A Green-Floral Beauty with a Classic Soul: Puredistance WARSZAWA Perfume

enrico-carcasci-236917-001

In the mere ten years of its existence, Netherlands-based perfume company Puredistance has produced some knock-out perfumes. Over the years, I’ve purchased flacons of AntoniaWhite, and Sheiduna, and have often considered a purchase of their masculine-leaning scent, M. While my favorite perfume in their collection remains the green-floral scent Antonia (its herbal beauty reminds me of the original, ’70s version of Herbal Essences shampoo, and that is no trite comparison), the company’s latest offering, WARSZAWA (pronounced var-SHAV-uh) is another dazzling green-floral that is likely to win over many a jaded heart in the perfume community. Particularly those who lament the passing of a specific genre of vintage perfumes known as chypres. Before I go further, let me be clear: technically, Warszawa is not a chypre — there is no cistus labdanum or oak moss listed among its notes. However, neither is Chanel No. 19, which often gets labeled as a chypre by perfume lovers for the same reasons that Warszawa likely will, too. These similar-spirited beauties smell mossy, sophisticated and every bit as fine-boned and feline as they do rich. To my nose, there is a fabulous contradiction inherent in the makeup of chypre perfumes: they possess an assured richness which gives them great presence, yet their mossy nature imparts an airy sense of refinement and movement that dispels any sense of dense weight. Whereas the amber-oriental genre of perfumes offers up the cushiony “Baby got back” scents of the world, chypres are the fragrances with arresting bone structure. Speaking of which . . .

“If you care for classic feminine beauty, Puredistance WARSZAWA will unveil a dreamy world of old-time chic,” says the company in its promotional materials for this scent, and this is one of those rare times when I am in complete nodding agreement with every word. Jan Ewoud Vos, the owner of Puredistance and the person who creatively oversees the development of each perfume, worked with French perfumer Antoine Lie to create a fragrance that pays homage to the city of Warsaw, Poland, and to the fashionable and gracious women he encountered on his travels there. Vos was particularly inspired by the relationship he has developed in recent years with the Missala family of Perfumeria Quality Missala (they own boutiques in several cities in Poland and are the exclusive retailer of Puresdistance in that country), and in particular with the family’s matriarch, Stanislawa Missala, who invited him into their home to share lavish lunches she prepared during his business visits there. Her warmth, beauty and style reminded him of the elegance of pre-war Warsaw he had observed in old pictures, and this connection became the inspiration for Warszawa, a perfume with a distinctly vintage sensibility. Vos underscored his tribute by limiting the availability of Warszawa to the country of Poland for its entire first year of existence — a decision I find impressive. When you’re the owner of a small and relatively young company, intent on delivering a luxury experience to your customers and making the kind of studied choices that such a stance dictates, launching a new perfume is no small undertaking. Considering how swoon-worthy Warszawa is, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were moments when Vos might have been tempted to unwrap it, so to speak, to the rest of the world, but true to his promise he waited a full year before launching it globally, and only now is it available for sale at the Puredistance headquarters and web-store in the Netherlands.

Missala Family-001

The first day I tested Warszawa (it’s spelled in all capital letters, but I’m going to use upper and lower case), I got very excited because it reminds me of some truly classic and iconic perfumes: namely, the vintage versions of Hermes Caleche, Chanel No, 19, and Estee Lauder Private Collection; the long discontinued Coty Chypre and Deneuve (the fragrance that actor and perfume lover Catherine Deneuve created for Avon); and Frederic Malle’s Le Parfum de Therese, a more recent perfume that, nevertheless, was composed in the 50s by the late-great perfumer Edmond Roudnitska, and which recalls his classic fruity-chypre perfume Diorella (for French fashion house Christian Dior). Perfumes like these aren’t being made much today because, on one hand, popular tastes have changed and fragrance is generally targeted towards a younger demographic that seems to have a predilection for sweeter fragrances (from Thierry Mugler’s Angel, to Viktor & Rolf’s Flowerbomb, to Prada Candy, there’s been a bent towards confectionery fragrances in the mainstream sector, while in the niche sector, a 180-degree retort to these sweet perfumes has resulted in a preponderance of oud-based scents). On the other hand, even if chypre scents were still in vogue, they could not be composed the way they once were, given the sobering restrictions on perfume ingredients that have been imposed by the International Fragrance Association (the self-regulating body of the perfume industry). So, when one encounters a perfume like Warszawa, a fragrance that by some perfume magic manages to smell like an oakmossy chypre of yore, when no such note is present — a fragrance with a jasmine accord as luminous as the floral accord at the heart of Hermes Caleche, but also as fruited and seductive as the florals at the heart of a fragrance like Le Parfum de Therese — then one has come upon something very special indeed.

