Reading Diary May/June 2019

I used to regularly read literary fiction, often reading books that had won prizes or were lauded by The Literary Review. My success rate wasn’t great. I DNFed The Line of Beauty and The Corrections. I was baffled as to the fuss over The Life of Pi and Captain Correlli’s Mandolin. The end of Atonement ended me. Then it dawned on me that these books are often written by – and to impress – literary types. They sometimes mess around with the form, can be snobby and tend to favour a depressing ending. It felt like they were more concerned with showing off than providing people (like me) with a good read. So I more or less gave up on them and retreated into genre fiction. I’m trying not to rule them out  anymore and gradually dipping my toe back in does make me appreciate the quality of their writing.

 

Daughter of the Forest (Sevenwaters Trilogy Book One) by Juliet Marillier

“We draw our strength from the great oaks of the forest. As they take their nourishment from the soil, and from the rains that feed the soil, so we find our courage in the pattern of living things around us. They stand through storm and tempest. They grow and renew themselves. Like a grove of young oaks, we remain strong.”

daughter of the forest

When I told my friend about Daughter of the Forest she said she immediately knew it was my kind of book. The funny thing is that as I read it I kept thinking of Liz Moore of Papillon Perfumes to the point where I had to tell her about it. This was because the story is set 10th Century Ireland when many people still revered the nature spirits and honoured their festivals. The descritpions of the forest are lush and there re many references to flora and fauna. basically if Dryad were a book, it would Daugher of the Froest. As to the plot, it releved about young Sorcha who has a deep mystic connection to the forest. When her six brothers are cursed by a wicked stepmother the Fair Folk tell her what she must do to free them. This sets on her path that is more arduous than she could possible imainge but she is also finds kindess along the way. My only issue was it dragged a little towards the end of its 500+ pages and this put me off going straight on to Book Two in the trilogy but hopefully I’ll come to back it.  4/5 (Contains scenes of serious sexual assault.)

 

The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt

“Some of us are fated to live in a box from which there is only temporary release. We of the damned-up spirits, of the thwarted feelings, of the blocked hearts, and the pent-up thoughts, we who long to blast out, flood forth in a torrent of rage or joy or even madness, but there is nowhere for us to go, nowhere in the world because no one will have us as we are, and there is nothing to do except to embrace the secret pleasures of our sublimations…”

A couple of reading Diaries ago there was a lot of enthusiasm in the comments fo the nvels of Siri Hustvedt. I looked at her back catalogue and while not the highest rated, this was the one that appealed to me. It’s about a poet in her mid-fities who has an episode of psychosis after her husband puts there marriage on pause to pursue a relationship with a co-worker. We meet Mia after she’s left the hospital and retreated to her small home town for the summer. Here she takes on a summer poetry class for adolesecent girls at the local school and visits her mother daily at her retirement complex.  We follow the interactions between her mother’s friends “The Swans” and the group of girls who indulge in the all too familiar prepubescent pastime of singling out the most ‘different’ for subtle and not-so-subtle ridicule. It’s a study in female relationships (and to a lesser extent, relationships between men and women) but it’s also about the varied ways women are constrained. Hustvedt is clearly a fiercely intelligent woman and though I’m not keen on narrators who drop in phrases in a foreign languages and talk directly to the reader, it was an accessible literary read overall. The small town setting and limited time span kept it intimate. I warmed to Mia immediately and eventually managed to get in sync with the slow pace and just enjoy it for what it was.  3/5

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Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

“When something was strange, everyone thought they had the right to come stomping in all over your life to figure out why. I found that arrogant and infuriating, not to mention a pain in the neck. Sometimes I even wanted to hit them with a shovel to shut them up, like I did that time in elementary school. But I recalled how upset my sister had been when I’d casually mentioned this to her before and kept my mouth shut.”

