The Big Easy: Food, Music, Cats and Perfumes

New Orleans seems to be one of those places to where everybody either always wanted to go or had been to and remembers it fondly. Somehow nobody I spoke about New Orleans had mentioned the local weather.

Neither my vSO nor I like hot weather. Hot and humid is even worse. So I’m not sure how it happened that we agreed to go with our friends to New Orleans mid-June. It just hadn’t crossed my mind to check in March when we planned the trip what to expect. Most likely, I wasn’t paying attention because the dates were set (our friends had an annual event to attend there, and we were just piggybacking on their special hotel rates). So for the six days we spent there it was above 30C/90F during the day, which put a strain on our ability to explore the city. But we did our best.

Ambiance

When arriving to a new city, nothing puts you at ease better than seeing a new security feature introduced by Uber…

 

Uber Safety Feature

 

I swear: it wasn’t there several hours earlier when I used the app to get a ride to the airport in San Francisco! So, while I thought it was a clever idea, and whenever I used Uber before, I was always making sure to inform somebody where I was, I started questioning immediately how unsafe it was there that they felt like running the onboarding for the feature specifically on my first use of the service in New Orleans. But during the stay everything seemed to be quite safe, even though (or thanks to?) I’ve never remembered seeing that much of police presence on the streets anywhere else.

Food

Food we had during our stay in New Orleans was good. I wouldn’t say it was spectacular but it was good. Expensive but good. We even found a place that served an afternoon tea. What pleasantly surprised me was that practically all cocktails we had in different places were well made, which I cannot say about many restaurants around where we live. Looking back, the day was broken into small chunks of doing something else in between finding ourselves at the next café or restaurant – to cool off while eating or drinking something.

 

 

Entertainment

Recommendations we got from friends and colleagues were food (everyone started with food!), swamps (it was too hot to attempt that), a couple of museums (did that) and music events. We were too busy before the trip to research where we’d like to go, and it was a mistake. The first night in New Orleans a group of us went to some jazz club for a drink and some music. Drinks were fine. Music… Some people just do not understand that “improvisation” doesn’t mean producing random sounds with a saxophone. For the next 6 days, as we were coming across different musicians on the street or at different venues – be those marching or seating bands or even lonely drummers, I kept saying: “Even that is better than what we heard the first night!”

 

 

I get easily bored at museums: there’s that fine line between keeping me interested for 2-3 hours and making me yawn in 15 minutes, and I rarely can predict the way it would go with one museum or the other. But since it was very hot outside, Louisiana State Museum seemed like a good alternative to just returning to the hotel room and trying to watch Netflix streaming of some next show episode.

It wasn’t the most interesting or entertaining exhibition but it had its moments, so I cannot really complain about it (it was much better than numerous museums I’ve visited in different parts of the world before). But one stand captured my attention, and I spent probably more than 5 minutes in front of it.

New Orleans Music

 

I did read the text (and you can too if you open the picture: I purposefully didn’t resize it); but what attracted me the most, were two telephone handsets (wired) that you could use to listen to the same song – The Battle of New Orleans – performed by Johnny Horton and Lonnie Donegan. I still can’t say which one I like more. Can you?

 

 

 

Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium wasn’t something that anyone had recommended but one night while walking around our hotel we came across a bright lit window with live butterflies, got curious and came back the next day. I have no idea how it came to that, but this museum, the largest free-standing American museum dedicated to insects, is located at the U.S. Custom House Federal Building. The security measures to get into this museum were stricter than those we went through at the airport. But I really enjoyed the exposition. We all probably read about mimicry and saw some nature documentary about it on TV, but when you see up-close insects that resemble flowers (Orchid mantis) or leaves (Dead Leaf mantis or walking leaf Phylliidae) it is very impressive. (Can you spot all of them on the pictures below?) And butterflies that just float all around you and sit on any available surface (including you) were just beautiful.

 

 

Cats

Even while on the best vacation, we miss Rusty a lot. I wish he could travel with us. But I doubt either one of us would enjoy it. So he usually gets a cat sitter to keep him company. And while we were getting the “proof of life” as I called those daily pictures that a cat sitter was sending us, we kept coming across New Orleans cats everywhere – on the street (either sleeping in shadow or even walking on a leash), in the store (in an eyewear shop Art & Eyes where we went because our friend wanted to get a new frame, we met Hamilton, a store cat; another one we saw sleeping on a half-finished carpet still on a loom), or on pictures and prints sold at the art fair on Frenchman street (I couldn’t pass that orange cat print – so now it hangs over my Zen Garden in the office).

