Things That Makes One’s Heart Beat Faster

I would love to have shared a cup of tea with Sei Shonagon, a 11th century Japanese court lady and author of The Pillow Book. What a character she must have been! It is rare that a personage removed by so many centuries feels so modern, but I can just imagine her doling out choice comments and sharing some court gossip. Of course, I would be worried that this aesthete might find either my conversation too dull or my attire too plain, since her diary is evidence enough of her strong opinions.

cherry blossoms-350

Besides anecdotes about court life, The Pillow Book is full of poetic vignettes and observations. It’s a world where the first snowfall can be cause for celebration and where lovers send each other incense perfumed letters. Sei Shonagon’s rapier-sharp wit and appetite for life shine through her compilation of stories. That she is not all charm and sweet manners makes her even more fascinating.

The Pillow Book was written during a particularly trying period of Sei Shonagon’s life. Emperor Ichijo had recently taken on another consort, sidelining the writer’s patron, Empress Teishi, to a secondary role. Incidentally, the biggest rival to Sei Shonagon’s literary skill served the new Empress Shoshi. It was Murasaki Shikibu, the author of the first modern novel, The Tale of Genji. With the declining fortunes of Empress Teishi, Sei Shonagon’s future was likewise troubling, and she probably found solace in writing.

When I need an escape myself, I turn to The Pillow Book. It would be impossible for me to name my favorite passage. “A preacher ought to be good-looking. For, if we are properly to understand his worthy sentiments, we must keep our eyes on him while he speaks,”* she says matter-of-factly in one chapter (p.55). In another, she’s exquisitely lyrical, “On the bamboo fences and criss-cross hedges I saw tatters of spider webs; and where the threads were broken the raindrops hung on them like strings of white pearls” (p. 148).

I also love her lists of whatever makes her feel happy, nervous, anxious, or annoyed. They range from philosophical ruminations to compilations of her favorite things. One such list is titled Things That Makes One’s Heart Beat Faster:

  • Sparrows feeding their young
  • To pass a place where babies are playing
  • To sleep in a room where fine incense has been burnt
  • To notice that one’s elegant Chinese mirror has become a little cloudy
  • To see a gentleman stop his carriage before one’s gate and instruct his attendants to announce his arrival
  • To wash one’s hair, make one’s toilet, and put on scented robes; even if not a soul sees one, these preparations still produce an inner pleasure
  • It is night and one is expecting a visitor. Suddenly one is startled by the sound of rain-drops, which the wind blows against the shutters (p.51)

When I recently re-read the list over my breakfast–the only way in which I satisfy my fantasy of sharing tea with Sei Shonagon, I thought of things that make my heart beat faster: letters from friends, anticipating a new journey, or hearing a favorite piece of music. If my heart beats faster when I smell a new perfume, I know immediately that it’s going to be a lasting love affair. In the end, I jotted down a few scent related pleasures to share with you.

  • Guerlain Après l’Ondée : so many fragrance have come and gone, but Après l’Ondée, a delicate etude of iris and carnation never loses its luster. It makes me sigh just as happily today as it did when I first tried it more than 15 years ago.
  • Cardamom : its effervescent, silvery scent makes me dream of carved marble temples, embroidered silks and bitter spiced coffee served with sticky dates.
  • Peaches : a creamy, musky perfume of ripe peaches reminds me of long, indolent summer days. Between work and other commitments, such days are few and far between, but I only need to smell a peach to fantasize about them.
  • Old Books : the anticipation of the endless pleasure that reading entails. While I love the scent of any book, the vanilla and iris root aroma of old yellowing pages is irresistible.
  • Sandalwood : as I described in my review of Serge Lutens Santal Blanc, sandalwood is associated with my Indian wedding. My groom, statues of gods and I were thoroughly being rubbed with rose water and sandalwood paste, and this lush scent permeated everything. Even as I look at the wedding photos, I can smell it, and just remembering all of that mad chaos makes my heart skip a beat.

What about you? What makes your heart beat faster (and this doesn’t have to be perfume themed)?

*This and other quotes are from The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, translated by Ivan Morris. Second hand copies are available at Amazon starting at 1 penny.

Update: I recently read a translation of The Pillow Book by Meredith McKinney, and I loved how McKinney rendered the delight and flamboyance of Sei Shonagon’s writing. In contrast to the formal and more restrained Morris’s translation, McKinney’s sparkles. Much recommended.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, Early Cherry Blossoms at Senso-Ji Temple.

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214 Comments

  • Ramona: I read “The Pillow Book” in a World Lit class and was astounded as to how such an ancient collection of musings could be so poetic and modern. As part of the study, we were instructed to compose our own “Pillow Book” and it was a wonderful exercise in contemplation, causing me to really look deeply and find at the heart of what seemed a perfectly ordinary event or object, a luminous shining bit of beauty. Thanks for this post- it brought back great memories! August 28, 2013 at 7:57am Reply

    • Victoria: This must have been such a great exercise, Ramona. You pointed out the very thing that makes me love The Pillow Book so much–Sei Shonagon’s ability to see beauty even in the simplest things. August 28, 2013 at 11:23am Reply

  • Patricia: Anticipating an evening out with friends for good conversation and good food makes my heart beat faster. Also the weight of newly purchased real books in my bag after a trip to the bookstore.
    The Pillow Book is going on my reading list. August 28, 2013 at 8:28am Reply

    • Victoria: You will enjoy it very much, Pat! And I can relate so well to the post-bookstore elation. :) August 28, 2013 at 11:31am Reply

  • Zazie: Thank you for this fascinating and inspiring post. I will seek out the book – I’m sure I’ll love it.
    I fear my list will sound cheesy and all,
    but 6 things that make my heart skip a beat are, randomly:
    * the days that gather the signs of autumn approaching: leaves turning color, the sky getting impossibly clear, a strange cool smell in the air. Overwhelming happiness.
    * the sight of my husband – sometimes I’m still caught unprepared.
    * the smell of linden blossom in summer.
    * to stumble upon an amazing, totoro-inspired tree, branches stretching out high and far into the sky.
    * the taste of pumpkin soup. My pumpkin soup! ;)
    * getting caought in the rain on a leisurly day. Without umbrella, of course! ;)

    Thank you for prompting so many new discoveries!!! August 28, 2013 at 8:53am Reply

    • allgirlmafia: I love your list. Its not cheesy at all. I especially love, “the sight of my husband – sometimes I’m still caught unprepared.”

      That is so beautiful :) August 28, 2013 at 10:01am Reply

    • Victoria: Nothing cheesy about your list at all! It’s poetic and very moving.

      Of course, now I want to hear how you make your pumpkin soup! :) August 28, 2013 at 11:32am Reply

      • Zazie: Of course! :)
        My recipe is standard: few drops of olive oil with some herbs, minced shallot and leek (let it become soft and transparent, simmer with some wine or liquor if at hand), *the* pumpkin (sear it for a while, add water or broth), spices (or citrus rinds) to taste. Mix well with a blender when ready, add crumbled chestnut for texture if you like. Too good and too simple! ;)
        If you find a good pumpkin of the right variety you need no cream.
        In fact I think the most precious know-how with savory pumpkin recipes is which pumpkin variety is best suited for the purpose at hand!
        In Italy pumpkin soup or tortelli reach perfection with *mantovana* and *chioggiasca* varieties, but I don’t think they are exported… they have a creamy, rich, nutty taste and have very little water. They really make a simple soup taste decadent.
        I think in belgium you might find potimarron? do you know it already? It’s a fun pumpkin (with the most beautiful red color and a small teardrop shape) with a taste between pumpkin and chestunt (potiron+marron=potimarron!). And you don’t need to remove the skin.
        :) August 28, 2013 at 12:14pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you very much! I have a potimarron at home right now, so pumpkin soup is on the menu for this week.

          I googled mantovana, and I realized that I have seen it at the markets in Brussels. A lot of our fruits and vegetables are imported from Italy, and at small stores and farmer’s stalls you can sometimes find some of the Italian regional varieties. They are still fresher and tastier in Italy, no doubt, but at least they don’t have to travel that far. August 28, 2013 at 12:24pm Reply

        • solanace: I’ll copy your recipe, it sounds great. And your list is beautiful! :-) We have a pumpkin here that is a bit like the Mantovana, and which my friend from Bologna used to buy. It is a variety brought by the japanese immigrants that we call cabotia (for eventual gooling :)), and which works great asian style too. Versatile stuff. August 28, 2013 at 3:16pm Reply

          • Victoria: Now I’m hungry! In the US, they also call it kabocha, if I remember correctly, and I agree, it’s excellent. The flesh is so creamy that no dairy is required at all and the skin is delicate enough that it needs no peeling (or only light peeling to create a green-orange marbled effect). August 28, 2013 at 3:22pm Reply

    • Marsha Smith: Zazie: I love your list and it sounds a lot like mine. August 28, 2013 at 12:41pm Reply

  • Lauren: Lovely! I have added The Pillow Book to my list. And I can relate to the peaches – lately the scent has been filling my kitchen and living room as I have peaches lining my counter, ripening at different paces, all waiting to be eaten…the smell takes me to summer in the south, no matter where I am. August 28, 2013 at 9:21am Reply

    • Victoria: There is nothing like a Georgia peach! Interesting enough, my favorite perfume with a peach note, Guerlain Mitsouko, has that summery flash too before it settles for its autumnal richness. August 28, 2013 at 11:35am Reply

  • Christine: I am going to find a copy of The Pillow Book. Thanks so much for the recommendation. August 28, 2013 at 9:37am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re welcome, Christine! It’s going to be the best spent penny (ok, and $2.99 in s&h, if you’re in the US). August 28, 2013 at 11:36am Reply

  • allgirlmafia: The moment between two people when what they’ve tried to express is suddenly without effort understood…

    The smell of Sandalwood. It is soothing and grounding and intoxicating. Each time I shower with a bar of Sandalwood soap I apply and reapply again and again hoping the scent will linger a little longer…

    The sight of a quiet sunrise, early morning, all alone…

    A beautifully filmed, witty, heartfelt foreign film…

    Happening upon a small reasonably priced bottle of vintage perfume while I’m looking for something else…

    An unexpected call from a far away friend. They don’t need anything. They just wanted to hear my voice….

