Culture: 341 posts

Art, travel, books, history

Postcard from Ukraine : Kalyna Berries

Guelder rose berries, called kalyna in Ukrainian, taste like cranberries and have a bitter-sour scent reminiscent of almonds and lingonberries. After the frost hits them, they lose their tannic pungency and become sweeter. They’re known to be a panacea for colds and sore throats, but we leave ours for the birds. The truth is that we prefer their red glimmer among the bare branches. No other sight is more quintessentially Ukrainian. No other plant has richer symbolic meaning.

In Ukrainian folklore, kalyna represents female beauty–the effervescence of youth with its delicate white flowers and mature sensuality with its red berries. Red stands for passion, and so the crimson hue of the berries represents love. If you look closer at Ukrainian embroideries, you can see kalyna berries and flowers telling their story of life coming a full circle.

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Postcard from Ukraine : Lavra and Cornflowers

One of my first rituals on returning to Kyiv is to visit the Kyivo-Pecherska Lavra, the 11th century Monastery of the Caves, to see the painting of Ukrainian artist Kateryna Bilokur (1900-1961) in The Museum of Ukrainian Decorative Folk Art. At a time when the only acceptable art style was socialist realist, her paintings of flowers were subversive. She was refused admittance to art school or even a transfer out of her village, although her paintings were exhibited abroad as a showcase for the success of Communism–“see, even our peasants can create art.” Pablo Picasso once said of her work, “If we had an artist of this level of skill, we would make the whole world talking about her!”

Those of you who shall be joining me on the Ukrainian Scent and Taste Adventure this year will be discovering more about Ukrainian art as part of the trip. And those who are planning a trip to Kyiv shouldn’t miss a visit to the Lavra complex. I recommend setting aside a whole day for it, because besides The Museum of Ukrainian Decorative Folk Art and the stunning churches (each with different wall paintings), you can descend into the caves bearing the remnants of the saints who came to this hill above the Dnieper River as early as 1057.

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Postcard from Bulgaria : Ice

It’s been a long time I’ve seen snow and ice covering the entire landscape and turning the world into a black and white Japanese painting. This morning wasn’t white, however. It was silvery-blue and scintillating.

“The cold earth slept below;
Above the cold sky shone…”
Percy Busshe Shelley

If I could only somehow capture how vivid and metallic the icy morning smells, as the cold obliterates all odors apart from those of frozen earth and burning wood.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, the village of Gorno Draglishte in Razlog Municipality, in Blagoevgrad Province, Bulgaria.

On the Spice Route

I spent much of last year traveling and researching the way spices and other aromatics are grown. My pursuit took me to the clove gardens in Indonesia, cumin fields in India, and the cassia cinnamon groves in Vietnam. The word ‘spice’ contains the same root as the word ’special,’ and I wanted to discover how these unique fragrant plants are transformed into essences and used in perfumery.

The journey was full of revelations. I learned, for instance, that processing clove essence involves not the buds of the tree, the familiar cloves of mulled wine and gingerbread, but rather the stems and leaves. All parts of the clove tree contain essential oil with varying scent profiles. The leaves release sweet-smelling essence, but the one derived from the stems has a smoky, woody accent.

Inspired by these travels, I sought up spice dominated perfumes and in my recent FT magazine article, Spice-Laced Scents, I share a few favorites.

In Hermès Epice Marine (£185 for 100ml EDT), toasted cumin adds a savoury twist to the earthy vetiver and citrus cologne. The lemony cardamom (another favourite Indian spice) adds a shimmering top note, while the mellow cedarwood serves as a polished backdrop. All the while, the dark note of cumin glows seductively. To continue reading, please click here.

What are your favorite spiced fragrances?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, nutmeg with mace

Victor Horta and Art Nouveau in Brussels

I have many reasons to love Brussels, and the Art Nouveau architecture is one of them. You can stroll through the city and come across the most beautiful examples of this imaginative art style. Such wealth is not surprising, because Art Nouveau was set into motion by the Belgian architect Victor Horta and he’s considered one of the main founders of the movement. Horta was born on this day in 1861. Using novel glass and ironwork techniques and new materials, Horta created the look that defined Art Nouveau–swaying lines, Japanese inspired motifs, whimsical structures and warm light.

Some of his notable works in Brussels included the Maison du Peuple in Brussels, (1895-1900); The Centre for Fine Arts (1923-1929), and the Brussels Central Station (1913-1952). Alas, the Maison du Peuple was demolished in 1965 during the same craze for Brutalism that left Brussels and other European cities with many eyesores.

One of my favorite buildings by Horta is the Hôtel Tassel (1893), its beautiful staircase is captured in the image above. Since it’s privately owned, it’s difficult to visit, but Horta’s house is now the Museum of Victor Horta and it gives you a good sense of his style. If you’re in Brussels, don’t miss the chance to marvel at the architect’s fantasy and ingenuity.

How would you scent the place in the photograph? 

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