Saturday, April 19, 2014

Big Time Sensuality.

Updates from Rwanda, Part 2

Dear reader:

Maramutse! Good morning!

Kigali smells amazing.

It was actually the first thing I noticed when I hit tarmac. I stepped off the plane, took a breath, and thought, "Wow. This is new."

It rained all day the day I flew in, so the entire city has that wet world smell. Since I live in the Pacific Northwest, it's a smell I love. There's something about that way rain changed the world that I will never stop loving. To the eye, it washes things clean of dirt and grit so everything sparkles and seems new. But for those of us who tend to encounter the world nose first, it does something even more magical. When the rain falls, it mixes with oils on leaves, resin on bark, dried juices on fruit flesh, pollen in flowers, and it brings them to life. Like turning a television, not from black and white exactly, but maybe a washed out pastel, to vibrant four color, it turns the olfactory sound of the would up to eleven.

Rain-kissed Kigali, on first brush, smells…in a word? Tropical. It is fruity and floral. Bananas and guava and passionfruit trees grow everywhere, and the scent and taste of fruit flesh straight from the yard makes for one delicious early morning snack. I haven't figured out what the floral notes are yet, but its not one of your big traditionals -- not roses, lilies, or irises, or even magnolias and gardenias which is what I associate with the tropical wetlands of the American South. Underneath there are ripe green notes that give the air a feeling of rich, pungent….life. Ripe, rich, possibility just seems to drip from every leaf and stem. Being here, I can see where some of the notes for Hermes Un Jardin Sur Le Nil came from. It has a sensuality to it that is hard to ignore.

Everything seems very alive. For a country currently in mourning for the mass genocide that occurred here twenty years ago this year, a country where they are still finding the bodies of those who were massacred, it must seem cruel, sometimes, to live in a place that is teeming with life and overshadowed, at times, by death and ruin.

Ashley, the lovely woman who brought me here, and her friend Bree were surprised and amused by my love for the smell of the air. They seem to be used to it. Perhaps after a few days here, I'll stop noticing, too. I hope not. There's something about the smell of the world newly encountered that I would like to hang onto for a little while.

Now I'm off to an ex-Pat Easter Saturday brunch. For those of you wondering, I'm wearing Le Labo Iris 39.

More soon!

I can sense it:
something important
is about to happen.
It's coming up.

It takes courage to enjoy it,
the hardcore and the gentle.
Big time sensuality.

We just met 
and I know i'm a bit too intimate,
but something huge is coming up
and we're both included.

It takes courage to enjoy it,
the hardcore and the gentle.
Big time sensuality.

I don't know my future after this weekend --
and I don't want to.

It takes courage to enjoy it,
the hardcore and the gentle.
Big time sensuality.
~ "Big Time Sensuality," Bjork

Friday, April 18, 2014

These Fictional People I Have Known

Updates from Rwanda, Part 1


I'm on the plane.

The plane.

To Africa.

Okay, technically, I'm on the plane to Amsterdam, which will land and I will walk over to another gate and a few hours later get on another plane, and then I'll be on the plane to Africa. We've already passed Spokane, and they just announced: nine hours and fifteen minutes to Amsterdam.

I'm watching "August: Osage County" on the plane, which is about the least Africa appropriate choice on the available list of options. FN1. It is, however, perfectly Diana appropriate. Not only is it a southern-tinged interpersonal drama, which is always up my alley, on top of that, the film opened with a quote from T.S. Eliot, who may be my favorite poet. If that doesn't scream Diana, I don't know what does. Already I have laughed with the gallows affection and pain of familiarity four or five times and I'm only fifteen minutes in. Every single line is something someone in my family or our neighbors growing up could have said, and might still say, if any of them were still alive.

"At least one of my girls stayed close to home. In my day, families stayed together."

It's funny how much more real that thought becomes as you get older. None of us get another chance at any of this: to be happy, to have adventure, to love and be loved. As risk averse as I am, it's that thought driving me forward: toward change, toward danger, toward life. I don't want to look back and wonder why I waited, why I wanted, why I was afraid.

And that, dear reader, is why I am going to Africa. Because I can sit on this plane and watch this movie about these fictional people I have known all my life and see them living their pain, pain that is all too familiar, right here on this tiny screen. Or I can stay home, stay safe, and be one of them. I can live a quiet life. A well-kept, well-ordered, predictable life. A life that makes everybody happy and comfortable...but me.

