Tuesday, December 27, 2011

still-sound 28. Hawk

This is the hawk that perched outside our window on Christmas day.

Our Christmas tree on Christmas night.

Monday, December 26, 2011

still-sound 27. Winter

This is the message Maya (played by Virginia Madsen) leaves for Miles (played by Paul Giamatti) after he deceived her (despite his great fondness for her) in the film Sideways:

Hello Miles.  It's Maya.  Thanks for your letter.  I would have called sooner but I think I needed some time to think about everything that happened and what you wrote to me.

Another reason I didn't call you sooner is because I wanted to finish your book, which I finally did last night, and I think it's really lovely Miles.

You're so good with words.  Who cares if it's not getting published?  There're so many beautiful and painful things about it.  Did you really go through all that?  It must have been awful.  And that sister character - Jeez - what a wreck!

But I had to say that, well, I was really confused by the ending.  I mean, did the father finally commit suicide or what?  It's driving me crazy.

Anyway, it's turned cold and rainy here lately, but I like winter.

So listen, if you ever decide to come back up here again, you should let me know.  I would say stop by the restaurant but to tell you the truth, I'm not sure how much longer I'm gonna be working there because I'm gonna graduate soon!  So I'll probably wanna relocate.  We will see...

Anyway, like I said, I really loved your novel.  Don't give up Miles.  Keep writing.

Hope you're well.  Bye

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

still-sound 26. Frankincense & Myrrh

Olibanum in a small vessel I bought to drink cold plum wine

 The lemony, coniferous scent of incense rising from a censer, swinging from a chain was by far my favorite aspect of a catholic upbringing.  Frankincense and myrrh are some of the most beautiful smells I've ever known.

People burn incense to honor those they love but who no longer roam the Earth.  Some people burn incense as offerings, like prayers streaming upward to the heavens.  Incense is burnt to create an air of sacredness; to create an otherworldliness.  I burn incense because I love smells and because a good incense helps me focus in meditation.

I wonder if the Three Wise Men hailed from modern-day Oman, the source of some of the best frankincense (aka olibanum) - a gum resin derived from the boswellia tree.  The excellent Tennendo incense makers in Japan offer sticks made from Omani frankincense.  The scent is particularly citrus-sharp and slightly sweet.  Not entirely unlike church incense yet not the same either.

Frankincense incense by Tennendo

I burn pure frankincense and myrrh (another tree-derived gum resin) on charcoals designed specifically for this purpose.  The result is slightly overwhelming; large streams of smoke billow out, filling the room and scratching my throat. Ecclesiastical censers effectively scent the large cavernous spaces of cathedrals so I suppose secular, domestic incense appreciation requires an appropriate scale-back.  I've learned to reserve the burning of gum resin to the terrace, allowing the scent to waft inside sporadically and surrounded by gusts of fresh air.  I wonder if my neighbors smell the smoke.  I wonder if Bethlehem of two thousand years ago smelled anything like Echo Park this afternoon.

Avignon perfume and incense by Comme des Garcons

The edgy and innovative fashion house Comme des Garcons produced a line of perfumes inspired by incense traditions around the world.  One of the fragrances bears the name of the 14th Century French home of the papacy, Avignon.  The scent, composed by the brillliantly talented Bertrand Duchaufour uncannily resembles the fragrant smoke filling cathedrals.  Comme des Garcons introduced candle and incense versions of these perfumes.  I thought it was funny how Japanese-style stick incenses, presumably scented with perfumed oils, simulate the smell of resin incenses. An incense to resemble another incense...  Admittedly the effect isn't entirely convincing and I suspect the true smell of frankincense and myrrh actually requires the burning of actual frankincense and myrrh.  From a terrace, somewhat far away.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

still-sound 25. December will be magic again

Scenery by Kirsten Glass, 2010, oil on canvas

I met Kirsten in 1997 when I was looking for a flat and she was looking for a roommate.  I visited her place in Bethnal Green (which was to become my place too for a few years).  I noticed her LPs on the bookshelf as we talked.  I knew we'd become soulmates when I noticed her copy of Never Forever by Kate Bush.  We shared a studio down at the end of Bethnal Green Road with our mutual friend Fiona.  There we would work, sometimes into the night, breaking up the hours with coffee, Walkers crisps and occasionally Jamaica ginger cake with warm custard.  Kate Bush was more often than not playing on the stereo. 

