Where Jasmine Forest Blooms

Like bits of colored glass inside a kaleidoscope, the scent constellations shift constantly around you. You can go about your day without much thought to anything but the affairs at hand, when suddenly the right combination of talcum powder, hot asphalt and cut grass whisks you out of your routine and into the scene years ago, when you grazed your knee running too fast after an ice-cream truck and were soothed by an extra portion of chocolate sauce. Some scents mark you indelibly; they form the core of your memories, and time and again they return to haunt, delight or move you.

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Much of my scent vocabulary comes from Poltava, a town in central Ukraine where I spent all summers for the first 15 years of my life. I was born in the capital city of Kyiv, but Poltava, or rather a small hamlet in the town’s suburbs, is our family nest. My mother’s line can trace its roots to this region as far back as the 17th century, and although in its complex and tumultuous history four centuries are hardly ancient, this land exhorts an inexorable pull on me.  I can describe without much effort how many trees are in the orchard and which of the peeling grey shutters has a difficult to use hook, but I also can recall the exact scent inside the water tank, the damp warmth of the tool shed, and the bitter, raspy odor of dandelion flowers on the compost pile.

You, my readers, have breathed in these scents along with me, because this is the place, where Bois de Jasmin, my jasmine forest, got its first tender shoots. When describing the fragrance of carnations, roses or antique wood, I thought not of the fantasy blooms that inspired Caron’s Bellodgia or Guerlain’s Nahéma, but my great-grandmother’s carnation patch, rose garden, and termite marked chests of drawers. It’s about time I took you to very place that inspired Bois de Jasmin, to my great-grandparents’ house in Poltava. My grandmother still lives there, and she loves guests.

The tour of the town proper with its white neoclassical buildings and mint-green churches we leave for another time. Instead, we head into the countryside, through the quilt of vegetable gardens and cherry orchards dotted with whitewashed houses and roofed water wells. Our house is the pale pink one set into a lush thicket of cherry trees and lilac bushes. I’d rub the craggy bark of old cherry trees to offer you a sticky morsel of resin, a favorite childhood treat that tastes of licorice and myrrh, not unlike the edible version of Serge Lutens’s La Myrrhe.

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The house that inspired so many of my scented memories was built by my great-grandfather shortly after he returned from WWII, a young man whose head turned white and one of whose legs was left behind someplace in Kursk, across the Russian border. He resumed his teaching at the local school and devoted the rest of his life to his students, garden, and family. The grey roofed dwelling with dark enfilades and doors that creak at different registers was built by the soldiers of his division. When I walk around the house every evening to close the shutters, I wonder who decided to add the frilly brick decorations over the windows, which seem charmingly out of place on the austere facade.

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Lozenges of yellow sunshine decorate the floor in the gallery kitchen, and the red woven rugs smell of sesame and toasted bread. Open the cupboards, and it is one scented impression after another: stale chocolates and chamomile, dried mint and valerian drops, vanilla and allspice, rusty coffee tin and sunflower seed oil. But with my grandmother cooking one feast after another whenever anyone visits, the scented kaleidoscope moves in an exhilarating rush—the sweetness of sautéed onions, the earthy heft of potato peels, the anise pungency of dill, the burnt  caramel of scalded milk, and–the crowning glory–the musky seduction of roasted pork belly.

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Serge Lutens’s Cuir Mauresque may smell to others of Moroccan markets and French leather, but to me it smells of the bookcase in my great-grandparents’ bedroom.  My love for reading and for the sweet perfume of old paper grew as soon as I could pry open its stubborn glass doors. My great-grandparents are resting under a tall pine tree at a cemetery less than a mile away, but to us remains their slender bookcase with the rosette carvings, stuffed three rows deep with heavy, leather-bound volumes of Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Lermontov and Pushkin, Natasha Rostova and Pierre Bezukhov, Oksana and Ironsmith Vakula, Tatiana and Onegin. My grandmother changed the decor, but she kept the squeaky spring-form bed on which it’s so wonderful to curl up with a yellowing volume that smells of vanilla and crumbling leather.

The clock chimes, marking the hour ten minutes too early, and while we wait for dinner, we would wander to another scented treasure trove–small low buildings, collectively called sarai. The word sarai has ironic undertones, because in its original Persian sarai referred to a palace. But in modern Ukrainian, it’s a garden shed, and nothing about our sarai is regal.

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Dust dances in the air shot through with pale sunrays. When my great grandmother was alive, she stored rose and chrysanthemum cuttings here, and the green freshness dispersed the heavy musty odor. Today, the space is just a repository of old things. There are stacks of my late grandfather’s military coats, chairs with missing cushions, reproductions of famous paintings. The folk hero Ilya Muromets glances from his patinaed frame at the sad fairy tale maiden Alyonushka painted by a local plumber. Either his model was 6 feet tall or he finished the painting after several shots of vodka, but Alyonushka’s feet would better suit the hulk of Ilya Muromets than a waifish beauty. At first you might wonder why I took you here, but soon you notice the caramelized odor of dried immortelle and pin it down as a note in Annick Goutal’s Sables.

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The “winter kitchen,” as we call a separate house built for my grand uncle, is around the corner. My uncle died tragically before he could move in, and although the house is larger and newer than the one we occupy, we can’t imagine using it as living quarters. The sadness left its mark, and it’s used mainly for storage: drying onions, glass jars, garden supplies, laundry detergent, old newspapers from the 1970s telling the news of the Poltava sausage factories beating their production targets.

The space smells so much like Etro’s Messe de Minuit that for a moment I think that someone has spilled perfume. But no, it’s just the towering stacks of books and last year’s dried thyme. The time is measured by the monotonous buzz of the beetle hitting the misty glass of windows draped with lace curtains. I open the frame, let it out, and we watch it fly until it finally disappears behind the linden-treed horizon. We shake the plaster and cobwebs out of our hair, but the smell of old books and wet wood lingers on the skin.

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The garden beckons with its secret lilac groves, grape vine festooned cherry trees, and its herb and flower beds by which we could kneel for hours, comparing peppermint with lemon balm, crushing the silvery tendrils of bitter artemisia, tasting spicy blackcurrant leaves, and burying our faces in roses the color of ballerina slippers. But we’re late for afternoon tea with cherry jam, and my grandmother has prepared a honeycake with walnuts. “All this perfume talk is good,” she’d say, “But you could use something to eat.”