Warszawa’s list of ingredients include galbanum, grapefruit, violet leaf, jasmine absolute, broom absolute, orris butter, patchouli, vetiver and styrax. It goes on the skin smelling sveltely green and sparkling, thanks to the combination of its green and citrusy top notes that have an uplifting, aldehydic expression in the early stages of this perfume’s long wear time. There is also a delicate sweetness at this stage, such that Warszawa isn’t as herbal or as grassy green as its notes might lead one to believe, but a more chiffon-like “shade” of green. And then, fifteen minutes into its wear, the floral notes emerge and the effect can be likened to a ripening of the scent. The jasmine absolute at the heart of the fragrance is not sweet and lilting, but a rich, stone-fruited aroma that has shades of plum and peach about it. The assertion of the jasmine over the greens changes them, rendering them mossy, although this effect is likely also achieved by way of the broom absolute — an aromatic which reportedly smells like a combination of hay, honey, tea, white florals and leather. By whatever means it is achieved, the melding of the perfume’s green notes with its fruited-floral heart deepens the greens, and Warszawa overall becomes more velvety. One would not smell Warszawa at this stage and think of a spring lawn or something sprightly; one smells it and can’t help but have a more visceral reaction. Personified, this perfume is a young Lady Constance Chatterley (D.H. Lawrence’s famous heroine).  Sensual, sexual, yes — but also a lady, and a thinking one at that (“well-to-do intelligentsia” is how the novel describes her). I say this because, to my mind, Warszawa strikes a balance between intellect and sensuality; between cosmopolitan elegance and earthiness. Its smart green elements keep the composition reined in and composed, while its fruited-floral heart symbolizes all things feminine and womanly.  Each element keeps the other in check, such that the greens never become astringently cerebral, nor the florals flagrantly wanton.

There is a quote by the famous perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena about Hermes Caleche (a perfume not created by him, but one he obviously admired), in which he refers to it as “the essence of classicism. Seduction through the beauty of the soul.” I think this quote quite rightly describes chypre perfumes as a whole: they are perfumes that speak of intelligence married to a deep, corporal awareness. Regardless of whether it can be labeled a modern-day chypre or not, Warszawa fits that description, too. There’s a reason this green-floral beauty reminded me of an esteemed group of classic perfumes from the first moment I wore it, and it’s not because Warszawa smells identical to any one of these great perfumes, but because it mirrors the spirit, complexion and temperament of all of them.

Puredistance Warszawa 60 ml-001

Puredistance WARSZAWA has notes of galbanum, grapefruit, violet leaf, jasmine absolute, broom absolute, orris butter, patchouli, vetiver and styrax. It is a perfume extrait, with a 25% concentration of perfume oils, and is now available for purchase from the Puredistance website, where a 17.5 ml flask is priced at € 175.00 (price is in euros), with larger bottles also available (pictured above is the 60-ml bottle).


I’m assuming that it will join the line of Puredistance fragrances available in the United States at LuckyScent.com, but as of this writing it’s not available there yet)

My review is based on a small spray vial of Warszawa that I received from the company.

Puredistance Warszawa-001

Image credits: Photo of woman in white dress, top of page, is by Enrico Carcasci of Florence, Italy, and can be found at Unsplash.com. (“Beautiful, free photos. Gifted by the world’s most generous community of photographers,” is how they describe their site, and justifiably so.)

Photo of the Missala family is by Jan Ewoud Vos, the owner of Puredistance, and the images of the Warszawa perfume bottle and promotional art work are from the Puredistance company.

Interested in reading more of my perfume reviews? Please visit my other site, Suzanne’s Perfume Journal, where I have reviewed close to 300 different perfumes.

Advertisements

A Little Art History: Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone

1161px-Starry_Night_Over_the_Rhone

Starry Night Over the Rhône by Vincent Van Gogh, completed in Arles, France, in September 1888. Oil on canvas. (From the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.)  Image of the painting is from Wikipedia.

If I had to name one, and only one, painting in the world that takes my breath away each time I see it, it would be Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone, the lesser known of his “starry night” paintings, painted in September 1888. Later, in June 1889, he would paint The Starry Night, the one he is famous for, similar in color but vastly different in tenor — a night sky painted shortly after the artist voluntarily committed himself to a mental institution in southern France and which, it has often been suggested, reflects the artist’s troubled mind with its brushstrokes that undulate, spiral, and seem to pulse with emotion. Whether that is a fair assessment, I’m not sure (who are we to say with any certainty whether the artist’s mindset was troubled or lucid in the moments when he was creating), but what is true in viewing The Starry Night is the feeling of an artist consumed by his subject — there is something almost manic in its expression — whereas when viewing his earlier canvas, Starry Night Over the Rhone, one is overcome by the very hush of this work: the exquisite sense of wonder and beguilement. Starry Night Over the Rhone is a romantic work, by which I mean that it speaks of Van Gogh’s romance with the town of Arles, in the French countryside, where he had arrived from Paris just seven months prior. In Arles, he fell in love with the land, its colors, and the quality of light that southern France is known for, and in the short time he lived there (a little over a year) he completed 200 paintings and more than 100 drawings and watercolors. His inclusion of a man and woman strolling in the foreground of Starry Night Over the Rhone underscores its romantic air, but that they appear so small against the night sky which both envelopes and eclipses them is even more telling of the kind of enchantment Van Gogh was under.

“I need a starry night with cypresses or maybe above a field of ripe wheat,” the artist wrote to his brother Theo in April 1888, and subsequent letters to others reveal that it was an occupying thought. Writing to the painter Emile Bernard in June, he mused, “But when shall I ever paint the Starry Sky, this painting that keeps haunting me?” — and in a letter to his sister sent in September, around the time he painted Starry Night Over the Rhone, he said, “Often it seems to me night is even more richly coloured than day,” This sentiment, articulated verbally and then given fullest expression in a painting of the most vivid blues imaginable — ultramarine, Prussian blue, cobalt — is the siren song that continually draws me to this work. It reminds me of the twilight blues in my own part of the world, so intimately felt in late summer and autumn when the atmosphere is less humid. Skies that are rich oceans unto themselves with their push-pull magnetism: first a suede-like expanse of dusky blue upon which the stars slowly, softly wink, so unhurried they make you wait and practically count them; then a period of absorption when the sky seems to fold into itself, deepening to indigo and finally to black, propelling the stars forward in quickening fashion until they are infinite and crisp in their brilliancy, appearing everywhere, all at once.

