Mon Guerlain EdP Florale by Guerlain

By Portia

Hey A Bottled Rosers!

It’s really cooling down up in the northern hemisphere right now. Most of your jaunty citrus and mint fragrances are taking a back seat to the warming delights of amber, vanilla and woods. For those of us who love something sweet and pretty, and those looking for a beautiful gift for the holiday season, I’m enjoying my Mon Guerlain EdP Florale so much more than I ever did the original. I loved the first but there are days when it’s just too thick and syrupy.

Mon Guerlain EdP Florale 2018

Thierry Wasser

Parfumo gives these featured accords:
Top: True lavender, Bergamot
Heart: Jasmine sambac, Peony, Paradisone®, Ylang-ylang
Base: Iris, Sandalwood, Vanilla

On first spritz the vanilla already shines through. Playing perfectly alongside a sheer lavender and warm, very lightly banana-ish ylang and a dry cardboard iris. Far less intense and more spacious, like the original has been given room to breathe. Within this newfound airiness is a much less confrontational scent, now its prettier, more wearable and less smelling like a lavender nougat, more like fine fragrance. As if Mon Guerlain was a mod and Mon Guerlain EdP Florale the final, perfect product.

 

Legendary longevity, I can still smell the sweet Mon Guerlain essence at the end of a gig and even the next morning there are soft remnants of it floating around my body. Dry down is an attenuated heart, once the initial fireworks are over the changes are infinitesimal, just diminution. While definitely leaning towards the traditional feminine spectrum there is no reason a guy couldn’t get his Mon Guerlain EdP Florale on. It’s not a million miles away from Pour un Homme de Caron.

 

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Have you spent any time with the Mon Guerlain range? Do you have a favourite yet? That rose one this year was good too.

Portia xx

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Reading Diary – September/October 2019

I never really feel guilty about staying indoors reading but it’s as if I have more of an excuse when the summer is over and the weather takes a turn for the worse. Autumn officially feels like the start of reading season.

I’m also excited about creepy reads for Halloween which will include H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe.

Here’s what I’ve read over the last two months.

 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too.”

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I’ve heard about this book time and time again and was in the rare mood for contemporary fiction. It’s about two families who live in the coveted Shaker Heights neighbourhood in Ohio. The privileged Richardsons have rented out an apartment to artist Mia and her teenage daughter, Pearl. Peart makes friends with three of the Richardson children and the families become increasingly intertwined. Relations become tense for a number of reasons and then the whole situation and pace of the novel is ramped up by divisions over the adoption of an abandoned Chinese baby by a wealthy white couple. It’s not a spoiler to say this culminates in the black sheep of the Richardson family burning their house down (not a spoiler). It’s a book about mothers and daughters, coming-of-age and how the choices we make in life as a result of society’s values can lead to resentment later in life. 4/5

 

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Toikein

“For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

I enjoyed reading The Hobbit last year but had a false start with The Fellowship of the Ring. I’ve finally managed to get through all three books. I didn’t leave gaps in between once I heard that The Lord of the Rings is actually one book split into three volumes.

I liked the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring because it’s set in The Shire and I’m fond of the Hobbits and their Hobbit holes. Like them, I love my creature comforts. The problem came when they set off and it was an awful lot of describing their route traipsing across the countryside. I mean pages and pages. I found much of the first half of the book tedious and would have put it at 2 stars. I also admit to skipping through the verses of song unless it seemed they were integral to the plot (usually not). The second half picked up considerably though as they met new characters and visited more interesting places. By the end I was hooked to the point where I looked up a map of Middle Earth.   3.5/5.

The Two Towers (5/5) and The Return of the King (5/5) were both excellent with the adventure really taking off. I was totally taken with the love between Frodo and Sam. I didn’t know before starting, that it is, in part, a treatise against industrialisation but it’s very evident in the final section the novel which didn’t quit sit right. In any case that only dropped it down from a 6/5 to a 5/5.

From the first book I could see its huge influence on modern day fantasy writers like J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin. Very happy I’ve finally read it.

