5 Things That Inspire Me

When I work on any long-term project, my office looks as if a tornado went through it. Since I prefer to work at a low table sitting on a cushion, my legs folded in the lotus position, I use the floor around me as my canvas. Books, research materials, and reference volumes cover it in random looking piles and mixed among them are items I find inspiring. Of course, the chaos is not entirely random, and I can tell you where I have my Japanese-English dictionary, Philip Kraft’s guide to fragrance chemistry or a volume of Persian poetry, without having to get up from my table. (The table, by the way, was a $10 acquisition from a Turkish shop, intended for making phyllo pastry.)

Casting a quick glance at the items that surround me today, I realized that they are much more than the materials I use for my writing, but rather the things that inspire me, the things that give me pleasure simply by looking at or touching them. I’m sure everyone can make such an inspiration collage–and I’m sure that for every person it would be different, but I wanted to share mine with you.

Books

New books, old books, books I’ve read and books I’m about to read. Even if I got rid of everything else in my house, books would be the last things I’d part with. The awareness of what they contain makes me feel exhilarated and I like waking up in my bedroom where there are so many books that they are stacked in ziggurats.

And what other scent can compare with the perfume of old books than the aroma of musty vanilla, iris and a hint of vetiver?

Mughal miniatures and Orthodox icons

I can spend hours poring over Mughal miniatures, enjoying the minute details and the combination of colors. In this tradition that flourished between the 16th and 18th centuries in India, the colors, shapes and textures are emphasized. Of equal importance is the rendering of flora to serve as an embellishment or a complement to the other elements of the paintings. I find the colors used by Mughal artists to be particularly interesting because of their unexpected combinations. For instance, five shades of green, ranging from dark emerald to pale pistachio, burnt orange and gold inflected mauve.

Orthodox icons, on the other hand, remind me of the eternal quest of humanity to find a conduit to the world of the divine. Different traditions approached it in such a different manner that even if the topics of the icons are similar, the interpretations are different. Some of my favorite icons are by the 16th century Albanian icon painter Onufri, who used a vivid red color in his images. The Georgian Orthodox representations of Saint Nino are also moving; the saint is depicted holding a cross made of grape vines tied with her own hair.

Spices

Next to me is a tin full of cardamom and tonka beans. Each on its own is a full olfactive experience, but together the spices form a dramatic accord. In general, however, I find spices interesting for the complexity of their smells, for the novel effects they can lend to perfumes and food, and for their history. Wars have been fought and lands have been colonized for these fragrant items.

Things Made by Hand

Artisanal work of any nature is inspiring. I collect embroideries, textiles, carvings and anythings else artisanal. It’s not a serious collection, however. I acquire whatever touches me. Many artisanal crafts are disappearing, and I try to support them as much as I can. A vivid pink shawl from Kashmir is a bittersweet item, however. I marvel looking at its weightless weave, but at the same time it reminds me of the painful situation many Kashmiri artisans currently face.

Maps

I unfold a map and move my finger across its surface thinking of all the places I’ve yet to visit, of people I can meet, of languages I can learn. I even have a paper map of the city where I live and looking at it reminds of corners I’ve yet to explore. Daydreaming of such things never fails to inspire.

What inspires you?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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54 Comments

  • Tami: Books “stacked in ziggurats.” Ah, I’m afraid I have my own reconstruction of Ur in my bedroom and living room. 😊

    Love the visual! September 9, 2019 at 9:49am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s my usual way of storing books! 🙂 September 9, 2019 at 2:20pm Reply

  • Lina: What a touching article! I have just recently discovered your blog and every post is a pleasure to read.
    I wish it would be more photography of those interesting thing around you Victoria.
    By the way – cardamon and tonka beans are my favorite fragrances too, I just unpeel and roast a bit the cardamon to “warm up” the aroma and use it even in a coffee to ” fragrant it”😊 September 9, 2019 at 11:45am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Lina!
      I like the idea of cardamom in coffee. And you’ve made me realize that a bit of tonka bean might also be a nice touch. September 9, 2019 at 2:21pm Reply

