Archive for the Perfume Reviews 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


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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 (http://makinsense.wordpress.com).  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!

Columbina

Wonder what I will paint today?

The Bahkhoor Review ….The Sergius-Bob Reviews Part 2,

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bahkhoor, bakhoor, desert bakhoor incense, Desert culture, Incense, Orthodox Christianity, Perfume Reviews, religion with tags , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2009 by blackincense

As I said in my last posting, my good friend and brother in Christ, “Sergius-Bob” (who is linked on my blog roll and all of you should visit him and read his stuff) sent me some beautiful bahkhoors that he had picked up on his travels.  He sent these to me, as a fellow incense lover, because he knew I would very much love to see them and try them.  What a glorious gift!!!!

True, desert bahkhoors, are the original scents of the desert:  amber, frankicense, myrrh, and oppoponax, blended with pure floral oils.  But in the middle east today, these scents have been forgotten, for the most part, by Islamic perfumers who have wanted to keep up with the west.  You have to search the bazaar very hard, to find true desert bahkhoor.

Now, to set you up for this, you should know that in Islamic countries, especially Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt, the bahkhoor ceremony is a very deep gift of friendship.  Leaving aside all arguments about religion and theology, let us appreciate the deep reverence that Islamic people have for others they consider a true friend.

When I was a little girl, I lived in Behshahr, Iran.  This is the far north of Persia, in the mountains, about an hour from the Caspian Sea.  I wanted to go every weekend to the Caspian in hopes I would see the wild Caspian ponies because i loved horses.  In my mind, they were the same thing as the going to Isfahan, and seeing the horse races.  And if my parents took me to the horse races, I could go to the bazaar where I was sure to go into the gold souk which was filled with magical smells.

So for me, the smell of wild ponies is mixed with bahkhoor — there is no separating them in my mind.

My brother and I played in this ruin on the shore of the Caspian...no disclaimers were posted...

My brother and I played in this ruin on the shore of the Caspian...no disclaimers were posted...

When you approach the souk, you have to get through the crowds of people and the merchants crying out for a bargain on silk.  Then come the tailors and the smell of preserved cottons, and knits.  These are laid out on tables all in a row, piled high, and you cannot tell one color from another because you are dizzy from looking at them.  Moving through the fabric merchants, you come to the luxury sellers, (yes, there is order in chaos), and they sell all the goods for the home, and “jelly shoes” and net bags that smell like garlic, and noone bread.  Someone presses a piece of noon into your hand, and it’s still warm from the “oven” and has a layer of dirt on it.  Someone’s grandmother cooked it in her backyard where her son dug a hole, and lit a fire.  The fire is lit by cedar and pine pitch, flavoring the bread and maybe your eyes burn  a bit, but it’s a small thing to deal with.

A man in rags brings his horse and cart into the souk and starts selling bolts of fabric off the back.  You think it must be stolen but you don’t care, and mind your own business.  The horse is covered in stiff leather—it’s so stiff you think it might break from age.  This same horse, in the same old leather, will “compete” in the horse race later in the week.

Now you are suddenly recognized as a westerner and you are escorted (against your will) to the doorway that no one else is allowed to pass.  Outside this doorway is a leper, with open sores, and you want to die and shrink in his place.  But your escort throws coins at him and he is silent so you pass through the door into a world that is made entirely of gold.

Someone in white robes comes to you and begins swirling a smoking mubhkahr around you, above you and just below the hem of your dress (because you wouldn’t wear anything else in a Muslim country) and you feel a bit “high” not because of what the mubhkahr contains but because you are overwhelmed by this ritual.  And it is a ritual, because all the time this person is bowing before you with this mysterious smoking bowl, they are praying over you, to “Allah” to have a long life, and many children to comfort you, and all the good things that only “Allah” can bestow upon you.  It never occurs to you to tell them they are “wrong” and that Islam isn’t the real faith, because at that time, in that moment, it doesn’t matter- they are being very kind to you in the best way they know how.

John 12: Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said,”Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. Therefore Jesus said, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial.

Your mother walks confidently over to the counter and the jeweler bows very low because the depth of his bow is the depth of his respect for you.  You watch and listen as your mother describes to the jeweler what she wants and every time she finishes a sentence he bows deeply again.  You smell the horse and merchant in the street, and when someone sees your nose wrinkling from that experiment, they bring the mubhkhar over again to “cover” the scent.  You wish they wouldn’t, but it’s so pleasant and you allow yourself to get a little carried away on the scent that you know is a copy of a French perfume, but you would never say so.

Your mother settles the bargain on a clear topaz, the clearest that has ever been found by a human being, and it will be set in a 22 karat gold setting, swirled, to “cradle” the gem.  It is not an expensive bargain, and your mother is very pleased with herself.  She will have her “diamond” and only she and the jeweler will know the difference at a glance.  As you leave the souk, you are censed again, with the mubhkhar, and the jeweler b0ws so long his forehead touches the floor.

