Best of 2023 in Scents, Books and Experiences

I’m always reluctant to sum up the year, especially one as complicated as 2023. We all read the news and we know that the world is in a terrible place right now. For our part, we can only do so much to change the course of events, and as we strive to contribute something positive, we also need to take care of ourselves and our families. My goal this year has been to find ways to cope and to maintain my hope and my faith in humanity. And yet whenever I would become despondent, something wonderful would happen–a warm letter from a reader would arrive, a friend would send a small gift, my cousin from Ukraine would call with some good news (for a change), or family would come for a visit.

As busy as I was with my book presentations and my projects related to Ukraine, I tried to find moments to read, explore new scents and learn something new. Joining the ISIPCA faculty this semester also gave me a chance to smell more perfumes and to update my knowledge of the fragrance market. It’s a pleasure to share these discoveries with you. As always, I look forward to hearing about your 2023 favorites, be they scents, books or other beautiful things.


Thomas de Monaco Eau Coeur

An exquisite combination of osmanthus and magnolia. Elegant, refined, but not to the extent that it smells too cold and stylized. The floral vignette is underscored by musk and woods, and the finish is just as luminous as the start.

Serge Lutens Écrin de Fumée

Tendrils of tobacco smoke, the crunch of cacao beans, and the warmth of rum-soaked amber. A classical Serge Lutens fragrance that feels more ethereal than it appears at first inhale. Still, it’s a dark potion, so a little goes a long way.

Diptyque L’Eau Papier

Mimosa, musk, sesame. I was fascinated by the idea of this perfume before I smelled it and I liked the execution. It’s gently reminiscent of paper, similar to Frédéric Malle’s Une Fleur de Cassie, but the main impression is of soft musk layered with woods. A nutty twist merely serves to highlight the woody accents.

Tom Ford Myrrhe Mystère

I was expecting something similar to Serge Lutens’s La Myrrhe, but this is more of a frankincense scent. It’s an excellent one, however. The only downside being the price tag, which is unreasonable.

Hermès Un Jardin à Cythère

The start was so intensely citrusy that I was anticipating yet another cologne, but half an hour later the scent on my skin became warm and enveloping. Still, it retained its brightness even as it dried down to an elegant woody flourish.

Maison Crivelli Ambre Chromatique

With so many excellent ambers, from Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan to Tauer L’Air du Désert Marocain, it’s difficult to offer something that stands out. Ambre Chromatique manages to hold its own with a brooding accord of amber and dark balsams. Vanilla is added in just the right dose to smooth out the edges.

Manos Gerakinis Parfums Rose Poétique

Discovering Manos Gerakinis’s line was an olfactory highlight for me. The collection is varied and there are a number of well crafted and polished compositions to try. Rose Poétique is lovely in the way it blends rose and saffron–the result is reminiscent of the best Middle Eastern-style fragrances but the fruity accord of rhubarb and raspberry gives it a different, more contemporary feel.


This year was special for me as my book The Rooster House was released in its original language, English, in the UK and USA.  While I couldn’t return to Ukraine, I traveled widely to speak about the country where I was born, to support different humanitarian causes and to participate in fundraisers. It made me feel like I was contributing in a positive way, especially at times when the situation seemed especially dire and hopeless. Being on the road for much of the year, I had more time to read, and I discovered a number of wonderful books. Below are a few highlights.

Ian Anderson, The History and Natural History of Spices: The 5000-Year Search for Flavour. The History Press, 2023

Starting from the earliest times, Anderson tells the history of spices in vivid details. The history of the spice trade with its brutal colonial exploitation is given plenty of space, but the bulk of the book consists of stories of individual spices and their usage.

Emmanuel Iduma, I am Still With You: a reckoning with silence, inheritance and history. William Collins, 2023

I was in conversation with Emmanuel Iduma during the Edinburgh Literary Festival, and while preparing for our discussion, I read his book. The story of the narrator looking for traces of his uncle in Nigeria eerily mirrors my search instigated by finding one sentence in an old notebook, “Brother Nikodim, vanished in the 1930s fighting for a free Ukraine.” The wounds that old tragedies leave take a long time to heal and sometimes they never do. A beautiful, thoughtful narrative.

Divrina Dhingra, The perfume project : journeys through Indian fragrance, 2023

Divrina delves into the history of Indian aromatics and takes her readers on a journey with her. This book is not simply an exploration of history, but it also examines the current situation. Engaging and informative.

