Travel: 106 posts

Searching for scents and sensory traditions around the world.

Where My Jasmine Forest Blooms

Much of my scent vocabulary comes from Poltava, a town in central Ukraine where I spent the first 15 summers of my life. I was born in the capital city of Kyiv, but Berig, a hamlet near the town of Poltava, is our family nest. My mother’s line can trace its roots to this region as far back as the 17th century. Though in Ukraine’s tumultuous history four centuries are hardly ancient, this land exhorts an inexorable pull on me. Berig is our idea of heaven. I can describe without much effort how many trees are in the orchard and which of the peeling grey shutters has a rusty hook, but I also can recall the exact scent inside the water tank, the damp warmth of the tool shed, and the bitter odor of dandelion flowers.

kb-dvor2

As you read Bois de Jasmin, you breathe in these scents along with me, because the roots of my jasmine forest, bois de jasmin, are in Berig. When describing the fragrance of carnations and roses, I think of the flowers my great-grandmother grew. They are my olfactive referents. And so I would like to take you to very place that inspired Bois de Jasmin, to my great-grandparents’ house in Berig.

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Asya’s Idea of Paradise

The word paradise comes from the ancient Persian word pairidaēza, “an enclosed garden,” and for a Ukrainian, a cherry orchard is an idea of Eden. It has the same potent connotations as a white picketed fence house in the context of the American dream. It doesn’t mean that all Ukrainians dream of retreating to the village and tending to cherries—no more so than all Americans want to live in the suburbs and obsess over greens lawns—but the image has force beyond its mere components.

cherry-orchard1

In many folk songs, the cherry orchard is where friends meet, families gather for supper and beloved yearn for each other. It is a place of safety and beauty. It evokes all of the things that matter—family, love, friendship, bounty. It’s not a coincidence that one of the most popular works in Ukrainian literature is a short poem by the national bard Taras Shevchenko. Recite the opening lines to any Ukrainian—“A cherry orchard by the house. Above the cherries beetles hum”–and you will see his face light up and his mind travel to his own fantasy garden. “And nightingale their vigil keep,” he murmurs the poem’s romantic coda*.

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Why Is Rose Centifolia Such An Expensive Ingredient

I had a chance to harvest roses in Grasse on a couple of occasions and to observe the process of rose absolute and rose essential oil distillation. The experience of jumping into a pile of rose petals was certainly heady and memorable, but what struck me the most was the work involved to produce rose absolute. Since the famous rose of Grasse, rose centifolia, or rose de mai, contains less essence than rose damascena, it’s rarely steam-distilled. Instead, it has to be processed in a multi-step manner, which requires skill, experience and the right equipment.

My most recent video is about rose centifolia. As I explain, the processing of rose blossoms into rose absolute is a complicated and time-consuming process.  First, the flowers are treated with an organic solvent such as hexane, and the resulting extract is then vacuum distilled. The solvent is removed, and the resulting product is called concrète.

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How to Save The Kashmiri Shawl

“On 5 August last year, I was finalising the itinerary for my upcoming trip to Kashmir. The same day, the Indian government revoked its special (limited) autonomous status, which the Muslim-majority state had held since joining the Union in 1947. The government then imposed a security lockdown, cut communication lines and restricted travel. I’m neither a reckless risk taker nor an irrepressible optimist, but I didn’t cancel my trip. I knew it was foolish to hope that the situation in the Kashmir Valley – a place whose borderland status between India and Pakistan has seen it become a violent battleground over the decades – would stabilise in time for my journey a mere month away, but I was obsessed. The reason? A piece of fabric so weightless and yet so warm that it seems to defy all laws of science. I wanted to meet the artisans and learn how real Kashmiri shawls were made. The escalating conflict only increased my resolve for a glimpse of this rare art that is under threat of vanishing.”

The article “How To Save the Kashmiri Shawl,” which appeared in last week’s issue of Financial Times magazine, is the result of my journey to India. I was determined to use whatever means I could to talk to the artisans and to understand why this craft is so meaningful to them. As I’ve learned, weaving has a venerated status in Kashmir. As a crossroads, Kashmir developed its culture through interactions with other people and traditions, and the Kashmiri shawl is the perfect example of this intricate synthesis.

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Your Personal Museum of Scents

Last year, I received an email from one of my readers asking me an interesting question–if I could create my personal museum of scents, what would it include? She mentioned a NYT column by Tejal Rao, a restaurant critic in Los Angeles, in which she described smells that were meaningful to her. I immediately thought that Bois de Jasmin in its entirety was indeed my personal smell museum. If I were to limit it to certain themes, then I would mentioned two articles that I have already written, Scent of Kyiv, about the city where I was born, and Where Jasmine Forest Blooms, which describes my grandmother’s garden in Poltava, a place that inspired this page.

Yet, as I reflected further, especially on the last decade of my life, I realized that my personal scent museum at this point encompasses much more than I have previously noted. So, I decided to put down a list of scents that move me, evoke memories or inspire me.

Libraries

“Paradise is a library, not a garden,” Jorge Luis Borges said. Or could it be both? Either way, the scent of books and the scent of libraries is one of the most essential and evocative smells for me.

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