Sunday, January 30, 2011

¡Besos from Buenos Aires!

Well, hello everybody!!

I know it's been more than six months since I last blogged over here at LCN. May I just say right now how grateful I am to all of you who still drop by, still send me the occasional little note, and all. What a wonderful community the sniffologists are...

And a *special* LCN shoutout to those (brave? patient?) souls who signed up to follow me after I announced my extended hiatus-- that's some heavy fan action!!

The Other Nostril and I are down in Argentina, and I'm greasing the skids for a posting on why that's happening. And there is all kinds of goofy perfume stuff to report on, if I can cut into my heavy vacation schedule and actually get some sniffing done.

But for now, if you are craving a taste of the old LCN reporting, check out my BsAs blog:

It's mostly just a clearing house for my pictures, thoughts, and mini-adventures while we're here-- quantity > quality, in most cases, but we are having a lovely time and I enjoy the sharing.

Again, besitos, all.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Barbara Bui “Le Parfum” ****

So, the advent of Mother’s Day got me to thinking.

See, I’m a dog mom, and four-legged furry children are all the kids I’m ever going to have in this life. At 42, you get to that place where you are really, really sure about the choice not to have kids. As I have been known to say, I’ve experienced the urge to be a vegetarian far more fiercely than I ever have to have children. And I eat a lot of meat.

So that’s good! Verrrry important that if you don’t want to be a mom, you don’t end up as one. But being a dog mom, well, that’s another story. I love my kids, Rocky (left) and Lily (right), more than I can say.

What I noticed when I fell hard for perfume was that I was not the only one in my family that spent a whole lot of their day sniffing things. In fact, their interest in what things smell like put mine to shame. (I have a friend, Cosi, quite the dog person herself, who has this wonderful synaesthetic metaphor for the gulf between the way dogs and humans experience the world. She says that the world of smells all around us must be like coral reefs for dogs—color, depth, complexity, movement, and constant excitement, with some smells fixed to their sources, and others, like schools of fish flashing by, but through the air, not through the water. And we sad humans experience all this wonder of the olfactory world as if it were night.)

My Other Nostril, always useful in his retirement for Half-Baked Fantastic Schemes To Make Lots Of Money, thinks that with the rise in the ape-silly market of All Things gourmet/high fashion/luxury for dogs, the time is ripe for a line of doggie perfume. (Full disclosure: Bazr and I, with the gourmet, raw, handcrafted dog food and the ludicrous doggie fashion, are as guilty as any dog parents with way too much disposable income. For Lily, at least, I always use the excuse that fashion is a necessity—not a luxury. After all, she is French.)

I am not about to be in the business of launching a line of dog perfume any time soon, but the exercise of thinking about what a dog perfume might smell like led me to some interesting places.

Like first off. If dogs’ sense of smell is supposed to be all that great, why don’t they think anything stinks? I mean, think about it. If their noses are so sensitive, have you ever seen a dog run up to something, stick its schnoz in it, and then recoil in disgust? If you’ve lived with a dog for any length of time, you will notice they spend the same amount of time with things that smell sweet and foul alike. (And if you don’t spend any time with dogs, I will not horrify you with details of the things that dogs will eat. Suffice it to say, they will eat things that have already been eaten before. And rejected. Or digested. Seriously. It is truly disgusting.)

And I mean, hell: who suffers more when they get skunked, you or them? You!! They seem slightly stunned, but hey, reeking to high heaven is just a new thing they’re trying out for now. And, hel-lo—Skunks? Frack-tastic sense of smell doesn’t say to a dog: Stay away? I mean, come on…..

And how about this: take a look at our son-in-law, Neal. (This is how he looks now. The photo above was how he looked when we first got him.)

This is for our son, Rocky, the Most Precious Object in the whole world. They say that every dog needs a job. Well, for Rocky, that’s chasing and guarding Neal, and when he’s not engaged in that, kicking him around like a soccer ball and trying to rip his face off.

Neal, as you can see, has had a bit too much plastic surgery. I have to cram some of his piggy stuffing back in to one hole or another two or three times a week and then stitch him back up. He threatens to become more thread than pig at some point. Baths for Neal are getting less frequent as well, because every time I soak him and soap him up, he loses more of his pink piggy fur.

But hey, Rocky loves him. Rock-star has been dragging that damned fool pink pig around with him everywhere he goes for two years now. And while I don’t lay any claim to having the most sensitive nose out there, I will attest to this: Neal does not stink. In fact, as impossible as it is to believe, even when I stick my nose right up to him, I don’t smell Neal at all. That is weeks and months of caked-on dog drool on that pig, along with whatever dust and detritus Neal picks up getting carried through the house in Rocky’s mouth. But Neal, no matter how damaged his looks are, is scent neutral. (To me. Some times when we play hide-the-pig, Rocky will catch a whiff, stiffen, and sniff the air wildly. He can smell his lover…)

Ok. I digress. So stuff that we think stinks, or doesn’t even smell at all, dogs think is verrrrry interesting.