Dan Saladino, Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them. Vintage, 2023

A journey around the world to search for disappearing foods and to understand the precariousness of today’s agriculture. Whether meeting farmers growing kavilca wheat in eastern Turkey or learning about a vanishing variety of rice in China, Dan Saladino conveys the richness of traditions and culture underpinning every crop.  From Tanzania, Syria and Turkey to the Faroe Islands, Scotland and Denmark, Eating to Extinction makes a strong case for rethinking the way our food is produced.

Ira Mukhoty, Daughters of the Sun: Empresses, Queens and Begums of the Mughal Empire, 2018

Daughters of the Sun is not a new book, but it’s such a brilliant story of women in the Mughal Empire that I want to include it on my list. Some of these women were writers and poets like Gulbadan Banu Begum, Babur’s daughter, who wrote the Humayun-Nama, an account of the Mughal royal court. Others were powerful rulers like Nur Jahan who controlled the empire and minted coins in her name. An impressive effort to document the lives of these women and even less publicly prominent but nevertheless important female figures in Mughal history.


Learning Ikebana

As a child I once borrowed an ikebana book from a friend, and since she would only lend it to me for 24 hours, I spent the whole night copying the instructions and drawing images by hand! That was in the days before widely available xeroxes, at least in Soviet Ukraine. When I found an ikebana school in Brussels, I remembered this experience and signed up for a trial lesson. It’s been almost a year since I’ve been a student at Noda Creations, a school run by a Sogetsu Ikebana master, and the experience captivates me fully. Creating an arrangement is a meditative, centering process, and even when I feel overwhelmed by work or world events, the moment I step into the studio, I focus on flowers. Ikebana needs few materials to create a strong impact and it teaches you the art of restraint and balance. A useful lesson in life too.

Growing Koji

I first learned about fermentation from my grandmothers, who made sauerkraut, cucumber and tomato pickles and other preserves from the abundant produce in their gardens. There was always something magical about the way the ingredients were transformed by bacteria and time into delicious foods. My uncle Vladimir, on the other hand, familiarized me with kefir and kombucha, which he had been making long before they became trendy. Koji, however, is fairly new to me. Aspergillus oryzae, also known as kōji, is used in Asia to make foods like soy sauce, miso and sake, and unlike some other molds, it’s finicky to grow. Yet, when you succeed, the gorgeous floral scent alone is enough to make you try again and again. Useful sources for learning about koji include Noma’s Guide to Fermentation and Koji Alchemy by Jeremy Umansky and Rich Shih.

Making Tortillas From Scratch

While visiting Mexico this autumn, I fell in love with the smell and taste of freshly made tortillas. Since finding the ingredients for Mexican cuisine in Europe is very difficult*, I came back with two suitcases full of chiles and corn. I’ve invested in a hand-cranked corn grinder (named Victoria, incidentally). I learned how to make nixtamal using calcium hydroxide and then grind it. I also learned that not all corn varieties are suitable for nixtamal. For instance, the Italian corn used for polenta doesn’t soften properly and the masa comes out lumpy. That being said, homemade tortillas, even those crafted from less than perfectly smooth masa, are still delicious.

* I have since found local European sources for Mexican ingredients, including real Oaxacan chocolate, fresh chiles, epazote, nopales and other delicious things. For anyone on a similar quest, I recommend visiting a website called Chiles Y Maíz.

I wish all of you a wonderful 2024. May this new year be a better one for all of us.

What have been your highlights of 2023? Did you try new things? Did you learn something interesting? Please share in the comments.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin



  • Colleen: Wonderful writing, as always! December 29, 2023 at 9:08am Reply

  • Anais: Thank you for sharing your year and writing with us, Victoria! I read your book this summer, and it brought much love and light during a dark time. Happy new year to the Bois de Jasmin community ❤️‍🔥 December 29, 2023 at 9:59am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Anais! January 4, 2024 at 7:43am Reply

  • EileenS: Your year highlights are lovely! The recommendation of The History and Natural History of Spices has me searching my local library catalog already. December 29, 2023 at 9:59am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, so glad that you’ve enjoyed them. January 4, 2024 at 7:43am Reply

