Archive for April, 2011

(I’ve already posted a few days’ worth of the travelogue along with the Scent Diary for 2/28-3/6, so I’ll recap/expand.  Hard to believe this was a month ago…)

Street in Victoria, going into Fontana (Gozo)

We landed in Rome mid-morning Saturday, and promptly got lost wandering around in the airport, trying to find our flight. We knew we were in the correct terminal, G, but our online tickets did not state a gate number, and none of the gates listed a flight to Malta. The electronic board said: Air Malta KL285 to Valletta, departing 12:15, gate TBA. So where was it? Then there was an announcement in Italian and then in English: “Air Malta KL285 to Valletta now changed to Gate 8.” We hied ourselves down to Gate 8 – where the board said Alitalia XYZ123 Lisbona 13:00. Aargh. “That couldn’t be it,” we said to each other. We walked from one end of the terminal to the other and then back to Gate 8, lugging our carry-on bags and examining each gate’s message board: Firenze, Bern, Brussels, Paris, (blank), Athens, (blank), Lisbon. Huh. No Valletta. Several announcements told us Flight Whatever to Someplace Else had been changed to Gate 2. No, Gate 4. No, back to Gate 2. Then, “Air Malta KL285 to Valletta will now depart from Gate 6.” We dutifully hauled our stuff to Gate 6…

where the board said Firenze 10:40, and no one was on duty. Aargh. At this stage, we were hungry, so we bought bottles of water and ham-and-fontina panini on olive bread (delicious!) and consumed them standing up. Then we walked down to the customer service area, now open for business, and asked about our flight. “Gate 8,” the attendant said firmly. “You’re sure? There’s nobody there, and the board says Lisbon,” we told her. She made a phone call in rapid Italian, checked her computer screen again, and looked up with a smile. “Definitely Gate 8. Enjoy your trip.” We thanked her and plodded back to Gate 8…

where a bored-looking, overly-rouged young woman in Alitalia flight-attendant uniform, with fuschia talons, was examining boarding passes (how did she do it without stabbing anyone with those fingernails?!?). We asked if this was indeed the gate for the flight to Valletta, since the sign still said Lisbona. “Yes, yes, yes,” she said, waving her hands at us. “Get in the line, please.” A line had formed behind us as we asked our question. We sat down while she made a phone call, and checked passports and flight information. Presumably in response to the phone call, another airport employee stepped behind her and changed the sign to read Air Malta KL285 Valletta 12:15. Thank goodness. We started breathing again, and sat down to await the shrinkage of the line.

Our Air Malta flight was enjoyable despite the chaos of the airport: pleasant attendants, lovely tea and sandwiches, a sunny afternoon. I’d gone all stupid with lack of sleep, and when the attendant asked me if I’d like juice, I just sort of stared at him until The CEO nudged me into replying.

The juice was good. Not sleeping was bad (at that point, I’d been awake for… wait, let me calculate… 24.5 hours straight).

Cathedral in Shewkija, seen from the Ggantija temple hill (Gozo)

Upon landing, we picked up our luggage – kudos to the US Air guy at the Roanoke airport, for checking our suitcases all the way through to Malta! – and headed for the tourist information booth, to find out how best to get the ferry to the island of Gozo. The nice Maltese lady at the booth told us that the Gozo ferry was at the other end of the island, and to get there we could either take a 45-minute taxi ride for about €35, or a two-hour bus ride. “How much does that cost?” The CEO asked her. “We don’t have any time constraints, and we’d like to see the island.”

She laughed. “You’ll have to pay 47 Euro cents for Bus 82, which will take you to the terminus in Floriana. There you’ll get on Bus 146, which will take you to the ferry near Mellieha. That will cost 1,16. It’s a nice ride, and you’ll go through several of the cities on the east side of the island.”

The seaside town of Xlendi (Gozo)

That sounded like a good plan: see some scenery, kill part of the afternoon, and save 30. We took the bus. As requested, we hauled our luggage to the back and sat down, holding hands. It was a relatively short ride, about half an hour, to the bus terminus, and we practically twisted our necks off looking out the windows at the rocky terrain, the windswept palm trees, the medieval fortresses, and holidaymakers in Carnival costume.

