Culture: 217 posts

Art, travel, books, history

Malaysian Incense : Scents Around the World

Aromas play an important role in cultural practices around the world. In Malaysia, for instance, insense is part of the Chinese temples rituals. There is usually a large cauldron full of smoking joss sticks. The most popular blends are based on sandalwood, with anise, cinnamon, and a touch of camphor and rose.

I wonder what incense fragrance would match this combination.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

My Perfumery Course in Grasse and Edmond Roudnitska’s Garden

I’m happy to share that I’m going to teach another perfumery course in Provence this spring. It will take place from April 5-9th in Grasse, while the guests shall be staying near the Cap d’Antibes. Located between Nice and Cannes, it’s ideal for exploring the area that gave rise to modern perfumery as we know it today. Moreover, spring in Provence is the best season: mild, warm and richly scented.

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My course will cover the principles of fragrance construction and perfume history. It requires no prior knowledge of perfumery, and my goal at the end of the long weekend is to leave you with greater knowledge of scents and ways to enjoy them. We will also smell the original versions of classical fragrances and learn about quality and what makes perfume great, rather than merely pleasant. We will also do exercises to sharpen our sense of smell and use professional techniques to help us memorize and describe aromas. It will be a longer and more intensive course than the one I gave in October, with an emphasis on learning the fundamentals of perfumery and the perfumer’s palette.

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Angels and Mysteries of Johann Georg Pinsel

Johann Georg Pinsel is a mystery. Nobody knows where he was born, where he studied or even if Pinsel is his real name. The only thing that is certain is that he could make wood shed blood and tears. Last summer I found myself in the small town of Buchach where Pinsel worked and died. In just ten years, between 1750 and 1760, he created a series of sculptures and carvings of extraordinary drama and complexity. Pinsel’s angels flutter, his saints grieve, his Christ extends his hand to you in mercy.

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From 28 October 2016 to 12 February 2017, the Belvedere in Vienna will honor this Baroque master, giving viewers a rare chance to see his work up close. He was active in the western Ukrainian region of Lviv (Lemberg during his lifetime) and decorated many churches in the region with his wood and stone sculptures.

Many art historians compare the power of his work to that of Michelangelo, and the only reason you haven’t heard of Pinsel is because his work came to light fairly recently. Like much of Ukraine, Pinsel’s masterpieces were affected by the terrible events of the 20th century. Just to give you an example: Lviv changed hands no fewer than eight times between 1914 and 1945. Then the Soviets destroyed the churches where Pinsel’s sculptures were housed. It’s a miracle that any of his works have survived.

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Divine Pleasures

From 1750 to 1850 India experienced one of its most turbulent and violent periods. Fissures in the Mughal Empire that had controlled most of the subcontinent since the early sixteenth century allowed competing states to take control. Written down as history, it sounds like yet another shuffling of rulers and borders, but for the contemporaries it meant slaughter and starvation. When you keep in mind the scope of the calamities, the ethereal world of the art produced at the time comes as a surprise.

“Here lovers cling to each other in abandon, surrounded by a mosaic of cushions and bolsters; elephants run amok and dart under the arches scraping their sides; armies of monkeys and bears turn into a vast cloud as they advance upon Lanka; the universe comes into being before one’s eyes as matter begins to form from void; a tiger shot in a forest tumbles nineteen times over before it falls to the ground; a blind poet envisions baby Krishna waking up; princes stand on marble embankments feeding crocodiles;… boats ply on gentle waters while lovers escape to fragrant arbours. There is so much to see here, and savour, as painters play around with time and keep manipulating space at will.”

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Asya’s Idea of Paradise

The word paradise comes from the ancient Persian word pairidaēza, “an enclosed garden,” and for a Ukrainian, a cherry orchard is an idea of Eden. It has the same potent connotations as a white picketed fence house in the context of the American dream. It doesn’t mean that all Ukrainians dream of retreating to the village and tending to cherries—no more so than all Americans want to live in the suburbs and obsess over greens lawns—but the image has force beyond its mere components.

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In many folk songs, the cherry orchard is where friends meet, families gather for supper and beloved yearn for each other. It is a place of safety and beauty. It evokes all of the things that matter—family, love, friendship, bounty. It’s not a coincidence that one of the most popular works in Ukrainian literature is a short poem by the national bard Taras Shevchenko. Recite the opening lines to any Ukrainian—“A cherry orchard by the house. Above the cherries beetles hum”–and you will see his face light up and his mind travel to his own fantasy garden. “And nightingale their vigil keep,” he murmurs the poem’s romantic coda*.

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