During the ride home, your mother decides to stop off at your maid’s house, to give her a paycheck and to drop off some food and other items.  You arrive at a mud covered house, about the size of a “studio apartment”.  12 people live there, all together with no bathroom.  Your mother is shocked at the conditions and later hires a contractor to build a proper 3 bedroom house.  But here and now, your nose is assaulted by the smell of human poverty and yet, they too, bring a mubhkahr filled with the same mysterious scent, copied from the grand house of Yves St. Laurent.  You recognize the scent.  It’s Rive Gauche and you know that because your mother wears it all the time.

Aldehydes, mettalic and heavy oakmoss, sprinkled with notes of rose geranium and jarring notes of amber.  An aluminum can spray, banded in black and blue, and Rive Gauche, Yves St. Laurent in long-hand script on the side.  The scent came out in 1970 so actually your mother is a bit behind in the fashionable department.

An old woman, older than you have ever imagined a person could be, comes shuffling to you with the mubhkhar and suddenly you are covered in smoke:  Rive Gauche.  Yves St. Laurent.  In the poorest home in all of Behshahr.Your chador (yes, you wear one.  When in Behshahr, do as the Behsharans do and do your best to be polite about it.)  is scented for days with the bahkhoor of Rive Gauche.  And you think that everyone lives this way.

And you begin to take the Islamic hospitality ritual for granted.  Until some dear friend sends you a gift of bahkhoor in the mail.  And then, you are transported back…back to being a little girl in Behshahr.  An hour from he Caspian.  An hour from freedom.

The bazaar in Tehran - 1975

The bazaar in Tehran - 1975

Perfume review: Hindu Kush by AbdesSalaam Attar Profumo

Posted in Perfume Reviews with tags , , , on January 21, 2009 by blackincense

My friends Veejay and his wife, Nirmala bought some of this in Italy for me as a gift.  They wanted to know what I thought of it, and I decided to share those thoughts here.

First, the clarity of the elixir is interesting — there is no cloud, and the consistency of the oil is topnotch.  On opening the bottle, my first impressions were:

Real Bombay sandalwood – the real deal!

Silk sliding over cotton and getting caught on wood.

Calcutta merchants crying out to sell spice

The basenotes of this perfume is oak moss, real sandalwood, and a hint of pepper.  Overtones being what they are, I would classify it as green, but without being another boring citrus.  This is an exciting perfume and it captures an image of the Indian orient.  The surprise in this perfume is the nutmeg — not too overpowering, but very much present and it’s almost a sustaining force in the elixir.

This is a very resinous perfume, incense based, and I am glad to see it and grateful for the opportunity to have it.  My friends are too kind to give me such a gift!

A very fun perfume, this scent is an adventure in forest filled mountains with a lot of soul searching.  I hope for more like this in coming years.  This one is a true ‘eastern perfume’, for men or women.  But I suspect that very “professional” women might find it too heavy for daily wear.  This is a very exotic and eastern oil.

More information from the designer:

http://www.profumo.it

On Returning to the Desert

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bahkhoor, bakhoor, desert bakhoor incense, Desert culture, Ethiopia, Incense, Orthodox Christianity, Perfume Reviews, religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2009 by blackincense

About two months ago, I returned to the desert after being away in what seemed like exile.  Some might think that I was really “living it up” on the modern and beautiful California coast, but the truth is, I was never “at home” or with my own people.  I was always an outsider, and in many cases, an outcast.  I lived and moved among people who did not have my best interest in mind, and in some cases actively sought my destruction.

Since returning to this high mountain desert, where things are pretty well spelled out for you (live or die) I have been stretched, like a shirt that is too small over a growing frame.  Now, more than ever, I look out at the expanse of the mountains and the desert floor and I imagine the Desert Fathers and Mothers.  This morning, I walked out to a secluded spot, and lit my incense.  It was raw frankincense and myrrh in basic,  plain bowl.

I inhaled and tried to pray in that way that is personal and so filled with hurt that you don’t want anyone to hear,  that speaks to God directly about our self-inflicted wounds and our sins.  After awhile, I opened my eyes and I tried to imagine going back in time and visiting a real Desert Father or Mother.  I tried to imagine what their lives were like, and what their daily routine was.  I thought about how they might view my personal situation and how practical their writings seem to be, and so I pulled out my copy and read a bit of their sayings.  They were so deeply practical and they did not waste a lot of time on philosophy or pointless arguing.  They LIVED their lives!  They embraced their humanity and spent their lives in self-examination.  Such devotion to the Christian ideal (Be ye perfect, as I am perfect!) is exhausting and yet these monks and nuns, the desert dwellers, they found the strength to not only accomplish it, but in many cases, lived looooong lives in spite of the hardships they faced.

I can feel the artist side of me wanting to burst out and create new things.  The artist in me wants to experiment with fragrances in ways I have not done before, simply because I was afraid to attempt them.  At the same time, these things are not really new.  They are very ancient.  I want to leave Athonite style incense to the monks of Mt. Athos and go back to the deserts of Egypt and make bakhoors and find rare resins to work with, to make desert style ,  worshipful scents.    I want to sink my feet in the sands of Ethiopia and find the fragrances of the earliest monks and nuns.