Kirsten always listened to Kate Bush on the inside.  She heard the personal thoughts and stories that can't be relayed in words.  They exist as fantasies floating in one's mind and sometimes they float into another's.  Kirsten makes paintings with this understanding.  I would often drag her to Liberty to smell perfume.  When she found one she liked she would go to a mirror at a cosmetics counter and watch herself spraying on the scent.

Kate Bush photographed by Anton Corbijn

There is no better Christmas song than December Will Be Magic Again by Kate Bush. A dark and light fantasy of icicles, huskies, candlelight, Oscar Wilde, and lovers sleeping under a dusting of snow.  Kate's voice is as weightless as a snowflake.  It's in this December that Kirsten is walking back from London Fields with her dogs, thinking about sipping a glass of bubbly upon her return to a warm flat.

''ooooh I'm starting to sparkle the dark up...''

Monday, December 12, 2011

still-sound 24. Indigo

An indigo-colored vase I recently made.

I found that when I glaze objects in transparent then black, they combine in the firing to produce a deep indigo color.

There's an episode of At Home With Venetia in Kyoto where Venetia visits a textile artist with her grandson Joe.  They crush indigo leaves and create patterns on fabric with that and other plant dyes.  Venetia and Joe later sing a song about colors.  Funnily an echo effect is applied to the song so it sounds as though they're singing in a grand, empty hall.*

While watching Venetia I wondered what the indigo dye smelled like.  I knew a guy in London named James who studied textile design in college.  He claimed that he loved the smell of indigo.  It's not a typically pleasant scent apparently, but he loved it anyway.

The Nakashima House as printed in Handcrafted Modern by Leslie Williamson

I saw photographs of the furniture maker George Nakashima's home in New Hope, Pennsylvania.  The interior is traditional Japanese crossed with the American Shaker style.  The simple cushions on the plain wooden benches looked to be indigo-dyed.  I grew up living only minutes away from this house. Now it's on the other side of the country from me.  Shame, as I would love to visit it now.

Shun-yo from Shoyeido

There's a Japanese clothing brand called 45rpm that makes jeans from hand-dyed indigo denim.  Larry Shaffer, owner of OK on 3rd Street told me that they burn Shoyeido's premium Shun-yo incense in all of the 45rpm boutiques.  He had a box of it in his own store- hidden away in a drawer.  I bought it and rushed home to light it.  The incense is kept in a beautiful silk box.  The scent can be described as a spicy sandalwood with curry overtones.  I like it but rarely burn it because Rob thinks it makes the apartment smell like I've just been cooking katsu. This isn't necessarily a bad smell, but it makes him hungry.** ***

*Since posting this I watched another episode of Venetia which happened to replay the Colors Song.  It didn't appear to have the echo effect this time.  It's strange that I distinctly remembered it to sound that wayDecember 13.
**Since posting this I have re-lit Shun-Yo.  This morning in fact, before my meditation.  I found the scent warm, spicy and beautiful with hints of helichrysum perhaps and Chinese herbal medicine.  I'll see if the apartment smells like curry tonight when I get home.  December 15.
***The apartment didn't smell of curry.  I even lit Shun-Yo again this morning.  There's something about the warmth and fullness of it that really suits this time of year.   December 16

Thursday, December 8, 2011

still-sound 23. Moustache

I started growing a moustache in October.  Aside from an unfortunate phase in the 90s when I experimented with a goatee, I've never ventured into the world of facial hair.  The moustache has been unexpectedly rewarding.  I'm used to very long, drawn-out processes like sculpture, where short-term gratification does not exist.  Even pottery requires two firings and glazing decisions (ie. weeks) before a finished object appears.

