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Archive for December, 2010

Family Stories, Part I

In the wake of the passing of my last remaining grandparent, I’ve been meditating a good deal on what makes a family “us,” and I’m coming more and more to believe that it is two things: a commitment to being a family, whatever “family” might turn out to be, and shared experiences, even if the sharing is one family member telling another about an experience, long afterward.

Duh, you say. 

But bear with me, here.  I’m also coming to understand that in each generation, there’s one person who serves as the repository for family stories, and apparently, in my generation, in my family, I’m that person.  Might be because I’m the oldest.  Might be because it feels a little like a responsibility, to remember and to tell and to preserve. 

But it might be because I’m a sucker for stories, too, because I am that.  I’ll be telling some family stories here on the blog from time to time. 

This is my favorite Nell story, and I think it’s my favorite because it involved just her and myself, and because it’s such a lovely example of the “teachable moment.”

When I was a child, Nell used to smoke.  She was a light smoker, as I remember, consuming no more than a handful a day, and her big house held only the faintest whiff of tobacco.  She told me once that it was because when she was young, “Everyone smoked, so of course I didn’t want to be left out.”  I didn’t question it at the time – if I’d thought of it, I would have: Did Uncle Fred smoke?  Did Big Aunt Doris?  If everyone smoked, why didn’t Pawpaw J.T.? 

Smoking, as I heard in Sunday  School, was not only bad for you but an insult to the Lord who made your body.  No one went so far as to say that smokers were bad Christians, but I once overheard someone making an objection to the inclusion of one man on the deacon board, on the grounds that the man smoked.

My mother’s cousin Hazel smoked – a lot – and a visit to her house was both exciting and faintly nauseating, because I’d get to play with the only cousins close to my age, but I’d get headaches while I was there, and come home smelling like an ashtray.

Smoking, then, was an activity that I couldn’t fit into my worldview.  Mama said it was bad, my Sunday School teacher said it was bad, and it smelled bad.  But Hazel smoked, and she loved me.  And Nell smoked, and she loved me more, and they weren’t bad. 

One Sunday afternoon, the summer I was eight, on a visit to Nell and J.T.’s house with my parents, everyone except me and Nell were out on the side porch, sipping tea and chatting and watching my sister run around on the grass.  Nell was in the kitchen, making more tea at the sink, and I was sitting at the kitchen table playing with her deck of cards: counting them, fanning them out, trying to teach myself how to shuffle and waiting for her to come play Rummy with me.  Nell had finished her cigarette, and came over to the table to crush it out in the ashtray. 

She put it down and went back to stirring the pitcher of tea.  I had a idea.

I picked up the cigarette butt and smelled it.  It was no longer lit, but a wisp of smoke still curled up from it.  It smelled like burning leaves, which it was, I realized, and her lipstick – and like – like sin, too.  With a quick glance over my shoulder at Nell’s back, I put the butt up to lips and breathed in through it the way I’d seen her and Hazel do. 

And promptly coughed my head off.

Nell spun around and regarded me without comment, her groomed eyebrows high on her forehead.  I managed to meet her eye, still coughing, tears running down my face from the effort.

Finally she pointed a long, big-knuckled forefinger at me and said, levelly, “Don’t start.” 

She took the tea out to the side porch, came back in, and sat down with me for my Rummy lesson.   Nothing more was ever said about it – I don’t think she even told my parents – and I never had the slightest desire to smoke from that point on, but great compassion for people who did.  Nell quit for the first time shortly after the incident.  She would later take up smoking again, and quit again, re-start and re-stop, finally giving it up for good twenty-five years later, after her youngest daughter’s father-in-law died of lung cancer.

There is a danger, of course, in only remembering the good stories –  the ripping yarns, the gut-busting-funny ones, the sweet ones.  My mother might ask, “What’s wrong with that?” but I know, and you probably know, too, that such a philosophy makes the hearer woefully unprepared for Real Life.  People turn on their brothers, they scream, “I hate you!” at their mothers, they poke fun and cry for no reason and get drunk and fall down stairs.  And then we forget

Sometimes.

I don’t want those stories to be forgotten.  Because what makes up a family is people, and people have warts as well as the “family nose.”  So I’ll be telling a few warty stories, too.

My grandmother Sarah Lou, whose parents are buried in a small family plot on a farm not our own, was once grieving that the plot wasn’t kept up as she’d like, and I admitted to being puzzled.  “Why does it matter?” I asked.  “Once you die, you’re not in your body.  I don’t think it matters to me what happens to my body or my grave after I die.  Put me in the ground with a little respect, and then I don’t care.”

She was, to say the least, upset with me.  It mattered a great deal to her, and she grieved that she wasn’t able to go visit her parents’ graves.  She was always like that – physical things meant a lot to her.  She could point to every single item in her crowded apartment in the basement of our house and tell you exactly where she got it, and when, and why: “Willie Maude gave me that singing stuffed bear for my birthday.  I bought that big shell in Florida, visiting Maurice, when your mother was a college girl.  That big iron pot was my mama’s laundry washpot.”  Physical things were important to her because they stood for people, and gifts meant love.

