20 novembro 2008

Why is great perfume not taken more seriously?

Says the TLS:

Given the amount of time and effort that curators, collectors, dealers, scholars and critics spend on formulating acute judgements of taste in relation to oil paintings, it seems odd that so few are prepared to apply some of the same skills in exploring works of art (some of them distinguished) which stimulate another sense altogether: that of smell. Why is great perfume not taken more seriously? While many art professionals are very serious about many branches of literature, architecture and music, I have yet to find a curatorial colleague who regularly beats a path to the fragrance counter in search of, say, Joy Parfum, the 1930 masterpiece by Henri Alméras for Jean Patou, which, if it were a painting, could hang beside Matisse’s nearly contemporary “Yellow Odalisque” in Philadelphia.

And yet, the parallels between what ought to be more properly regarded as sister arts are undeniable. Artists and colourmen combine natural and, these days, synthetic pigments with media such as oils and resins, much as the perfumer carefully formulates natural and synthetic chemical compounds. The Old Masters deployed the first across the colour spectrum, and applied layers on a determining ground and various kinds of under-painting, slowly building up to the surface through wet on wet, or at times wet on dry, completing their work with thin glazes on top. Thus various types of mashed-up earth and vegetable suspended in linseed or poppy oil are brushed over a stretch of woven fabric or a piece of wood. They begin to dry, and a picture is born. Its appearance changes over time, because the tendency of oil paint is to become gradually more transparent.

So, too, talented “noses” experiment with complex configurations of olfactory elements and produce in symphonic combination many small sensations, at times discordant, sweet, bitter, melancholy, or happy as the case may be. These change and develop in sequence or in unison as the substance and its constituents evaporate at different rates, some quickly, others slowly, thanks to the warmth of our skin. A brilliant perfumer may thus devise an imaginary world no less powerful, or intimate, than that of a great composer or painter, and in calling on our capacity to discover there some memory of childhood, or a long-forgotten experience, or cherished lover, they are in the same business as the artist who breathes warmth into flesh or produces the illusion in landscape of a rush of energy, or of calm.

A great smell will linger differently in the first few minutes from the manner in which it slowly develops over the ensuing hours, and our experience may vary depending on how we sample or wear it. Time is of the essence. The underlying principles of complexity and simplicity are there also, even humour, and it is noteworthy that many great fragrances embrace the hint of something bad – lumps of genuine ambergris, after all, are petrified whale vomit worked on by the sun while bobbing about on the surface of the ocean. And no two lumps are exactly the same.

One reason why truly great smells are so often undervalued is that they are today made and distributed under the not particularly watchful gaze of a few large corporations. The cynical bean-counters in Paris and Zurich do not hesitate to tamper with old formulas, insisting on the substitution of cheap chemical compounds that approximately resemble rarer, better ingredients in an effort to reduce the dizzying cost and increase profits. They do not tell their customers when or how they do this, indeed they presume we won’t notice the difference, so fine perfume is now hopelessly entangled with the international cosmetic dollar, and ill-served by marketing and public relations. It is also manacled to crude presumptions about what is acceptably feminine or credibly masculine.

Just as the world is awash with terrible art, the fragrance counters are unhappily cluttered with rubbish. How do we tell the difference between something as pitiful as Heiress by Paris Hilton (“cheap shampoo and canned peaches”), or any number of shallow, bubble-gummy imitations of something that is really good, and the genuine article, much less a work of genius? Fortunately in this case we have the forthright opinions of Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez to assist us. Sanchez is a journalist and perfume collector. Turin is a biophysicist, who believes that there is a general misunderstanding as to how molecules suspended in the air act on the receptors which stimulate the nerve endings in our noses, in other words how we smell what we do. It is a controversial theory that calls into question the long-standing idea that it is essentially the shape of those molecules that enables the brain to form and recognize the concepts of fishy, musty, peppery or orange-blossomy. His claim, based on the fact that certain molecules of identical shape evidently produce quite different smell sensations, is that our noses are equipped with the ability to register the frequency of their molecular vibrations instead. Whether you agree with him or not, it is profoundly reassuring that, like a good conservator of paintings, Turin’s judgements of taste are informed by scientific knowledge.