  • Karen A: What fun! Thank you for sharing, I think we all could use more reminders about keeping inspiring things close. Having my photographs enlarged to 16″x20″ and hung up around the house inspire me, as do the wide variety of textiles I’ve collected. Drinking espresso in my grandmother’s demitasse cups from her wedding china connects me to her even though she’s long gone. And primitive handmade things – an antique table or painted chair. September 9, 2019 at 4:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: Such beautiful things, and I loved the way you’ve described them. September 11, 2019 at 5:21am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Isn‘t that peacock adorable! What a sparkling eye, or that geometrical crown! Yet the three-colour-scheme brings it all together: black and red thread, white cloth: brilliant! September 9, 2019 at 4:15pm Reply

    • Victoria: I can’t get enough of this pattern. And to think of its age and history makes my heart skip a beat. September 11, 2019 at 5:22am Reply

  • Charlene Rollins: One curates and loves what she has access to. I have what some may consider a ghoulish appreciation: a collection of (animal) bones from our land; a complete horse’s head; and jawbones with teeth from several pigs.
    I think your Mughal painting is beautiful, and I’d like to know (if you know) what they’re pouring. Thanks for the article. September 9, 2019 at 5:20pm Reply

    • OnWingsofSaffron: I used to have a baboon skull from Namibia with enormous cuspids. Quite impressive and very gothic! September 10, 2019 at 3:23pm Reply

      • Victoria: Wow! What happened to it in the end? September 11, 2019 at 5:26am Reply

        • OnWingsofSaffron: I threw it sway: too morbid and it kept falling apart. But my goodness: those teeth—like a leopard‘s! September 11, 2019 at 9:57am Reply

          • Victoria: How did you even get it in the first place? September 11, 2019 at 3:35pm Reply

            • OnWingsofSaffron: I was born in Namibia and came back to Windhoek after childhood years in Sri Lanka, Nepal and Saudi Arabia. When back in Windhoek, I got the skull from a boy who was in my class who came from a farm. They probably shot the male baboon as they can be quite aggressive.
              In Windhoek, we’d have baboons coming from the veld, climbing over the fence and drinking from the swimming pool. My aunt always told the story, that she once popped out into her garden to pick a lemon and then stared a male baboon in the eye who was also enjoying the citrus fruit! Don’t know who was more startled… September 11, 2019 at 4:26pm Reply

              • Victoria: In India, at our relatives’ neighborhood, we have baboons. They arrive from the nearby forest and use our swing every day around 5pm. I didn’t know about this, so I was reading a book on the swing when I saw a huge male baboon in front of me. Luckily, he scrambled as soon as he saw me. They indeed can be very aggressive. September 12, 2019 at 7:15am Reply

    • Victoria: Those are fireworks, almost like Bengal lights, I think. (If I recall the caption correctly.) September 11, 2019 at 5:22am Reply

  • Satsukibare: Thank you for encouraging us to think about what inspires us! Here’s my list:
    1. wedding photo (my husband=my rock);
    2. computer (the world accessible);
    3. books (especially my own: I did this before, I can do this again);
    4. the view from the window
    5. choosing the perfume I’ll wear today and inhaling that first drop. September 9, 2019 at 7:09pm Reply

    • Victoria: The view from the window is one of mine too! September 11, 2019 at 5:23am Reply

  • Filomena: Things in my home that inspire me:
    My music
    My family photos
    My perfumes
    My books
    My computer September 9, 2019 at 9:52pm Reply

    • Victoria: Many of us share similar sources of inspiration. Not at all surprising in this group! September 11, 2019 at 5:23am Reply

  • Fazal: I assume this is an open-ended question so here is my response:

    1. Knowledge (in all forms including books).
    2. People including average citizens who speak for others even if there are no personal benefits for them in doing so.
    3. Children (I wish adults would mostly possess the traits children have including curiosity and critical honesty).
    4. Space (my personal fantasy is to have one of those Voltron lions as a personal transportation vehicle so that I would just freely roam through space, visiting planets in different galaxies with different creatures, geographies and climates)
    5. The wise men and women of history. In this regard, one of my greatest inspiration is Carl Sagan. September 10, 2019 at 12:59am Reply

    • Victoria: I like very much the way you’ve approached this question. Very inspiring too. September 11, 2019 at 5:23am Reply

  • Nora Sz.: Hi Victoria and perfume lovers,
    Perfumes not among the top 5???? 🙂
    My list:
    1. My books
    2. My boyfriend who reads up historical (sometimes hysterical) anecdotes and then tells them to me
    3. Great music, Especially Chopin waltzes an Rachmaninov
    4. Touching personal perfume strories
    5. Dancing September 10, 2019 at 7:58am Reply