    Thank you, Victoria. I love this post. I will have to read The Pillow Book. Have a beautiful day. August 28, 2013 at 9:58am Reply

    • Victoria: Such a beautiful list! Thank you for sharing. What are some of your favorite foreign films that make your heart beat faster? August 28, 2013 at 11:38am Reply

      • allgirlmafia: I know I will forget some, but….

        *Paris je t’aime(French)
        *Amelie (French)
        *Coco Before Chanel (French)
        *City of God(Brazilian)
        *City of Men(Brazilian)
        *Monsoon Wedding(Indian)
        *Fire(Indian)
        *Water(Indian)
        *Kama Sutra:A Tale of Love (Indian)
        *Saawariya (this is Indian and colorful and sensual and beautiful. If you haven’t seen it I believe you would love it)

        I know there are more, I can’t remember them all now. If you please I would love some of your suggestions. August 28, 2013 at 1:50pm Reply

        • Victoria: I saw and loved several movies from your list, and Amelie, Monsoon Wedding, Saawariya and Water are among my favorites. Since you’ve asked, I’m more than happy to share my favorite films. That’s another beloved subject. :)

          In the Mood for Love (Hong Kong)
          Chungking Express (Hong Kong)
          Tampopo (Japan)
          Caro Diario (Italy)
          Contempt (France)
          Umrao Jaan (India, 1981 version only)
          Taal (India, mostly for very cute young Aishwarya Rai and great soundtrack)
          Night Before Christmas (Russia)
          The Lizard (Iran)
          The Earrings of Madame de… (France)

          I’m sure I’m forgetting many others and once I will hit “reply,” I will be wanting to add more. August 28, 2013 at 3:04pm Reply

          • allgirlmafia: Thank you, I’ll look them up :)

            (also, I forgot to add Lagaan earlier. It is an Indian film and I like that one as well.) August 29, 2013 at 10:13am Reply

            • Victoria: That’s a fantastic film, and I always recommend it to people new to the Bollywood genre. :) August 29, 2013 at 10:56am Reply

  • fleurdelys: OK, another book added to my already-lengthy to-read list!

    Here are a few things that make my heart beat faster:

    - the anticipation of going to see a play, ballet, or opera
    - starting out on a journey
    - stopping to smell fresh, growing flowers: roses, lilacs, and osmanthus on the bush; daffodils and lily of the valley out of the ground; honeysuckle on the vine
    - sharing a meal with friends
    - a new full bottle of perfume
    - flea markets
    - thinking about the things that make my heart beat faster! August 28, 2013 at 10:15am Reply

    • Victoria: Thanks to the previous discussions here, I have a nice towering pile of books at my bedside, so I’m happy to return a favor. :)

      So many things I enjoy from your list too, and I agree that just contemplating favorite things is a pleasure in itself. August 28, 2013 at 11:39am Reply

  • Anne of Green Gables: I think it’s always important to find happiness in small things in life but often I forget that. So thanks for reminding me through your post today, Victoria. Here’s some that makes my heart beat faster.
    - fresh and misty (slightly wet) smell of the forest during my daily morning walk
    - when I can smell a hint of rain in the air
    - when I can recognise a friend’s or passerby’s perfume, lotion, shampoo etc.
    - when I see a cat
    - when a flower on my orchid plant finally blooms after a long wait
    - just before I walk out of the arrival gate at an airport (especially if my parents are waiting for me outside)
    - classical music, especially Bach’s music with beautiful counterpoint August 28, 2013 at 10:15am Reply

    • Victoria: Gorgeous, Anne! I was nodding my head as I read your list. I also love that moment when I’ve collected my luggage and I’m heading towards the arrivals. The anticipation of seeing loved ones or of discovering something new makes me almost lightheaded.

      Bach’s Cello Suites must be my absolute favorite piece of music, or one of them. August 28, 2013 at 11:42am Reply

    • Annikky: Lovely list, I agree with everything :) August 29, 2013 at 6:35am Reply

  • nikki: Victoria, such a timely and inspired list! Thank you. I went ahead and bought two copies of the Pillow book, one for myself and one for a girlfriend. Anyone who writes about sparrows feeding their young is worth reading.
    Here is my list:

    - watching birds feeding their young
    - new, green leaves where none were before
    - ripe peaches and nectarines turning over lazily in champagne (prick ripe fruit and put in large glass so they can rotate: Kullerpfirsich)
    - my dogs
    - citrus blossoms permeating the air
    - gardenias
    - orange red pomegranate blossoms
    - sunrise
    - sunset

    Enjoy your day! August 28, 2013 at 10:17am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m so happy to hear it, Nikki! I want to say, I hope that you will enjoy it, but this book is such a gem that it’s impossible not to be captivated by it. Please let me know what you think when it arrives.

      After reading your lovely list, I’m really craving peaches and champagne. August 28, 2013 at 11:45am Reply

    • solanace: Thank’s for letting me know about the Kullerpfirsich, Nikki! August 28, 2013 at 3:29pm Reply

  • Emma M: What a great question, Victoria.

    I read the Pillow Book earlier this year and loved it, I agree that it’s striking how so many of Sei Shonagon’s observations still seem so relevant, despite being centuries old.

    Beautiful textiles always make my heart beat faster, interesting and unexpected colours, textures, patterns and surface design are all very inspiring to me. Scrolling through images of historical costumes or the latest couture collections always makes me happy!

    Freshly brewed coffee and roses are two scent-related things I would also add to my list August 28, 2013 at 10:19am Reply

    • Victoria: Can’t agree more. So many of her observations are exactly spot on. For instance, the passage on how a man should say good-bye after a tryst is a gem. Or her annoyance with parents who don’t discipline their young. Or her love of letters. So my letters are delivered via Outlook express rather than a horse-drawn carriage with an attendant, but I still feel the same excitement when I receive them.

      Textures are such a sensory pleasure, and whenever I pass by one of the fabric stores in NYC or Paris’s fashion districts, I wish I could make clothes. Just touching different fabrics and feeling silks, velvets and linens under the fingers is special. August 28, 2013 at 11:48am Reply

  • Caroline: What a great post! So many things…agree with someone above who noted the anticipation of fall–I still get that too, despite the fact that it’s been many years since I was a student!
    Also the sound of uncorking a bottle of champagne, the clap of thunder, a beloved bit of music.
    And the thrill of anticipation upon opening one’s shipment from STC or Luckyscent… August 28, 2013 at 10:27am Reply

    • Victoria: Me too, Caroline! I’ve been noticing this autumnal feeling in the mornings lately. Although later in the day it warms up, the sweet-nutty scent in the morning is unmistakably fall-like. August 28, 2013 at 11:50am Reply

  • mough: I’m going immediately to Amazon and getting this book! It sounds just like what the doctor ordered.

    Things That Make My Heart Beat Faster:

    The mix of two smells from my childhood: a horse chewing an apple–the mix of mashed apple and horse breath. Fabulous.

    Watching my Icelandic dog leap in the air and pounce like a fox onto a vole– who’s long gone…

    Tom turkeys fighting over hens who could care less, who sit and preen and eat seeds and the males are ridiculous, necks twisted together, eyes bugged out. Waddles red and flapping.

    The oil I get from rubbing a bull’s back. It’s like lanolin, but is distinctly bull-like and wonderful.

    Doing a quick sketch of a horse’s hoof and it looks cool! Creating art, which I am new to.

    Letting my horse stop at the best apple tree and eat until he has green foam all over his mouth. Then feeding him one from while I’m on him later on, just when he thinks the orgy is over.

    Hearing the sound of a rattlesnake buzz, and then seeing it’s too far to strike.

    Eye contact with an owl, or mountain lion, or hummingbird.

    Anytime “Stairway to Heaven” comes on the radio.

    Listening to the drum solo in “Take 5″ by Brubeck Quartet.

    Hearing the adagio in Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez.