There has been quite a buzz around this book with some even calling it the Japanese Eleanor Oliphant. Keiko like Eleanor, is socially inept but to a much greater degree. She has so little empathy, she appears to be sociopathic. At school she learns the best way to get by in life is to keep quiet. From there she gets a job at a convenience store and finds her true north. The store provides reassuring predictably and a role to perform. In fact she mimics the other employees in voice and dress to appear like ‘a normal person’. Keiko stays at the store for 18 years at which point she feels the pressure from those around her to make some kind of change in her life. Unlike Eleanor, there is no trauma beneath it all to make sense of her strangeness and allow the reader to empathise with her, but that’s kind of the point. No one is comfortable with her living an unconventional life even though she is perfectly content with it. A quick, quirky and engaging read. 4/5

convenience

 

Villette by Charlotte Bronte

“The negation of severe suffering was the nearest approach to happiness I expected to know. Besides, I seemed to hold two lives – the life of thought, and that of reality.”

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Jane Eyre is one of my favourite classics and so it makes me sad that Millenials often dislike it because they focus on the ‘problematic’ relationship with Mr Rochester rather than Jane’s incredible strength of character. When looking to get back into reading classics, I chose this much lesser known work which was Charlotte’s final novel. There are echoes of Jane Eyre with Lucy Snowe being a friendless introvert who is trying to survive in the world after a history of tragedy. Jane Eyre isn’t especially likeable but Miss Snowe is hard to warm to. I grew to understand and empathise with her however. She is the way she is as the result of her past and her circumstances. She is fearful that the rug could be pulled from under her at any point and is constantly steeling herself for disappointment. It’s a bleak book but that was Charlotte’s experience of life and I feel a kind of kinship with her. It isn’t an easy read, not least because I don’t speak French and there is untranslated dialogue throughout. 3/5

 

Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

“Your parents warn you about the monsters you might encounter in dark alleyways, but they never warn you about the monsters you might find in your own mind, the ones that taunt and trouble you, and make you question yourself to your very core.”

Bryony Gordon is a journalist who wrote a best-selling memoir The Wrong Knickers about her wild twenties . What she never mentioned in that book and what she explores here, is her longstanding mental health issues.  She battles an eating disorder, depression and OCD – not the ‘tidy sock drawer’ type of OCD but the kind which makes her believe she is a serial killing paedophile.  While it’s hard going through the world feeling you are not enough, it’s equally hard feeling you’re too much: too loud, too open, too greedy, too sexual, too much. Her story is sometimes heart-breaking but often hilarious. She can appreciate the absurdity and selfishness of her younger self and acknowledges that she was often simultaneously having a great time as a columnist for The Telegraph. 3/5

 

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How has your reading been this last month or two?

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Strange Tales from the Cookie Kitchen

“I said mama we’re all crayzee now.”  SLADE. 

 

In fairness to Mum, she never turned up to visit me unannounced.  Once in a blue moon she would ask to drop by and I would spend a week cleaning up, hiding a million things, including the fact that my boyfriend was living with me.  And sometimes a number of other strange people at any given time, most of them with aliases.  (Pedro and Budgie? Yeah, I’m talking about you.)

I said never, it would be more correct to say once, she did.  It was early evening and a group of us were hanging out, smoking and listening to music.  We were expecting another couple of friends, and had not yet been busted, so were not as paranoid as we would be in the future.

There was a knock at the door.  I got up and went to open it.  Mum was standing there.  I panicked, surely turned white, said wait a minute and slammed the door.  Right in her face.

“Clean all this shit up!” I yelled at everyone “and hide”.  You have never seen a bunch of stoners move so fast.  I could hear loud banging on the front door.  Bang, bang, bang, CRASH.

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Mum, and those who knew her will surely remember this, wore a ring on every finger, on some she had two.  I particularly remember a bishop’s ring on her pointer, with a stone the size of an small egg in it, and a half sovereign mounted in a setting that had the ring standing about half a cm above the finger that she wore it on.  The other eight, were bits and bobs.  Yes, eight, her thumbs had rings too.

We had an old door with a stained-glass window in it.  Mum’s thumping on the door smashed two pieces of the glass out, and she seized the moment.  Putting her fist straight through the gaps, she opened the door from the inside.

She walked into the empty living room, windows open, music playing and a still warm bong in the middle of the table.  My boyfriend sat on the sofa sketching on his drawing block, a picture of innocence.

