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




“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



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




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.





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.





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.



Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant. And it occurred to me after I wrote on my father that I wanted to write on my mother – hell, I felt compelled – because she is alive and I’m crazy about her. And at some point, in the interest of remembering, we can forget the present as the word “ordinary” ceases to exist. Mind you, I wouldn’t describe my parents and my relationship with them as ordinary. I doubt most of you would. Remember what Philip Larkin wrote? They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. Always makes me howl with laughter. I was blessed to have been brought up in an eclectic home. My family brought South Africa with them – barbecues, crocuses, daffodils, passion fruit juice and soul food. They brought their strong accents and multiplicity of tongues, their histories from Eastern Europe mingled with generous dollops of fortuity.

“And then – gone.” In the midst of life we are in death – Episcopalians say at the graveside. But we are in the midst of living always, and my mother was the key that unlocked cavernous wooden doors slammed violently shut. At first, second by second, then minute by minute, until hour by hour I regained life. Those moments when I was abruptly overtaken by exhaustion, she earnestly fed my shrinking frame with all manner of smoothies and my favorite chips in the whole wide world: Nik Naks. If you’ve ever smelt or touched their neon orange structure, you’ll know that that’s true love right there.

In the past few years – most especially – we have cut loose together any fixed ideas we had ever had about death, about illness, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about marriage and children and memory, about grief. I think this is because we have both have taken the time and actually relish the exploration of life and all its kaleidoscopic intricacies. My mother is a recovering alcoholic and she wouldn’t mind one bit that I mention that here. She’s as open about her sobriety as I am about my passion for scent. She’s eleven years sober this year, and if anyone knows about the ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends, about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself, it’s her. When she told me after my father died that you can move on, that you’re allowed to because there’s happiness ahead of you, I believed her.

“It’s a brave thing, loving another person.” It starts with sex. Some level of cognitive dissonance is required to lie naked with the intention of having a baby, surely. I’m laughing now, but my mother tells me she knows when my father and her conceived me. And I still smile everytime she mentions it because I think its a beautiful memory for her, and as I like to remind her, she was lucky to get me! I want for her to know these daily moments we have together – even if they are more across the oceans nowadays – of gratitude both large and small that surge through my body, these moments of simple delight both deep and fleeting that tilt my head back in laughter: they’re some potent wizards. I want her to know that she shaped the way I see women. She taught me to love them and she exposed me to friggin’ awesome women doing friggin’ awesome things. She taught me about friendship and I’m sure that’s why I’ve been blessed with lifelong girlfriends. She taught me to write stories and read them aloud, she taught me the women who rally for justice and the women who see that justice through are the world’s real heroes.

My mother is hilarious. She walks in and everything is better. If she walked into a room and it was sepia, it would suddenly become brightly colored. One thing I do remember is that my mother and my father were always laughing at each other’s jokes. The afternoon of the evening that he died we were in the hospital in Cape Town and it was just mum, dad and me; a rare moment of my perfect triangle. He took her hand and squeezed it tight and didn’t want to let go. I don’t think she did either. I’d never seen that between them, only heard about it, as they divorced when I was little. Still gives me goosebumps. It’s easy to find our lives lacking. Or less than. Or whatever. But in that moment, everything in my life came full circle. Maybe it was fate, serendipity, you can call it whatever you want, but no one was watching me and I loved it. I was watching them imagining that the fireballs we all love would light up the sky in perpetuity. And they bloody do I tell you.

My mother and I have repeated rituals we love to do together. Eat. Light candles. Read to each other. Oooooh and aaaah at a certain set of annual fireworks on the edge of an ocean. Build fires (metaphorical so far). Cook (me, her watching). Behold the world go by. Fragments that matter to us. She’s the only person I know who can tell me the name of every tree and plant wherever we may be walking. She’s the only person that can eat kale and make you think she’s eating pasta and fries. She’s the only person I know who gets genuinely upset that I still don’t carry tissues on my person for every single life occasion. She’s the only baby whisperer I know and I can’t wait til’ she has mine to whisper to. She’s the most generous soul I know, and now, right here in 2016, she believes in me the most. Not just for her, but for my father. She represents as Joan Didion said, ‘the constant changing of the earth, the unending erosion of the shores and mountains, the inexorable shifting of the geological structures that could throw up mountains and islands and could just as reliably take them away.’ Ladies and gents, that’s MY mother.



First off, I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read my blog and not necessarily because of me, but in spite of me. It makes me happy. As I’ve continued to prod and explore deep inside my bones and all above, below and around me, I’ve realized that I’ve shared a lot of very personal things. And frankly, I don’t intend to stop. I want to become great dueling partners with you; just not at hide and seek. And so to that end, I thought I’d share some more about my father; it’s Father’s Day here in America next week and I can’t escape it.

If you don’t know me from a bar of soap, my father passed away in 2008 from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. It’s really only now – eight years later – that I can write words on this experience. Before? Forget about it. Grief is an elusive beast. At some point after his death, although I can’t remember when because my memory of that period is hazy, someone gave me a copy of C.S Lewis’s A Grief Observed. Most people, myself included, know Lewis for that most magical of series, The Chronicles of Narnia, but his primary work was teaching English at Oxford. In his teachings, he found a great amount of comfort in the conversations between keen minds (he was close friends with J.R.R. Tolkien). Not only did he gravitate toward brilliance in conversation, but also in correspondence. That’s how he met his wife Joy. Joy was a recent convert from Judaism and they began writing to each other (ah, sweet love letters). These letters turned into face-to-face meetings after she was divorced and moved to England. Eventually the two married but she died three years later. The book is a collection of his journal entries that were compiled as he struggled through the mourning process. I was shocked to find a writer who so evocatively described my pain even as he wrote about his, and whoever gifted me the book, I’m forever grateful. Here’s a gem that resonated early on:

“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”

You can’t map grief because it’s not static, it’s a moving target that doesn’t ever fully end. I think the first year my father was gone I was on autopilot. I was also in relationship with someone who had people around him constantly serving as a good distraction from the seemingly purely physical pain I was feeling. My heart ached in such a way that an overstrained muscle does. Except it never dissipated. Not for a long, long time. My pain threshold must have gone up immeasurably. That’s why I’m convinced I managed to climb Kilimanjaro and put myself through all manner of physical feats. I thought: if it hurts this much, might as well go with it. Also, physical distractions were key to me in those early years. If I had felt the full weight of his loss, I think I would have died of a broken heart. Truly.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.”

I’m not nearly as restless now as I was during the initial years after my dad died, but I recognize when I’m heading for another major grieving cycle because I become fidgety and angsty. And just about when I become a whirling dervish – Bam! – grief stops me in my tracks. Ha! All those efforts at ‘control’, they are nothing more than me trying to outrun my grief. You’d think by now I’d just give up the fight, turn around, shake hands with it and say “ok, what is it this time, let’s have it out”. But no, I fight feeling that pain sometimes just as hard as I ever have.

There is no recipe for dealing with grief, but my hope in starting to open up the doors and write about it is that I can be of some help to ‘restless’ souls like myself, and maybe even bid my own ghosts farewell. “The death of a beloved is an amputation,” Lewis wrote, but more than that, “The same leg is cut off time after time.” Is it my hope that the shared revelation of pain may assuage – or perhaps stave off? – private sufferings? Maybe. But each death is unique, each loss particular. I think what I’ve learned is that life is to be embraced in all its messiness. And actually, the messier the better, because even in our darkest times, we aren’t other than our flawed and jumbled selves. And that’s pretty damn grand.