Van Gogh was facing the southwest when he painted this nighttime scene of Arles’ waterfront, yet he painted the Big Dipper (or the Great Bear, as he referred to it), a northern constellation, into this scene. Taking this kind of artistic license with his subject makes perfect sense to me: it accentuates the romantic mood of the work, as almost anyone who has ever looked at the night sky can identify the Big Dipper and most of us take joy in seeing it. It’s such a full constellation – the constellation that most imparts a feeling of grandeur; that it’s also universally recognizable makes me think Van Gogh understood that hanging these northern stars over the southern panorama would make the viewer feel included in the scene — part of the wide world and its mysterious cosmos — rather than someone standing separate and apart from it. I can think of a great many paintings and artworks which leave the viewer feeling like a bit of an outsider, often for valid and understandable reasons, such as works done as private commissions and those done as studies (neither of which were intended for a greater audience), as well as works intended as political statements, or enigmas, by artists who wanted to make us think a little harder. Some of them are masterpieces and some I have enjoyed quite a bit, but for the most part they aren’t works that move me. Starry Night Over the Rhone not only moves me, it sweeps me off my feet. An artist who can create something that feels so intimate and, at the same time, so universally understood is an artist who has achieved the sublime.

Van Gogh’s life, on the other hand, as everyone knows, was not sublime. He had wanted to start an artist colony in Arles – it was a place he wanted to share with others – and for a brief time he did share it with the renowned artist Paul Gauguin. Alas, the two men fought, indulged their vices at the local brothels, and in a final confrontation, the already emotionally troubled Van Gogh cut off a portion of his own ear with a razor (the entire outer ear or the lobe, depending on the source), scaring Gauguin back  to Paris. After voluntarily committing himself to a mental institution in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, he would eventually paint The Starry Night, the version that became his most famous canvas. In this version, the artist seems no longer separate from his subject, beholding it from afar in a romantic way, but frenziedly immersed in it — almost as if he has been become one with the night sky. A year after painting it, Van Gogh died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 37. According to his brother Theo, his last words were “The sadness will last forever.”

I would like to think that somewhere in the deep chemistry of the universe an awareness has reached him of the considerable beauty he created, that is undying and will last forever, too.

800px-Van_Gogh_-_Starry_Night_-_Google_Art_Project

The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, completed in Saint-Rémy, France, in June 1889. Oil on canvas. (From the permanent collection of the  Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA.)  Image of the painting is from Wikipedia.

 

 

The Best Part of Summer…

S7305426

… is planting flowers and watching them grow. I got a late start this year, but this is how my yard is shaping up so far.

Flowers July 3 2017S7305419S7305468S7305465-001Collages12S7305430

My yard is so shady that to get much color in it, I rely on annuals. Maybe I should rethink that, though, as the flowers that seem to do best are my perennial daylilies and rose campions, both of which bloom profusely and require little care. Plus they more or less reflect the wild, blowsy nature of my yard which, despite the fact that it isn’t as well-manicured as I’d like it to be, is still much loved. I’m in heaven when I’m outside lying on the lawn reading a book or just watching the birds. It’s the best part of summer for me — what is yours?

 

Boxer Gets His Portrait Drawn

Lia's Drawing of Boxer

My next door neighbor has enjoyed seeing Boxer recently in his outdoor playpen, and she came running over one day to present me with this picture she drew of him. The computer scan doesn’t quite do it justice. She did a beautiful job capturing the delicate pink inside of his ears, and I like that she portrayed him as he is — an adult rabbit, not a teensy little bunny.  Thank you, Lia!

S7304717

 

 

Outside My Window

S7305374-002

Our weather in central Pennsylvania has veered toward the gloomy in the last week of May, and under the canopy of the newly-leafed oak trees that tower over my yard and those of my neighbors, my house feels too cool and grey for my tastes. Everything inside feels too “close” to me, if that makes any sense. But outside my picture window, the blooms on my rhododendron have held me transfixed: for the second year in a row, the blooms are big and floaty in a way they never were before in the twenty-some years I’ve lived here. I attribute the change to a happy accident — an overzealous pruning I did back in August of 2015, when at the end of summer, everything in my yard struck me as too shaggy. I have no idea how to prune things properly — I find that when I’m in the mood to lop off excessive growth, I’m too impatient to research what rules one should follow. I just start hacking away. And that summer I knocked off numerous branches from pine trees before uprooting (or so I thought) every strand of bishop’s weed, hosta, and wild grapevine from the bed in front of my picture window before stopping short in front of the rhododendron. I had never felt any love for this gigantic bush: it wasn’t something I had planted — like every other plant in this unruly bed, it came with the house, and after so many years, it looked like it was intent on swallowing the house. I hated its shapeless, shaggy mass of leaves so I just started lopping and trimming the hell out of it, taking away most of its bottom branches, until it looked like a small tree. I liked the shape of it much better — it had a visible trunk (not like a normal tree has, but its two main branches twisted together to somewhat resemble a trunk) and a round, lollipop mound of leaves on top that looked quite attractive after they were liberated. I had no idea whether this rhododendron would ever bloom again, but at that point in time I didn’t care. The new silhouette was becoming and gave the bed a sense of definition.

