Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Fig Incense

Maple & Fig

With all the heat waves I've survived in the past couple of years, my Philosykos is beginning to dwindle down. So, I have decided to seek out a new fig fragrance. I love Philosykos, a green fig fragrance that is very refreshing in hot weather. Like wading in a cool pebbled stream, and enjoying the shade of fig trees and towering oleander bushes. It lasts very briefly, and so I thought why not get a stronger fig scent?

Premier Figuier was created in 1994, and was not only the first fig fragrance, but also one of the first by Olivia Giacobetti (the year prior to that she debuted her career with Petit Guerlain and Eau de l'Artisan). I have a sample of this first fig, and always liked it but not enough to purchase a bottle: it's milky, coconut and powdery and lasts even less than Philosykos (which is also by Giacobetti, and very light, which is excellent quality for summertime, but also limits it to this season for me). The latter has an Eau de Parfum version that is wonderful and longer lasting, but simply not available around this part of the world; and so when I stumbled upon Premier Figuier Extrême in the website of the nearest perfume boutique, I decided to purchase it unsniffed (the actual location near me didn't have it, so that's why I didn't smell it first). When it arrived, I immediately had a buyer's regret, because I should have known better than to purchase something with a similar name to something I like and expect it to end up well. I decided to pick up the scent, not open it, and go to the boutique that is a little more far away and sniff them side by side.

But, of course, I couldn't not open a bottle of new perfume sitting on my desk. So I undressed the box from its cellophane wrap, released the bottle from its carton embrace and spritzed just teeny tiny bit on one wrist. Well, this is neither smelling like Premier Figuier; not like fig of any shape for that matter. Instead, I got this exotic whiff of the spice market, a swirl of incense and maybe some crushed fig leaves very far in the backdrop. To replace Philosykos clearly it can't. Nevertheless, I was intrigued.

Hội An, Vietnam

Premier Figuier Extrême begins with a trail of delicate incense smoke, intertwined with spicy-floral undercurrent. It is dry and warm, yet also soft and sweet-balsamic (I am smelling Peru balsam to be more specific). There is a surprising smokiness to it that brings to mind Dzing! or perhaps Tea for Two (also by Giacobetti, who must have some kind of a signature I am yet to decipher), and much less of the powderiness of the original with its coconut note which I found distracting and a bit too soapy and watery-aldehydic. While the two are marketed as different concentrations of the same theme (Eau de Toilette and Eau de Parfum), and share almost all of the notes (minus the asafoetida note in the original), such as almond milk, coconut, sandalwood, fig leaf, dried fruit and fig wood - I find them to be almost as different as night and day: PF is watery, thin and luminous, with abstracts hints to the milky latex that streams out of the young tree. It is not even quite a tree yet, but a sapling that grows by the water stream, with the cool watery air coming off the wet pebbles.

PFE is rather expansive, surprisingly full-bodied and with a sultry, sulphuric air to it, and I am wondering if this is part of the allusion to the fig fruit. This makes me wonder if the asafoetida note is not wrongly listed and actually belongs to the Extrême. It is mentioned this way on Fragrantica.
It is not so much like ripe figs (and definitely not purple!) as stated in some of the copy writing, but more of a conceptual perfume, an interpretation of an interpretation. I imagine the perfumer revisiting her creation almost a decade later to tweak and upgrade the formulation to make it longer lasting - and gets carried away creating a completely new (and improved!) interpretation of the fig theme. This time the fruit is ripe, rich, full and the tree it grows from has matured to have thick, huggable trunk and more sturdy branches. It has become a home to several song birds and gives enough shade to rest under and cool off, even though it's not even close to any body of water. On the contrary: Maybe someone is burning a fire near it, and roasting some summer fruit on its flames.

There is the aspect of contrasting textures, also, which is what I find most intriguing about this scent. There is the feeling of being surrounded by fine incense smoke, and at the same time a bracing touch of bumpy fresh fig leaf. A delicate, powdery, almost honeyed sweet floral haze and also the pulling apart of fruit to reveal its minuscule slimy tentacles inside. The polished dusty feel of a silvery fig tree trunk, and at the same time the oozing white milky watery sap.