I found myself delighted by the various phases of the moustache in relatively little time.  Its appearance changed nearly every day.  There was the trim cop-moustache phase for a week.  The old Hollywood phase and then lately the handlebar.  The handlebar to me was always the destination so now it's a matter of focusing on the variations of the end curls.  Throughout the month of November multiple people asked if I grew the moustache for Movember (the campaign to raise awareness for prostate and testicular cancer).  I didn't know about Movember at first, but I was pleased that my moustache development coincided with it.

Classic men's grooming has always fascinated me, not least because of of my interest in smells.  My mother always kept a can of Pinaud's talcum on her hairdressing station.  When I lived in London I would regularly lurk around Jermyn Street inspecting combs and badger shave brushes while sniffing Bay Rum at Geo F Trumper. 

Of course I was excited to experiment with moustache waxes as my upper lip required grooming.  I started with Pinaud Clubman wax because it's the easiest to find, is the least expensive and comes with a moustache brush/comb.  The results were disappointing.  The hold was unreliable (although, admittedly there was not much moustache to hold at the time). The white flakes of dried wax that resembled dandruff led to my decision to hold off on the Clubman.  Shame, particularly because the scent is excellent, like Earl Gray Tea.

I started using Ungarische Bartwichse from Marke Golddachs.  It's apparently the wax Salvador Dali used to create his impossible hirsute surrealism. The scent is pleasant, a peppery beeswax with a vanilla creaminess, reminding me of a fragrance I wear, Poivre 23 by Le Labo.  The substance itself is less stiff than the Clubman allowing easier application and molding.

I recently acquired a tin of the Firehouse Moustache Wax.  Its stiffness allows an excellent hold and I found that it's best used on the twirly bits at the end.  The scent is a very subtle beeswax.  It's, perhaps the perfect moustache wax for my needs.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

still-sound 22. Still

Last Thursday, Thanksgiving afternoon, I walked Rosie before the sun went down.  It was deserted.  I passed two couples on the walk but otherwise saw no one.  No cars either.  All the views seemed equally still.  Dodgers Stadium was lifeless.  It's funny to me that it's empty for half of the year but I'm grateful for its hibernation (it's easier finding a parking space).  When the walk was over I started cooking.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

still-sound 21. Stars

Neb 06, 2009

Neb 07, 2009

This morning I must have listened to a track named Stars by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois at least five times, maybe more. It's essentially an abstract soundscape taken from an album from 1983 called Apollo: Atmospheres and Sountracks.  Beautifully amorphous and peaceful - it's music that doesn't come to a point, no progressions or counterpoint. It's music that simply is, more spatial than narrative.  This is a quality I also love about some traditional Asian musical genres like gagaku. 

For a few years I made drawings inspired by nebulae.  I lightly touched black paper with colored pencils until hazes started to appear.  Some hazes started to concentrate in areas and formed saturated points.  I named all of these drawings neb.

Heian Koh from Kunmeido

I started to meditate while listening to Stars this morning.  I rarely listen to music when I meditate, I find it distracting but formless soundscapes sometimes help me.  I burned the Heian Koh incense from Kunmeido.  A very dry smell that reminds me of the pine incense I used to buy at the Bread and Circus Health food store in Providence when I was in college.  Rosie jumped on my lap while I meditated.  One would think that perhaps she was seeking comfort while the intense Santa Ana winds dramatically bended the trees outside.  But she often jumps into my lap when I meditate, wind or no wind. 

I understand that historically pugs were raised to keep Buddhist monks company.  At this point their brains are hardwired into thinking 'if I see someone meditating, sit on him'.