By the following spring , I think every hosta, grapevine, and bishop’s weed came back double-fold to the bed I had so carefully razed and mulched and replanted in coral bells. But the rhododendron? For the first time in my life, this shrub that is so common to yards across the northeast United States became something new and beautiful to my eye. Its blooms were huge, buoyant, and, at the same time, graceful. Pruning them to the extreme that I did imparted airiness that allowed the blooms to look distinct rather than a wookie-like tangle of cotton-candy flowers and overgrown vegetation.  When this year’s flowers are finished blooming, I will prune it again (I didn’t touch it last year) as it is already starting to acquire a bushy amount of new growth.

As I mentioned before, this was a happy accident, and I don’t intend to sound like an expert, because I’m very obviously not.  However, I felt compelled to write about it as a reminder that it’s sometimes worthwhile to take a big risk in the garden. If this rhododendron had died, I would have been left with a big hole in that space that I would have had to replace, but the risk seemed worth taking since I had grown to resent this plant. And in this case, manicuring a shrub that most people (where I live) tend to leave in its wild state turned out to be a good move for me, giving me more control over my garden space and making me see the plant in a whole new light.

S7305392

Photos: my own.

Perfume and a Movie: Musc Ravageur and Stranger Than Fiction

MCDSTTH EC001

There were many times in the past when I thought about writing a review of Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur — an iconic fragrance among perfume lovers. The last time was at Christmas, when I roughed out my ideas for a post which I had planned to title “In Lieu of Eggnog.” Wearing Musc Ravageur was a delicious substitute to indulging in that sinfully good beverage; I think it probably saved me from packing on five pounds. However, Christmas came and went without me writing the post, and the reason had little to do with me being either holiday busy or holiday lazy. I like Musc Ravageur a lot, but it’s one of those musk-centric perfumes I feel hesitant about reviewing since I’m not certain I smell all of it — which is to say, the musk portion of it. On the manufacturer’s card that came with my sample, Musc Ravageur is described as “Sensual and sophisticated. Powerful yet perfectly controlled. Dramatic and mysterious.” A little further on, the adjective “lusty” is used. If this description were borne only on the wings of a marketing label, I might not question why my own experience of the fragrance doesn’t match up. Thing is, there are a number of credible reviews on perfume blogs, vlogs and scent forums describing Musc Ravageur in these same lusty terms, making it sound like the itty-bitty, perfect thing to wear if you want to be, well, ravished (in the purely hyperbolic sense of the word).

I suspect I’m anosmic to certain musks (not all, but some). I don’t “get” the sensual, powerful, dramatic and lusty elements of Musc Ravageur that other folks do. Sweet and sophisticated is how it comes across to me, and if I were writing the marketing blurb it would say something like, A vanillic bonbon for grown-ups. Yummy, cuddly and lightly boozy. There is more of a gourmand sensibility to Musc Ravageur than a carnal one, and more of a sense of softness than drama or mystery. To my nose, it’s the scent of confectionery with a side of fuzzy blankets. While not the kind of animalic musk I associate with sex, I would agree that it’s sexy in the way that it speaks of cozy intimacy and sweet indulgences. In regard to the latter, it occurs to me that candies, cookies and other treats are sometimes referred to as “naughties” (because we’re being bad when we eat these sensual, calorie-laden morsels). The act of eating naughties while under the covers with someone is very much the vibe Musc Ravageur gives off (to my nose, anyway), and though I intend no double entendre with that statement, in stating it I realize I’ve more or less made the olfactory leap to how others perceive this scent.

Still, I’ll keep this post where I originally intended it — on the PG-13 rated side. And along those lines, I have in mind a movie that is the perfect cinematic treat to pair with Musc Ravageur.

Hoffman and Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction is an offbeat, romantic film full of talent. Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Queen Latifah play key roles, but it’s the subdued performance of Will Ferrell that might surprise you, if all you’ve ever seen him in are the goofball comedies for which he is known. Here Ferrell plays the straightest of straight men: a by-the-book, IRS taxman named Harold Crick, whose lonely existence seems to hinge on the numbers he keeps in his head and which govern his daily practices. He brushes his teeth a precise number of strokes each morning; he ties his necktie in a single-knot Windsor, instead of a double, to save 42 seconds of time; and his math skills form the basis of most of the conversations he has with his office colleagues (they treat him like a human calculator and he really only has one friend at work). If he were a character in a novel, Harold Crick would be an easy character to kill off — which is exactly the plan novelist Karen ‘Kay’ Eiffel (Emma Thompson) has in mind. Harold, as it turns out, is the lead character of one of Kay’s novels — a fact of which he is unaware until one day he hears her voice in his apartment, narrating the mundane routine of his life. To say he is disconcerted is understatement. Especially when, at the bus stop one evening, while resetting the time on his wristwatch, he hears her crisp British voice intone: “Little did he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act would lead to his imminent death.”

Not surprisingly, hearing a statement like that becomes a catalyst for change, which is where Dustin Hoffman’s character comes in. He plays a college professor, an expert on literature theory, who initially thinks that Harold is nuts yet agrees to help him identify the author. Hoffman’s character brings sly humor to the film: humor that is light and dry like champagne in comparison with the darker, quirkier humor of Thompson’s character Kay, who is nutty in the way that writers often are when the writing is not going well. No small-time author, she’s a literary star with a bad case of writer’s block, desperate to find a way of killing off Harold Crick for the ending of her unfinished book. Her publishing company has even sent an assistant (Queen Latifah) to help her finish, thus underscoring the fact that time is ticking away. Of course, no one is more aware of this ticking than Harold, who knows he must track down the author and make the case for his life before she literally writes “The End.”