All in all, I'm pleased to say this has turned into an intriguing blind purchase which I'm happy to embrace into my collection and wear in this strange late spring, which keeps jumping from one extreme to the next: thunderstorms and humid cold rainy days, followed by hot dry desert winds, and replaced again by muggy humid days and more showers sprinkled in between. It's light-textured yet rich with nuances and I'm happy to discover different things within it in both cooler and warmer days.

Top notes: Fig Tree Leaves, Gorse Bush Flowers, Smoky & Sulfur Notes 
Heart notes: Almond Milk, Figs, Sandalwood
Base notes: Coconut Milk, Dried Fruit Notes, Stone Pine, Incense

A word about comparative sniffing: When trying something blind for the first time and without any preconceived ideas, you have the advantage of being able to form an impression that is free of opinions, marketing intentions and other biases. If I was to be told "this is a fig fragrance", on the other hand, I would be looking for the fig and finding it thanks to the power of suggestion. It is a bit tricky to compare similar fragrances side by side. It may be an excellent exercise for a professional perfumer or a perfumery student trying to refine their olfactory discerning abilities. But for  a layperson just trying to find a scene they enjoy, this can be utterly confusing and totally ruin the fun. Instead of smelling it for what it is, you smell it in comparison to something else that it is "supposed" to be similar to. And by doing so, what happens is that you find less of what you were expecting to find, and if that was what you're after - and don't find it - this is a sure method to feel disappointed.



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Monday, May 14, 2018

Thoughts on Fear

Snake Visit

About fortnight ago, a night before starting my two-weeks of teaching perfumery courses, I was blessed with an unexpected visitor: An unrecognizable snake.
Fear got the worst of me. I grew up here and know that there is only one poisonous snake around, and exactly how it looks (a viper). However, I wasn't around for many, many years and with climate change - who knows, maybe a colourful desert snake decided to migrate to the Galilee?!
The striking colours of the snake made me especially frightened (usually they are a warning sign for danger). And also the fact that it got into my home and was coming out of a very narrow crack between the door's frame and the wall (as you can clearly see in the photo). I immediately snapped the photo and sent to my family, and called my brother to come and help me out. He got here so quickly, without even checking the photo, and in the meantime - the snake started to move. Which frightened the hell out of me... So I quietly and swiftly came up with a murder plan and started whacking the snake with a metal dustpan I use for clearing the ashes out of the wood stove.

By the time my brother arrived, I was already convinced I killed the snake. And he sadly told me this is an erdviper, in Hebrew מחרוזן דו-גוני או מחרוזן הטבעות, AKA Müller's black-headed snake (Micrelaps muelleri). It is not dangerous to people (although it does have venom, but in it's back teeth - so it's very rare to get fully bitten by it). It's a snake that is only active at night, when it would go hunting for various bugs, spiders, mice and smaller snakes, and spends the days under rocks. Being more comfortable handling reptiles than I am, he picked the snake and discovered it is actually still alive. He released it in the garden, at first the snake did not move much but then crawled away and was never seen again.

This encounter left me shaken and with many mixed feelings. First of all feeling very guilty that I injured this snake. Then also very perplexed and surprised about the powerful, visceral fear I felt finding a snake in my home. Then about the degree of aggression I was willing to perform against a creature I don't know anything about but was so mistakenly convinced could endanger me and my family. It got me thinking about many things - human aggression in general, and how powerful our defence mechanisms are that could push us to do horrible things. This seemed especially relevant for this time of instability and violence in the Middle East. We need to all do some serious work overcoming our fears and learning how to be more rational and less defensive. This is only possible by building more trust with our neighbours, both human and animal, and getting to know them better. When you know something you can't be afraid of it. At least not as much as I was that night.

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Sunday, May 06, 2018

Summary of Floral Bouquets Week, Spring 2018

Setting up the Perumer's Organ for Floral Bouquets Course (April 29 - May 3, 2018)

A second week (in a row!) of intensive perfumery studies has come to a close: Floral Bouquet Week-Long Perfumery Course. This is the fourth course I'm teaching at my new space, and I'm thoroughly enjoying all aspects of the new location: the proximity to the flowers and wild plants and herbs, the quiet atmosphere that truly allows for deeper studies and absorption of the materials (no city distractions for students means they can both study extra materials and get much needed rest between the daily sessions).

