Culture: 297 posts

Art, travel, books, history

Lahore and Roses

I spent the past three weeks in Pakistan. I started my trip in Karachi and traveled along the Indus before crossing into Punjab and continuing to Islamabad, and finally, Lahore. I had many reasons that drove me to undertake the journey– an interest in ancient history and my personal need to understand the modern era, a desire to see places I’ve read about and to discover a country that’s often misunderstood and talked about in geopolitical terms. Above all, I wanted to see Lahore.

Lahore Lahore hai, say the locals. Lahore is Lahore. There is no other city like it, they add. I agree. It’s the place where Mughal empresses rest in the rose gardens and the new train lines edge Shah Jahan’s palaces. It’s the place where one can get lost in the old city and find oneself in a quiet courtyard full of fluttering dove wings and silvery streamers. It’s the place where ancient shrines are drowning in the clutter of shops and hawker stalls, and where the marble steps of Badshahi Mosque are so polished that they reflect the moonlight. Lahore is Lahore.

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The Scents of Les Fleurs du Mal

During his lecture presented at The Perfumative conference, Dr. Martin Jaeggi called Charles Baudelaire a poet-perfumer for his ability to create scent accords: musk and tobacco, rose and amber, musk and ambergris, benzoin and frankincense, coconut oil and tar, etc.

Les Fleurs du Mal was first published in 1857, and it immediately caused a scandal. Some of the poems were deemed so outrageous to public decency that Baudelaire was tried and fined. Baudelaire managed to publish the poems in a separate volume titled Les Épaves (Scraps) during his sojourn in Brussels, but in France, the ban wasn’t lifted until 1949. Baudelaire wasn’t grateful to the Belgian laid-back attitude and penned a number of diatribes against his adopted residence and its denizens.

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Perfume in Art and Design : Highlights from The Perfumative Zurich

What happens when a group of people from different disciplines, such as chemistry, political science, philosophy, sociology, art, sculpture, film, literature and perfumery, come together to discuss scent?  This month I attended The Perfumative conference organized by the Zürich University of the Arts, and it was exactly such an event. It was open to the public and the combination of talks, freestyle discussions and art installations based around scent made The Perfumative a vibrant and inspired gathering.

My contribution to the conference centered around scent, culture and the way perfume writing has evolved over the past years, becoming a legitimate subject comparable to similar discussions in the related fields of fashion, wine and food. You can see the range of topics covered in the program, and since the talks were recorded, I’ll share the link here once they go online.

For now, however, I wanted to share with you some of the observations inspired by the talks and discussions. Please feel free to contribute your own thoughts.

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Paul Poiret on Selecting a Signature Perfume

Who was the first fashion designer to launch a perfume? It was most certainly not Coco Chanel and her No 5. The first couturier who linked fashion and perfumery was Paul Poiret. His rise in the world of fashion happened at the turn of the 20th century. Although his success was as meteoric as his fall was swift and tragic, he left an indelible imprint on fashion and created a modern sense of couture and dressing, the very road that Chanel and other fashion designers would follow.

Poiret’s autobiography, King of Fashion: The Autobiography of Paul Poiret (V&A, London 2009) reveals him as a complex character that he was. While in its pages he can come across as pretentious and self-congratulating, his passion for art and fashion is moving. So is his openness to taking risks or even bearing opprobrium. “Do not kick up a fuss for something that is not admissible today, because  tomorrow it will be,” he writes. He knew what he was talking about it, since one of his first designs, a kimono coat elicited a vehement rejection from a Russian countess. “What a horror! When there are low fellows who run after our sledges and annoy us, we have their heads cut off, and we put them in sacks just like that,” she said. This kimono-coat was to become one of Poiret’s hits.

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Paris Autumn Walks : The Basilica of Saint Denis

If I made a map of my favorite walks in Paris, the routes would invariably lead to an old church, a cemetery, a café or a market. They would circumvent the glamorous Paris of the tourist brochures and explore the places where the ancient and the modern city coexist, where the mysteries linger, and where one can satisfy one’s hunger, literal and figurative. Paris is often associated with spring, romance and blossoming, but my Paris is autumn, fallen leaves and the light streaming through the stained glass windows.

The Basilica of Saint Denis, Basilique royale de Saint-Denis, is one of those large French Gothic churches that to a non-expert eye are hard to tell apart. Even the fact that it has only one tower instead of the usual two can get lost as one contemplates its imposing size. Yet, the space inside the basilica is so elegant with its slender windows, graceful columns and candlelight filled enfilades that I’d take a stroll here over visiting Notre-Dame. It’s worth a metro ride to Saint-Denis, a northern suburb of Paris that manages to be both bland and seedy. My Paris explorations often end up here.

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Latest Comments

  • Victoria in Lahore and Roses: Thank you very much, Tara! There is so much to discover. December 9, 2018 at 4:26am

  • Victoria in Lahore and Roses: Thank you. You found the right crowd then. 🙂 December 9, 2018 at 4:25am

  • Victoria in Lahore and Roses: Thank you very much, Annie. Sharing with all of you makes me relive these journeys. December 9, 2018 at 4:25am

  • Victoria in Lahore and Roses: I started about three months ago. That’s generally how long it takes me to get to a comfortable conversational level. I speak Persian, so it helps a lot with Urdu.… December 9, 2018 at 2:57am

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