Thursday, August 30, 2007

Harvest Home, Part III


If you have ever worked a field from the time of its first plowing until the first day of the harvest, you will know that there exists a clear association between certain odors and certain kinds of weather. For a good nose, a field contains as many olfactory nuances (based on temperature and humidity) as, for a painter or photographer, it contains tones, or notes, of color. The rain brings out the sweetness as well as the dirtiness of nature's bounty–as if when we stopped sweating, nature began. The persistence of sun and dry wind brings out the spiciness and ozonic qualities of nature and the atmosphere. According to Rudolf Steiner, centuries ago the agricultural traditions of northern Europe stood for an almost intuitive understanding of such phenomena, but nowadays with the flight of the young from agriculture such intuitions have begun to reemerge in unlikely places: the labs of the flavor and fragrance industry. Quite frankly, I was a little stumped when it came to choosing the last of the harvest triad. I wanted to choose scents that, more than merely mimicking the clichés of late summer, spoke to an intimate knowledge of nature's tumescence and sudden decline. Some classics from the Santa Maria Novella eau de toilette collection came to mind as did a Duchaufour creation for La Sirenuse, but, at the end of the day, two of Jean-Claude Ellena's scent-paintings stood out like masterful oil sketches: L'Artisan Parfumeur's Bois Farine (2003) and, from the recent Hermèssence collection, Osmanthe Yunnan (2005). Wearing them on alternating days, I found that the former marked our gradual move indoors (grain ground to flour; the baking that marks the first of the cooler days; rainfall) while the latter marked a fundamental human ambivalence towards "in-betweenness" (summer sliding into fall; the fullness of life before the inevitable going-to-seed; that bitter lesson which nonetheless leaves a trace of sweetness on our lips). While Bois Farine provides a comfort-food bakeoff of white cedar, fennel seed and Ruizia Cordata blossom drying down to a deletactably doughy base of sandalwood, orris root and benzoin, Osmanthe Yunnan is a minimalist haiku: bergamot, tea and the eponymous Chinese flower. The one puts her unconditionally loving arms around us while the other draws the bath and sets out the steaming, restorative cup. If I had one to pick for sheer ingenuity, it would be the more softly spoken Osmanthe Yunnan. It reminds me of a very expensive oolong tea which shows its strength not in size but in delicacy, in being seemingly at peace with the "in-betweenness" of late summer.

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