The Little Books of Perfumes – sneak peek

October 4, 2011 § 11 Comments

The 100 Classics

Penguin US edition on the left, Profile UK edition on the right. Official pub date October 31, I’m told. Day before my birthday, note.

Oopsie on the blurb from India Knight on the UK edition, we know, please don’t write and tell us. Will be fixed on next printing, I am promised.

Material is mostly taken from our original Perfumes: The Guide and Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, with 96 five-star reviews from those two editions.

A good number of those reviews have re-smelling notes appended, since many many older fragrances have been recently adjusted with new materials, which have changed the balance in some and utterly changed the character in others. Some current bottlings we were unable to get in time, unfortunately.

The new material includes a foreword by TS and an essay on the Osmothèque by LT; there are four reviews of long-lost, beautiful Osmothèque perfumes we tested during a presentation on perfume by the brilliant Patricia de Nicolaï, curator of the Osmothèque, at the French Embassy in Washington, DC, organized by Smithsonian Associates.

I am sorry our publisher was so keen to have 100 fragrances; I would have liked to write about Poiret’s Fruit Défendu, about Fougère Royale and Ambre Antique and Parfum Idéal. At any rate, we give you L’Origan, described by me by LT’s request, and Chypre de Coty, Emeraude and Iris Gris, described by LT at my request. Personally, I think the book is worth peeking into just for LT’s take on those three fragrances. (My thoughts on L’Origan I think were tainted by despair for what had happened to L’Heure Bleue—all I could think while smelling them both was lost, lost, lost.)

There are also a glossary, a brief bit on sources for perfume samples and perfume education, and a Top Ten List section that includes Desert Island lists from both authors, so you can find out what we can’t live without. (Of course, if you asked me today I’m sure I might give you a different list. Hormones, you know.)

And that is it. Both editions are beautifully produced with the aim of making somebody you know a grand present at the end of the year. And the UK edition has a beautiful shocking pink ribbon, which you may slide slyly into place to your favorite perfume, and leave about the house prominently, as an indication as to what the next present ought to be.



August 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

In case anyone is wondering where on earth I am, the answer is that I spent two weeks in Sifnos (more about which later) and am now in California taking care of personal business, but should be back to blog on Greco-perfumo things by late September.

Driving in Greece Worse Than Walking in Saigon

July 11, 2011 § 8 Comments

In Saigon, I was shrieked at for taking a step backward, as a solid phalanx of motorcycles came thundering upon me as we all held hands crossing the street.

“Never go backward!” shouted my mother and her two friends (though they did so in Cantonese). “No one expects you to go backward! Don’t look back, don’t go back!”

Soon I understood the Saigon traffic wasn’t the chaos it appeared to be but another sort of order: everyone drives shoulder to shoulder and pedestrians stride carefully into the stream, so long as everyone is responsible for what is ahead of her. No one looks behind. No one passes. Once you understand that, Saigon traffic works.

In Greece, however, the only rule seems to be that no matter how careful you are, some Greek driver is going to drive like shit in your presence and blame you for it.

Observed already:

  • Cars taking up two lanes
  • Cars coming suddenly to a stop and parking in the middle of the road for no apparent reason
  • Passing at speed on the right shoulder
  • Cars driving on the double yellow center line on a two-way street
  • An inattentive cellphone-using driver who cursed a car that had signaled (must have been a tourist) and slowed to turn right
  • Cars trying to pass on the right while someone ahead is turning right
  • Drunken drifting (a lot of this)
  • Women with children crossing major four-lane avenues in the middle, using their children or baby strollers as human shields
  • Stop signs utterly ignored
  • Crosswalks utterly ignored
  • Traffic lights utterly ignored
  • Motorcycling morons with no helmets tearing down the road between car traffic

Greeks are fond of blaming tourists for all this bad driving, but ask yourself truly: would tourists curse in Greek?

I need to figure out what to scream at the weekend drivers from Athens who come pouring fast down the middle of our little side street and honk at us and shout that we can’t go up that street because it’s a one-way street, which it is not, which we know because we live here. I think the correct phrase will be some translation of “it’s a two-way street, like your ass.”

For your education, here are a few videos of indigestion-inducing Greek driving.

My Housekeeping Failure Leads to Vindication of Pimsleur Vocabulary

July 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

After I complained heartily of three days in a row of repeating listlessly in Greek that I have children, in several permutations of age and gender, today it was useful. We have hired a new housekeeper, because we were beginning to descend into total cat-hair covered savagery, shying from the chaos in small preserved corners of the apartment while the unpaired socks and mounds of receipts ran rampant and got ideas above their station.

She is a handsome woman of a uniform shade of russet, from her bronzed skin to her auburn curly hair lightened by the sun, with good laugh lines around her mouth and a laughing sadness around the eyes. She cleans with a fury, pummeling things with rags and mops and vacuum cleaners, and she seems not to understand that I don’t understand much Greek at all, no matter how much I insist that this is so.