I had assumed that “bus terminus” meant the kind of station I’ve seen before. There’s a bus station in my hometown, and you can catch both city buses and Greyhound service there. I’ve ridden buses in New York City and in Washington, DC. And we saw numerous bus stations in New Zealand.

But “Bus Terminus” in Malta – and Gozo, for that matter – means, essentially, “Big Bus Parking Lot.” No station building, no shelters, no benches, no ticket office, nothing but asphalt with painted lines. We got off the first bus in this parking lot in Floriana, and looked around, nonplussed. The CEO saw it first: a painted parking area stating 146 in block letters. There was no bus in it. We went over and stood in the marked-off area anyway, and looked around at the controlled chaos in the bus lot: probably fifteen buses, of all different models and stages of decrepitude, all painted yellow and red, and a good hundred people wandering around the lot looking for their desired routes. A few minutes later a large bus chugged into sight and parked in the 146 spot; just as we began to ask the driver if this was the bus to the Gozo ferry, he got off the bus and locked it. “Break time,” he said, in English. “Ten minutes, then we go.” So we stood around and talked to a nice German lady who was visiting her daughter on Malta, and who had come downtown to see the children in their Carnival costumes.

The driver was back in nine minutes and a crowd hopped onto the bus, which had clearly seen younger days, if not better ones: its floorboards were patched with wood, and the vinyl upholstery was cracked. A sign at the front pronounced the bus to be the “Marija Bambina,” the Baby Mary, and there was a religious icon stuck to the ceiling. The shocks were terrible; we bounced and jounced around on even smoothly paved streets. (It wasn’t too bad unless the bouncing made the suitcases shift, and then you had to look out for your shoulder, or your knee. Ow.)

Carnival in Victoria (Gozo)

We rolled through the streets, picking up people leaving the downtown celebration and dropping them in various towns. We saw adorable children in princess and pirate costumes, and a dance troupe dressed like a Hollywood dream of Cleopatra’s Egypt, waiting to perform. There was a young couple sitting in front of us on the bus who were sharing some very personal time – she had a glorious head of curly black hair, and he was one of the prettiest young men I’ve ever seen, with dark hair and gray-green eyes and delicate El Greco facial structure; it was like our own private Harlequin romance novel, right there on the bus.

And at some point during this hour-and-a-half bus ride, with teenage girls giggling and old ladies in black hissing passionately to each other in Maltese, with the busted shocks jiggling us, with the Romance Novel kissing in front of us – I fell asleep.

It was a delicious half-hour.

I woke in time to see the beaches at Mellieha, Golden Bay and Paradise Bay, as the afternoon sun slanted through the clouds. The bus pulled into another big parking lot, at the ferry terminal, and we struggled off the bus and onto the ferry, manhandling our suitcases as best we could.

The water was not choppy, so nobody got seasick. We split a Coke and surreptitiously watched the people around us – mostly families, or groups of teenagers socializing by gender, with the occasional couple dressed up for a costume party. Most seemed to be Maltese, judging by the language and facial features, but we were sitting next to a table full of what seemed to be English people, with fair hair and ruddy cheeks, consuming beers.

When we struggled down the stairs at the Gozo end of the ferry terminal, I was starving. It was crowded, and we couldn’t figure out the Gozo bus schedule, so we waved for a taxi.

Yes, where?” the driver inquired. We couldn’t say the name of the town, so we showed him our hotel confirmation: The Cornucopia Hotel in Xaghra. “Ah, Zhaaarrah! Seventeen euro.” This, we were to later find out, was an inflated value. Every other taxi we took on Gozo was 13. But it was a Carnival night, and there weren’t enough taxis to go around, so we paid our 17 and shut up about it, saving our breath to pray that our driver’s inattention to silly little things like lane dividers and speed limits would have no dire consequences! It was more nerve-racking than sitting in the passenger seat with one’s teenager driving, and that’s saying something.