Monday, November 28, 2011

still-sound 20. Persimmon

Persimmons in a full moon bowl I recently made.

 Rob works in a hospital in Chinatown and several weeks ago some of his colleagues presented him with persimmons.  I remarked that the gifts were 'most auspicious'.  Auspicious is only a word I use when persimmon also appears in a sentence.  Not really knowing what to do with all of this fruit, Rob baked them into a cake.  He added a large handful of chocolate chips to the batter to make the cake 'more Steve'.  I appreciated this addition.  When I ate the first slice, still warm from the oven, the melted chocolate ran on to the plate. 

Rob made the cake for me to bring to my mother in Arizona.  He didn't come with me so the cake was supposed to take his place.  When she tried it, she claimed that this cake was the 'most delicious cake she's ever had'.  I was pleased that she liked it so much although I remember she said exactly the same thing when we bought her a birthday cake a few years ago from a Korean bakery.  It was the super soft spongy kind that they like in Asia, frosted with sweet cream and covered in fruit.

If we had had more persimmons I would have attempted to make kaki-shibu or persimmon tannin juice.  I learned how it's made by watching my favorite tv program, At Home With Venetia in Kyoto.  Venetia uses the juice to treat the wooden furniture and exterior of her house.  It's a natural insect repellent and waterproofer.  It's also a beautiful dye.  In fact the guys who taught Venetia how to mash the persimmons and squeeze out the juice do so regularly to provide enough dye for their mother to use in her exquisitely patterned fabric work.  As she watched the mashed, unripened persimmons get thrown into a bucket, Venetia asked one of the guys if she could have a taste.  After dipping her finger in the green substance, she admitted with a little smile, 'that doesn't taste very nice at all'.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

still-sound 19. Garland of Letters

Mademoiselle de la Valliere from Cire Trudon

My fascination with incense began in two places: church and a little new age shop in Philadelphia called Garland of Letters.  I will write about church incense another time. Today I'm thinking about the little bookstore on South Street which was almost a weekly destination for me in the late 1980s when I was in high school.  South Street was home to Zipperhead and Tower records - two daytime hangouts for teenagers with Gothic tendencies, like myself. Garland of Letters most likely grabbed my attention since Garlands is the name of the first Cocteau Twins album.  It's not an exaggeration to state that the Cocteau Twins were more or less my religion back then.  In fact, it's probably still true. 

The life-size lion sculpture prowling the entrance of the shop probably caught my eye as well.  It stalked the vestibule that was flanked on either side by long glass vitrines diplaying the other-wordly wares of the store.

I discovered the Auroshikha line of incense at Garland of Letters, nestled between gongs and trays of semi-precious stones.  I tried various flavors from the line but consistently bought gardenia and magnolia.   The scent of the sweet smoke could be described as a creamy white floral, somewhere between gardenia and tuberose.  At the same time of my life I would find potted gardenias for sale at the supermarket - usually in January or February.  I would choose the plant with the most blossoms and full buds.  I found from experience that once the blooms had faded no more would ever appear from the plant.  I now realize that gardenias require heat and constant sunshine.  They were doomed in suburban Philadelphia.  They thrive in California.  I have a plant on my terrace and the flowers keep appearing.  I usually snip them and place them in a bud vase I made.

The Azusa incense from Kyukyodo (the makers of the stellar Sho-ran-koh) emits a smoke not terribly different from the Auroshikha gardenia.  I could be completely wrong in my assessment - it has been over twenty years since I smelled the latter.  Azusa is certainly how I remember the Auroshikha gardenia incense.   Sweet, floral, creamy.  Azusa is perhaps a little richer, revealing a soft sandalwood note.

