Archive for the Ethiopia Category

Merry Christmas to All and to All A Goodnight…The Final Smoke Ring.

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bahkhoor, bakhoor, Christian incense, Cold War, desert bakhoor incense, Desert culture, Ethiopia, Incense, Life and Lifestyles, Orthodox Christianity, Orthodox Clergy and Information, perfume, Perfume Reviews, religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 24, 2009 by blackincense

BPI and more specifically, Columbina, would like to wish all of her many friends, both in the world, and those who are not of it, a very Merry Christmas.  This blog has been closed for a while, but I wanted to end it on a positive note, at the close of this season.  It’s been a joyous ride, and I continue to blog about many other interests, life experiences, and art over at Tales From the Golden Ghetto.

But all good things must come to an end, and Smoke Rings has finally “dissipated”.

I am truly grateful to the following people who taught me how to blog, how to be a better writer, and frankly, how to be a better person.  Many of them are shy, and therefore, I will only use links to their blogs to name them. As I’ve said before, this isn’t some annoying, self absorbed “good-bye” or anything.  (First, I’d like to thank God for this award….LOL)

But I want to say to these lovely people:  All of you made 2009 bearable, and a wonderful journey of learning from mistakes, learning from suffering and learning about myself.  All of you helped to give me my greatest gift for Christmas:  my identity.  Through exploring so many subjects, topics and discussions with you, I finally came “home” in my heart and found out who I really am.  I will always be grateful to you and my hands will always find a way to help you, my lips a way to pray for you, my heart a way to love you, my head a way to bless you, my feet a way to direct you.

Kyrie Eleison, a voice of truth and beauty in the wilds of Montreal — a true sister on the Way.

Juvenaly, “Misha” Martinka of Theophany Designs – my beloved webmaster and friend, Mesa, Arizona

Uncle Clem – the distinguished, dignified, and truly humble Professor of Theology in Asheville, NC

Breaking Babylon — the son I never had.

The Desert Seeker —fellow TCK/global nomad, and truly humble teacher of many things arcane and Orthodox.

Sergius-Bob –wherever he may be, may he be blessed and know he always has a home.

Orthodox Monk — we’ve never met, but someday, God willing.  You helped me to learn how to quit being a victim, stand up for myself, for others and for the Faith, when necessary.  I’ll still be “stalking” you in cyber space, learning from your excellent example.

Justinian:  you defended me when I needed it, and you encouraged me when I was truly despairing.  You also taught me to stop using fragmented sentences and to be more precise!  LOL

Iconblogographer — Matthew Garrett:  inspiration, and gentleness.  As well as battling cosmic evil as Batman, you are da man.

I close this blog permanently, and with great gratitude to all of you and these words from Tolkien’s , “The Hobbit”, the ultimate TCK poem.

Roads Go Ever On — (c) JRR Tolkien

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains of the moon.
Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

(C) Ted Naismith

Leaving the Shire by Artist (c) Ted Naismith


Hibernating Until the Recession Is Over

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bahkhoor, bakhoor, Christian incense, desert bakhoor incense, Ethiopia, Incense, Life and Lifestyles, Orthodox Christianity, perfume, Perfume Reviews, religion on November 19, 2009 by blackincense

It’s been awhile since I wrote here, in any meaningful way about my work in perfume and incense, and I’m beginning to wonder if this blog has served the professional purpose.  I think it has and I will leave it up, but I unless there is something pressing to say about BPI or incense in general, I’ll probably be over at my personal blog (  This isn’t “goodbye” or anything desperate, annoying and self-pitying or anything like that.


I am just winding down in this area of my work.  The economy has forced serious cutbacks in experiments, and testing, so until it improves, I can’t really do much innovative stuff.  I’m just a single artisan after all, not a full blown factory. So while the reecession plods on, (I don’t believe a word of what Wall Street says — maybe those fat cats are living it up, but down here,  on the River, where I live with my low income tenants, thinigs are ever the same!) I have gone back to other mediums, namely painting and I’m enjoying the break it is giving me.    People really have no idea how physically demanding incense making is.  At least, not until I actually recruit them to help me in the workshop.  😉

As always, I welcome true friendship with no agenda — I have none, and expect none.