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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151 Comments

  • Michael: What a beautifully written and photographically illustrated article – thank you for sharing your scent memories and family nest with us!

    It is funny that the title of your article should reference the jasmine flower and plant, as my aunt used to have a tree in her front garden, and my sister and I used to pick the flowers. I distinctly recall the exquisite delicacy of their fragrance.

    I think my connection with jasmine has come full circle in the past few months. My mother owned a bottle of Chanel No. 5 extrait de parfum and she only used it when she was going out for a formal dinner or function. I remember looking up in awe at whatever evening dress she was wearing and how I would smell the scent that she had dabbed on her neck and wrists as she descended the staircase en route to the car. It is this memory that makes me want to own a bottle of Chanel No. 5.

    I recently discovered that Chanel does the extrait de parfum in a 7.5ml purse spray and I was wondering if anyone on owns one. I adore the smoothness of the parfum, but I have a feeling that the application is more cumbersome due to the stopper of the traditional bottle.

    I also tried, for the first time in many years, the EDT version and I was surprised at how much I liked it. Unfortunately, the drydown does not last very long on my skin. So I am now torn between getting a 100ml bottle of the EDP and the 7.5ml parfum. Are you able to detect the Polysantol in the former, as mentioned by Luca Turin in his review? September 3, 2014 at 8:05am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Michael. To be honest, the plant we called jasmine and that inspired the name of this blog is not a true jasmine at all; it is a type of mock orange. But I didn’t know it at the time, and the scent is very much like jasmine sambac. For this reason, when I first tried jasmine tea, it was such a revelation. It really smelled like my grandmother’s garden!

      I don’t know if I can tell what kind of sandalwood synthetic, Polysantol or a some other, is used in Chanel No 5. There are so many of them, and it could be Polysantol. But No 5 definitely uses a touch of sandalwood. It’s not overpowering. September 3, 2014 at 11:33am Reply

  • rainboweyes: Whenever I read your posts from Poltava I was trying to imagine what your grandmother’s home looks like – does it resemble my Ukrainian grandma’s house? Now I know, and yes, it does! The house I remember is not in the Ukraine, though. After WWII my grandparents were expatriated and deported to former German territories in northeast Poland (East Prussia). I loved visiting my grandparents as a child and was fascinated by the vast forests full with berries, herbs and mushrooms! And then there were all the animals in the barnyard – a kid’s paradise! Thanks for sharing your memories with us! September 3, 2014 at 8:29am Reply

    • Victoria: It does sound like a kid’s paradise! We don’t have animals or chickens anymore, but when my great-grandmother was alive, we had them. And I loved nothing more than helping her buy baby chicks and then take care of them. Her neighbor had goats and two cows, and I would go over and feed them. I remember a calf following me around by holding onto my dress and looking at me with these large, brown eyes. For a city child, it was like another universe! September 3, 2014 at 11:37am Reply

      • Michaela: As much as I loved my grandparents, long gone by now, and their fairy tales small house, I was always keen to see the animals they grew. I thought they were the most beautiful creatures on the planet, especially their cute cubs. You are right, it is another universe. September 4, 2014 at 4:18am Reply

        • Victoria: What kind of animals did they have?
          The baby goats were my other favorites. They were so graceful and playful. September 4, 2014 at 1:08pm Reply

          • Michaela: They had sheep (I loved lambs, I remember a new born one, trying to stand on its feet), a cow (sometimes with a calf), sometimes goats (yes, the baby goat is special), either a horse or an ass at a time, several cats and one or 2 dogs at a time, a pig (new born piglets are so cute!), a turkey that I was afraid of, hens, goose, ducks and pigeons. I loved all, but the dogs was my all times favorite. September 5, 2014 at 4:00am Reply

            • Victoria: Oh, you had so many animals! My great-grandmother had only chickens, cats and dogs. I remember one dog in particular, because when I was little he allowed me to ride it. September 5, 2014 at 5:32pm Reply

              • Michaela: Very nice dog! 🙂 September 8, 2014 at 3:49am Reply

  • Karen: Beautiful, simply beautiful. Thank you. September 3, 2014 at 8:33am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Karen! I’m happy to share. September 3, 2014 at 11:37am Reply

  • Sarah K: Gorgeous! The photos, the story and your grandmother’s house. Thank you very much. September 3, 2014 at 8:42am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for your nice words, Sarah. September 3, 2014 at 11:37am Reply

  • DDJ: You’ve outdone yourself.

    The best of your always superb posts I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. September 3, 2014 at 9:11am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much! It’s easy to write about the place I love so much. September 3, 2014 at 11:38am Reply

  • Elisa: Your smile must light up a room! Beautiful post and photographs. September 3, 2014 at 9:20am Reply

    • Victoria: The scent of hay is pure happiness! 🙂 September 3, 2014 at 11:38am Reply

  • rosarita: I love everything about this, what a wonderful read, thanks so much for sharing your precious memories! I had completely forgotten about chewing the gum from cherry bark, which my cousins and I always did at our grandparent’s house. September 3, 2014 at 9:22am Reply

    • Victoria: Ah, so happy that others did this too. I couldn’t believe this time how much it resembled myrrh. September 3, 2014 at 11:39am Reply

  • Michaela: Thank you for this invitation, for shared memories, for the whole story; glad to meet your grandma, her house, the sarai, the books, dried immortelles and lush roses, happy to see your radiant smile, enchanted by the cat. A bit of paradise, really! You made my day. September 3, 2014 at 9:33am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re most welcome! The black and white photo is of my grandmother as a 16 year old in front of the very house I’m describing. 🙂 September 3, 2014 at 11:41am Reply

      • Michaela: She is absolutely beautiful! Her specific clothes were all homemade, I suppose. I cannot stress enough how much I respect the women of her generation for their titanic work and patience: washing by hand, caring for children, teaching lessons, gardening and cooking, caring for animals, making and repairing clothes, cleaning house, preparing jams and pickles… everything, day by day, minute by minute, always optimistic and brave, while facing such hard times.
        I can totally imagine her, years later, welcoming unexpected guests with the same smile in her eyes, and a joke. September 4, 2014 at 5:26am Reply