So how might you go about creating a line of dog scent?

I’ve seen a few stabs at dog scent out there: Lavender, Honeysuckle, Bee Balm. I remember one shampoo I bought made my dog smell just like an oatmeal cookie. I loved it.

But that’s the point—I loved it. She hated it. Have you ever seen a dog fresh from the tub run outside as fast as their four legs can carry them and flop down on their backs in grass, dirt, or worse, and roll and roll? It’s as though they are saying with their whole bodies: Please, Lord, take away this olfactory onslaught and give me back my wholesome doggy smell.

So making dogs smell like flowers and herbs and stuff, that seems a little wrong. It kinda misses the point—that’s not really who they are.

Bazr, ever helpful, suggests that perhaps we should create a scent for dogs that smells like treats: like bacon and peanut butter and cheese. I include this ludicrous suggestion only to summarily crush it: why would a dog want to smell like a snack he can’t have? That would be, I would think, incredibly frustrating (and confusing) to a dog. It would be akin to needing to sneeze but not…quite…being able to. Always thinking you’re about to eat something delicious, but it never happens.

So that’s out.

But, never daunted, Bazr has another idea: What, when out on walks, do dogs like to sniff most? Answer: other dogs’ pee (known as "peemail") and other dogs’ butts. Why not a line of ass scents for dogs?

While I can see the ever-loving logic in this, as in all of Bazr’s “ideas,” it does somehow miss the point of creating a scent that makes the dogs smell good to their human counterparts. I know a lot of perfumes have civet and castoreum and musks, and a whole lot of other notes that invoke nether parts, but to go flat out and stink up your dog to smell like that, well, I think that even for insane dog parents, there is some sort of a limit, and I think we’ve reached it.

Actually, I scoff, but while I'm sure that "Eau de Cul pour Les Chiens" might be a popular everyday scent for dogs, as it just so happens, I know what they would love to smell like for special occasions.

When we take Rocky and Lily to the beach, we let them off leash—watching them scamper and frolic freely is one of our happiest family together times. So much to explore and smell at the beach-- the kids might call it "sniffalicious."

About six months ago, the four of us were at the shore, and walking along like we normally do. Rocky, while not a flat-out bolter, does have the tendency to ramble a bit at the beach, so I’m always keeping my eye on him and calling him back (while tempting him with a treat) if he’s strayed too far.

Suddenly, rather than zig-zagging and sniffing and playing around with his sister, Rocky lifts his head, sniffs the air, and then takes off like a shot up the beach. Everything about his body language is different: he is on a mission and running as fast as his four short legs can take him. “Oh, sh*t,” I say, and take off him as fast as my fleshy middle-aged legs can take me. I start shouting his name, first enticingly, but then with increasing urgency: “Rocky. Ro-cky!!!” He does not slow down, does not even look in my direction. If anything, he’s running faster. This, I know, is not good.

The next few moments happen in slow-motion—time slowed down like right before a car accident: a lady calls out to me: “Oh, no. You’ve got to stop him—there’s a dead seal over there.” I see it now, half-buried in the sand, and Rocky has reached it—I’m still a good 15 feet away—I’ve got no chance. When he gets to it, Rocky throws himself down on his back, and as I race up to him, he is rubbing and rubbing himself on this flattened out, desiccated, sand-caked gray thing.

“Monster!!” I shriek, betrayed to the core. “Murderer!!” All of a sudden, Lily has sprung up right beside the two of us, and guess what? She thinks this awesome. She’s got that look that dogs do when they’re laughing-- everybody running, yelling, rolling in a dead seal. Best. Beach. Trip. Ever.

Just in time, Bazr brings up the rear. “Get your daughter!” I command him. Dutifully, he picks her up. I grab three of Rocky’s four outstretched legs like he’s a steer to be lassoed and drag him off the carcass. I slap his leash back on him, all the while cursing him and the bitch that birthed him. We four make our way back to the car and head straight home, afternoon at the beach cut short.

In the back seat, Lily keeps pawing and sniffing at Rocky, trying to take it all in. But Rocky, he sits statue-still, locked in a thousand-yard stare. Who knows where the full-bodied infusion of dead seal takes him, but clearly in his mind he is flying far, far away.

As a dog mom, I ascribe to the school of always calibrating the right degree of maternal outrage, whether it be real or manufactured. I try hard to remain furious, but by the time we're home, Bazr and I are laughing hard about it. I hate giving dogs a bath, but even I have to admit, Rocky made a really good run for it.

