Saturday, July 28, 2012

Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn...

On moving, the Aurora, Colorado shooting, and DSH Perfumes Vanille Botanique

Dear reader:

This is a three-part post. It is long. (What can I say? I missed you!)  Feel free to skip ahead to the perfume if you want. Everyone else, hang on, and remember: keep your arms and legs inside the car at all time. <g>

Part One: On Moving.

That's great! It starts with an earth quake, birds and snakes and airplanes. Lenny Bruce is not afraid.
~ "It's The End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," R.E.M.

My old original LC mail box!
Goodbye forever!
Rejoice and glad tidings, for I have a place to live! For those of you who know nothing about the Portland real estate market, let me tell you a harrowing tale of a town where young people come to retire, no one wants to buy, and the rental market is a brutal, awful place. Luckily, David and I found a lovely house with a week to spare. We have to be off campus on August 1, so we are in the midst of a massive move. Like everything else in the new economy, we found the house through friends, and we are living with friends because (1) he's starting school so we could use the rental discount, and (2) after being in a fishbowl, we would probably die if suddenly we were locked in a room with just each other day in, day out after a decade of constant visits from friends. We need some transition time.

We are moving into a lovely one and a half story. We have a deck. We have fruit trees (green apple, plum). We have a fireplace, dishwasher, and a clothes washer/dryer of our own. There are flowerbeds for me to plant and walls for me to decorate and at the holidays, I can actually put up decorations people can see. I will finally be able to get a welcome mat.

Moving is tiring...
Group house or not, I feel awfully grown-up all the sudden. FN1. It's not quite how I imagined my life as a kid. I mean, I remember my parents when they were my age, and I am still a lot less 'grown-up' than they were at the time. But I'm a lot happier and my life is full of good friends and laughter and love, so as far as I'm concerned, I ended up in a much better place than the place I thought I wanted to be.

Hmmmm. I believe there's an Amanda Palmer song in there somewhere. FN2. That's appropriate, since I saw her last weekend. It was a small venue show to raise money Literacy Bridge, an organization that provides a "talking book" to help spread educational programming in Africa (best practices for pre/post-natal care, subsistence farming, etc.). The whole thing was terrific, especially the cause involved. The tickets were a belated birthday present from El Hubs, and it was a great night/gift and our local friends, The Doubleclicks, were the opener.

Part Two: On The Aurora, Colorado shooting.

"Sometimes I feel like I can't even sing. I'm very scared for this world."
~ "You are Everything," R.E.M.

Before I get to the perfume in this post (and yes, I'll eventually get there), I wanted to say a few words about the Aurora, Colorado shootings. I bring this up in part because Amanda talked about it a lot at the show, and also because I'd be thinking about it regardless.

Depending on how you count, this is the fifth, sixth, or hundred and twelfth mass shooting since Columbine. FN3. FN4. I know we spend a lot of time on the "why?," but if we are trying to figure out what makes someone crazy and destructive, while that question is worth exploring, it is probably besides the point. There have always been and will always be crazy people, destructive people, people who are not satisfied with killing themselves and want to take others with them. Why would they hurt others and/or hurt themselves? There are socio-cultural debates about the state of mental health care, hopelessness and disconnection in the digital millennium, and the fetishization of violence that we could talk about for hours. Me? I just keep hearing, "I Don't Like Mondays" in my head. Stupid, but true.

Ukuleles save lives!
We keep asking these questions because we all want answers. We want a solution, something that makes us feel safer and helps the world make a little more sense. We want to feel like there is something we can do, actively do, that gives us back our power over the insanity of the world. I get that, too. I feel it as much as the next person.

The question is: what concrete thing can you and I do to make a difference?

When you sit and ask yourself, "Why is this happening so much now? Why is the impact so much larger now than when people went crazy in the past?", I think we all have to own the fact that the proliferation of guns, specifically automatic and semi-automatic guns, is 80% of the answer. I'm not saying someone can't do a lot of damage without one six round revolver, but if you want to know why the number of injured and dead keeps going up and up, I think we all see this is a huge part of the problem.

Now, I am not anti-gun. Yes, you read that right. Not against personal gun ownership. Given my general leftie swerve, this probably surprises many of you. Part of it is my upbringing, as I was raised in a world where every man I knew was a cop, or in the military or a sport hunter or a combination thereof. In my mind, it felt like gun ownership was something that came with adulthood, like getting a driver's license or drinking alcohol. Grown-ups had guns. All of them. FN5. My house came replete with a plethora of guns, including an AR-15, one other guns we know was used in Aurora.

