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What I See: Evanston, Illinois

IMG_3857Ever since I heard about Pat B. Allen’s Open Studio Project, I have been hankering to attend her workshop series located in Evanston, Illinois. Finally, last weekend, I was able to participate in one of the facilitator workshops about establishing your own personal practice. What I didn’t expect was how enchanted I would be by the city of Evanston, Illinois. Since I arrived quite early before the workshop, I had time to explore the town a bit, and – nerd alert! – the public library was at the top of my list. Pictured above is a beautiful installation piece which inhabits the library’s stairwell. This library is top notch, from the children’s room to the “Most Wanted Books” section to the research floor. I spent a leisurely hour or so perusing shelves and researching archives for information about the Eleanor Club in Chicago where Mom lived in the late 1940’s. More on this in another post. IMG_3871Strolling about I wandered onto the campus of Northwestern University and came upon a charming chapel, now used for recitals. These windows caught my eye. IMG_3881Walking towards Lake Michigan, I was astonished to find a sandy beach beneath my feet, just blocks from the downtown streets that are chock full of shops and eateries. One clearly beloved place was Bennison’s Bakery and I snapped a view of this young woman decorating a cake:IMG_3860The vibrant colors reminded me of the purpose of my trip, a weekend of intentional art making at the Open Studio Project, an easy walk from the University grounds, as you head towards Chicago proper. Here’s a shot of their light filled gallery:IMG_3907IMG_3867I must mention the Lucky Platter, where my colleagues and I had a few delicious meals. (The apricot flakey will take your taste buds to heaven) After an afternoon of sculpting with tin foil and masking tape, we felt right at home here, where the ceiling is embellished with little balls of aluminum foil. The humble sparkle adds a whimsical ambiance and those who served us made us feel right at home. As a matter of fact, I felt very welcomed by the city of Evanston, with its cozy downtown, international flavor and friendly folk all around. IMG_3908To be honest, I didn’t even mind the delay at O’Hare Airport. It’s sunny and colorful concourse with public art displays gave me yet another terrific experience during my trip to Illinois. Needless to say, I plan to return again soon!

Satan’s Hot Sauce and My Streetcar to Happiness…

IMG_3480“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. “ Thomas Merton

These were my thoughts exactly as I found myself on the north (?) bound streetcar in the grand old city of New Orleans, the day after Christmas beside hubby and with three nearly adult children in tow – oh the pressure! How confounding! Sure, if you know your way around a public transportation map and the minds of teens, you may think I am being overly dramatic.

“Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.”

And though, brother Thomas, though you prayed this the God of your faith, I was praying this to my kids – so wanting to please them, with the ever increasing revelation that I had no idea what the heck they wanted! In spite of a few blips in our trip planning, like the three hour delay at Newark airport due to a cockpit door malfunction, being one day late for the much anticipated Reveillon dinner, and last minute show cancellations at the Spotted Cat, our family’s holiday trip to the Big Easy really was a delicious one, in every sense of the word.

sauce(This ain’t duck sauce…)

Though I fell in love with New Orleans during a Basenotes meetup where we visited Bourbon French Parfums and Hove Parfumeurs, this trip was more about food than fragrance, though the two certainly go hand in hand. In the olfactory dimension, it was about experiencing the aromas of the creole spices, sweet pralines, the zing of satanically hot sauces, sipping various cocktails (Zen Garden made with rhubarb bitters, ginger liqueur and vodka with a hotly spiced rim was a favorite) and the effervescence that goes along with it all.  I was enthralled by catching the wafting aroma of a fragrant flowering shrub along the neighborhood sidewalk in the garden district …the whiff of fragrant tobacco in the French Quarter and the chicory cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde … incense floating out of the church doors on Christmas Eve…

pralineWe stayed at the warm and welcoming Chimes Bed and Breakfast on Constantinople, an easy stroll to amazing eateries on Magazine Street and a hop on the streetcar or bus to the business district or the French Quarter. Our hostess, Jill Abbyad, was a sweet guide and outfitted us with all day passes ($3 per person for unlimited rides) and recommendations for the sights and sounds of the city. I recommend this excellent guesthouse with its charming, pristine rooms and artistic, yet cozy aesthetic without reservation.IMG_3545