The evening view from our hotel balcony toward Marsalforn (Gozo)

The sky was darkening when we reached our hotel, but there was time to note the palms from our balcony, and the flowers on the balcony of the house across the street, and the fortress on the top of the next hill over, as The CEO took several quick photos. We were exhausted and grungy, and as I mentioned, extremely hungry. We took quick showers, changed clothes, and hustled down to the hotel restaurant as soon as possible, in order to take advantage of the special holiday meal.

We ate antipasto and delicious crusty bread, then rabbit in wine sauce with mushrooms, roast potatoes, and mixed vegetables. We drank part of a bottle of delicious Gozo wine – its label mentioned the “minuscule but fertile vineyards of Gozo” – and coffee and tea with our traditional Gozitan Carnival dessert called Prinjolata. Our server was the most cheerful waiter I’ve ever had; he seemed so pleased to be able to recommend items to us and have us enjoy them.

And then we went back to our room and collapsed on the firm mattress and watched BBC news and VH1 and tallied our journeys:

By car from home to Roanoke

By plane from Roanoke to Philadelphia

By plane from Philly to Rome

By plane from Rome to Valletta, Malta

By bus from Valletta to Floriana

By bus from Floriana to the Gozo ferry

By ferry to Gozo

By taxi to our hotel

We had left home at noon Friday, and it was about 7pm when we’d arrived at the hotel – less six hours’ time difference, that was 25 hours’ worth of traveling all at once. I’m exhausted just thinking about it now.

All photos courtesy of The CEO.

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Jean Desprez, maker of iconic Bal a Versailles, is now producing pre-release test versions of their new fragrance, due out this fall.

Unfortunately, we have no information on what the new scent will be like – I think there is more than one formulation, and Jean Desprez will be asking for feedback soon – but today is the last day to buy a prerelease bottle, if you’re interested.  It’s $29.95 for a 100 ml bottle with production notes, plus about $5 shipping in the US.  Within a week or so, I’ll be reviewing here the version I received.

Check the Jean Desprez website for more info.  Image is from the website.

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To celebrate my return to more-frequent, regular blogging, I’d like to give away a few samples.  They’re all relatively high-end (unlike the stuff in the photo there!), some direct from the perfume house, and they may or may not have been tested by me.

Still interested?  Then here are the qualifications:  You must be willing to write a short review (at least three good sentences) of whichever fragrance sample you receive.  I will certainly accept a longer review, of course, but I’d like to offer the opportunity not only to test these scents, but to share what you think about them.

THE DRAWING IS NOW CLOSED.   Thanks to everyone who commented!

Here’s a list of what is up for grabs:

puredistance Antonia (green floral)

Xerjoff Elle (floral oriental)

DSH Perfumes Jitterbug (vintage-style spicy oriental)

Serge Lutens Bas de Soie (green floral)

Diptyque Philosykos (reference fig)

A two-fer of modern Guerlain L’Heure Bleue parfum and vintage Coty L’Origan (see Fragrance Throwdown)

If you’d like to try something new and then share what you think about it, throw your name in the hat.  You can also state which fragrance you’d be most interested in trying, and I’ll attempt to match names and interests, but I can’t guarantee you’d get the one you want! 

I’ll take entries for the drawing through Friday, April 8.  Winners will be drawn randomly and announced on Monday, April 11.     Questions?  ask away. 

Image is Fragrance sample lot from **scents-of-glamour** on eBay, only because it takes me awhile to make my own darn photos…

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I smelled L’Heure Bleue first, not long after I’d smelled the ethereally beautiful Apres L’Ondee, and not long after I’d rediscovered lovely older versions of Coty Emeraude.  I’d run across a mention of it in a book, and just had to find out what the heroine’s perfume smelled like.  I didn’t know, at the time, any of its history.

I hated it.  I called it “Hell’s Medicine Cabinet.”  Mind you, I tend to like medicinal smells – witness my love of clove and mint, and my utter-swoon immediate love of Serge Lutens’ famously medicinal La Myrrhe, and my toe-curling happiness when I crack open the tin of Porter’s Liniment Salve.  But I thought L’Heure Bleue’s combination of anise, bergamot and coriander was jarring and unpleasant.

