Last month, feeling a little down and missing my lunchtime walks in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, I started searching for poems about summer landscapes and came across this verse by Emily Dickinson…Continue reading
Earlier today I started noticing Sylvia Plath’s name appearing repeatedly in my Twitter feed. Then I realized that today’s Google Doodle is also a tribute to Plath. It’s the anniversary of her birthdate — October 27, 1932.
I started reading Plath’s writing when I was sixteen or seventeen and she remains one of my favorite poets. Today, then, seems like a fitting date to share a few lines from Plath’s journals, as published in The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath (2000).
“Life is not governed by will or intention. Life is a question of nerves, and fibers, and slowly built-up cells in which thought hides itself and passion has its dreams. You may fancy yourself safe and think yourself strong. But a chance tone of color in a room or a morning sky, a particular perfume that you had once loved and that brings subtle memories with it, a line from a forgotten poem that you had come across again, a cadence from a piece of music that you had ceased to play, —- I tell you, Dorian, that it is on things like these that our lives depend. Browning writes about that somewhere; but our own senses will imagine them for us. There are moments when the odor of heliotrope passes suddenly across me, and I have to live the strangest year of my life over again.”
— The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891
I’m currently rereading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (in order to fix it in my mind before the movie adaptation is released next month), and I just stopped to savor this sentence.
The novel’s narrator and protagonist, Theodore Decker, is learning about furniture restoration from a passionate expert in his workshop:
“After school, amidst the drowsy tick of the tall-case clocks, [Hobie] taught me the pore and luster of different woods, their colors, the ripple and gloss of tiger maple and the frothed grain of burled walnut, their weights in my hand and even their different scents — ‘sometimes, when you’re not sure what you have, it’s easiest just to take a sniff’ — spicy mahogany, dusty-smelling oak, black cherry with its characteristic tang and the flowery, amber-resin smell of rosewood.”
Donna Tartt is a secret (or not-so-secret?) scent-obsessive…
Thanks to my friend A., who always makes excellent book recommendations, I’ve been reading Ali Smith’s cycle of seasonal novels—Autumn (2016), Winter (2017), and Spring (2019). (I just finished Winter and I’m waiting for a copy of Spring to become available at the public library!)
In Autumn, the character Daniel Gluck, a 101-year-old former songwriter who’s nearing death, drifts into a reverie or dream populated by loved ones from his century-plus on earth. His imagined company includes:
“…the painter, the one that turned him copiously down, well, that’s life, he can even smell the scent the painter wore, Oh! de London, bright, sweet, woody, when he first knew her, then she got older and more serious and it was Rive Gauche, he can smell it too.”
In honor of the bicentennial of Walt Whitman’s birth!
Houses and rooms are full of perfumes, the shelves are crowded with perfumes,
I breathe the fragrance myself and I know it and like it,
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.
The atmosphere is not a perfume, it has no taste of the distillation, it is odorless,
It is for my mouth forever, I am in love with it,
I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked,
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.
Walt Whitman (1819-1892), excerpt from “Song of Myself”
“I still believed in possibilities then, still had the sense, so peculiar to New York, that something extraordinary would happen any minute, any day, any month.”
I just finished reading Joan Didion’s classic essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968), which I’ve been meaning to read for ages and recently received in a Boxwalla subscription.
I noticed a few few smell-related references in one essay—“Goodbye to All That,” her 1968 reflection on loving and leaving New York City. Didion lived in New York from 1955, when she won a guest editorship at Mademoiselle, to 1963, at which point she moved back to her home state of California with her husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne.
Here are those references, with added commentary of my own…
Since we’re observing Presidents Day in the United States today, here’s a curiosity that I found online: a small perfume bottle featuring the images of William McKinley (25th President) and Theodore Roosevelt (McKinley’s Vice President, and 26th President after McKinley’s assassination in 1901). …
When a reporter named Greta Moran contacted me for an interview about perfume back in June, she asked how I came to be so passionate and involved in this subject. I constructed a short timeline of my fragrance obsession for her, partly just for my own entertainment. This week, as I’m preparing to take part in a panel discussion about fragrance and writing, I’m thinking again about early influences on my work.
Some of these influences, I’ve realized, have nothing to do with perfume per se but much to do with other memorable sensory experiences—or reading about sensory experiences. One example: a much-loved scene from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1945)…