 

 

Perfumes

I plan to do the next post focusing on perfumes I discovered while in New Orleans: it won’t make them justice to cram them in the end of a long post. But since it’s a perfume blog, I cannot not to touch on the subject completely (and it wouldn’t be true to the story since perfumes do play an important role in my life).

Since I knew it would be hot and humid, I brought with me perfumes that I thought would work well in that weather. And all of them were great and added to positive side of the trip. But the one that stood out was Byredo Bal D’Afrique.

Before falling in love with it, I tried it several times. The issue was that two samples that I got from friends earlier stayed neglected in the pile “to test” until they went off leaving rather unpleasant impression and regret about wasted skin “real estate” once I finally got to test them. And then I got a fresh sample – and it was a completely different story.

Even then I, being me, did not go for a bottle but instead bought a decant from one of the split groups on FB. Partially it’s explained by the fact that I think that Byredo’s minimalistic bottle and packaging design doesn’t suit this perfume. Those clean lines, good for the tender La Tulipe, seem wrong for this bright and sexy perfume.

I do not see myself wearing it too often since most of my life goes at work, and Bal D’Afrique is not even remotely office-friendly, but it is an extremely interesting oriental woody perfume that should work equally well both in the dead of winter and on a tropical vacation. It seems like a truly unisex perfume but not one of those anemic citrus-y numbers that can be considered as such just because none of genders would claim the ownership, but rather a bold statement that perfectly fits anyone who wants to wear it.

If you find interesting such perfumes as Byredo Pulp, L’Artisan Traversee du Bosphore or DelRae Bois de Paradise, definitely give Bal D’Afrique a try.

 

Rusty in Grass

 

Since my decant of Bal D’Afrique isn’t too picturesque, and I do not have any Africa-inspired or related items to make a nice shot, I decided to illustrate it with the photo of Rusty on my backyard (à la African Savanna stroll).

 

Is New Orleans on your bucket list?

 

Images: my own

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Small Things That Brighten Life: Two Suns

Today was a good day: first of all, it was a weekend after a busy week. Second, I didn’t have to be anywhere so I almost missed the heat wave that was happening outside (“almost” because at some point I had to turn on the A/C – just to make sure my perfumes were comfortable, I myself could have easily stayed downstairs without it). Third, I managed to finish a couple of chores at home, which gave me some sense of accomplishment (something that I don’t get at work recently because of the size of the project I’m working on). Forth, I got a chance to do some serious perfume testing since dictated by the weather short sleeves of my lounge wear allowed for multiple “test sites.”

And at the end of the day overcast that will bring us tomorrow a relief from the short temperature spike today, once again, served as a sophisticated camera lens that allowed me to see a very unusual sunset.

 

Sunset June 2018

 

… and about 10 minutes later

 

Sunset June 2018

 

Have a nice Sunday and stay cool (warm – for those on the opposite side).

 

Images: my own (pictures were not color edited)

Perfumes, Wine and Ocean

This was planned for the previous week, but time just ran away from me. So, it’s a Second Sunday Samples post on the third Sunday of the month.

* * *

As we were planning a short getaway with friends, I was facing the usual perfumista’s dilemma: which perfumes to bring. Not only we had really vague plans that included wine and cheese tasting (not at the same time), eating oysters and beach walks, but also those activities were spread in two distinct temperature-wise areas – wine country (+32C/90F) and oceanside (23C/73F). Since I wasn’t sure how long each part of the trip would take, I didn’t want to subject any of my favorite perfumes to hours in a hot car trunk, so I didn’t consider either full bottles or even travel ones. At the same time, as a rule, I do not wear perfumes from samples that I test – unless I’m trying to decide whether to buy more. So I took with me samples for perfumes that I’ve either already included into my collection or considered for that.

 

Perfume Samples

 

I ended up wearing just one of the perfumes featured in the picture above – Jo Malone English Pear & Freesia: it was wonderful on a hot day and somehow managed not to clash with aromas from wines that we tasted that day, even though theoretically I wouldn’t recommend this perfume for the activity. I did a mini-review for it almost seven years ago in my post In the Search for the Perfect Pear, and I still enjoy wearing it but I still haven’t bought a bottle because I haven’t finished the decant and several samples that I got. It is though one of my strong favorites from this brand, and just in case you missed it in the sea of Jo Malone’s releases I encourage you to try English Pear & Freesia. Unless they change it beyond recognition, I see a bottle in my future.