    Reading “Annabel Lee” by Poe

    That’s enough. I’m in a better mood already. August 28, 2013 at 11:21am Reply

    • Victoria: I must say that reading all of these lists is the best mood booster, and I know that I will return to browse through these comments again and again. Thank you for taking me on a journey with you. August 28, 2013 at 11:52am Reply

    • george: It’s amazing how from this listing style of S Shonagon’s one can get such a concentrated panoramic vision of someone’s life; that’s such a great list Mough. August 28, 2013 at 1:03pm Reply

      • mough: Thanks! I live in a pretty cool area! August 28, 2013 at 6:35pm Reply

    • Annikky: What a list. I envy you! August 29, 2013 at 6:36am Reply

  • irem: Have purchased the Pillow Book the first time you mentioned it on your blog. Haven’t managed to read a single page yet :( Thank you for talking about it again. Will dig out my copy tonight.
    Love the scent of cardamom and peaches, too. Cardamom is such a unique spice, sweet and cool – or silvery as you put it – whereas all other sweet spices smell warm: cinnamon, anise, cloves mahlab etc. August 28, 2013 at 11:22am Reply

    • Victoria: Just open it randomly and start reading. Sometimes I just leaf through it until my eye falls on a particularly favorite passage, and then I can get lost in reading for hours.

      Or I open the book on a random page and start reading. It’s really like having a conversation with Sei Shonagon. On some days, she is lyricals, on others–grumpy. :) August 28, 2013 at 11:54am Reply

  • Allison C.: I wholeheartedly agree with Apres l’Ondee!

    Also, Givenchy III because it reminds me of my fabulous, sophisticated and warmhearted aunt.

    Brisk autumn air.

    Mystery books which I started reading when I was 12 during one summer on Martha’s Vineyard, so I always think of that time when I start a new mystery.

    Brazilian music from the 60s, especially sambas.

    Champagne with a candied rose petal! August 28, 2013 at 11:33am Reply

    • Victoria: A poignant list, Allison! I love getting a glimpse of everyone’s favorite things, which are all so different and so fascinating. August 28, 2013 at 11:55am Reply

  • Dain: Thank you for sharing this with us, Victoria. Your blog is one of my small and private pleasures. <3 August 28, 2013 at 11:45am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Dain! I’m so happy to hear this. August 28, 2013 at 11:56am Reply

  • Andy: I haven’t heard of The Pillow Book, but it certainly sounds like my kind of reading! Thinking of things that make my heart beat faster…

    - The sight of the first hummingbird to arrive in the garden in spring

    - The minutes before everyone is about to arrive for a party, when everything is finally set up, the food is just about ready, and the finishing touches are being placed!

    - When I make eye contact with an interesting stranger across the room, and we both hold it for a few seconds

    - Approaching the beach, the moments before I crest the dunes and catch a long-awaited glimpse of the sea August 28, 2013 at 11:46am Reply

    • Victoria: Given your knack of observation and for noticing fine details, I think that you will find much to enjoy about The Pillow Book. Sei Shonagon is likewise someone very sensitive to their surroundings. I realize that after I read her, I see everything around me in a different light.

      As I read your list, I got reminded of the anticipation of seeing the sea. When I was little, we would drive to the Black Sea coast during the summer, and I remember how excited I would be to catch a first glimpse of the sea. August 28, 2013 at 12:00pm Reply

      • Andy: Now I’m very interested in reading this book. Which translation of The Pillow Book do you read or suggest? There are many different versions, it seems. August 28, 2013 at 12:04pm Reply

        • Victoria: I’m partial to Ivan Morris’s, because it was the first English translation I’ve read. But I recently browsed through Meredith McKinney’s translation and liked it very much too. You can google and find samples online and compare them. August 28, 2013 at 12:20pm Reply

          • Andy: Thank you for the recommendations. I’m sure whichever translation I eventually get to reading will surely be interesting. August 28, 2013 at 3:54pm Reply

            • Victoria: Enjoy it, Andy! It will be a good book to take a break with from studies. August 29, 2013 at 4:38am Reply

        • george: I can’t comment on the best translation because I have only read one, but back in the day, I read it in the Penguin version, and felt as enthusiastic as Victoria does. I think it is the sort of book that is probably a joy to translate because of Sei Shonagon’s style, and it probably turns up mostly good translations. It is maybe best to get an addition with some sort of footnotes though. August 28, 2013 at 12:23pm Reply

          • Victoria: Ivan Morris’s translation is great for that, and the footnotes comprise the bulk of the book. It’s helpful, because he explains various elements that might have escaped a modern reader. It helps that Morris is a very good writer himself. August 28, 2013 at 12:26pm Reply

          • Andy: Sei Shonagon sounds like such a character! I’m already to looking at a break in my schedule in the next few months when I’m hoping to read The Pillow Book. August 28, 2013 at 3:56pm Reply

    • Ruth: Ah, Andy, I was thinking of hummingbirds too. I have three in my garden this year vying for access to my black and blue salvia. They are feisty, daring, and graceful. One is a rufous who positively glows in against the chartreuse leaves. The other two are Anna’s, one male with a brilliant fuchsia throat, and a female. Their green backs blend with the leaves. Watching them, my heart beats almost as fast as their wings. August 28, 2013 at 12:53pm Reply

  • Lucas: Smooth Jazz makes my heart beat faster, or rather slower with a soothe of the peaceful saxophone melodies and deep voices.
    New emails from friends or blog readers make my heart accelerate too August 28, 2013 at 12:08pm Reply

    • Victoria: Such beautiful things–music and letters. :) August 28, 2013 at 12:21pm Reply

  • george: How great to see that you have written an article on this! It’s a great book, and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who enjoy’s Victoria’s Blog because of the similarities between the two. August 28, 2013 at 12:20pm Reply

    • george: I also recommend the film The Pillow Book, which is a drama based around an author’s creating of book inspired by the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. It’s by Peter Greenaway but is one of his most accessible films. August 28, 2013 at 12:25pm Reply

      • Victoria: Gosh, this film brings back so many memories! I remember watching it several times when it first came out, since it had to do with The Pillow Book, languages and featured Ewan McGregor. Now as I think about it, I recall not so much the movie itself, but being in college, living in a crumbling old apartment and studying for exams at a nearby cafe. August 28, 2013 at 2:49pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, George! By the way, anyone who is interested in Japan of Sei Shonagon’s period should read Ivan Morris’s other book, The World of Shining Prince. He describes the way of life in the Heian era, and it’s a fascinating read. Perhaps you’re familiar with it already, but if not, I highly recommend it. August 28, 2013 at 2:41pm Reply

      • solanace: It’s going to my basket aliong with this annotated translation. :-) August 28, 2013 at 3:48pm Reply

      • Bethany: Judith Jedamus has written a novel, The Book of Loss, which is set during the Heian period; it centers around a poetess who’s a lady in waiting to the empress. The writing style is evocative and lyrical, and since it’s presented in diary format, it has a lot of Pillow Book type appeal. Perhaps something else to add to the Things To Be Read list? (Mine has long since spiraled out of control; I embrace its chaos. ;-)

        And just as an aside: my first comment ever here, but I read your blog regularly. It is, in short, *beautiful*, Victoria. So very refreshing in the terrible cacophony of the Internet. Thank you for what you do here. August 28, 2013 at 4:54pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you very much, Bethany, and welcome! I always love when someone delurks (or comments for the first time, in the blog speak), because it’s great to meet other people who love scents. The more the merrier. :)

          The Book of Loss sounds like a great recommendation for you, and I’ve already added it to my list. Keeping diaries was very common during the era, and a few have survived, but the beauty of Sei Shonagon’s diary is how modern it feels. August 29, 2013 at 4:59am Reply

  • Bettye: Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. No other words necessary for your column today, Victoria. August 28, 2013 at 12:31pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Bettye! It’s all Sei Shonagon. :) August 28, 2013 at 2:51pm Reply

  • Anka: Very inspiring and mood lifting to read all the comments!
    I’m adding: Good jokes and comedy like “Little Britain” or a special kind of humor in general, political courageousness, unexpected friendlyness, to go on a journey (even armchair travelling via photographs, film or literature) etc. August 28, 2013 at 1:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for mentioning “Little Britain,” which is so irreverent and so great. My husband and I have a variety of little sayings between us from the show. My favorite is “I want that one” (Lou and Andy), while his is “Computer says no” (Carol). August 28, 2013 at 2:53pm Reply

      • Anka: The same here! My husband’s favorite is
        “Äh-äh-ääääähhhh” (Anne) especially when she is pretending to be Céline Dion.
        I adore Matt Lucas and David Walliams! August 28, 2013 at 4:34pm Reply

        • Victoria: I’m laughing out loud, Anka! I love that one too. August 29, 2013 at 4:46am Reply

  • Nancy A.: Today’s post is thought provoking and offers up the opportunity to express what we often keep within us — secrets. Having said that what makes my heart beat a little faster:

    When my (now deceased) Yorkie’s sense of humor, his “dancing” on his hind legs and wide grin when I walked in the door.
    Perfume when it captivates me on first scent
    All things French – from street scenes, country villages, interiors, etc. you get the message
    Flowers, flowers
    The wonderful soundtrack from The Hours – one of Glassberg’s highly moving compositions. Now there was interesting woman, Virginia Woolf.
    Watching Rafael Nadal hit the breaking point at the Southern Open, such dedication and passion
    Passion, in general
    Brazilian Music, Classical music, Jazz, Nina Simone (too numerous too mention)
    The creativity process from conception to completion
    Beautiful interiors
    Babies innocent eyes and little fingers/toes/nails – fascinating

    This is what makes Bois de Jasmin such an interesting website so thank you for that. August 28, 2013 at 1:08pm Reply

    • Victoria: I could read all of these lists and re-read them again and again. Thank you, Nancy. Your mention of Nina Simone made me put on the CD the moment I returned home. She makes me feel something bittersweet, something I can’t express that easily, but all the same, it makes my heart beat faster. August 28, 2013 at 2:55pm Reply

    • Annikky: A great list and thank you for including Nadal – I’m a compulsive sport watcher and glad not to be alone in this. August 29, 2013 at 6:38am Reply

  • Nancy A.: Oops! Correction: Philip Glass is the mastermind composer of The Hours. August 28, 2013 at 1:40pm Reply

  • Hannah: Oh, thank you for reminding me about the Pillow Book. I mean to research the Heian period this summer.