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La Belle Sauvage, The Book of Dust Volume One by Philip Pullman

“He was liked when noticed, but not noticed much, and that did him no harm either.”

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I was dying to return to the world of my favourite trilogy His Dark Materials when the first volume of the second trilogy in the series was released in 2017. Sadly, La Belle Sauvage was slow to get going and I ended up putting it down only a little way in. Lyra is such a compelling character that having her present only as baby leaves a huge hole. What pushed me to pick it up again and finish it was the imminent release of Volume 2. Once I got into it, I enjoyed La Belle Sauvage but it felt more like a spin-off or a prequel to the rest of the series, which it is considering its set ten years before the start of His Dark Materials. It didn’t have quite the same feel of the original trilogy or the overarching mystery. It’s essentially a chase story as endearing eleven year-old Malcolm seeks to protect Lyra from the pursuers after a biblical-style flood. 3.75/5

 

The Secret Commonwealth, The Book of Dust Volume Two by Philip Pullman

“Has reason ever created a poem, or a symphony, or a painting? If rationality can’t see things like the secret commonwealth, it’s because rationality’s vision is limited … We need to imagine as well as measure …”

Lyra is now twenty years-old and man, is it good to catch up with her again. I wouldn’t say you absolutely must read La Belle Sauvage first (although it does fill in the background of a few characters, adding to the reading experience) but I would definitely recommend reading at least the last two chapters of The Amber Spyglass. We are plunged into a new intrigue but this one revolves around, guess what? Rose oil! Heartbreakingly, Lyra and Pan are estranged – showing the consequences of becoming a stranger to yourself. Other interesting themes of the book concern the demeaning of imagination and the manipulation of facts to serve an agenda (which feels very relevant in this ‘post-truth’ age). What did feel rather heavy-handed and jarring was the inclusion of a Syrian refugee crisis.  Another small criticism is that it was a tad too long and sprawling in scope. All the same, what am I going to do if I have to wait 2 YEARS for the conclusion? 4.75/5

On a side note, what frustrate me is that all these books are often categorised as ‘Children/Young Adult’ because they have a young protagonist. This might put adults off reading them. As I suspected, in an interview Philip Pullman said that he wrote them all with adults in mind. In both these recent books, aside from the ‘F-bomb’ being dropped a number of times, there are scenes of murder and sexual assault. In the first there is a character who is a paedophile and in the second there is a graphic suicide. Definitely not for younger readers.

 

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My Sister The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

“There is music blasting from Ayoola’s room, she’s listening to Whitney Housten’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody. It would be more appropriate to play Brymo or Lorde, something solemn or yearning, rather than the musical equivalent of a pack of M&Ms”

This book set in Lagos, Nigeria, has been everywhere lately and so when it came up for a pound, I bought it despite rarely, if ever, reading thrillers. That stunning cover art also helped tip the balance (the reflection in the lenses!). As you can tell from the title, this book is about two sisters. Korede, a nurse, is the older sister and narrator while Ayoola is as beautiful as she is self-obsessed not to mention psychopathic. After an abusive childhood Korede has taken on the role of her sister’s protector to heart. This extends to cleaning up and disposing of the bodies of the three boyfriends Ayoola has killed by the time the book opens. The situation escalates when the latest man to become enthralled by her is the kind-hearted doctor who is the object of Korede’s affection.

I was nervous going in because some have said this book has horror elements but there is very little gore and it’s not frightening. I’ve also seen it referred to as darkly comic but while I found it entertaining I only really found it funny at one point – but that’s a personal thing. It’s a fast-paced page-turner that you can devour in a day. I did. 4/5

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Have you read one of these or any other book you’d like to share? Do you find you read more in the autumn/fall?

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Recipes from the Cookie Kitchen – Even Better Than the Real Thing Vegan Fudgy Brownies

I sell more vegan brownies than I do the Classic Fudgy Brownies,  That is not because they are better, but because they are more hip.   Do not underestimate them though. They are just as good, and some say even better than the real thing.