Emma Thompson in Stranger Than Fiction

Perhaps he also knows that his case would be better made if he lives some, first. As fortune would have it, around the same time he begins hearing the voice Harold is sent by the IRS to audit a bakery owned by a young woman named Ana Pascal (Maggie  Gyllenhaal). Feisty, intelligent and openly hostile towards Harold when he shows up (after all, she’d already written a detailed letter to the IRS stating why she would only pay 78 percent of her taxes), Ana makes Harold’s job as difficult as she can. Nevertheless, Harold finds himself physically attracted to her and quietly accepts the abuse she heaps on him, which includes digging his way through a mixed-up box of receipts she presents to him in an intentional state of disarray. Out of respect for the way he handles the situation — and proving she also has a soft side — at the end of the audit Ana presents him a plate of freshly-baked, chocolate-chip cookies. It’s a gesture he almost ruins (it goes against IRS policy to accept gifts, he tells her, thus insulting and getting her guard up again) but later rights. The old Harold — the person he was before he heard a voice determining he could be dead any day now — likely wouldn’t have bothered to recover from his error, despite the attraction. The new Harold — who is still very much himself, but a man willing to change his habits — finds a way to win over Ana Pascal. And watching that happen, even when you know it is about to happen, is the tender, chewy, delicious part of this film.

Maggie Gyllenhaal yelling at Will Ferrell

I won’t spoil the ending and tell you what kind of transaction occurs between Harold and the author who seemingly holds his life in her hands, who is known for her “beautiful tragedies.” Except to say that when he falls in love, his life becomes his own more than it is Kay’s, and it’s the small things — the cozy delectables of life — that trump death and taxes. Seeing Harold wrapped up in Ana’s arms in her fluffy bed, listening to their pillow talk, watching him at a later point eating her Bavarian sugar cookies: these are the kinds of things that many of us crave and find sexy. They are also good talking points for a perfume like Musc Ravageur. I know I don’t have to make the case for it — it already has many fans. But if I did, I would say that its commingled aromas of sugar cookies, warm blankets, rum-splashed eggnog, and musk (that may or may not smell dirty to you) conveys a feeling that is beyond intimate. Other musk perfumes should be so lucky!

Maggie Gyllenhaal in Stranger Than Fiction

Maggie Gyllenhaal and Will Ferrell in bed

Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur eau de parfum was composed by perfumer Maurice Roucel and has notes of bergamot, tangerine, cinnamon, vanilla, musk, and amber, according to the company website. (A number of other perfume sites, such as Basenotes.net, list the notes as being top notes of lavender and bergamot; heart notes of clove and cinnamon; and base notes of gaiac wood, cedar, sandalwood, vanilla, tonka, and musk.) It can be purchased from the Frederic Malle boutiques and website, as well as from fine department stores such as Nordstrom and Barneys. A 50-ml bottle is currently priced at $192 and a 100-ml bottle is $280.

My review is based on a spray sample I acquired at Barneys department store in San Francisco during a shopping trip with perfume blogger Undina three years ago. I can’t believe it took me this long to write about it!

Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur photo from Fragrantica

Images are film stills from Stranger Than Fiction, released in 2006 and directed by Marc Forster. The screenplay was written by Zach Helm. I love the film so much that I purchased a digital copy from Amazon.com (where it can also be rented through their video-on-demand program).

Bottle image of Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur is from Fragrantica.com.

Happy Easter!

Boxer on Easter 20171

It has been a lazy Easter at The Curious Rarebit. My husband and I slept in late and, after having coffee, thought we would entertain Boxer by creating an elaborate maze (including a series of jumps that we recently acquired) in our bedroom. But as it turned out, Boxer wanted to spend Easter relaxing as well and wouldn’t venture far from my husband’s hand. (While he loves to be petted by both of us, he practically goes into a trance under Mark’s touch. Must be all the massage training Mark did years ago.) Suffice it to say that we didn’t have a hoppy Easter, but we did have a very happy one. Hope yours has been happy, too! 🙂

Easy Comfort: My Recipe for Chicken Noodle Soup

S7305294

Spring is finally here and oh, does the warmer weather feel good! Yet I won’t be putting away my soup recipes too soon, as this is a bumpy season where bright-lit days easily give way to damp and chilly ones. It’s nice to come home on a chilly spring evening and get warmed up with a bowl of chicken noodle soup, and the kind I make is chunky enough to be filling, making it the perfect main course for a light, spring supper. (Toss a salad to go with it and you have a well-rounded meal.) It’s also super easy to make. Depending on how quickly you can dice an onion, a couple carrots, and a store-bought rotisserie chicken, you can have it done in 30 to 40 minutes.

Aside from oil and seasonings, let’s quickly eyeball the main ingredients you’ll need:

Chicken Noodle Soup Recipe

Main ingredients: a rotisserie chicken, kluski egg noodles, two carrots, a large onion, two 48-ounce boxes of chicken broth, one 11-ounce can of Green Giant Mexicorn (or any other whole-kernal corn), one 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes.