So it’s my theory that if dogs were ever given discretionary incomes, I think "Eau de Dead Seal" would be a big best seller. That is, when dogs have learned to move out, get their own place, and shop for their own dog food. Then they can buy and wear all the "Eau de Dead Seal" they want. When I come to visit them, we can sit outside, and I can wear a clothespin on my nose.


I guess there’s no real way to talk about Mother’s Day without at least mentioning my own mother.

Here is the moment I take to say what those of us of a certain age say about our parents: it was a different time then. Women had children without thinking about it as a choice. What my mother's life might have been like without we three kids, well, no one can say.

The only scent my mother could stand to wear was Jean Naté—my mother was sensitive to life, allergic to almost everything: food, pollen, car rental counters. She was built strong—even taller and stockier than my Polish peasant build, but my mother was my first study in fragility: almost anything in life could overtake her, both physically and emotionally.

I still see Jean Naté bottles at the drug store from time to time—what do they call it? “After Bath Splash”? That's not even a thing. Then there's the mongrel Franglais name: "Jean"-- as in "blue jeans" and the made-up fakey-French "Naté," signifying nothing. The absurdity of the size of the bottle, $19.99 for a whopping 30 ounces, with that little round black plastic lid--I still hold the feel of it in the palm of my hand.

I should find Jean Naté schlocktastic. That would be the proper arch response of my generation. (Some generations fought great wars, others great depressions, others fought for human rights. My generation’s great contribution to humanity? Knowing sarcasm and world-weary irony. You’re welcome.)

Instead I find Jean Naté—the whole idea of it-- deeply sad.

Let someone who doesn’t have the maternal memories that I do explain JN. Angela from NowSmellThis, take it away:

Jean Naté first came out in 1935 for the Jean Naté company, which was later bought by Revlon. Cruising the internet, I’ve seen lists of its notes including lavender, jasmine, rose, carnation, lily of the valley, cedar, tonka, musk, and sandalwood. What I smell, though, is a quick burst of plastic and alcohol followed by a delicious, fresh lemon verbena with lavender and faint vanilla. The scent stays close and burns off quickly. You could easily splash on Jean 
Naté after your morning shower, and by the time you’ve had coffee and read the daily posts at Now Smell This, you’d be able to get dressed and wear whatever perfume you want without worrying about it clashing.

That’s a pretty fair assessment of the stuff as I remember it. Definitely the first impression is alcohol. I might call the citrusy note lemongrass rather than lemon verbena, but I’m not here to quibble. The first “la” in lavender for the top notes. It would dry down in mere minutes to a wan jasmine wash. Underneath was what I would guess was the sandalwood left over after the real perfume makers had picked the lots over. I’m guessing the equivalence of dog food-grade sandalwood (not that dog food is such a bad thing…), and probably now, in the modern formulation, utterly fake.

I thought for a moment about doing some research on JN before writing about it—I read that the formulation has changed in the past decades since I smelled it last, not surprising. I opted against, because my relationship with JN is the one that my mother wore, and I don’t need to smell it again to know everything about it.

It’s like cheap aftershave, only made deliberately cheaper—it’s scented alcohol to cool your skin down and make you feel fresh for a few minutes. Then it dies away. I remember from the ads for it when I was a kid that they would talk about it being “specially designed not to clash with other scents.” Even as a kid, I thought that was a strange thing to boast about. I mean, I thought to myself, how would they know what perfume you were wearing that day and what would go nice with it? How could you make a statement like that?

There is something true about the fact that my mother, buffeted helplessly about by just about every obligation life puts on a person, the only scent she would adorn herself with would be pinched and fleeting, designed to be overwhelmed by anything with intent and staying power. And yet, impossibly, bought at the drug store by the half-gallon.

My mother had no genius for pleasure. Nor did she have a twentieth of the fiber that it takes to raise children—we were an assault on her very being. (Heed my caution about knowing whether or not motherhood is really right for you.) Jean Naté, for me, is the scenttrack of her exhaustion.

So one of the strangest parts about writing LCN for me is the fact that so much stuff comes up as a true fact, but I don’t know why until later.

My pre-verbal cravings as I typed this piece demanded I wear Barbara Bui “Le Parfum,” a discontinued European rarity, created by the nose Anna Flipo. How many millions of miles could this stuff possibly be from either "Eau du Dead Seal," or Jean Naté, I couldn’t tell you.

I had been wearing BBLP since spring, charmed by its soapy spiciness: a true jasmine/ylang-ylang opening with a big white vanilla musk underneath making it smell clean and yet approachable all at once, like friendly skin. Then for hours it would wear warmer, deeper, creamier, spicier—the woods and incense and spices would poke out: allspice, nutmeg, juniper. Still subtle, but complex, like an eggnog made by a master.

I had contemplated writing about BBLP but couldn’t quite find the hook—I found it to be three-star good, but I had some kind of four-star crush on it. I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on with the stuff.