It was only later, when a swap friend sent me a sample of L’Heure Bleue that was a much darker color than the sample I’d tried before, that I realized I’d sniffed the Eau de Toilette.  The penny dropped: I frequently have difficulty appreciating EdT concentrations of classic Guerlains.  Not always, of course: the aforementioned Apres L’Ondee comes to mind, and so does Chamade, also Vega – but Mitsouko and Shalimar EdTs are complete disasters for me.

It turned out to be parfum my friend had sent me, and it was a totally different beast: soft, plush, rich, warm, strange, aloof yet friendly, like a stray cat who has deigned to have its chin scratched by a stranger.  It was an eye-opening experience.  “So this is what they’re talking about,” I pondered.  “Not the EdT.”  I went straight to ebay and looked for a bottle of parfum – and found one.  Modern, 1 ounce, slightly-used, missing its paper label, being sold for cheap by a woman who needed cash, post-divorce.  The impression I got was that her ex-husband had given it to her, and now she couldn’t get it out of the house fast enough!

Understandable: L’Heure Bleue is nothing if not memorable, immediately identifiable at the faintest whiff of sillage.  It’s not the kind of fragrance that one could wear casually; as a signature scent, it is both quirky and comforting, melancholy and romantic.   Its name, The Blue Hour, refers to twilight, with more connotations of romance and melancholy.

Even in parfum, the opening is a bit bumpy.  It’s aromatic and medicinal in a way that I remember from visiting hospitals as a kid in the 1970s, and still not very pleasant.  However, in the parfum, the coriander seems to drop out quickly, leaving anise and clove singing a close harmony.  The clove note becomes more floral and carnationlike in just a few moments, and then there’s that orange blossom.  I am not a huge orange blossom fan, as it often has a “milled soap” angle for me.  There is a hint of that in L’HB, but then the rose and heliotrope pop up, and it veers sweet and woody and almost almond-pastry-like.  I do notice that in hot weather, the anise note seems to be prominent throughout the development, and I like that a lot.  In winter, it’s very much Floral Bearclaw, with  lots of orange blossom and almond, and I find it less interesting in the winter.

L’Heure Bleue is the kind of fragrance that, if you loved it, could haunt your memory all your life.  Sadly, I do not love it.  I admire it.

My bottle of L’Origan came from eBay, in a little satin-lined leatherette case.  The packaging seems to be that used by Coty in the 1940s through (possibly) the early 1960s, so I’m not sure how old this bottle is.  The cap is a bit tarnished, and the liquid is definitely darker and more orange than pictured here (probably due to the aging of the jasmine and/or the orange blossom).  But the box, and the rubber (plastic?) stopper under the cap, seem to have protected the fragrance fairly well.

Of course, it is vintage, and although in fairly good shape, it is not very long-lasting (two and a half to three hours, compared to L’Heure Bleue’s five hours on my skin).  There is a slight mustiness in the topnotes, as well, and the woody parts of the base seem very dry, with cedar dominating the sandalwood.  I smell a sharp clove note, as well as some rose and jasmine with the orange blossom.  But where I sniff L’Heure Bleue’s drydown and think, “Eh, almond pastry,” I keep bringing my L’Origan-wearing wrist to my nose.  There is a soft benzoin-tonka-vanilla angle, the same sort of thing I love so much in Mariella Burani, but the woods tend to dominate it, and perhaps I’m picking up on a bit of incense as well.

As others more knowledgeable than I am have pointed out (see Denyse’s review at Grain de Musc here, or Octavian’s at 1000 Fragrances here), Jacques Guerlain seemed to take each one of Francois Coty’s groundbreaking scents and develop the ideas further: adding the rich peach note of Persicol to the structure of Chypre and creating Mitsouko, or adding a brighter citrus note, a more sharply delineated jasmine, and that genius hint of tar to the Emeraude structure to create Shalimar.   Clearly, L’Heure Bleue admits kinship to the older L’Origan, one of the first “soft,” Oriental Florals.  What’s the difference in notes and development?

