Sunday, February 17, 2008

Community Garden Progress!

It's almost spring in Austin, and I'm having a blast helping out with the initial stages of a new community garden in my neighborhood. That's Nathan on the right, the guy who's gotten the funding and is leading the charge. That's James on the left. This was taken later in the afternoon, but today a bunch of us were out there shoveling compost around, laying out the plans, and terracing the slope at the back end of the lot. See that terrace wall in the foreground? That's partly my handiwork! That space they're evening out is going to be the patio area where we'll put a few seating nooks, a picnic table, and maybe a fire pit. Surrounding the patio will be individual plots, all organically shaped, with a twisty path around them. Then at the front of the lot is going to be long group-planted vegetable rows - eight of them! A few fruit trees will go near the sidewalk end of the lot, which is the north side. A few fruit trees and possibly a grape arbor will go at the far south end of the lot, partially shading the patio area. Gosh, we need a name for the garden! So exciting!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

'Cause It Makes My Apartment Smell Mossaayy

Steve Zahn, how I love thee. A lone goof of a personality in super-polished rom-coms like the Meg Ryan vehicle You've Got Mail, his delivery of the line: "'Cause it makes my apartment smell mossy," cracks me up and makes me want to take him home with me. In his honor I'm picking that line about prepping his apartment for a date to introduce one of my favorite smells: moss.

Oak moss is probably the main reason for my love of vintage perfumes. And by vintage perfumes I mean vintage Miss Dior, of course! That preternaturally stunning perfume is the ne plus ultra of oak moss, a note that is essential to the chypre family of perfumes. It is sadly disappearing from perfumery--it's been labeled a toxin and is buried in an avalanche of cheaper, more fruity, more sparkly olfactory chemistry.

Vintage Miss Dior was my gateway drug to a world of green, greener perfumes, many vintage. It introduced me to oak moss and another favorite, galbanum. Once started on the green path, I can't seem to stop. Thankfully, I now know Chanel no.19 is a masterpiece required for my survival. Smelling the original Vent Vert is now a compulsion, although I can't wear it often. I'm dying to get my hands on vintage Givenchy III, having smelled the paler new edition and currently waffling on buying it. Jacomo's Silences is the slightly flinty, green aftermath of a thunderstorm. Moss is a required element in many violet perfumes I like, as well: Fresh's Violet Moss is lovely, Ava Luxe's Midnight Violet is addictive, on account of their moss. Has anyone smelled LesNez's The Unicorn Spell? That's next on my list of violet mosses.

But back to Steve Zahn's mossy apartment. I need to re-watch You've Got Mail, because I don't remember what he was getting to make his apartment smell mossy, and I want some. I want my house to smell mossy! I've recently bought Voluspa's Champaca Bloom and Fern candle, hoping it would make my place smell mossy, but no luck, even though I like it a lot. If anyone has any ideas, let me know!

Image from

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Après l'Ondée : Guerlain : Jacques Guerlain

Since I've become rather obsessed with perfume this past year, I've been fascinated by the idea of a perfume evoking a place. But I've discovered that, for me, it almost never does. I'm not saying it doesn't stir the imagination. Perfume satiates some combination olfactory/spiritual hunger of mine. I know -- what the hell is that? I don't really know either. But it was a hunger I didn't even know existed until I started learning about perfume. Perfume suits my imagination by allowing me to select a protective avatar to pull around my overly sensitive little self like a cloak against the world when I want, or a glamour to expand my effect on the world if I want that. But a perfume evoking a place? I love traveling, so I'm disappointed to say that perfumes don't transport me.

But there's an exception: Guerlain's Après l'Ondée, created in 1906. Just smelling this perfume is time travel in itself, since it's formula is over a century old. It's been name-checked by Nancy Mitford in The Pursuit of Love, for criminy's sake. I like to imagine all the women who have adored this scent. But beyond the history of the perfume itself, it's scent is magically the smell of a sunwarmed, serenely arranged garden patio in France. The pea gravel and limestone garden borders have just been cooled by a summer rain shower. There's a remote, tawny, aromatic meadow in the distance, with a big thunderhead looming over it. Closer, there is the comfort of garden beds containing yeasty, pampered garden soil full of rain-battered violets and heliotrope.

So I have to admit something that other passionate perfumistas have also admitted: Après l'Ondée makes me cry. It is a magic perfume; it is a release of ancient breath. The anise is both dusty and brilliant, the violets and heliotrope are tender, and the combination is incredibly moving, because it both comforts and makes you feel vulnerable at the same time, somehow.

Notes, according to the lovely review of Apres L'Ondee at Now Smell This: bergamot, neroli, aniseed, hawthorn, violet, heliotrope, iris and musk.

Image from Savvy Gardening

Ex-Academics Anonymous

Hi there, my name is Aimee, and I'm a recovering academic. That means I use big words and then wonder who the hell I'm trying to impress in my workplace, or among my friends, that would require me to do so. And yes, as you can already tell, that means I'm working under a crippling load of internalized super-critical hyper-reflexive awareness of every thought I've ever had. Ever.

But on the plus side, it also means I can laugh at this animals have problems too illustration. Thanks, Zach VandeZande! You get me! Brilliant.

Tropicals in Winter

After almost a year of resisting it, suddenly this morning I love Ormonde Jayne's Champaca again. I've often wondered, since moving to Texas, whether tropical perfumes are just redundant here. Too much in the summer, and not even a necessary ray of sunshine in winter. Or perhaps I've always had a negative reaction to them, associating tropicals with the herds of Americans yearning for a cheap paradise, and substituting an even cheaper perfume touting "exotic ylang ylang" and "sparkling mango." Man, I'm such a snob.

Anyway, my bigoted cultural assumptions aside, tropicals have not appealed to me in central Texas's steamy climate. Champaca's basmati rice base chokes me in the heat. And it even seemed to have a slightly too-thick, savory rice-pudding opaqueness in winter.

But finally! Today it worked. I sprayed some right in my cleavage, and yowee, delicious! The rice and the champaca blooms are perfectly lush, and the lack of transparency doesn't bother me at all. The sillage is like fleshy white flowers wafting through the air on 99.9% humidity. I thought I must make a note of this: so the first two weeks of February are safe for Champaca. In Austin we've just had our first proto-spring days. Hm. Probably don't need to replace my decant with a full bottle juuuuust yet.

Oh! I should mention that in the interest of documenting my odd layering experiments, I actually layered Champaca with Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's Anarchy (her Chaos dupe oil). It must have cut some of the fleshiness of the Champaca, somehow.

I don't like many tropicals, but Champaca, along with Carnal Flower and Sand & Sable, do get to me from time to time. Okay, so I haven't mentioned the latter two perfumes yet? Sand & Sable I like to think of as the poor woman's Carnal Flower. No, S&S doesn't have the mouth-watering, green, petal-like luminescence of Carnal Flower, blar de blar blar. And no, it doesn't entirely satisfy like Carnal Flower does. But then it also costs 8$ a bottle instead of $250. If you haven't tried this tuberose-laden (though surely very synthetic) tropics-of-drugstore find, please get to it!