    What makes my heart beat faster…
    -Pepper. I always have to smell it if I see it sitting on the counter.
    -Taking the M29 bus from Anhalter Bhf to Görlitzer Bhf, to go to my friend’s cafe.
    -Pflaumenkuchen (especially with Cortado mit Milchmädchen at aforementioned cafe)
    -That first sip of Thai milk tea.
    -Chestnuts. Roasted chestnuts, chestnut puree, chestnut macarons, crepes with chestnut paste.
    -I have this kinchaku bag that a Japanese exchange student gave me. It is made with a patchwork of different fabrics with different patterns, and each piece is gorgeous.
    -Seeing the little rabbit in my backyard
    -My Helmut Lang dress
    -Masala chai at an Indian restaurant, rather than a chai latte from a powdered mix
    -Donna Karan Black Cashmere August 28, 2013 at 1:48pm Reply

    • Victoria: I mentioned another Ivan Morris’s book to George earlier, but if you’re interested in the Heian period, you might like The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan. Well-researched and well-written.

      Oh, you and I share a love for everything chestnut. One of the reasons I love late fall-winter is because it’s the chestnut season. Of course, canned chestnuts are available all year round, but nothing compared to the freshly roasted ones. August 28, 2013 at 2:59pm Reply

    • Anka: Ah, the Pflaumenkuchen sounds yummy! Could you tell me the name of the Café, since I’m around this area today (Manteuffelstr.)? August 29, 2013 at 2:38am Reply

      • Hannah: Cafe Mori, on Wiener Strasse August 29, 2013 at 12:01pm Reply

        • Anka: Thanks! August 29, 2013 at 2:45pm Reply

  • Deborah: I believe that the speed of life and the increase in technology somewhat detract from true happiness, although they make life more convenient. When I look through so many of these lists what we are all thinking of is getting back to a more original sense of pleasure that we don’t get from running around at the speed of light like most of us do these days. This summer I stopped doing so much and spent days sitting on my doorstep watching the breeze move the trees. The thought of doing that for the upcoming 3 day weekend (Labor Day in USA) makes my heart beat faster, and the smell of my sweet peas and the sight of the humming birds in them. August 28, 2013 at 2:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: Your observation is so spot on, Deborah! I’ve definitely been feeling it as the pace of my life has sped up over the past couple of years. I’m often feeling that I’m running just to stay in one spot (to paraphrase Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen), and I don’t know how I would manage if it weren’t for some of these simple pleasures. And of course, writing.

      I wish you a wonderful holiday of endless, carefree, languorous days. August 28, 2013 at 3:08pm Reply

      • Deborah: Have started my restful weekend and nearly was nibbled by a hummingbird, who mistook my blouse for flowers! Hoping for calm and recuperation for all. Thank you Victoria. August 31, 2013 at 7:32pm Reply

        • Victoria: You too, Deborah! Enjoy the holiday weekend with hummingbirds. :) September 2, 2013 at 3:37am Reply

  • Claire: I especially enjoyed this post!! I read “The Pillow Book” a long time ago and it’s time to read it again. One thing that makes my heart beats faster is seeing a face of a loved one in the most unexpected place; like seeing my toddler son in my work place. It just made my day and made my heart, well, beat faster :-) For perfume, for me it was Eden by Cacharel, it was first love, coup de foudre. August 28, 2013 at 2:11pm Reply

    • Victoria: :) Just opened up The Pillow Book randomly, and in her list of Adorable Things, she mentions this:
      “A baby of two or so is crawling rapidly along the ground. With his sharp eyes he catches sight of a tiny object and, picking it up with his pretty little fingers, takes it to show to a grown-up person.”

      Why are baby fingers and especially fingernails so cute? I spent the weekend with my friend and her 1 year old, and I could stop cooing over her little hands and feet. :) August 28, 2013 at 3:11pm Reply

  • Eva S.: Ice and snow.
    Mountains.
    Walking by the ocean.
    Skiing.
    Horses and dogs.

    My favourite things…. August 28, 2013 at 2:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: When I read your beautiful list, I thought of the world of Ditte Isager, Danish photographer:
      http://www.ditteisager.dk/
      She shots a lot in the cool-grey color scheme and horses, ocean, snow and ice are some of her outstanding themes. August 28, 2013 at 3:13pm Reply

      • Eva S.: Thank you for mentioning Ditte Isager, I love her photos!
        Your comment was heartwarming for me, I felt somehow that my list stod out in a strange way.
        Lots of people is not so in love with snow and winter like I am… ;) August 29, 2013 at 3:09pm Reply

        • Victoria: I do too! I can’t explain why, but snowy landscapes are so beguiling and mysterious.
          Among Isager’s photos, this series also stood out to me:
          http://www.ditteisager.dk/?p=962
          Haven’t we seen enough pictures of Venice? Yes, we have, but nothing like these ones. August 29, 2013 at 3:25pm Reply

  • minette: thanks for the book recommendation. it sounds lovely. and reminds me to attend to my own observations and writings.

    if one believes in reincarnation, it’s not so hard to imagine a soul such as hers having “modern” thoughts. that was what came to mind as i read that… ha.

    things that make my heart beat faster include:
    my cat, george; a good-looking man (musician charlie sexton would be a prime example of a good-looking man in my book) looking me straight in the eye and smiling (thank you, charlie and murry!); anyone’s totally honest smile and laughter; certain songs; the top of the puye cliffs in new mexico in cool weather; helping someone figure something out about themselves – something that helps them live life more happily.

    perfume-wise? femme de rochas still works as a time machine for me, and that gives me a lift. also love woodsmoke on the winter air. and the smell of rain falling on a sidewalk.

    cheers! August 28, 2013 at 3:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: And a reply from Sei Shonagon herself:
      “Pleasing things: finding a large number of tales that one has not read before. Or acquiring the second volume of a tale whose first volume one has enjoyed. But often it is a disappointment.” I think that if you liked a little glimpse of her writings, you will enjoy the book. I sometimes read just one passage before starting my work, because it sets the right tone for the whole day.

      Thank you for sharing your list! I’m off to google Charlie Sexton! ;) August 28, 2013 at 3:17pm Reply

      • minette: enjoy charlie! he’s a gorgeous man in more ways than one. (check out his work with the arc angels as well as his solo stuff).

        i love her reply! she’s right.

        sounds like you are using her writings as a sort of meditation. that’s a really great idea.

        my energy-working friend would suggest that by surrounding yourself with higher vibrations (with music, flowers, essential oils (rose vibrating at the highest rate), spices, healthy foods, art you love, words with a positive energy, etc.) you will be more easily able to maintain your high vibration.

        you do this intuitively, i can tell via your posts. and by sharing your higher vibrations, you help lift ours. :) August 29, 2013 at 2:52pm Reply

        • Victoria: Your observation is so interesting, and yes, I do use her book as a meditation. It’s perfect for that, since the writing has a sensibility that appeals to me. In turn, the thoughts, friendships and observations that all of you share with me are the nicest gift. For this reason, while blogging is timeconsuming, I never think of it in terms of work. August 29, 2013 at 3:15pm Reply

  • Rachel Bramble: Seeing an old lover
    Candlelight
    Getting into bed when the sheets are fresh and smell of sunshine
    The first sip of coffee in the morning
    Looking at mountains
    Hearing waves crash on the beach

    Such a lovely topic, thank you! August 28, 2013 at 3:05pm Reply

    • Victoria: This list is like a little poem itself, Rachel.

      You know, I have never lived near the mountains, nor have I spent much time exploring the mountains, but whenever I’m someplace where I can see the peaks, I feel such an excitement. So, I can definitely relate. August 28, 2013 at 3:19pm Reply

  • Shendel: Victoria, it is always such a pleasure to read your posts. You really made me so curious about Apres l’Ondee, and this week I finally tried it. Unfortunately it’s too weird for my nose, so I learnt not to get too impressed with your prose! (That is compliment)

    Anyway, certainly the mailman with a box from overseas always makes my heart beat faster. I’m also a book lover and collector, so most of the times this box contains books. The ones that smell better come from The Folio Society. Oh, they smell so good! I also love cardamom, coffee and my nephew’s little baby scent, and watching him giving his first steps does make my heart beat faster with joy and a little fear too.

    Watching great animals running, like felines and beautiful horses make my heart beat a lot faster, as well as catching a great moment in time when I photograph. August 28, 2013 at 3:29pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, if you’ve tried it only once, please don’t dismiss it just yet. Actually, it takes 5 to 10 attempts to figure out if you truly dislike something (a fact!) While it doesn’t mean that you should torture yourself with something you don’t like, the best part of exploring scents is in courting them a little. You may never like Apres L’Ondee, you may even hate it, but who knows what subsequent revisits might reveal. But of course, do take my writing with a grain of salt, since scent preferences are so personal.