As with the Fudgy Brownie recipe, this too is the exact recipe I use in my business. Follow the recipe to the letter.  Do not attempt to tweak it.  I did already.  These are as fudgy as brownies should be.  No cake-like brownies on my watch.

INGREDIENTS

Attention.  You will need a food processor or a blender.

90 grammes of SILKEN tofu.  I prefer what you get in the Asian stores, but you can buy it wherever so long as it is the silken kind.

1/2 cup of oil.  (about 120 ml)  I use rapeseed oil, but sunflower or peanut is fine. A tasteless oil is best.

1/4 cup non-dairy milk (about 60 ml)  Oat, soy, almond ….  Whatever.

1 cup of sugar (half soft brown and half white if you want)

1 cup of flour — about 160 grammes (I often use half spelt, and half wheat.  All spelt is too much!)

1/2 cup of the absolute best cocoa powder you can afford.  I use Valrhona.

2 teaspoons of vanilla

1 level tablespoon cornstarch.

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

METHOD – as ever, read this through several times before you start.

Line your 8 inch square brownie tin with greaseproof paper/baking parchment/backpapier – whatever you call it.

Have a mixing bowl ready for the brownie batter.

Preheat the oven to 325°f or 162°c (Well, 160°c is fine!)

As with all recipes, put the ingredients out and in front of you.  Double check.  It is the only way to prepare to bake.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, cornstarch and salt into a bowl.  Put it on the side.

Have the sugar ready of course.

Put the tofu, the nondairy milk, and the oil into a food blender/food processor.  Put it on high speed and whip the crap out of it, it will become smooth, and fairly thick and creamy.   Scrape the sides down as necessary.

Put this tofu mixture into the mixing bowl, add the sugar, and whisk with fervent zeal. Add the vanilla and stir in.

Add your flour mixture,  ideally sift it in, but you don’t have to.  Fold it into the wet ingredients, until it becomes smooth.  You need to maybe use a bit of oomph, it will be pretty thick.

Put the batter into the pan.  You can push it down and into the corners with the back of a spoon.  It will be too thick to spread out on its own.  It will spread out a little during baking so you don’t have to get too manic about spreading it out precisely.

I put pecan nuts on the top because they are so delicious and have a great crunch.  That is optional though and you do not have to do that.

Bake them for about 30 minutes.  Do not overbake.  You will see when they are set it is pretty obvious.

Let them cool.  Eat.  If there are any left over you can keep them in the fridge or just covered.  Depends if you like cold brownies or not.

CQ.  

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The above photos are all pics from me doubling the mass.  Just so you know.

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Eau de Minthé by Diptyque

By Portia

Hi there A Bottled Rose.

New Diptyque will often get me excited. They are some of the niche groundbreakers and almost all of their fragrances have a perfectly finished quality, that lovely smooth story that has enough twists to keep you interested but done with such aplomb that you miss it, unless you’re paying attention. They are practically mainstream nowadays and are in large department stores all over the world. Do they even have stand alone stores?

Eau de Minthé by Diptyque 2019

Parfumo gives these featured accords:
Mint, Nutmeg, Rose, Patchouli

OOOOH Minty goodness, like a herbal mint tea with some spices giving it an added warmth. Yes, the opening zings and is very refreshing but eau de Minthé is not only a hot weather fragrance. It also works perfectly in the cool. The greenery is given sheer earthy warmth from the patchouli. Modern patchouli.

I recently bought some patchouli dark essential oil. We used to sell patchouli oil when I was a kid working in a barber/tobacconist. I never liked it then, it was too potent and real for me. I was only interested in Aramis, Ralph Lauren Polo and Safari at the time. Having the EO in adult life has opened my eyes to how patchouli was. I can’t think of a fragrance that smells like the real deal in modern times.

The rose mentioned in the notes is not the star of the show, hardly even a bit player. Every now and then it pokes its fruity rosiness out and is then subsumed. I’m getting a smell that seems like angelica, a wispy sharp green, bittersweet and full of the end of summer ripeness.

Eau de Minthé is nice, not usual and if I’m being honest i think I’d prefer it as a room spray. Maybe even a linen spray. I could easily imagine getting into a bed smelling like this and drifting off into sleep. So much so that it’s going to be my bedtime scent tonight.