Granted, I was a teenager at the time, and not a particularly tactful one, either.  But I still feel like that.  I don’t feel a great need to put up big fancy headstones or place flowers every week.  At my other grandmother’s funeral last week, two of the grandchildren were overcome with tears at the graveside, thinking of her body in the cold ground.  I myself was overcome with the reading from Revelation: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labors,” because in my head I was hearing the lovely chorus with those words from John Rutter’s Requiem, “Lux Aeterna.”  I’ll see Nell again someday, and Sarah Lou too.

I can see them, and hear them, in my head right now, telling me stories.  The photo up top is them, of course, at my brother’s wedding six years ago, Nell on the left and Sarah Lou on the right, taken by my sister (I think).

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Monday, Dec. 20:  A cold, windy day.  I have taken the day off from work so that I can attend my grandmother Nell’s funeral, about which I do not want to say much at this point (why? I don’t know), except that family is a wonderful thing when the people in it are fairly mature in an emotional sense.  I will tell you that I chose to wear the transcendently lovely, unflappable, Serge Lutens La Myrrhe.  It was beautiful all day.  I am not sorry.

The few inches of snow we got late last week has now turned to ice on our half-mile-long, curving, sloping, gravel road, due to the vehicular traffic.  We headed out for the funeral and spun out halfway down the hill; thank God we didn’t hit anything, and The CEO drove us backwards down to the paved road.  I thanked him for getting out of that situation without damage, and he told me it was all due to his mad skilz as an AIP.  A what? I wanted to know.  An Agricultural Industry Professional, he explained.

The boys went home with my parents after the funeral, and about the time I got home from  fetching Bookworm from Indoor Track practice, The CEO got word about the potential job.  It did not work out.  I think they interviewed five people, and he was the final player to get cut from the roster, so to speak; the deciding factor was the other candidate’s experience.  Heavy sigh here.  It’s possible that something may come up in the future.

Tuesday, Dec. 21:  Cold.  The road is still icy, so I took the farm pickup truck, which has four-wheel drive, to work.  Incidentally, I don’t think I’ve introduced him to you.  The CEO’s Camry is, of course, named Cameron, and my minivan is Eddie Van – for Eddie Van Halen, natch.  The pickup is known as Walker Ford Ranger.  (Yes, yes, I know.  You don’t have to tell me how cheesy it is.  But it makes us laugh, so I really don’t care what anyone else thinks.)

SOTMorning: DSH Perfumes December, which is rather nice, with pine and spices.  Eventually it nosedives down into those balsamy notes I don’t like, however, so I don’t need any. When when I got home, I gathered up all the necessary paperwork and drove Bookworm to the Department of Motor Vehicles, where we obtained her Learner’s Permit. 

SOTA: vintage Chanel No. 19 eau de toilette.  By all rights, I shouldn’t love this thing, it’s so unfriendly and chilly and standoffish.  But it is also extremely beautiful, and so I do love it.

Wednesday, Dec. 22:  Finally, we have some temperatures in the low 40s, so the ice on our road is melting.  That’s a good thing – I’ve got to drive to my parents’ house and pick up the boys.  They’ve been spending time with their cousin Doodlebug.  SOTMorning: DSH Perfumes Gingembre.  It’s terrific for about half an hour, and then it slides into that “amber” note that reads as shaving cream to me, so I’m not gonna be wearing this one.

SOTA: Le Labo Aldehydes 44.  Very nice stuff.  It’s no La Myrrhe or Vega, but it is really pretty.

I am almost ready for Christmas.  I’ve been scrambling, and I don’t even go out shopping, since I prefer to shop online when at all possible.  Aargh.  And as I’ve said before, doing NaNoWriMo during the month of November really puts a burden on me to get things ready for Christmas.  Whoever thought National Novel Writing Month up (however wonderful it is in other senses), and decided November would be a good time to do it, must have been either a dude or a college student – someone with no December responsibilities, in any case.   Anyway, presents are going to be un-lavish this year, for all of us, and we’ll make it more of a family-and-worship time than a woohoo-party-mad ripping of wrapping paper sort of thing.

Thursday, Dec. 23:  Still chilly, but the ice continues to melt.  Sloooowly.  SOTD: Honore des Pres Vamp a NY.  Gaze still doesn’t like it; everybody else, including me, still does: yummy tuberose-vanilla-spice-buttered-popcorn happy party thing.  It lasts all day, through the last-minute shopping (picture frames, batteries, milk, eggs, apple juice) and the gift-wrapping and the making of dinner, et cetera, et cetera…

Friday, Dec. 24: I have a few things to wrap, and some cooking to do, but we’re set.  (Thank goodness.)  The only dilemma at this point: choosing a Christmas Eve service to attend.  Do we go with The CEO’s mother, and his sister visiting from Atlanta, to the service at my MIL’s church?  She’s playing the organ, and it would be nice to hear her, and the music’s nice there.  The drawbacks are that it starts at 9 pm, and the minister preaches a full half-hour sermon at that service, adding to the hour’s worth of music; the kids are certain to crash before we can get home. 