In fact, as she began chatting me up, woman to woman, once the work was done, and I looked at her in friendly clueless panic, I understood absolutely nothing until I heard the word παιδια (pedia).



I grew excited. I said, me? Me? I have no children!

Δεν εχω παιδια! (Then ekho pedia!)

She seemed OK with this enthusiasm, so I continued in my atrocious Greek,

And you? You have children?

Three, she said, holding up fingers. Girls.

I understood the word “girls”! Only she used the singular, “girl.” But she could not have three girl, so I assumed she meant three girls and was simplifying things for my simpleton’s sake.

Pressing forward, I asked, are they small or big?

She looked depressed. I realize now after the fact that she looked to be in her fifties, so maybe suggesting she had small children was strange. But it was in my vocabulary context, so I had to ask.

One is twenty-five, she said, putting out a finger. She put out another finger and said, eighteen. Then she put out a third and said something that ruined my sensation of briefly understanding Greek.

No, I said, laughing, not small. They are not small.

Then followed some incomprehensible garble with hand gestures waving below the waist and then above and repetitions of the word for “here” and finally a word that sounded like “scolia.”

I simply repeated this word and she looked satisfied that I had understood. She then began to ask me furious quick questions about other things, asking me how many of something, and pointing up and down. I ascertained she was asking something about the building, how many floors, how many apartments perhaps, since she said “spiti” several times, which means home if I remember anything from week 2 of Pimsleur.

I had no idea how to answer what I imagined she was asking, so I just kept laughing more wackily with crazy faces and repeating more and more loudly that I did not understand Greek very well, just a little, excuse me!

She continued in the usual way: she repeated herself more and more loudly, slowly, looking at me with an incredulous expression, as if mere persistence would snap me out of it and I would find I spoke perfect Greek after all and had just been fucking with her.

I kept repeating, I don’t understand. I was beginning to feel a bit bullied. At last, she seemed finished, though dissatisfied, and off she went, after refusing a drink of water that I offered because she looked tired but mostly because I knew how to offer it in Greek.

She did not ask me if I had a car, though. Because then I could have said with feeling, no! I do not have a car. And capped my pop quiz in Modern Greek 1 with a triumph.

And the place is clean. And I still do not have children. Or a car.

Appropriate Professional Attire in Vari-Voula-Glyfada and Athens: or, Ho to Dress for Success

July 7, 2011 § 4 Comments

I’m afraid my phone and its camera have been conked out, so I will have to paint you a picture of the white-collar working woman of this region with these puny, insufficient words.

I had complained previously about Greek women wearing drab colors. Black, gray, brown, olive. Drab! I based this complaint on three winter visits to Athens. Despite the fine sunshine and soft breezes, everyone was in shades of mud. “How Balkan,” we said.

Then we and summer came to the municipality of Vari.

Today I went to the tax office to get my AFM, or tax number.* Edgy people clutching bales of documents waited with unusual patience, with only one major inter-citizen screaming match interrupting the tranquility of the half-hour line. Luca explained that the procurement manager of the lab had been here twice for an hour each time, trying to get a piece of equipment out of purgatorial customs, but no one at the tax office knew how to let him do that. Bureaucratic procedures are maintained via an oral culture, passed among employees by word of mouth, like gossip or family history, and frequently have an improvisational air. Sometimes only one person in a given office knows anything at all. Therefore, it is possible that if one person should get into one of these exceedingly frequent Greek car crashes, an entire category of governmental function could die with her.

A small, brisk Greek woman about my age behind me in line, wearing exercise clothes, helped me fill out my form. She explained that everyone was there to deal with the paperwork required for opening or running a small business. Greece is succeeding beyond all expectations in its goal of preventing economic activity. I asked her why everyone in Greece did not up and move. “I love my country,” she said vaguely and helplessly. Then I turned around. Among several persons I had leisure to observe in front of me were

(1) a zaftig, fortyish woman in a strapless, skin-tight, white one-piece jumper melding tube top and microshorts, belted with a large brown sash,

(2) a bony woman with bleached hair and a face cooked to false antiquity, wearing an entirely bare-backed canary yellow tank top held closed by one slender string, over wide pleated black shorts, and supported by avant garde shoes composed of a blue suede boot shaft attached to a sandal, held together with leather thongs,

(3) a hulking man, six and a half feet tall, with a rounded posture, copious subcutaneous fat, and a loose sheer t-shirt with a wide draping neckline that showed (above the neckline and through the fabric) an ample, opaque pelt of dark back hair, contiguous with the hair on his head.

At the IKA (health insurance) office where I had begun this journey last week, the exhausted, pale, overworked woman at the desk was levitating by sheer willpower a bright yellow, sleeveless, strapless babydoll top, which clung only to the lowest part of her breasts and required her to give little tugs at the armpits every few minutes to make sure things stayed professional. It looked like a joke nightgown friends might give at a bachelorette party. Her considerable cleavage swung about so perilously as she fetched papers and keyed in data that I found myself staring deeply into the chasm and in sympathy with men who are always hissed at for doing this. A plastic charm necklace full of blue resin flowers dangled into that abyss. Her hair was the color of straw, but near the scalp it showed a two-inch margin of deep apricot. Her eyebrows were black.

