Culture: 389 posts

Art, travel, books, history

Reading Sa’di’s Gulistan

Master, ‘ostad,’ is a nickname the Persian poet Sa’di of Shiraz (1210-1291/92) rightfully deserves. His verses are elegant and his prose contains many thoughtful observations on morals, love, and life in general. Sa’di’s Gulistan, Rose Garden, written in 1258 was once a book of instruction and it remains one of the marvels of Persian literature. I recommend the translation by W.M. Thackston. You can open the book at random and find marvelous passages on different topics: The Art of Conversation, on Love, on the Conduct of Kings, on Dervishes.

I’m reading the Persian section out loud to savor the beautiful language of Sa’di. You can also find it recorded online in Persian, and even if you don’t understand the language, you will still enjoy Sa’di’s musicality.

Here is one favorite passage:
“Are you musk or ambergris?” I asked, “for I am intoxicated by your enchanting fragrance.”
“I used to be just mud,” it said. “A mere nothing, but I sat for a time with the roses,
And the perfection of my companions had an effect on me. Otherwise I am nothing but dust.”

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Three Travelogues to Read This Fall

With summer travels winding down, autumn is a good time to turn to travelogues to satisfy one’s wanderlust. I have always been a fan of this genre, being a traveler myself, and recent releases promise to take us to far-flung locations. My favorite travelogues combine explorations of culture with history and provide a way to understand how the past influences the present.

A good traveler arrives at a place without strong preconceived notions and allows it to take them in–or reject them, as sometimes happens. This sensitivity is what distinguishes modern travel writing from classical examples, but all excellent travelogues share the same trait in that they transport the reader to another place. When our world feels narrower due to travel restrictions and cumbersome rules, opening a book is the easiest way to break down walls.

Erica Fatland, The Border: A Journey Around Russia Through North Korea, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Norway, and the Northeast Passage.

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In Search of Eau de Cologne in Cologne

A major industrial center on the River Rhine, Cologne may not seem like a place with a fragrant history, but it was here in July of 1709 that Giovanni Battista Farina founded the company “G. B. Farina” and began to sell fashionable Italian goods from his native Piemont. When Johann Maria, Giovanni’s younger brother, joined the company in 1714, he developed a perfume that he called “Aqua mirabilis” or “miracle water” and that he named Eau de Cologne or Kölnisch Wasser in honor of his adopted city.

The fragrance was based on Italian essences of bergamot and lemon. Fresh, bright and effervescent, it was a break from the heavy perfumes of the period that featured dark musk and civet. “My fragrance is like an Italian spring morning after the rain,” was Johann Maria’s description of his Eau de Cologne, and this fantasy was so compelling that soon the perfume was much sought after. Mozart wore it and so did Napoleon. Oscar Wilde ordered it and Queen Victoria was a fan with a purchase order of over 600 bottles.

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My Ukraine : On Storytelling and Family

In 2014 I returned to Ukraine, the country where I was born, to spend time with my grandmother Valentina and rediscover the place that shaped me. The result was several long trips that I made sometimes more than once a year. I have lived for most of my life outside of Ukraine, and reconnecting with it inspired me. I discovered its rich culture, beautiful nature, and delicious food. Its scents, sounds, and colors filled me. 
One of my most moving experiences was visiting the town of Reshetylivka and learning about the white-on-white embroideries, an intricate technique that looks like lace. Nadia Vakulenko, the master in charge of the embroidery program at the local college, taught me the basics and became a close friend. And I ended up absorbed by Ukraine completely.

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Happy Birthday, Sophia! Happy Women’s Day!

Happy Women’s Day! Happy birthday to my mentor, my teacher, my adopted mother (her words, not mine)–Sophia Grojsman. She’s the reason I write about fragrance and not politics. She gave the ’80s and ’90s their scent–and even dared to perfume Paris. Generous, passionate, courageous. She’s a legend.

I first met Sophia in 2006 when I was still a political science student and Bois de Jasmin was a mere sapling. She met me at her Manhattan office at IFF. She had a fan of blotters in one hand and a cigarette in another. She told me that I’m too boring for wearing all black. I swooned. Mostly because of the smoke, but I was also captivated by her. Sophia took me under her wing and taught me everything she knew. She was the same way with everyone around her. I don’t know of another person with a bigger heart.

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