Or do we go to the candlelight service at the church where we used to attend, with The CEO’s other sister and her family, visiting from northern Virginia?  It used to be a lovely service, in a lovely setting.  But I used to sing for that service – O Holy Night, or Gesu Bambino – and sometimes play the piano for it.  We stopped going there for a few reasons, one having to do with our growing theological distance from the Presbyterian Church, one having to do with the upheaval over the division of the family farm, and one having to do with my sorrow at still, after fourteen years of service as Sunday School teacher, choir member and director, and various other capacities, being considered a rank outsider.  It is extremely difficult to go to church with people you regard as greedy promise-breakers, particularly if they are family members.  And if we suddenly were to show up at that service, I think we’d be swamped with church members asking when we were going to come back.  I’m not going back.  My bitterness over the whole affair is starting to recede, but I cannot at this stage imagine choosing to return to that church, even for an evening.

It turned out that our own church held a small, informal service in the chapel at Virginia Tech, which we’d missed the announcements for because we missed last Sunday’s service due to the death of my grandmother.  We went, and it was nice.  Clearly, minimal effort was put into the thing since it was such a last-minute arrangement, and I think maybe next year I’ll volunteer to help.  A few candles, a poetry reading or two, a little more music… it could be really meaningful.

SOTD: Alahine, of course. 

Saturday, Dec. 25, Christmas Day: I woke early, at 6:30, to go start breakfast, and found the ground covered in snow.  It was utterly still, not a breath of wind, with the snow coming down like a silent blessing, and there it was: the moment when Christmas arrived in my heart, an overflowing of gratitude for the Gift, a moment of beauty and pure happiness.  Some seasons this moment comes early; I can count on it arriving if I’ve sung “For Unto Us a Child Is Born,” from The Messiah, in concert.  Some seasons, it arrives on Christmas Eve, as “Silent Night” echoes from voice to voice in a darkened church.  One memorable year in my youth, it arrived as I lay on the carpet underneath the Christmas tree in my grandmother’s living room, looking up through the branches and the lights: Love came down at Christmas.

I wore Alahine again, since it smells like joyous golden bells to me, all citrus and spice and sweetness, with a tiny dark balsamic thread in the base.  In fact, when Kristin of Scent of the Day and Joan of Redolent of Spices started discussing the possibility of a joint blog post around Christmas, focusing on the scents of the Three Kings, gold and frankincense and myrrh, I wanted to join but knew that, first, I’d be so hectically busy that I wouldn’t do the project much good, and second, I’ve already posted reviews of the three scents that immediately sprang to mind when considering the gifts of the Magi.  Alahine is gold; PdN Vanille Tonka is frankincense, and SL La Myrrhe is (of course) myrrh.  I love all three of them.

It was a nice, quiet day.  The CEO went to feed some cows, as he has done every single Christmas morning since he was twelve years old (save the Christmas he spent at graduate school in New Zealand).  We ate breakfast: bacon and eggs, cinnamon rolls and homemade applesauce.  The kids opened their stockings and waited patiently for their dad to come back.  We opened presents, passed hugs around, and then I cooked a turkey breast for lunch at The CEO’s parents’ house.  We spent the afternoon there, with his family, and it snowed further.

I can only remember one other white Christmas in my lifetime.  It’s a lovely thing, snow on Christmas, if you don’t have to go anywhere…

Sunday, Dec. 26: Yet more snow.  No way we’re getting to church today.  Well, I suppose one or two of us could get out in the pickup, but I’m not driving a car over the ice-covered-with-snow drive.  Undoubtedly the main roads are clear, though.  SOTMorning: Kenzo Winter Flower, very nice soft powdery mimosa fragrance.

Jeff the Hired Guy called this afternoon to say that he’d seen a cow that seemed to be ready to calve, so The CEO went out to check on her a little later, and she’d already had the calf, and it was standing up.  He left the pair alone to bond, came back in and built a fire.  Later, he took Bookworm out with him, so she could drive and he could hold the calf on the back of the pickup, enticing the mama cow to follow the calf into the barn out of the weather.  Bookworm, according to her dad, did a terrific job driving the truck up and down snowy hills, making good use of that learner’s permit. Turns out, though, that the calf is suffering from what The CEO calls SCS – Stupid Calf Syndrome – and was ignorant both of where his food source was and how to access it.  The CEO and Bookworm spent a good half-hour teaching the calf to nurse.

I feel that the calf was unjustly maligned – Bookworm herself suffered from the same condition as a baby, and it was a good four months before we got the hang of breastfeeding.  She’s clearly doing just fine now in the brains department.

SOTAfternoon/evening: Guerlain Vega, which is gorgeous.