Or I can do something different.

"This madhouse is my home."
"Think about that statement for a second."

About a month ago, I went to New Orleans with one of my best friends, frequent Feminine Things. featured player, the Kate. And something happened to me over that weekend.

Maybe it was because I am thirty-six now, and I remember my own momma when she was even younger than me, being one of the most miserable people I have ever known. FN2. Maybe it's because I know my daddy died at fifty-two, and that feels scarily closer to me now than the misty and watercolored days of youth do these days. Maybe it's because my grandmother beat it into me that she wanted me to live a life she wanted and set me on this path before she died, also far too young...

...but when you really think about it, who doesn't?
Anyway, something happened to me in New Orleans. Some part of me...unspooled. I think it's been happening for a little over a year, starting right about the time I decided to quit law for good and do whatever it took to start enjoying my life. By the time I got to my birthday in New Orleans, I think the last of whatever it was that I've been hanging onto, whatever it is that's been holding me back, just fell away.

I drank like I never have. I danced in the street. I ate good food, and lots of it. I bought all the prettiest perfumes I could find: magnolias and honeysuckles, leathers and mosses, and I have been wearing them ever since. And when the little old Irish men paraded by asking for a kiss on the cheek, I kissed them twice and took their roses and and then I took some more.

While I was there, I just…woke up. I was happy. I was alive. It's like I was under some terrible spell I hadn't even known had been cast, and something about the briny Gulf air and dark roux and sweet rum and loud music woke me up inside.

I don't wanna go back to sleep any more.

"Well, genocide always seems like such a good idea at the time."

So here I am on my first plane, which will land in Amsterdam, technically, tomorrow morning. My grandmother never got to go to Europe. My Pawpaw did, for the war, but they never went back. I don't think he ever wanted to. That's usually how these things go a in life. Men go; women stay home, or if they're lucky, like when my grandmother was when my Pawpaw got stationed in Guam, they get taken along for the ride. But they don't just go -- not by themselves, not alone, not out into that great wide unknown. Chalk it up to traditional child rearing roles or women having less personal wealth or some sort of cultural impetus that makes one thing that this is the way of the world, but women don't go.

I am not going to be one of those women.

I am going to Africa, and I am going right now, right as I write you these words. I am going to see someone like me: someone brave and amazing, a woman I love and adore, who has moved to Rwanda alone, just her and the cat and the dog. And next year, with a little planning and luck, I am going to go see another woman I love in England, and with her I will finally get to go to Paris and visit Grasse, which I think is what perfume people think heaven must be like.

"Thank God we can't tell the future. We'd never get out of bed."

I am going to Africa, where the women I come from, like my grandmother, have never been. And I will laugh. And I will drink. And I will dance. And I will live for my grandmother and every woman before her and hope that she would be proud of me, even as I fail. Even when I fall. I am going to see gorillas and walk through trees and help navigate as Ashley drives us across the country.

I am going to Rwanda. I wonder if my grandmother would have liked it. Knowing her, she would have complained it wasn't enough like home. But I like to think that whatever part of her lives on in me is going to have a good time just the same. And in the end, that's the best gift you can give anyone you have loved and lost. You can take them with you and give that little part of them the chance to keep right on living with every breath you take.

"Listen to me. Die after me, alright? I don't care what else you do, where you go, how you screw up your life. Just... Survive. Please."

I may not get everything right in my life. I may die still heavily in debt. I may never be notable or accomplished in my professional life. I may never have a family. Those are all things I may not be able to control.

But if that's the way things are going to go, I say let it. Let me die young. Let me die penniless. Let me die alone. Only let me live first. Let me laugh and dance and sing without fear or caring about how I look to other people. Let me feel something, anything, for as long as I am able.

Then when that inevitable day comes, at least I will be able to look at it and say, to paraphrase Connie Willis:

"Death. Now that would be an awfully big adventure."

FN1. For the record, it was this, "Frozen," or "Philomena" based on my tastes. I think I choose well.

FN2. I am only just realizing as I write you these words that she was thirty-six when she left us. That's new information for me, consciously at least. I wonder if I've been unconsciously thinking for a while.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

In which Diana goes to Rwanda...