God bless you!


Wonder what I will paint today?

New Inspiration

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bakhoor, Christian incense, desert bakhoor incense, Desert culture, Ethiopia, Incense, Orthodox Christianity, perfume, religion with tags on February 9, 2009 by blackincense

I have been making cones for a week now, long into the night, every night.  They will be ready for soaking by next week when they are finally completely dry.

Many hopes and dreams were rolled into these new fragrances and cones, and I just wanted to share with you the inspiration for each of them.  I only pray that my hands and my nose are worthy.   My hands are very sore after making all these cones!  I can hardly type.  My arthritis is my reminder of how imperfect I am.

The following are how the labels for each will read, but they are the sayings of holy men that I have held captive in my heart for a long while now.  I hope these sayings will bless your life too.

Caspian Caravan

Isaiah 60:6

“The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the camels of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the LORD.”

“ The man who follows Christ in solitary mourning is greater than he
who praises Christ amid the congregation of men.” St. Isaac the Syrian

Bedu Balm

Bedu means “one who lives in the desert”. The desert is not about geography. It is about the uncharted landscape in our own hearts, that keeps us from God.–BPI

“As a pilot calls on winds and a storm-tossed mariner looks
homeward, so the times call on you to win your way to God. As
God’s athlete, be sober; the stake is immortality and eternal
life.”  St. Ignatius the God-bearer

Cedars of Lebanon

Ps. 92″The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like the cedar in Lebanon” (Psalm 92:12).

“At the Last Judgment the righteous will be recognized only by
their humility and their considering themselves worthless, and not
by good deeds, even if they have done them. This is the true
attitude.”  Holy New Hieromartyr Barlaam

African Rivers:

“In Africa, I saw how true the Gospel of Christ is! Everything that He said about the possession of men by the demons, I saw first hand. However, the Living and True God is more powerful than Satan and all his servants. Let it be understood, however, that true missionary-apostolic work cannot be carried out in Africa if one does not decide to leave his bones there.”

Blessed Cosmas of Grigoriu

The Oasis....our Lord Jesus Christ, who is everywhere present and fills all things

The Oasis....our Lord Jesus Christ, who is everywhere present and fills all things

Bok bok….

Posted in Ethiopia, Orthodox Christianity, religion with tags , , on February 5, 2009 by blackincense

Delirium is what creeps up on me when I am at my healthiest, and that same fever always seems to burn hottest in the dark, when the night is at its most quiet moments, when even sleeping dogs would not wake if I stepped over them. The Bossa people of Liberia say that there is a time in the night, when no living creature stirs, because Jah is walking the Earth and when he steps over his creatures, they sleep deeper for the safety. I am very familiar with that time of night, and yet, Jah has never stepped over me. Instead, of hoping for that, I hope for the day when I will be able to rise up and walk with Him.

When I was a little girl, our night guard, who named himself John for the white man’s benefit, would sit in our yard, and wait for the serpent who sought the opportunity to slip underneath the door, or through the grill of the air conditioner, or perhaps through a window, left open by careless children such as myself.

The St. Paul river races through our back yard. You can never escape the sound of it, and its scent is something you can never forget. The scent is of a thousand years, as if they were of one piece, folded and put away in a drawer with all the hopes of the people it has washed away in the rainy seasons. Year after year. It is the largest river in the sub-Sahara, and the jungle clings to the banks. Only your backyard is cleared away. The river is so wide, that you have to really strain to see the huts of the leper colony on the other side. But at night, when we are waiting for Jah to step over us, we can hear the drums of a voo-doo doctor, and we shiver from things that are far beyond the cold of this world. Deep down, even though you are very young and very small, you somehow know that the white world you will someday live in, will have a hard time understanding that sound, that smell, that jungle.

