Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Go to your happy place

You know how visualizations for air travel (and other) anxiety often recommend you go to your happy place? Pretend you're not on a plane? I can tell you right now: bullsh*t. No way, no how, do those work for me.

I just got back from visiting my dad, and the trip convinced me that the airsickness to which I've always been prone is getting too awful to handle on my own. I need to get some help, and some serious, prescription-strength meds. I can't even describe the misery. Even drugged to the gills with Bonine or Dramamine, I'm a mess: shaking, sweating, gulping in deep breaths of air, and convinced I'm going to vomit every second of some descents, while in others I can relatively easily keep it together. I never know which it's going to be, and my life-long history of being so ill during flights has made it worse and worse, so I work myself up into a state of terror before most flights.

Okay, taking a deep breath. I feel nauseous just *talking* about airsickness. I joke that it's just exhausting trying to keep the airplane up in the air by sheer will-power, and that's why I need a full day to recover from any flight, but it's not really a conscious fear of the plane dropping out of mid-air. I know that it won't. Really I do! It's that my body, for some reason super-sensitive to that feeling of the plane fighting gravity, anticipates every bobble to be a possibly endless freefall. That's why the only visualization that helps is for me to imagine that the wobbles and bumps are of wheels on a road. I have to visualize that I'm somehow in more control than I really am: I can see the horizon, as if I'm on a bus or something, watching the countryside whizz by. Even flying the plane, visualizing that I can control the forward trajectory, is a better imagined scenario to stave off the panic.

So I have steadily been accumulating an arsenal of precautions and strategies to not let the airsickness get the upper hand. Eating something bready before the flight, taking an anti-emetic, taking a mild muscle-relaxant, bringing a baguette or crackers for the flight, staying hydrated, chewing gum, keeping my head still and looking out toward the horizon, deep breathing, visualizations, noise-cancelling headphones. Geez, what a neurotic mess. I wonder if perfume could be part of this arsenal. I mean, why not? It could be put to good use that way.

Believe me, I've tried all those homeopathic motion sickness remedies like the acupressure wristbands, ginger, peppermint, etc. etc. All useless when you're talking neurosis of this magnitude. But I did find that one recent flight was made a little more bearable when I huffed on my vintage Rumeur. (I didn't wear enough of it to assault anyone else's nose on the plane.) I have to wonder if perhaps this animalic carnation scent that I've been so fascinated by lately has therapeutic qualities. I find the costus in it to be a very comforting skin/body odor scent, myself, although I know most would not find those notes to be anything like a comfort scent.

It's probably just that my familiarity with and affection for my vintage juice calms me and distracts me from my misery. But it made me curious: how do other people calm themselves on plane flights, and do others use perfume as aromatherapy in stressful situations? Do you have a scent that you wear when you fly? Do you find aromatherapy oils to be useful when you're anxious, or do you consider Cristalle aromatherapy? Or do you say to hell with aromatherapy, just never fly sober, like my friend M.? Personally, I would prefer to be knocked unconscious upon strapping myself into my seat, because I hate hangovers. But until that great day, I'm hoping you, dear reader, have suggestions or experiences regarding how to survive air travel or other similarly stressful situations. Because I *gulp* have to get back on a plane again in less than a month for my dad's wedding.

Thanks! And happy travel season!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Frakking Fabulous

I've been tagged as a f'ing fabulous blog by two very lovely fellow bloggers: Mary from Tea, Sympathy and Perfume, and Divina of Fragrance Bouquet. Thank you! I hope no one will be offended if I don't follow all the rules. I love all the blogs in my blogroll at the right, and many more besides, but I don't feel comfortable tagging others. Dunno why, exactly. I'm cranky about following rules.

But here, submitted for your enjoyment/mockery/head-shaking disbelief, here are five addictions I have besides perfume:

1. Rewatching the entire (recent) Battlestar Galactica series. I was so upset by the finale I had to go back to the brilliant beginning. I don't know if I've previously let on about my sci-fi love, but can I just tell you how excited I was that Peter Berg is planning a new adaptation of Dune? Squeee! He can't possibly screw it up more than Dino de Laurentiis, right? Right?

2. Blues music: John Lee Hooker and The Black Keys have been long-time favorites, but I'm especially obsessed with pretty much every singer on an amazing compilation called Men Are Like Streetcars: Women Blues Singers 1928-1969. Betty James, Georgia White, Blue Lu Barker; I can't believe they aren't more widely recognized. Have you ever watched a pre-code movie like Trouble in Paradise or Dinner at Eight? I'm always stunned in awe at the frank sexuality and loose morals flouncing around those movies like Jean Harlow's ivory-satin-clad hips, and this is the musical equivalent. Songs about toking, drinking, f*ing, losing in love, getting yours, and getting away with it. Not to mention, erm, metaphors involving chauffers, vipers, swings, hot nuts, and feeling mellow. What's not to love?

3. All things British. In fact, as a transplanted Texan, I'm perversely obsessed with rain, gloom, anything gothic, and anything British. I am that geek who can discuss the merits of just about every Jane Austen adaptation vs. the books, idolizes Emma Thompson for her adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, and has watched (or own) just about every BBC costume drama ever. made. From North and South, to Cranford, to Wives and Daughters, to the Woman in White, it goes on and on, and I even crush hard on Hugh Laurie as the nitwit extraordinaire Bertie Wooster and David Tennant as an unlikely Casanova (not to mention as the Doctor, but see #1 for my weakness for sci-fi). And the newish adaptation of Jane Eyre with Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester? OMG don't get me started.

4. Researching a trip to Ireland, because what could possibly be better than walking through the countryside every day and always finding yourself within relatively easy distance of chips, beer, and a decent bed? Heaven!