Some of the places we ate that were blocks from the Chimes included Ignatius Eatery, where we had our first taste of fried green tomatoes, to which I am now devoted, and Dat Dog, a favorite of the kids, where we were initiated to the joy of alligator sausage dogs and something called white trash fries. Arnaud’s was an unexpected disappointment in logistics only, when I discovered that either by my mistake or theirs, we booked the wrong night for the Reveillon dinner, but Jonny, our gracious waiter, dried my silly tears and salvaged our Christmas Eve with a French 75 cocktail, fried frog legs (Tim couldn’t eat these – too many dear pet frogs in his childhood, apparently) and a personal tour of the Mardi Gras gown museum housed upstairs. (merci, Monsieur!) From the tres chic gourmet cuisine of Arnaud’s we literally RAN to Cafe du Monde for a dessert of powdery, sugary beignets, chickory cafe au lait and hot chocolate.IMG_3531Christmas dinner was spent in the infamous turtle room at Cafe Adelaide, another recommendation from Jill at the Chimes. Cafe Adelaide delivered a great family dining experience with their festive atmosphere, friendly staff and delicious menu. Did I mention the Zen Garden cocktial?

IMG_3526On the morning after Christmas, we were treated to a taste of home with a New Orleans twist by my high school chum, Roseann Roestaker, owner of Red Gravy Cafe. Red Gravy is warm and bright and was the perfect sendoff for our family on our last day in New Orleans. Hubby and I started off with Mimosas at Roseann’s brilliant suggestion and I treated myself to the delicious Sicilian Egg Pie with grits. (my new motto: grits every day!) Another star dish at breakfast was the Pomodoro omelette with fresh tomato, basil and provolone.

On a fragrance note, I wore Aftelier’s Cuir de Gardenia daily.  The skin scent was perfect as the lush gardenia beautifully complemented the southern aura without competing with the melange of scents that make up the New Orleans experience. Cuir de Gardenia also has just the right touch of skank and edge, akin to catnip. Antique castoreum absolute and real tiare absolute give a rich dimension to this creation that is not to be missed. Samples are available here.  I recommend trying the solid perfume version for amplified dirty (in a good way) effect.

In keeping with the waxy floral theme, I alternately wore a light spritz or two of Heart of Glass by Ava Luxe, with notes of orange flower, tuberose, jasmine and musk.frenchquarterJe t”aime New Orleans…. a bientot!IMG_3520Images: 1)Dat Dog Magazine Street window 2) The Hottest  *uckin’ Sauce, (just a drop’ll d ya) purchased along with some delectable Magnolia Pralines 3) Recycling my praline box with perfume samples and an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe ornament by soulful artist Kate Cartwright 4) Chimes garden courtyard, for room views visit their website at above link, please 5) son, Josh at the Turtle Room on Christmas 6) Zen Garden Cocktail 7) French Quarter views 8) Me and hubby in front of the Cornstalk Fence.

Intermission: Madame Batifole Rouge G visits Chicago

Chi2I just returned from my very first visit to the dynamic city of Chicago where I connected with about 17 of my fragrant fragonista friends from Basenotes. As my second experience at a meetup, it was all that I hoped it would be and more. You can read about the trip on the forum, but a funny thing happened to me at the security gate of O’Hare Airport…

Chi5I traveled light with a small carryon and a purse, but was detained because of my hefty James (or Jane) Bond worthy Rouge G lipstick compact, pictured above, alongside my mother’s vintage Stratton compact. Don’t they make a lovely pair?

Chi9Now, my Rouge G is a weighty instrument indeed, and the security staff needed a few moments of convincing that it was indeed merely a cosmetic. (Paris B of My Women Stuff may find it amusing to know I was stopped by the TSA because of my weapon of beauty!) Afterwards, though, I think I may have won a couple of new customers for Guerlain. The limited edition shade, Madame Batifole, made me splurge for the first time on such a pricey lippie.

When I showed my husband, he asked me if the tube was refillable. I wish that Guerlain would take a hint from the historic Stratton cosmetic company and make their drool worthy Rouge G something I could enjoy beyond the life of one tube of color and hand down to my daughter. (You can read Jane Johnston’s helpful blog for more details about collectible Stratton compacts by clicking on the link in this paragraph.)Chi7The case was designed with a hands free release so that the face powder compartment springs open when the case itself opens, and the lipstick holder presents itself for access, protecting the well manicured owner from chipping her nails.