Now that I am a mother myself, I can only imagine that she was as scared as me.  How on earth could I have know that at the time?  I told her that I was so surprised to see her, and so ashamed at how messy my flat was, that I could only think of keeping her out until I could tidy it up.  She asked me what the pipe thing was, and I explained it was from the guy next door who smoked Turkish tobacco.  Luckily I did not have to come up with a reason for the five people hiding in the bedroom, clutching rolling papers and album covers.  She did not find them.

Mum was a fireball.  The kindest person you could meet,  but also (seemingly) the scariest.  She stuck to her religious values so fiercely it felt like she was not able to accept things that fell outside of that zone.  I know now of course that it was her way of protecting and forgiving  herself from her own past;  falling pregnant with me out of wedlock, being adopted and not finding out about it until she was about to marry my father, a severe nervous breakdown when she was just 25 ….

 

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Val with her mother

For many years after the fist through the window episode I thought I had successfully gotten away with hiding my life from my mother, and that she was in a way naive. Maybe she was, I don’t know.  She never asked, and I never told her.

It was those fierce religious values that gave me a foundation strong enough to save my life.

CQ of APJ

 

This was the same apartment that I had my first bust in, as told in my first Strange Tales. You would think I would quite simply have just not ever opened the door.  But you live and learn.  As we moved onto other flats, we started to have coded rings (no pun intended) and knocks.  One learns.

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Boxwalla Perfume Box

I’ve mentioned before that my friend and ex-perfume blogger, Lavanya, started the hugely successful box subscription service, Boxwalla. There are Book, Film, Food and (green) Beauty Boxes. It had to only be a matter of time, but there is now a one-off Perfume Box.

The perfumes are from LA-based Sigil Scent and are inspired by alchemy and nature. They are all-natural EDPs composed by perfumer Patrick Kelly.

Sigil is a revival of old magic—a primal mysticism that transcends traditional gendered fragrances to cultivate both the masculine and feminine within you.

The two-phase concept is a great idea. The first box contains four 2ml samples which gives you time to test and decide which one you’d like to receive a full bottle of in the second box.

Lavanya kindly gifted me the first box and here are my impressions: –

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Solutio

Key notes: Cypriol, labdanum, chaparral tincture, cypress

‘Solutio’ is the alchemical practice of purification and dissolution. The perfume is a fizzy herbal green with a bracing, almost menthol feel at first. It settles down to a citrus aromatic blend which feels like strolling on a Greek island in the sunshine. The resinous, woody base prolongs its longevity.
Anima Mundi

Key notes: Immortelle, hinoki, rose, jasmine

Anima Mundi ‘world soul’ combines creamy, heady florals with smooth hinoki wood and caramelised smokiness. It’s an uncommon scent with a lot of contrast and texture: A deep throated, spicy floral with a substantial immortelle base. I struggle with that final note but if you love it, this could be the one for you.

Amor Fati

Key notes: Oud, galbanum, palo santo, opoponax

‘Amor Fati’ represents the belief that all the highs and lows of life are essential to the cyclical beauty of our existence. What a reassuring philosophy. The perfume is an unusual mix of smoky opoponax and resinous galbanum. The oud definitely doesn’t dominate. It‘s grounding and head-clearing with the scent of incense in the air and pine needles underfoot.

Prima Materia

Key notes: Vetiver, Oakmoss, Neroli, White Sage

In ancient times, ‘prima materia’ referred to the formless root of all matter—a blend of stars and soil, from which all things emerge. This fragrance unites bright neroli and white sage to represent the stars, and oakmoss and vetiver to represent the earth. It’s a cleansing, herbal-tinged chypre with a bright, tart edge and a murky vetiver base.

Before sampling them all I thought Prima Materia would be my favourite but in the end I’d choose Amor Fati for my full bottle which shows the system works. Not everyone is drawn to natural perfumery but there are no worries of poor lasting power here. Those that have a love of essential oils and aromatherapy blends are likely to find them immensely soothing to the senses.

If you’re based in the US and are interested in the Perfume Box you can find out more here.

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Bengale Rouge by Papillon Perfumes

Notes: Turkish Rose, Orris, Sandalwood, Tonka, Oakmoss, Honey, Vanilla, Labdanum, Benzoin and Sweet Myrrh

All of the Papillon perfumes handmade by Liz Moores are a product of her loves, life and home. Take her last fragrance Dryad released in 2017, which was a homage to the ancient forest she lives in.