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Are you a fan of mint in fine fragrance? Is there one you love?

Portia xx

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A Visit to Grasse – Photo Essay

 

At the end of last month I flew out to Nice on the Cote d’Azur to join an exceptional friend of mine who was spending part of her vacation there. The weather was perfect, around the mid-twenties.

We rented a car to go to Grasse for the day, which was only about 45 minutes from Nice. We both expected it to be a small, rather quaint town but it is much more built up than that and the main street was quite grand. Grasse is considered the world’s capital of perfume and produces over two-thirds of France’s natural aromas (for perfume and food flavourings). There are about 30 local perfume producers.

The main street in Grasse.

We visited Molinard on the outskirts of Grasse which houses the old factory/museum, laboratory and shop. All the operating factories had to be moved to an industrial estate outside the town.

Molinard opened the very first factory in Grasse in 1849 and had 300 employees which was a huge number for the time. The company has stayed in the family for five generations and the current owner is the first woman during that time.

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Molinard House

It ddin’t seem like you needed to pre-book the free tour which seemed pretty informal (Galimard and Fragonard also do factory tours). That Sunday there were maybe ten of us including Canadians and Italians. Our tour guide, Paula, was a lovely lady though we raised our eyebrows at a couple of points. She told us that Molinard perfumes are made from all natural ingredients and that rose centifolia with its lemon and honey facets, only grows in Grasse.

The flowers for the perfumes can be obtained in Grasse but other ingredients come from across the globe.

The equipment used to be made out of copper but is now made of steel.

 

On weekdays two women make 600 soaps here by hand per day.

We tried their best selling Creme 24: a balm for face and body with a strong lemon scent which is intensely moisturising. Apparently they have tried to discontinue it a few times but its fans won’t let them.

Their most famous perfume Habanita (launched in 1921) happily still smells great and the only vetiver-heavy fragrance I really like.

While the production is now off-site, the lab where the perfumer composes fragrances is still at Molinard House.

A peek inside the modern perfume lab.

Some women in our group were greatly surprised to find out you shouldn’t keep bottles in your bathroom because of the three enemies of perfume: heat, light and humidity.

She went through the various concentrations.

You can take part in a perfume workshop here (prices from 189 euro) after which you come away with a bottle of your own custom fragrance. They can then send you re-fills anywhere in the world.

Of course the tour ended in the shop.

My friend bought a tube of the Crème 24 for her mother.

We nearly bought travel sprays of the original Habanita but managed to resist. It’s the kind of perfume I admire but never reach for.

We both bought a couple of the soaps.

From there we drove into the centre of Grasse to visit the International Museum of Perfumery which opened in 1989.

The International Museum of Perfumery

Floor plan

There were some interactive exhibits as well those in cases.

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It seemed to be a very old building that had been renovated.

The ‘greenhouse’ had perfume plants such as vetiver and patchouli.

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The outdoor garden had jasmine, geranium, labdanum, herbs and more.

Marie Antoinette’s modest travel case (one of two in existence).

My favourite bottle and perfume, Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit

Scented products including My Little Pony.

Finally, there was an extensive temporary exhibit about eau de cologne.

 

The museum’s gift shop was a treat. I picked up several gorgeous postcards and a Grasse tote bag, while my friend bought a pretty silk scarf.

It was a wonderful day and ticked another destination off my bucket list.

Have you been to Grasse? If not, would you like to go? Let me know in the comments and what you thought of the factory tour and perfume museum.

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Recipes from the Cookie Kitchen. Classic Fudgy Brownies.

I have had this need to feed people since quite a young age.  I could analyze this, go to a therapist, or do yoga.  But I decided just to accept it and make money out of it instead. We have had a year now  of Strange Tales from the Cookie Kitchen and there are more to come. But today I want to share some of the recipes that contributed to me to becoming the Cookie Queen.