        • Victoria: The outfit was made for her dance performance, and I suppose that either my great-grandmother embroidered the shirt or ordered from someone in the town. My grandmother lived in the city for most of her life, and she returned to her parents’ house to care for them when they started to need help. And then she stayed there. She’s still learning many things about living off the land, but she’s a mine of knowledge already. And she is a member of a local organic farmers’ club. September 4, 2014 at 1:12pm Reply

          • Michaela: I see. Your grand-grandmother may have lived the way I imagined.
            Wonderful woman, your grandmother! September 5, 2014 at 4:04am Reply

            • Victoria: She is such a warm-hearted, generous person. September 5, 2014 at 5:33pm Reply

  • limegreen: What a beautiful memoir, thank you for sharing it with us. Your writing and photography are so multi-dimensional that I feel that I can smell everything on the virtual tour! What a wonderful way to start my long day, stealing a moment in time and walking in the countryside. Your grandmother reminds me of my (late) mother: “you could use something to eat” 🙂 September 3, 2014 at 9:39am Reply

    • Victoria: My grandmother will feed anyone into a state of immobility, and it’s impossible to leave her house without eating something. I miss her and her cooking very much. September 3, 2014 at 11:43am Reply

  • Ariadne: So lovely to savor this article….again and again!!! I imagine that cat making sure you recorded all of it on film. LOL! Always looking forward in the two photos, cat seems to say ‘Oh, and don’t forget this’! September 3, 2014 at 9:42am Reply

    • Victoria: This cat likes to visit us, but he was known to steal food from the kitchen, so my grandmother isn’t too pleased about him coming. These photos were taken on different days, but as you can see, he is often around. 🙂 September 3, 2014 at 11:44am Reply

  • Alice Dattee: It’s like we were there with you. Thank you for this sharing September 3, 2014 at 10:10am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for coming along for a journey, Alice. 🙂 September 3, 2014 at 11:44am Reply

  • Colleen: Beautiful post – I feel as though I visited your childhood with you and got to know your family members habits all through scent. My secret is that I have no sense of smell but I love reading all of your posts because they help to imagine one. September 3, 2014 at 10:18am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for your comment, Colleen. It makes me especially happy to know that these descriptions can help you imagine scents. It must be a very hard condition to live with. September 3, 2014 at 11:48am Reply

  • Elizabeth StClair: A wonderful piece Victoria.. wonderful, evocative writing and beautiful photographs. It really lifted my spirits today. Thank you so much for sharing x September 3, 2014 at 10:23am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m so happy that it did! Thank you. 🙂 September 3, 2014 at 2:30pm Reply

  • Phyllis Iervello: What a gorgeous post! Thank you for sharing. September 3, 2014 at 10:48am Reply

    • Victoria: My pleasure, Phyllis! 🙂 September 3, 2014 at 2:31pm Reply

  • Trudy: Such a beautifully heartfelt and tender piece. I enjoyed the lovely journey so much. It really got me to thinking of my own scent associations and memories. I’m sure it will come to mind often. Thank you. September 3, 2014 at 11:01am Reply

    • Victoria: I would love to hear what scented memories from childhood you have. It’s really amazing how much we, as children, remember when it comes to scents. Some of these fragrances I can recall so easily, without even smelling anything. September 3, 2014 at 2:32pm Reply

  • Nikki: Dear V!

    You should be really proud of yourself! What Marcel Proust did with Madeleines, you are doing with jasmine…! Well done!

    Thank you for sharing your memories with the world…. September 3, 2014 at 11:18am Reply

    • Victoria: Gosh, Nikki, thank you! When you love something or someone, it is easy to be inspired by them. September 3, 2014 at 2:32pm Reply

  • Annette Reynolds: Victoria, your piece is so beautiful it’s brought tears to my eyes. And a great longing for my grandparents home in Kifissia, Greece (long gone: razed to put up one of the ubiquitous apartment buildings Greece so loves).

    Thank god for memories, and scent. How else would we recall the small, important moments in our lives? September 3, 2014 at 11:37am Reply

    • Victoria: I remember the story and the pictures you shared, Annette! Those memories are so vivid, and while your grandparents’ house is no longer there, I’m sure that the scents you remember help you recall the smallest details.

      By the way, I was in Gent two weeks ago and passed by a Daskalides store that used to be (or still is) in your family. I immediately thought of you. September 3, 2014 at 2:40pm Reply

  • iodine: Thank you! 🙂 September 3, 2014 at 11:46am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re most welcome! 🙂 September 3, 2014 at 2:37pm Reply

  • Andy: I savored the pictures and words with a cup of linden tea, sweetened just a little with some linden honey. It made for a picture-perfect way to get whisked all the way through your grandmother’s home in Poltava. This was, perhaps, my favorite post on Bois de Jasmin ever. So evocative of the warm, familiar feeling of home. September 3, 2014 at 11:49am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Andy! I was thinking a lot lately where is home, because I’ve lived in so many different places and now I don’t even live in a place where I grew up. But returning to this house reminds me where my home truly is. I feel so happy there. September 3, 2014 at 2:48pm Reply

  • jillie: So heavenly. Like a dream. Thank you! September 3, 2014 at 12:01pm Reply

    • Victoria: It is my favorite place to be. 🙂 September 3, 2014 at 2:50pm Reply

  • key change: Thank you so much, Victoria, for taking us on a journey through your memories with you. We have no right to anyone’s memories, and yet through your words and the imagery you create, I felt my own heart ache and swell as if those memories had almost been my own. You are so very lucky to still know and love your grandmother, know of your family’s very interesting history, and are then able to share it with us so it lives on. People don’t quite understand what I mean when I wax so poetic about your blog because they haven’t read it yet–they don’t realize that a good fragrance blog is really about everything. Thank you so much. September 3, 2014 at 12:03pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Shermeen! To me, perfume is not just the stuff in the bottle, but really everything around us. The nice side effect when you pay attention to scents, you end up collecting more memories, more colors, more impressions. For this reason, I think that this hobby–and it need not be anything more involved than simply taking time to smell–is so rewarding. September 3, 2014 at 2:55pm Reply