  • Jeanne: What a lovely post! We make our own tortillas here in New Mexico, and I agree with you, the taste is wonderful. Thank you for the book recommendations too! December 29, 2023 at 10:15am Reply

    • Kathy Parsons: Jean
      Would it be possible to have the recipe. Thank you
      Kathy December 29, 2023 at 11:18am Reply

      • Jeanne: Hi Kathy,

        Most homemade corn tortillas have three ingredients: Masa Harina, salt and warm water. You can find many good recipes that help with technique, etc. online. We use a tortilla press, but you can use a flat bottomed pan if you don’t have a press. They’re so delicious! December 30, 2023 at 1:11pm Reply

        • Kathy Parsons: Thank you so much. I will have to watch a viideo and give it a try. I have only ever used bought ones.
          Happy 2024!
          Kathy December 30, 2023 at 1:52pm Reply

      • Victoria: There is also a website called Masienda. They sell various tools and ingredients needed for making tortillas and they have lots of recipes. It’s easier to see how it’s done and then it just takes practice. January 4, 2024 at 7:45am Reply

        • Kathy Parsons: Thank you so much for the invaluable advice
          Can’t wait to try making them
          Health and peace for 2024
          Kathy January 5, 2024 at 4:57am Reply

    • Victoria: Nothing compares, right! January 4, 2024 at 7:43am Reply

  • Sandra: Exploring Paul Bowles’ books has been a fascinating journey for me. The depth of his themes in Morocco I enjoyed. Recently, I delved into “The Fourth Wing Romantasy” genre, and it has been an intriguing exploration, offering a new perspective on storytelling that captivates my imagination. Alongside my literary adventures, the fragrance Xocoatl by Fueguia has become a cherished companion, enhancing the sensory experience and creating a unique ambiance for my reading moments December 29, 2023 at 10:56am Reply

    • Victoria: That fragrance sounds wonderful. January 4, 2024 at 7:44am Reply

  • Elizabeth Ryan: Thanks so much for the book recommendations; Daughters of the Sun sounds really interesting.
    And yes, homemade tortillas, including blue corn tortillas, are really good. In North Carolina, we have a large Central American community, so lots of mercados. Glad you could find a source.
    Also, just discovered a new fragrance, probably from Luca Turin’s shortlived blog: Bois Lumiere, by Anatole Lebreton. I was able to get a decant and can’t stop smelling it. Full bottle next! December 29, 2023 at 12:30pm Reply

    • Victoria: I found a couple of markets here, but it definitely takes searching! January 4, 2024 at 7:45am Reply

  • Joan Rosasco: Your embrace of the many cultures and traditions that bring beauty and variety to the world is an inspiration to all of us, your readers. Wishing you a Happy New Year 2024
    ! December 29, 2023 at 1:06pm Reply

    • Rachel h: Well said. This quality of warm and refined recognition and appreciation of beauty wherever it is found, and sharing how it inspires you, Victoria, reminds me so much of my mother. I adore/d her and feel daily how much I was shaped by this perspective on life. May you all enjoy the coming year in ways you never expected. December 29, 2023 at 2:30pm Reply

      • Victoria: Thank you very much. Reading such comments really warms my heart. January 4, 2024 at 7:46am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Joan. January 4, 2024 at 7:45am Reply

  • Gabriela: Thank you for sharing so much beauty with this community. I have already ordered one of the books.

    Happy New Year! Hoping for more peace in the world. Be well, my friend. December 29, 2023 at 1:59pm Reply

    • Victoria: Which book caught your attention? January 4, 2024 at 7:46am Reply

      • Gabriela: Eating to extinction. Love it! January 5, 2024 at 11:47am Reply

  • Filomena: Beautiful post and beautiful perfumes.
    May 2024 be q happy one healthy year for all. December 29, 2023 at 5:05pm Reply

  • Wara: FELIZ AÑO NUEVO 2024 dearest Victoria and this lovely community💜💜💜💜💜💜💜
    May 2024 bring you arepas and llapingachos!!!! You are BELOVED!!!!!! December 29, 2023 at 5:36pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, dear Wara! January 4, 2024 at 7:46am Reply

  • shannon: Wonderful post, always so happy to read your writing & see what you’ve been enjoying. December 29, 2023 at 7:42pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much for reading! January 4, 2024 at 7:47am Reply

  • Laurie Kaplan: Hi Victoria,
    I explored many new scents this year, but my standout is Coriander from DS&Durga. It is great and unique alone, but blends beautifully with many other things, such as white florals and vanilla-based scents. It’s pretty clean, with a bit of woodiness but light overall. I had the pleasure of attending a Master Class with a dS &Durga rep, learned how devoted to artistry this duo is. December 29, 2023 at 8:01pm Reply

    • Victoria: That sounds like a great experience. January 4, 2024 at 7:47am Reply

  • Fazal Cheema: This has been a challenging year and kind of quite shit*y for me (both on personal and geopolitical levels), even by the standard of other terrible years before it. But I have a vague hope, though irrational, that 2024 may turn out to be a better one.

