Culture: 358 posts

Art, travel, books, history

Learning Scents (or Words) : A Few Tips

Recently I was making a new series of videos on learning languages, and as I was jotting down notes on learning words, I realized that for my studies I use the same memorizing techniques that I had used to learn ingredients in perfumery school. I wonder if my language learning didn’t accelerate during my training. After all, memorizing something intangible like a scent is even harder than memorizing a new word. Either way, I would like to share my tips on retaining smells in your memory, and you can see how you can apply these techniques to memorizing anything else.

If you wish to have a set of oils or spices ready, I recommend starting with no more 3. It might seem like very little, but if you learn to memorize those three scents and learn to pick them out in a blend, you can expand your exercises to a much greater number. Polish your technique with a few scents at a time.

For instance, my recommended smells for learning would be the following three: lemon (you can use the real fruit by scratching the peel), clove (you can use spices that you have at that time), and vanilla (you can use extract). You’re likely to have them already, and they’re used a lot in perfumery. Just because they’re familiar, however, don’t assume that you know all of their facets.

I emphasize the parallels with language studies to help you find your own connections. I’m sure all of you have pursuits that require memorization, so you can rely on the same techniques for learning aromas. Your techniques might differ from mine, but it doesn’t matter as long as they are effective.

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Dungan Spice Blend and Summer Salad : From Bishkek Via Brussels

Last weekend I had a cooking class with Zulfiya Ma Tian Yu of Dungan Food. Zulfiya lives in Bishkek, Kyrgystan, but we managed to overcome the Bishkek-Brussels distance by a combination of video and WhatsApp. Thanks to  modern technology, I’ve learned the basics of this ancient cuisine. The Dungans are a community of Muslims of Arab-Chinese descent living in Central Asia, mostly in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Originating from Western China, where the Dungans are known as Hui, this community has a distinctive identity, amalgamating various cultural influences. Its cuisine is likewise diverse, vibrant–and different from the cuisines of their immediate neighbors.

Imagine the sophisticated seasonings of Persian cuisine, intricate Chinese techniques and the robust Central Asian palette–and you get an idea of what Dungan food is like. There are noodle dishes served with an array of dozens of salads and sauces, dumplings filled with lamb and pumpkin, and paper-thin crepes for wrapping stir-fries of garlic chives and pepper. Each meal is served with plenty of vegetables, and everything is cooked just enough to enhance the natural flavors.

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Rubbish to Gems : A Tale of Javanese Tea Wedang Uwuh

While driving around the Indonesian countryside, especially in Sulawesi and Java, you see sheets of tarp spread along the side of the road with cloves or scrolls of cassia drying in the hot sun. The archipelago produces most of the world’s nutmeg and clove, spices over which wars were fought and nations colonized. Most of the produce drying on the plastic sheets is intended for export; the higher the quality the better the price farmers would fetch. Yet, no part of a spice tree is wasted, be it cassia, nutmeg or clove. Javanese tea, wedang uwuh, is an example of this philosophy.

Uwuh means rubbish in Javanese, and the tea uses all of the refuse from the spice production–nutmeg leaves, clove branches, cassia foliage and stems. (Another theory is that the tea is so called because the bits and ends floating in the liquid look like garbage.) Either way, garbage it is not, and one legend credits the Raja of Mataram with the discovery of wedang uwuh.

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15 Years of Bois de Jasmin : The Essentials

What is the place of art in difficult times? The world has changed within a matter of weeks in a way that most of us couldn’t have envisioned as we celebrated the start of 2020, and it’s right that we recalibrate our priorities and ask complex questions. Most of my work these days involves research into health and science topics, but as a writer, I grapple with the same dilemmas that my fellow writers whose topics cover art and culture are facing. Where does it all fall on the priority scale?

Last year I traveled to India to research a story about Kashmiri shawl weaving. I knew about the situation in the region that has been under a lockdown since August 2019, and I had no illusions that my research would be easy. Truth be told, I wondered whether I should have written about something other than the making of pretty shawls. I could have written about Kashmir’s turbulent history, military conflict, economic problems or societal changes.

What I didn’t anticipate was how thrilled artisans would be that I was writing about their culture and their crafts. They insisted again and again on the paramount value of arts and crafts, despite the severity of the situation in the Kashmir Valley. “If we don’t preserve our culture, what is the point of anything?” Asaf Ali, the founder of a small artisan venture, Kashmir Loom, told me during our interview. When I finally wrote my story, I realized that it was about art, but also about Kashmir’s turbulent history, military conflict, economic problems and societal changes.

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Crafts as Cure

In Ukraine, there is an old tradition of embroidering a rushnyk, a hand towel, during dark periods of one’s life. It matters less what’s embroidered than the process of doing so. Once the rushnyk is done, it’s tied to a tree branch and allowed to decay. This way, people say, one’s worries and dark thoughts become scattered.

I don’t know if my great-grandmother Asya followed this tradition consciously–at any rate, she was far too practical to hang perfectly good fabric in the garden, but she wove her own cloth and embroidered. Even the most ubiquitous items in the house like newspaper holders and bread bags were embellished. Her most beautiful embroideries, however, weren’t meant to be seen. They were her undergarments.

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Latest Comments

  • Tourmaline in New Style-Chypre Perfumes: Hi Joyce, I have more perfume than I could possibly use during the remainder of my life. This often prevents me from trying new fragrances, for fear of finding yet… August 10, 2020 at 7:19pm

  • Joyce in New Style-Chypre Perfumes: Great article and video, thank you Victori! Also, you must have an amazing necklace collection😉 A favourite chypre (or rather, rose chypre), is Agent Provocateur’s first perfume (the pink bottle).… August 10, 2020 at 5:02pm

  • Karen A in New Style-Chypre Perfumes: Wonderful informative video Victoria, thanks! Chypres and I sometimes don’t work out but when it does, oh my my! 31 Rue Cannon is truly one of my favorite fragrances. August 10, 2020 at 4:50pm

  • Victoria in New Style-Chypre Perfumes: Skin allergies were the issue. To be honest, I can accept the moss restrictions (it’s not banned, just restricted in dosage), but there are many more other restrictions and bans… August 10, 2020 at 1:40pm

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