I’m not talking about “biblical perfume” nonsense.  I am talking about creating that desert inside my own soul and walking a desert path within it toward the summit of Sinai.  I had started feeling this way about a month ago, and I spoke to my priest who smiled and said, “Well, it’s about time!  I’ve been waiting for this….”  Funny, how he seems to know what I will do before I do it. (laugh!)

The truth is, for a long time, I have simply copied the monks of Mt. Athos and the nuns of Greece and Cyprus.  I am not them.  I can make their product, and it’s so similar only they would know the difference.  But it is not “Athonite” any more than “Cooks” is “champagne”.  True Champagne only comes from that lovely valley in France.  So too, Athonite incense only comes from the Holy Mountain, straight from the hands of the monks who make it.

My “Athonite” incense is very good, and I do my best praying over it.  But they are not the prayers of the monks or nuns.  They are simply the prayers of good will, by your friend, Columbina.  So when it comes down to it, I want to follow that path in the desert that St. Moses and Abba Dorotheus, and Abba Poemen, and Abba Athony, and Amma Syncletia set for us “normal people”.  The desert is attainable.  The Holy Mountain is too high for me and I don’t belong there.  I can never go there, and breathe it’s fragrance.  But I am from the desert and I know it intimately, literally.  I can put that intimacy into a new set of fragrances that speak to other wounded souls.  Maybe by doing that, I can find healing for my own.

So, although some customers may leave and go somewhere else, that is allright…I leave their path to God and turn aside to set my face toward the desert of the Danakil where I can hear a monk off in the distance sing,

Ba-weho! (Glory!)  Ba-weho a Xristos! (Glory to Christ!)

I have no idea how to explain this to my customers.  I hope they will still write to me and let me know how they are, what makes their souls sing!  Some of them really are not going to understand but I will be working on importing true monk’s incense from a monastery in Mt. Athos.    Maybe that would make them happy.

Ba-weho! (Glory!)  Ba-weho a Xristos! (Glory to Christ!)

Sundown in the Danakil desert of Ethiopia 1977

Sundown in the Danakil desert of Ethiopia 1977

Night Blooming Jasmine: A lesson in spirituality….

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bahkhoor, bakhoor, desert bakhoor incense, Desert culture, Ethiopia, Incense, Orthodox Christianity, Perfume Reviews, religion with tags , , , , , on September 4, 2008 by blackincense
I am working on the latest batch.  Blend, bottle and cure.  Blend, bottle and cure.  The repetition of the work begins to numb my senses and I was starting to wonder if it’s even worth it.  My nose was busy categorizing each formula, making sure it was exactly right.  One flower caught my nose and it seemed to overpower the others.  This doesn’t happen very often, so I went back and I checked the formula.  I hadn’t missed anything and yet this one flower seemed stronger than the others which, according to the precise formulation should not be.  Night blooming jasmine.
I tried again and this time, it seemed to fade back in, slowly.  I went for the coffee beans to clear my senses.  Leaving the bench, I went and picked up my book and tried to read.  But my nose kept nagging at me.  I could still smell it.  Went back to the coffee beans.
I knew which flower it was and that was not what bothered me.  What bothered me was that it should not over power the other ingredients.  I was starting to worry that maybe I was losing my nose as a perfumer.  I went back to the bench, and started to work again on a different blend, but I could still smell it.
Night blooming jasmine is not the world’s prettiest bush.  It releases its fragrance only at night.  In secret.
Then I realized, so it is the same with a suffering soul.  It’s beauty is not outward.  The suffering soul is at its most beautiful, when it releases its suffering to God alone.  In secret.
As for my nose, it’s recovered its senses.  Blend, bottle and cure.  Blend, bottle and cure.
Night blooming jasmine -- God's secret flower.

Night blooming jasmine -- God's flower

Frankincense and Myrrh : Fit for a mouse, Fit for a King.

Posted in bakhoor, Desert culture, Incense, Orthodox Christianity, Perfume Reviews, religion with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2008 by blackincense

Apparently, some scientists with too much time on their hands have discovered that mice love frankincense.  In their study, mice showed significant decreased anxiety and a general tendency toward uplifted spirits.  I am certainly not an expert on the emotional range or psychological states of mice, but I can tell you that none of this is news to anyone except scientists.

Original newstory:

http://www.kansascity.com/238/story/773432.html

Frankincense has always been a precious gift to humanity from God.  It’s anti-septic qualities as well as it’s effect on human emotions and human pain, has been well documented throughout history.  It has often been speculated that the Magi brought frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child in order to purify the area.  He was, after all, born in a stable, and one can only imagine the germ population that surrounded both Child and Mother.  Naturally, this would not affect Him, and by extension, His mother, but of course the Magi could not have realized that at the time.

In other parts of the world, where people are less addicted to the notions of “sweet”, frankincense and myrrh are used as chewing gum.  Not only does it clean teeth and gums, but it helps to prevent gum disease.  Myrrh, especially, is used for its anti-bacterial quality on wounds, cuts, and infections in general.

Does this mean that we should stop using anti-biotics or anti-depressants, etc.?  Not at all.  But I hope that when we burn frankincense and myrrh, we remember the One who gave it to us and rejoice in His kingly gift to us.