  • Renee: Thank you for this beautiful story and for sharing your fragrant memories with us!My grandmother’s yard was so much like yours,full of trees and flowers.In the summer time the air smelled of hay and ripe plums fallen under the tree.
    My country has a border with Ukraine and my grandmother’s house is close to this border. I think we have similar ways of life and I deeply resonate with your love for these places,for your culture and for your roots.
    Thank you again! September 3, 2014 at 12:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: Hay and ripe plums is my idea of summer. 🙂

      Whenever I traveled in the neighboring countries, I always felt at home. There are some clear cultural differences, of course, but there are also many similarities, and it was wonderful to discover what we all shared. September 3, 2014 at 2:59pm Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: How wonderful, it was as if I had been there and enjoyed a welcome in the house of your grandmother, and smelled the lovely flowers and hay!
    My grandfather had chickens too. They ware there to be eaten, but all of them died a natural death in old age. And the dog sucked out the eggs.
    What a beautiful cat! September 3, 2014 at 12:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: What a naughty dog! We occasionally had martens come and kill all chickens, and that was a tragedy for my great-grandmother. She also kept chickens for eating, when they’ve run their course of life, but mostly we had them for eggs. And what amazing eggs those were! Considering that eggs in the 80s were a luxury product in the Soviet cities, here we had buckets of them. Even now I think of eggs as something precious. September 3, 2014 at 3:06pm Reply

  • Jocelan: After reading your superb post for years, it is time to write to tell you that this is my all-time favourite post and to thank you for sharing and uplifting our world. This is beautiful, as are you, Victoria. September 3, 2014 at 12:21pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Jocelan! And I’m so happy that you liked this little visit to my grandmother’s house. 🙂 September 3, 2014 at 3:07pm Reply

  • Bea: Victoria, I am secretly hoping that you will write a book about enjoying life, the small pleasures in life and lots of tips and tricks from several generations of your Ukrainian grandmothers.

    Your posts are always so beautifully written and it is such a relief to come here and read, in the middle of the turmoil that the world is in, and just let your words sink in. I get the same relaxed feeling as I do when I sink into a warm bath or pour a cup of hot tea.

    Thank you for creating a haven of pleasure for us. ♥ September 3, 2014 at 12:40pm Reply

    • Victoria: To tell you honestly, the blog lately has also been my own escape from various things, and I thank everyone who comments, who makes this place so special to me. So, yes, thank you in return. 🙂 September 3, 2014 at 3:15pm Reply

  • Austenfan: Loved the post. I had been wondering for a while what the house looked like that had been described here so often. I love the sense of space that it all evokes, and most of all this sense of family and love.
    I grew up in a small village myself, so I appreciate how much you must have enjoyed those rural holidays. September 3, 2014 at 12:45pm Reply

    • Victoria: I know that I mention it so often, and it felt like it is time to show what this place is like. It’s a simple house, nothing grand about it, but to us, it is very precious. My mom and her sister come and stay for the whole summer, and my grandmother and my cousin live their permanently. I come whenever I can. September 3, 2014 at 3:18pm Reply

      • Austenfan: Simple houses are the best! September 3, 2014 at 3:23pm Reply

        • Victoria: The house in the country doesn’t need to be fancy at all, although of course, in the winter, we wish this house was better insulated and that the bathroom wasn’t in a separate building. Crossing a snow filled yard to brush your teeth is not so convenient! September 3, 2014 at 3:32pm Reply

          • Austenfan: That does sound a bit of a challenge. Although you can get used to a lot of things. What I love is all the space around it, and inside it. And the old wooden furniture. Trying to imagine the smells from the kitchen. September 4, 2014 at 11:01am Reply

            • Victoria: Oh, for sure! Right now, it’s quite a comfortable place, as far as the amenities are concerned. When I was growing up, we had no gas or running water. Gas used to be delivered in giant canisters, and a shower was a pail and a bucket. But it really didn’t matter somehow. September 4, 2014 at 1:16pm Reply

              • Austenfan: Watch this; from 6.00 onwards you’ll see why. When you mentioned the shower and toothbrush arrangements this was my first association.

                It also reminded my of my summer holidays as a child. They were spent in Norway where we (my brother and me) would on occasion be washed in streams that came strait from the glaciers. Refreshing to say the least! September 5, 2014 at 11:14am Reply

                • Victoria: Thank you for the link! 🙂 September 5, 2014 at 5:34pm Reply

              • Austenfan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbDKgdb_k28&list=PLjxa8QVkYlKyDkd4L_pitdfav5eopIUJG

                Forgot to post the link! So there it is. September 5, 2014 at 11:15am Reply

  • Anka: Wonderful!!! To read your post and to look at the stunning pictures was a feast for the senses and brought back own scented memories – thank you so much!
    After struggling with jasmine centered fragrances for quiete some time I followed your advice and smelled the real flower. Now I am in love with A la Nuit and even more with Grand Bal (Dior). It’s so interesting that it made the difference, I can’t really explain it to myself. September 3, 2014 at 1:00pm Reply

    • Victoria: So glad that you discovered real jasmine! And your two picks are perfect, because both have lots of real jasmine and capture the feeling of the flowers.

      Very happy that you enjoy the article! 🙂 September 3, 2014 at 3:22pm Reply

  • Gabriela: So very delicate…
    I live in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and my mom´s street smells of Jasmine. The best smell ever.
    Thank you for the lovely article. September 3, 2014 at 1:12pm Reply

    • Victoria: It is the best smell ever, I agree! In fact, I’m craving some jasmine so much right now that I went and put on some Serge Lutens’s A La Nuit. September 3, 2014 at 3:22pm Reply

  • SallyM: Sitting here with my morning cup of tea, wind chimes gently ringing, I too was transported to another time and place by your wonderfully evocative words. I wish I could go in reality – how I would love to meet your grandma! Absolutely gorgeous pictures that I can now picture in my head when you talk about this magical place. I think this is the best post I have ever read on all of the blogs – what a peaceful start to my day. Thank you. September 3, 2014 at 1:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: I wish anyone who is reading could visit Poltava. The city itself is so beautiful, calm, serene, full of old architecture, linden tree lined avenues, museums, theater. It’s not a large city, but it has so many cultural treasures for a place its size. September 3, 2014 at 3:25pm Reply

