Helping out the smells

I don’t read too many fragance reviews. I don’t wear colognes, don’t sniff-browse at the department store, don’t even give a thought on the way past them. But I respect good writing about things I don’t use. Think of Dan Neil’s car columns or the annual New Yorker fashion issue.

So it was pleasant stumbling across Chandler Burr’s “Scent Notes” in The New York Times recently. I’d never buy or stop to smell what he was writing about, but as a fragrance columnist, he made me stop to read.

It was a December 3 story….

This strange time generates strange scents, though their strangeness is comforting, equal parts loneliness and love. I have spent certain Christmas Eves sitting on smooth, unfamiliar wood pews under the tall, chilled stone vaults of borrowed religions, and like everyone, I know the darker, private Christmas smells: thick candle wax, burned wick, cold, incense, smoke, fire.

Smoke fills many perfumes. Some are misfires; Yves Saint Laurent’s M7 might do better if it didn’t smell like a Renault engine in flames: burned rubber, seared chrome, frying polyethylene. It was as alarming as a flashing red light. But some smoke perfumes are as seductive as a kiss: Dzongkha. Here is an exquisite scent as mysterious — and as fragrant — as Orthodox icons covered in the sweet soot of a thousand years of devotional candles.

Read the rest on Burr’s site, and read his other Times columns.

The Dan Neil of scents?

Absolutely the most interesting fact I’ve read all week

So far. “Meatlifting is a grave problem for food retailers: According to the Food Marketing Institute, meat was the most shoplifted item in America’s grocery stores in 2005.” The rest.

There’s sadly no mention of the time Lucy and Ethel tried to sneak beef into a butcher shop and sell it in a baby carriage, only to be booted and later frozen in a meat locker.

A week later

January 15 New Yorker, in the listings–

The Holmes Brothers have been delivering blues, soul, gospel, and R&B for decades, and their time has been well spent. They remain capable of awesome achievements; they can even make Cheap Trick sound holy, as they do with their inspired cover of “I Want You to Want Me,” on their new album, “State of Grace.”

The trick of turning the profane holy aside, I don’t know if my radio dial has been spread more widely or if the area classic rockers are playing Cheap Trick less. Whatever the cause, I Want You to Want Me has seemed to take on a more epic quality in the winter. The transitions sound sharper, like the work of more American Who, which is ridiculous I know but you sit in Tysons’ night traffic and hope for motion.

The sentiment you’ve missed for the riffs and repetition the million times you’ve heard it doesn’t fit at all otherwise. “I’ll shine up the old brown shoes, put on a brand-new shirt, I’ll get home early from work if you say that you love me.” A reminder comes in the Holmes Brothers’ version, which puts all its weight there.

From the January 9 New Yorker

Fresh out of Columbia’s M.F.A. program, Jang is a young photographer whose history of gang activity (some of it literally inscribed on his body) provides his most potent material. For this series of dramatically shadowed color closeups, he created patterns of black dots on the nape of his neck, inner wrist, and other areas of bare, burnished flesh with drops of hot sealing wax.

I read this passage in the listings and thought to myself, “Sealing? Really?” Not ceiling? Googling this, apparently I’m not the only person confused by early-in-life readings of Puff the Magic Dragon.

And then there’s this, unrelated, later in the issue:

Two bit players in Shakespeare’s Hamlet argue about duality, in dialogues composed of short lines that turn in on themselves sinking into solipsism. Stoppard’s characters do not live so much as imagne what life could be, if it adhered to their visions. His dramatizations take us on a guided tour of the life of the mind, with all its blind spots, loves, and delusions, as it is shaped by the uncontrollable forces of history.