      Cardamom and coffee is such an exhilarating combination. And I understand so well the excitement of a mailman carrying books. I often start opening my packages straight in the elevator. August 28, 2013 at 3:40pm Reply

      • Shendel: Ok, I will try more times. I didn’t hate it, just thought it was strange.

        When I first tried Bois des Iles I wasn’t very impressed at first, and now it’s my favorite. ;-) August 28, 2013 at 4:22pm Reply

        • Victoria: Strange is not such a bad thing! :) August 29, 2013 at 4:46am Reply

          • solanace: In my book, strange is downright good! :) August 29, 2013 at 2:12pm Reply

            • Victoria: Better than boring, I suppose. Like my ballet teacher would say, “be wrong, forget a step, but never be boring (and never be off music).” August 29, 2013 at 3:09pm Reply

  • Lavanya: What a lovely post and I am thoroughly enjoying (and nodding my head to) several of the comments. I feel like I need to bookmark this post so I can read everybody’s comments at leisure.

    Off the top of my head:
    1) The first glimpse of the ocean while driving
    2) The thought of eating pani puri, or raw Indian mangoes dipped in chili powder and salt
    3) A Degas painting
    4) The scent of rajnigandha/tuberoses
    5) Walking into a second hand bookstore
    6) Misty breath on a hill station

    And I was reading your list of favorite foreign films- And I remember Wong Kar Wai’s ‘In the mood for love’ being one of my ‘first favorites’. I love the background music every time they’d walk down the stairs to buy noodles. As I type this I’m having a sort of deja vu- I’m sure I’ve said this to you before on a another post..:) August 28, 2013 at 3:55pm Reply

    • Lavanya: Oh and I have to add receiving handwritten letters in the mail, which unfortunately is such a rare occurrence nowadays. August 28, 2013 at 3:58pm Reply

    • Shendel: Oh, yes, the first glimpse of the ocean when I’m driving, going down those mountains covered by the rain forest down here in my state, Sao Paulo, Brazil. It’s amazing. August 28, 2013 at 4:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve already bookmarked this post, because all of the lists you guys shared are special. Just the thought of raw mangoes and pani puri makes my mouth water! In India I’m always tempted by the street vendors selling them, although I haven’t been brave to try, or rather, the family would faint if I did. I always feel like a little child wanting street food, as they pull me away from the cart saying, “no, that’s no good, we will make it for you at home.” :)

      I once had a soundtrack CD to In the Mood for Love, and I love its idiosyncratic combination of tango and Chinese songs. The whole movie is perfection, from the cinematography and acting to costumes and styling. August 29, 2013 at 4:46am Reply

      • Lavanya: haha..I could just imagine the scene (with you and the street vendors) as you described it. That statement is soo familiar..My mother always preemptively makes pani puri at home. But you know, recently I had the yummiest puchka (Calcutta version of pani puri) in a tiny restaurant in NYC called ‘thelewala’- it was absolutely delicious!!

        Another film scene that ‘gladdens my heart’ is the one from ‘discreet charm of the bourgeoisie’ when all of them are just walking.

        A recent reading pleasure is Herta Muller’s book : Land of green plums’- have you read her? August 29, 2013 at 10:41am Reply

        • Victoria: They’re extremely protective, which is understandable. But then my husband and I took a walk on our own around the markets of Mumbai following the instructions from our guidebook. It was one of my best Indian experiences. We didn’t eat from the street carts, but instead we’ve discovered a great Mughal style restaurant serving various grilled meats and it was fantastic. I’m still craving their lamb kebabs.

          I haven’t read this book, and I will take a look at it on Amazon. Thank you, Lavanya! August 29, 2013 at 11:05am Reply

          • Lavanya: You are most welcome! :)

            Mumbai is going to be my base when I visit India this December (since my parents are moving there and my sister and family also live there). Which guidebook did you refer to? I have been very curious about the ‘Love Travel series’ of travel books written by an expat. I was skeptical at first but read an excerpt of the Bangalore one and found that she did mention a lot of non-touristy stuff. My sister has the bombay one – I’m looking forward to reading it..
            Which area did you take a walk in? August 29, 2013 at 12:02pm Reply

            • Victoria: I believe that it was Lonely Planet’s Best of Mumbai, but I will check if I still have it here. Mumbai is exciting and unlike any other city in India (well, none of them are!)
              P.S. I just found the walk we did:
              http://www.fodors.com/world/asia/india/mumbai-/feature_30048.html

              Fodors describes it as some extreme tourism thing (“the walk is not for the faint of heart blah blah”), but it wasn’t like that at all. Sure, it’s not a walk down Fifth Avenue, but it was fun, people were helpful and you get to experience different markets. August 29, 2013 at 3:03pm Reply

              • Lavanya: Yeah- I have visited Mumbai a few times and you are right- it *is* an exciting city. Thanks for the link to the walk I will check it out. August 29, 2013 at 7:27pm Reply

  • solanace: When I make the kids laugh
    Looking at the sky
    Trekking through the Atlantic Forest
    Spotting wild animals
    Visiting arbitrary places, where normal people live, when I travel. That’s where I tend to get my fondest memories
    Listening to Monsueto or Abertha Hunter
    Small cinemas
    A good blockbuster – Gravity, anyone?
    Walking in the city center, searching for old books and LP records
    Red meat, prepared by my husband. With argula, cherry tomatoes and beer, the way we do here.

    It’s such a pleasure to join the talk with Sei, Victoria and this amazing bunch! I can barely hear the book breathing. August 28, 2013 at 4:35pm Reply

    • solanace: And Rome. I gotta add Rome. August 28, 2013 at 4:40pm Reply

    • Victoria: I kept saying “me too” as I read your list. How does your husband prepare red meat? Mine loves to grill and would grill just about anything at all! :) August 29, 2013 at 4:51am Reply

      • solanace: Grilled! He takes a 800g – 1kg nice piece of beef and puts it on a hot grill, fat side down. After the fat bubbles and turns crisp and golden he slices the meat in about four pieces to form wide steaks. He then seals each side, one steak at a time if it’s just us. An important feature of Brazilian barbecue is that it’s more fun if kept very informal. The argula and tomatoes are best eaten by hand, cocktail-style, and so is the meat, straight from the cutting board. It should “flow” for at lest three hours – preferably five, even if you have small children! But I’m starting to digresss. After the meat is sealed, he seasons it with coarse salt only (it is very important in Brazilian barbecue not to add any herbs and spices) and then cooks it a little more, as desired – we like it red. But the important thing is the final cut: he slices the steak thinly transversally, so that each piece is bite sized, like a thin sashimi slice, and has a tiny bit of that golden, crisp fat in the end. It can be dipped in a bowl of “farinha de mandioca” for a balanced and delicious meal. This is what our French friend Juliette called “an orgie de viande!” The beer is usually something heineken-style, must be almost freezing and should “flow” along with the meat. Cheers! :) August 29, 2013 at 6:14am Reply

        • Annikky: This sounds perfect. And I’m thrilled you mentioned Gravity, I’m looking forward to it (although, I’m embarrassed to say, I’m pretty sure I’d still prefer The Avengers in the end…) August 29, 2013 at 6:30am Reply

          • solanace: Oh, I’m eagerly expecting the new Avenger, too. Still, I think I’ll like Gravity better because there will be Clooney in his underwear. :-) August 29, 2013 at 8:49am Reply

            • solanace: Avengers, of couse! :-P August 29, 2013 at 8:50am Reply

            • Annikky: I do approve of the criteria you apply to films ;) August 29, 2013 at 12:57pm Reply

              • solanace: I’m such a serious cinephile! ;) August 29, 2013 at 2:13pm Reply

              • Victoria: Me too! :) August 29, 2013 at 3:09pm Reply

        • Victoria: I’m tempted to get on the plane right now! :)

          Seriously, it sounds amazing. I can just imagine the combination of perfectly grilled meat, tomatoes and arugula. And beer, of course. August 29, 2013 at 9:03am Reply

          • solanace: Google Ilha Grande, a nice bit of the Atlantic Forest, and you’ll hop in a plane! :)
            (I can’t manage to leave this thread, it is just too good.) August 29, 2013 at 9:22am Reply

            • Victoria: Please don’t! I’m enjoying everyone’s comments so much.

