Reflections: 85 posts

Contemplating a Peony : 5 Perfumes for the Peony Viewing

Cherry blossoms may be the flowers most strongly associated with Japan, but the peony is another beloved bloom. If you visit Tokyo in late spring, you can spend your days wandering the most beautiful peony gardens. The most striking peonies are the ones called botan in Japanese, or tree peony. They indeed appear as if they’re growing on trees, and their flowers are much larger than the more familiar stem peonies known as shakuyaku. Their colors, textures and, of course, scents vary dramatically.

So I’ve selected several fragrances that use peony in different ways, ranging from fresh and light to dark and warm. I also would like to share several favorite spots in Tokyo where peonies are displayed in all of their splendor. While going there is not possible for most of us, we can still admire the photos on line and dream up our perfect peony perfume.

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Why Enjoying Scent is Important

“Is there any point in wearing perfume these days?” asked one of my readers, arguing that in our socially distant reality, perfume is becoming an irrelevant accessory. My first thought was that since we wear perfume for ourselves, being alone or in a crowd doesn’t change the pleasure it gives us. (I also wanted to point out that right now is the best time to wear perfume, since fewer people might complain about it.) Yet, the question had another layer to it, and it was about the order of priorities. How important is the enjoyment of scents now when we face a crisis?

First, let me separate perfume as a luxury product from the idea of enjoying scents. Anyone can spend a moment of their day smelling something beautiful–blooming flowers, a cup of coffee, their baby’s hair, and doing so consciously is what makes these pleasures more intense. The reason I started recording videos teaching smelling techniques is because paying more attention to our sense of smell is vital for our physical and mental health. A large fraction of our genetic makeup is devoted to olfaction. Our sense of smell is neither “primitive” nor “dispensable.” As anyone suffering from anosmia, the loss of the sense of smell, can testify, food and intimacy become bland when the scent component is gone.

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5 Things That Inspire Me

When I work on any long-term project, my office looks as if a tornado went through it. Since I prefer to work at a low table sitting on a cushion, my legs folded in the lotus position, I use the floor around me as my canvas. Books, research materials, and reference volumes cover it in random looking piles and mixed among them are items I find inspiring. Of course, the chaos is not entirely random, and I can tell you where I have my Japanese-English dictionary, Philip Kraft’s guide to fragrance chemistry or a volume of Persian poetry, without having to get up from my table. (The table, by the way, was a $10 acquisition from a Turkish shop, intended for making phyllo pastry.)

Casting a quick glance at the items that surround me today, I realized that they are much more than the materials I use for my writing, but rather the things that inspire me, the things that give me pleasure simply by looking at or touching them. I’m sure everyone can make such an inspiration collage–and I’m sure that for every person it would be different, but I wanted to share mine with you.

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Late Summer Lindens, Lingering

Lindens have long finished blooming. They seem so distant, the early summer days when the city was filled with the fragrance so sweet and rich that I felt like I was wading in honey and even when I would return home, the perfume clung to my skin, my hair, my clothes. These days linden trees stand green and splendid, with no trace of blossoms on their branches. And yet, I can still smell the linden fragrance. I only need to ponder about it for a moment to conjure up the heady summer days and the lindens.

I always regret seeing the linden blooming season come to an end. It’s one of the summer highlights for me, especially so given its brief duration. While it lasts, I try to imprint the linden perfume in my memory to keep it as a souvenir for later. The appeal of scents is in their immateriality, their intangibility–and in the way they can be retained in your mind to inspire you later.

Wrapping up these reflections, I wanted to share with you a song I love. It’s called Spring (Vesna), and it’s performed by a Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha, one of the most innovative and original music groups. They use traditional songs in modern arrangements, and “Vesna” captures the season’s moods, from effervescent to mellow.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

5 Winter Pleasures

Winter has a certain beauty in its austere color palette and the way it slows down life to a bare simmer. Yet, weeks of overcast skies and cold weather can leave one listless and longing for warmth and sunshine. The Belgian winter is almost uniformly grey and damp, with hardly any snow days to remind me of the season’s more exquisite aspects. And yet I wouldn’t trade these three months for any other. Winter’s pleasures more than make up for the late sunrises and heavy layers of clothes.

Big Books

I’m not intimidated by big books. They hold many hours of reading enjoyment. They tempt me with their promise of new facts to learn and new experiences to discover. Such books aren’t satisfying to read on Kindle. I love the heft of a thick volume as I ensconce myself in my favorite bean bag chair. I seem to have more time for reading during the winter, which is why one of my seasonal pleasures is to go through all of the thick volumes that I’ve set my sights on. For instance, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Iryna Vilde’s Sisters Richynski, Charles Dickens’s The Bleak House, Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia, and the letters exchanged by Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller. Finishing Proust’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, In Search of Lost Time, is my plan for this winter.

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