In one of my favorite books, The English Patient, the nurse tells how her father would take his dog’s paw in his hand and sniff, as if it was a bouquet. It revealed, he expounded, “the aromas of a garden, a field of grasses, a walk through cyclamen—a concentration of hints of all the paths the animal had taken during the day.”

I’ve been studying aromatherapy, playing with sensations, the recall of a fragrance to me that you can’t experience, or “hallucinogenic perfumery”, as Diane Ackerman called it in her opus, A Natural History of the Senses. But for myself, distant memories are less refined. Like summers on the beach in Cape Town sucking granadilla lollies tinged with sand, the pungent aroma of asphalt and sunshine, my first trip to The Bush, oh, and the proximity of the warm velvet night high on elementary things. Now that my friends is the scent I’d like to bottle into luminous bubbles.

So you know that the majority of our sense receptors are in our eyes, which makes smell even more damn magical. Sight so dominates our intellectual practices that we construct mazes so we can see what is possible, what is happening. Synaesthetes inhabit our fragile bodies, feeling shapes, smelling noises, seeing flavors, and hearing colors. It’s a subject I’ve only started delving into, and I’m absolutely enthralled. Can you imagine having colored hearing? Thinking that kisses evoke thoughts of orange sherbet, and maintaining that apples taste blue. Sensual responses that are mighty unpredictable, like when I try and convince myself that writing is like trying to paint emerald green leaves and sky-blue flowers over crossed t’s and dotted i’s.

I’ll liken these revelations to something private that seems to be disconcertingly public and ubiquitous. The world talks about smell in a way that’s insatiably consuming entertainment, the way in which it permeates our soul like a strange and striking hymn to culture.

All smells worth their salt beg to be remade and reinterpreted, to be animated and then “see what happens.” Because in our heads, we are all film directors or novelists, imagining lifetimes inside odors, telling ourselves the stories incited by the pictures they illicit.

Fragrance makes those imaginative encounters luridly visible to me. Pulses of bass like fingers on skin, a rhythm that gradually bends you to its own syncopation. I think of fragrance as a her, and she’s got me hooked for life.

 

source: Marcel Christ/plenty of colour

 


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God’s first recorded words, according to the Hebrew Bible, were: “Let there be light.” Electricity’s triumph over the night is downright beautiful—one of the sights that can stop my heart is the red wrapper of brake lights that turns a road into a lava flow.

Once upon a time, a girl set set out to make her own light. Not a metaphorical idea mind about sleigh bells and miracles, but an actual string of fairy lights (note the fairy). Was there ever something so sweet sounding, something so loved (unless you’re a condemner, hate bedecking or take out your repressed rage on LED’s) as twinkling rainbows of illumination. They always feel more emotionally “real” than my homesick sentimentality of white Christmas; an unreal fantasy of Disney circa 1940s but dreamed up in the 1980s of my infancy.

You see, it’s getting dark. The rain is lashing the windows as I write, and it’s still five months until spring. Fairy lights are my glorious mood elevators, especially in the following settings: around doorways; winding their way up wooden bannisters; laid as scribbles of light on stone floors. Every surface I love can really become a canvas, overrun by their riotous color.

I never grew out of my first attempt at electrics, not even when Steve, a builder who often worked at our house told me to ” take it easy luv—you’re gonna electrocute your mum.” Giddy consumption be celebrated mate!

The history of this chemistry is full of persistent people like me and my fairy light making. They named the perceptible substances, which they then changed (”chemistry” comes via ”alchemy” from the Arabic for the art of changing one thing into another) by dissolving or pulverizing or blowing up. And then they wrote about it. See!

The cityscape of my birth, the cityscape of my current abode; both become jeweled fairgrounds amidst the oblique granite high-rises dancing in the skies this time of year. Sometimes they seem wistful, other times like natural illuminations between solar winds and the Earth’s magnetic field that physically take your breath away and make you think absolutely anything is possible. Except in folklore of old. They were harbingers of war, disaster and misery, those northern lights: “Great pestilence and disaster will befall anyone unlucky enough to see them.” Lucky I haven’t yet.

But then Galileo theorized that the lights he witnessed in the sky were caused by sunlight reflecting from the atmosphere. He called them the aurora borealis, named after Aurora, the Roman goddess of morning (now we’re getting somewhere). NASA says the best way to guarantee a view of this phenomenon is to be in space, preferably in a vessel with some kind of oxygen supply and a clear view down to the planet below. I say Canada, Scandinavia or Alaska will be more feasible.

It’s human to want light and warmth. Our pagan ancestors had a calendar of fire festivals. I want to hold that intimacy for as long as I can possibly can. Fairy lights are my literal and figurative winter stars—the one kind of seduction I can never resist.