Hopefully, this at-a-glance photo makes it easy to know what you’ll need to pick up at the store. The small amount of oil and seasonings that go into the soup are items you probably have on hand, but if you want to check to be sure, the full ingredient list is below:

Suzanne’s Chicken Noodle Soup

  • 1 large onion
  • 2 Carrots
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil (or other vegetable oil)
  • Two 48-oz containers of chicken broth (12 cups/96-oz in total). When I have it on hand, I use homemade broth, but this soup is still pretty darn good with store-bought broth.
  • 3 to 4 cups of Kluski-style egg noodles
  • One 11-oz can of Green Giant brand “mexicorn” (or any other whole-kernal corn)
  • One 14.5-oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 Rotisserie chicken (medium in size), deboned and diced into bite-size pieces
  • Seasonings of your preference. I use about a teaspoon each of dried sage, thyme, basil, oregano, and garlic powder. I also use a couple dashes of freshly ground black pepper.
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons of honey or sugar (to balance the acidity of the tomatoes in the soup)

Directions:

First, dice your onions and carrots. Don’t chop them too fine. The carrots should be in bite-size pieces that will fit nicely on a spoon.

S7305218

Next, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large soup pot. When oil is hot, add onions and carrots and stir for a minute or two as you dial back the heat to a setting of medium-low. At this lower temperature, I usually put a lid on the soup pot and let the vegetables cook for five to seven minutes. You want to “sweat” the vegetables but not let them caramelize.

S7305248

“Sweat” your onions and carrots before adding broth.

Now add the chicken broth to the pot — an amount of approximately 12 cups (96 oz). Return the burner to high and bring to a boil. While waiting, take your package of kluski noodles and measure out three to four cups. (Do not exceed this amount, as kluski are thick noodles that swell significantly when cooked. If you prefer to have your soup more on the brothy side, use only three cups).

S7305238

I used 4 cups of noodles for my soup, which makes for a thick soup. When I’m in the mood for a more brothy version, I use only 3 cups.

Once the soup is boiling, add the kluski noodles, give them a stir, and wait for soup to return to its boil after adding them. Then immediately lower heat to medium-high and cook noodles until tender — ten to fifteen minutes, depending on what brand you purchased.  During this time, it’s important to position a lid on your soup pot in such a way that it has space around it (see photo below) for steam to escape.  (If you try cooking noodles without a lid at a rolling boil, you’ll lose too much broth to evaporation. But by the same token, you don’t want to fully cover the pot because the starch of the noodles will cause it to boil over.)

 

S7305276.JPG

If you look closely, you can see steam escaping on the right side of the lid which has purposely been set ajar.

While noodles are cooking, tear the meat from the bones of the rotisserie chicken and cut into bite-sized pieces. Place the chopped chicken in a bowl and set aside, as it will be the last thing added to the soup.

Once the noodles are tender, add the cans of diced tomatoes and corn to the pot (being careful not to splash yourself with hot soup). 🙂 Remove lid from the pot and turn the heat up so that it returns to a boil. Allow to boil for one full minute, then take the pot off the stove.

Finally, add the chicken to the soup pot along with seasonings (garlic powder, black pepper, oregano, etc.). Finish by stirring in two to three teaspoons of honey to the finished soup. In a pot this large, you won’t taste the honey: it’s purpose is to take the acidic edge off of the tomatoes. If you’re leery, add a smaller amount and taste before adding more.

S7305282

Time to stir in the chicken, seasonings, and a wee bit of honey to balance the acidity of the canned tomatoes. NOTE: when using store-bought chicken broth (which is clear-colored) to make this soup, the broth turns ever-so-slightly pink from the tomatoes, whereas when I use homemade broth, which is richer in color, the broth tends to stay golden.

 

That’s it!  Serve and enjoy.

S7305311

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

WKNwright.jpg

Wilbur, left, and Orville Wright sit on the porch steps of their Dayton, Ohio, home in June 1909. Photo Credit: National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution

In as strong a photograph as any taken of the brothers together, they sit side by side on the back porch steps of the Wright family home on a small side street on the west end of Dayton, Ohio. The year was 1909, the peak of their fame. Wilbur was forty-two, Orville thirty-eight. Wilbur, with a long poker face, looks off to one side, as though his mind were on other things, which most likely it was. He is lean, almost gaunt, long of nose and chin, clean-shaven, and bald. He wears a plain dark suit and high-laced shoes, much in the manner of their preacher father.

Orville gazes straight at the camera, one leg crossed nonchalantly over the other. He is a bit stouter and younger-looking than his brother and has a touch more hair, in addition to a well-trimmed mustache. He wears a lighter-toned, noticeably better-tailored suit, snappy argyle socks, and wingtips. The argyles were about as far in the direction of frippery as any of the Wright men would ever go. †

The above is an excerpt from the opening paragraphs of The Wright Brothers, a dazzling and absorbing biography by historian David McCullough. It’s rare for me to read a non-fiction book for pleasure, and yet this book gave me a greater sense of delight than most of the books I’ve read in recent years — mainly because it instilled such a deep sense of awe at what human beings can achieve when they focus their attention on doing just that: on achieving something not as a means of bolstering image or acquiring power, but because the endeavor itself is marked by wonder, poised in the direction of evolution, and accomplished by gaining a greater understanding of the universe we live in. Wilbur and Orville Wright were two small-town men from Ohio who had no advantages financially, socially, politically or educationally when they built the world’s first airplane and, in essence, gave the gift of flight to humankind. What they had instead was a close-knit family from which they inherited a few key things: a mechanical aptitude from their mother, a painfully shy woman who was a “regular genius” in the eyes of her family, known for making toys for her children that were better than the ones carried in stores; a love of learning from both parents — their minister father kept two libraries in their house, one of theological books and the other of varied subjects, and not only encouraged them to read widely but was a steadfast supporter of their endeavors; and the equally steadfast camaraderie of their sister Katherine, a school teacher who cared for the family home after their mother passed away and who attentively corresponded with the brothers during their many trips away from Dayton (she also spent seven weeks tending to Orville at a hospital in Virginia after he was seriously injured in a crash).