Dear reader:

I'm going to tell you a story. 

One of the worst days of my life was the day Luvine Martin Wiener died.  Though it's been over a decade, I can still remember every terrible moment of the day I put my grandmother in that soggy, tar choked earth.  It was early July.  I remember because I had my first starring role in a musical opening the week of the Fourth and she was going to come see me.  

Then she wasn't.  

So it was July, early July, high summer in Texas. I had to drive a long way to get to the graveside service, which was held in Batson Prairie. Batson Prairie has got to be the most godawful boring places in the world. Part of the reason is, much like the contested land between Israel and Palestine, Batson Prairie is a place that doesn't exist, really.  The closest you can even get in terms of geographic acknowledgement is Batson. 

Batson, Texas is an unincorporated community located on State Highway 105 in southwestern Hardin County. The entire sum total of Batson's history can be found on Wikipedia in no more than four lines: 
This community was originally settled by the Batson family sometime before 1840. In October 1903, an oilfield was discovered to the north of the town, and soon after the population would boom to about 10,000 residents. The oil production would decrease by the mid-1920s, resulting in the population decline to about 600. In March 1935, another oil discovery would boost the population slightly, but over the next several decades, would decline again.
This is a place that only ever existed for the exclusive purpose of pulling crude out of the ground.  Even in the best of times, it was a hard scramble place, one where, in the good years, kids got a pair of shoes for Christmas, and in the bad ones, a single piece of fruit.  I know, because my grandmother told me once, how they got oranges in her stocking one year and how special it was.

This is where my grandmother is buried.

She grew up in the neighboring town of Saratoga, Texas. Once known as New Sour Lake, the town was renamed in a failed attempt to draw tourists to the hot springs of East Texas by echoing the name of the famous New York resort.  Saratoga, was -- if you can even imagine it -- even smaller than Batson, where the population fluctuated from 1000 in 1925 down to 350 in the early 1950s.  

This is a notable period because my grandmother was born in 1927 and lived there until 1945. In a world of small town girls, she was a tall strikingly beautiful girl in a town made for Thumbelina's smaller sisters.  Then she moved to Houston, married my grandfather, and before too long found herself living in Guam while my grandfather was stationed there during Korea. She flew on planes. She sailed on military ships. She lived on a tropical island and worked in the secretarial pool.  For a woman from no where, this must have been quite an adventure.

I've been thinking about her a lot lately, about how it must have been to go to Guam and live there on the base with my grandfather.  I think about how strange and exotic it must have seemed, both to her and the people back home she sent postcards to.  I've been thinking about how much she must have seen in comparison to the kids she grew up with, how her life must have taken her farther than she'd imagined as a girl, to places more remote and strange than she couldn't have envisioned.

I've been thinking about this because in nineteen days, I am getting on a plane to Africa. 

Through the generosity of a close friend, I have been given an almost free trip (airfare, housing) to Kigali, Rwanda.  This trip will include a volcano safari to see the gorillas in the mist.

I will get there flying through Amsterdam, where I have a few days to spend on my way home with a coworker to see a little bit of The Netherlands.  I will be gone for almost a month, some of it as a working vacation.  Thanks to my terrific employer, I have the ability to leave for this incredibly long amount of time and still keep my job.  Not only are they allowing me to go, they're excited for me, which is a testament to the wonderful people I work with and how much my life has improved with my new circumstance.  

Until now, my travel abroad experience has consisted of a single day spent in Victoria, British Columbia.  As it stands today, I don't even have a stamp in my passport.

But in a few short weeks, all of that will change.  I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous, but I'm more excited than anything else.  All my life, I've wanted adventure.  If this doesn't qualify, I don't know what does.

So if I'm a little absentee over the next few weeks, dear reader, I apologize.  I have a lot of ducks to get in a row before I leave, but I promise, there will be updates aplenty, and some of them will even be perfume related.  Because this is part working vacation, you can even expect some updates from Kigali in May.  

So stick with me while I'm away, will you?  We're about to have a wild ride.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Today is my birthday, and I'm riding high...

Today is, in fact, my birthday as the post title says.

Happy birthday to me.