I’m still not sure.  In fact, LHB seems less descended from L’O than tangentially related.  The anise and heliotrope notes hark back to Guerlain’s own Apres l’Ondee, while much of the structure – orange blossom, eugenol (clove) and ambery vanilla – seems to dovetail with that of L’O.  L’Origan, though, has what seems to me to be a darker cast; it’s less melancholy, more mysterious.  There seems to be more clove in L’O, more aromatic and herbal details, and it seems rather drier to me,  just to mention a few differences.    Halfway through the development, L’O has gone  right to the edge of a mossy kind of bitterness that makes me wonder if there’s vetiver in there, whereas L’HB  has veered toward vanilla and heliotrope.

As Denyse of Grain de Musc points out, the Coty fragrances have a tendency toward crudity, where their Guerlain counterparts are smooth and seamless.  And yet, and yet… I love (vintage) Emeraude with all my heart, while finding Shalimar a little over-the-top.  And L’Heure Bleue has very little emotional impact on me at all, while L’Origan stirs me.  Maybe it’s just me – or perhaps it’s that my L’Origan is vintage and my L’Heure Bleue is not.  The first time I opened that little bottle of L’Origan, I was bowled over by its sheer beauty.  L’HB never did that to me, not even in parfum. L’HB was a stray cat, L’O was a Siberian tiger lounging in the sun: powerful, beautiful, and potentially dangerous.

Notes for each fragrance from Fragrantica.

L’Origan: Bergamot, orange, coriander, pepper, peach, nutmeg, clove, carnation, violet, jasmine, orange blossom, ylang-ylang, rose, benzoin, incense, cedar, musk, sandalwood, vanilla, coumarin (tonka bean), civet.  Fragrantica reviews here.   See also Victoria’s review at Bois de Jasmin, and this lovely one at Memory and Desire.

L’Heure Bleue: Anise, coriander, neroli, bergamot, lemon, carnation, orchid, jasmine, violet, clove, orange blossom, rose, heliotrope, iris, sandalwood, musk, benzoin, vanilla, vetiver, tonka bean.  Fragrantica reviews here.  See also:  Kevin’s review at Now Smell This, Donna’s review of the parfum at Perfume-Smellin’ Things, and The Non-Blonde’s review, as well as this one at For the Love of Perfume.

Photo of wrestlers from Wikimedia Commons.  L’Origan ad from ebay seller adlibrary.  Other photos mine.  (Since my L’HB bottle had lost its sticker before it came to me, I added one.  It’s too big, and probably the wrong color – so sue me! At least you can tell what it is now, in case you’re not familiar with the inverted  heart stopper.)

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Monday, Mar. 28: Happy birthday, Mom! (That No. 5 pic is for you.  Love.)

We had snow today. Of course, it was all gone by noon (the kids were disappointed), but still, it’s pretty cold for March. SOTD: Chanel Bois des Iles. I spritzed very lavishly, and got better than two hours’ lasting power this time, but had to hoover my arm to smell it past those first two hours. It’s a beautiful thing; I just wish it weren’t so darn retiring.

Tuesday, Mar. 29: Warmer today, but not immensely so. SOTD: Carnal Flower, beautiful.

SOTEvening, once the Carnal Flower was gone, continuing with the tuberose theme: Black Orchid Voile de Fleur. Funny how sometimes VdF is quietly pretty, sometimes quietly threatening, and sometimes outright sex-aaay. (Tonight? Sex-aay.)

Also funny how I hardly ever find Carnal Flower sexy. “Carnal”? Uh, not really. Anybody else got a different take on it?

Wednesday, Mar. 30: Rain, rain, rain. It rained all night, and looks like it’s gonna rain all day. I’m re-trying Xerjoff Elle, from a sample Dear Daisy sent me. Compared to the previous sample, which was carded but the vial unlabeled, thus leading me to wonder if the vial was really something else in the Elle card – well, it’s the same. Elle was described to me as “very floral,” but I’m getting a lot of caramel/cotton candy out of it. There is some rose in there, and possibly some jasmine and ylang, but mostly, it’s sweeeeeet. Nice for a gourmand, but definitely a gourmand.