    One major change was my embrace of cooking as well as a surprising discovery that cooking is much easier than I anticipated so I did underestimate myself before I embraced it this year.

    Second change was making little efforts to escape a life of total isolation. I was going through an asylum case for a long time and it caused a lot of stress so I kind of shut myself in. The case ended this year and not on an ideal note. I have reminded myself there are things I cannot control and the world is always a little imperfect so I just have to find a different way to keep moving now. December 30, 2023 at 12:10am Reply

    • Klaas: Dear Fazal, learning how to cook is a blessing for life! Nothing beats the ritual of slowly simmering an onion as you start cooking dinner after a tough day.

      And it sounds like you are doing a wonderful job in dealing with the obstacles life is throwing at you.

      I hope 2024 will bring you courage, enough space to ‘keep moving’ and much better times.

      All the best to you! December 30, 2023 at 6:24am Reply

    • Victoria: I hope that 2024 is a much better year for you personally and for all of us. Of course, 2023 was so rotten in many parts of the world that to say so is to put a low bar, but still, any improvement would be so much welcome.

      Cooking has been a major source of support for me. During the pandemic, we started a tradition with our friends of meeting at one of our houses and cooking together. It was and remains enjoyable. Hope that you continue cooking and finding a creative outlet this way. January 4, 2024 at 7:50am Reply

  • Annie: Wonderful writing, as always. Such a pleasure to read your articles. I also would like to learn ikebana professionally. I’m curious how did you pick Sogetsu specifically? December 30, 2023 at 4:11am Reply

    • Victoria: I didn’t really select it on purpose, but my instructor is a Sogetsu specialist. In the end, I like the free style aspect of Sogetsu. January 4, 2024 at 7:51am Reply

  • Klaas: Another inspiring read, Victoria. I wish you and all your readers a healthy, joyful and prosperous new year! And world peace…….it feels like we never needed it more…….

    I’ve been reading up a storm this year; delving into a beautiful book with a mug of tea at hand is one of the greatest pleasures in my life. Olga Togarszuk’s Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead was a discovery; a slightly upsetting title for a dark, humorous and slightly eccentric murder mystery.

    Speaking of plowing; I am halfway through Hillary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety, a very hefty novel about the French revolution. I love the way she writes; effortlessly weaving epic historical events and fiction into a fist thick page turner!

    Scent wize, I’ve been quite good in 2023. Lots of sampling, little buying, except for a bottle of Trudon II, which is forest greenness in a bottle. I just love it! December 30, 2023 at 6:13am Reply

    • Victoria: What a nice reading selection! I have A Place of Greater Safety on my list too. January 4, 2024 at 7:52am Reply

      • Klaas: Ouf, it is not for the faint of heart, Victoria. She so vividly describes the years of terror that I had to put it away for a few days.

        Buy a fantastic read nom the less.

        The Togarszuk however is a fantastic read! A murder mystery by a Nobel Prize winner! January 5, 2024 at 5:06am Reply

  • Ewan: Some books:

    If you like cooking an good book is: Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well by Pelligrino Artusi.

    The Watemakers by Vance Packard [ 1960 ] – how the USA was manipulated to become a consumer culture. very relevant still.

    The Pebbles on the Beach by Clarence Ellis; take a wander around the British coast pebbl-hunting

    Heritage Apples by Caroline Ball – the wonders of apple names, the myriad different types and each apple illustrated in a watercolour.