              Wow! Just googled it, and yes, this makes me want to visit even more. The color of water is stunning. August 29, 2013 at 10:50am Reply

            • Shendel: Do you live in Ilha Grande? I went there once… my ex was a herpetologist and we went to this institute… it was SO HOT there! August 29, 2013 at 11:55am Reply

              • solanace: I wish I lived there! Hélas, I live in Santo André, in metropolitan Sao Paulo. And I share your fondness for the first glimpse of the ocean going down Serra do Mar. :) August 29, 2013 at 12:15pm Reply

                • Shendel: I also live in the same “selva de pedra”, ZO of SP – capital. :-) August 29, 2013 at 12:23pm Reply

                  • solanace: Our rivers are a little hard on perfumistas! August 29, 2013 at 12:42pm Reply

  • E.Lime: watching my little daughter run at a group of ducks until they take flight

    barber’s violin concerto

    a summer thunderstorm

    my husband’s sideways smile

    finding the right words for a line in a poem

    familiar handwriting in the margin of a book August 28, 2013 at 6:42pm Reply

    • Victoria: Lovely! This could be a haiku! :) August 29, 2013 at 4:56am Reply

  • bobbie ann: Brahms’s Intermezzi for solo piano, Op. 117. The subtle change from late summer to fall that has taken me years to be able to detect here in Southern California. The attendant melancholy. Glimpsing the first blush of orange on the green persimmons on my neighbor’s tree. When they are ripe, my first child will be born! August 28, 2013 at 7:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: The way you’ve described it, I could smell the fall and see the persimmons changing color. So beautiful!
      And my warmest wishes for you and your little one! He/she must also be enjoying all of the sensory pleasures you’re experiencing now. August 29, 2013 at 4:55am Reply

  • Merlin: Here I go, hair-splitting yet again – but her list reads more like a compilation of ‘her favourite things’ than a list of things that would make the heart beat faster!

    ‘Sleeping in a room where incense has been burnt’ makes her heart beat faster? Certainly doesn’t sound like a restful night then:)

    To be startled by rain, well I guess that one would work; and to have a gentleman pull up in a carriage could be exciting and maybe seeing her mirror clouded has caused agitation. The rest of the impressions see wonderfully peaceful, lol! August 28, 2013 at 7:46pm Reply

    • Lavanya: haha..you are so right!!though I think she means excitement rather than agitation..:) August 28, 2013 at 10:13pm Reply

    • Victoria: You’ve made me laugh out loud, Merlin! You must be thinking of “things that make your heart pound” (of excitement or agitation, of adrenaline rush.) She’s describing something more subtle, like when you notice something that gives you a rush of pleasure. Nothing that makes you bounce off the walls, like rather feel something fluttery. Which is why she says “an inner pleasure” at one point. If you read her list from that point of view, it makes sense. And then again, the beauty of this list (of all her lists) is that they are idiosyncratic. I feel that on another day she might have written something completely different.

      By the way, she has a separate list for “Things that make the heart lurch with anxiety.” August 29, 2013 at 4:53am Reply

      • Merlin: And perhaps physiology is not at the forefront of her mind when writing this:) August 29, 2013 at 7:01am Reply

        • Victoria: Also, we’re talking about a translation of the 11th century Japanese into modern English. Just for reference, I look at my Russian translation, and the same passage is translated slightly differently. It’s titled “Things that Gladden the Heart” or “Things that Please the Heart”. August 29, 2013 at 8:58am Reply

          • minette: this part of the thread makes me think of chamade. The racing hearts of lovers. August 30, 2013 at 12:48am Reply

            • Victoria: Yes! I’m thinking of both the book by Sagan, the movie with Catherine Deneuve and the perfume. August 30, 2013 at 12:50pm Reply

          • Merlin: The vagaries of translation! August 30, 2013 at 1:21pm Reply

      • Rita Sanyal: Mozarts concertos, Richrd gere’s movies, stolen glances, my favorite faded Kaftan, long drives all by myself & new bottle of Chanel#19 makes my heart miss a beat!!!!! September 16, 2013 at 10:20am Reply

  • Joanna: I’ve had The Pillow Book on my “to read” list for quite awhile now, but after reading your latest post, up the list it goes! Beautifully expressed – thank you for sharing. August 28, 2013 at 8:39pm Reply

    • Victoria: I hope that you will enjoy it as much as I do, Joanna. Sei Shonagon’s personality shines through her writing, and she’s quite a character. August 29, 2013 at 5:03am Reply

  • Elizabeth: Oh, what a lovely topic! I would say mine are:

    The castle and orangerie in Schwerin, Germany. Google it, it is really worth seeing!

    The fragrance of old garden roses, the breeds that were developed before 1850.

    L’eau d’Hiver perfume. It smells like a crisp, cold winter morning.

    Hazlenut cream torte

    My fiance’s intensely blue eyes

    The smell of fresh jasmine flowers

    Lush Imogen Rose perfume. I wore it today and the drydown was as soft and comforting as goose down.

    And last but not least, my lace and tulle wedding dress. In a few months I will finally get to wear it! August 28, 2013 at 9:50pm Reply

    • Hannah: I’ve been to Schwerin. And obviously I saw the castle. August 28, 2013 at 11:04pm Reply

    • solanace: Googled. Germans know how to make a castle, huh? August 29, 2013 at 4:28am Reply

    • Victoria: How exciting! What style is your dress? I love weddings.

      The castle is something else, very impressive! August 29, 2013 at 5:44am Reply

      • Elizabeth: My dress is a ball gown with a lace bodice and tulle skirt, with crystal detailing around the waist. I can’t wait to wear it! August 29, 2013 at 7:13am Reply

        • Victoria: You will be like a fairy tale princess. Sounds so exquisite. August 29, 2013 at 9:05am Reply

  • Sally: What a thought provoking post and a wonderful way to remind oneself of things that inspire:
    After 27 years of marriage, my heart still dances when I first see my husband coming through the arrivals gate after a business trip;
    Finding a new tea tin to add to my collection;
    Waiting for a pot of Jasmine Silver Needle tea to brew and inhaling the amazing aroma before sipping;
    Opening each new copy of a Jim Butcher Dresden novel;
    Hearing the opening bars of the theme music to Game of Thrones;
    Seeing the first new spring shoots peeping up through the dark soil;
    Smelling the salt air of the ocean and remembering the excitement of going to the seaside as a child;
    Finding a new pair of boots (I *love* boots);
    Feeling the wheels lower as the plane approaches Heathrow airport when i go back to my homeland…
    And I think this will be a future heart warmer: Finding a new posting on your wonderfl blog – I’m so glad I found it! August 29, 2013 at 1:00am Reply

    • Victoria: What a fun list, Sally! It makes me want to brew a pot of jasmine tea right now. Isn’t the scent that rises forth from cup wonderful? No perfume promising jasmine tea compares.
      And thank you for your nice words. August 29, 2013 at 5:47am Reply

  • Figuier: I love the Pillow Book! I discovered it while in California on a student exchange programme, and used to tote it round everywhere with me. Must take it down from the bookshelf again…

    Things that make my heart beat faster:

    Bare trees silhouetted against the evening sky in winter
    Dahlias of any size or colour.
    Going out dancing and getting completely lost in the music & the moment
    Getting dressed in the morning and, by chance, assembling the perfect outfit.
    Meeting someone new and quickly realising you’re going to be friends.
    New poetry books
    The sea

    Smells:

    The smell of Sweden in summer: damp grass, pine needles and bark, hot stone and marshy Baltic seawater
    Freshly zested lemon peel
    Toasted walnuts
    Narcissus flowers
    Ripe figs
    Guerlain’s Terracotta as it dries down from spicy carnation to a floral vanilla August 29, 2013 at 4:13am Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve never been to Sweden, but in my mind it smells exactly how you’ve described it. And your mention of Terracotta is spot on for me, because I also love it’s drydown the most. It has a delicious warmth of vanilla, without too much of edible sweetness. August 29, 2013 at 5:51am Reply

      • Figuier: That’s exactly it – Terracotta is the only perfume I know of where the vanilla really appeals to me :) August 29, 2013 at 7:30am Reply

        • Victoria: It’s almost like vanilla that wants to be a flower, or a flower that wants to be a pastry. :) August 29, 2013 at 9:06am Reply

  • annemariec: Orange blossom. As the weather here finally relaxes into warmth, I am looking forward to assembling my orange blossom fragrances and testing some new ones. I’m going to try your orange blossom lemonade too, Victoria. And for saturday breakfast this weekend: crumpets slathered with honey mixed with orange flower water. August 29, 2013 at 4:33am Reply

    • Victoria: Sounds like a perfect orange blossom day! I hope that you will like that lemonade recipe.

      Like you, I can’t get enough of orange blossom. I once had a small potted orange plant that bloomed profusely (never bore fruit). I could inhale its aroma for hours. Not sure if I’ve asked you before but what is your favorite orange blossom perfume? August 29, 2013 at 5:53am Reply

      • annemariec: Orangers en Fleurs, and AG’s Neroli if the weather is humid. 24 Faubourg for class, and NR for Her aound the house. And Elie Saab! Sorry, but I love it.

        Funny you should mention potted orange. Just an hour ago I resolved to buy myself one this spring, and make it my special child. Much as I love orange flower in perfume, the real thing is even better. August 29, 2013 at 5:58am Reply

        • Victoria: Don’t apologize! I’m sure that it smells great on you. I have a friend who wears it, and it suits her perfectly.

          The orange plants are not hard to grow indoors, but when you buy one, make sure that it doesn’t have any yellow leaves. It’s a sure sign that it won’t survive. August 29, 2013 at 8:52am Reply

  • Olga R.: I found out about the book about 15 years ago, watching Peter Greenaway’s Pillow Book. I got obsessed with both the movie and the book and since then I’m giving it as a present to women I respect and love.

    When I read your question I told myself “There is only one thing that makes my heart beat faster”, but then, reading the lists, I started remembering things.

    The linden tree for instance. In the South of Spain where I live now it is too hot, so there are no linden trees, but last spring we travelled just 50 kms north and there it was, a linden tree, with its last flowers. It almost made me cry, as both my home town and the city where I spent my University years are drowning in linden trees and I have so many memories tied to this smell.

