The Scent of Remembrance


I thought I put a complete explanation on my webpage, and also here, on my “about” page, but I still get letters asking for more detail about how I ended up doing this as a business .  I don’t want to bore the rest of you, so you might want to go read all about the latest political scandal and my feelings won’t be hurt.  That stuff is  far more entertaining anyway.

But for those that really want to know how I ended up an incense maker and perfumer here’s how it really was.  My father worked for “That Agency That Dare Not Speak Its Name” and so I grew up abroad.  I was raised in the normal way — I cried, I pouted and my parents spanked me regularly.  But I do not have “normal” memories of my childhood.  Rather, it was filled with smells and I identified from an early age, the scents of my surroundings and my life in general.  For example, most children will tell you that they remember the smell of their mother’s perfume.  This is true for me also, but what I remember was:

Shalimar, by Guerlain

Emeraude (the classic original) by Coty

Dior by well, Dior.

But these fragrances are mixed in my mind, with the smell of roast beef, cookies, and fresh bread.  If anyone were to actually admit in public, that they remember their mother smelled of Shalimar mixed with Rugelach cookies, I’m certain that Guerlain (or Kranzler himself) would boil over in anger.

Anyway, I remember my childhood in the context of smell:

Mamba moving through fresh mowed grass

Jasmine covering swamp crocodile

Benzine cleaner wiping out rose damascus.

Noone bread (spelling in English) mixed with saffron, supporting a wild musk deer

Saffron covering cheap jasmine perfume

Cheap jasmine perfume floating on pieces of Iranian paper

Iranian paper mixed with glass halal vitamin vials.  (even the glass containing them smelled of curry.)

Mix all that together, and you have one confused little girl who doesn’t know if she’s supposed to be American and speak English, or an African Iranian who speaks Farsi and Romanian.

As a teen, I was typically rebellious and went off to study “art” in Paris.  I came home because the Gendarmes “recommended” that I was too naive to live there.  But I spent my summer in an attic there, and that made me an exotic rebel among my friends.  While I lived there, I went to Fragonard and spent two months working for them as a lab tester.  I worked among the people who create the fragrances that you know as Dior, Yves St. Laurent, and others.  Mostly I worked for dead guys whose legal heirs created really bad outfits for women.

After that, I went on “the road” and became a ne’er do well who had all sorts of jobs and two hobbies: scent and new age religion.  As a “new ager”, I learned to blend my own oils into liquid incense, and from there, became an herbalist incense maker.

Fast forward 20 years:  Since that time, I have been married a few times (outside the Orthodox Church) and I am now single, probably for the rest of what is considered my natural life, whatever that might be.  Several years ago, I went on pilgrimage to Romania, and learned to make the incense that our Holy Church is known for.  I will never forget the time I spent in the skete there, learning to blend ingredients in huge black pots.

I’m sure the nun in charge will never forget me either, since I knocked over her only remaining bottle of carnation absolute (valued at about $2000 per half pound, AT THAT TIME.)    Her name was Theophania and she waved her hands over the spilled carnation, and said, “Nia!”  (Peasant for “never mind”.)  She proceeded to show me how to make a copy of carnation absolute, using two very cheap and inexpensive ingredients.  When I was done, my “carnation” cost about 20 cents a pound.    Even my nose couldn’t tell the difference.  I will never stop praying for Theophania.

BPI, as a business, is actually fairly young.  I began making Orthodox incense and Byzantine perfume in about 1995, but did not start selling it until much later.  When I started, I was actually forced to do it because at the time, I was homeless.  BPI started here:

The original "home" of BPI...

The original "home" of BPI...

I must never forget the smell of desperation, loneliness, and complete surrender to God.  If I had to describe it, I would say that it smelled like cedar, broken in half, covered with pure cocounut and olive oils.  Maybe someday, I will make an incense from that, just so that I don’t forget.

God bless you for reading my blog.  You are always in my prayers.

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5 Responses to “The Scent of Remembrance”

  1. sergiusbob Says:

    Well, I “thank you” for writing your blog, it is a blessing to read it. Your love for God and the Orthodox Church is inspiring and encourages me in my own walk. You are a lovely person and a lovely writer, both.

    I have to say that YOU have created the finest incense I have ever experienced. I’ve got my favourites, but I enjoy them all, above the rest!

    I am so proud of you…like you’ve been my sister for my entire life.

    Resisting the temptation to get wordy (as I often do), I will leave it at this…I am always praying for you and your work. There are many of us out here who benefit.

    God bless you always!

  2. I will second everything Sergius has said. I don’t want to blow your head up with pride, but your work is a gift from heaven. Among many people who I’ve been blessed to meet, none strike me as you do when it comes to your spirit. When I burn your incense, I feel as though you’re telling me secrets about your life, offering me glimpses of where you have been and what you have seen — and I also have your blog to follow now, too. This blesses my life! You are my beloved sister, I hold you in the highest esteem, and wish the choicest of God’s blessings upon your every day life, and your common labors… your humility will not allow you to see the golden soul that we, your friends and co-strugglers, see all the time, in everything you do. We love you! Most dearly! I can hardly even explain why you have made such an impact in my life, but it is obvious in my heart, that you and I have shared kindred spirits. The desert dwelling. Whispers beyond time. Heavenly grace-filled fragrance… you see them like I do.

    Let me stop here.

    May God continually bless the work of your hands, as it is a worthy tool speeding us forward on the straight and narrow way.

  3. Both of you have humbled me. I am not worthy of praise. But I thank you for being in my life and an encouragement to me. Right now, it’s hard for me to see the basic goodness of people and both of you know why. But I am humbled by your trust, and this purifies my soul more quickly.

    Pray for me, as I pray for you….

    I love you.
    Columbina

  4. desertseeker Says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I enjoyed every word of it. What an exotic and interesting past! You have a rich heritage and a rich heart, which you combine into rich incense for us to enjoy. I am most grateful for your little gift, and will send something out your way as soon as I get a little time.

  5. Forgive me as I’ve followed you from DC. Your blog is wonderful, and comes highly recommended:

    “For example, most children will tell you that they remember the smell of their mother’s perfume.”

    Thank you for writing this.

    When I was very young, my mother worked in a factory that made treads for heavy equipment. When she came home at the end of the day, I’d jump up in her arms and hug her.

    To this day, I associate that smell with her. My mother’s perfume was machine oil and hydraulic fluid. It’s still beautiful.

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