Image is NZ-Winter from… I can’t find it.  I’d downloaded it from a free site to use as a background on my laptop, and forgot to save the source.  Oops.  It looks like it might be on the South Island, but I don’t know where, and of course it isn’t winter in the Southern Hemisphere now.  If you know from whence it came, please contact me.

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I’ve been so busy lately – what with Christmas preparations and funeral/family obligations – that I have not had time to finish any reviews.  I hope to have at least one posted next week, however. 

It will not be the new Malle scent, Portrait of a Lady.  We Did Not Get On, The Lady and I, and my decant has found a new home.  It might be the new Hermessence, Iris Ukiyoe, or one of the new Dior Collection Couturier scents, New Look 1947.  Or maybe one from DSH Perfumes.  Who knows?  At this stage I think I’d better not promise anything!

Over the next two months I will be getting back to reviewing tuberose scents.  I don’t know why cold weather calls for tuberose, but it does, at least in my world.

The CEO did hear from The Mysterious Them on Monday evening regarding the potential job: as we suspected, they decided that they really needed the experience of one of the other candidates instead of The CEO’s writing and public speaking skills, although it seems to have been a difficult decision, narrowing down from five applicants to The CEO and the guy they eventually hired.  I think I had better not identify Them, except to say that this was a political staffer position. 

Has The CEO ever held a political job? No.  After a stellar college career, a stint as a Governor’s Fellow, and his Fulbright scholarship, he came home to run the family farm, and then a few years ago he became an instructor of agricultural economics at the nearby university.  He’s also been an Eisenhower Fellow in recent years, so he’s not your average farmer (Agricultural Industry Professional, as he likes to call it).  But no political experience.  (Yet.)

He’s bummed.  I’m bummed too, especially since I think he feels his skills are going to waste raising cows, and he’s ready for a career change.  But it’s possible that opportunities may arise out of this setback, too.

And now, for your listening pleasure, I share with you my mother’s favorite Christmas music: Pietro Yon’s lovely carol Gesu Bambino, sung here (in English) by the incomparable Jessye Norman.  I know I shared this one on the blog last year, but for me it’s not Christmas without Gesu Bambino.  Enjoy!

Edit:  please note that you will have to click twice on the video to see it, and it will actually take you directly to Youtube.  (This worked more easily with Google Blogger last year.)  Sorry.  Anyway, it’s well worth hearing, five minutes’ worth of beautiful.

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Monday, Dec. 13: Cold and windy, with dry powdery snow, and highs in the low 20s. Brr! SOTD: Chanel No. 5 Eau Premiere. Hasn’t been wrong yet.

Concert went fairly well – bits of the Vivaldi were better than Sunday’s concert, but the basses got the bit between their teeth and dragged the rest of us through the Cum Sancto Spiritu movement way faster than we’d intended going. Eek. “This Christmastide/Jessye’s Carol” was gorgeous, though. (Here’s a link to La Norman singing it herself, along with a boys’ choir, at Ely Cathedral. Swoon.)

The CEO was expecting a call today regarding his potential new job – when he interviewed, it sounded to him as if the job were his. Since then, he’s talked to the person hiring twice: once to tell her that he was definitely interested and that he’d made arrangements concerning his current job, and once last Friday to ask for a status report, upon which he was told that the office had been very busy making arrangements for other things (not a polite brush-off, we hope, since we know what they’ve been busy making arrangements for). But no call today.

Tuesday, Dec. 14: Colder and windier. Highs in the upper teens. Brr brrr. SOTD: Mary Greenwell Plum, which I continue to wear first because I think it’s beautiful, and second because I’m trying to review it.

Missed out on the local Messiah sing-in this evening in order to go to Gaze’s middle school band concert. The 6th grade Beginning Band played “Jingle Bells,” and the Intermediate Band played some (more difficult) medleys of Christmas music. It’s not the Boston Pops, but that’s okay… my kid was on stage playing a trombone! How cool is that?

No call from the Mysterious Them today either.

Wednesday, Dec. 15: Same weather as yesterday and the day before. Only colder. Triple brrrr! SOTD: DSH Perfumes’ “designer duplicate” of Caron Nuit de Noel. I’ve heard this one’s pretty close to the way NdN used to smell before reformulation, though I don’t think people are howling over the refo of this one the way they do over the current version of Narcisse Noir. I’d believe the claim that the DSH is faithful to the original, because this thing smells, well, old. The aldehydes are dry and powdery, the rose-jasmine-ylang blend is rich, the famous moss is exceedingly powdery. Eventually it goes sweet and deep with sandalwood and amber, and I like that, but not enough to wear the whole thing. As usual, I get overwhelmed with the mustiness.

SOTA: Bois des Iles. If I’m going to wear sandalwood and aldehydes, this is the way to go. (Well, either that or vintage Arpege, but I have to be mentally up for Arpege. It eats my head, it’s so rich.)