Even before they began building their first plane, the Wright brothers were engaged in pursuits that represented a marriage between mechanics and freedom. The first was a print shop started by Orville when he was in high school, which began publishing a newspaper for their hometown of Dayton, as well as a weekly newspaper for the black community proposed by Orville’s friend. Next was their bicycle shop, an enterprise that began as a dealership of sorts, with the two of them selling and repairing bikes, and progressed to them  building their own models, the most famous of which was the Van Cleeve bicycle, named in honor of their great-great-grandmother on their father’s side. Both businesses turned a profit, especially the cycle shop, which kept expanding and moving into larger establishments, providing a steady income and the finances for their explorations into aviation.  Not surprisingly, when automobiles arrived on the scene in Dayton, Orville suggested to Wilbur that they try building one of their own; however, Wilbur had no interest, his attention having become riveted on the notion of flying. It was a notion stirred from his reading about the German glider Otto Lilienthal, who believed that man could learn how to fly if he concentrated on studying the flights of birds, so Wilbur began reading and observing everything he could about birds. He then wrote a letter to the Smithsonian Institution which fully set his plans in action—a letter requesting scholarly papers and a list of books he could read on the subject of human flight. The letter was written in May 1899, and the Wright Brothers would make history a mere four years later, when they recorded their first flight on the beach of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903.

Think about it: a mere four years in which these two men would accomplish more than most people do in their lifetime, often under extremely trying conditions. Not only were the brothers fully engaged in the intellectual and mechanical work of designing and building the flyers they took to Kitty Hawk, they labored like dogs to establish a working camp in that forlorn outpost which, at the time, was one of the most desolate spots on North Carolina’s outer banks. During their first sojourn there they stayed in a tent, which the fierce winds would pull from its stakes as they were trying to sleep at night. Thus, on their next expedition they had a supply of wood shipped into Kitty Hawk and the two men built a long, solid shed which served as hangar, workshop and camp. Their satisfaction in completing it was one of the few highlights of that trip. Not long after they finished they encountered an event that happens in the Outer Banks once every ten to twelve years: a cloud of mosquitoes descended upon their shore, so thick it practically blackened the sky. Mosquito netting over their cots did nothing: at night, they would dive under their covers to escape getting bit and then would be drenched in sweat from the July heat. While their expeditions in the fall and winter months were easier outings comparatively, sleeping would remain a fitful enterprise, as their blankets did little to ward off the intense ocean-wind and cold.

Wilbur Wright flying his and Orville Wright’s 1902 glider at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, with the brothers’ camp and shed visible in the distance, 1903

Wilbur Wright flying his and Orville Wright’s 1902 glider at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, with the brothers’ camp and shed visible in the distance, 1903

At Kitty Hawk the brothers proved why the world’s greatest inventors are often called pioneers. In addition to building their hangar, they had to dig a well for fresh water, haul in their supplies, cook their meals using limited foodstuffs, develop relationships with the few islanders who could help them in their experiments, and correspond home regularly to keep their bicycle business going and let their father and sister know they were all right. More astoundingly, though, they had to do the very thing that few people who are the “brains” or engineers of a grand and daring project ever do: they had to mount their flying machines and learn how to ride them, which, judging by the photos alone, required no small amount of bravery. And because it was natural for their flyers to crash during their trial runs, they had to spend considerable hours repairing them and making refinements.

One of the few men who witnessed that first flight of the Wright brothers, who came along to help that day, called them the two “workingest boys” he ever knew. That assessment is underscored throughout The Wright Brothers — at every turn of their story, McCullough shows us their affinity for rolling up their shirtsleeves, yet his account of the brothers is much fuller than that. Reading his book is akin to watching a film like Seabiscuit or witnessing the Chicago Cubs win the 2016 World Series: it makes the reader a front-row spectator to history being made in heroic, almost sporting fashion. He accomplishes this by depicting not only the brothers themselves but the world-stage upon which their accomplishments unfolded, and by allowing his biography to be as glittering as the act of flight itself. His deft portrayals of the audiences on both sides of the Atlantic that waited with bated breath to behold the brothers on their flying machines are coupled to McCullough’s arresting descriptions of the flights. Naturally, there were plenty of naysayers and detractors who didn’t believe human flight was possible, and the author mentions them, but whereas other biographers might pepper the story with more of these types of quotes for impact, McCullough emphasizes the sense of expectation that was met by the Wright brothers almost everywhere they went, once word from Kitty Hawk got out. What happened at Kitty Hawk was just the beginning, and McCullough allows the story to steadily build towards a climax by recounting the brothers’ untiring efforts to master the art of flying: of learning how to maneuver their mechanical birds higher, faster, farther, and over more challenging terrain and boundaries than the Outer Banks offered them.