Azusa from Kyokyodo

I discovered a candle that also inhabits this beautiful territory between gardenia and tuberose called Mademoiselle de la Valliere from the Cire Trudon candlemakers.  Named after the mistress of Louis XIV, the scent is meant to evoke the 'damp fragrance of an intoxicating love: from the King's bedroom to the convent'.  Apparently Miss Valliere spent her latter years in a convent.  Not having experienced either a king's bedroom or a convent, the scent to me is that of adolescent awakening in the Garland of Letters shop on South Street, Philadelphia.  I haven't lit the candle yet - I was waiting for tonight, Thanksgiving evening.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

still-sound 18. Scorpio Sister

Today is my sister's birthday.  She lives in the Czech countryside where it is actually the day after her birthday. 

I remember once when we were very young she requested that we celebrate her birthday with mashed potato rather than birthday cake.  It was her favorite food back then - she didn't have a sweet tooth like me.  I don't remember if we omitted the birthday cake in favor of mashed potato.  It doesn't seem likely.  I hope she had mashed potato yesterday.

I took this picture a few days ago.  I've chosen it to wish Ann a happy birthday.

Friday, November 18, 2011

still-sound 17. UFO

This isn't a UFO.  I had hoped it was but even as I took the picture I knew it was just a cluster of balloons.

I always wanted to see a UFO.  Earlier this week I visited my mom in Arizona.  There was a famous UFO sighting there several years ago, some refer to it as the Phoenix Lights.  The accounts are remarkable.  A craft at least a mile long, shaped like a black triangle slowly hovered above the Earth without making a sound.  It had lights along the bottom that glowed a golden amber.  Some said that the lights seemed to 'impart knowledge'.  Is it any wonder why I want to see a UFO?

I seem to miss significant UFO sightings that I feel I should have witnessed.  The Phoenix Lights happened before my mom moved to Arizona so there's no chance I would have seen it myself although I regularly go to that area now.  I saw a TV dramatization of a sighting in Bucks County Pennsylvania, where I happened to have been born and grew up.  One account was particularly interesting.  A woman saw a craft flying over her backyard.  It released a mist of shimmering crystals (she called it glitter) which floated down like snow and covered a tree.  Several moments later the crystals rose from the tree and ascended back to the craft.  Of course things like this didn't happen in Bucks County when I lived there.

Yesterday morning I saw at least five helicopters flying above downtown LA.  They were there to monitor the Occupy Wall Street protests.  I'm not sure why there were five - surely the act of peacefully resisting a broken government and a culture controlled by greed doesn't require a militaristic-like presence.  The choppers gave the air a sensational feeling of criminality.  I expected to see OJ's SUV speeding past on the 110 Freeway.

Friday, November 11, 2011

still-sound 16. Akari

Today is 11.11.11.  The other day in the ceramics studio two fellow potters talked about various upcoming events to celebrate this alignment of ones.  They're both yoga instructors.  One mentioned a place near Joshua Tree - a perfectly-domed structure with incredible acoustics which will host a crystal bowl event today.  Attendees can sprawl out on the floor and bathe in the clear vibrations emanating from the crystal bowls.  Last year I was a little obsessed with this idea.  I regularly looked up 'bowl meditation' on youtube and tried to participate in the experiences from home. 

I made this vase a few months ago.  I dipped the greenware in black slip three times and created a tulip pattern.  I left it unglazed except for the inside  The pattern created by dipping reminded me of some of Isamu Noguchi's Akari lights.  I have a plain white lamp at home and placed the vase next to it for a while.  I liked the way they spoke with each other.  I eventually gave the tulip vase to my friend Adam.

Monday, November 7, 2011

still-sound 15. Chemtrails

I'm going to attribute most things to cold air today.

A few days ago I brought home some vases and bowls that had been glaze-fired over the weekend.  I placed two pieces on the bookcase in the bedroom.  Throughout the night they made pinging noises - as though someone struck them with a spoon to silence a hall before giving a toast to the bride and groom.  Except not rhythmic tapping, just a single PING.  It happened at least three times the other night - and at least once last night.  I checked the pieces to see if any of them developed cracks (they didn't).  I don't know which pieces are pinging, maybe all?  I decided that it was the shifting temperatures that caused the sounds.  Only a few days ago they were subject to terrific glass-melting heat.  Now they settle into the cold evening November air.