    Happy reading! December 30, 2023 at 6:13am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, I’m going to take a look at these. Thank you, Ewan. January 4, 2024 at 7:53am Reply

      • Ewan: I think you understand Italian, so the ‘Science in the Kitchen…’ is originally in Italian, but very early post-risorgimento Italian. Apparently the book did a lot to help the new Italians to learn the language, previously [ and still today I expect ] the regional languages were more prevalent. January 4, 2024 at 10:51am Reply

        • Victoria: I forgot to add that I have Artusi’s book, the Italian version. It’s fascinating as a record of its time and many recipes can be reproduced easily. It’s one of my favorite cookbook classics. January 5, 2024 at 4:33am Reply

  • Aurora: Your summing up of the year is full of hope, I’m so glad you found creative ways to bring happiness in your day to day life. I can glance from where I am on the now familiar, vivid cover of The Rooster House and reading it this summer was one of the highlights of the year for me. Happy New Year everybody. December 30, 2023 at 6:51am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much! So happy to hear this. January 4, 2024 at 7:53am Reply

  • Donna: Thank you thank you for this!
    This is a sublime tea my friends visiting from NYC just brought me and I’m smitten. Planning to try some of the others now.
    I know you love fine tea!

    Also am captivated by a rose madeleine recipe in Nez’s notebook on Rose. Imagining one of the teas with rose notes and the madeleines together. December 30, 2023 at 3:35pm Reply

    • Victoria: Doesn’t it sound nice? January 4, 2024 at 7:54am Reply

  • Sebastian: One of the best things I did this year was visiting Bologna. A very wonderful, very old and very literate city, where there is a lot to learn and see.

    In one of the many independent bookshops (unusually many for an Italian town) I bought the book “A letto nel medioevo” by Chiara Frugoni. It details the many faceted use of the bedroom, illustrating the history with reproductions of miniatures.

    I also read “How to fight a war” by Mike Martin, a former soldier now a research fellow at King’s College. For obvious reasons of current interest.

    My perfume of the year is Odenaturae by Rubini, the perfumer is Cristiano Canali. A stimulating, energetic fragrance. Very green. Very changeable, every time I wear it I smell different notes, but in its heart it is restrained and floral. The contrasts of coolness and warmth, dryness and sappiness, combined with a light sweetness, are so captivating!

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences, Victoria, and a happy new year to everyone! December 31, 2023 at 2:40pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for sharing your discoveries. I immediately went online to look for A letto nel medioevo and ordered a copy.

      By the way, do you have a recommendation for a fragrant rose that doesn’t need too much space and suitable for our climate? I know that you have quite a bit of experience. January 4, 2024 at 8:03am Reply

      • Sebastian: Dear Victoria ,how nice of you to remember that! Yes, I do have a recommendation: The Rose de Resht.

        It has double pompom flowers, light green, healthy foliage. Color varies between purple and cherry red. Strongly fragrant damascene variety. Very well adapted to our climate: Flowers are quite rain-resistant, the plant sprouts late. It usually flowers at the end of May. There are two to three further flowerings until the fall. It tolerates half-shade and is hardy in the winter. Really quite robust and healthy, not requiring much care. It is also possible to keep it in a large pot. The plant is compact, with a dense and bushy aspect. It grows to a size of ca. 1 m x 1 m. Its origins are unclear. It appears to have been (re-)introduced to Europe in the 1950’s from Iran, but probably dates from around 1880.

        The Rose de Resht has always been one of my favorites. January 4, 2024 at 3:52pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you very much. Resht must be Rasht, a city in Northern Iran, so it seems likely that it originally came from Iran. I will look for a grower. If it can grow in a large pot, even better, as I have space for pots in front of our apartment building. I was successful planting a lilac in a pot, but my miniature maple trees seem to be struggling. January 5, 2024 at 4:36am Reply

  • Lee: Great list of fragrances, I would like to try a lot of them! I totally agree about Tom Ford, great scents but unreasonably expensive for sure. December 31, 2023 at 4:43pm Reply

  • John Luna: Happy New Year! I was delighted by your account of making tortillas from scratch — I have only used a readymade masa mix to date, but you have reminded me that my Mexican grandmother used to grind her own corn to make tamales on holidays, something I have been meaning to try for years. January 3, 2024 at 2:56pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s such a production that I understand why Maseca was a godsend for many. Still, the flavor of fresh-corn masa is incomparable. January 4, 2024 at 8:17am Reply

  • JR: As a queer person who loves perfume and the art of drag, I’m very happy that there’s a fragrance out there named Eau Coeur 😆😍 January 4, 2024 at 8:31pm Reply

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