It seems fitting therefore that her next launch is inspired by her beloved Bengal cat, Mimi. These leopard-coated felines are incredibly striking and have a quirky nature all their own. Have you noticed how many perfume people are also cat people? A lot.

The first thing I thought of when encountering the opening of Bengale Rouge was Guerlain’s classic Shalimar with a strong orange citrus edge. I picked up that same grown-up vanilla only with more of a whipped texture and a rosy bloom, permeated by resins.

It stops short of being an edible gourmand. Sweet perfumes are something I struggle with these days but here the honeyed tones are undercut with plenty of doughy iris, tree resins and rambling roses.

bengale rouge bottle

Bengale Rouge isn’t just about a cat but a combination of the cat and its perfume-wearing human. Have no doubt, this is a fully fleshed out fragrance and a million miles away from a novelty ‘Cat Fur’ scent. The presence of orris butter adds a fantastic skin-like property and a cosmetic/boudoir facet. I don’t find it overtly sexy but it has a ‘back of the neck’ warmth: a kind of intimate vulnerability. I think this is the key to Bengale Rouge. It manages to calm the nerves while feeling subtly sensual.
The base is chiefly labdanum which has an amber aroma and a cosy, furry feel.

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The fine balance achieved here can’t have been easy but the vanilla has been leavened enough for it to work effortlessly within this multi-faceted structure that is refined while exuding a pleasing amount of langour.

Bengale Rouge doesn’t have an animalic growl but purrs ever so softly. Liz tells me that this Eau de Parfum actually verges on Extrait strength so that it clings to the skin like a caress and doesn’t let go. Unreserved spraying is a must to enjoy the full effect.

I tend to wear Dryad in the spring and Tobacco Rose in the autumn (or the evening). Bengale Rouge is Papillon’s most versatile and accessible fragrance to date. It would wear comfortably at any time without feeling in the least bit sloppy. Unlike most vanilla-forward fragrances, it is beautifully constructed with plenty of interest.

Liz felt that Bengale Rouge was the kind of perfume we needed to counteract the bleakness that exists in the world right now. It gives us something soothing to hold close while we hope for better times further down the road.

bengale rouge feature

Do you feel the need for a comforting scent like this to wrap yourself up in?

First two photo credits: Liz Moores

Last photo: Gemma Ward/Vogue Paris

N.B. Liz was kind enough to send me an advance sample of Bengale Rouge. Fingers crossed they will be available to order by July.

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Strange Tales from the Cookie Kitchen

“You get under my skin, I don’t find it irritating, You always play to win, But I won’t need rehabilitating, oh no, I think I’m on another world with you, with you, I’m on another planet with you.”  Another Girl, Another Planet.  The Only Ones.  

 

Pete and Christine were a couple.  They were also junkies.  They loved each other, in the codependent way that heroin addicts do.  Christine worked the streets at night to earn the money.  Although I never used needles, end of the seventies, early eighties, if you smoked weed you inevitably came into contact with a harder scene.  Each evening she would paint her face heavily with make up, sometimes with shaking hands, pull on a low top, a short skirt, scuffed heels and leave the house to stand on a street corner, probably hoping to make it back with cash and in one piece.  I never asked.

The two had been together long enough that each set of parents knew each other.   Out of the blue I was handed a wedding invitation.  The parents had gotten together and come up with a plan to save their kids.  They talked with them and said if they gave up drugs, and got married, they would give them six thousand pounds to start a new life with.   I have no doubt whatsoever that Pete and Christine believed that they could give up anything for such an offer, and in turn would have persuaded their folks of the same.   There is nothing as convincing or believable as a junkie who is about to give up and get their life together, they will have you believing black is white.   Whether or not any of Christine’s family knew that she was a prostitute, I don’t know.

It was a registry office marriage.  Pete in borrowed suit, and Christine in a long-sleeved white satin dress, chosen to cover the needle marks on her arms.    There was a mix of guests, from their parents and relatives, to their friends and neighbours.  Those who knew could see that the couple were shaky from lack of drugs, and those who didn’t would have assumed shaky from nervousness.   Despite this there was still an air of happy anticipation and the registry was signed.