This morning I noticed that the sky was absolutely criss-crossed with chemtrails.  Some were sharp white lines, others had softened into puffier linear clouds. I've had many conversations with people about chemtrails.  On Tuesday my barber (Ian) showed me a picture he had taken on his phone of a massive X formed by chemtrails, hovering directly above his house.  It freaked him out.

I had a conversation a little while ago with a meteorologist.  She seemed to anticipate my eventual shift in conversation towards conspiracy theories.  She claimed that contrails were simply vapor left by aircraft as they cut through certain atmospheric conditions.  She assured me that there was no conspiracy at all and in fact, expressed doubt that the government would 'even be organized enough to control a population through chemical mists.'  I listened to her theory but lost trust in her credibility when she proclaimed that 'climate change is a myth' and that 'most scientists would agree'.  I didn't really want to pursue the point so I politely nodded.

While I walked Rosie this morning and noticed the unusually high incidence of chemtrails I decided that they could be attributed to the cold air.  I didn't notice them so much during the summer.  Today was the first day that truly felt like autumn to me.  The skies were the deep blue that you only really see this time of year.  I don't know if the chemtrails were more pronounced today because of the crisp air or if the government was simply more organized and managed to mist the skies of Los Angeles with population-controlling chemicals.

Olafur Eliasson at Tate Modern

When I got home I listened to Beck's superbly unsettling song called Chemtrails.  This has always been my favorite track on Modern Guilt.  The sound of it makes me think of a post-apocalyptic Beach Boys. I used to listen to it nearly every time I went running on the ocean path in Long Beach as the sun began to set.  I think of a hazy orange sun over a bleak terrain dotted with dazed people, like the one Olafur Eliasson created in an installation hosted in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern several years ago. 

'So many people, so many people.  Where do they go?

Friday, November 4, 2011

still-sound 14. Yamadamatsu

Yamadamatsu makes an interesting jinko incense called Kumoi Aloeswood.  The brand is not very well known in the US, in fact Japanincense.com (the source of nearly all of my incense purchases) does not even have a Yamadamatsu tab on the website.  You can only find it by typing its name in the search box.  Jay and Shintaro were kind enough to throw in a sample of Kumoi when they shipped me another incense I had ordered.  My reaction to the sample was immediate and visceral.  The scent is dark, I'll even describe it as black.  I smell powder, but not the white, talcum variety.  I think of a fine powder like soot, only black, not gray. Its presence feels masculine to me.  The fragrance emitted from the smokestream is strong -permeating the room for a long while. The incense conjured a mental image of the charred wood traditionally used in Japanese building practice.

When I was a kid I spent most of the summers outside - running around with my sister and kids from the neighborhood.  We would jump through sprinklers in an effort to get cool - and we would only drink water directly from the hose.  The taste of hosewater is impossible for me to describe but unmistakably distinctive.  The Kumoi Aloeswood incense has a trace of summertime hosewater.  I remember thinking that the excellent Nan Kun by Shoyeido also featured the hosewater taste/smell.

Imagine long planks of hardwood burnt quickly with a tremendous blast and then extinguished with summertime hosewater; steam still rising from the char.  Despite my reference to summertime, Kumoi Aloeswood is resolutely autumnal. 

I burn these sticks in a holder made of cast iron.  I found it at OK, the best shop in Los Angeles.  The man who owns OK, Larry Schaffer, not only has an enormous sensitivity for design and craft but is a fount of knowledge regarding aloeswood and Japanese incense.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

still-sound 13. Samhain

I have a few stones that I picked up in random places over the course of several years.  There's one from a field in Wiltshire, one from the Norfolk coast, some from Long Beach.  I don't know which one's which anymore.  I arranged them in a circle on my bookshelf.  Maybe this is a nod to Richard Long, one of my favorite artists.  Perhaps also a nod to the stone circles in Wiltshire. 

