Culture: 408 posts

Art, travel, books, history

Perfumers on Perfume : Archives from the Osmotheque

I was preparing the materials for my ISIPCA lectures when I remembered a wonderful series of articles that the Osmothèque kindly made available to me. These articles were Ernest Beaux and Ernest Shiftan, two legendary perfumers representing different styles and times. Re-reading them made me realize once again how cultured and thoughtful were these great creators–and how much effort they put into each accord. One other article in the series was written by a perfumer Robert Bienaimé about Paul Parquet, the author of Fougère Royale and Le Parfum Idéal. The articles were translated into English by Will Inrig, so many thanks to him as well.

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I hope that you will enjoy reading these articles, if you haven’t done so already. Or perhaps, it’s time to revisit them. They’re as enjoyable and relevant as ever.

Perfumers on Perfume : Ernest Beaux on Fragrance Masterpieces

Perfumers on Perfume : Paul Parquet

Perfumers on Perfume : Ernest Shiftan

If you have any other historical topics that you would like me to explore, please let me know in the comments.

Rosewater in Food and Fragrance

The 10th century Persian philosopher and scientist Avicenna is credited with many contributions to astronomy, geography, psychology, logic, mathematics, and physics. He also found time to delve into perfumery and devised methods to extract essential oils, experimenting on roses. If Avicenna were to step into a fragrance lab today, he would orient himself quickly enough–modern perfumery is a curious amalgam of state-of-the-art science and traditional techniques. For instance, rose oil is prepared in much the way as in Avicenna’s time through the process of steam distillation.

Even older than rose oil is rosewater, an ingredient with a history predating Avicenna. Lebanese food writer Barbara Abdeni Massaad, whose award winning cookbook Mouneh explores the traditions of preserving fruit, vegetables and flowers, includes a section on making rosewater. “Yes, the distillates from roses and orange flowers continue to be made in villages,” she commented on the vitality of the tradition. “Older people still believe that homemade is best.”

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From The Family Album: Israel

I prepared a different article for today over the weekend, but when I spoke with my cousin in Israel and learned some of her friends ended up among the people held hostage, I didn’t have any motivation to finish my original piece. My cousin was crying and unable to talk and I didn’t know what to say to comfort her. We are not a religious family, but we ended up praying together, wishing for this suffering of innocent people to stop.

Those who have read The Rooster House know that I have family in Israel. My cousin left Ukraine in the early 1990s and eventually my uncle Vladimir, my father’s oldest brother, joined her. Vladimir was a fascinating character who drives the story in my book–and who inspired my interest in photography and Ayurveda. I have shared previously in Boy With a Fotokor how as a bedridden child suffering from the consequences of polio, he experimented taking photos of his surroundings. He created a large archive of images that are the most vivid captures of the Soviet Union in the 1950s.

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Growing a Ukrainian Garden

This year I once again couldn’t go to Ukraine. I miss my family, but I also miss our garden in Bereh. Over the years that I have been visiting my grandmother, I became a gardener in my own right, making my planting arrangements and tending to flowers. For my grandmother, the garden was a source of sustenance and a place of safety, and I too began to see it as our small paradise. Even when the news were dire, working in the garden calmed me and restored my spirit.

Being away from Bereh, I longed for such a place. In my apartment, there is a small balcony, but I also share a couple of flower beds in front of the building with others in the neighborhood. Since nobody wanted to take care of them, I decided to plant the flowers and herbs that evoked Ukraine for me. I bought seeds for tagettes, sweet peas, hollyhocks, marigolds, cosmos, nigella, basil, thyme and mint. I planted lovage and anemones, wild strawberries and roses. The space was too small for everything I wanted to include, but I tried anyway.

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Perfume Treasure in Sicily Boudoir 36

Spend a day in Catania, a baroque jewel on the east coast of Sicily, and you will understand why Boudoir 36, an artisanal perfume boutique, is such a great fit for this exuberant city. Every scent, taste and color seems more intense—jasmine draping the building facades, oranges piled into ziggurats on the sidewalks, and even the blue of the sky with a dark triangle of Mount Etna. The perfume selection at Boudoir 36 can rival the finest boutiques in Paris and London, but its flamboyance and opulence are uniquely Sicilian.

Once behind the heavy red curtain of Boudoir 36, you leave behind the bustle of Via Santa Filomena and discover a calm, dark oasis. ‘Boudoir’ is an appropriate name; the boutique is small, only 22 square meters, and it has the intimate ambiance of a private salon. There are shelves upon shelves of perfume bottles, crystal glasses of scent strips, gilded candles, and soaps wrapped in colorful paper. Flowers spill out of vases in baroque arrangements and crystal chandeliers cast a soft glow over the antique furniture.

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