 

wedding

 

We went off to a local hall of some sort, where the reception had been booked.   There was a buffet out on tables, and someone playing the music.   Christine disappeared at some point and was gone for a while, but not quite long enough for everyone to notice.

Having slipped off for a hit, she returned heavily stoned,  a few drops of blood along the long arm of her satin dress.

“Golden brown, finer temptress …… never a frown with golden brown.”  The Stranglers.  

CQ of APJ

 

This is the first Strange Tales that I have felt a need to add something to after the Tale.  I have never forgotten the feeling I had when I saw this junkie-bride return to her reception.  It broke my heart and the scar has never quite healed.  I left their reception and I know that they moved into another place.  I doubt that there was any kind of happy end to the story;  but perhaps Christine was able to quit her street work.   As I have said before I am thankful for the religious teachings I was brought up with, and the strong foundation that it laid.  It prevented me from going too deep into a dark scene, so that a story like this did not become mine.  As a parent now I can only imagine the desperation that their parents had, willing to do anything to rescue their children. Nearly forty years on, Christine will sometimes appear in my dreams.  I hope that she got out of the scene and found happiness.

 

 

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Lustre by Hiram Green

“Life is golden” – Hiram Green

 

Notes: Bulgarian Rose, Citrus, Orris and Olibanum

 

Hiram Green’s strikingly dark and moody Hyde recently won the Artisan Perfume Award at the Art & Olfaction Awards in Amsterdam. It was the worthiest of winners. Hiram is an uncommon talent using naturals to create compositions of great sophistication and complexity.

At Esxence this year he surprised everyone by unveiling a brand new rose soliflore: Lustre.

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However stunning a rose perfume may be, it rarely smells like the real thing. Lustre does. It’s the pure perfume you get when you poke your nose into the heart of the open flower. We had a rose garden when I was growing up and it’s a joy to find this scent captured so beautifully: A true bottled rose.  Not to say that this is a simplistic natural concoction. It is an expertly crafted, well-rounded, fine fragrance.

The sweet scent of the Bulgarian rose is there (of course) but it is edged with citrus tartness. There is something lemony about the scent of real roses and it’s present here, most notably in the opening.

From looking at the notes you may expect to find prominent iris and incense.  I can clearly pick up on the resinous tones of olibanum if I get in close and sometimes I sense iris powder. However, the supporting accords are chiefly working together behind the scenes to create this vivid illusion of a rose in full bloom. Somehow Hiram found a way to do this without relying heavily on tried and tested  materials like patchouli, geranium or vetiver. 

Where Hyde is night, Lustre is day. It is a fresh summer rose bathed in golden sunlight, as heat begins to warm the petals and releases its scent.  Its radiance is a pleasure in itself and it takes a considerable amount of time to die down completely. It encompasses the flower’s multi-faceted aroma and makes it seem as if one has suddenly bloomed somewhere close by.

Lustre proves how a linear soliflore can retain your attention. It’s captivating when a fragrance unfolds on the skin and develops in distinct stages, moving through head, heart and base. But then a perfume will come along to remind me that blanket preferences can’t be set in stone. Lustre is rose, rose, rose and I don’t tire of it because of its depth and beauty. The intrigue is vertical, rather than horizontal. You can reach down, layer after layer, petal after petal and experience a world of rose in a single inhalation.

 

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Do you like the idea of a sunlit garden rose?

 

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Vanilla Collection Winner!

Last week I covered a Meet the Perfumers event at Les Senteurs featuring Sylvaine Delacourte Paris and offered her Vanilla Collection sample set in a giveaway.

Random.org has declared the winner to be:

Vanessa

Congratulations Vanessa! Hope you enjoy discovering the set.

 

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Meet the Perfumers: Photo Essay

Last Wednesday evening London niche perfumerie Les Senteurs held another wonderful ‘Meet The Perfumers’ event . This was a chance to hear from Jeroen Oude Sogtoen and Fredrik Dalman from Mona di Orio, Margaret Mangan and Meabh McCurtin from Cloon Keen Atelier and Sylvaine Delacourte of Sylvaine Delacourte Paris.