So far I have watched youtube videos, ordered some makeup, watched the birds ans squirrels fight over the feeders in the backyard, ate a fancy French brunch with el Hubs, and now I'm watching vampire TV (The Vampire Diaries, The Originals) while I write to you.

Three days and counting...
The last couple of weeks have been busy, but next week I get a bit of a break. On Wednesday I'm heading to New Orleans for a five day birthday trip. I'll be meeting up with my best gal pal, the lovely and legendary Kate, whose birthday is a mere six days before mine. When we planned our trip, we both managed to miss the fact that we were planning to hit the Big Easy right in the middle of their St. Patrick's Day festivities, but we've decided to embrace the chaos in the spirit of Laissez les bons temps rouler!

This week was the annual Lewis & Clark Gender Symposium, and yes, I presented again. This year I did a panel with some lovely friends – YA author and alumna Marni Bates, teen library extraordinaire and alumna Lauren Furnish, and YA/NA author Lisa Burstein – on media bias against women – both authors and as a protagonists – in Young Adult literature. Our session wasn't the panel I was most excited about, though. I was most excited for a presentation by Magical Girl Makeup. MGM is a senior at Lewis & Clark and did an interesting presentation related to her senior anthropology thesis, which on make-up culture on youtube.

birthday girl...
I've been getting into make-up and Youtube lately, but only as a spectator. I was looking forward to the presentation because I was excited to hear what a feminist who was not only consuming the media but also creating it would have to say about it. MGM had some interesting things to say about the subversion of the male gaze by creating a space and community where performances are not for the male gaze, but created for the individual YouTuber and their fans, who they imagine to be much like themselves. Through an emphasis on things like “my perfect imperfection” and a willingness to openly discuss bad skin, acne, and other less than desirable physical attributes, these spaces cut against the perfect image that is demanded by the performative nature of the male gaze. Further, the emphasis on using makeup to make oneself feel good seems to be the focus of the videos, rather than making one acceptable to someone else.

On the whole it was a really engaging presentation and something I got a lot out of. I know we're supposed to be talking perfume, but if you're interested in make-up YouTube culture or want to watch a budding MUA feminist talk lipsticks and eye shadows, check out MGM's videos. She's not going for a traditional makeup look, but rather a magical one (e.g. glitter, sparkles, lots of bright colors), which I enjoy.  It's like watching a real live, sometimes slightly vulgar fairy do make-up.

My log does not judge...
A for perfume for my birthday, I rode into my thirty-sixth year wearing Jo Malone Sweet Lime and Cedar. I picked it, I think, because David got me a cedar bird feeder and a lo shaped pillow for my birthday that looks like The Log Lady's log in Twin Peaks, so I was feeling a little woodsy I guess.

I'll be back with a review this week, and maybe a post on hitting up some perfume shops in New Orleans, which is on my list of things to do.

Until then, I guess I'll continue on with my birthday. My roommates got me a birthday pie, and I think I might be able to manage a slice.

Til next time, happy sniffing.

I'm little, but I'm coming for the crown.
I'm little, but I’m coming for you.
(Chase paper, get it)
I'm little but I’m coming for the title
held by everyone who’s up...
All work and no play never made me lose it.
All business all day keeps me up a level.
All work and no play keeps me on the new shit, yeah...
All work and no play; let me count the bruises.
All business all day keeps me up a level.
All work and no play lonely on the new shit, yeah, yeah...
Only bad people live to see their likeness set in stone.
What does that make me?
~ “Still Sane,” Lorde

Monday, February 17, 2014

I'll be a thorn in your side till you die.

Review of Naomi Goodsir Bois d'Ascese

I know, I know. I'm back! Again! Two weeks in a row!

You're so excited.

You just can't hide it.

You're about to… a blog post.  It's a blog post, Diana.  It is not the beginning of a full-tilt musical number, no matter what a lifetime of Grease sing-a-longs and special musical episodes of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Psych might otherwise lead you to believe.


A girl can dream, can't she?

Let's talk about things that cause me to dream a little, shall we? This EW cover right here is a dream come true.  I have been a huge fan of Veronica Mars for a very long time and this movie is something I have literally dreamed of. FN1.

The Veronica Mars pre-sale movie tickets go on sale today so get thee to an online vendor and buy yours now!  I would love it if VM ended up having one of the biggest opening weekends at the box office this year so far.  It would not only lend credence to the idea that Networks should listen more to fans and critics when they say a show is too good to cancel, but also will support more fan driven reboots negotiations.  FN2.