    • Victoria: Perfume is rather a given for me, so I decided not to mention it, but I like that you did. September 11, 2019 at 5:24am Reply

  • maja: Sometimes the things that inspire me change but these are the most faithful ones:

    books
    a walk on the hills behind my house – solvitur ambulando 🙂
    music (I’d die without certain music apps)
    and my brother’s 1983 world map I have on my wall with the places I dream about, just like you. September 10, 2019 at 8:44am Reply

    • Victoria: Maps are made to project dreams on. At least for me. September 11, 2019 at 5:24am Reply

  • Tourmaline: Dear Victoria,

    Apologies for the duplication. Feel free to delete it. I had difficulty posting my comment initially, as a box came up saying something to the effect of “duplicate comment detected”. I thought I must have said something too similar in a previous comment!

    Tourmaline September 10, 2019 at 9:22am Reply

  • Tourmaline: Dear Victoria,

    What inspires me? Oh dear, I feel an essay coming on…

    BOOKS

    Books would probably be the last things that I’d part with, as well (along with a flash drive containing my own writing and my most treasured photos).

    I have so many books that they are stored in many places, including tall wooden shelves in the lounge room, dining room and hallway, as well as the Violet Room and my bedroom. In my lounge room are the four large volumes of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature edited by Jack Zipes (2006). I bought this wonderful set for $200 reduced from $900 from Academic Remainders about 10 years ago. As someone who likes and aspires to write fiction for children and young people, I find the set particularly inspiring.

    Many of my books are on my desk, including my English dictionary, my old school atlas with its simpler maps and old place names (including the wonderful Bombay and Persia), the major works of Turin and Sanchez, and my latest crossword puzzle book. (Crossword puzzles are an addiction, along with cappuccinos and cake.) By my bed are the books I’m currently reading, which usually include a novel and several non-fiction books such as biographies, books on gemstones, or books on clothing style or makeup.

    PENS

    I have amassed a lovely collection of pens over the years, and they remind me of my love of writing, and help to whip me into action when I have been slack. I have two cloisonné pens in exactly the same colour and design – teal blue with a multicoloured design and gold metal – one from each parent. As they gave them to me for the same birthday one year when I’d already left home, they probably never learned that they had each given me the same thing. One is in the Violet Room, and the other is in my bedroom. In my lounge room is a wooden one that I bought up at Noosa on a family holiday, and in my Violet Room there is also a violet quill pen and a bottle of violet ink. By my bed is one of my father’s good Parker pens that he gave me many years ago; he had been given so many as gifts over the years that he gave a few away to the kids.

    PERFUME

    I have so many bottles that I find it helpful to store them in many different places. For example, in my lounge room (decorated in earth tones and natural fibres and materials) I keep fragrances including Terracotta by Guerlain, Vol de Nuit, Youth Dew and Cinnabar. In my kitchen, recently redecorated in light pink and apple green, I keep Yardley Rose, Guerlain’s Herba Fresca (near my pot of spearmint) and Lancôme’s Miracle. And in my rosy boudoir, I keep Paris, Oscar and Femme. I could go on and on, but I’ll stop there.

    FRAMED BUTTERFLIES

    As an indoor person, I like to have butterflies to bring a little nature inside. Butterflies also remind me of the butterflies that were drawn by inmates of concentration camps, as a symbol of spirit and freedom. I have different framed specimens in the kitchen (my first one – a large blue Morpho didius given to me by my younger brother many years ago), my dining room, my lounge room, the Violet Room and my bedroom.

    CLOCKS

    I see each clock in my home as a form of memento mori – an item that reminds me to make the most of the time that I have. My favourite is in the lounge room. It is made of ceramic that looks like stone, and has relief of a hummingbird and flowers under the clock, and a barometer under those. The one in my Violet Room (which is sorely in need of a tidy at the moment, as it has been used as a storage space over the past couple of years – along with what was already in there) is made of china with a pattern of purple violets on it.

    MISCELLANEOUS

    Sprinkled around my unit are other individual items that I find inspiring. In my claret-decorated dining room is a gilded ceramic cherub that reminds me of spirituality and angels. In my lounge room is a hand-carved wooden dish filled with glass marbles that reminds me of the fun, energy and creativity of childhood. In the lounge room there is also a small kaleidoscope that my late mother gave me when I was a child. Looking into it reminds me of the endless variety of combinations in nature and in music and writing and so on. Also in my lounge room is a large world globe, which is very useful on account of my appalling knowledge of geography.