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Brownies are of course named for their colour, and they have been around since the late 1890s.  They are really an American speciality.  And as much as we like to complain about a lot of American foods, their home baked goods are fantastic.  I have after all had a business based around them for more than twenty years.   Brownies are divided into two basic categories; cake-like and fudge-like.  You can skip the cake-like, there is only one kind of brownie, and that is a fudgy one.

This recipe is exactly the one that I use for my customers.  If you do what it says you will have perfect brownies.  (It may surprise you the number of people who tell me that their stuff does not turn out like mine.  And when I question them closer it is always because they did not follow the bloody instructions. “Oh I did not have an 8″square pan, so I used a casserole dish instead.”  FFS.

INGREDIENTS.    

100 grammes of unsweetened chocolate MELTED.  (You only need about 90 but have to allow for tasting or something remaining in the bowl, so use 100 to start.). Use the absolute best quality as this is not Rumplelstiltskin, crap chocolate does not turn into gold.)

4 ounces of softened butter (112g).

1 cup of brown sugar (the soft moist kind). If you cannot get it use white, it is not as good.

1tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs at room temperature

2/3 cup of flour (about 85g)

Good pinch of salt (added to the flour)

170 grammes of chopped chocolate.  (I use about 2/3 milk and 1/3 white but whatever … )

Line your 8 inch square brownie pan with greaseproof paper/baking parchment/backpapier – whatever you call it.

METHOD – read this through several times before starting!

Preheat the oven to 350°f or 170°c.

Get everything ready and in front of you.  Always.  it is the only way to work and to avoid making mistakes.

Now then, I melt my chocolate, which I have cut into very small pieces, in a microwave. Yes, I know you are not supposed to.  Melt it slowly and on a LOW wattage.  Open the door every 20 seconds and give it a stir until it is all beautifully liquid.  Make sure the bowl you use is totally clean and dry before putting the chocolate into it and melting it.

Beat the butter and the sugar together with an electric hand mixer, or Kitchen Aid, or with a wooden spoon if you have nothing else.  Add the warmish melted chocolate to it. (Not boiling hot of course, otherwise it will melt the lot!) Add the vanilla.  Beat it all together, but no need to beat it to death.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one.  Add the flour and salt.  You can fold it in with a spatula, or slowly blend with the machine.  And then add and fold in your chopped chocolate chunks.  Turn the batter into your lined pan, and level the surface.

Put into your PREHEATED oven.  Mine take about 28 minutes to bake but this time could vary with different ovens,  I cook with a fan oven. I would say between 25 and 30 mins max.   You can see if they are done by the way the top will look kind of shiny and dry. Don’t be scared to open the oven and put a toothpick into the middle of them and see if it comes out with crumbs or dripping batter.  Gooey crumbs are ideal.

Take them out.  Let them cool.   I then take them out of the pan, and carefully take the paper off, reline the pan with waxed paper or whatever, and put the brownies back in.  I then keep them there until they have been eaten.  Unless I am selling them, obviously, Then they get packed.

And remember a brownie is not a cake.  Very rich.  Adjust size accordingly.  You know how to tell the difference when looking at recipes?  A fudgy brownie will always have more sugar in it than flour.

CQ

I forgot to take a picture of adding the chocolate chinks, but I think you can imagine it huh?

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Rose et Cuir by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Notes: Pepper, Geranium, Blackcurrant, Vetiver, Cedar and Leather

To get the best out of trying Rose et Cuir – the new Frederic Malle release – for the first time, I think it’s a good idea to manage a few expectations:

Firstly, this is not a rose perfume. Secondly, it is not a birch tar leather. Thirdly, it is a departure from Jean-Claude Ellena’s work at Hermes.

Now on to what it IS.

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Rose et Cuir is a dark and stealthily dramatic leather with a bitter heart. I have been struggling terribly with sweetness in perfumes recently so this is not an issue for me but I can see some people finding it a turn-off.

On spraying, I get the rosy greenness of geranium with tremendously smooth pepper. The dewy rose effect is made all the more beautiful because you are experiencing it through a tangle of thorny brambles. It represents the last rays of sunlight filtering through the trees before you’re drawn deeper into the forest.