I reckon you can get high on electric light—alchemical sun’s radiating outwards and most importantly, inwards. I sometimes take up some resinous incense and burn it on my roof, even in the freezing cold. Some folk think I’m a bit bonkers, but with the lights of the city, I’m where I like to be in my mind—which is a spark in the dark without being melancholy, brooding without being depressed—my own private lightship.

Food, fire, dreams, cold, sleep, love, time, all these things, which are not really things are they, but grand moments of life, take on a different quality with twinkling shimmer, luminous candescence, resplendent scintillating light—every bit of it, in its change and its difference, is the here and now of what we have.

source: emilie moran

 


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Someone told me today that winter, actual winter, doesn’t start until December 23rd—a pivotal moment in the juncture of my seasonal knowledge. There’s definitely something about crisper eves, falling leaves, the changing ebbs and flows, the unfurlings, the migrations, the explosions, the burning, the wind, the trees, and the stars of this period—beautiful transient symphonies that literally speak to the way we perceive and live in the minutes, hours, days and weeks of fall (hey y’all, I’m a quasi-American now).

I feel soft and crisp, and hot and cold at the moment. I was in a garden that seemed gold last weekend, and I felt happy. A garden that backed on to a kitchen wafting toasted hazelnuts, deep roasted flavors, and lots and lots of apples—the universal marriage of fruit and nut is in full and ravenous swing.

It’s also the season of sandalwood, cedar wood, and heady, resinous oils like amber, frankincense and myrrh. It’s the season of gloriously scented and tart tasting blackberries that hang like a million dark temptations from treacherous boughs that prick you if they can. But with fingers stained purple, who cares! There’s something about the idea of braving brambles—wild, free AND good for you (compelling, eh). It’s the season of fireworks and bonfire nights. The season of being snuggled up in the warmth of home, nestled into cake and drinks, or more precisely a blackberry and tequilla-infused hot chocolate.

I’m not conjuring smells. They are messages in a bottle, poems that have no intent. In a sense, I’m simply translating what resonates to me, the pleasure of nailing it in my psyche. It feels quite potent, like that symphony I started with—a real revolution of alchemy and meaning. It’s the season of beginnings for me perhaps because of the Jewish New Year, perhaps because my father first got sick in the autumn, perhaps because—and don’t laugh—this time of the year conjures up images of escaping to the mountains to live on wits, and jam. A web of pectin strands can be both beautiful and maddening when smeared all over. Sparkling ruby faces take my breath away. I’ve always thought there was truth and victory in them.

 

source: the chive

 

 


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“It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer … and everything collapses. ”

― Colette

I’d make a terrible undercover cop or spy I realized last week. Over on MI6’s (the British equivalent to the CIA) website, they lure you in with the promise that they will “test your ability to maintain a simple cover story”. So I was walking in my local supermarket and I saw a dad doing a food shop with his daughter. She must have been at college because he was insisting on all manner of superfoods, and she was insisting on all manner of junk foods. They had a rhythm that I couldn’t take my eyes off, and I proceeded to follow them round the aisles mesmerized. I’m not usually one to follow in hot – or in this case slow – pursuit, nor am I unaware that 6ft human beings are conspicuous, but it was better than saying: “My name is Kayla Hannah Jacobs. I live just down the road. I sometimes wish I was a vegetarian and I’m absolutely petrified of pigeons.” As an aside, let’s hope I didn’t freak them out or seem .. creepy?

This is all to say that the faint undertone of grief that catches at the back of your throat hit me immediately, and is still lingering in a way that perfume clings to scarves, hair and skin. My dad and I used to shop together gleefully because of our mutual love for food and cooking. We would spend hours in aisles the way one can spend hours going back and forth from a work of art. I miss being in a supermarket with him so much that the juxtaposition of detectable lingering and longing is still a shock because I always forget what grief smells like.

I was surprised at the sheer fact of my dad’s absence seemed a bit too .. fresh? In the way perfume can seem when newly sprayed and not yet marinated into flesh. It’s hard not to love someone who’s always on your side isn’t it? That’s a dad, that was my dad, that was the dad I saw at the supermarket. I blush when I think about it, the gulf between what my heart and my head think, what we’re capable of imagining versus actual reality. I’d like to think my dad is with me always, but at that moment when I felt achey like I haven’t felt in a while, I thought on how great of him it would be if he decided to haunt me. Especially at Wholefoods.