Except then when I sat down to write, I sniffed deeper. Little hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up. I know this will make sense to no one else but me as I say this, but out of the bottle the structure, the bones, the arc of the logic of BBLP is Jean Naté. As sure as I’m sitting here.

Knock the citrus astringency off the top, give the bottom butterfat, vanilla, incense, and musk for depth, but they are the same scent, I tell you. How a lemon ice and a crème brulée can be related in my mind: I am my mother’s daughter, and yet so, so different in every way. But in my mind I am traveling, flying, far, far away.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there and to all of you who ever had a mother. It’s good to be back and writing. I’ll post when I can.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

House of Chanel

No. 5" **
"Coco" ****
"No. 19" **
"No. 22" *
"Chance" *
"Mademoiselle" *
"Cristalle" *
"Cuir de Russie" ***
What can you say about the guilty pleasures from when you were a kid? The ones you treasured and obsessed over, like a pet bug kept in a jelly jar? Do they shape you, bend you, warp you forever?

My mom was a bit of a hippie—no use for processed foods or junk tv, which only made my kid brother and me want them all the more. I spent half my waking childhood hours trying to get my hands on candy.

And all of the silly “cop” shows of the 70’s and early 80’s? Streets of San Francisco, Starsky and Hutch, Cagney & Lacey, Magnum P.I. There was only one word to describe them: ~~*~Heaven~*~~. (Now I don’t eat sugar, and can’t stand police procedurals—not even Law & Order, which is ostensibly smart and well-made.)

Oh, but then there was the jiggle cop show, the one that launched a whole sub-genre of beautiful buxom girls with guns, gave us Barbed Wire and Laura Croft, and the whole rest of the silly lot.

Let me just say right now, that I LOVED Charlie’s Angels when I was a kid. It came on in 1976—I was eight—a formative age if there ever were one. But I loved it from afar, from a distance, because, and I don’t exaggerate when I say this, I never saw a single episode. Never caught it at a friend’s house, never managed to pull a scam to get a babysitter to let us watch it. When I was finally old enough to have a tv, Charlie’s Angels were loooooong gone.

But somehow, I knew all about it. I knew the theme song, with all the poses and the kick-ass explosions; I knew John Forsythe's voice (May he forever rest in peace in Charlie's Heaven); I knew every Angel and their names throughout the seasons. Angels for a time there were just in the air everywhere you looked. Other kids at school had Angel notebooks and lunchboxes—with no thought at all to ever being cool, I would just stare. I studied the ad promos the way a rabbi studies the Talmud, searching for signs of my own impending crime-fighting girl-power bad-assitude. Bell bottoms, big hair--This was going to be my life, people! Putting away the bad guys with my sassy gal-pack, and looking *fabulous* while we were at it!

Ok. And looking back on it, as I sit here and type this, I realize my real life turned out almost exactly kinda that way, but without the bell-bottoms and the big hair. But that’s a story for another day.

So it goes without saying that I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the Angels, but when I say that, I mean the original three. (I mean, Shelly Hack. Come on!)

Then, when I first fell in love with perfume, I had a conundrum to solve: How to think about, write about, put into context several of the Chanel crushers? What to do with “No. 5,” "Le Monstre," so big and such a cliché? And then how to write about “Coco,” my go-to scent for some 15 years? These two were so huge, there was almost no way to say anything about them.

But, as I have found to be true so many times throughout the years, I found myself to be rescued by an Angel, or a trio of Angels, to be exact: relating to the House of Chanel through the Angels of Charlie, it all just fell into place. Allow me to introduce: Chanel’s Angels.
“No. 5” **
How would I ever encounter the Greatest Perfume Ever now if I were smelling it for the first time? It’s impossible to say—“No. 5” defined what perfume was supposed to be for me for many formative years—I’m sure I’m not alone in that. The huge everywhere floral whiteness of it all, the aldehydes expanding to fill infinite space—it’s hard to imagine that I’d take to it now.
In my mind, #5, while it may have French roots, is the All-American girl-trying-to-be-sophisticated perfume: blonde, wholesome, friendly, accessible to the masses. (“Farrah” could be a fakey French name, right?)

Like the poster and the flip hair-do, #5 was just, well, everywhere-- an unavoidable cultural fact. It’s not my favorite scent by any means, but I don’t mind it either. It conjures an old boyfriend who bought it for me, trying to be poetic and gallant; it conjures Marilyn Monroe. It will always and forever be lodged in my mind as a certain kind of corn-fed blonde beauty that I, as an American, am related to by birth but not by blood, if you know what I mean.