When most people think of a leather fragrance they think of the rich, smoky aroma created by birch tar in perfumes like Chanel’s Cuir de Russie. Ellena has chosen instead to work with Isobutyl Quinoline; a powerful synthetic which was used to create classic leather perfumes like Piguet’s original Bandit and Cabochard by Gres but has fallen out of vogue for some time. It has a distinctive, grainy, quality with an odour profile that is more like leather being processed at the tannery than the thick, smokiness of raw birch tar. The fact that it doesn’t overwhelm in Rose et Cuir is surely down to the perfumer’s skill.

The base is a cool green vetiver with no hint of swampiness and incredible lasting power. I prefer vetiver as an accent rather than a main player but it fits the character of the fragrance perfectly. A cosy amber or bland woodiness would have been a cop-out and this perfume doesn’t do compromise.

Frederic Malle has said this marks the start of a new era for Ellena and Rose et Cuir is a very modern take on a statement perfume. Even with all that moodiness, it never feels in the least bit heavy, floating airily just out of reach. There is no extraneous ornamentation (which is very Ellena).

Although it looks like it’s being marketed as a rugged, outdoorsy fragrance I feel it’s much more sophisticated and cerebral than that. It sets up an eerie tension between the potently poisonous and the painfully vulnerable.

Most of all Rose et Cuir is an intensely interesting perfume. Val the Cookie Queen and I have never talked so much about a new release (see her post here). We think it will be divisive but that’s no bad thing in my book. At least it’s creating a reaction in people. A fragrance of this quality that is so against the tide might not have existed without the full artistic freedom that Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle affords perfumers.

Do you like the sound of a sheer yet striking perfume or does the thought of a sharp green floral leather put you off?

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Absinthe Boreale by Maison Crivelli

Hi A Bottled Rose Peeps!

The boards are full of a new brand nowadays, Maison Crivelli. In a recent First In Fragrance order they sent me a couple of samples to try as a GWP. Woo Hoo! Even the names of these fragrances are interesting enough to grab my attention. Just a few of them include Santal Volcanique, Bois Datchai, Rose Saltifolia and the one we’ll be talking about today, Absinthe Boreale.

Absinthe Boreale by Maison Crivelli 2019

Nathalie Feisthauer

Parfumo gives these featured accords:
Absinth, Lemon, Plant juice, Fern, Lavender

OOOOOH! The opening is tart lemon, celery and broken willow twigs. It’s delightfully sharp and herbaceous. Unlike anything I’ve sniffed before. It has a strange warmth that I can’t place at all but it feels very familiar. One of those ubiquitous base notes that is both smooth woodsiness and furry fibreglass roof insulation. Strange but compelling mix, much like absinthe I suppose.

Not long in and lavender makes itself known. A sheer veil of lavender that damps down all other notes without erasing them. It’s like smelling through a lavender curtain. It remains the focus, yet not a big statement, right through the heart. As if it accidentally found itself in centre stage, with no fanfare of desire to shine, yet by its perfect placement and poise it leaves all other players looking wan and lifeless.

 

 

The name intrigues me. Absinthe is the drink that causes hallucinations and melancholy. Boreale might be referring to the Aurora Borealis, that chiaroscuro of gases that lights the northern skies. It certainly fits with this fragrance and its changing story from green to lavender and further into the dry down gold seeming warmth mixes in. It could be sweet vanilla and woods but there’s nothing in the note list to point it out.

 

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Every change within the fragrance life feels seamless and once you get there, inevitable. As if this fragrance was pre-ordained to be made, that there was already a space for it in our consciousness. Here it is.

Have you got your sniff on any of the Maison Crivelli fragrances yet? Does Absinthe Boréale sound like you could wear it?

Portia xxx

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Reading Diary – August 2019

I didn’t quite reach my Goodreads reading challenge to get through 30 books last year. This was largely because I didn’t read at all during the month of my trip to Australia. This year I set it at 25 so I wouldn’t become idiotically feel under pressure in the run-up to 31st December. Guess what? I reached 25 books in August.