The CEO bought a Christmas tree, for the first time ever. We’ve been married eighteen Christmases, and it’s been cedar trees all the way, baby, until now. (Cedar trees are like weeds around here – everybody with land has got ’em, nobody wants ’em.) This year, he found a nice one, but its trunk simply would not cooperate with the tree stand, and he was getting frustrated, so off he went to the Lions’ Club lot and bought a lovely nine-foot Frasier fir. It smells fabulous. Cedar trees also smell gorgeous, but they are prickly, and they drop needles all over the floor; it’s almost a given that at least one of us will get a cedar needle stuck in hand (or foot) at some point over the three weeks we keep our tree up. We won’t have that fun little exercise this year.

Thursday, Dec. 16: It snowed last night and into the morning; no school. This morning, my mother called with the news that my grandmother had died. It wasn’t unexpected – Nell was 91, and she’d had Alzheimer’s for the past three years. I will miss her, of course. But she’d had a good full life: she finished high school, in a time and place when that was unusual; she married and had four children; she worked at several jobs over her life while maintaining a clean house and a half-acre garden. She taught Sunday School and made beautiful quilts. She had six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren; she had a wry sense of humor. She cooked the best-tasting green beans I’ve ever eaten, and as a southerner, I can tell you I’ve eaten my share of green beans! She nursed her husband through five years of Alzheimer’s disease, keeping him at home until he fell ill with pneumonia. She had a love of deep cherry pink and gold, and a fondness for telling stories about her children. Until the Alzheimer’s got the better of her, her Christmas dinners were marvels of family cooperation, and the circle kept getting bigger. “Come and join us!” she’d tell people, and it was no exaggeration that on Christmas Eves, she was regularly entertaining thirty people with every evidence of joy.

I’ve been missing her for several years, to be honest. It’s not just losing her, really – it’s also that her generation is gone. I was lucky to have known her, and, too, it feels a bit odd to no longer be anyone’s grandchild.

SOTD: For comparison, Victoria’s Secret Victoria, Mary Greenwell Plum, and the original (Karl Lagerfeld) Chloe, with Coco Mademoiselle on a handkerchief nearby. The kids are decorating the Christmas tree, with CDs of carols on the stereo and spiced cider on the stove. I put a few ornaments up high, and got a glob of fir sap on my fingers, which smells great. I lit my Bath & Body Works Winter candle, too.

Friday, Dec. 17: Warmer today; the snow/slush mix largely melted. The Mysterious They called The CEO today, only to tell him that they had not made a decision yet. (Aaarrgh.) I think that means they’re going to choose the other shortlisted candidate, but we’ll find out. Eventually probably next week.

SOTD: L’Arte di Gucci. I got some on my hands while making samples, and it smelled lovely, so I put on a bit more.

Saturday, Dec. 18: SOTD: SSS Champagne de Bois, a lovely choice for a family Christmas gathering. My brother and SIL, and their sweet little boy, made it in for the weekend, so we celebrated. On the way home, The CEO kissed my hand and noticed first the Mary Greenwell Plum on my coat, then the CdB on my wrist. He’s got a strong preference for Plum, but said that the CdB was very “citrus-spice” and therefore appropriate for Christmas.

Drifted off to sleep in a cloud of Parfum Sacre.

Sunday, Dec. 19: Chilly, with snow still on the ground, but less disconcertingly cold than the temps-in-the-teens of last week. Our church has been holding services in the evenings in December, so our Sunday mornings have been lazy. We attended visitation for my grandmother this afternoon, at her church, and a meal for the family afterward at my aunt’s house. I do hate to put it this way, but the timing of Mawmaw Nell’s leaving us was somewhat fortuitous, in that most of my far-flung cousins had already arranged transportation to Virginia for this weekend, and we were all able to be together. SOTD: Mary Greenwell Plum.

 Image is Parfumesse-in-holland by parfumgott at Flickr.

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I recently got in on a split of this scent, without having sniffed it.  I’d read the description at Now Smell This, and the person offering to host a split shared this favorable review of it, and the Magic Words were mentioned: “a true chypre.”  Gasp! Can it be… oakmoss?!?  Really?  People, myself included, jumped on it like a duck on a Junebug.

It’s not that I have all that much love for old-fashioned chypres.  I don’t dig the citrus ones, and the leather ones, like Bandit, sort of skeer me.  I do not do well with fruity chypres – as you might remember, Mitsouko hates me, and YSL Champagne/aka Yvresse and Givenchy So Pretty made me nauseous.  (Distinction here: I wouldn’t call them nauseating in themselves, but something about fruity chypres in general, while smelling fairly nice, make me feel queasy.  I don’t know why.)  The green chypres are iffy for me as well, often seeming unfriendly and standoffish. 

But the floral chypre genre has been rich for me.   I usually love floral chypres, from the original Victoria’s Secret fragrance, Victoria – a floral chypre alive with bergamot, rose, jasmine, moss, and sandalwood – through the changeling “green floral/floral chypre” Chanel No. 19, and on through the gorgeous, aquiline, dark-rose chypre L’Arte di Gucci, from the shy prettiness of Houbigant Demi-Jour with its violets, roses and moss, to the stunning complexity of Jolie Madame, a mossy suede handbag stuffed with violets and gardenias.  I even love the “modern chypre” 31 Rue Cambon (that luscious amber, sigh).