“Coco” ****

The whole world was gaga for Farrah, and I just couldn’t care less. I always thought that Jaclyn Smith, as Kelly Duncan, was the true beauty of the pack—I never could figure out why nobody else could see that. If Farrah was the big-toothed girl-next-door, Jaclyn was the European belle dame. Her cheekbones, sculpted brows, and delicate frame, she just radiated everything that meant elegance and refinement to my eight-year-old sensibilities.

And I wore and loved “Coco” for nigh on fifteen years. I could follow the arc of its wearing from out of the bottle to drydown like a piece of Rachmaninoff in my mind: its orange citrus open, revealing a dark rose-and-jasmine amber heart, the cinnamon and spices stepping into the fore after 30-45 minutes. Then the soft, spicy amber powder drydown. During my wild years, it completed me—gave me the sensuality and refinement I needed. Liquid Courage, you might say.

Why I cannot pull the trigger and give my old flame five stars, I simply cannot say. I have given thought to grandfathering “Coco” onto my five-star list since the day I created it, but I have never…quite…been able to do it. The love affair has ended: For fifteen years, “Coco” was my queen, but the woman who wore and adored “Coco” is no more. I will always carry a flame for you, “Coco,” but I’ve moved on.

“Cuir de Russie” ***
I’ve written elsewhere that I always identified with Kate Jackson (Sabrina Duncan-- I always thought she had the best name of all the Angels.) Tall, long face, long legs, brunette, flat as a board. Sometimes she even wore glasses, and all these butchy, butchy suits-- she was the dykeiest thing on tv for, like, ever.

Quoting from a prominent Angel-related website here, she was the "smart" Angel, remember? (How could I have possibly known that, and yet I do…) And not a flashy pretty one, either. I understood her, recognized her as a fellow traveler in the Order of Things.

So when the idea popped into my head to connect Farrah to “No. 5” and Jaclyn to “Coco,” naturally, my next task was to find the scent that said “Kate.”

Since I am the Queen of Imaginary Rules, I decided that it had to be a “classic” Chanel—not a new one. (If you’re wondering, here are the three scents for the new and ever-so-not-improved Angels: Drew Barrymore =“Mademoiselle;” Lucy Lu = “Cristalle;” Cameron Diaz = “Chance.” Love you ladies, but, hey, what are you doing dressing up and playing pretend Angels? The real Angels would never wear those boots. Take up your one-star juice and be gone!)
Not knowing much about the “classics,” I had a few try out. “No. 19” was fun—an angular chypre, all elbows and green edges. It gave me insight into the kind of woman I would never be: tailored, refined, fine-boned, gorgeous. I genuinely appreciate “No. 19”—it’s perhaps my favorite chypre, but it’s an intellectual love—I don’t love-love it.

“No. 22” almost repelled me—a big white floral on a powder base. “No. 22” gave me insight to how I might have encountered “No. 5” on another time/space continuum, and I didn’t like what I smelled.

But then, “Cuir de Russie.” Aaahhhhhhh. Leather is one of the most difficult notes for me—too soft and I don’t understand it, too strong and it repels me. CdR is the Baby Bear of leather scents for me—it’s juuuuuust right.

The very first thing I smell when I dab on CdR is a cloying clichéd jasmine open and I do not like it at all, but in less than a minute, help arrives: the leather settles in underneath, and a little fresh rose brightens it and gives it lift. There is a balsam heart to CdR that my nose heads straight for—like the word itself, it is calm and comforting.

Like “Coco,” the powders don’t kick in for 30-45 minutes (How do perfumes do that, I wonder?), and then CdR becomes a luxurious floaty aura. The leather in CdR is a high-quality kidskin—light, supple, soft. I always see the same set of pink suede gloves in my mind when I wear CdR.

And somehow the thought of Sabrina wearing CdR makes me smile—understated, not a screamer. Not overly flowery or feminine, with a well-integrated, attractive butch side—the Thinking Woman’s Chanel.

So it’s probably apt that in a posting devoted to friendship, childhood inspirations, and crime-fighting bad-assitude that I make the announcement that I’m putting LCN on indefinite hiatus. I launched this blog exactly 6 months ago Saturday, and I promised myself that I would pour myself into this project for those six months. It has been a wonderful experience—I have loved the writing, my readers, and being part of a much larger conversation with wonderful thinkers and scentualists.

However, as these six months draw to a close, the prospect of LCN as an open-ended artistic project has shut me down creatively. I’ll be taking time to reassess what I want LCN to be, and I’ll be launching my new blog as well, still in its infancy as of today, but you can take a look at where I'm headed over at

Please know that I’ll be dropping in on all my fellow blogistas from time to time to keep up with what you all are sniffing and writing about.

Again, a thousand thanks to all my readers and commenters and fellow bloggers and sample swap partners and sniff buddies, and to everyone else that made this labor of love possible.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Issey Miyake “L’Eau d’Issey” 0 (No Stars)

So I found myself for a week in Phoenix, and it got me to thinking: What does Cindy McCain smell like?