Sylvaine, Fredrik, Jeroen and Margaret

I was looking forward to hearing more about Mona di Orio because it’s a house I admire and have followed for a long time. I still remember the stir the release of their oud caused in 2011. Jeroen mentioned that it is still his personal favourite from the line. He started the house in 2004 with Mona and has ensured its output has retained its luxury quality and unique approach to familiar materials.

My favourite from Mona di Orio is the last release Santal Nabataea (you can read my review here) so it was great to hear Swedish perfumer Fredrik Dalman tell us the story behind it. He said that although there have been many sandalwood fragrances over the years, they have often taken a similar path and many feature a kind of figgy top note. He decided to base his in the ancient city of Petra which is a magical place to him. He took inspiration from the effect the sun creates when it hits the sandstone. He used a crackle of black pepper in the top to add to the mineral facet and coffee for the base to give it a dusty texture.

It’s an outstanding piece of work.

Perfumer Fredrik Dalman

Personally, what I love most about Santal Nabataea is the presence of olibanum that pervades the whole composition. It’s a must-try for incense fans and is in my top three.

There was a discussion about the state of the perfume industry and what lay ahead. Jeroen told us that when he goes to perfume fairs these days he’s amazed when there’s another huge crop of new niche brands. People tell him niche is over but he feels that it’s really just begun. It has made him want to show what niche really is; something to “blow your hair off”. He was questioned about what this meant – perhaps something more extreme? He replied that it was more about originality than going to extremes. Sylvaine made the point that perfumes still have to be something you’d want to wear. As one of the attendees commented “No-one wants to smell like a concept”.

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There was a general feeling that the story of the perfume was getting lost in large retail outlets like department stores or niche chain stores. Jeroen did say he was looking at scaling down the number of places their perfumes would be sold in the future so that connection can be restored. His has a new ‘linear’ collection but isn’t ready to share it with the world just yet.

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Cloon Keen is an Irish house co-founded by Margaret Mangan nearly 20 years ago. Their fragrances are very much a reflection of Ireland’s rich history, traditions and landscape. Based in Galway, the fragrances feel as if they’ve been infused with the clean, fresh air of the Atlantic coast.

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Margaret Mangan and perfumer Meabh McCurtin

We tried their latest release La Bealtaine which is named after the Irish May Day festival. Margaret told us that it mean a lot to her to be able to work with an Irish perfumer, Meabh McCurtin of IFF in Paris. La Bealtaine is a bright and innocent blossom-laden composition with a sheer feel. It features notes of bergamot, mandarin, neroli, pink pepper, angelica, jasmine, rose, tuberose, cedarwood, patchouli, amber, musk and cashmeran.

Margaret said she’d like to create a fragrance inspired by an Aran sweater one day. While we found this amusing, James Craven said they’ve had requests for something similar at Les Senteurs.

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Castana with its unusual burnt chestnut accord was given 5 stars by Luca Turin

Sylvaine Delacourte was Perfume Creative Director at Guerlain for 15 years. She created over 70 fragrances including Insolance, L’Instant, Oriental Brulant and Gourmand Coquin. She recalled how La Petite Robe Noire caused a little controversy at the time of its release because Chanel had always been known for the ‘Little Black Dress’.

Her time at Guerlain taught her the importance of quality materials and that a scent doesn’t need to be perfect; in fact it should have flaws. She also learnt that a perfume needs to possess a strong identity, noting that while people may like or dislike Insolence, it is recognisable in moments.

However the marketing regime at Guerlain got her down in the end, with the relentless churning out of flanker after flanker after flanker.

Her favourites from other lines include Lipstick Rose and Musc Ravageur from Frederic Malle (the latter partly because it was done by her friend, Maurice Roucel, the perfumer for Insolence). She’s also a fan of Prada’s Infusion d’Iris and has long loved Guerlain’s classic L’Heure Bleue.

The incredibly chic Sylvaine and a beatific Nick Gilbert

Sylvaine launched her own brand in 2017 which currently includes two collections based around a particular raw material.

The Vanilla Collection features natural Madagascan vanilla interpreted in five different ways: spicy – Vangelis, sunny – Vanori, fresh – Valkyrie, aromatic – Virgile and floral – Vahina.

Vahina: a fantastically lush floral on a bed of vanilla.

