This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.
SATURDAY, JULY 25: I’m starting to write this post on
Saturday night, the day my Huernia zebrina bloomed. It looks like I’m going to be the only
perfumer at the Seattle Chocolate Salon, which used to be the Chocolate and
Fragrance Salon before the organizers decided they weren’t making enough money
from the perfume side of it. I’m preparing for a crowd of people who probably
have little or no knowledge about perfume, and little or no appreciation for
it. Some may even be afraid of wearing perfume.
I’ve tried to design an eye-catching general-public-friendly
display that has some items other than perfume - body balm and soap. There will
be drawings for live orchid plants throughout the day, and the featured
fragrances for both perfume and soap will include Seattle Chocolate and
California Chocolate. I expect to do more educating than anything else. It’s
not even 9 PM yet, and everything is ready to go! I’ve gotten quite efficient
at packing for shows.
MONDAY, JULY 27: The show is over, and played out pretty
much as predicted. The venue was a large, suburban hotel next to a bleak
freeway exit in the south end of Bellevue, just across the lake from Seattle.
As far as I could tell, it was only accessible by car, ruling out attendance by
anyone who did not drive, as well as any walk-in attendees.
Most surprising was the fact that the hotel was undergoing a
major construction operation, so the vendors and public had to walk through a
maze of plywood and plastic tunnels to reach the so-called “ballroom” where the
event was held. Given the nature of the venue, its location, and its condition,
I’m surprised that attendance was as good as it was.
The vendors were a mixed conglomeration of businesses,
ranging from high-end chocolatiers who had flown in from Florida through Northwest
tea retailers, a street-fair jewelry stand, and a financial consultant! I
thought I would be the odd business out, but clearly I was wrong. I actually
featured some chocolate-themed products that stimulated the chemical senses.
This strategy had its pros and cons. The fact that I
highlighted chocolate-themed fragrances made me fit right into the mainstream,
but it also resulted in more than a few people asking how to eat my products!
More than the usual number of people informed me that they
were “allergic to perfume”. I think there’s a correlation between driving
everywhere and being “allergic” to everything. If they really had allergies, I
imagine they would have fled as soon as they smelled the moldy carpet in the
ballroom, which was hard to ignore. Oddly, some of the “allergic” people asked
me if I had scented candles.
As I expected, I sold more soaps and body balm than perfume,
although the travel sprays were a popular item. This show was like a typical
orchid show in that Red Cattleya was the fragrance preferred by the majority,
with many of my other perfumes just evoking puzzled looks. That’s fine. I
explained that not every perfume has to smell like walking into a Sephora shop.
If even one person’s olfactory horizon expanded by a few molecules, I did my
Perfume shows are always good for discovering new types of
anosmia, in this case an inability to smell the incredibly strong patchouli in
my newly-minted Patchouli Lover’s soap!
Overall, it was an interesting day, not particularly
profitable, but an interesting session of observing the people of the Eastside
who go to chocolate shows and, with any luck, expanding their horizons.
[All photos are mine except for the one with the Quantum Demonology book and Devil Scents, which is from the Taste TV Fragrance Salon Facebook page]
Having two businesses and a day-job provides an opportunity
for me to recycle leftovers from one enterprise for use in another. I wrap
orchid plants in recycled copies of the student newspaper. I pack perfumes in
recycled styrofoam peanuts from my department and from shipments of materials
that I receive. I use cut-off paper grocery bags as carry-out boxes for drop-in
customers who buy plants from the greenhouse. I shred the ugly advertising
flyers that come to our mailbox several times a week to make padding to use in shipping delicate
It recently occurred to me that when I pack perfume boxes in
colored tissue paper and trim the ends off to make a neat package, I can save
the trimmings and add them to the shredded paper stash that I use to pack the
orchids. I drop the shredded tissue in a paper bag, letting it accumulate until
the bag is full and then adding it to the shredded advertising flyers. It looks
nice and colorful, and keeps the plants safe as they travel.
Little did I know what a treat this bag of shredded paper
would be for our big cat, Jasper! He loves to tip the bag over, rake the shredded
paper into a comfy bed, and sleep half in, half out of the bag. The more paper
there is in the bag, the better he likes it. What could be cuter than a
20-pound cat sleeping in a grocery bag, surrounded by bright-colored paper
streamers? I can only imagine what a feeling of luxury it gives him.
Having grown up in places where houses, apartment buildings,
shops, and all other buildings are entered straight from the street, I never
cease to be mystified by the peculiar design of entrances in suburban (and
pseudo-urban) areas of the US. The perpetration and perpetuation of dysfunctional
design really struck me the other day when I drove down a local thoroughfare where
a wasteland of derelict structures had been torn down and the entire area
rebuilt to look like an urban street lined with shops, complete with sidewalks.