Gardenia!
Gardenia in all its fresh, dewy, tropical glory! 

We were blessed with many beautifully fragrant flowers in bloom, such as the star jasmine and gardenias, which I could demonstrate enfleurage method though in a most direct manner.

Star Jasmine
Star Jasmine in bloom
First Enfleurage Experiment
Laying fresh star jasmine flowers on the Enfleurage tray 
Pommade from Enfleruage
Pomade from Enfleurage 
Making Extrait from Enfleurage
Melting the fat in alcohol to produce the Extrait from Enfleurage  

We were able to study fresh flowers in different times of the day...

Amadeus Tea Rose

Floral Bouquet Week Long Course: Studying Seasonal Flowers

And even eat them for lunch in a lovely floral-fresh salad!
Floral Salad
And for dessert (rosy Rahat Loukum, anybody?)

Druze Coffe and Turkish Delight (Rahat Lukoum)

We dug out a fresh rhizome of Iris germanica in my garden, from which orris powder and orris butter are made of. Here it is in all the various forms it is used:
A Study in Orris

My Studious Perfumery Students

My students studied five out of 8 fragrance families meticulously and methodically (Soliflores, Florientals and Aquatic Flowers receive their own separate course in my program!). They spent this intensive week-long course studying the most important flowers in perfumery (Rose, Jasmines, Orange Blossom, Ylang Ylang, Tuberose, Orris Butter, Violet Leaf etc.) as well as rare and exotic raw materials (Boronia, Broom, Pink Lotus, Champaca and more), studying historic floral formula such as Mille Fleurs, Bouquet A La Merchale, Frangipanni etc.,

Setting up the Perumer's Organ for Floral Bouquets Course (April 29 - May 3, 2018)

Floral Perfumes

There were a lot of dissecting modern florals - both purely natural and those containing synthetics, to get the feel for each one of the styles in which florals can be composed, and trying to create a match for each one of the representatives of the family (some of them you can see in the photo - for example: Vent Vert, Joy, Diorissimo, No. 5, Arpege, Apres l'Ondee and more).

A Forest of Scent Strips (Touchés)

But of course, the focus of this advanced program was the composition and creative aspect. At the end of the week, each had at least five creations representative of each category, including the most challenging feat: a natural Floral Aldehydic!

13 Scents Later...

Asa and Jenny Amber - I'm very much looking forward to seeing you again in my next courses. Here's what's scheduled:

Autumn 2018: 
November 4-8: Chypre
November 11-15: Leather & Tobacco (advanced students only!)

Spring 2019:
March 24-28: Fougère
March 31 - April 4: Soliflores (advanced students only!) 

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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Wild Madonna Lily


Lily Trail Map

We went on a floral pilgrimage today, hiking the lovely slopes above Kziv Creek, hunting for non other than the Wild Madonna Lily!
Clarification: The lily is wild, the Madonna is not.
Dramatic Arbutus
Twisted Arbutus AKA Twizzlers Tree

Signs
Signs 

White Mushroom
White Mushroom

Keren Bartut
Keren Bartut

First Lily Spotting
"Like a lily among the thorns, So is my darling among the maidens." (Song of Songs, 2:2)

The first lily appeared to me after we passed Keren Bartut (the edge of the cliff), almost by change, towering over my head and half eaten by some bugs. I had to climb up a rock to be able to smell it not being very hopeful and pleasantly surprised not only by the scent (which I will talk about in a moment), but also because it had a friend hiding in the bush next to it.  I was so worried that we passed many more on the rocks. But decided to walk on because surely, with my eyes for flowers i would have noticed what I was searching for if it was there. Sometimes you just have to trust yourself this way and not walk back a difficult trail because of self-doubt.

Stairs and Rocks
We walked a bit more on the rocks... Climbing a set of uneven stairs.

And a bit more rocky slopes
Rocky Terrain

And then we spotted this!