This assault rifle, which had *no business* in my suburban home for a lot of reasons, was used throughout most of my life to prop up a fan next to my parents bed so the fan blew directly on my father while he slept. "Be careful getting out of bed on that side," they'd tell John and I, "there's a gun over there." John and I were raised with what I believe was a healthy if somewhat non-specific fear of guns, taught to think of them with the same kind of fear one treats a poisonous snake; it lives over there, stay away and don't even come close to it, it could kill you if you touch it.

The result of this upbringing is: I know how to shoot a gun. I do not own or carry one, but if I felt compelled to, I'd be fine with it. David doesn't have a gun, but it would not have been a barrier to our relationship if he had. Having a gun in a home doesn't scare me or worry me; I just don't really see the reason to have one. I don't need it for work, like most of the people I grew up with, and I'm not interested in sport hunting, like the rest of the people I grew up with, because I have other hobbies. In my mind, a gun is a tool for a specific purpose, and since my life does not contain such a purpose, it doesn't contain a gun. If that were to change, I'd be fine with it.

So when I tell you that the solution is the complete ban on the sale of some weapons to the general population, I need you to understand that it has nothing to do with me hating guns or wanting to take your guns. When I tell you that background checks and gun control laws and waiting periods are the key to a better world, it is not because I am some knee-jerk reactionary hater when it comes to guns. I just generally believe that it should not be easier for me to go buy a gun than it is to buy Sudafed. I believe those who have a documentable propensity toward violence or mental instability do not need 24/7 immediate access to fast-firing, high volume weaponry.

This doesn't seem like a political issue to me. It seems like common sense. It has become a political issue because gun manufacturers have a lot of money and they know how and where to spend it. We have ways to fight them, though. It's our vote. Politicians don't like being laid off any more than the next person. If you believe in gun control, tell you elected representatives that this issue matters to you and will be an issue you follow when it comes to their donations and voting record. You can find out who your reps are here (Fed and State), and check their voting records on any issue here (Fed) and get their record as it relates to gun control (and any other issue) through their organization report cards here. Your voice does matter, and let's face it: all the money in the world can't save a politician we choose not to vote for.

Though I don't think Jim Morrison meant it quite this way, I am reminded in this moment: "They've got the guns but we've got the numbers." Or, to put it another way, "I believe in peace, bitch." Thanks, Tori Amos. You always know how to say what I'm feeling with a twisted flair.

We need more gun control. More guns will not result in less violence. And for anyone who thinks armed civilians in the theatre could have stopped this incident, I will only note the following: 1. the theater had a sign up telling gun owners to leave their weapons in their cars, so any law abiding citizen would have been unarmed anyway; (2) two members of the military were shot and killed in the incident. All the training in the world, including how to avoid live fire, isn't going to save you in a crowded, smokey stampede; (3) even the best trained people will struggle with a surprise attack requiring a response that includes accurate shooting in a moving crowd in a smoke filled room. More guns would have meant more people shot. Again, we're not talking about rocket science. This isn't a movie; it's real life. Common sense says more shooters, no matter how well trained, experienced, and/or armed they were, would have meant more wounded, more dead.

The answer isn't more guns. It's fewer guns.

Well, that was decidedly non-perfumey, wasn't it? So let's talk about what I'm wearing right now.

Part Three: A Review of DSH Perfumes Vanille Botanique, aka "Dear gods in the ether, where have you been all my life?"

The world is collapsing around our ears. I turned up the radio but I can't hear it..."
~ "Radio Song," R.E.M.

As we make our move today, I am currently sporting Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's Vanille Botanique, a 100% botanical designed for Indiescents. DSH Perfumes describes it as:
Vanille Botanique is a luscious, balsamic vanilla in the classical style. A soft jasmine heart and bergamot top note balance and round out the bouquet. Such deliciousness! 
Top notes: Bergamot, Lemon, Rosewood (bois de rose)
Middle notes: Bulgarian Rose Absolute, French Beeswax, Grandiflorum Jasmine
Base notes: Australian Sandalwood, Buddahwood, Civet, Labdanum, Peru Balsam, Siam Benzoin, Tahitian Vanilla, Tolu Balsam, Vanilla Absolute
Indiescents' description adds the following: "Rich, decadent vintage style vanilla perfume; all botanical. Subtle citrus in the top, warm, sensuous florals mixed with rich gourmand notes in the heart and luxurious base of balsams, resins and of course vanilla."