No repertoire of critical terminology will wholly circumscribe a complex olfactory experience, and no doubt many such attempts are easy to lampoon. Here, for example, is Turin on No 5 by Ernest Beaux (1921) for Chanel:

Fragrances very occasionally achieve a compelling 3-D effect, as if you could run your hand along them in midair. The original Rive Gauche [Yves Saint Laurent] and Beyond Paradise [Estée Lauder] are relatively recent examples, but they are still recognizably florals, made of soft, perishable matter. No. 5 is a Brancusi. Alone among fragrances known to me, it gives the irresistible impression of a smooth, continuously curved, gold-coloured volume that stretches deliciously, like a sleepy panther, from top note to drydown.

Let us assume he is thinking of the bronze “Bird in Flight”, and not “The Kiss”, though interestingly Sanchez appears to admit the possibility of one of the polished marble versions. Both are apt.

Fortunately, Turin and Sanchez begin their book with some helpful remarks which help to define certain broad categories of perfume – green, citrus, leather, floral, chypre, and so on – and a tour d’horizon of aesthetics, basic chemistry, the recent history of scent, and practical matters of concern such as allergens, the use of animal products, and the risks associated with releasing gusts of Poison (Dior) in the cinema. This framework, together with a useful glossary of materials and technical terms, will guide many readers to an olfactory equivalent of Bletchley Park, and help to make sense of a critical language that can at times seem arcane to the point of befuddlement:

Smelling New York [Parfums de Nicolaï] as I write this, eighteen years after its release, is like meeting an old high school teacher who had a decisive influence on my life: I may have moved on, but everything it taught me is still there, still precious, and wonderful to revisit. New York’s exquisite balance between resinous orange, powdery vanilla, and salubrious woods shimmers from moment to moment, always comfortable but never slack, always present but never loud. It is one of the greatest masculines ever, and probably the one I would save if the house burned down.

How can a smell be “comfortable but never slack”, “angular”, or strike a balance between remoteness and affability (as in Chinatown by Bond No 9)? To some extent the purpose of this book is to make you want to find out, and by a process of trial and error learn to gauge your own assessments against the authors’. They are careful to take account of the reassuring concept of chacun à son goût, but with some flair they also awaken you to the unique properties of, for example, rectified birch-tar oil, the brownness which underlies Knize Ten, Cuir de Russie, and the original Tabac Blond. Obviously the more you exercise your nostrils, the more you notice. And the more you notice, the more baffling it is that nasal titans such as Ernest Daltroff, founder of the House of Caron, or François Coty (Émeraude) or Edmond Roudnitska (Diorissimo) are not more widely recognized as masters of modernism in art and design.

That is not to say that readers and connoisseurs of perfume will not occasionally disagree with Turin and Sanchez’s robust assessments, which at points lapse into abuse without providing enough detailed justification. Pity the poor nose at Le Labo whose Ambrette 9 garners the following rant: “With only nine materials and the gorgeous smell of ambrette seed as the main one, you’d figure they couldn’t fuck this one up. Alas, the other eight (I sense several synthetic musks in there) conspire to make this a cheap mess”.

Some prudent editorial interventions might have helped to tone down this unusual combination of bad language and the de haut en bas posturing, along with a number of unnecessarily snobbish wisecracks, but of course the authors might also have removed the element of boisterousness that partly makes the book so engaging. I suspect that it was a dangerous lapse of judgement on my part ever to invest in a bottle of Mona di Orio’s Nuit Noire (“hilariously bad”), while Sweet Paradise (Morgan) is “for ditzy teens who want to smell like tinned fruit”. Turin dispatches Jasmin 17 (Le Labo) as “a wan little jasmine . . . grievously defaced by a civet reconstitution (chiefly made of the fecal-smelling molecule skatole)”. Allure Homme Sport (Chanel) is “like being stuck in an elevator for twelve hours with a tax accountant”. However, I must stand up for the prickly, clovy, tacky-varnishy, old-upholsteryish, neglected card-catalogue dryness of Poivre by Caron. Although Sanchez regards the current formulation as “middling and pointless”, I shall continue to wear it because love has its blind spots.