I felt pretty anxious all month and my reading choices reflect this: humorous, adventurous romps to take my mind off things, self-help books to try and find solutions, and a couple of novels that I hoped would calming my nerves.

 

Hope for the Best (Chronicles of St Mary’s Book 10) by Jodi Taylor

‘Let us all think carefully. Who here has the least value? Who has annoyed me the most?’ He turned to face me. ‘Who is in need of a much-deserved lesson?’
‘No idea,’ I said.
‘Oh, I think you do.’
‘Well, yes, I do, but I thought it would be rude to point out it’s you. Not in front of your men. Although it would be good to stop you talking before everyone dies of boredom.’

 

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This, the 10th book in the series, came out in April but I’ve been saving it. So when I didn’t know what I wanted to read next and felt a bit low, it was there waiting for me. St. Mary’s is my literary happy place however much of this book is spent with the Time Police who are soon to have their own spin-off series. In any case, the action is still led by our indomitable hero Max and as per usual, misfortune abounds as she travels back to the Cretaceous period to try and finish her nemesis once and for all. But first she must fix an anomaly in the Time Map and make sure Mary Tudor fulfils her destiny in the 16th century.  (I have already pre-ordered Book 11 which will be released in April next year.)  5/5

 

Happy: Why Just About Everything Is Absolutely Fine by Derren Brown

“We do not have the control over events that we like to imagine would allow us to succeed through self-belief. In truth, we aim in one direction, events pull us in the other, and the line of our life is drawn along the middle.”

 

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I’ve long been a fan of illusionist Derren Brown. I’ve watched the TV shows and seen his stage show a couple of times. It was always clear that he was an extremely clever guy but now he’s written a self-help book based on Stoic philosophy: a must-read for me then. People in the field of personal development are always talking about goal-setting but this has long been a source of anxiety for me. It was incredibly reassuring and a huge relief to have Derren acknowledge this in the first fifth of the book. Latter sections show you how you can apply Stoic philosophy to everyday life.  I lost interest during a couple of chapters covering anger and fame but those covering death were as well thought-out as they were thought-provoking.  4/5

 

 

The Summer Book by Tove Jannsen

“Smell is important. It reminds a person of all the things he’s been through; it is a sheath of memories and security.”

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Unfortunately, I read this book for adults by the author of the Moomntroll series at the wrong time. It needs patience and a calm mind so you can settle into its gentle pace. With my anxiety in full swing it was a bad fit.  It’s not a novel where you can get lost in the narrative (which I needed) but a series of vignettes mainly set in the summer but not necessarily in the same year.  They revolve around a grandmother and her granddaughter Sophia who spend their summers on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland. The father is there too but he’s a shadowy figure in the background. I enjoyed some of the stories a lot but grew distracted with those where very little happens. Sophia is precocious and volatile and the fact that her mother has died coloured everything for me. Her interactions with her grandmother are often humorous and charming but sometimes felt a little surreal.  I did have to laugh when she stuck a note under the door saying something like ‘I hate you, With warmest personal wishes, Sophia’. The passages about the island’s flora, landscape and weather were beautiful and I found the atmosphere unique. It’s clearly a special book, I just wasn’t in the right mindset to fully appreciate it. 3/5

 

 

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

“My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like I’m going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I’m about to kick the shit out of life.”

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I struggled with this book a little at first because I found Bernadette hard to like. She is somtimes ignorant, always judgemental and usually ranting about everything from Seattle’s road system to Canadians and homeless people. That made it hard to care that she went missing but as the story evolves we find out more about Bernadette’s past and that made it easier to empathise. Her main redeeming features however, is her relationship with her bright and engaging teenage daughter, Bee. Events unfold via various letters, emails and documents as Bee tries to piece together what happened in the run up to her disappearance. This format was highly enjoyable and worked really well. It’s touted as a satire of Microsoft (where Bee’s hapless father works) and private school parents, and while it’s often very funny, it also has heart. It was pretty outlandish but a great distraction. 4/5 (Now a film starring Cate Blanchett)

 

 