Chi6The repetitive motif of the engraving on the back of the cover would have been quite at home in the art deco loving city of historic Chicago. My visit yielded a bit of insight for me about where Mom’s early sense of aesthetic was formed. I hope to return in the not too distant future.


IMG_3314Images taken walking through Chicago near the Art Institute with my dear friend Mademoiselle Kathleen and Madame Batifole, and in my garden at home in NJ.

My Travel Scent Companions

IMG_2993Perfumeurs do it all the time – dedicate a scent to a city, using the sights, sounds, flora and fauna plus that ineffable something that defines a place. The travel post by lovely Undina, Have Atomizer – Will Travel, got me thinking about which perfumes from my collection I have taken or will take on trips this year. Invariably the destination has a huge influence on what I decide to bring along and I wondered what my fellow fragonistas fill their travel atomizers with?

When visiting my mother in a law and other members of the Cincinnati clan, I wish to be prepared for any situation and want to make a “nice” impression always, so I select my most proper, classic or conservative loves to bring along. Just this past month, I simply grabbed my bottle of Chanel no 22 for my tote bag and it served me with versatility and beauty. Other selections I considered were, not surprisingly, from the house of Chanel: No. 19 and the recent release of 1932. IMG_0638A trip close to home for me is NYC. Scents I like to wear for a trip to a museum, a stroll in Washington Square or Central Park are modern creations like Iris 39 or Rose 31 from Le Labo, or a bit provocative like the stunning Carnal Flower. IMG_1803

Nostalgie from Sonoma Scent Studios sometimes layered over a bit of Iris 39 body oil blended effortlessly in the pristine air of Taos, New Mexico and never took center stage over the smell of sage, burning wood, or the metallic, spicy taste of Red Hot Mama local wine. Nostalgie’s composition of rose, orris, amber and sandalwood fit right into the outdoor ambiance and will always be a special favorite of mine.

poboyVibrant New Orleans demands scents with a gourmand character and my scents of choice were Kus Kus, a warm yummy formula from 1843, a keynote creation from Bourbon French Perfume, Anima Dulcis by Arquiste (how can you resist indulgent chocolate loving nuns?) and of course, opulent Shalimar. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally, on my trip to Saugerties, a number of summers past, hubby and I visited this unique granite quarry, Opus 40, the handiwork of Harvey Fite, sculptor and quarryman. This sculpture park is breathtaking in scale and our stroll through the village of Woodstock was a definite anticlimax after spending time amongst the stones. My perfume companions for this trip were Bandit by Piguet and Rasa by Ava Luxe. Stinky Rosie Rasa won out for most of our hot sticky trip.

Which scents have you taken along on trips with you and why?

Images my own: 1. Suspension Bridge, Cincinnati, OH, 2. NYC Chelsea neighborhood, 3. Painted bench from Taos old town center, 4. Side of truck in NOLA, Bunny Matthews artist 5. Shot of Opus 40

What I See: Black Mountain, NC

IMG_2743Here’s a bit of a visual intermission – I still have things to share from my trip to North Carolina. As you can see, Black Mountain Rocks! This work of functional art is at the very cozy Black Mountain Visitor Center and many more are placed about the town. My friend and I enjoyed strolling about  and taking frequent rocking chair breaks before hitting a nearby walking trail:IMG_2746
IMG_2752IMG_2756The one we chose ran along a swiftly flowing stream, it was wonderful to sit and feel the cool motion of the water moving past. IMG_2757

The Dry Stream: Clearing Space and Letting Go

IMG_2713I never heard of The Dry Stream before, but this landscaping element captured my imagination during my visit to the Asheville Arboretum’s Bonsai Garden in May. IMG_2709Amidst the stunning contrasting hues of plants dripping with color, ran a formation of rocks aligned in a sinuous trail through the center of the garden. It flowed beneath several curved bridges, in simultaneous offering of motion and stability.IMG_2721IMG_2723A placard read:

This stream bed is intended to be dry; the only time it carries water is when it rains. With a dry stream the water is suggested. The water must be supplied by your imagination. IMG_2716The element of suggestion and the accompanying need for imagination are essential parts of the bonsai experience. In the bonsai view of nature, what is not there can be as important as what is. 

