A Boy With A Fotokor

Vladimir, my father’s older brother, developed a passion for photography in unconventional circumstances. Having survived polio, which he caught during World War II, Vladimir suddenly couldn’t move. The disease had ravaged his muscles, leaving him crippled, and while he couldn’t join other children playing, he observed their games from his chair. Then a neighbor, a military captain, gave him his first camera. It was a Fotokor-1, a folding bed plate film camera from 1934, and taking a cue from its name–Fotokor means “photo journalist”, foto korrespondent in Russian–a thirteen year old boy began to photograph everything around him. Eventually, Vladimir grew strong enough to move around unaided, but photography has remained his lifelong interest, which he passed on to me.

girls

This is the Kyiv of the early 1950s. Vladimir takes pictures in the streets of the city–of girls jumping rope, of boys teasing girls, of girls taunting boys, of boys doing naughty things, of soldiers marching, of women waiting in line, of kids having fun, of life as it carries on in a place still marked by war. The photos of Vladimir himself were taken by his younger brother, Valery, although he directed the composition. A small selection I made for you gives a unique, candid glimpse into the Soviet Union of the postwar period as well as the world of one feisty boy.

Continue reading →

Sandalwood Scented Dreams

India and sandalwood. Long before I became interested in perfume as vocation, I knew of this connection. More than a stereotype, it reflects the significance of this wood in India’s traditions, from birth to death, from a wedding to a funeral. Sandalwood makes one’s skin more beautiful and gods more pleased. It smells divine. In my new FT column The Scent of Sandalwood, I explore how Indian and modern European perfumery were inspired by this precious material. Also, I touch upon an issue that rarely clouds the romantic accounts of Mysore sandalwood groves–their overharvesting and near complete devastation.

puja

“My mother-in-law rubbed a piece of pink-coloured wood on a rough stone until it turned to paste. My husband and I were about to travel back to Europe and in the Hindu custom my mother-in-law performed a puja, an act of worship, to ensure our safe journey. She lit joss sticks around the deities and dabbed some of the paste on the figurines of gods arranged on her small altar and then on our foreheads – the fragrance of sandalwood rose in the warm air. Many hours later as I sat in the plane, the creamy, floral perfume lingered around me, carrying with it the memory of a caring touch.” To continue, please click here.

One of my favorite sandalwood perfumes today–it uses a mixture of Australian and synthetic sandalwood–is 10 Corso Como. A niche classic. Do you enjoy sandalwood?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, all rights reserved

Reading for Late Summer Days

It’s the time of les vacances in Brussels. The streets are quiet. The parks are deserted, especially during the week. This summer tourists have taken the warnings of their home countries to heart and have mostly stayed away. I have the city to myself. So I take a book to a park, sit on the grass and read. (It’s a rare luxury in these parts, a fact demonstrated by the distinct lack of outdoor scenery in my picture. It started raining just when I had time for a photography session.)

books summer recommendations

The question then becomes what book to pick. A romance, a detective novel or a great classic? Walt Whitman once commented that the only reason he didn’t become overwhelmed by a steady diet of Sophocles, Homer, Aeschylus, and Dante was “likely because I read them… in the full presence of Nature, under the sun, with the far-spreading landscape and vistas, or the sea rolling in.” My selection is less lofty–simply some of my new and old favorites.

Agota Kristof The Illiterate

It’s fitting that I discovered the work of a Hungarian writing in French while reading a book by an American author writing in Italian. In her explorations of self and language, In Other Words (see my review), Jhumpa Lahiri mentioned being touched by Kristof’s experience. Kristof was born in Hungary and moved to Switzerland in 1956 as a refugee, and while she gained safety, she ended up in a social desert as she lost her language. The Illiterate is a series of stories about her love of reading, her family, her writing. They are tragic but also hopeful, and I related to them. I didn’t cross a frontier as an infant and didn’t have to work at a Swiss watch factory while writing poetry in my spare minutes, but having left the place where I was born, relatives, friends, and the familiar language(s), I can understand the anguish.

Continue reading →

Odacite Jasmine Blueberry and Rose Pomegranate

Claims of something being all-natural and organic aren’t a selling point for me. Not only do I find the pseudo-science and scaremongering that often come as part of the organic bundle off-putting, I have enough familiarity with the beauty industry not to take any breathless promises seriously. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t wonderful brands out there who take their organic ethos seriously and provide excellent products. But organic or not, you still have to read the ingredient labels and take any claims with a grain of salt.

odacite1

If I would have come across Odacité via its site that hypes the toxin-free, chemical-free aspect of the line, I might have skipped it. Luckily, I learned about it from a friend whose recommendations have never misled me. Odacité’s core comprises blends of oils, mostly exotic varieties such as blueberry seed, pomegranate, baobab or black cumin, and if you’re looking for a hydrating oil-based serum to add to your skincare, they’re a good choice.

Continue reading →

The Layered World of Anand Ram Mukhlis

Bureaucracy rarely conjures positive associations in most people’s minds, and for someone who faces far too much of it, I may not seem like the kind of person who goes into raptures over bureaucrats. Yet, Anand Ram Mukhlis (1699-1750)* is an exception, and he is easily one of my favorite historical personages. Born into a Hindu family in the north of India, he practiced a trade that wouldn’t be out of place in Washington DC or Brussels. Like his grandfather and father, he was a personal representative at the Delhi imperial court for the prime minister and for the governor of  Lahore and Multan provinces. A lobbyist, if you will.

muhammad shah

Emperor Muhammad Shah with courtiers, ca. 1730

The most lasting achievement of Anand Ram Mukhlis was in his scholarly and creative work. He wrote poetry, chronicled contemporary events and compiled manuals on the proper use of Persian. His mastery of the language was such that the emperor Muhammad Shah himself requested his services as a letter writer when he wanted to communicate with the Safavid court in Iran. One of the images I used to illustrate this article is a copy of Mukhlis’s advice on developing one’s writing style in Persian. It’s titled “Fairy House,” which gives you a clue as to the ornate stylistic tools he proposed.

Continue reading →

From the Archives

Latest Comments

  • Hayley in Recommend Me a Perfume : August 2016: Hi Karen A I totally agree loved the jo Malone garden range and the beautiful green bottles. I did get to try them and especially liked wild strawberry but just… August 30, 2016 at 10:46am

  • Hayley in Recommend Me a Perfume : August 2016: That’s good to know – will be checking them both out – Annick goutal really appeals to me – my friend wears eau d’hadrien all the time and I am… August 30, 2016 at 10:42am

  • Nicola in Hermes Galop d’Hermes : Perfume Review: Thank you Victoria. I just wanted to give a shout out to the lovely Laura at the Hermes boutique, Royal Exchange, City. I dropped in on my way home last… August 30, 2016 at 9:44am

  • Surbhi in Recommend Me a Perfume : August 2016: I brought musc ravageur and le filled de berlin to bangalore with me. I couldn’t smell it at all. I don’t know whether it was temperature or humidity. My skin… August 30, 2016 at 9:38am

Latest Tweets

Design by cre8d
© Copyright 2005-2016 Bois de Jasmin. All rights reserved.