      • Cornelia Blimber: Linden trees avenues, culture… your words remind me of Weimar, I loved so much to be there! September 3, 2014 at 4:00pm Reply

        • Victoria: I have never been there! September 4, 2014 at 10:29am Reply

    • Michaela: Well said! 🙂
      Like you and many others, I think this is my favorite post of all blogs, ever. September 4, 2014 at 5:31am Reply

  • Mel: In the years I’ve been a devoted reader of bdj, this is my favorite post – so charming, so evocative, so immediate yet also elegiac. Impossible to read w/o contemplating one’s own childhood memories w/ a beloved grandmother. Mine was in Mississippi and the scent profile of my summers spent with her (vetiver, the smell of the new jigsaw puzzle, rose soaps, pound cake with lemon glaze) is as powerful and unique as what you describe, so beautifully, in Poltava. Thank you!!! September 3, 2014 at 1:49pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m so happy to hear this! All of you really made my day with your comments, especially since this place means so much to me.

      I love, love, love your scent recollections. I can just imagine the ambiance of a hot summer day–the South has plenty of those, and having gone to the university in the South, I’ve experienced it firsthand–and all of these beautiful things. September 3, 2014 at 3:27pm Reply

  • Virginia B.: Dear Victoria

    I have read your moving post like watching your history through an imaginary window. But also my own memories came up although our past and cultures are (quite?) different. Thank you!

    Beautiful and evocative pics.
    Cheers September 3, 2014 at 2:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Virginia! I would love to read about your childhood memories too. You must have so many fascinating ones, especially since they must be so different from mine. September 3, 2014 at 3:28pm Reply

  • Elena: Thank you so much for sharing this! I felt like I knew the house already from the memories you’d written about here and there. I grew up in New England, but there is something universal about the way you write about your memories that made me filled with nostalgia for my own childhood. I love your writing, and thank you again for this blog. It is like a secret corner where I can escape the happy chaos of my life and relax with a cup of tea, a fine perfume, or a visit to the countryside whether I have those things or not! September 3, 2014 at 2:51pm Reply

    • Victoria: I know what you mean. It must be that lighthearted, carefree feeling that often fills our childhood memories, especially of summertime, of school breaks and spending time with family. Whenever I return here, I feel like I’m 12 years old again (or even younger!) September 3, 2014 at 3:31pm Reply

  • Maren: Oh what a delightful read! I am enchanted. Thank you so much for sharing. I love the connections you make to different perfumes. It also makes me think of early scent memories connected to visits to my grandmother at the lake in summer; I always think of her when I get a fragrant whiff of petunias or geraniums, which she always had planted in abundance, and the scent of pine from the cabin. September 3, 2014 at 4:04pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m often thinking how our likes can be explained, and I realized that so many of my favorite perfumes have notes that I have always loved as a child.

      The scent of geraniums reminds me of my paternal grandmother. She grew them on her balcony, and I always associate their scent with the dusty railings, noisy courtyard of her apartment building and the smell of wet bricks. September 4, 2014 at 10:31am Reply

  • Malmaison: Victoria, you have outdone yourselves. I must agree with others who have written that this is their favourite of your many beautifully written posts.

    As a child of the Southern Hemisphere, my summer memories revolve around days spent inhaling the salt freshness of the sea as we splashed about in little rowing dinghies, the feeling of burning hot sand on bare feet, the smell of tar melting on the road. At twilight we would come up a steep hill to the smell of my mother’s roast lamb (the best ever) studded with rosemary and garlic, wafting down the hill to lure her wayward children back from the beach.

    But I remember rainy days in summer too. Stuck indoors with rain pelting down outside the bach (our Kiwi term for a small holiday home by the sea) we would pore over books all day – like you, I can still smell the ageing and brittle paper – and very so often be forced outside into the bush to use our outside ‘long drop’ toilet! At the time I utterly loathed it but now I am quite nostalgic about the damp smell of composting leaves, the steaming rain and clinging mud, and there are days when I would give anything to be a ten year-old dashing through the rain again.

    My mother’s roast still smells exactly the same, though and is still the best ever. September 3, 2014 at 4:09pm Reply

    • Victoria: This is such a wonderful description, I feel I can smell it all along with you. Thank you so much for sharing. Those rain days were my favorite too, and I would use a pretext of fetching something for my grandmother in the garden to run under the wet lilacs and splash in the puddles. And the sound of rain hitting the terracotta roof is indescribably comforting. September 4, 2014 at 10:39am Reply

  • Susan: Thank you for these beautiful words and what they bring to memory for me. Honeysuckle and children who have been outside playing from sunup to sundown on their own. That very rarely happens in the US now. We traveled on bicycles in a pack of 3 or 6 depending on our neighbors’ schedules and had to be seduced or cajoled with homemade baked turnovers to return home at dark.

    My Grandmother always thought dessert should be served before dinner! Thank you for reminding me, Victoria. September 3, 2014 at 4:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: Your grandmother is a very wise woman. 🙂 I’m partial to this myself.

      In contrast to my brother’s childhood in the suburbs, mine was much less supervised. This meant that we got into more trouble but also that we had more fun. 🙂 September 4, 2014 at 10:37am Reply

  • Rose de Mai: Спасибо за такое прекрасное ольфакторное путешествие!
    Пусть Господь и вселенная берегут Украину. September 3, 2014 at 5:07pm Reply

    • Victoria: Спасибо Вам за то, что присоединились к путешествию. 🙂
      И конечно, Украина сейчас в моих мыслях и молитвах.