Played Buzzwords at small group Game Night. Next week we’ll be back to Bible study, but this week was just for fun.

Thursday, Mar.31: Boring day at work. Buckets of rain. Bookworm had a meltdown right after I picked her and Gaze up from their respective track practices. (Okay, I might have given her the final nudge by insisting that she stop bossing her brother around, especially while his actual mother was within earshot. But still, she was already stressed by a Tough Love Coaches’ talk at practice – directed at the kids who aren’t working hard, clearly not at her – and by the prospect of making up her mind whether or not she intends to apply for the regional Governor’s School for Science and Technology, which is academically rigorous and offers college-equivalent credit courses. Classes run half a day, and start at 7:10 am, and I think she’s also worried about the possibility that she won’t get enough sleep.)

SOTD: Parfums de Nicolai Vanille Tonka. I don’t wear this decant often enough; it’s such a happy scent. Lime, spice, carnations, incense and vanilla… It’s beginning to come clear to me that I prefer my incense sweetened up, with vanilla or woods or rose. VT has the same sort of cola angle found in Youth Dew and Opium and Coco and all those heavy spicy orientals, but I hate the heavy orientals and love VT. Go figure.

Friday, Apr. 1: Lord willin’ an’ the crick don’t rise*, this will be my last Statement Day at the NAPA store. Ever. (* This is an old-fashioned country saying in the US – possibly limited to Southern usage, but possibly not – meaning, “Assuming that circumstances don’t intervene.” I’ve heard it all my life, but it’s one of those phrases that is passing out of general social conversation. Pretty soon, we’re all going to talk like news anchors on CNN…)

I am wearing vintage Emeraude parfum de toilette today, as a Personal Statement of the Scented Kind. And my boss sent me a lovely bouquet of mixed flowers – pink roses, lavender purple spider chrysanthemums, stargazer lilies, Bells of Ireland, baby’s breath, dark purple stock. That was sweet of him.

Went on a coffee-sweets-and-marriage-seminar date (sponsored by our church) with The CEO this evening. It was fun. It led to kissing, and who doesn’t need more of that? SOTE, once my Emeraude had worn off: Ferre 20.

Saturday, Apr. 2: Very strange weather: chilly, windy and cloudy early in the day, then 20 minutes of wet flurries, followed by more wind and sunshine. The CEO built a fire. We spared a thought for poor Bookworm, at a track meet today. (Brr! I remember a particularly miserable May Saturday in my own youth, when our year-round swim team went to an outdoor meet, and the weather turned out to be 60F and rainy – and of course, if the air temperature is 60, the water temperature is much colder. And then, we never really got dry after events, because it was, hello, raining. Ugh.)

SOTD: Oscar de la Renta parfum (vintage). I’ve seen mentions of the original Oscar scent being related both to Ysatis – a lemony white floral with a rich, dirty base – and to L’Origan. I’d describe it as a “soft, rich floral,” and although it’s supposedly full of tuberose, I wouldn’t say that tuberose plays a big part in its makeup. I liked the top and heart fairly well, although I’d say it’s distinctly reminiscent of ashtray for a good portion of its development. The drydown was something of a disappointment, however: a sweet, ambery wood, rather uninteresting. Perhaps my sample has suffered from age damage.

Sunday, Apr. 3: We celebrated my mother’s birthday today by driving to her house after church and making her a nice lunch (Honey-Ginger-Soy Salmon, rice, steamed broccoli, grilled pineapple, and chocolate mousse cake). I wore vintage Chanel No. 5 parfum in her honor. I smelled wonderful.

On the way home, we noticed one of the new bulls out in the road, and wound up chasing him back into the 20-Acre Field behind the house, and from there onto the Back Side. (Well, not so much “chasing” as “encouraging him to go where we wanted him to go.” It’s a lot like getting your kids to eat their veggies… easier than herding cats, I’ll tell you.)

Image is 1981 Chanel ad from ebay seller tallpalms.

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