 

 

One more Jo Malone perfume – Wood Sage & Sea Salt – I brought with me because it seemed like a good fit to the aquatic part of our trip. Created by Christine Nagel in 2014, with a short list of notes – ambrette seeds, sea salt, sage, seaweed and grapefruit, it felt right in place during our walk on the beach and later for the oysters and champagne dinner at the house that we rented with our friends. Wood Sage & Sea Salt wears nicely both on the tropical beach and on a cool NorCal shore (but I’m glad that I do not smell seaweed in the composition: even though I do not mind smelling it from time to time in nature, I wouldn’t want to smell of it). Will I buy a bottle once I finish my decant? I’m not sure but I might.

 

 

The biggest surprise for me was Mito EdP by vero profumo: I have tried it soon after the release and even remember liking it, but somehow I didn’t go through with the thorough testing – and the sample just stayed in my library for the last several years. It felt right for the occasion, so I took it with me, wore it on a sunny warm day for another round of wine tasting – and loved-loved-loved it.

Most of my readers had probably tested Mito before (and some even reviewed it), so I won’t go through the complete list of notes. But I want to mention my most favorite moments in this perfume development: prominent citrus opening that manages not to take this perfume into the summery cologne territory, slightly bitter greenness of galbanum in development and sweet warmth of … I have no idea what produces that effect but I keep bringing my wrist to my nose trying to figure it out… I think my almost empty sample isn’t enough to finish my study of this beautiful perfume, so I’ll just have to do something about it – in the interest of science, you know.

 

Vero Profumo Mito

 

Images: my own

Timeless Beauty

I have a friend whose hobby is to lead guided tours in San Francisco. Last weekend she invited us to join one of her tours – San Francisco Waterfront Walk. I had no idea what topic she had chosen but it didn’t matter because we went mostly for a walk itself and to spend some time with her and her husband later that day.

The tour started from The Palace of Fine Arts. It was designed by Bernard R. Maybeck and constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition as a temporary structure to exhibit works of art. It was intended to last for a year or so and be torn down after the exposition was over. But the Palace was so beloved by citizens of San Francisco that it was spared the demolition. Consistent with his design concept (it was supposed to evoke the impression of a Roman ruin), Maybeck had intended that the Palace should just fall into ruin, and so it did for a long time while serving all possible purposes – housing multiple exhibitions, lighted tennis courts (1934-1942), storage of trucks and jeeps (during the WWII), limousines motor pool for the UN representatives after the war, and other odd uses. By 50s “the simulated ruin was in fact a crumbling ruin” but in 60s it was rebuilt to its current state and is being maintained since then.

 

 

From the Palace we passed the streets that replaced the exhibit halls in the years that followed the exposition. We went by beautiful Art Deco buildings, through blooming jasmine, lilacs and irises, all the way to the Marina from where you can see one of the world’s largest examples of the Art Deco style – the Golden Gate Bridge on the left and Alcatraz Island on the right.

 

Up the hill, through the park and Fort Mason Community Garden, to the Haskell House and back down to the shore. It was a wonderful 3-hour walk on a sunny, breezy and, surprisingly for San Francisco, clear day.

What perfume does one choose for such tour?

 

Paris, 1926. ‘Art deco’ is all the rage, exoticism fascinates, and jazz stirs passions. People dream of faraway lands and precious woods. Once again, Coco Chanel shakes up the history of perfume by launching the first woody fragrance for women. An intoxicating, enveloping, warm, sensual, spiraling scent. It’s all there: the precious woods, the opiate scents and magnificent, languid flowers. The fragrance is a mysterious, faraway continent in itself.

 

That is an old quote from Chanel’s website. They’ve changed the description at least a couple of times over the last several years (I wonder if it coincided with reformulations) but you have probably guessed already that I chose Bois des Iles as my Waterfront Walk perfume. Since I didn’t know any details of that walk in advance, my perfume choice was just a serendipitous one. But it felt just right – airy, with a whiff of lilacs, jasmine, iris and rose, warm, slightly sweet and woody. Same as The Palace of Fine Arts and the Golden Gate Bridge, this beauty has survived all the years and reconstructions and is still mesmerizing and awe-inspiring.

Chanel Bois des Iles

 

Images: my own

Small Things That Brighten Life: Wildflowers

I can’t believe it has been more than six months since I published something in this series. It was not because nothing good was happening but somehow I would get distracted – and then some other topic would come up. So this time I decided not to wait.

One of our local parks – Edgewood Park & Natural Preserve – is known for its wild flowers. We used to go there often in different seasons but in the recent years for many reasons, none of which is a good excuse, we stopped spending time in parks. This year we remembered in time about the wildflowers season and decided it was a perfect opportunity to re-institute some of better habits.

