Sunday, August 28, 2011

still-sound 3. Aoud

A few months ago I met a man named Faruk who is possibly one of the most interesting people I've ever met. A businessman who sold most of his business and has more time to devote to his passions, namely woodworking and wood appreciation. He also makes and collects extraordinarily beautiful Arabic calligraphy and speaks seven languages. He happens to know everything there is to know about aoud/ oud/ agarwood/ jinko/  aloeswood (this stuff has a lot of names apparently) and collects specimens and aoud oils.

Aoud is basically the result of the aquilaria tree reacting to a fungus in the same way that grapes can magically transform into the honeyed fruit of Sauternes wines. The tree reacts to the rot by creating a resin which melds with the wood resulting in a precious substance with an indescribable scent. Aoud, which basically looks like driftwood, can then be ground into a powder and burned like incense or extracted into oil. The practice of burning aoud is relatively common in the Middle East and in Japan where it's called jinko or kyara (a particularly high grade jinko). Apparently you can't really force aquilaria trees to become aoud so when it's found in Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, India, it comes with a hefty price tag.

Because I expressed quite a bit of enthusiasm over Faruk's aoud collection and because he happens to be wonderfully generous he gave me five vials of oils; a bag full of aoud chips of various origins along with ground kyara and ground agarwood from a now extinct tree. He came across the latter in a Chinese herbal apothecary in Hong Kong and named the wood Elysium.

I wasted no time in making an appropriate vessel for these gifts. I made a covered pot in porcelain. It was my first attempt at making a lid which in reality was much trickier than I anticipated. The inside of the pot is glazed transparently and the outside is bare. The lid didn't fit exactly, in fact it's more a suggestion of a lid. To keep the inside somewhat airtight I placed a rose quartz on top to weigh it down a bit. The contents deserve better protection so I've since made several more covered pots. I'm not sure how many 'lids' have been made and tossed in the making of the final pieces. As soon as they're out of the kiln I will give the aoud a better home.

I made pouches for the ground kyara and Elysium with rice paper decorated with a little bit of sumi ink drawing and bound them with string.  I haven’t been able to meet up with Faruk recently because he's been in Asia for most of the summer but when I next hear from him I have a covered aoud jar waiting for him.

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