So I had high hopes for Plum.  The week my small decant arrived, I had been wearing 31 Rue Cambon, and had been spraying Coco Mademoiselle (which is classified as a floral chypre, although it’s heavier on patchouli and woods than on the classic oakmoss-labdanum base) on handkerchiefs while writing my NaNoWriMo novel.

At first spritz of Plum, my immediate thought was, Modern chypre!  A lot friendlier than the old classics, and with the smiling fruity topnotes that seem de rigueur these days.  My second thought was, Nope, I’m wrong, there really is oakmoss in there, and this is just… extremely pretty. 

My third thought was, I could wear this for the rest of my life.  The backstory, according to this Vogue article, is that Ms. Greenwell, a high-end makeup artist in the UK whom I’d never heard of before hearing of the fragrance, wanted to create a fragrance as a finishing touch to a woman’s look.  Ms. Greenwell has long been a proponent of natural, understated makeup intended to make women look less artificial, with an emphasis on natural-looking pink lips and defined but understated eye makeup.  It’s a look that I like very much, and which tends to be very flattering – with the right colors, of course – to just about everyone.  Ms. Greenwell states that she’s always felt that fragrance was the last step in a woman’s toilette, and that shes always made sure that the models or actresses or celebrities whose makeup she’s done have a spritz of something to complete the look and make them feel beautiful.  Apparently the name was chosen before the fragrance was, and it’s not so much like plum as it is a sheer veil of beauty, relaxed and without drama, but complex and balanced.

Plum starts off with fruit, but not the Jolly Rancher variety – it’s tart, mouth-puckering fruit with lots of citrus in the mix.  I do not actually smell plum in it, or at least not the plum note I liked so much in Natori, J’Adore L’Absolu, and Black Orchid Voile de Fleur.  I get very little peach, and what I do get is quite tangy.  There’s a lot of lemon, and I can pick out the blackcurrant quite easily.  The chypre base is immediately apparent underneath, although it is nowhere near as assertive as a lot of chypres; it’s very definitely the floral variety.   

After half an hour or so, Plum has glided into its floral phase, which I find really beautiful.  It’s heavy on the white floral notes – the gardenia and tuberose are quite noticeable – but I would not call it a straight-up white floral, as the rose is identifiable as well.  People who don’t like florals are likely to find this stage too sweet; however, this is my favorite part. 

When the drydown takes over, it is quite light compared to the classic chypre.  Oakmoss is definitely present, as are patchouli and amber, but they are well blended with no one element standing out.  I smell a lot of woody notes in the mix, which might be another reason I’d call Plum a modern chypre – it’s gentle and has none of the ferocity that, say, Bandit or Paloma Picasso has.  This phase throws very little sillage, as far as I can tell, and it wears like a lovely secret I’m hugging to myself. 

Plum is an eau de parfum, but it’s on the lighter side and wears more like an eau de toilette on me, four hours’ worth of wear from two to three goodly spritzes.  It strikes me as being fairly weightless, in that it’s been light but noticeable in the freezing (16-24F) weather we’ve been having over the last couple of weeks, but that it would not be at all too heavy a scent for summer.  There are very few scents I would wear all year round – Mariella Burani, Iris Poudre, No. 5 parfum, Eau Premiere – and I’d add Plum to the list.  A good number of people who’ve tried it have called it “very dressy,” “perfumey,” and “a big frock scent,” but I would, and have, happily worn it as a day scent.  To be sure, I’m not terribly interested in casual, not-too-perfumey fragrances, and rarely find anything too perfumey for my taste (exceptions? Amouage Gold and Dia, which I found absolutely huuuuuuge, though I love Ubar and Lyric). 

I wore Plum several times, racking my brain for the name of the scent it was reminding me of, before it finally occurred to me: Victoria’s Secret Victoria, which no one seems to remember these days, much less mention how beautiful it was.  It’s long discontinued, and I think I know why (leaving aside the question of the deterioration of the quality of Victoria’s Secret merchandise, as compared to its 1980s iteration): it did not age well.  I bought a small bottle of it on ebay two summers ago, hoping it would smell as I remembered.  Alas, it had gone off: the topnotes smelled like nail polish remover and maple syrup, and while the heart still smelled recognizably like Victoria, the syrupy sweetness never left.  So I thought I’d try for another bottle, hoping that it would be in better shape.  It wasn’t.  I had one more go, thinking that of course those pretty ribbed-glass tapered laydown bottles would have lain on dressers, soaking up light damage, and that I’d have better luck with a nondescript cylindrical bottle in a “tester” box.  Alas, again no.  I can “smell through” the nail polish and syrup to the effortless grace Victoria once had, with simplicity and elegance in equal parts, but the scent as it exists now is damaged.  Sadly, I notice that my bottles have deteriorated further since I bought them, with more maple-syrupy notes than before. 