      Thank you very much! September 4, 2014 at 10:34am Reply

  • Lise: I am so moved buy reading this, Victoria! So beatiful and precious! thank you for sharing this. You are amazing. Wish you and your family all the best. Warm regards. September 3, 2014 at 5:57pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much for your nice wishes, Lise! 🙂 September 4, 2014 at 12:54pm Reply

  • Tatiana: Your writing is so lyrical and beautiful. While reading this, I was transported to Ukraine and had forgotten my day to day tasks. Thanks for sharing your beautiful world with us. September 3, 2014 at 6:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m so happy to hear it, Tatiana! It’s our oasis, and in the summer, it’s especially wonderful with all of the flowers in bloom. September 4, 2014 at 12:55pm Reply

      • Lilian Oyen: So beautiful de lyrics from your words.
        I had also a wonderful great grandmother.
        So good and correct and Nice.
        I really miss her!
        I read mand time your lyrics, I love it! December 4, 2015 at 12:30pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you very much. I can just imagine how many wonderful memories you have of your grandmother. December 4, 2015 at 3:42pm Reply

  • Lilly: What a lovely post and beautiful photographs. Thank you so much for taking us on this journey to your home and sharing all these evocative scent memories. I continue reading and loving your blog. it’s a haven of all things lovely and worthwhile. And I really want to visit Poltava now! September 3, 2014 at 6:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: It was really such a pleasure to write this post and to look through the photos, and I’m very happy that you’ve enjoyed it. September 4, 2014 at 12:58pm Reply

  • Patricia: What a lovely article, beautifully illustrated with your photographs! Thank you for sharing Poltava with us, dear Victoria. September 3, 2014 at 7:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s a special pleasure for me to share it! 🙂 September 4, 2014 at 12:59pm Reply

  • Mary K: This is great! I enjoyed reading my way through the journey to the home where you grew up and seeing all of the pictures that show even further what everything was like. It made me think of my grandparents’ home in Wisconsin, a block off of Lake Michigan, and I could picture myself in their garden as I read each of your wonderful details. September 3, 2014 at 7:53pm Reply

    • Victoria: The nice part about the place is that it stayed very much like it was during my great-grandparents’ time. Of course, there are changes, and my grandmother makes adjustments (inside the house, she changed the decor a lot to add her own touches). But the beauty of the place is not so much that it didn’t change; it’s that it still has that special feel for our family. September 4, 2014 at 1:02pm Reply

  • Kandice: What an enchanted place to have lived! Thank you for sharing it with us 🙂 September 3, 2014 at 9:41pm Reply

    • Victoria: When I was kid, I loved coming there, although after the first month or so, I started missing the city life. But the moment I got back to the city, I longed to return. 🙂 September 4, 2014 at 1:04pm Reply

  • Ariane: I can only add my gratitude to that of all the readers who have commented today, dear Victoria. What an achingly beautiful evocation of a deeply cherished place! I am writing this in my dear old family cottage in northern Michigan, 100 years old this summer, where sights and scents connect poignantly to the past and to memories of those I loved who are no longer here. In just a few days I must close the house for the season and return, so reluctantly, to city. September 3, 2014 at 10:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: How wonderful that you have that place! I can only imagine how many memories, scented and otherwise, it must hold for you. Enjoy the remainder of the vacation, Ariane! September 4, 2014 at 1:05pm Reply

  • kaori: Dear Victoria,
    Thank you for sharing. Everything is exquisite!
    I love your dress 🙂 September 3, 2014 at 11:41pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Kaori! It’s a top mom bought it for me at either Zara or Forever 21. I like it very much. September 4, 2014 at 1:06pm Reply

  • Caitlin: This is both the best article you have written here and only the beginning of what you will achieve. I have already shared this with many friends who will appreciate your photos and observations. You’ve really come into your own. Brilliant. Sensitive. True. September 4, 2014 at 3:20am Reply

    • Victoria: Your words mean a lot to me, Caitlin! Thank you so much. September 4, 2014 at 1:07pm Reply

  • Aurora: Oh, Victoria all my thanks for making us take a guided tour of your family home. The text and photos are a delight – it is such a privilege to have been invited to this visit.

    I can tell by how lovely and happy you look in the picture that you reconnect with your true self when you are in Poltava.

    PS I am somewhat rootless myself in London and before that New York so your post really struck a chord. September 4, 2014 at 5:09am Reply

    • Victoria: One of my friends who has lived abroad for decades always said that it’s hard to live someplace where nobody knew you as a child. To be honest, I don’t know if I could live permanently in that small town, although I admit to having these flights of fancy, imagining myself settling down there and becoming a lady farmer :). But it’s still good to have this place. September 4, 2014 at 1:10pm Reply

  • Teddee Grace: I so enjoyed this and wish I could experience, and write about, the poetry of life the way you do. You are an inspiration. I will be heading back to my childhood farm in a few days for three months. During that time I am going to empty two very moldy storage units. I’m going to try to find the poetry in that! September 4, 2014 at 9:58am Reply

    • Victoria: I love nothing more than going through old storage at my grandmother’s! 🙂 And yes, there will be plenty of musty, mildewy scents, but I bet, also lots of interesting discoveries. I hope that you will write some of it down for our Scent Diary. It’s surprising how varied the musty scents can be, since wood, paper, fabric all decompose differently and produce different notes. The paper can smell of vanilla, old leather–of moss, etc. September 4, 2014 at 1:15pm Reply

  • Kathryn: This is the best account of scent memory I’ve ever read. The photographs are also wonderfully evocative and beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing this! September 4, 2014 at 10:59am Reply

    • Victoria: It was fun to take everyone on this journey. I’m so glad you liked it! September 4, 2014 at 1:15pm Reply

  • Aisha: It’s been so long since I’ve visited your blog, it seems. And what a treat to have an absolutely beautiful post waiting for me to read upon my return! Your writing is so vivid that I didn’t even need to look at your gorgeous photos. (But I did. 😉 ) Thank you so much for sharing this part of your life with us.