When we visited Avebury two years ago a man named Peter taught us how to dowse in order to find the energy lines under our feet.  He explained how the various stones resembled animals and people.  They seem to be ordered in a masculine / feminine rotation.  We touched the stones and they were warm although the air was cold.  We walked around Avebury, following a chalk path as the sun set and the moon intensified.

A few days later we were in Cornwall.  My best friend Kirsten told me about a village called Zennor and suggested we visit it - so we parked the car in Zennor and walked around.  Rob and I wandered aimlessly through fields.  We passed a building which must have been a village center of some sorts.  We heard drumming and chanting through the windows and doors.  Piquing my interest I approached the door hoping to find out more about the sounds, thinking I'd find a roomful of people dressed in shaman's feathers and pelts.  I found nothing because the door was closed and I was too scared to open it.  It happened to have been 31 October - Halloween to some, Samhain to others.  I believe it was Samhain to the drummers inside the Zennor village hall.

Zennor, Cornwall on Samhain

Friday, October 21, 2011

still-sound 12. Rose

I've developed an affinity for roses.  I never really gave them much mind in the past - although one of my first memories involved my sister and me plucking numerous petals and stuffing them into tupperware in an attempt to make perfume.  Our second attempt to make perfume prompted us to pick handfuls of juniper berries from the bush next to our house.  We crushed them into a pulp and left the bowl out overnight to 'freshen the air'.  When we woke up the next morning the air above the juniper-room-freshener was black with swarming flies. I'm still amazed that our mom let us do all of this.  I think she's always had a secret fascination with scent as well.

In the last few years I found myself gravitating towards the scent of roses.  The lemony smell of tea roses.  The heavy perfume of blood-red, velvet damask roses.  When we lived in Long Beach I bought a rose hybrid called Lincoln.  The smell was very antique - almost identical to a hand lotion that came in a pink bottle that my mom used to soften her hands when she finished styling customers' hair in the salon where she worked in the 70s.

I discovered a white hybrid at the garden center in Long Beach called Pope John Paul.  It was, perhaps, the perfect rose scent - but I knew that we'd be moving back to LA so I resisted buying and planting the papal rootstock.

I know a cool woman from Chicago named Francine who collects pure perfume oils.  I see her from time to time - when she has something new and wonderful for me to smell.  Last week she gave me a little vial of pure essential oil extracted from a taif rose named after the Sultan of Brunei.  The decant came from a bottle she acquired nine years ago. She insisted I keep it despite my protestations - apparently another bottle was somewhere in the post for her, and soon she'd have more of this oil than she'd ever have use for.  I kept it, because she insisted and because it smelled so irresistibly indulgent.  A silver, herbal geranium-tinged taif rose.  I dab it on the full bloom rose tattooed on my forearm.  Like a scratch and sniff sticker except not a sticker and no scratch.

Monday, October 17, 2011

still-sound 11. Papier d'Armenie

Lisa, (the same Lisa who brought me to the Sun and Doves pub as mentioned two blogposts ago) introduced me to several interesting things.  We shared a studio in Whitechapel a few years after finishing art school.  One day she came by after returning from a trip to France and gave me a packet of Papier d'Armenie.  She explained that you rip one of the fragrant strips off the pack, fold it into an accordian, light an end and blow it out.  You place the smoldering strip on an ashtray (back then people still smoked so ashtrays abounded).  I would describe the scent emanating from the smoke as that of burnt paper but with a distinctive powdery vanilla twist.