So now we have the perfumer's description, some notes, and some ad copy, let's talk vanilla perfume for a second, shall we? Lots of houses make vanilla perfume. It's, ummmmm, how do I say this....abundant almost to the point of being unwieldy. People love the way baked goods and old books and sweet cocktails smell, and every tom, dick, and bath and body place in the mall will tell you that this or that vanilla is a well-paced selling standard for them. I think most fragrance and flavor companies would bear me out when I tell you that vanilla/vanillin, real or synthetic, is a primary note available in abundance.

Because of that, it's a crowded field out there -- good, bad, and ugly. So I'll tell you right now that are already a number of good vanillas to be had. My personal favs are, in no particular order: Annick Goutal Vanille Exquise, Atelier Cologne Vanille Incenseé, Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille, L'Artisan Vanilia. I am happy to report Dawn Spencer Hurwitz has once again found a way to seperate me from my hard earned dough with Vanille Botanique, which will round out my All-Time, Top Five Des(se)rt Island vanilla scents. Releasing at Number Five, with a bullet.

Why am I so quick to proclaims its supremacy? In keeping with the theme, here are my top five reasons.

1. Vanille Botanique is so warm! Vanille Botanique is almost a hot scent on my skin. It works the way I'd expect a hot pepper taste to translate into perfume. It rises in smexy wafts from my arm in a way that is decidedly unfoodie. I bet it's the civet in the base that's making me feel all ha-cha-cha about it, but about a half hour in -- wow, do I want to have sex wearing this perfume. (There, I said it). It smells the way I'd write a scene with people licking vanilla frosting off each other. I know, I know. You're taken aback by my frank dirtiness, but there it is. What can I say? I learned it by reading you, Chandler Burr.

Spray sample from Indiescents.
2. Vanille Botanique is strong. I mean this in a good way. Not like, "Hi, I'm here to knock you down with my perfume," but more, "Who was that masked woman leaving a terrific scent wake behind her!?!" When it comes to Vanille Botanique, a little dab (or spray) will do you; the scent keeps blooming. Vanille Botanique is a scent that will love you for a long time (seriously, why am I being so dirty!?!), and for me that makes the price point totally worth it. I'll buy a bottle and it will last me forever. FN6.

3. In no way does Vanille Botanique smell fake. There are so many vanillas out there that smell like cleaner, or bathroom spray, or cheap candle, or floor wax. This is definitively not one of them. It smells beautifully natural, and if you were trying to sell me on the differences/purposes/superiority of pure botanicals, this would be a good scent to point to.

4. Vanille  Botanique is vanilla, yes, but so much more. It's not foodie. I can't believe it is so strongly vanilla and I do not get food at all. No candy, no cocktail, no baked goods. It's -- dare I say it? -- floral, but without being very green, like L'Artisan Vanilia is. The opening is lemons and roses and vanilla bean pod skins, not something to put into food and drink. It is more something I'd expect to get from a beautiful floral centerpiece. The middle is dry and light, without being angular and open like Vanille Incenseé. Some aspects as almost...I don't want to say soapy because it has potentially negative connotations, but yes, soapy. This is not the vanilla of your local bakery or your mom's kitchen, and even if you think it is, I challenge you to smell deeper, because there is simply something more about Vanille Botanique.

5. Vanille Botanique is the vanilla you've been searching for. If you're one of those people who always tries a vanilla, especially ones that get continually high praise, and think, "This is close to what I want, but not exactly what I was looking for," I bet this is your huckleberry. It is just so damned beautiful that I keep thinking, "How did I not know I wanted this?" But that's the truth. As someone who loves vanillas and tries them at all price points and in lots of forms, I didn't even know vanilla could smell like this -- dirty and hot and sexy, of earth and sweat and skin and very much alive. Perfume is amazing that way, isn't it?  You think you know what there is to know about a thing and then, bam! A whole new world opens up.

Bottom line? Get some DSH Perfumes Vanille Botanique. It's terrific.

Five Nods. No question.

Vanille Botanique sells from Indiescents at 30ml for $130.00. You can also get samples there. You can also go straight to DSH Perfumes, where the scent is available as a body wash, shea butter body cream, body lotion, massage oil, a water-based spray concentrate, and in a couple of EdP sizes.

Want more? Try....
~ a review from Perfume Pharmer
~ a review from *jen at This Blog Really Stinks!
~ a review from CaFleureBon
~ a review from Victoria at EauMG
~ a review from Trish Vawter in The Perfume Magazine

F1. Also all our roommates are 26 or older, so this isn't your typical college-aged group house.

FN2. Video of said song...