    It’s so good to be back! 🙂 September 4, 2014 at 11:23am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m very happy to see you back! You were visiting your family too, weren’t you? I hope that you had a lovely break with them. And thank you very much for your nice words. 🙂 September 4, 2014 at 1:17pm Reply

  • allgirlmafia: Very beautiful and soothing. You are quite lovely Victoria, thank you for sharing your story with us. September 4, 2014 at 11:29am Reply

    • Victoria: So happy to share all of this! This place is nothing fancy, but to us, it’s like a paradise. September 4, 2014 at 1:20pm Reply

  • Hamamelis: Thank you Victoria for this evocative story. It transmits the peace and contentment, and the endless sense of summer, so typical of childhood.
    I remember the smell of my grandparents kitchen, a little bit musty because it was attached to an outdoor pantry. Although my grandmother had a beautiful flower garden I don’t remember any scents of that. I do remember how the wonderful buckwheat porridge smelled she made for us, with treacle and melted butter! September 4, 2014 at 11:53am Reply

    • Victoria: Mmmm… The smell of buckwheat with melted butter is one of my favorite childhood scent memories. My grandmothers, on both sides of my family, made it for me, and while I generally hated porridges, buckwheat was the only one I loved. This time, I asked my grandmother to make it for me almost every other day. September 4, 2014 at 1:21pm Reply

      • Hamamelis: I am not sure if buckwheat ready made for porridge is sold in Brussels, in the Netherlands it is easily and cheaply available. I will gladly send you a package anytime, as a way of thanking you for your wonderful blog that daily proves to be a source of enjoyment for me! Just send me an email with the address I need to use. September 11, 2014 at 10:23am Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you so much! 🙂 September 11, 2014 at 2:34pm Reply

  • George: I love how much of an aquamarine tint there is to so much in these photos: I feel relaxed just looking at them. And I like the detail of the 1970s newspapers detailing that sausage targets have been exceeded. “Doubleplusgood”? I feel just as nostalgic about my own grandparents house, which feels like another world from the one I now live in. The olfactory tour was much appreciated! September 4, 2014 at 11:57am Reply

    • Victoria: I glanced briefly through the papers, but I couldn’t really read them for long. The level of propaganda and distortion of facts at which the Soviet government excelled were simply too much. But I like the smell of old newspapers, sharp, inky, bitter. The old books smell better, though. September 4, 2014 at 1:25pm Reply

  • Lulee: Simply magical! Thanks for sharing. September 4, 2014 at 12:57pm Reply

    • Victoria: You’re most welcome, Lulee! 🙂 September 4, 2014 at 1:28pm Reply

  • SophieC: This is such a lovely and evocative piece. I second everyone who has said this is one of if not the best post I have read here – and they are all rather wonderful. You have transported me to your wonderful country home and helped me escape for a little while. I realise I am smiling sat at my desk. It is quite wonderful and thank you for this beautiful sense of happiness and calm. September 4, 2014 at 2:09pm Reply

    • Victoria: So delighted that you were able to feel this same sense of happiness that I do whenever I visit. I’m now feeling homesick, so writing about this house and the garden was a pleasure. September 4, 2014 at 3:59pm Reply

  • Iwona: Dear Victoria, I have discovered your blog recently but I’m already seriously addicted to it (love at the first read, so to speak;-)) and I’m here to stay. Thank you for this mesmerising, enchanting story! It made me slightly emotional and homesick. I live in the UK now but come originally from Poland. It’s absolutely amazing how Poltava reminds me of my grandparents sleepy, beautiful village in central Poland. It’s full of so many similar scents and flavors. Sometimes it feels like time has stopped over there somewhere at the begining of the XX century, and I suspect that Poltrava has the same feel to it. Perhaps it’s time to book myself a flight home…
    PS. ”The Master and Margarita” is one of my favourite books ever!:-) September 4, 2014 at 2:33pm Reply

    • Victoria: Iwona, first of all, welcome! I’m happy to meet you. At the university, I had a scholarship from the Slavic languages department and this gave me a chance to work in Poland for a few months. It was one of the best summers for me. I loved Warsaw, Krakow, and even the musty Library of Statistics where I worked. In my free time, I traveled to smaller towns around and visited museums. The place felt familiar, even though I haven’t been there before. I also hope to return.

      Yay! You’ve recognized “The Master and Margarita”! When I was visiting my grandmother in the spring, I reorganized the books that my parents brought from our old house in Kyiv. Among them was this volume, which happened to be the very same volume of Bulgakov I read as a 14 year old. So, it was such a pleasure to meet again. September 4, 2014 at 4:15pm Reply

  • Olga Talyn: Victoria, I have tears in my eyes as I read this and gaze at the wondrous images with the scent evoked by them swirling in my heart and mind. I am Ukrainian but I have been here since I was three in 1950. I have never been to Ukraine since I was born in a German DP camp in 1946 of parents who were taken into Germany to be in slave labor camps. I have sat and listened to my 91 year old mother talking about the house and lands that she grew up in in Chernihov region. Of the scent of the blossoms in my grandparents orchards, of the flowers lining the path as she brought home the geese, of the resins wafting from the pine forests, the smell of the river bank at dusk, the green of the meadow where their horses frolicked, the pork and onions wafting through the windows as she ran home chased by her brother. Every image you have evoked in your writing and the wondrous photos brings this into a clear vision for me. I still have an icon hat was the only thing that survived the burning of the house by the communists. it lay in the ashes and survived to be given and treasured in my home. Everything you have described I have heard from my Momma as she stares into space her 91 year old tears in her eyes. The land was taken by the communists and my grandfather sent to Siberia and my uncle taken into the Soviet army to be cannon fodder in the front. The land is still there and my cousin Irina who is a chemistry professor in Lviv will take me there. As a teenager I wore a Poltavsky national dress in my dance troop and as I sang from the Opera Natalka Poltavka( I grew up to be a professional actress singer playing starring roles in shows like the Phantom of the Opera) and still remember to this day all the old folk songs I sang as a child. I speak and read Ukrainian and my soul will always be Ukrainian. I must go to the homeland to see where my soul really lives. I cannot express how magnificent your sense of beauty is. I discovered your blog because I am a true perfumista and have been in passionate love of fragrance since I smelled my first wiff of apple blossoms in Germany when the Americans took us out for an outing in an orchard, petals and scent wafting around me as my grandfather played the accordian and everyone sang. let higher power bless you my most glorious young woman! And I would love to see your grandmother when I do go to visit Irina in Lviv! I just realised my house here in Princeton is two miles from Ferminich! September 4, 2014 at 11:05pm Reply

    • Michaela: Your story is so touching! Thank you for sharing. September 5, 2014 at 4:07am Reply

    • Sarah K: I have tears in my eyes reading your story. Thank you for sharing. September 5, 2014 at 4:14am Reply

    • Aurora: Olga: thank you for sharing this touching ,full of hardship, story with us. I hope that when you go to Ukraine with your sister you will make some wonderful memories and that your mother will be healed when you tell her about your trip.
      All my very best. September 5, 2014 at 8:01am Reply

      • Annette: This is almost heart-breaking. Thank you for sharing. Enjoy your trip to Ukraine and come back full of scents, views, tastes, memories and pictures or films to show to your mother. I am sure she will be happily transported to her homeland through you. I can already see the look of bliss on her face. All the best, dear Olga:) September 5, 2014 at 9:36am Reply

    • Victoria: Olga, thank you so much for sharing your story, which was poignant and so moving I had a lump in my throat as I was reading it. Losing one’s homeland is the great tragedy, and these mementos, these memories become especially precious. I very much hope that you will be able to visit Ukraine soon and that you will see the place where your mother grew up and bring back stories, photos, and much more for her. If you plan to make a stop in Poltava, do let me know.