A sensory experience is lonely if you’re missing the very person you want to share it with and will never be able to. I carried on walking those aisles (don’t worry, I stopped the ‘observation’ at some point) in a heightened state, yearning for emotional connection with my dad, but also laughing a bit at some memories piercing through the lump in my throat. Ooooh the brain is a seductive beast, because really I just have a simple longing to see my dad again and navigate our way around the world as we used to. As I thought on him more, the nostalgia for the days gone by when so much still lay ahead made my skin tingle so much that I needed to go home and shower off the scent accumulating – I’d call it ‘Wistfully Ravenous’, but I’m not sure it would be an olfactory blockbuster.

The by-product of the permanence of reality is ardor, and the joyful synonyms of that five letter word are numerous. Particularly: passion, zeal, fire and jazz. On a whim when I got home I read a few chapters of The Book Thief and happed upon these raw lines:

“Often I wish this would all be over, Liesel, but then somehow you do something like walk down the basement steps with a snowman in your hands.”

It would be breathtaking not to feel so violated by my own emotions, but I must admit, a maelstrom of grief can be an acute image-maker for easing me back into my body, my skin, my mind and my heart.

 

source: Wolfgang Tillmans|alexquisite


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What does it take to be suitably stimulated? It’s so personal, it’s entirely different for each and everyone of us. Thank G-d. Although intensifying experiences, be they artistic, literary, sexual or cultural with scent, is definitely more thrilling when you can share it with a person/people who like to open themselves up to a different level of enjoyment.

I guess I mean using life’s marinades as a way of overcoming the horizontality of the kind of consumption we’ve taken to, the flatness of everything ground down to ‘content’. Maybe it’s about context and stature, nostalgia and the future. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

I’m back in New York and remembering the smell of bougainvillea on hot afternoons, the sound of the waves sliding up and down the rocky beach, the way the clouds obscured some parts of the mountains but the sunlight shone on others. If I look at postcards I brought home – I like to send pictorial dispatches once I’ve left a country – they are kind of like olfactory reminders for my imagination that I want to scratch, and then sniff. And then scratch again.

When I’m not in New York, another set of scratch ‘n’ sniff triggers happen. I look at an American flag bandana that somehow comes everywhere I go, and it’s all pizza, hot dogs, churros, garbage, sewer steam, bagels, grass, and pastrami – all in their entirety fond memories of seemingly inconsequential aromatic rumblings. But they end up being scene stealers. Of note.

I collected scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers when I was a little girl with relish. Then I moved to scratching perfume strips in magazines aggressively. Later on in life, I found out that anything that’s scratched and produces an aroma, is made by enclosing individual beads (imperceptible to the human eye) of scented oil in tiny plastic capsules which can be broken open by friction. It was wondrous to me then, and it’s wondrous to me now.

If my ramblings seem dubious, just try rubbing the seat you’re sitting on say, and tell me what kind of discerning or disrupting happens in your imagination. Get ready to start playing with your own chemical bouquets. It’s really all in the mind anyway.

 

source: Pinterest|Society6

 


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I grew up with a distinctly kind of English longing that somehow parlayed into schizophrenic African zest. The result was a classic upbringing; mom and dad schooling me in the ways of glorious, rolling songs like the Senegalese Miyaabele or the new Dakar Moon. The voices were easy-going but harsh-edged, and the backing was tight, rhythmic and enthusiastic. They spoke about sounds filtering out from South Africa that were the template for a hybrid movement that nodded vigorously to the future. Syncopated beats that transcend the sum of their parts are raw beauties that sound as vital today as they did when they were being made.

People, music and groups that were allowed to develop at their own pace became languid, melodic treaties that made me slack-jawed (still do) and living in awe for depth, phrasing, passion, and let’s be honest, sparkle. Gosh I love some sparkle. It stays singing in my bones with the wind hitting the trees, unmistakable voices carving and denting the air. How many distinct voices follow you around for life? Haunting you and hanging in the air? Like when I first heard Sammy Davis Jr sing ‘Mr Bojangles’, and he stole my heart. I felt that everything that the world hurled at him: love, death, even racism, was innately understood.

Maybe that’s what my parents were imparting, or impacted, or just knew – jazzy gospel blues in voices that reached out to many different musical expressions and social and political beliefs. They had a way of making me join them through song, as if I were marching with the birds singing. And some of those birds were the most true burning, scorching talent, glowing and humming animals in this life. Heartstrings in a voice move me. They leave me with a sort of aching. And I really love it.

