Uncategorized: 6 posts

Trip to Kharkiv : From The Rooster House

The news of another Russian attack shook me, because it touched Kharkiv and claimed more than 50 lives. I couldn’t read the news without breaking down in tears. Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second-largest city, located in the northeast of the country. It’s about an hour by train by Poltava, and in my family’s geography, Kharkiv has a special place. That’s where my grandmother Valentina studied at the university, met her future husband Boris and had my mother. I wanted to give you our personal sense of this luminous city by sharing an excerpt from my book, The Rooster House. The scene describes our return to Kharkiv for Valentina to discover it after many years away and for me to discover yet another mystery.

Kharkiv was waking up to the rustle of the street cleaners’ brooms, the melodic whine of trams speeding down narrow alleys and the glare of the morning sun. Valentina and I took a bus from the train station, crossed a bridge over a muddy river and drove past old buildings draped in advertisements for manicures, beer on tap and legal help. The imposing blocks of the Soviet novostroiki, literally ‘new buildings’ that were no longer new, sidled up next to modern churches that aimed to look old.

Despite the changes the city had undergone since Valentina was a student, I could easily imagine what she must have felt on her first visit. Kharkiv had neither the splendour of Kyiv nor the bucolic charm of Poltava, but it had grandeur. The buildings were massive; the streets were wide; the monuments outsized. Kharkiv was also a town of memorial plaques. On every corner, a hero had died and a poet had penned a verse. I also noticed many blank spots where plaques had been removed. Some heroes were heroes no longer.

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Celebrating Easter in Ukraine

It was a few days before Easter when I arrived in Ukraine in 2014 to stay with my grandmother, Valentina. Taking advantage of being together for the first time in years for this holiday, we prepared a large feast, colored eggs with onion peels and baked paska, a brioche-like Easter bread.  I became obsessed with photographing every part of our preparations, making my grandmother laugh. She didn’t understand what was interesting about recording everything. I didn’t understand it myself at the time, but I felt that I had to capture as many of my impressions as possible. Ukraine was going through a painful period as Russia had annexed Crimea and was also supporting various separatist movements in the eastern part of the country. We lived with the sounds of gunfire from the military training grounds nearby and with bitter news from the front.

Yet, as we celebrated Easter with its powerful message of renewal and rebirth, we felt hopeful. We planted vegetables and flowers in the garden. We whitewashed our cherry trees. We waited for the blossoms to burst.

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My Favorite Iris Perfumes with Real Orris Essence

As I dig for wild orchids
in the autumn fields,
it is the deeply-bedded root
that I desire, not the flower.

Izumi Shikibu (976 AD – 1030, Japan)

Iris, also called orris, is one of the most expensive perfumery raw materials, costing as much as 100,000 dollars per kilogram of absolute. Processing the roots takes a lot of manual labor and time. First, the knobby rhizomes are peeled by hand, then they are dried and left to mature for up to four years. During this time the content of irone increases, and irone is the main aroma-material that gives iris its unique scent of frozen wood and violet petals. It’s a perfume note that can play many different roles in a composition, from floral to woody. It will shimmer in the top notes and linger gently in the drydown. In short, iris is a spellbinding ingredient.

Given the exorbitant cost of natural essence, it’s not surprising that many perfumes don’t include natural iris, but rather a combination of natural and synthetic materials that mimics its scent. Ionones, a class of aroma-materials with a violet-like smell, are commonly used, since they are versatile and inexpensive. Accords based on ionones are vivid and floral, lacking the iced woods facets of iris, but with the addition of cedarwood or other dry woody materials the impression of iris becomes believable. Nevertheless, nothing compares to natural iris when it comes to depth and complexity, and for this reason I decided to highlight a few orris perfumes that include the real thing.

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Aizuri-e or Japanese Blue Pictures

Azure, sapphire, cobalt. Blue traditionally has been one of the most precious colors in paintings. Ultramarine was derived from the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli that had to be ground into a powder. The discovery in 1830 of a synthetic blue hue called Prussian Blue changed the art world, and it had a major impact on Japanese woodblock printing. Series of aizuri-e, blue pictures, became popular. Rendered in vivid blue, they captured landscapes, fashionable ladies, and city scenes. They are among my favorite Japanese woodblock prints for their l’heure bleue quality that lends itself to reveries.

Take a look at the print above, Kinryuzan Temple in Asakusa from the series “Famous Places in the Eastern Capital” by Hiroshige II. The striking use of red and blue creates an elegant effect, with the temple and the pagoda standing out prominently against a blue-shaded landscape. The small figures of passersby are sketched out just enough to give a sense of movement and a lively atmosphere. The splashes of deep blue on trees and the tops of the clouds create a color accent that adds more complexity to the composition. The feeling is of a majestic and mysterious place.

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Scent Diary for the New Year

Happy New Year! My best wishes for 2020 to all of you. I hope that this year will be a healthy and peaceful one, but also that it will be full of new discoveries and adventures. For my part, I’ll contribute by sharing my favorite books, perfumes and places with you. Also, if you would like to join me on one particular trip, my perfume course will be the Ukrainian Scent and Taste Adventure this year (June 2-9, 2020). I look forward to meeting some of you there.

Our scent diary is back for 2020, and the premise is the same as before. You can write about anything you wish in this thread, but for those who would like to use the Scent Diary to sharpen their sense of smell, I will give a short explanation. As I wrote in How to Improve Your Sense of Smell, the best way to sharpen your nose is to smell and to pay attention to what you’re smelling. It doesn’t matter what you smell. The most important thing is to notice whatever you smell around you. It’s even better if you write it down. So please share your scents and perfumes with us.

Did you make any resolutions?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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