John and I were companions by night, friends by nature, and separated by a thousand years of Irish inbreeding. Because John and I would never have moved in the same social circles. He was Bossa, a native Liberian and descended from free men who were sold into slavery by their brothers. A Joseph with a coat of many colors. I was the daughter of “the boss man”. But we were friends all the same, and if night damned us to melancholy, at least we were honest with one another. I asked him why he was black. He asked me why I was “n (click) ga”, a sound that is hard to make in English, but which means “day”. I was five years old and that gave me a lot of food for thought.

I can smell the scent of the scorpion, black and timid, as it rushes away through the carport, to get away from us. John catches it up, and holds it out to me. He shows me how to hold it. I can smell the poison in its tail as John shows me how dangerous it is. That scent is pungent, and it is metallic, but it is soothed away by the banana tree which has just come into bloom. Just there, to the right, in the yard. And against the house, a wild blackberry bush clutches the wall and the small white flowers on it, drip with perfumed dew.

We ate oatmeal together, because we both liked it, and it was all I knew how to make. He liked his with raisins. I liked mine with brown sugar and butter. His teeth were perfect. Mine were ruined before I was ten.

Now that I live in the very modern west, I have difficulty with a few scents.  One of them is “dead snake” versus “American skunk”.  They are so similar, I have to take it in for several minutes before I can really decide which one it is.  I also have a hard time with the smell of tonic water.  The scent of quinine is enough to make me gag on non-existent applesauce.  My mother had to crush up our quinine tablets in the applesauce.  It was that or die from malaria.  I hate applesauce and the scent of it makes me want to escape deep into the jungle.  And I’m never coming out.  Ever.  I will run away if you make me.

John could feel the presence of the serpent before it appeared. He could feel the movement of the snake as it writhed upward, seeking an entrance. His machete would fly through the air, and strike it’s target, slicing through the fluid air, as if on heavenly wings. He was my friend. We played games and he loved me like a daughter. He taught me the names of the animals, and now that I am so sophisticated, I have forgotten them all. But I remember his nearness, his voice, as he whispered songs to me, that told of the Creation of the world, in his own terms.

In his story, there is one god who subdues all the others, and casts them into the river. They are all washed away. When they are gone, then this god decides to create new living beings to live in his jungle. He mixes all things into a bowl and out of this bowl, he forms the first man and the first woman. And John says simply, that his god has a son, who is called NgJesi.

John was not a young man. He was in fact, very old, when I met him. But he ran faster than any child I ever knew. We were inseparable, and my mother gave up trying to put me to bed. As soon as quiet took over the house, I would be out in the night, with John, waiting for Jah, stealing fresh blackberries from the vine, and trying to discern the serpent from the ropes that held the boat fast to the banks, on the far side of the house.

Run.  If you can.  This is the fastest snake in the world.  And it will kill you.

Run. If you can. This is the fastest snake in the world. And it will kill you.

When he rid the neighborhood of a crocodile, my father asked him what he could do for him. His dearest wish was a transistor radio. Back in the sixties, a transistor radio was about the size of a Japanese car, with a price tag to match, and yet my father gave him one. It made John happy to hear voices, even though they spoke in languages he would never understand. It has always made my father happy to remember that.

My mother comes home from Abu-Jaddi’s, the market. John greets her in the drive, whips off the lid of the metal garbage can, thrusts it in her face and says, “Look Missy! LOOK!”

A gaboon viper writhes at the bottom of the bin, and my mother, with perfect grace says, “Oh John! How WONDERFUL for you!” He is so proud and he walks away with his treasure, knowing he can get a good price for the skin.   I can smell the venom from 50 feet away .  It’s deeper than any musk, heavier than any cloying floral, more resinous than any tree.

Gaboon Viper - A BIG one!

Gaboon Viper - A BIG one!

It is the scent of spiritual shame.  It crystalizes within the fangs of even dead snakes.  Venom is eternal and I can hear John speaking softly to me, “Never touch a dead snake.  Even one dead for 100 years.  The poison is forever.”

Sometimes, in the quiet, when my cat lies boneless on the bed, I think I can hear John, walking with Jah.