 

source: 500px.com


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Not to be confused with slow-cooker’s, promise. Apparently though, in the business of countertop appliances, slow-cooker sales have almost doubled in the United States since the start of the century. But back to slow cooking, the kind that’s great for long hot summer days, or insomniacs and early risers/night owls; the former does hold more unexpected pleasure mind. The only difficulty this may yield is location. Some of my more ambitious recipes call for a grilling over a vine-wood fire, and, as you know, you just can’t get the vine-wood fire in the middle of Manhattan. Also, preparing a whole lamb (see below) can prove unrealistic in the confines of a city kitchen.

I think of slow cooking as my own version of mindfulness, a state of being so fully and pleasurably absorbed in my pots and pans that time seems to disappear or warp. It’s disconcerting, but in the best possible way. My dad taught me a recipe for slow-cooked lamb that results in a Moroccan tangle best accompanied by a ton of lemons, couscous, parsley and mint – squeezing and scattering is literally the only work you need to put in.

Mood-drenched, slowed down kitchen vibes are a thrill. You can chat with whomever is with you, taste what you are playing around with, get creative not heavy-handed, even subversive. You can actually mix up sweet, salt, bitter and sour in dishes until they sing. I think it’s like playing chess. But I’ve never played chess. It’s anarchic really.

I have learnt that the heat in different types of chilli varies wildly and even individual peppers from the same bush can differ, so you can’t take anything for granted, not even superb constellations of grapes. Like the fruit baskets that appear in Caravaggio’s art, his second-favourite subject after red-lipped and dark-eyed young men – who are usually proffering fruit. Much like life, no rules, just taste saturation.

 

source: myscandinavianhome.blogspot.ca


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Before you know what agony is growing up in England, you want to be an agony aunt. You grow up watching women like the late Denise Roberston on This Morning, listening to the great broadcaster Claire Rayner or reading The Sun’s Deidre Sanders advice column. But the latter involved being in a racy love triangle with someone from work, and much as I loved the grubbiest paper in Britain, I was too young to know what ‘racy’ or ‘work’ even meant. Step forward my Aunty Wendy. She signs herself off on my blog as “Your Loving Aunty Wendy” lest she was trying to go undercover, and she’s all that and so much more.

Let me take you back. She gave me my first cigarette – a slim stick that I’m positive hypnotized me – encased in metallic blue and white packaging. Actually, I stole it from her with my cousin David because I’m sure we thought it would be good for our mental health or that we would look cool or that anything Wendy did was aspirational (Rothman’s side effects still unknown). She gave me my first Magic Garden, a rectangular piece of green on to which you added water and wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, in three hours your flora and fauna would start to blossom. In ten, it would be fully grown, giving the term ‘topiary’ a serious run for its money. She gave me my first joy ride through Tuscany, which trying to describe all the pleasures of that ridiculously picturesque region would take a lifetime, and even then, we’d just scratch the surface. I’m pretty convinced that’s why I went to study in Florence during my GCSE’s, why I took Italian at University, and why I have such an affinity with fields dotted with olive and cypress trees and houses stained ocher.

She gave me my first serious crystal, a giant piece of amethyst on my 21st birthday that travelled across the oceans to be with me here in New York. She told me about turquoise and adamite, hematite and ajoite, ethically sourced mines in Mexico, and took me to The Scratch Patch in Cape Town where we picked the smallest morsels of rocks to be beaded into anklets, amulets and rainbow-hued bracelets. She introduced me to the naturopath Roderick Lane, a man who’s had a profound effect on my life and work. She’s been a sounding board through adventures of love and exploration, a soothing-voiced ally, except this one wears skintight leather pants and heels as if they were Converse and jeans. She understands deep-seated psychological difficulties as well as plain amoral behavior, and by the look on her face, if she hasn’t done it herself, she’ll be doing it later on (after she’s eaten 12 rusks, that is).

She gave me literature (Sylvia Plath) that I loved so much I thought I was going crazy and once laid in bed for two days just to be sure (it was a weekend, mind). Everything she gave me made me feel less alone, and that’s why I think an aunt can be such a powerful creature. When I think of her, I am in awe of her intelligence, her language, her wit – her sheer gift of loving, and what must have been her drive, as its guardian, possessor, possessee, to realize it. I don’t have to share all her political views to find her an inspiration and an example mind, but nothing seems to shock her, not even our most recent delve into some pretty odd shenanigans. Unlike dreams or star signs, my life to her is endlessly fascinating.

Aunts, we’re lucky to grow up with one or two (shout out to Aunty Cherry, a relationship which I can’t wait to expound on) who help our mothers free us of mostly ‘labia-related’ worry: let us be grateful for small mercies. There are some things, after all, you wouldn’t want to Google. The best thing about my aunt Wendy though is that we laugh a lot, actually cry with laughter a lot. I hope we continue to do so for infinity, and if infinity ain’t really possible, then for all the years to come.