Also at the local branch national bank, where I have not yet been, it has been reported there are two women in transparent blouses and microskirts and vertiginous heels, who address the needs of the omnipresent furious pensioners with grim efficiency.

“It is probably in their dress code,” mused a female Greek acquaintance. “It is all the fun the pensioners get out of life.”

To prove these were not merely suburban flukes, there was the receptionist at the lawyer’s office in Athens where I had gone for the official translation of my marriage certificate, with important stamps and signatures all over it, without which I would not be allowed to exist. The first floor lobby had an air of seventies neglect: a floor of waxed beige concrete with specks in it, flickering fluorescents, an uninhabited metal desk, a frosted glass door. An ancient flimsy wooden wardrobe stood in a corner, with bits of tape and pale patches where attempted tape removal had torn up the varnish. A neglected dracaena huddled in the shadow.

Upstairs, in the cool waiting room of the translator, we were greeted by a receptionist, who stood between us and the wainscoted mysteries beyond. Her hair too was straw blonde with blackish roots. Her face was powdered a fantastical shade of orange without reference to the tint of any underlying skin. Her eye makeup was inspired by the panda. Half naked, her shoulders and chest were covered only by a sheer violet tank top with thin straps, which clung at all points to her generous shape. Around her neck and dangling across her bosom was an enormous gunmetal colored chain, with links as large as pretzels, which followed exactly her low neckline and heaved when she breathed. Her wrists jangled with varied metallic bangles and enameled watches. She looked quite like a roadside LA barmaid, and in the air conditioning she was going to catch her death.

So there you have it: how to dress for official business in Greece in summer.

* I was told that to get a Greek residence card I needed proof I had insurance.** I was told at the national health insurance office that to get that insurance I needed a residence card and a tax number. I was told at the tax office that to get a tax number they needed my residence card, and also that the rental contract for our home did not have the proper stamp.

** I was told by the European Union website that all a member country could require from me for right of residence was my passport, my husband’s passport and residence card, and our marriage certificate. An office called SOLVIT is supposed to resolve compliance problems within member countries of the EU. I wrote to the SOLVIT representative in Greece explaining that I had been asked to show proof of health insurance to get a residence card, which I believed to be an illegal requirement under EU law. After three weeks, I got an email back which told me that the municipality was allowed to ask me for translations of my marriage certificate. I wrote back pointing out that they had not answered my question. They did not write back.

The Questionable Usefulness of Pimsleur Modern Greek 1 for a Childless Non-Driver in Greece

June 24, 2011 § 5 Comments

I am enjoying learning Greek, of course, since it allows me to eavesdrop more efficiently on my neighbors.

However, because I won’t shell out for actual live lessons, I am using the remarkably effective Pimsleur method, which has no textbook and relies entirely on conversational learning.

It is marvelous, and I would not hesitate to use it to communicate with the natives in any barbaric non-Anglophone jungle I wandered into next.

Unfortunately, I have just spent the last few weeks patiently drilling conversations that force me to repeat such falsities and irrelevancies as the following:

I have a lot of dollars.

How much is it in dollars?

Do you have any dollars?

I live in America.

My family is in America.

I have five children, two boys and three girls.

The boys are big. The girls are small.

I have a car. I have a big car.

Is there gasoline in the car?

Put gasoline in the car, please.

It’s in my car.

My family is in the car.

I have one girl and two boys.

I have many children.

Do you have children?

Yes, that is my little girl.

My wife is in America.

And so on.

I have managed on my own to cobble together the sentence

Ένα αυτοκίνητο είναι πάρα πολύ ακριβό! (A car is too expensive!)


Δεν έχω παιδιά! (I don’t have children!)

But I really need more.

If you are a Greek speaker, please let me know how to say the following, which so far the Pimsleur method has not included in their lesson plans:

I have two stepchildren who live in England.

Me, I don’t have any children.

Sure, I’d like children.

You do go on about children.

Did my mother send you?

I have a scooter.

I’m not allowed legally to drive the scooter because it is one cc above the limit for driving without a scooter license, which no one told me until after I’d bought it.

No Greek, civilian or bureaucrat, can tell me how to get a scooter license.

I don’t have any dollars.

Who has dollars in Greece?

Come to think of it, who has euros in Greece?

My stepdaughter is small.

By which I mean she is taller than me.

I still weigh more. Much more.

None of your business.

Your lane is a meter farther right than you think it is, sir.

Do you still live with your mother?

Why Germany Owes Greece

June 23, 2011 § 8 Comments

An excellent point spotted yesterday: a German economist bravely points out that Germany is in the position to be the creditor nation of Europe today because it never paid any of its debts in the 20th century, including the war reparations it owed countries like Greece.

Germany Was Biggest Debt Transgressor of the 20th Century