FN3. I seriously do not understand how people can remember Columbine, Virgina Tech, Congresswoman Giffords, and Batman, but somehow forget that time a woman-hating lunatic used three guns to shoot up an LA Fitness in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I think it is because only three people died and nine were wounded, because otherwise it was an equally terrifying attack on a benign public location where people generally do not expect to be attacked and believe they are safe. Also, the shooter killed himself, so there was no meal of a trial for the 24-hour news cycle to feed on. But seriously? Dude killed several women and would have killed several more because 1. he was crazy, and 2. he couldn't get laid. (No, really. That's the reason. He said so in videos and letters.) In my mind, this is also a huge tragedy.

FN4. The cynical feminist in me requires I also tell you that part of me believes the reason no one cares about this shooting was because it was a clear example of misogyny, and no one in America cares about that, because our society is perfectly fine with hatred and violence against women, even when it costs women their lives. She needs to say that, just for the record.

FN5. Don't ask me how it escaped my attention that few women I knew had guns. They all knew how to shoot them and had access to them in their homes, so I guess I always felt like they 'had guns' in the same way that two people sharing a car both 'have a car.'

FN6. Incidentally, I will say that I find this almost universally true with my DSH perfumes. They have great longevity and good sillage and I have never regretted a single purchase, which is impressive since I went nuts during the site redesign sale and now have about 12 different scents in roller form.

All photos were taken by me. The video belongs to Amanda Palmer.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Love Letter to the Perfume Community

Dear reader:

A few days ago, I got the loveliest email from a complete stranger. Someone who reads this blog saw that I was having a hard time and reached out to me, just to say, "You don't know me, but I see you. I'm here. I care. You matter."

I cannot tell you, dear reader, how much it meant to me, how much you mean to me. Life is so hard sometimes, so fragile and unclear and confusing, and self-doubt has got to be one of the most opportunistic predators ever conceived. But there is so much to love about life, any life, even my currently dissatisfying life, that I have to tell you how much I appreciate that you all come back here and read me.

I know a lot of dark things happen in the recessed corners of this series of tubes, but good, glorious things happen there, too. Years ago, when I was back on livejournal, I read and was read by a lovely woman who lived somewhere among the Atlantic states. She was a librarian, and though I never saw a photo of her, she remains a truly beautiful woman in my mind. Through a strange series of events, she gave me a few things -- among them a powder blue ultra suede trench coat and The Magnetic Fields box set, 69 Love Songs. She will never know how much of an influence she had on me, but I can tell you that one of the happiest, best photos from my honeymoon features that coat, and a song from the box set was the song my husband and I danced to at our wedding. This beautiful, wonderful stranger gave these gifts, and I cherished them and wove them into the very fabric of my life. She will always be there, a bright mysterious thread glowing in the pattern of that time, one that reappears each time I think of those days and cherish them anew.

Perfume has been like that, too. I know  that I do not have the most exacting nose or most in depth knowledge of perfumery's history.  I cannot speak French, and I fundamentally do not get chemistry. All I have to offer you is one woman's impressions of the things she smells, sometimes without a lot of skill.

I cannot tell you how much I love having this place to tell you about perfume and my relationship with scent, about all the ways I weird other people out by sniffing at myself or following women who don't speak to me around the office, trying to identify their perfume like a crazy scent stalker. I have been reading Alyssa Harad's Coming to My Senses, and tonight I was reading a section  where Alyssa talks about winning a Perfume Posse drawing and getting a package from March at Perfume Posse. She described the feeling as though she'd gotten a package from a movie star. And it reminded me how, when I had only just started buying samples and trying to learn perfume, I won a drawing on Perfume Posse. 

 Now I am not a winner often in life; anyone who knows me will tell you that. But I won big time, to the tune of a 1ml sample of the top twenty-five perfumes of 2008 as voted by Perfume Posse readers. I was so broke back then, just a poor little 2L with a fifteen-hour-a-week job. Twenty-five samples? A fortune! That they represented the collective wisdom of the Posse tribe? Unspeakably cool. It was like someone giving me not only a treasure map, but the actual treasure besides.  I remember the day the package came, sitting on the couch in our old apartment, holding the small vials in my fingers with tears in my eyes thinking how immeasurably lucky I was.

And last week, when I got an email from one of you, I felt that way again.