Ok. Now, I know what you’re thinking. I’ve got Cindy McCain’s picture up here, I’ve got a no-star scent to review—this is looking like it's going to be a total partisan knee-capping, right?

Ok. So. This is not what this is. Let me start out by saying that I am not going to say a single mean thing about Cindy McCain, and that I used to like "L'Eau d'Issey"—enough to own a bottle, and even to occasionally wear it, until it started giving me a headache. Which, as you will soon learn, is an important fact. I am not going to be mean to anyone in this review—we have enough political sniping in this day and age. I’ve got something else altogether to talk about.

Regular readers of LCN will not be shocked to learn that I did not vote for Cindy’s husband in the last presidential election—in fact I worked pretty hard to get the other guy elected. My feelings on John McCain have evolved from neutral-leaning-to-positive with a healthy dose of due respect, to, over the past few years, shall we say a more mixed reaction. But I’ll leave that for another day.

No, today I want to write about my evolving views on Cindy, a woman I never thought much about one way or the other until John won the nomination. Then I was asked to think about her quite a bit, and in the few short years since, I am in a perpetual state of evolving understanding of this woman-behind-the-man.

Ok. I said I wasn’t going to be mean, but this is just being honest: I did not like Cindy McCain at the outset. I mean, a size-zero fashion-plate, platinum-blonde, blue-eyed beer heiress Republican ice-queen—not the kind of woman I immediately warm up to. I thought to myself, we already had eight years of Nancy Reagan—do we really need to do this again? (And I may have mentioned somewhere my deep starry-eyed crush on Michelle Obama, who somehow manages to both project the mien of a warrior goddess and soccer mom all in one package. I mean, in the battle of potential First Ladies, it’s not really even a contest.)

But during the campaign, when I did notice Cindy, I kept coming back to one distinct impression: she seemed like the most miserable woman on earth. I mean, really. She did. She always had the perfect ramrod posture, along with impeccable wifely nodding and clapping skills; however, her face always seemed to me to be a study in stoic discomfort. God, did she ever seem like she hated being wherever she was.

During the campaign, I remember reading a profile in The New Yorker on her when she talked about what a private person she was and how much she liked her quiet life back in Arizona, and I got the distinct impression that she did not want John to win. Which is deep when you think about all that: highest stakes race on the planet, with a life-partner who will hate it if you win, and be deeply relieved if you fail.

Ok. So whether or not all that’s true, I’m just speculating. What Cindy’s real feelings were on John’s run and her potential to be First Lady of These United States, we may never know.

What make me sit upright and take notice, however, is when Cindy came out publicly last fall in People Magazine to talk about her life-long struggle with migraine headaches. She said she wanted to raise awareness about this crippling condition and how profoundly it has impacted her life. She’s raising money to find a cure. (And on that note--Cindy—I salute your commitment to charity—one of the things I will always attribute to you. I know you have worked tirelessly to raise money for Operation Smile, a nonprofit that performs free facial surgeries for children with cleft palates, cleft lips, and other facial deformities. Right on.)

In that moment, when I read that, I just said to myself: Sweet Holy Pete--That Man dragged her through all that. I mean, she talked about having to show up at fundraisers and political events, throwing up out of the window of her limo because she was in so much pain. I am grateful that I rarely get headaches, and I’ve only had 10-12 migraines in my entire life, but if you’ve never had one, something I can tell you about it right now: all you want to do is go home, get into bed, lie in the dark, and not be troubled with anything. Seriously. Seriously. It’s primal.

Again, I’m not here to say anything mean about all this, and we can never fully understand other people’s choices. I get the notion of Country First, and the importance of service, and the death-grip ambition can have on some people. But I’m just here to say that when it comes to the people that I’m close to, I choose to hold them more gently than that.

So that made me look at Cindy through different eyes—even if I couldn’t quite understand what motivated her, I saw more fully a picture of her authentic self.

Then I got a load of this image about a month ago:
Well, Holy Cow!! Whaddya know?!?!?! Cindy has come out for gay marriage!! (For my international readers, the “Proposition 8” campaign is the hotly-contested ballot measure here in California put to the voters as to whether or not gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry. The Prop 8 battle has become an important proxy war in the battle for same-sex marriage all over the country.)

So it is quite significant that the wife of the most recent Republican presidential candidate and her daughter (the fierce and compelling Meghan McCain—if she’s the face of the New Republican Youth movement—welcome! Bring it on!!) have come out so strongly and so publicly for gay marriage. (Mr. McCain still believes marriage should be between a “man” and a “woman.” I am wondering if he can clearly tell us how each and every one of God’s children fall into one of those two categories.) (Was that mean? I don’t think that was mean. I’m really trying hard not to be mean…)

So this whole posting is a study in looking harder, looking deeper, being patient with people that you don’t really know and that you’re not inclined to like. I suppose it would have been more charitable for me to assign a scent to Cindy that traced the same arc of appreciation: something that I didn’t care for initially that I came to like/love over time. But once I had the headache connotation, I thought to myself: Cindy McCain smells like Issey Miyake’s monster smash hit “L’Eau d’Issey.”