Without the hostile or mixed reviews, most of which are mercifully brief, the authors’ nicely contrasting voices would more often vanish into the upper atmosphere of advanced connoisseurship, where descriptions of intense olfactory experience, based on the claim to unchallenged nasal superiority, brook no argument. That risk is always there:

Black [Bulgari] sets out boldly into space on three axes: a big, solid, sweet amber note; a muted fifties Je Reviens [Worth] floral note (benzyl salicylate), as green as a banker’s desk lamp; and finally a bitter-powdery, fresh rubber accord such as one encounters . . . while repairing a bicycle puncture. These three tunes hit you in perfect counterpoint . . . . At different times, Black will strike you variously as a battle hymn for Amazons, emerald green plush fit for Napoleon’s box at the Opéra, or just plain sweet and smiling.

On the whole, however, Perfumes: The guide shines a bright, revolving searchlight over an extensive, potentially limitless smell-scape, and offers much to contemplate, even to regret, and most importantly alerts you to the need to set aside some fairly solid prejudices. For example, Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker is evidently worth serious consideration: “a truly charming floral, about as edgy as a marshmallow and all the better for it, with a fresh, gracious, melodic chord somewhere between lily of the valley and magnolia”. In this sense, as regards the boom in aggressively marketed “celebrity” products, Lovely is quite different from the indefensible Curious (Britney Spears), a Niagara of megaphone vulgarity which “lasts forever, and radiates like nuclear waste”.

Far more space is devoted to those perfumes that are placed in the highest category of excellence, and it is enough to read Turin on Après l’Ondée by Guerlain (1906) to make you drop everything and rush out to invest in a stash, because you cannot know or tell when the gnomes of Zurich will conspire to wreck it.

The almond-floral note of \[synthetic\] heliotropin, so reminiscent of the spring-like powdery pallor of mimosa, demands a certain type of wan radiance, which Après l’Ondée embodies perfectly. But as usual with Guerlain there is a lot more to it than that. The slightly one-dimensional, cheap feeling of heliotropin is offset by a melancholy, powdery iris note. If you left things at this point, you’d have a first-class funeral, complete with four horses and grey ostrich feathers. But Guerlain suffuses the whole thing with optimistic sunlight by using, as in so many of their classic fragrances, a touch of what a chef would call bouquet de Provence: thyme, rosemary, sage. This discreet hint of earthly pleasures is what makes Après l’Ondée smile through its tears . . . . One of the twenty greatest perfumes of all time.

How does one shoehorn this fascinating substance into an exhibition of Edwardian art and design where it so obviously belongs, the olfactory equivalent of what Yeats called “the faint mixed tints of Conder”, alongside many other nearly contemporaneous manifestations of the beautiful pre-war cult of paleness?

More often than not the authors’ prompt is unequivocally erotic. Turin describes Habit Rouge (Guerlain) as “sweet dust”, the product of

one of the most immediately and permanently appealing ideas in all of perfumery – the orange-flower-and-opopanax [sweet myrrh] accord, soft and rasping like the stubble on a handsome cheek, [which] is a bit like beauty itself – immediately understood, never quite elucidated.

Quite. Kouros (Yves Saint Laurent), meanwhile, “has that faintly repellent clean-dirty feel of other people’s bathrooms, and manages to smell at once scrubbed and promissory of an unmade bed”. There is apparently a “big-boned, bad-tempered Joan Crawford” aspect to Mitsouko, the otherwise luminous 1919 masterpiece by Jacques Guerlain. Intriguingly, Le Troisième Homme (Caron) reminds Sanchez of

a disastrously beautiful boy who turns every head in the street, even if his hair is overgrown, his grubby clothes fit badly, and . . . he breaks more hearts running out innocently to buy milk than we ordinary mortals manage to bruise in a callous lifetime . . . . I smelled it for the first time on a woman and it caught my heart the way a stray branch in the woods catches the sleeve of your sweater, and I realized I loved it because of the pitch in my voice when I asked for its name.

Evidently Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez enjoy an exciting marriage, a union of questing, well-practised noses, constantly alert to pleasure. More to the point, it has produced a provocative and hugely entertaining book.