5. Learning how to bake a decent sourdough loaf. My dad will help me with this, because I'm going to visit him in a couple days, and he's built an old-world brick bread oven in his back yard.

Instructions and Rules:
1. You have to pass it (the award) on to 5 other fabulous blogs in a post.
2. You have to list 5 of your fabulous addictions in the post.
3. You must copy and paste the rules and the instructions below in the post.
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Vintage Rumeur revisited, with a digression on costus

I've done glib dismissals, one-liners, and now: crow pie.

Previously dismissed by me in favor of Scandal, Lanvin's (original) Rumeur parfum I now acknowledge to be a wonder. I've become more attuned to the scent of costus nowadays, since I fell for Muscs Koublai Khan, and now the vintage Rumeur is unfolding depths I just didn't catch before. The clove that had seemed so overpowering and medicinal now shifts back and forth from spice to floral quite mesmerizingly, taming the unwashed-hair and wine-soaked-leather character of costus (although I'm sure the effect is created in combination with other chypre-ish basenotes, of course) in the drydown. It's poetically unwashed, as in "I just spent two weeks swaying on the back of this damn camel, staring at the desert, and I'm not quite ready for civilization yet."

Frustratingly, I've found nearly nothing about this perfume's history or descriptions of what it originally smelled like, but Octavian of 1000fragrances has a post about costus in which he identifies it in the older formulations of fragrances including Cabochard and Rumeur. Now it jumps out at me in both. What does costus smell like? Well, apart from the camel-driver's-armpit allusions often pulled out for musky scents like Muscs Koublai Khan, this source describes the scent as "at first like violets, but as it ages it can become more fur-like or eventually become unpleasantly goat-like." Is the goat-like quality what makes it seem so challenging but at the same time makes me think: man, that's some good stink? Mmm, goat. Okay, well, I hope it's the furry quality, not the goat.

Like many plants/resins/etc. mentioned in ancient texts, there is a lot of confusion about whether what the ancient world knew as costus is the same as what we know today. In Pliny's natural history, he says that costus "has a burning taste in the mouth and most exquisite odor," and that a locale renowned for its white costus was the island of Patale, at the mouth of the Indus River, which is in present-day Pakistan. I can't find many geographic records of Patale online, although some studies of ancient Indus Valley civilizations say that Patale was a name for the land of the Indus delta.

Pliny's description is unlikely the costus we talk about today in perfumery, though, given that plant directories like this source on costus (scientific name Saussurea lappa or Saussurea costus) identifies it as a high-altitude plant known to grow at the other end of the Indus, in the Himalayas. I love all the common names for costus that this source lists: kuth, kushta, patchak, and mu xiang, to name a few. It has a long list of medicinal attributes, and it has long been used in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines. Maybe Pliny was confusing Saussurea lappa with the tropical herbaceous family of plants named the Costaceae, also known as spiral gingers. Nigel Groom's The New Perfume Handbook also identifies costus as a Himalayan plant. Interestingly, he says it may also have been cultivated in Arabia and used in early perfumes there.

Why I'm idly digressing on the history of costus is that I really enjoy imagining the extension back into ancient history of the elaborate links between geography, botany, trade, medicine, and perfumery, romanticization though it certainly is. The sophisticated (inaccuracies just add to the sense of a wild, unreliable, exquisitely varied world) reports of location, characteristics, cultivation, and value as a commodity reveal the ravenous acquisitory lust of empire that doesn't seem much different from the hunt for the new new thing today. Pliny notes both sources and costs in dinarii when he catalogs botanical finds; he's scouting resources for Rome, isn't he? It's both disturbing and exhilarating. What a find! What precious treasures are still hidden in the Himalayas, or at the Indus River delta, that we may lose or find today? Do we exploit or revere if we seek them? Does it have to be one or the other? Good questions for a perfume-lover, I suppose.

Image is of the Indus River, which I got here.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Sultry summer lemon; Or, Dior's Eau Fraîche

A lemony cologne can't be sultry, you say? I thought the same thing. Colognes are all about the sunny citrus fruit–cool and dry or juicy and sweet–and not much else, so I thought. I wasn't much interested. But then I found Dior's Eau Fraîche. I had no idea Dior had bottled the formula for an ideal summer "vacances."

Eau Fraîche is all warm, savory lemons on a bed of naughty oakmoss and civet. The citrus isn't sharp or sweet, but very rounded, making me feel indolent rather than refreshed. Having smelled Guerlain's Mouchoir de Monsieur lately, I would describe this as a more unaffected, more effervescent, and more interesting version of fresh lemon on an animalic base. I haven't found any confirmation that there is civet in this perfume anywhere else, and I almost couldn't believe it when I first sniffed. I mean, civet skank in a juice with "fresh" in the title? You gotta love that. It's so perverse, and in only the best way. This perfume is best suited for Adriatic breezes and drinks after a swim at the Lido, or an amorous siesta on crisp sheets at the Grand Hotel Excelsior, Venice, circa August 1928.

I am turning into a Dior girl, that's for sure. Lately my Guerlains have been too heavy, my Chanels too powdery, my Lanvins too dark. In summer, the old Diors just have that perfect husky but effortless tenor to them. I fell for Miss Dior and Diorling long ago. I started loving Diorissimo this spring, and now I can't live without Eau Fraîche. Now all that I need is to get over my anti-melon stance to truly appreciate Diorella and Diorama, and to find the untraceable Dior Dior, and I'll be a true fanatic. Well, okay, it may be too late.

Perfume Shrine wrote a very knowledgeable review of Eau Fraîche that you'll enjoy, I'm sure, if you want to learn more.

You can find Eau Fraîche on fleabay and on some perfume discount websites still, but I don't know details on its production status. It is really rare in the U.S., at least, from what I can tell. Does anyone know if it's still being produced by Dior?