I love doing drawings here, for a lot of reasons. I don't have the giant collection a lot of other people do, don't have the vintage scents or classics or rares, but one of the things that makes me happiest is making the mixes and decanting samples and sending them out to you. If anything, I feel like I'm doing my small part to pass along the kindness the Posse once showed me, and that I have received over and over again from other bloggers who also do drawings. When I won the bottle of ALoF's What We Do In Paris Is Secret from Now Smell This!, I felt that gratitude and wonder all over again.

One of my more embarrassing moments in college involves me being very late to a final presentation in a course, so late that I had missed my allotted presentation slot.  This was roughly the equivalent of missing the final, as the presentation was twenty percent of my grade.  I was slated first and a full fifteen minutes late when I finally sprinted into the building and down the stairs, taking them three at a time. My professor was standing the hall outside the classroom, and my first thought when I saw him from the stairs was, "Oh my gods, he's waiting for me. He is so irate he is actually standing out there waiting for me."

 Then he looked up and I realized from the curious expression on his face that he was pacing out of boredom.  In a series of seconds that felt, then and now, like hours, I realized he was killing time because the class was doing their end of course evaluations, and he wasn't allowed to be in the room. When I realized I hadn't missed my spot because he'd decided to do the evals at the beginning of class, my relief was so great that I burst out, completely out of context: "I love you! I love you! I love you!" To this day, I can still picture the bewildered look on his face as I ran beet-faced past him into the room.

I know this man fairly well now; we go out to dinner once or twice a year to catch up. We've never spoken about that day. Whether he had planned to do the evals at the beginning of class all along, or whether he did it to buy me additional time, I suppose I'll never know. Perhaps he doesn't even remember it. But I do. And not just because it was embarrassing. (So embarrassing!) I'll remember because it was one of those moments when a random act of kindness seemed so unexpectedly necessary and perfect that all I could think was "I love you." What I meant was, "Thank you. I am struggling so much right now, and I desperately needed someone to see that and help me, just a little. Thank you for your sensitivity, your kindness, your willingness to be a person and acknowledge my frailty and not make a thing of it, but to accommodate me all the same.  I see the goodness in you, and I love that you acted from that best place in yourself."

I wasn't going to write to you tonight, dear reader. I have a migraine so bad my teeth are throbbing, but when I read that part of Alyssa's book about the drawing, it triggered this flood in me. I thought of March and Patty and that first drawing, of the delighted grateful email I got today from someone who had received their package from me, of all the tiny vials of scent in carefully curated packages we all send each other every day, U.S. postal restrictions be damned, and I could see in my mind this swirling mass of colorful goodwill flowing between us, tying us all together, and I couldn't help myself. I had to sit down and write to you, right now, to say this:

I love you, each and every one of you lovely, lovely people, all out there living your perfumed lives. I may never meet you or know you, but you matter to me. I am grateful for every poorly spelled, typo riddled post you've sloughed through, every comment you've left, every scent you've recommended, or post you've written yourself somewhere for me to find and read and relish. You restore my faith in people, my hope for the future, my confidence in my own life.  In a world with more than its share of the rotten, you are the good eggs and you smell as sweet and lovely as your open hearts.

I love you. I love you. I love you.

Good night.


Monday, July 9, 2012

What does a Cylon smell like?

"It's not enough to live. You have to have something to live for."
~ Commander William "Husker"  Adama

I'm sorry I've been kind of absent lately. What can I say? Even cowgirls get the blues. Or to put it another way, life has been kicking old Diana in the rear pretty routinely the last few weeks. In the wake of my intense ungoodness,  it's hard to feel motivated by anything, even my lovely perfume. It isn't that my beautiful collection hasn't been a comfort, a succor, a relief. It has. Today I wore Olympic Orchids Carolina, and even when I was crying, it helped. Sadly, though, it is not enough.  Some days, it just isn't.

What I learned watching BSG:
Do not listen to the voices in your
head, esp. if they make out with you.
But I've been buying scents and samples. Just this week I bought a couple of sample packs from LuckyScent, a bottle of Serge Lutens Five O'Clock Au Gingembre, and a whole bunch of samples from Bourbon French Parfums. I discovered a bunch of lovely and very affordable scents there, which I hope to tell you more about soon.

But not right now. For now I'm going to nurse this figurative small tear in the surface of my heart and my strained ego and the very real pain in my lower back (thank the Twelve Gods of Kobol for heating pads) and watch some more Battlestar Galactica. No matter how bad things are, I can always remind myself that it could be worse.

After all, I could be Gaius Baltar.

Now, kick back, relax and ponder this: if you were creating a race of AI robots that eventually evolved to appear virtually indistinguishable from humans, what would those Cylons smell like?

They have a plan.