Forget about the fact that everything is one story, with no living spaces above
the shops. It still looks like a huge improvement over the used car lots and
abandoned K-Mart that were there before.
At least I thought it was an improvement until I realized
that there were no visible entrances to any of the shops! Further investigation
revealed that, indeed, the structures that looked like they might be doors were not. There were no entrances at all from the street side, just fake
facades that looked as if there should be entrances. Unless the whole thing is
a completely fake façade like the ones that were painted or built in Northern Ireland to hide economically depressed areas before the 2013 G8 summit, all of
the entrances to these buildings must be acessed from a strip-mall type parking lot on
the other side. Why build a sidewalk and storefronts if they’re not meant to be
The question of why there are no street-side doors is
especially relevant because there appears to be a good bit of foot traffic in
the area. There’s a bus stop on the corner, and in the few minutes I stood on
the other side of the street taking pictures, a bus stopped to load and unload
passengers, and a number of pedestrians walked up and down the street. Granted,
maybe dentists, stockbroker’s offices, and mobile phone retailers are not prime
candidates for drop-in customers and impulse buys, but most of the strip is
occupied by restaurants, hairdressers, snack shops, and such. I would be
willing to bet that if there were an attractive, inviting entrance from the
street, these shops’ business would double.
Architects and planners need to move past the unfortunate 20th-century
notion that everything has to be designed for automobile traffic, a notion that
has probably resulted in more urban and suburban blight and destruction of the
natural environment than anything else in history. It has certainly made much
of the US an ugly, depressing and dysfunctional place to live. If as much
thought, energy, and resources went into making communities truly
human-friendly as goes into creating the appearance of doing so, this would be
a better place to live.
When you live on a quasi-farm as we do, noxious plant
control takes on a certain importance and urgency. If you’ve ever read books by
Tom Robbins, you may remember his seemingly over-the-top descriptions of
blackberries in Seattle. The ugly truth is that everything he writes about
blackberries is true. Within a year they can take over an entire one-acre lot
and bury any buildings that are in their path. The blackberries are usually
surrounded by various sorts of grass and weeds that block access to them, like
lines of foot soldiers protecting tanks and heavy artillery. Because of
Michael’s injured foot, this summer I am the sole defender of our property
against these invaders.
My usual strategy is to use a weedeater to cut down the
grass and small blackberry starts to get at the mature ones. The adult
blackberries often have trunks up to 5 cm in diameter and tangled canes many
meters long. The most insidious thing of all is that in late summer the tips of
the canes send out roots and form new plants wherever they touch the ground.
This means that a single blackberry plant can spread in giant steps over an
For the big blackberries, I have to use heavy-duty pruning clippers to
cut them down and chop them up. Some people go to the gym to exercise, but I
spend up to an hour a day cutting down invasive weeds and blackberries. I have a
problem with weedeaters, which are mostly made for tall men. I can’t use
one that’s longer than I am tall, so have been limited to a clunky battery-powered
one with adjustable length called a “Grass Hog”, shown in the photo below right. This week the poor little Grass Hog died
of exhaustion, overtaxed by the rigors of cutting heavy weeds and brush, so we
had to go in search of a replacement.
Apparently they don’t make Grass Hogs any more, nor do any
of these devices go by the name of weedeater. I suppose it’s not politically
correct to insult a tool by calling it a “hog”, or to imply that weed is being
eaten, even though it’s perfectly legal to do so in Seattle. Maybe it’s no
longer politically correct to call unwanted forms of vegetation “weeds”. I
don’t know. In any case we found a battery-powered “string trimmer”, as they're now called, with
adjustable length and a 40-volt rechargeable battery that lasts 2-3 times as long as
two of the old Grass Hog's batteries used to do (the new one is in the lead photo for this post). The new battery charges
up so quickly that I could go out and weed-eat three times a day if I had nothing else to do.
It seems like a strange thing to be happy about, but there’s something
perversely satisfying about killing non-native invasive plants, and especially blackberries.
I have to bring perfume into the picture somehow, so will
observe that the scent of whacked-down vegetation is very different throughout
the year. In the late winter and early spring, the scent is moist and green,
with the occasional pungent smell of a shredded tansy mugwort, the weirdly
aromatic scent of Geranium robertianum, or the characteristic odor of fresh,
juicy blackberry stems and leaves. We haven’t had a drop of rain since May, and the sky is filled with smog from wildfires, so
this time of year the smell of cut vegetation is mostly dry and dusty, with the unpleasant odor of concentrated blackberry leaves and stems, accompanied by the occasional scent of a ripe
blackberry. If we ever get any rain, I look forward to the scent of water
hitting dry ground and pavement, but that may be a few months off given the typical weather patterns.
[Weedeater photos are from retail websites; blackberry photos are mine]
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