You know why I am such a hardcore VM fan?  Yes, it is in part because Veronica Mars might be the most feminist show I've seen on television in the last ten or so years, possibly ever.  It's also in part because it is a terrific neo-noir, which is the modernization of my favorite of all story-telling genres.

But for me a lot of it has to do with the impossible, difficult, somewhat insane romance between our beloved marshmallow Veronica Mars and the deeply damaged obligatory psychopath Logan Echolls.

Their on-again-off-again romance is something you don't see coming until it's happening to them, and to you, the viewer.  They are these terribly angry, terribly hurt, terribly sad people who manage to show each other protection and kindness despite every reason not to, and that kindness is enough to break through.   While I was never like that - never hard or resistant to love, more inclined to race toward the cliff with both arms flung wide like I couldn't possibly hit the ground, no matter how many times I fell -- I love the idea that two people can accidentally fall into each other, through one another's walls, and unexpectedly change each other's lives forever.

Finding a new perfume you love is sometimes like that.  You're going along, ho hum, boring floral here, repetitive aquatic there, and then something comes along that surprises you. That's what happened when I tried Naomi Goodsir Bois d'Ascese.

Naomi Goodsir Bois d'Ascese is described by Luckyscent as: 
A meditative swirl of serene incense, intensified by smoked wood. At first, this brings to mind a stark, secluded chapel and a life of plain and simple pleasures. But as it develops, notes of whiskey, tobacco and cinnamon begin to shimmer through the incense, and you start to think that perhaps these pleasures won’t be quite so plain, after all. If you have ever enjoyed a fine Islay Scotch whiskey, such as Lagavulin or Laphroaig, you are familiar with the way the intricacies of smoke and moss add a complicated and enigmatic appeal – harsh and medicinal one moment, mesmerizing the next. The layers of smoked cade wood, oakmoss and whiskey have a similar effect here, as bracing jolts of smoke morph into the airy tranquility of incense, keeping us endlessly intrigued and hopelessly addicted. A starkly elegant fragrance that puts us in a trance.  
Notes: tobacco, whiskey, cinnamon, amber, cistus labdanum, oakmoss, smoked cade wood, Somalian incense
On my skin Naomi Goodsir Bois d'Ascese brushes on as lemon softness that fades almost immediately into polished woods, aging paper, and a gentle incense blend that reminds me, not of church, but of a grand and incredibly old library.  Not a stuffy library, nothing so drab or dreary, but instead something that holds secrets and magic, untold mystery and journeys beyond imagination, the library at Hogwarts, for example, or perhaps the lost library of Alexandria.  A voluminous room with high ceilings full of softly glowing golden light, a space filled with the hushing sound of turning pages and the smell of aging scrolls, pages yellowing to a thin and fragile thing both brittle and luminescent in it opacity. And last, but certainly not least, that slightly burnt smell of tallow and wax sealed pages and a gentle kind of incense that clings to one's clothes after departure, something that hints at the intrigue held in those great and strange tomes.

I love the smell of it against my skin - the way it is secretive and somehow warm and cool at the same time.  It's a lovely scent, and in my opinion, in no way exclusively masculine, thought it appears intended as such.  I think it's a beautiful scent.  I feel lucky it found its way into my life.

Naomi Goodsir Bois d'Ascèse is available in 50ml for $150.00.

"I'll be a thorn in your side 
for always.
If we sink, 
we lift our love."
~ "We Sink," Chvrches

Want more? Try...
~ a review from Kevin at Now Smell This!
~ a review from Kafkaesque
~ a review from Sorcery of Scent
~ a review from The Scentualist
~ a review from I Smell Therefore I Am
~ a review from Notable Scents

FN1. Also, Jason Dohring, more times than I can admit without embarrassment. He has actually gotten hotter with age. How is that possible? How!?! Look at those arms? And the smolder? I think he has gotten BETTER at the smolder, and I didn't think that was humanly possible.

Now if you'll just excuse me…I think…I think I need a moment. *fans self*

FN2. It will also help lessen my personal sorrow at the low box office numbers for Vampire Academy, which I saw on its Friday opening and thought was terrific. More on that in a separate post, though.