Wild Treasure!
A whole colony of Madonna Lilies (Lilium candidum), in plain sight!
A rather large colony, actually, with more lilies hiding between the trees and the bushes just at the edge of the cliff, and beyond it on the steep slopes of the cliff itself... Overlooking the wadi and staring stoically into the horizon.

Madonna Lily
"What is this coming up from the wilderness Like columns of smoke, Perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, With all scented powders of the merchant?" (Song of Songs 3:6)

Although the cultivated plant is popular and widespread, these wild lilies are extremely rare. They grow only on very rocky slopes bordering the Mediterranean forests in Turkey, Lebanon and Israel. In Israel it is found in only three locations. The smell is completely, totally different than what you'd expect from something with the same name. 

Rather than the heady lily scent so strongly associated with Easer and funerals,  the wild lilies smell candy-like and very much like champaca flowers! There is sweetness and spiciness to it, very honeyed, full-bodied and with just a tiny bit of orange blossom and green, spicy yet cool bay leaf quality. 
Wild Madonna Lily

This aromatic hiking expedition was partly a known trail to me, from previous visits to the beautiful Kziv creek; and partly a new one. It seemed shorter on the map and ended up feeling like a long way to find the lilies. The terrain was a bit adventurous too, very rocky and with lots of ups and downs that are very much like life's unpredicted path. But it totally paid off, because along it I found much more than I expected. Here are some photos of other beautiful flowers that are quite rare and bloom at the exact same time as these beautiful lilies. 

Helicrysum Sanguinum
Blood helichrysum (Helichrysum Sanguinium)

Mystery Orchid
Mystery Orchid - tall and gorgeous!

Wild Snapdragons & Michauxia campanuloides
Wild Snapdragons & Michauxia campanuloides

Michauxia campanuloides
Michauxia campanuloides

Wild Snapdragon
Wild snapdragon closeup

Old Oak
Old Oak Tree

Old Varthemia
Old Vartehmia with intensely fruity-smelling leaves 

Fern & Moss
Fern & Moss

Bloody Wedding
Bloody wedding (Oak & Arbutus Trees)

Kziv Creek & Goren Park
Kziv Creek & Goren Park

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Friday, April 27, 2018

Summary of Citrus Week Spring 2018

Citrus Week, Spring 2018, Clil
Summery of Citrus & Cologns + Lab 101 Course (April 22-26, 2018)
Citrus week began with scratch & sniff of real fresh citrus fruit, picking lemony and refreshing herbs from the garden, lots of sniffing, and lots of delicious tea breaks.
Citrus Week, Spring 2018, Clil
Once we start mixing, the table fills up with fragrant vials and the whole studio smells like Eau de Cologne!
Citrus Week, Spring 2018, Clil

Field Studies: Exploring the medicine garden by my studio, and finding inspiration, which is later on developed into a perfume brief.

Citrus Week, Spring 2018, Clil

Citrus Week, Spring 2018, Clil

Citrus Course, Clil, Spring 2018
Visiting Jullius Craft Distillery: The first of its kind in Israel, using cutting edge technology to preserve the most delicate aromas found in grapes, citrus and other fruit.
This is the special still that produces fine Etrog Eau de Vie, Tangerine Eau de Vie, Marc (out-of-Italy grappa) from fine local grapes.
Jullius Distillery
Joov explaining to the class how alcohol is made, how the still works (it's an advanced version of a column still that cools the distillates more efficiently than the previous generation, and therefore preserves the aroma much better).
Jullius Distillery
These juniper berries are just one of the local ingredients used to make the pure, ethereal Akko Gin. This is the only gin in the world which uses these types of berries, which are endemic to Mount Meron and the Golan Heights, and to this Joov adds many fragrant, fresh local plants, including mastic, etrog and tangerine peel, each ingredient distilled separately and later on the distillates are blended and fine tuned. The process of making this unique gin is on and of itself like perfume making.
Juniper Berries
There is always time for more tea... And delicious vegan food by Hagit Lidror who nourished our body and soul during this week.
Citrus Week, Spring 2018, Clil

Display of the various citrus perfumes and eau de colognes we've studied this week.
Citrus Week, Spring 2018, Clil





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