I mentioned that I once owned a bottle: I bought it some time in the mid-90s. It smelled sporty to me. I was living on a farm those days, and something about the scent said tom-boy outdoors-y-ness. (I encountered it on a scent strip in a fashion magazine, and I remember driving the full 60 miles into town to get it.) I wore it for a while, and then it just started to go south for me: I couldn’t help but notice every time I put it on I got a headache.

Now, I know there are differing stories about this scent: it’s the smell of “water”, whatever that means, or sometimes referred to as a "sharp aquatic." It is supposed to be clean, refreshing. Ok. Whatever. I liked it enough to buy it.

But when I smell it now, here’s what I wrote in my notes: “Sharp lemon rind open. Ages quickly into melted lily/vanilla lemon cream. Sticky.” I’ll tell the world right here and now, I don’t get “water”, I don’t get “crisp.” LEdI reminds me of the slightly sanitizing smell of lemon-scented hand wipes. Only gourmandy—sticky sweet. Not a good smell.

And that was the final fixed and immutable connection that married Cindy to LEdI in my mind: she often wears this specific color that I call “couture lemon yellow”:

It’s a color I always associate with her-- she wore it both on the night that she spoke at the Republican convention and the night of the concession speech, and IMHO, she kinda owns it —she looks really good in it. So you can see why I felt compelled to give her a lemon-scented headache-inspiring scent. But not in a mean way.

Thank you for your honesty, Cindy, and for your bravery, and for your service to our country, your charitable works, and your fortitude. Now that John is just a US Senator, and that is all he will ever be, I wish you from here on out days and nights without pain, the freedom to speak your mind, and a life that is as simple as you want it to be.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Lorenzo Villoresi “Musk Oil” ****

So, I’m back from vacation—such a lovely trip. But one of the happiest parts was coming home to fragrant packages in the mail from several of you out there—I can’t wait to start sniffing! Thanks to all of you who sent me samples!

Well, as regular readers will know, I just returned from a two-week road-trip to Phoenix, Arizona. My third-favorite two words in the entire English language? Spring Training, where I just returned from with my beloved Bazr as a birthday junket.

And I can’t think about Spring Training without thinking about one of my favorite movies, baseball or otherwise, of all time, Bull Durham. A classic, a love-triangle set on the run-down fields of the triple-A circuit, Bull Durham isn’t just great because of it reveals the true heart of our American past-time, although it certainly does that. It’s not great just because it’s a fable without a fairy-tale ending—the older, wiser, deeper player, Crash Davis, played by Kevin Costner, is overlooked and eventually cut loose. It’s the hot young gun, Tim Robbins’ best role as a baby-faced six-foot-six-inch slab of idiot beef with a rocket for an arm—his nickname is “Nuke,” but Crash calls him “Meat”— who eventually makes it to The Show.

BD is a minor miracle because it is the only role I could ever stand Kevin Costner in: the older, beat up, infinitely wise, if not infinitely patient catcher and mentor to up-and-coming pitching talent. Costner’s so good at playing the battered veteran of professional sports that he reprised the role for a bunch of movies: Tin Cup, The Upside of Anger, Field of Dreams—he should really stick with what he does best and not be out there trying to be a cowboy, or growing gills, or going native, or delivering what’s left of the post-apocalypse mail, or any other damned fool thing that gets into his head.

But here he shines: Costner’s combination of exasperation, sorrow, and knowing more than just a bit about himself gives heft to a speech that arguably reveals the Meaning of Life—or, most of it, at least—most of what matters:
I’m right there with Annie—oh, my.

All that is well and swell, but I love Bull Durham above all because it is the story of Annie, the small-town substitute English teacher, who every spring descends on the fresh talent and culls from the herd the one that she identifies as having potential. She then seduces him, teaches him all he needs to learn, and then sends him on his way, having seasoned him into a man. It’s a role that Susan Sarandon was born to play: the slightly older, much, much wiser, smokin’ hot teacher lady.

(Annie gets a speech about What It All Means herself, another classic:

"I believe in the church of baseball. I've tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn't work about between us."

Really. I’m telling you—with all the classic lines in this movie, it’s the Hamlet of baseball movies.)