Anxiety Rebalance by Carl Vernon

It’s a terrible admission but in my weaker moments I envy people who have high anxiety and don’t have a clue about what they should be doing in order to manage it. Those people, like the many testimonials in the latest edition of Anxiety Rebalance, can read a book like this and totally transform their lives in 3 months as it suggests. They can implement the ’10 actions’ to create a healthy lifestyle with a supportive daily routine and experience a dramatic turnaround. It’s as if they have been reborn and their past life is like a bad dream. This book is perfect for those people. However, if you’ve long been aware you suffer from anxiety and gradually worked out how to function with it on a daily basis, reading this book isn’t going to make a difference. One day I’ll realise no one has all the answers.  2/5

anxiety rebalance

Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa

All experience adds up to a life lived as only you could. I feel sure the day will come when you can say: this is my life.

In my very limited experience, I’ve found contemporary Japanese fiction can be very soothing. I was picking up and putting down book after book until I started this and read over a quarter in one sitting. There’s a spaciousness about the writing style that calms me.  The plots may seem simplistic but there is usually an existential theme just beneath the surface. They also tend to include pleasing descriptions of Japanese food. Sweet Bean Paste is set in a confectionery shop in Tokyo that sells dorayaki (sweet pancakes). Sentaro wants to be a writer but is running the shop to pay off a debt her owes the owner. He has no passion for the job and buys in the sweet bean paste. Then he agrees to let an elderly woman, Tokue, work in the kitchen making her exceptional sweet bean paste, despite his reservations over her deformed fingers. A friendship slowly develops which is put to the test when Tokue’s secret is revealed. It’s a touching quietly gorgeous book. 5/5

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How was your August, reading or otherwise?

 

 

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Douleur by Bogue Profumo x Freddie Albrighton

Notes: Mint, Flesh, Rose, Candyfloss, Seaweed and Benzoin

I know tattoo artist and fragrance aficionado Freddie Albrighton through various meet-ups over the years and his (sadly defunct) perfume blog. I think it’s true to say that he has been drawn to maverick artisan perfumers and that they in turn, have been drawn to him. I imagine they share a similar sensibility. He did the marketing artwork for Vero Kern’s masterwork Rozy and now he has collaborated on a perfume with Antonio Gardoni of Bogue Profumo. How cool is that?

No doubt the project worked in part because they both have a love of novel aromas that not everyone would expect to find in a perfume. I mean, just look at that note list. It made me smile and reminded me of when my then 5 year-old niece said her pretend perfume was made of ‘Lavender, raspberries, rainbows, strawberries and peppermint’. Douleur isn’t child’s play, though it encompasses a similar level of blue-sky thinking.

 

I’ve seen the opening described a few times as ‘piercing’ and on spraying that is exactly the word. It’s a penetrating combination of everything that is to come but at the highest possible pitch and all at once. It’s as if the contents of the sample which seemed to be pulsating in my bag had been squirming to be set free and once the sprayer is depressed, every note hurtles for freedom.

Once it settles after a couple of minutes, the core of Douleur is revealed as rose oxide which is a material both Freddie and Antonio are fond of. You usually hear it referred to as a metallic rose but while I get that almost camphoric steeliness, my nose reads it more as a rose surrounded by bitter greens. This red bloom wrapped in vines is counterbalanced by wisps of candyfloss and a hint of dried seaweed saltiness.,
Over tume it softens and rounds out considerably as the comforting presence of benzoin in the base comes throigh. The various contrasts knit together and it smells like a ‘proper’, if uncommon, perfume with a mix of hot/cold, hard/soft and bitter/sweet facets.

It does indeed stick to the skin like a tattoo and billows out in waves, ensuring a devastating scent trail.

Antoni says “experiencing odours should be challenging and playful” and that’s exactly what trying Douleur is like. It takes me back to the time when I first got into perfume and inhaling something new was always exciting and interesting, even if it wasn’t to my usual taste.

We can get trapped in our comfort zones. Douleur has come to shake things up.

 

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Do you find yourself only sampling perfumes that are in line with what you know you already like? Would you give Douleur a try?

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