Armenian Papers were developed in France some time in the 1800s.  Apparently the tradition of scenting and sanitizing a room by burning bensoin resin had long been established in Armenia, hence the name.  The papers themselves are coated with this resin.  The papers are found in all the pharmacies of France.  They are usually not on display - you need to just know about them.  I presume most French people do just know about them.  That they are found in les pharmacies makes me think that they belong to the old-school world of science and sanitation rather than to the fashion and beauty world of scented candles and parfums d'ambience.  They have a practical, even healthful function.

When Rob and I moved into the house in Long Beach we painted one of the bedrooms.  Strangely the paint itself or the dampening of the walls created a faint pee smell. Rob assigned me the task of tackling the odor.  I thought of the papier d'armenie but had none and didn't think I'd be able to find any on short notice.  I managed to find an Italian equivalent at the Santa Maria Novella perfumery.  They were significantly more expensive than the French drugstore variety but I bought them because I thought they would effectively resolve the bedroom-odor situation.  The Carta d'Armenia come as separate strips housed in a red box.  The papers are quite thick - their weight and size make them look more like old fashion tickets, perhaps to a regional Italian train line.  They are more difficult to fold, accordian-style because of their thickness.  Perhaps they should be used as tickets to regional Italian train lines.  Sadly the carta d'armenia did not neutralize the smell in the bedroom.  Nothing did...except time.  Maybe six weeks later the odor seemed to disappear completely.

Francis Kurkdjian, a celebrated French-Armenian perfumer based in Paris recently came out with updated versions of the papier d'Armenie.  They do not smell of bensoin.  They are scented with Kurkdjian's own perfume blends.  Strips are thin and perforated to aid in the accordian-fold procedure.  They burn beautifully and quickly fill a room with an intense, pure perfume.

Monday, October 10, 2011

still-sound 10. Bird Vessels

I took photos of the birds I spotted in trees last winter.  When the trees are bare, the birds are easier to spot.

I've been drawing birds based on photos since 2005, the year I had a very significant, surreal visit from a lark.

I painted the lids of these porcelain vessels with several layers of gesso then drew a bird on a branch as it appears in one of the photos.  One vessel contains incense sticks and the other one is currently empty.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

still-sound 9. Jinko Yomei

I keep a box of Jinko Yomei (aloeswood blend) by Gyokushodo on my bedside table.  I came across it when I decided to focus my incense search on aloeswood.  I tend to classify incense by type.  There are
those that focus specifically on the attributes of a main-note, like sandalwood or aloeswood; in which case the blend of ingredients brings out the inherent features of the main material.  There are other incenses that take more liberties combining perfumed oils to produce unusual scent profiles not particularly bound to a lead-character wood.

I've come across some incense that I would classify as floral.  Jinko Yomei most certainly bears the 'Spicy' label  - in fact its brilliance is in the unusual spice blend rather than in the purity of the jinko.  I barely notice the wood at all. Apparently the jinko carries the spices and extends the life of the scent - a structural back-up if you like.

The smell of the unlit bundle itself is incredible and unexpected.  Ginger and lemongrass against a kick of crushed pepper, cinnamon and other spices.  When lit, a trace of cumin
attempts to smudge the scent into a somewhat dirty place though the sweet floral notes prevent the balance from ever being compromised. Perhaps because of the spice and herbal content I feel that I smell this incense in my mouth as much as in my nose.  Jinko Yomei is both light and dark, opaque and transparent and I've never smelled anything like it.

The surface of the box reveals a silver laid-texture paper with a perfect black label providing ground to the gold kanji writing.  The bundle itself is wrapped in a gradient paper from a bright gold to a darker bronze-gold.  The same paper cradles the interior of the box.  The presentation is as satisfying as the scent.

The description of Jinko Yomei on Japanincense.com refers to the tradition of scenting hair and clothes with incense.  This was 'big in old Japan'.  I like the idea of scenting one's self with a spicy smoke.  Per-fume as in 'through smoke'.

It's sometimes fun to imagine the Orient as one imaginary place with exotic music and traditions.  Jinko Yomei would be the scent of this Orient.