He makes it clear that while they did almost everything together Orville and Wilbur weren’t co-pilots. Each brother flew separately and, in terms of skill, one did not lag behind the other. Both men became skilled jockeys and consistently worked at bettering their achievements. Whereas their first successful flight in Kitty Hawk could be measured in feet and spanned less than half the size of a football field, by 1909, Orville (who a year earlier had survived a horrendous crash in Washington DC that killed his passenger) made news at a demonstration in Potsdam, Germany, by flying to an altitude of 984 feet, “higher than anyone had yet flown in an airplane.” On or about the same day, Wilbur was making headlines in New York City, where he’d signed on for his first-ever paid public flight in the United States as part of an anniversary celebration commemorating Henry Hudson’s ascent of the Hudson River. On one of his practice runs,

Wireless signals went out, signal flags went up, and off he went. Instead of heading toward the mouth of the Hudson, as expected, he swung to the west into the wind and, flying over two ferryboats, headed straight for the Statue of Liberty on Bedloe’s Island, circled the statue, and sailed over over the Lusitania, which was then heading down the harbor, outward bound to Liverpool. Thousands of people were watching. Battery Park at the tip of Manhattan was thick with spectators, and passengers on deck on the Lusitania frantically waved hats, scarfs, handkerchiefs as Wilbur passed over their heads.

He maneuvered his plane with perfect control through a whole series of dips and turns. But it was the spectacle of Wilbur Wright and his flying machine circling the Statue of Liberty that made the most powerful impression, which would be talked about, written about, and remembered more than anything… †

McCullough’s description of such flights is worth the price of the book alone. They are the literary version of watching one’s favorite thoroughbred maneuver to the finish line of a Triple Crown race course. That said, perhaps the most delightfully surprising facet of reading The Wright Brothers is in discovering their “rightness” — the innate goodness and sense of decency of these two men. So often the people we admire as revolutionary inventors, leaders, or heroes turn out to be people who have burning hot temperaments to match their burning passions — some of them with a few skeletons in their closet. The Wright brothers, by all accounts in this book, were the kind of genuinely good men we want to believe in and cheer for. And they were admirable from a young age: the book’s opening chapter recounts how Wilbur, at eighteen, was seriously injured at a hockey game by a kid who viciously smashed him in the face with his stick. (This same kid later ended up murdering his own family.) Though he suffered excruciating pain, had to be fitted with false teeth, and had digestive complications and recurrent bouts with depression that left him a recluse for three years, he rarely spoke of the event afterwards and spent much of this time caring for his ailing mother.

Even after they became famous, the brothers put family first. Acknowledging the role their sister Katharine played in their success (she gave their lives a sense of foundation and kept things up and running when they were away), they took her to Paris with them on a celebratory trip  — a significant gesture that McCullough devoted an entire chapter to in the book.

Wilbur Wright at Le Mans France

Wilbur Wright, Le Mans, France, August 8, 1908.

One might wonder, after reading The Wright Brothers, whether he portrays the brothers in terms that are too good to be true. It is a reasonable question, yet there is example after example to back up such a portrait. As is noted by the book on its jacket cover, McCullough drew his story from “the immense riches of the Wright Papers, including personal diaries, notebooks, and more than a thousand letters from private family correspondence.” That assurance might not be enough for some, but it is enough for this reader, who wants to believe there truly are honest, decent men and women with the “(W)right stuff” to not only succeed, but to soar beyond our wildest dreams.

David McCullough book The Wright Brothers

The Wright Brothers, copyright © 2015 by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2015, pp. 5 & 243)

Do You Love the Place Where You Live?

S7305184Do you love the place where you live? Its backyards and alleys, its houses and people?

Collages6Do you love its weather (physical, political, and otherwise)? Is it a place where spirits soar?

State College walk around March 23 2017-001Can you identify its colors, its faults, its charms?

State College walk around March 23 20171Does it accommodate art and embrace differences? Does it know where the wild things are and save a space for them too?

Collages4  Is there an evident pattern of pride that gives you a boost . . .

State College walk around March 23 20173s7305126.jpg. . . . rather than making you feel buttoned down?

State College walk around March 23 20172Do you love the place where you live?

State College walk around March 23 20174 Is it a place that is welcoming to strangers, yet where you can imagine your chickens coming home to roost?

 

These pictures were snapped a couple days ago, when I was walking around one of the neighborhoods of my hometown — the town of State College, Pennsylvania. My husband and I live about a ten minute drive away on its rural outskirts, but this neighborhood is quite special to us. When first dating, back in the ’90s, we walked these sidewalks for hours every night, talking and getting to know one another. I’ve lived here most of my life, with the exception of six years after college, so perhaps it’s natural that there came a time when I wanted to move away from this area and make my home in a sunnier part of the United States (the desert southwest was calling to me).

Lately, though,  I’m having a “second-honeymoon” feeling about the place where I live. State College has small-town charm and, at the same time, a population that is culturally diverse, thanks to the local university and, in particular, its graduate-student program, which draws many international students into our fold. For almost its entire existence, State College has revolved around welcoming newcomers — because of Penn State University, that is its business — and this welcoming nature makes for a town that is lively and friendly. To wit: while taking my stroll on Thursday, I looked up and saw a young man flying in graceful, arcing circles above the yard of his house. He was doing arabesques and changing positions as he went round and round, many feet off the ground. “Can I take your photo?” I called to him over the wrought iron fence of his yard. “Sure, come in,” he said, and in the space of ten minutes I learned a little of his history. (His name is Dimitry, he studied circus arts and, for a while, lived and performed in New York City before moving back to State College, which is where he grew up too. The long-poled contraption that suspended him as he flew in elegant circles above his yard was a gift he recently bought himself for his 26th birthday.)

“Are you happy to be back here?” I asked him as I was leaving, silently wondering if someone who has lived in the Big Apple would find State College to be more than a little too small. “I am!” he said without hesitation. “I love it here.”

swirl clipart