I love BD because it tells the story not just how men teach and train a newbie to be a sports warrior—in order to come into his own, Nuke must incorporate the feminine into himself as well. (His killer fastball is what's gotten him to the minors—what he lacks is a curve ball.) Like a young wizard trying out his new-found super powers, the budding baseball buck must learn baseball’s mysterious ways: the irrationalities, the superstitions, to learn to ride the ebbs and flows. Annie knows she has the power to anoint a young player, to turn him into a High Priest of the Diamond Altar. (And by that, I mean, she anoints him with her vajay-jay.)
Annie is a teaching witch: she dresses him in a talisman of her power (she makes him wear her garter belt under his uniform.) Sphinx-like, she pelts him with instructions he cannot comprehend (she commands him to “breathe through your eyelids, like the Lava Lizards of the Galapagos Islands” when he’s on the mound.) She knocks him off guard, gets him out of his straight-line thinking, and above all, gets him to listen to other sounds than what rattles around in his own head, to trust in other forces than his own left arm.

Crash may teach Nuke how to pitch and how to spout clichés for the media, he may teach him the rules of The Game. But Annie teaches him the ways of the world, the deeper knowledge, the big magic.

In a way, the movie is sort of Oedipus in reverse: after getting to sleep with his mommy witch and learn from his mentor/pater, Nuke moves on to his destiny, Major League baseball, leaving Annie and Crash to connect, as they have been meant to all along. It’s really a lovely story, and if you don’t know, understand, or love baseball, this movie gives you a taste of why it’s America’s secular religion.

So, you know that lovely kiss of spring when the sky is cloud-free and mild, the air is sweet, the sun is warm with just a tiny fresh breeze, and the grass is green between your toes? That’s what my second favorite two words in the English language mean to me: "Opening Day." This year it falls on April 4, when the season of sunlight and baseball begin.

How appropriate, then, to find a springalicious scent of such happy-making power: Ines of All I Am-A Redhead fame sent me a vial of the lovely EDT. I’m reviewing the oil version, which is stronger, muskier, huskier, and sexier. I found a bottle of it in Scottsdale and bought it (full story of that below.)

Not unlike Bull Durham, LVM is a love triangle—first, out of the bottle, a true rose, but she is matched and tempered, kept from getting too sweet by a handsomely restrained sandalwood. A light white musk rounds those two out, settling them into a true skin scent—small sillage, but deeply saturated—when you get your nose right up to it, it takes you all the way down. Unlike the movies, these three can settle into a soft ménage-a-trois of quiet power on my skin for hours and hours—no one has to share or pair off, no one has to choose. After a few hours, the rose wears off, and a slightly salty, sooty element comes up, like good clean sweat. If there is anything sexier in this life, I haven’t found it yet.

LVM doesn’t smell “like” the well-oiled leather of a well-loved mitt, or “like” the ash of a Louisville slugger. It doesn’t smell “like” peanuts and Cracker Jack—it’s doesn’t smell “like” freshly cut grass or warm spring air. (Wood + oiled leather + pine tar + Kettle Korn + sod= “Eau de Baseball”!) But it smells just as good—it belongs in that lineup of a few of my favorite things.

And BTW, if you’re wondering—my two favorite words in all the English language?: “Play ball!”

So I was thinking about anointment a lot while I was in Phoenix, through a series of small happy events that bring me to the Lorenzo Villoresi “Musk” oil.

The first was the sample sent by Ines, as I mentioned before. But then, by a pure random accident, The Other Nostril and I were strolling though an open air shopping center in Scottsdale, a posh suburb of Phoenix. He happened to spot an awning that read “The Perfume Shoppe.” Now, I confess to being a bit of a snob when I see perfume stores— I tend to believe first that they are filled with Body Shop/Origins merchandise-- soapy, sudsy, girly stuff. Nothing wrong with that, but that’s not what I’m going to spend the day sniffing. But as we passed by, my head snapped around—they had the full line of Amouage in the window. What-what-whaaaah!?!??!

I walked in. Serge Lutens, Keiko Mechiri, Penhaligon, Clive Christian, Montale, and on and on. They have a huge selection of true niche there. Paula, the lovely perfumista in the photo there, is quite knowledgeable—scent has been her hobby for 20 years now. She is super friendly and has a nose for the off-road, if you know what I mean.
(Full disclosure—I didn’t reveal I was a blogger until the third time I visited. The first time Bazr and I went in, sat down, and talked and spritzed and sniffed for an hour. No pressure to buy—a lovely experience. But as it turns out, they are huge Lorenzo Villoresi fans-- the owner has visited his villa in Italy and *everything*. So the second time I went back, I bought the LVM oil. It wasn’t until the third time that I revealed I was a perfume blogger, so I can report that they give lovely customer service to just about any ole’ anyone.)

So all of you that get to the Greater Phoenix area, stop on by—this is the kind of perfume shop I wish we had in every town—small, passionate, nichey, knowledgeable. They have a Vancouver, Canada branch, a website, and Paula is starting her own perfume blog. Enjoy!!