IMG_2705IMG_2718The notion gave me marvelously meditative food for thought as I moved through the garden.

Since returning from Asheville, I have been making time for clearing space. Let’s face it, to be blunt, I have belongings of three dead people in my house – no matter how much I loved and will forever love my mom, dad and sister, the books, clothing and ephemera together create this swimming energy of , well, folks who aren’t here anymore. Or, in keeping with the bonsai metaphor, are  at least a bit further downstream. At least some of that pulling energy needs to go.

Today I was making pretty steady progress in packing Mom’s old books and moving her hats to the attic when I came across this:photoIt’s just a whiteboard but as soon as I touched it, the clock went back a year to the period just prior to Dad’s death. The one year anniversary is about ten days away, and we used this chart to mark the nebulizer treatments that eased his breathing and the few times he agreed to morphine (he took the smallest dose about 5 times during the two week period before he passed.) Four angels’ names are written here, Anna, Hope, Janet and Peggy, the aides and volunteers that visited and cared for Dad so sweetly.

So the dry stream filled with rain today, and I let the tears flow. Then I looked at the board and told myself it is time to let this painful reminder go. Let the tug of it be gone. So I lit some incense, said a prayer, cried some more and …blank What is not there can be as important as what is. 


Homesick for Rabat

408244_10200668807976857_540148797_nIslam is the one religion that I don’t know much about – I want to learn more about it.

What does an ex Catholic mother, recovering from post dogmatic stress syndrome say to that?

When my daughter told me that Arabic studies and a class on the Q’uran would be on her freshman roster, I admit that I was intimidated. As an anthropology major, her focus is on diverse cultures and experiential learning is essential and I knew that travel would be a part of her studies. Yet thoughts of my daughter backpacking through the Middle East, one of the more troubled areas of the world, frightened me. If I didn’t say so, I’d be a liar, no matter how open minded I think I may be. Then again, perhaps the only trouble free place is the place you can make in your own mind. You carry your peace with you – does this sound like truth or more like a desperate mom looking for a sense of security?

Regardless, this year I gave my first born a kiss at the airport just before she boarded the plane to Casablanca, a place I only knew about from the black and white illusions of Bogart and Bergman. As a participant in one of the Drew University International Seminars, she would spend two weeks in Morocco, followed by a week in Paris (!) to learn about globalization from northern Africa to France. 431784_10201223704143795_309699936_nFearless daughter had the time of her life in Rabat, the capital of Morocco. I could tell that she was in exactly the right place for her studies right now. Her enthusiasm radiated across the internet through her facebook messages and photos. My worries about the trip evaporated into joy over her adventure. 970836_10200695001711684_1727967847_nMy children have all visited various churches and synagogues to experience services at different times in their lives. Little did I know that the scarf I bought in Paris years ago, would be covering my daughter’s head during her first visit to a mosque in Morocco. If we all took time to learn about even one religion or culture we know nothing about, what effect would that have globally? I can’t help but wonder. At the same time, witnessing how divided our own country is even when it comes to politics, harmony can seem a far off dream.1002739_10151676659053606_912197507_nI am so grateful to the host family who cared for my daughter during her stay. She describes them as sweet, warm and welcoming. In fact, it seems that the hospitality of those she met was a constant thread and certainly a highlight of her journey. I can only share my peripheral impressions and reflections as a mom in the wings – I hope my daughter will write about her experiences in detail soon. Perhaps she can be my first guest blogger.

Religion, politics and cultural norms aside –  food, like music, speaks a universal language. My daughter has been missing the wonderful fresh and tasty dishes that she experienced with her host family: exotic stews like tangine, and fresh concoctions like jus d’avocat. 

On her first morning home I went to market with the woven basket purchased from the Medina…IMG_2888and tried to ease her back into New Jersey life. Though my attempts pale in comparison, they are made more colorful by the hand painted egg cup from Fez.IMG_2889I must try my hand at tangine soon. Recipes, anyone?

Images: Image 1: taken in the Medina, Rabat, Morocco. Image 2: at JFK, Image 3 Chefchaouen, Image 4: taken by fellow classmate at Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca