Travel: 106 posts

Searching for scents and sensory traditions around the world.

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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Stained Glass and Light : Postcard from Brussels

Among the hidden jewels of Brussels is a tiny Art Deco church called Église du Divin Sauveur. Located in the commune of Schaerbeek, it is decorated with the striking stained glass windows. On the outside it looks plain, but as is the case for most churches in this part of Europe, stepping inside reveals the true magic. As the early morning light streams in, the church is filled with an undulating rainbow of colors that makes the space seem bigger than it is. I walk through a river of sapphire blue and immerse myself into crimson and emerald. 

I’ve seen many stained glass window-adorned churches and mosques, but every new one is a special delight. The play of light never gets old. Every time it’s a thrill, awakening a childhood memory of playing with a kaleidoscope and waiting for the one special–the favorite, the unique–arrangement to fall into a place. A turn of the tube, the sound of glass fragments falling into  place, a new pattern.

These days such calm moments are rare, so I savor and seek them out even more. I especially enjoy when they happen when I least expect them. If I can capture with one sentence the learnings of this year, it would be–take care of yourself. Go for walks, pursue hobbies, enjoy your most extravagant perfumes, daydream, hope, and remember that every moment holds the promise of a wonder.

What takes you to your place of serenity? 

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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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