I love the use of coloured yarn to convey the mood and drydown of the fragrances.

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Dovana from the Musk Collection (tender musk)

If you’d like to win a sample set of the Vanilla Collection by Sylvaine Delacourte Paris please let me know in the comments and I’ll do a draw on Friday and announce the winner next Monday.

Have you tried any of the fragrances from these brands? Any stand-outs for you?

What do you think of the current state and future prospects of niche?

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Reading Diary Spring 19

Most days I watch BookTube, which is shorthand for the world of book review channels on YouTube.  Regular features usually include monthly wrap-ups, TBRs (books To Be Read) and reading vlogs. These people read in excess of 100 a books a year but once you let go of any inadequacy this may bring up, it’s an entertaining way to get recommendations.  This is YouTube so there are a lot of young people on there only reading YA so you may need to hunt a bit to find someone that clicks wit you. If you’re interested, try putting one of your favourite books into the Search box to find channels that may suit your tastes.

Like our own fumiverse, it’s generally a very warm and welcoming community.

Now, here is my own meagre selection of books read over the last month and a half or so…

 

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

“Because,” said Thor, “when something goes wrong, the first thing I always think is, it is Loki’s fault. It saves a lot of time.”

I knew very little about Norse mythology so felt rather intimidated by this book. I needn’t have been. Neil Gaiman makes it extremely accessible by telling these tales in the form of short stories with a fair amount of humour. He was fascinated by these myths as a boy and I can see why because they mostly revolve around the adventures of the Gods Odin, Thor and Loki. I would have liked to know more about the Goddesses but they are mostly bit players who are usually treated as bargaining chips (not that I’m blaming that on Gaiman of course). The story I was really taken with was the final one concerning Ragnarok – the Norse version of Armageddon – which was gripping. Overall though, Norse Mythology didn’t capture my heart and make me want to seek out more, like the Greek myths, but it was an enjoyable read and I was very happy to expand my knowledge of them. 3.5/5

 

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The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

Why couldn’t everything smell of warm fur and saltwater and fresh seaweed popping in the fire? Then the world would be perfect.

I tore through this book. Probably because it contains a lot of my favourite things in literature: lyrical writing, interesting female protagonists,  a circus, queerness, a fairytale-like world and heaps of atmosphere. In The Gracekeepers the planet has become mostly submerged by water which, over time, has caused a divide between ‘damplings’ who live on the sea and ‘landlockers’ who live on the few remaining archipelagoes. North lives and works on a circus ship while Callanish is a gracekeeper; someone who performs burials at sea. Both young women are isolated (one physically but both emotionally) and they both have something they want to keep secret. I was totally absorbed by the story which was inspired in part by Scottish myths and folklore. 5/5

 

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The Nakano Thrift Store by Hiromi Kawakami

“There are plenty of people in the world I don’t dislike, some of whom I almost like; on the other hand, I almost hate some of those whom I don’t dislike, too. But how many people did I truly love?”

I wanted to read more Japanese fiction after loving Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. This has a touch of the melancholy of that book but there are many amusing moments throughout. Hiromi is a young woman working in The Nakano Thrift Store in Tokyo. The story follows her interactions with the eccentric owner, colleagues and customers. It’s not a page-turner but I was captivated by Hiromi’s endearingly awkward relationship with co-worker, Takeo. After a violent childhood incident, Takeo finds it hard to connect with people while Hiromi struggles to navigate her own emotions. There is no grand plot and it was a bit too slow-moving for me at times, but the quirkiness and insights into Japanese daily life and culture kept me interested. A solid 3/5

 

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Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach

“Believing that something is wrong with us is a deep and tenacious suffering,”

I came to this book through other personal growth books I’ve been reading of late from Self-Compassion by Kristen Neff to Frazzled by Ruby Wax. It seemed complementary because its concept combines self-compassion with mindfulness. It also has a grounding in Buddhism. Tara Brach is a clinical psychologist and meditation teacher, so the book includes many client case studies (a few too many for me) and guided mediations. While this didn’t have the impact on me that Neff’s book did, it was soothing and reinforced the need for me not berate myself for not being able to push myself as hard as others in areas where I struggle. The introduction to lovingkindness meditation was also beneficial as I incorporated it into my own practice.  3.5/5

 

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What have you been reading this spring? Any recommendations?