I knew that the best time for this area is mid-late April but hoped that because of the warm winter we had and all the rain that has finally honored us with its presence in March blooming season would start earlier. It has started but it’s not in full swing yet. Nevertheless, there was a nice variety of flowers on sunny grasslands and just amazing greenery in the shade of woods. It was a well spent Easter Sunday.

 

 

When was the last time you saw wildflowers?

 

Images: my own

Celebrating Missed Opportunities

As I’ve mentioned more than once, I live in the area where we have two seasons: summer and the rest of the year. I do not complain: I love our weather (even when I wish we’d have more rain) and think that our climate is one of the best possible. But from time to time, especially around winter holidays, I get a pang of nostalgia for real winter with snow, icicles and colder weather. Then we go to nearby mountains – and it cures those feelings for the next couple of years.

Since neither my vSO no I are into the downhill skiing, on our winter trips we usually enjoy snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Because of the drought we had in 2012-16, for several years we didn’t go “into winter”: while skiing resorts were making artificial snow for quite expensive downhill rides, our preferred winter activities were out of question. And without snow there wasn’t much sense in going there.

So when after five years of snowless New Year celebrations I wanted my snow fix, we decided not to rely on unpredictable California weather and planned a trip to Utah. Nobody in our “party of six” had ever been to there, and it was promising to be a perfect New Year getaway.

 

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Panoramic views from the dining room of the cabin where we stayed were spectacular, including what felt like a private viewing of the supermoon… And that was almost the full extent of my winter experience this time since, following my vSO’s steps (which almost never happens in these matters), I got extremely sick soon after the arrival.

 

Utah 2018 Supermoon

 

It was perfect winter outside: not too cold, fresh snow, sun during the day and full moon at night. And all I could manage was to crawl downstairs to the living room to spend time with our friends (when they weren’t outside), watch TV (re-watching Monk TV show was surprisingly comforting), work on a mystery puzzle (2 x 1000 pieces without a hint – and we solved the murder!) and eat great meals that our friends cooked. And these simple things would take up all of my strength and resolve.

 

 

Not long before the trip I bought two travel sprays from Sonoma Scent StudioWinter Woods and Fireside Intense. I had an idea that where we were going would be just the right setting for wearing both of those perfumes. I planned to take some appropriate pictures and make a post out of it once I got back.

Despite being sick, I wore some perfumes during this trip but none of the two SSS’s perfumes felt right to wear while being stuck in the cabin: both seemed too strong and intense. But what was even worse, I felt too weak to even try to put on warm clothes and try to go for a photo shoot outside. So my friend agreed to help and in between producing all that food pictured above spent 15 minutes outside taking pictures according to the general directions I gave her from my sick sofa.

 

Sonoma Scent Studio Winter Woods and Fireside Intense

 

I was barely out of the woods (both literary and figuratively speaking), when I got the news that Laurie Erickson was retiring from the business. Combined with my failed vacation, it seemed strange to write about perfumes that nobody could either try or buy any longer. Then my blog’s anniversary, a Month of Irises and my birthday came, and I put all that out of my mind.

March is being great this year: we got a lot of rain that we needed. And with it cold weather came, which allowed me to wear many of my winter favorites that I didn’t get a chance to wear earlier in the year. Including Winter Woods and Fireside intense. And I enjoyed them both very much.

Many years ago I wrote about Winter Woods. It took me 6 years to go through my 2.5 ml sample. So, I think I’ll be fine for a while with these 5 ml travel sprays. So, as much as it makes me sad to see this brand go (or changing hands, which, in general, is the same thing), I’m glad that I got to know it, and there will be many more chances for me to wear these perfumes – with or without snow around me. It’s a pity that those of you who haven’t tried them (or my most recent favorite Bee’s Bliss), won’t get to. But there will be other winters, other perfumes and other opportunities. And I hope that Laurie Erickson who created perfumes that touched so many people will be successful in pursuing her new opportunities.

 

Sonoma Scent Studio Winter Woods and Fireside Intense

 

Are there any perfumes that you wish you had bought before they disappeared?

 

Images: my own

Merry Christmas!

Rusty and Christmas 2017

 

Best wishes to all my friends and readers who celebrate Christmas. I hope your holidays are filled with joy and love. And good food (Rusty can relate to that last part).

 

Please join me in wishing many healthy and nutritious years to Rusty who turns 9 today. He is a wonderful cat who brightens our life and brings a lot of positive emotions to many other people.