    Thank you for this lovely opportunity to reflect on possessions that mean the most.

    With kind regards,
    Tourmaline September 10, 2019 at 12:04pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve read your comment twice. So many thoughtful, inspiring and moving observations, as always. Thank you very much! September 11, 2019 at 5:25am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Thanks, Victoria. I’m glad you enjoyed my little rhapsody!

        With kind regards,
        Tourmaline September 11, 2019 at 8:23am Reply

    • Nuitdenoel: I am deeply impressed and moved by your words. Can almost envision everything. Thank you for sharing. September 12, 2019 at 1:47pm Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi Nuitdenoel,

        Thank you for your kind words.

        I’ve never smelled your namesake Caron perfume, but I hope to do so one day!

        With kind regards,
        Tourmaline September 13, 2019 at 4:06am Reply

        • Nuitdenoel: You absolutely should give it a try, if you get across it. It is gorgeous. And one of my favourites, hence the name! I find that I wear it more frequently as the temperature drops here in Norway. Have a wonderful weekend! September 14, 2019 at 1:02am Reply

          • Tourmaline: I shall definitely seek it out; I’ve read such wonderful things about it. I hope you have a great weekend, too! September 14, 2019 at 2:25am Reply

  • Marsha Smith: What an awesome reply! Your descriptions are so well written that I could readily visualize each item. And I always like to find another pen fan. September 11, 2019 at 7:16am Reply

    • Tourmaline: Thanks, Marsha; you are very kind. Pens are wonderful, aren’t they! September 11, 2019 at 8:27am Reply

  • Aurora: I’m catching up with your posts after some time away to go Provence – your list is delightful, Victoria and thank you for lifting the veil on your studying habits, also, there is a bakery not far from my neighborhood where they use a low table like yours to make flat breads.

    Main source of inspiration, traveling and going home. Provence people seem to care very much about the natural world all of a sudden and the whole region is becoming organic after alarming reports about the state of the insect world. Organic white peaches, green gages, mirabelles and figs – without forgetting olives – all from the market were a feast.
    In other news from Nyons, the distillery Bleu Lavande is doing very well, their bio lavender smells like pine needles and honey and as usual I came home with a bottle, and butterflies and bees of all kinds, everywhere so all those efforts show results. September 11, 2019 at 11:13am Reply

    • Victoria: It must have been a wonderful vacation!

      You’ve made me crave Nyons olives and lavender honey. September 11, 2019 at 3:35pm Reply

  • Andy: I loved reading everyone’s comments–and felt a surge of inspiration reading of others’ uplifting experiences and gestures and possessions. I’m inspired the most by the time I get to spend outdoors. This evening, I was lucky to sit out on an evening lit in lavender-pink, with the dusty, metallic din of cicadas surrounding me. I plucked a fig from my young tree, which is producing so well this year. The outside was purple and yielding, the inside a jammy, red caviar. Milky and fragrant at the stem, the perfume is all that remains on my fingers.

    When you wrote about the wonderful figs you discovered on your recent trip, I tasted these figs in my mouth–because they are the sweetest I’ve ever found. September 11, 2019 at 8:25pm Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi Andy,

      Ah, the sound of cicadas is the sound of summer in Brisbane, my home. In fact, this is so much the case that outside our Cultural Centre (art gallery and museum, with performing arts complex over the road), we have a large sculpture of a cicada. If you click on the link below, you can see a photo of the cicada. If you then click on the two photos to the left of that one, you can see a couple of pretty close-ups.

      https://www.flickr.com/photos/djackmanson/334797037

      I envy you your fig tree!

      With kind regards,
      Tourmaline September 12, 2019 at 7:15am Reply

      • Andy: What an unexpected piece of public art (I suppose that’s part of the joy)! I love the iridescent glass, it’s just like being up close with a cicada’s wings. Cicadas are part of my summer soundtrack too, along with the distinctive cackle of laughing gulls out by the ocean. September 12, 2019 at 11:10am Reply

        • Tourmaline: Yes, the iridescent glass is beautiful. I must take my own photos of the cicada sometime. I was there yesterday, to see an exhibit by the late Australian artist, Margaret Olley, but I didn’t have my camera with me.