And then I hear, deep down, “Bok bok”….Our Lord is knocking at the door of my heart.  And sometimes He speaks Bossa.

The Scent of Remembrance

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bahkhoor, bakhoor, desert bakhoor incense, Ethiopia, Incense, Orthodox Christianity, perfume, religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2009 by blackincense

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.

Zagol of Reno – Tastes of Ethiopia

Posted in Desert culture, Ethiopia, Orthodox Christianity with tags , , on January 18, 2009 by blackincense

Last week I took my mother to lunch in the city, at Reno’s very first, and only Ethiopian restaurant, Zagol.  If you are planning a visit to Reno, or have friends who are, you must schedule a stop (or ten!) at Zagol.

As you walk in, you immediately know that you are in a special place, prepared just for you, by very special people.  You are a guest of honor, and from the moment your eyes adjust to the interior, you feel right away, the power of the Ethiopian people, their culture, and the impact they have had on the world.  You may think you are there, just for lunch, or dinner, but what you get is an experience that will change your heart for all time.

The interior is decorated in traditional, warm colors of the earth, and you cannot help but notice the scarves that adorn the tables.  They declare, without embarrassment, “The Lion of Judah!”  My eyes misted over when I saw the framed photograph of the Emperor’s palace and I knew that His Imperial Majesty, Haile Salassie would be so proud of these women and their hard work.

There is a stage, and it is clearly the “throne seat” reserved for Someone.  It is furnished with the traditional tables and stools of Ethiopia, the land of kings, and indeed the Lion of Judah.  I felt like He just might walk in at any second.

For our lunch, we chose the Abesha Salata and the Bozena Shiro and Gored Gored.  It was served, traditional style, on the injerah (flatbread) which means you eat communally with your hands.  This was how human beings were meant to eat.  When people share, they become gentler with each other.  When everything is “mine” or “yours”, the lines of war are clearly drawn, even over a lunch table.   World leaders should not be allowed to “go to lunch”, unless it’s to an Ethiopian restaurant.

The dishes were exquisitely prepared, and the beef was so tender, it fell apart when we just looked at it.  The Gored Gored is a little spicier, and so required a little more injerah for me, but the salata was so fantastically fresh, that it “fed” the spices in the entree in a way that doesn’t happen very often.  Bozena Shiro is a cubed beef dish that is mild and yet somehow sweet, through the spices.  You can taste the beef as a delicacy and not as “meat”.  Suddenly, you’re eating something special and not just “beef”.  It tastes like it belongs in a palace, and perhaps you are not quite good enough for it.

Injera is a gluten free flat bread, and it is so airy, so light, you don’t realize how much you eat.  My mother and I polished off a whole bowl and our lovely server raced off to get another, smiling the whole way.  And that’s another thing you notice:  the people at Zagol really care about YOU.  They know you’re going to spend money, but their genuine concern is for YOU as a human being,  and YOUR comfort is more important to them.  You can feel that and though the world may be full of cynics, Zagol might just make believers in humanity out of them.

As always, Ethiopian coffee is the finest in the world, and the ladies of Zagol serve it elegantly and beautifully.  They do have the traditional coffee ceremony and nothing makes it more complete than Zagol’s home-made, handcrafted baklava.  I think they use real homemade almond spice and almond marzipan!

I gave the owner a packet of my Beloved Bob Marley incense.  I hope she did not think it was anything other than a gift to a beautiful lady, as extra gratitude (on top of a big tip of course.) for a beautiful afternoon.

An incredible experience and one that I can’t wait to have again, and again, and again.  I will have to list all my friends and take them there in turns.  That should fill up at least the next two weeks of lunches.  😉

Traditional Ethiopian table at Zagol in Reno

Traditional Ethiopian table at Zagol in Reno - This photo is copyrighted by Zagol of Reno. This is a combination of vegetarian and meat dishes served on injerah which means: You can even eat the plate!

1001 Black Incense Nights

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bahkhoor, bakhoor, desert bakhoor incense, Desert culture, Ethiopia, Incense, Orthodox Christianity with tags , , , , , , on January 15, 2009 by blackincense