Victoria: 2290 posts

How to Handle Self-Isolation and Not Lose One’s Mind

My daily routine during intense writing periods is almost always the same. During the week, I wake up at 6am, start working at 7am and continue until 5-6pm, with lunch, coffee break and language lessons in between. I’m so preoccupied throughout the day that I don’t see anyone in person other than my husband and the local shop owners during the week. I usually save weekends for friends and other social activities. So, the new quarantine and lockdown rules that are becoming strictly enforced here don’t change my routine dramatically. This is not the case for many others. “How do you manage to work at home and not lose your mind?” my friends ask me.

Create Your Community

While I require solitude when I work, being part of a community is essential to me. Over the years I’ve gravitated to such communities of people. Those of you coming to Bois de Jasmin, for instance, comprise one of those communities. I enjoy the conversations I have with you, whether they’re about scents, books, embroidery or random observations on life in general.

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Haft Seen for Celebrating New Life and New Spring

Persian New Year is on March 20th this year, and as always, I set up my haft seen, or Nowruz sofreh–a presentation of 7 auspicious objects that start with the Persian letter “S.” I’ve written previously about this tradition, and why the celebration of the vernal equinox, the start of a new year, is such a meaningful custom. Nowruz is a secular holiday with Zoroastrian roots that is celebrated today by people of many different faiths not only in Iran, but in many other countries from Albania and Turkey to Afghanistan and India. Every community has its slightly different ways of marking the start of the new year, but what unites them is the celebration of life and renewal.

This year I’ve set up my haft seen quite early, during the last week of February, because I needed it as a reminder of hope and regeneration.

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Vanilla Orchids

Stepping inside the Princess of Wales Conservatory during Kew Gardens’ annual orchid festival is an opulent fragrant experience. While the most popular orchids sold by florists are unscented, there are also many perfumed varieties, with their aromas spanning the full olfactory spectrum from effervescent lemon to dark chocolate.

In my recent FT article, Vanilla Orchids, I describe one of the most famous perfumed orchids, Vanilla planifolia. Perhaps it’s not surprising, since this plant produces one of the world’s most fragrant spices. The flowers have a delicious aroma reminiscent of creamy jasmine and green grape. Although more subtle than the scent of vanilla pods, it has inspired perfumers to create fragrances around vanilla flowers, relying on recent studies of orchids and their aromas.

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How to Save The Kashmiri Shawl

“On 5 August last year, I was finalising the itinerary for my upcoming trip to Kashmir. The same day, the Indian government revoked its special (limited) autonomous status, which the Muslim-majority state had held since joining the Union in 1947. The government then imposed a security lockdown, cut communication lines and restricted travel. I’m neither a reckless risk taker nor an irrepressible optimist, but I didn’t cancel my trip. I knew it was foolish to hope that the situation in the Kashmir Valley – a place whose borderland status between India and Pakistan has seen it become a violent battleground over the decades – would stabilise in time for my journey a mere month away, but I was obsessed. The reason? A piece of fabric so weightless and yet so warm that it seems to defy all laws of science. I wanted to meet the artisans and learn how real Kashmiri shawls were made. The escalating conflict only increased my resolve for a glimpse of this rare art that is under threat of vanishing.”

The article “How To Save the Kashmiri Shawl,” which appeared in last week’s issue of Financial Times magazine, is the result of my journey to India. I was determined to use whatever means I could to talk to the artisans and to understand why this craft is so meaningful to them. As I’ve learned, weaving has a venerated status in Kashmir. As a crossroads, Kashmir developed its culture through interactions with other people and traditions, and the Kashmiri shawl is the perfect example of this intricate synthesis.

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Lindens, Ukrainian Weaving, and Nataliya’s Other Favorite Things

I like meeting people who pursue their dreams. My friend and partner on our Ukrainian Scent and Taste Adventure, Nataliya Cummings, studied theater in Ukraine, lived in an anarchist community, researched traditional weaving and created an art festival. She now lives in the UK, but she spends most of her year traveling in Ukraine and helping other people fall in love with this fascinating and yet unknown country. Today I want to introduce Nataliya to you.

Nataliya started her travel company Experience Ukraine shortly after moving to Hereford in the UK about 10 years ago, but the genesis of the idea came earlier. After completing her theater studies degree at the university, she started to create art events for children in collaboration with the Longo Maï community. Since children couldn’t travel to cities to see plays and performances, Nataliya decided to bring theater to them. Her experience was so exhilarating that she moved to the village of Nyzhnie Selyshche in the Transcarpathia, a region in western Ukraine. (It’s the same village where we will be staying during our Ukrainian Scent and Taste Adventure this summer.)

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