          I’m not near the ocean, but along with the cicadas I get birds including kookaburras.

          With kind regards,
          Tourmaline September 13, 2019 at 4:02am Reply

    • Victoria: I can just envision the taste you’re describing, completely with the scent of the sap and leaves. Beautiful! September 12, 2019 at 7:15am Reply

  • Madaris: When we moved into our 1921 house years ago, a large bookcase with glass doors had been left behind. Through the past 35 years I have filled the shelves with old editions of my favorite children’s chapter books by American & British writers. Eleanor Cameron, Frances Burnett, Mary Stolz, Penelope Farmer, and Catherine Storr are some of the authors. Most of them are former library books from the 1960s and 70s so their musty fragrance is heavenly. These are my treasures, my inspiration, my everything. September 12, 2019 at 12:33am Reply

    • Victoria: I can completely understand and relate. Books are my treasures too. September 12, 2019 at 7:16am Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi Madaris,

      I understand and share your love of children’s books. I particularly like the ones from before the computer age (B. C.); I’m sometimes a little nostalgic for those days – although of course they would have precluded blogs!

      I must investigate the work of Eleanor Cameron, Mary Stolz and Penelope Farmer, as I am unfamiliar with them.

      Some years ago, I read Catherine Storr’s “The Mirror Image Ghost” and enjoyed it. A little later, I read that there had been a film made of her book “Marianne Dreams”, called “Paperhouse”. Have you ever seen it? I bought the DVD, and enjoyed it, although I heard that, like so many films, it veers a little from the story in the book. I have never read the book, though; I must buy it sometime.

      With kind regards,
      Tourmaline September 13, 2019 at 8:58am Reply

  • JoDee: This is a fun exercise. Here are some things that inspire me:

    My daughter who is a wonderful gift from God.

    Sunrises/Sunsets – Out here in West Texas, where the sky is enormous, the sunsets are a spectacular show. I can never get enough of them!

    My box of acrylic and gouache paints – it is a box of possibilities– there are so many paintings just waiting to be created sitting in that box.

    Movement– when I take a walk, swim, dance, do yoga or run I feel alive and clear-minded, ready to solve problems and create solutions! September 12, 2019 at 1:41pm Reply

  • Sandra: Dear V
    I am not a morning person so I need some inspiration in the morning…then for the rest of the day I am good

    1. When my two little ones wake up and I hear them giggle and laugh in the morning

    2. I love to read so I won’t be separated from my books

    3. Now that the light is changing, as the season on my hemisphere is going into autumn, the sunrises are more and more vivid and spectacular.

    4. A good cup of tea in the morning, full of flavor. Or a nice coffee.

    5. I love to wear a nice bathrobe. I have a Japanese style kimono one and a soft cotton one with little kittens sleeping on it.

    There is always a nice perfume too. Today is my statement scent Coco. Perfect for the transition into this season.
    Take care V! September 13, 2019 at 12:21pm Reply

  • Madaris: Hi, Tourmaline! In the U.S., Marianne Dreams was called The Magic Drawing Pencil and I have a wonderful old copy of it. I never got to see Paperhouse but I would love to. If you are looking for an Eleanor Cameron, A Spell Is Cast is her best. With Penelope Farmer, look for the eerily enchanting The Summer Birds. Happy Reading! September 13, 2019 at 1:44pm Reply

    • Tourmaline: That’s interesting about Marianne Dreams. I have googled the two books you mentioned, and they sound intriguing… There is always so much to look forward to in the world of books! Happy Reading to you, too! September 13, 2019 at 7:50pm Reply

  • Gabriela: What a great list of books, have just ordered the Marianne dreams on Amazon! Are you familiar with Tove Jansson? She has beautiful children’s books. September 14, 2019 at 4:51pm Reply

  • Gabriela: Oh things that inspire me… my children playing, books on my shelves, pictures on my wall, little boxes and a sculpture that was from my grandmother. September 14, 2019 at 4:55pm Reply

  • Heather: I admire a few of your favorite things! I love to knit and anything home-crafted inspires me. Perfume bottles…. and the treasure in them (sadly, I’ve learned they should be kept out of light and humid places). My garden, I have an heirloom honeysuckle bush and the scent wafts in through my windows in the summer. And books, I agree Victoria, they are the last things I could ever get rid of. October 16, 2019 at 1:59pm Reply

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