      And your recollections are so beautiful and wistful, especially the story of the apple blossoms. September 5, 2014 at 5:31pm Reply

  • Annette: And “where peaceful waters flow”…
    Thank you so much for this lovely post. I read it with tears in my eyes and couldn’t help remembering my maternal grandmother’s home where I spent each summer as a child. The smell of hay in the attic, the taste of fresh milk – and by “fresh” I mean “straight from the cow in the stable”, the smell and taste of fresh butter made by my granny in a wooden what’s-its-name. The huge walnut tree in the yard, the mulberry tree in front of the house, the hens and chickens. I remember us singing together with the neighbours under the starry sky, listening to stories and jokes told by adults. I remember the church bells chiming a few times a day, the smell of incense during the service and the fascinating smell of half-withered flowers near the altar. Oh, so many more smells, tastes and memories…
    And I must tell you that you are lucky to be still able to visit your grandmother’s home! A dozen years ago my granny’s house was pulled down. Nothing was left, not even one tree. They covered the place with concrete and built a car park. My heart broke when I saw it for the first time. But… I will always have my memories.
    Thank you again for taking us to your childhood haven. You are some gal!!:) September 5, 2014 at 10:03am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for sharing your story, Annette! You made me feel as if I was there too. It surely was a magical place to grow up. I know so well what you mean about the milk “straight from the cow.” We don’t have cows, but my grandmother buys fresh milk from a neighbor who keeps them.
      I realize that I’m very fortunate to have this place, and I don’t want to think of a day when it won’t be there. September 5, 2014 at 5:48pm Reply

  • Kneale: Victoria, what a gift you have shared with us! Your description of your ancestral home has completely transported me from metropolitan ennui to a scented wonderland. Thank you. September 5, 2014 at 6:53pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s so grey and foggy in Brussels today, and I also crave a bit of summer and its scents. Very happy that you liked the post and especially that you could be transported to this charming place. As I mentioned earlier, it’s nothing fancy, it’s very simple, but it’s such a haven. September 6, 2014 at 5:34am Reply

  • angeldiva: Beautifully written! Beautiful photographs! Thanks for sharing this great piece with all of us!
    P. December 30, 2014 at 9:48pm Reply

    • Victoria: Very glad that you enjoyed the visit! 🙂 January 1, 2015 at 3:47pm Reply

  • Myroslava: Dear Victoria, Thank you so much for a blossomy whiff of Ukraine ! Also,so nice of you to include the pictures from your family home. l miss so much the cherry blossomed springs of my hometown,especially the nights lit up by the foaming blossom of the trees around. Even the memories of it still takes my breath away. May God bless you,your family and our beloved homeland! September 18, 2015 at 5:14am Reply

    • Victoria: My pleasure! I liked writing this article and sharing the story of the house and its various corners. Your description of cherry trees blooming at dusk made me so homesick. I would stand for a long time under the trees, inhaling the delicate perfume and watching the stars through the flower covered branches. September 18, 2015 at 1:52pm Reply

  • Eres: Your childhood home is ethereally beautiful. Whatever it was you did, you really captured something very lovely and delicate in your photographs. I wish I had grown up somewhere as beautiful as you did. 🙂

    The one scent of California that has always haunted me is this most peculiar “aroma” that comes around only at certain times of the year. Typically, it’s around mid-winter, sometimes early November. The sky will be deep blue, and the air has a delicate golden haze about it – literally you can see every shard of light refracted in the air. There will be a slight wind in the morning, which then tapers down to a complete, eerie stillness come afternoon.

    I swear to God, the smell in the air is the most beautiful, the most unusual, powerful, and moving fragrance I could imagine. It’s a mixture of decaying leaves, that hay-like aroma that grass gets around autumn (has anyone ever noticed the way grass changes it scent depending on the season), something sharp and ozone-like, close to the smell of cold, slightly damp metal, or water in a shady place. It’s not sweet, or spicy, but somewhere in between. It’s sort of like the smell of cotton when it’s left out in the sun, a little bit of dry earth and that peculiar sharpness of being in a wide-open, empty, desert like space. Whenever a day such as this comes around, I get really emotional for some reason…I guess it’s how strangely still and quiet the air becomes, where you can’t hear a sound but you are literally surrounded by this quasi-divine aura.

    Usually, at this time of the year, the first frosts are coming, and the wind is blowing now from the East, straight down from the desert, where it absorbs the smell of wild sage, thyme, eucalyptus and walnut. When the colder Northern winds blow, you can literally smell the cold rock and snow on the breeze – it’s a really unusual feeling, to smell stone and crystallized dew coming down from the mountains. A long, long time ago, when orange groves were predominant in California, you could smell, faintly, the sweetness of fruit and the narcotic aroma of white flowers buzzing with bees. Now? Not so much.

    As I get older, I find I sense things I wasn’t always aware of as a little girl, or at least I am now able to identify their origin. It’s funny, as I now know the smell of “clouds”, especially the large, heavy cumulus clouds that hover around during a rainstorm. I “feel” the world more than I see it. January 23, 2016 at 10:36pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for such a beautiful and thoughtful comment, Eres. You’ve transported me far away from the cold and grey Brussels on this Sunday. January 24, 2016 at 8:23am Reply

  • DelRae Roth: Just beautiful….loved this. August 18, 2016 at 11:30am Reply

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