Plum shares that feeling of effortless grace, the kind that makes me want to be a better person.  It feels both comfortable and uplifting, a second skin of warmth and happiness that reaches out a friendly hand to those around me.  It has captivated me, and my decant is rapidly dwindling.  I want a bottle.

Notes and info for Plum:  Composed by Francois Robert, fourth-generation perfumer.  “Plum, a contemporary chypre, blends top notes of peach, blackcurrant, plum, bergamot, and lemon.  Harmonious heart notes of gardenia, tuberose, orange flower absolute, rose absolute and jasmine absolute.  Followed by delicious drydown of precious woods, sandalwood, oakmoss, patchouli, amber and white musks.   (from House of Fraser)

Exclusive to House of Fraser in the UK.  Sold in 7.5 ml, 50ml, and 100ml; also in 3 gram solid.

A few other reviews:  The Scent Critic and Katie Chutzpah, as well as a brief mention toward the bottom of this post at Bonkers about Perfume.

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Scent Diary, Dec. 6-12, 2010

Monday, Dec. 6: Snow on the ground; school two hours late.  I’m beginning to blow my mind with samples again.  I have at least three minis/decants that I’d like to review, which means multiple wearings.  But there are so many samples, and favorites, that I don’t know what to wear.  Arrgh. 

I couldn’t find my Mary Greenwell Plum decant, so I went with a small spray of La Myrrhe.  Gosh, that’s beautiful… especially on such a hectic, dreadful day.  Busy-busy at work; rush home from work via the bank to get home in time to get the boys at the bus stop because if I don’t pick them up, they’ll walk literally half a mile uphill in windy 20-degree weather; come in to the house, grab a glass of water, make out a grocery list; rush through the grocery store to get to the high school to pick Bookworm up from indoor track practice.  Wait 20 minutes at the high school because practice ran over; nearly hit a car crossing the road – hey! I was going the speed limit, but the speed limit’s 55 there – right in front of me; the groceries go all over the van because I had to stomp the brakes so hard.  Get home, make brownies for Bookworm’s marching band dinner; iron my pants and the boys’ khakis for the Farm Bureau dinner; drop Bookworm and her brownies off; drive to the Farm Bureau building.  Whew.  It’s exhausting just to look at my day.

Thank God, it’s over now.  However, no word from the mysterious They (or should that be Them?) as to whether The CEO does or does not have a new job.  It’s nerve-wracking.

Tuesday, Dec. 7: Pearl Harbor Day, and my friend Simon’s birthday.  Still cold (low 20s); school two hours late again.  Found my gorgeous Mary Greenwell Plum, so that’s the SOTD. 

SOTE:   The new Malle, Portrait of a Lady.  I’m not getting this.  Those of you who were surprised that I bought a decant of a rose-patchouli fragrance, continue to be surprised.  It reminds me a little of L’Arte di Gucci, and a little of Lumiere Noire pour femme, but weirder.  There’s all this big scary balsamic stuff in the base, and it smells… gosh, how to describe this? Like Youth Dew underneath L’Arte, maybe?  I like the rose chypre part; I don’t like the oriental base.  Gah. 

I have laundry to do, but the basement laundry room is uninsulated, and therefore freezing cold.  I’m putting it off.  I also have Christmas shopping to do, but haven’t done any of that either.  I guess I’m still feeling up in the air about the potential new job and not wanting to spend money until we know where it needs to go.  Which is silly, really.

Wednesday, Dec. 8: Yet another freezing cold day with school 2 hours late again.  It was 17.5F outside according to my thermometer when I got up.  SOTD: Montale White Aoud on one wrist, Gres Cabaret on the other.  WA is a strange combination of plastic bandage, rose, vanilla and that balsamic thing I usually hate, but which I am tolerating fairly well here.  It sticks around for ever.  Weird thing is, I like Cabaret better.  Go figure, I like the cheap one.

SOTA: Portrait of a Lady on the back of one hand; Lumiere Noire pour femme on the back of the other, for the sake of comparison.  Man, you know, I had thought LN was dark, but compared to PoaL, it’s sooo not.  After a little while, I had to wash PoaL off.  There is something balsamic and Opium-ish in it, and I just cannot take it.  Same thing that’s in the White Aoud, really, but somehow in WA it smells sweet and rich, and here it smells like old dusty trunks you find in the attic, full of old shoes or spices gone rotten or something.

Thursday, Dec. 9: Hey, school’s on time today!  The temperature this morning was 16F when I got up, where yesterday it was 17.5F; however, the bullying wind we’d been getting has gone away and it’s going to be sunny.  Cold and clear weather: a solid indication for Carnal Flower, which goes all crystalline and sweet, sappy green when the air is like this.  You step outside and the air seems like something you could snap in half, a thin transparent sheet of peppermint candy.  Oh, it’s gorgeous.  Eventually, there’s that beautiful round creamy tuberose, with a bright smiling jasmine, and it sticks around a long time but doesn’t radiate sillage past the first five hours.  Lovely, lovely stuff. 

