.
Chanel Cuir de Russie
The smoky iris and soft leather of Cuir de Russie create a striking composition. The contrast between the austerity and elegance that is obvious in all classical Chanel fragrance is well-developed here. In today’s Cuir de Russie, the accent is more on the latter, with iris and jasmine taking precedence over the rough richness of leather. Still mesmerizing.
Serge Lutens Bois de Violette
Bois de Violette and Iris Silver Mist are the two Serge Lutens fragrances that I wear the most. Bois de Violette moves me the most, because of the way the wood and the floral elements meld into a beautiful, abstract form.
Christian Dior Diorella
The sensual ripeness contrasted with the watery freshness is already fascinating, but Diorella has so many facets that the only meaningful comparison I can make is to a perfectly cut diamond.
Annick Goutal Sables
Sables is a simple accord, but its simplicity belies its richness and depth. The dark heft of sandalwood and immortelle is interspersed with dry, delicately bitter notes. It is a pleasure to revisit it just to surprise oneself with its laconic way of evoking opulence.
I love great cinema that makes me think, but I equally enjoy escapist favorites that have no pretentions to greatness—Russian detective series, some particularly silly Bollywood films, etc. However, I have a few favorite films that I watch for their beautiful cinematography as much as for anything else. Here are five of them.
In the Mood for Love
Set in 1960s Hong Kong, this is one of the most seductive platonic love stories. The soundtrack of tango mixed with Chinese music is alone worth the price of admission.
This 1981 Bollywood film, directed by Muzaffar Ali is based on the 1905 Urdu novel about a famous 19th century courtesan Umrao Jaan. The gorgeous dancing, opulent sets and dramatic lightning that make many scenes reminiscent of Vermeer’s paintings makes Umrao Jaan unique. Unlike the typical masala type Bollywood films that have predictable plots and plenty of song and dance sequences, Umrao Jaan does not play by the rules of the genre and offers an experience that is both stimulating and touching.
The Earrings of Madame de...
I will be forever in debt to my dear friend Farran of Self-Styled Siren, who introduced me to this gem. A 1953 drama film directed by Max Ophüls tells the story of Madame de… who decides to sell who the earrings she received from her husband as a wedding gift to pay off her debts and the events that result from this action. The film is set in the aristocratic circles of 19th century Paris, and the scenery and costumes are splendid. One of my favorite scenes is a series of waltzes danced by Danielle Darrieux and Vittorio De Sica, in which their costumes, surroundings and feelings towards each other change, even as the dance itself never stops.
Michelangelo Antonioni’s film L’Avventura was pronounced the best film in 1960 (after it was first booed at the Cannes Film Festival,) and for me its magic never disappears, nomatter how many times I watch it. I love the beautiful architectural shots, which make every frame seem like a perfect and striking image. I love the way the camera glides over the face of Monica Vitti, the lead actress, betraying the feelings that the director had for her. I love the way the visual cues tell us more about the story than the shared words.
Can a film that includes Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale be anything but beautiful? The Leopard, a 1963 Italian film by director Luchino Visconti is even much more than this. Based on Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel, it tells the story of the decline of Sicilian aristocracy. Another great waltzing scene that almost rivals that of The Earrings of Madame de…
Ivan Bunin’s The Life of Arseniev
Unlike other Russian classics, Ivan Bunin is not particularly well-known in the West, despite him having won a Nobel prize. His semi-autobiographical novel about a young writer is a great example of his elegant prose. Another great author, Vladimir Nabokov, famously called the sumptuous texture created by his words as “Bunin brocade,” and it is indeed rich and colorful, without being purple or overwrought.
Lev Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina
One can seek ideas and meanings in great works of classics, but I once again agree with Nabokov who found more importance and artistic merit in the way Tolstoy describes the curls of dark hair on Anna’s neck than in Levin’s views on agriculture. “Her coiffure was not striking. All that was noticeable was the little willful tendrils of her curly hair that would always break free about her neck and temples.”
Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary
I learned French as a teenager only to read Madame Bovary in the original. It was worth the pain of struggling over irregular verbs and rules to which there are more exceptions than normal cases. “Often when Charles was out she took from the cupboard, between the folds of the linen were she had left it, the green silk cigar-case. She looked at it, opened it, and even smelt the odour of the lining-a mixture of verbena and tobacco. Whose was it? The Viscount’s? Perhaps it was a present from his mistress. It had been embroidered on some rosewood frame, a pretty little thing, hidden from all eyes, that had occupied many hours, and over which had fallen the soft curls of the pensive worker. A breath of love had passed over the stitches on the canvas; each prick of the needle had fixed there a hope or a memory, and all those interwoven threads of silk were but the continuity of the same silent passion. And then one morning the Viscount had taken it away with him. Of what had they spoken when it lay upon the wide-mantelled chimneys between flower-vases and Pompadour clocks? She was at Tostes; he was at Paris now, far away? What was this Paris like? What a vague name! She repeated it in a low voice, for the mere pleasure of it; it rang in her ears like a great cathedral bell; it shone before her eyes, even on the labels of her pomade-pots.”
Elizabeth David anything, but particularly An Omelette and a Glass of Wine
I do not know of another food writer that manages to convey flavors and sensations better than Elizabeth David. Her impressive erudition makes her essays irresistible to me. “Does it matter very much that by the time you have driven fifty miles and settled on your picnic spot your parcels are a little crumpled, your wine a trifle warm… your chocolate beginning to melt? After all, it is summer. You are on holiday. You are in company of your own choosing. The air is clean. You can smell wild fennel and thyme, dry resinous pine needles, the sea. For my part, I ask no greater luxury. Indeed I can think of none.” (from “Summer Cooking”.)
The Arabian Nights (Sir Richard Burtons’ translation)
“Then she stopped at a perfumer’s and took from him ten sorts of waters, rose scented with musk, orange-flower, water-lily, willow-flower, violet and five others. And she also bought two loaves of sugar, a bottle for perfume-spraying, a lump of male incense, aloe wood, ambergris, and musk, with candles of Alexandria wax” (from the story of The Porter and The Three Ladies of Baghdad.) Beautiful, sumptuous, magical…
Photography by Vera