18 novembro 2008

Chivalry can and should coexist with Feminism

Tells us Jezebel:

This morning on Today, "experts" weighed in on the hot button issue of chivalry, and whether the concept is dead, outdated, or just plain unfeminist. We don't think that chivalry is dead, and we don't think that women on the receiving end of it are less feminist, but we do think some of the rules of etiquette need to be revamped to reflect the shifts in gender roles. The misconception is that, deep down, all women want a bad boy. Untrue: We just don't want someone who kisses our asses or behaves like a doormat. But that doesn't mean that manners should be thrown out the window. We know it seems like we want it both ways: equality and courtesy. But why must the two be mutually exclusive? Besides, shouldn't there be a few trade offs, or benefits, for the crap we have to put up with as women? We've come up with an updated list of rules of the new chivalry for the modern man…and woma

1.) Give her your seat. Not because she's a woman, but because her shoes hurt more than yours. Like really a lot more.

2.) Get in the cab first. This is something that men just don't get. They try to be polite and open the cab door for a woman to get in, and then the woman has to slide over—usually in a skirt—holding her bag, and it's all awkward and shit, and she kinda slides off the seat of her coat and then the back of her coat is like shifted and kinda next to her, and then there's all his readjusting that needs to happen. Just get in the cab first, ferchristsakes.

3.) Pick up the check. We'll pretend to offer and you'll pretend the offer was real. We honestly don't mind putting our pride to the side when it comes to this.

4.) Wipe the cum off her first before you wipe it off yourself. There's seriously nothing ruder than blowing a big wad all over a girl and then cleaning off your dick first before you go get her a towel or some tissues. Extra points for not getting any cum in her hair.

5.) Offer to do everything for her when her nails are wet. It sucks when a woman pays good money to get a manicure and then she has to get something out of her purse when her nails are still tacky. Help her out by lighting her cigarette, opening her can of soda, or wiping after she pees.

17 novembro 2008

Must Know: Dune (and vive la France III)

because unfortunately it cannot be a Must See :(

Alejandro Jodorowsky planned for a Dune movie featuring Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, Alain Delon, Geraldine Chaplin, Gloria Swanson and David Carradine.

Collaborations by Moebius and H.R. Giger!

Score by Pink Floyd! :)

all about it in Dune Info, translated from this French magazine of science fiction and horror comics. Vive la France ;)

Is my cat plotting to kill me?

(among many of the examples:)

Is your cat plotting to kill you?

From HeyQuiz, where you can find many other hilarious quizzes

12 novembro 2008

Vive la France II: Clocky

Vous aviez du mal à vous lever le matin? ...
Avec Clocky® , c'est fini !

Clocky® est un petit réveil motorisé et très efficace dont vous ne pourrez plus vous passer. Lorsqu'il sonne, il s'enfuit pour vous faire sortir du lit.

Clocky® est un réveil à l'allure moitié spatiale, moitié animale et lorsqu'il prend vie, il sonne, il saute de votre table de chevet (60 cm de hauteur maximum) et roule dans toutes les directions dans votre chambre pendant 30 secondes, tout en diffusant sa sonnerie stridente qui ressemble à un mélange de bips réguliers et de langage R2D2 (Star Wars).
Aucun obstacle ne résiste à Clocky®, s'il rencontre un meuble, il tourne et se dirige vers une autre direction.
Il terminera sa course un peu folle dans un endroit bien caché, vous obligeant à sortir de votre lit douillet pour l'éteindre (si vous le trouvez !).

Finies les pannes d'oreiller et l'excuse du "réveil" à votre professeur ou votre patron : la vie appartient à ceux qui se lèvent tôt !

A vida pertence àqueles que se levantam cedo!
Então 'tá bem, mesmo que o nome da geringonça seja cámone ;)

11 novembro 2008

Vive la France I

Food for Thought from Chocolate & Zucchini: the Edible Idiom gives us

Couper la Poire en Deux

«It means, literally, "cutting the pear in two," or reaching a compromise: if two people want the same pear, halving it is the most equitable way to settle the dispute.

For example: "Nos deux familles voulaient nous avoir à Noël, donc on a coupé la poire en deux : on va chez ses parents le 24, et chez les miens le 25." ("Both our families wanted us to come over for Christmas, so we cut the pear in two: we'll spend Christmas Eve at his parents', and Christmas Day at mine.").»

Post trilingue, já que a imagem é bem portuguesa ;)