And now I’m a bit worried – my rollerball decant of CF seems partly evaporated, or at least the level is a good bit lower than I’d thought it was, and since I apply the stuff delicately and nobody else in the house could touch it without my knowing that they had, it must have evaporated.  Time to move it into a different decant bottle?  Perhaps.  I’ll probably lose some in the process, but better I lose it now than while I’m not noticing.   I did see that the small amount of L’Arte di Gucci I decanted out of my big honkin’ bottle into a rollerball seems diminished as well.  Must be those darn rollerballs… no more of those for me.

Friday: Dec. 10:  A good bit warmer today, with temps up in the 40s!  SOTD: MG Plum.  Which I’ll be reviewing soon – and a good thing, too.  I just realized what it reminded me of, not so much in smell but in feeling.  I had been thinking that it was a much-nicer Coco Mademoiselle, but I’ve pinned it down even farther now.

Two decants arrived today – Dior New Look 1947 and Iris Ukiyoe.  I will try to review these as well, but to be honest I’m not sure I’ll have time.  I haven’t done much Christmas shopping.  Briefly, though: I was expecting the perfumey, makeuppy cast of New Look, which I got, but I was also expecting big white flowers in there too, and I never got those.  Although NL 47 is really pretty, and it’s recalling the creamy benzoin-tonka drydown of two other favorites of mine, Mariella Burani and Iris Poudre, I’m slightly disappointed.  I wanted the perfuminess and the powder/lipstick angle, as well as the white florals. 

The decant of Iris Ooki had leaked just a bit, and I got some on my hand.  What I smelled immediately in it, and I admit I haven’t put it on skin yet, was something weirdly herbal-savory-vegetal-sour, like celery seed.  It’s not quite celery/celery seed, not exactly, but I can’t put my finger on it, and celery seed is the closest I’ve come so far.  I’ll give it some proper skin time and see what I can figure out.

Got some shopping done today.  Whew.  A bunch down, a bunch to go.  Bookworm and her friend K rolled in from an indoor track meet this evening at about 11:30, in the care of an exhausted-but-wired CEO.  K’s spending the weekend with us while her dad’s out of town, and it’s kind of cool to have two teenage girls in the house.

Saturday, Dec. 11: Got up at 5:20 am to get K to the high school by 6 so she could get on the band bus for regional band tryouts (which Bookworm is skipping).  Came home, packed up some snacks for Bookworm and then drove her to the high school so she could get on the track bus for Day 2 of the meet (which K is skipping).  Ate breakfast, cleaned house, got together some info for Bookworm’s friend G, who is skipping both the track meet and the regional band tryouts for another shot at the SATs.  G is a senior studying at the regional Governor’s School for Science and Technology, and her science fair project is on canine obesity and caloric requirements, so Bookworm volunteered our plump beagle-lab mix Hayley as a research subject. 

Hayley was a rescue dog; her full name is Hayley Elizabeth Wigglebutt Hoover Woodenshoes, but we sometimes call her Insatia-dog.  She will eat anything that’s not nailed down, and even then she might try it.   We had to get a child lock for the cabinet where the trashcan is, because she kept getting into the trash while I was at work. 

I could hear the boys upstairs arguing – they were supposed to be cleaning their bathroom and vacuuming their rooms, and apparently Taz was up to his usual goofing off, because suddenly Gaze was shouting, “You are completely useless!  While I am cleaning my half of the bathroom, you should be vacuuming, not playing!  Go do something constructive for once!”

To which Gaze replied with the classic kid-brother response, “Don’t tell me what to do!”

Five minutes later, I could hear them singing, together, over the noise of the vacuum cleaner, AC/DC’s Back in Black: “Get loose… from the noose… I’m back in black, yeah I’m back in black…”   which is sort of sweet, and sort of disturbing at the same time.

SOTD: PdNicolai Le Temps d’une Fete.  Totally wrong for the weather, but it’s so nice.

Sunday, Dec. 12: Great, we have sleet… I wouldn’t care, except that we’re doing our Community Chorus Christmas concert this afternoon and tomorrow night.  The sleet melted before the concert, though, so all was well, and the concert was a good performance.  SOTD: one spritz of Iris Poudre.  I cheated – you’re not supposed to wear perfume as a chorus member, of course – but either no one noticed or no one was brave enough to say anything to me.  (I’m betting that nobody noticed.  Nobody said anything to me last concert, either, when I was wearing Mariella Burani.)

Top image is from parfumgott at Flickr; lower image is of Hayley in August 2010, courtesy of The CEO.

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Smell Bent Winners!

Winner of the Smell Bent Holiday 2010 edt spray sampler: Tiara.

Winner of the other Smell Bent samples: Karin.

Congratulations – please email me with your mailing details, and I’ll get these out in the coming week.

Wish I’d had enough to give everyone a little taste of Smell Bent!  Thanks to everyone who commented, and better lucky next time.

Image is Winner at the Delta County Fair, Colorado, by photographer Russell Lee, Oct. 1940, courtesy of the Library of Congress via Flickr.

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