    Or textiles. I have the same “I just want to cry” feeling when I see beautiful embroidery, an old fabric or, best of all, hand-dyed yarn, with its “imperfect”, semisolid colors that makes it so beautiful.

    Leaving for the airport. Seeing new places, meeting new people, learning new things, something totally unexpected, everything can happen, even if it is just a one day business trip.

    Crossing the entrance of the Cordoba Mosque. It makes me feel a totally different person. I don’t mind the hundreds of tourists (although I’ve heard that for an extra you can visit it during closing hours). I won’t even try to explain it. You just have to experience it.

    As for that only thing I could think of right after reading your question… It is the feeling you have at the end of winter. You get out of your house very early in the morning. It is freezing cold. But the wind starts blowing and you smell it clearly: spring is coming. August 29, 2013 at 5:11am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for this lyrical list, Olga. I’ve always wanted to visit the Mosque in Cordoba, but your description makes me long to do so even more. August 29, 2013 at 5:57am Reply

      • Olga R.: Thank you :-) I wonder if you could do something about my typo (died – dyed) :-) August 29, 2013 at 6:14am Reply

    • annemariec: I love the way you write about linden. And where I live, the claws of winter are gone. Sigh … such a great feeling. August 29, 2013 at 6:01am Reply

      • Olga R.: Thank you :-) Where do you live?… August 29, 2013 at 6:15am Reply

        • annemariec: Australia, in one of the colder regions. We get frosty winters with lots of sunshine, but there is never much warmth in the sun. The air in spring just feels so much softer. August 29, 2013 at 7:16am Reply

    • Annikky: I love your list. And my longing to visit Southern Spain is now almost painful. August 29, 2013 at 6:25am Reply

      • Olga R.: Thank you :-) It is a strange place. All the tourist clichés are wrong and right at the same time. If you manage to come, do it during Holy Week. You’ll see the most loud, excessive and overwhelming show, the Holy Week processions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gL2RGv8JSUg
        The whole city smells of incense, wax, orange flowers, caramel…
        Well, this is not a travel blog, so if you decide to come, drop me a line and I’ll be happy to help you :-) August 29, 2013 at 7:21am Reply

    • Shendel: You sound like a fellow knitter! Lovely list! August 29, 2013 at 11:50am Reply

      • Olga R.: I can´t knit, but I do crochet. And I just love yarn. August 29, 2013 at 1:10pm Reply

        • Shendel: I love yarn too, I have enough yarn to crochet and knit for the rest of my life! August 29, 2013 at 1:33pm Reply

  • Annikky: Like Merlin, I was overthinking things – should it be about the moments of excitement? Or quiet pleasures? Everyday luxuries? That’s why I’m a day late and the list is a mess, but still:

    - complimenting strangers
    - getting compliments from strangers
    - movie trailers
    - people watching
    - Jack Russell terrier watching
    - first look of the Alexander McQueen autumn/winter collection
    - wind right before thunder
    - reading books, buying books, looking at books, smelling books, touching books, thinking about books
    - flirting
    - Arvo Pärt’s music
    - the smell of winter
    - a perfect lipstick
    - wild strawberries for breakfast
    - interesting women
    - my daughter bringing four snails to her bed and covering them lovingly with a blanket
    - first day of Olympic Games
    - dawn in a bog
    - caramel
    - walking alone on the streets of a big city on a good hair day
    - finding scents for my boyfriend and then smelling him August 29, 2013 at 6:14am Reply

    • Victoria: Whatever is conjured up in your mind as you read the passage is the only thing that matters. Who knows what she really thought, this woman separated from us by more than 1000 years ago.

      I love your list, and it’s not a mess at all. The thought of your daughter tucking snails into her bed is so sweet. That would fall right into Sei Shonagon’s “Adorable Things.” :) August 29, 2013 at 8:59am Reply

      • Sally: It struck me, Victoria, when I read “this woman separated from us by more than 1000 years” that while a millennium does indeed separate us, her words have inspired us all to connect here and in turn, link us with her. It is amazing to think that a woman long passed/past can speak to us still. August 30, 2013 at 4:12am Reply

        • Victoria: So true, Sally! It’s such a testament to her talent and her ability to touch the chord in us, even though the modern world couldn’t more different from the Heian era Japanese court. August 30, 2013 at 12:57pm Reply

    • solanace: Kids are the best! And your good hair day comment is so true. August 29, 2013 at 2:16pm Reply

    • Teresa: I love the part about your daughter lovingly tucking the snails into bed! That really brought a smile to my face :)

      Hi Victoria,

      This is my first comment, I think. I have really enjoyed your blog, since the time I was staying in the netherlands, till now, when I am back in singapore.

      Something that made my heart beat faster:
      The first snow drops, when I was in the netherlands. Suddenly the world had a kind of hush about it. September 1, 2013 at 11:43am Reply

      • Victoria: Thank you very much, Teresa! I completely understand what you mean about the first snowfall. It seems as if everything comes to a standstill. September 2, 2013 at 3:34am Reply

  • NeenaJ: I’ve added this book to my cart. Thank you for the wonderful recommendation! Reading all the lovely comments has been a kind of meditation – quire welcome, as I was feeling cranky this morning. Here is my list:

    -The sound of the ocean waves before you can see them, replacing self-talk with sounds of the void.
    -Bob Dylan’s “Meet Me in the Morning,” running off with a randy, young Dylan is the perfect antidote to an otherwise dull day.
    -A Kanzan cherry blossom tree, feeling the soft, full bloom across your cheek.
    -Getting a package in the mail, wondering the effect the contents will have.
    -The scent of pine and juniper, grounding and giving me strength at the same time. Fille en Aiguelles, FTW.
    -Picking up my 3 year old son from preschool, who, when he sees me, lights up and yells, “Mommmieeeee!” August 29, 2013 at 10:25am Reply

    • Victoria: If the thread made you smile and lifted your mood, then it’s already served its purpose. I’m very happy to hear this. :)
      Your list is lovely! August 29, 2013 at 10:57am Reply

  • rainboweyes: I love all your lists… They help me realise how many little things actually make us happy…

    Here some of the things that make my heart jump:

    - the scent of irises and peonies in my garden

    – waiting for the first flower buds to open in the spring. What will the tulips, hyacinths and daffodils I planted in the autumn look like? I plant different varieties every year, so there is always an element of surprise…

    - the sound of the first swallows in the air announcing the beginning of summer

    - watching birds and dragonflies at our pond

    - our summer holidays at my family’s place in Southern Spain. Sitting on the terrace and watching the sun disappear behind the mountains, then watching the shooting stars (there are plenty of them in a certain period in August)

    - swimming in the pool with the scent of roses and jasmine bushes blending above my head…

    - getting compliments about perfume

    - discovering new iris scents

    - my boys’ angel-like faces when they are asleep August 29, 2013 at 11:45am Reply

    • Victoria: There is a wonderful French sayings, “little joys make for one big happiness,” and your list is a reflection of that. You make me long for the lazy summer days with your descriptions. August 29, 2013 at 2:53pm Reply

  • Maja: Oh, I should put the Pillow Book on my list immediately! Thank you for the recommendation. :)

    The very first snowflakes swirling under city lampposts always make me excited as well as trains, planes and traveling to new places. Also the sight of my child when I pick him up at school as I can’t wait to see him. Emails from old friends and lovers, first cherries of the season and, I don’t know why, but simply walking into a library or a bookshop makes me have butterflies in my stomach every single time. August 29, 2013 at 11:49am Reply

    • Victoria: The snowflakes turning the endless fouettes in the pale glow of the street lamps is such a gorgeous image. Just thinking about it makes my heart skip a beat (I’m obviously a Northern girl at heart). :) August 29, 2013 at 2:54pm Reply

      • maja: The summer has been torrid. I am actually craving snowy evenings. The sight of the pile of books by my bed waiting for me since the beginning of June is comforting. It is going to be ginger tea, masala chai and Kenzo Junglish/Coromandelish coziness very soon :) August 30, 2013 at 4:40am Reply

        • Victoria: I just saw that next week we’re still anticipating around 25-26C, and it almost made me depressed. I want some chill. Clearly, Belgium is messing me up. :) August 30, 2013 at 12:58pm Reply

  • Maren: What a lovely thought provoking post. I had not heard of this book before and can’t wait to seek out a copy.

    What comes first to mind for my list:
    I love the mornings at our lake place when the light sparkles like diamonds off the water. I will never, ever grow tired of being delighted by that sight.

    I get excited to see and smell a large stand of iris in spring.

    The sound of crows cawing back and forth to each other in the woods.

    Beautiful choral music, especially the wonderful dissonant harmonies of Eric Whitacre.

    My first glimpse of the snowy egrets when they return in the spring where I live.

    Large open rolling fields and sky, no matter what the season is.

    A walk through the woods at the peak of autumn color.

    Realizing through conversation and humor that you just “get” someone.

    Being tuned into and savoring scents and fragrance, in no small part, thanks to you Victoria and this blog.