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Strange Tales from the Cookie Kitchen

“This is England, we can chain you to the rail, this is England, we can kill you in a jail.” Joe Strummer/Bernhard Rhodes.

ENGLAND. THE FIRST FIVE HOURS.

I went home to England to stay for a month, sometime in a September, at the end of the eighties. Chris had never visited the UK and came over from Amsterdam to join me for my last week. It was in the days of getting buses and ferries, cheap flights were not yet a thing. As he was on a bus heading for Victoria Coach Station, London, I was on the bus heading to Victoria from Bristol to meet him.

I found him waiting, leaning against a wall at the grubby coach station. Thin, punky hair, eyeliner. Him, not me. Opposite him was a skinhead, with a wrench the size of a small dog in his hand. Chris said the guy had been there for the ten minutes that he had been waiting for me to turn up, just staring straight at him.

 

 

We rented a small van for a week and drove back to Bristol. We would bring it back up a week later and return to Amsterdam together. This was his first time driving on the right hand side in a car, although he had ridden a motorbike in Thailand. Apart from attempting to enter a roundabout in the wrong direction, we made it safely to King`s Square in Bristol. It was here that Chris needed to maneuver a tricky bit of parallel parking. As he pulled into the spot, and then out again to straighten up, another car zipped in straight behind him and took the space. Absolutely stunned that someone would do that he jumped out of the car and asked the guy what exactly he thought he was doing, in a fairly marked Austrian accent. The aggressive bloke looked straight into Chris´s eyes and said, “Why don’t you just go back to your own sodding country?”

(Over the years it has become a catch phrase in our home, and used many times in arguments, guaranteed to have us laughing and to end whatever bickering we might have been doing.)

ESCAPE TO WALES.

After staying in Bristol for two nights, we jumped into the van, along with sleeping bags, blankets, food and a water cannister, and took off across the Severn Bridge for Wales. Autumn is the season of magic mushrooms. The Liberty Caps are insignificant in their looks, a tiny parasol with a nipple-like point on top of the very thin stalk. They are found in grasslands, usually with sheep or cows in them. Hard to find until you spot a couple, and then the eyes tune into what they are looking for. They grow in many places around the world but if I remember correctly the British Liberty Caps are amongst the most potent.

 

 

We ended up somewhere fairly deep in the Welsh countryside, I cannot remember exactly where, but there were a lot of sheep. We parked up and had an early night, ready to go out hunting mushrooms the next morning. We struck lucky and within a couple of hours had a fairly full bag. Suddenly in the distance we saw a horse and rider galloping full tilt, heading straight for us. We quickly hid the mushroom stash. A woman started to yell at us that we were on private land and what did we think we were doing, and were we looking for mushrooms? Chris immediately spoke with her and said he had no idea that we were on private land, and that in Austria, even if the land is private, you are allowed to walk in the fields.

This time his cute Terminator accent, worked in his favour and she invited us to follow her back to her farm and invited us to share some the cider they had made. A long conversation ensued between her and Chris on how cider should be made and that his dad too made cider every year. She said that she had troubles every year with people stomping her grounds looking for mushrooms and that was why she had been a bit sharp with us. Nice tourists like us were always welcome. She sent us on our way with some homemade bread and a chunk of cheese.

We got back to the van and decided to spend one more night in it, and drove off a few miles to park up in a different place. It was at the top of a slight hill, sheep yes, but no farm, horse, or person in sight. We woke up around three in the morning, and heard some rustling sounds outside the van. (There were no windows in the back to look out of.) After listening on paranoid high alert, the rustling subsided and we decided that it must be the sheep, and went back to sleep. A few hours later we awoke and opened the back doors of the van, and stumbled out to see that we were completely surrounded by the army, and about fifteen of their tents. No vehicles, no noise. Completely shocked, and wondering if we were still stoned from the night before, we got into the van and drove away as fast as we could get our backsides out of there. Army manoeuvres at the crack of dawn.

 

We made it safely back to Amsterdam, with the fungi, and memories of Chris’s hearty welcome to England.

CQ of APJ.

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