    I could think of more, and I will, after reading everyone’s inspiring posts. August 29, 2013 at 12:41pm Reply

    • Victoria: This must be my favorite comment thread thanks to all of these beautiful, poignant lists. Thank you very much, Maren. You’ve inspired me to search for Eric Whitacre online to hear some of his music. August 29, 2013 at 3:06pm Reply

      • Maren: Victoria, His composition Lux Aurumque is a beautiful example of his work. He also has a fascinating project called The Virtual Choir, where singers from all over the world record themselves and then they are edited into a video. This video of Lux Aurumque was the first Virtual Choir project. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7o7BrlbaDs
        He’s done four of them now, the 4th has over 5,000 singers contributing. August 29, 2013 at 9:36pm Reply

        • Victoria: Spellbinding! Hearing this beautiful pieces gave me shivers down my spine. Thank you so much for sharing the link. August 30, 2013 at 12:35pm Reply

    • Anne of Green Gables: Oh, Eric Whitacre is amazing! Another composer I like is Morten Lauridsen. When I listen to his ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ it feels like eternity. August 30, 2013 at 8:09pm Reply

  • Shendel: How could I forget this? Taking a newly knitted item out of the pins after blocking and trying it for the first time makes my heart swell with joy! August 29, 2013 at 12:48pm Reply

    • Victoria: Doesn’t accomplishing something like this feel incredible! I don’t knit or crochet or do much with my hands, except for cooking, but I can understand the feeling. August 29, 2013 at 3:08pm Reply

  • Shendel: This thread is great. I will come back when I feel the blues just to read all the posts again! August 29, 2013 at 12:49pm Reply

    • Victoria: Me too! It’s such a fantastic thread of replies. August 29, 2013 at 3:08pm Reply

  • Natalia: This is such a fascinating discussion! So many interesting comments, and so revealing.

    Here is a bit of me.

    What makes my heart beat faster.

    The first few seconds as the aircraft takes you up in the air. The thrill and the excitement of the new discoveries ahead!

    The anitcipation of the sight of water as a sea or an ocean is about to appear on the horizon.

    The smell that brings back a cherished memory.

    Dancing on the beach to a great uplifting trance tune on my iPod. It’s exhilirating.

    Like you, I find it exciting to discover a new scent which I know immediately is going to be something most treasured.

    The lights of big cities at midnight.

    When looking at someone who is old, perhaps tired and wrinkled, a sudden revelation how beautiful they looked when they were young. And you start seeing that beauty in them now.

    The autumn sun shining through fragile leaves.

    The jingels of spring in late February.

    Free verse. When it’s good.

    Powerful endings in films and literature. August 29, 2013 at 2:57pm Reply

    • Victoria: So beautiful, Natalia! Isn’t it fascinating how often anticipation of something appears in our lists? We live in a world where gratification can be so instant, and yet the pleasure is often in the anticipation of pleasure.

      What book or movie ending makes your heart beat faster? August 29, 2013 at 3:29pm Reply

      • Natalia: Oh, there is plenty :)

        Breakfast at Tiffany’s (the film)
        Dead Poets Society
        Shawshank Redemption
        One Flew Over The Cucoo’s Nest (unfortunately, I never read the book, so talking about the movie here)
        Breaking the Waves
        Nabokov’s “The Luzhin Defense”
        Nabokov’s “The Eye” (well, I’d say most of Nabokov’s works qualify)
        Camus’ “The Stranger”
        Remarque’s “Arch of Triumph”
        and so on… August 29, 2013 at 4:07pm Reply

        • NeenaJ: Dead Poets Society gets me every time! August 29, 2013 at 4:43pm Reply

        • Victoria: What a great list! I’m especially thrilled to see Remarque’s “Arch of Triumph” on yours. I love this novel, and it was the start of my love affair with Remarque. The book I’ve read the most times in my life must be his “Heaven Has No Favorites,” which I pretty much know by heart. People often know of his wonderful “All Quiet on the Western Front,” but I haven’t met many others who read anything else besides that. August 30, 2013 at 12:11pm Reply

          • Annikky: Heaven Has No Favorites was my first Remarque and I absolutely adored this book in my teens. It’s probably still my favourite Remarque (I read most of them during an epic binge when I was very young) and I was actually thinking a few days ago that I should reread it. August 30, 2013 at 12:28pm Reply

            • Victoria: What a thrill to find not just one but two Remarque lovers! “Heaven Has No Favorites” was my mom’s favorite novel, and she gave it to me when I was a teen. I was so moved by it that I even remember writing a maudlin poem inspired by it. I so wish I still had my old poetry notebooks, but it’s hard to keep things in this nomadic lifestyle.

              In fact, my biggest regret so far is not taking all of my poetry notebooks and “novels” that I’ve written as a teen when I left for the US. Someone just threw them away. I have only one notebook with my writings left, but in some ways it’s the most precious one, because it was the first one. I started it when I was 8. August 30, 2013 at 1:22pm Reply

              • Aisha: It’s never too late! I’d love to read your original works. If your blog posts about perfume can move me and so many others, I can only imagine how beautiful your poetry would be. In other words … if you ever decide to write a book, let me know so I can buy it. :-) August 30, 2013 at 7:20pm Reply

                • Victoria: :) Thank you, but I don’t think my poetry was that great. Since the notebook were thrown away without my knowledge, we will never read my “early” works. But that’s for everyone’s best. :) September 2, 2013 at 3:36am Reply

  • Aisha: I loved reading this post — and all the comments! (Actually, I’m still reading the comments. :-) )

    I have a small notebook that I keep with me in my purse, in which I write down things that bring me joy. I’ve got everything in there from the smell of paprika and the sound of leaves crunching underfoot, to the sugary sparkle of frost-covered trees and the feel of my favorite velvet skirt. I try to write in there everyday, but I’ve gone weeks now without doing so. It really does put life in to perspective. August 29, 2013 at 5:05pm Reply

    • Victoria: When I read “the sugary sparkle of frost-covered trees,” it made me realize how much I miss the snow. I will think of this often. Thank you for sharing all of these beautiful vignettes. August 30, 2013 at 12:14pm Reply

  • MaureenC: Hi Victoria, when checking out the pillow book (inspired by your intriguing piece) I came across a BBC radio 4 drama series by Robert Forrest with Shonagon as his central character. They seem to be available on iplayer so I shall check them out as well as the original!
    The end of Jane Austen’s Persuasion makes my heart beat faster but also brings a lump to my throat as it depicts the romantic resolution Jane didn’t get for herself August 30, 2013 at 3:10am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Maureen! I’m definitely going to look for these series.

      Reading anything by Jane Austen is such a pleasure, and since I haven’t read Persuasion yet, my hearts skips a beat as I anticipate it. I have the book on my desk right now. August 30, 2013 at 12:54pm Reply

  • Ines: The first thing to come to my mind was running. :D I couldn’t help it.
    I know that’s not what you asked but that is what gets my hearts beating faster these days. ;)
    For the true answer to your question, I am mentally exhausted, so not much can actually get me out of my tiredness.
    My upcoming trip to Rome. Summer t-storms. Finding a good book. A glass of single malt. Fish on the barbecue. August 30, 2013 at 7:28am Reply

    • Victoria: I wish you a wonderful trip, Ines! Rome is beautiful all year around, and I can imagine why you’re anticipating your visit already. Great scenery, great food, beautiful people. August 30, 2013 at 12:59pm Reply

  • Ariadne: Watching my Night Blooming Cereus present a bloom which just recently coincided with the recent full moon. Talk about exotic scents! August 30, 2013 at 9:59am Reply

    • Victoria: This must be incredible! What does it smell like? August 30, 2013 at 1:01pm Reply

      • Ariadne: When NB Cereus blooms its scent permeates the entire surroundings with something akin to jasmine, gardenia, grapefruit, and something “dusky”. The flower is a canteloupe sized mad spikey thing in opalescent white emerging from a dark rose swan neck curved stem…. (only the swan would be hanging upside down.) September 2, 2013 at 3:16pm Reply

  • julia: i love the pillow book. sei shonagon was such a character – witty, funny, eloquent, with the ability to see and appreciate beauty in small, commonplace things.

    other than my palpitation-inducing upcoming exams, things that make my heart beat faster include:

    a hard-hitting line from a good novel (recently i went through jonathan safran foer’s “everything is illuminated” with a fountain pen, underlining every line i particularly liked – i think i must’ve underlined 1/5th of the text)

    in a similar vein, beautiful poetry (“I would like to be the air that inhabits you for a moment only. I would like to be that unnoticed and that necessary.” – Margaret Atwood)

    satie’s gymnopedie #1; the soundtrack from curse of the golden flower

    frederic malle’s en passant

    my mother’s collection of old chinese silk tapestries

    the scene in the mood for love where they’re acting out their spouses’ adulterous affair in the goldfinch restaurant, and the scene where they just miss each other

    tea, tea, tea

    cumin – yes, i love it! must be the muslim-northeast-chinese blood in me … there’s nothing better than the fragrance that wafts up from sprinkling some cumin into the rice cooker.

    your list is lovely, and i thoroughly agree with all the items on it minus sandalwood, which i have yet to smell. (or if i have already, i was not aware of it.) August 30, 2013 at 10:18am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m enjoying your list very much too, Julia! Thank you for posting it. (And I wish you lots of luck with your exams!)

      Oh, more fans of “In the Mood for Love”. We talked about it earlier in this thread with Lavanya. I love the scenes you mentioned. So poignant! August 30, 2013 at 1:04pm Reply

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