July 4, 2008

A Perfumed Summer in the City

a view of Prospect Park's Long Meadow, as seen through an entrance arch
Because summer is the season we are outdoors the most, even in the city, the scents emanating from everything around us will then have the strongest effect on our daily lives.

I am fortunate to live near an enormous old park (Prospect Park, designed by Olmstead) and sometimes I am up  early during the week. I get myself in there at 6:30 am before anyone much is around, with Dante (Italian Greyhound) and the few other dog people I find there.

There I find transparent mist rising from the grass and the raking golden light highlighting every blade of grass in the Long Meadow and reaching up to pick out the details of the leaves through the big old Victorian trees. The temperatures in the early morning are always cool, in the  60s, and the humidity is the highest of the day (over 70 percent, usually).

The stillness and spaciousness magnifies the scents, and even the traffic noise is distanced, absorbed by all the green matter and fresh dew in the trees and grass. The lindens are emanating clouds of sweetness and wild honeysuckle vines are wrapped around the interior fences everywhere. It's a mini vacation before the start of a work day.

Another refreshing place to go if you are out early anywhere in the city, especially in Midtown, is to stop into an open church (such as St. Bartholomew's on Park and 50th) and go into a smaller side chapel or even the main interior. It is very likely that you will be the only one there, and you will be surrounded by a quiet luxuriously decorated spaciousness, Glinting mosaics, gleaming wood, cool stone walls and colorful light pour through stained glass while the roar of the rush hour eddies around outside. It's like standing in a private palace, dedicated to spiritual concerns. Well-waxed wood and traces of aromatic incense sweeten the cool non air-conditioned air.

Air-conditioning in the city often makes it essential to keep a sweater or a "pashmina" shawl with you to wear indoors. If you have a scent tolerant workplace (and most still are in NYC) you can indulge in whatever you like without regard to seasonal temperature, because it is certainly no particular season indoors except cool and bright. Outside it's another story. The heat on the streets and the waits on the train platforms are like that blast of heat you get when you open an oven door, often combined with humidity that is sure to result in stickiness that wraps around you like a wet sheet.

 I like certain colognes that are marketed to men this time of year. I've not much interest in frills over a certain degree of temperature (95 degrees and up is reaching the limit for me). The high alcohol content of cologne has a clearing and bracing effect and is traditionally used in summer for the good reason that it was helpful in the days before much air conditioning. With global warming we may yet go back to those days again before very long, and all those little tricks employed by our ancestors to deal with the heat in the city will no doubt be revived.

L'eau de Hespirides by Diptyque cuts through the thick humidity and airlessness like a knife. Citruses and rosemary crossed with a musk that give it some shade, but I think it is the rosemary that opens the air passages to the brain.

An opposite approach to heat is the Middle Eastern aesthetic.  Andy Tauer's L'air du desert Marocain rises up around you in a cloud rendered more intense by heat, but is so appropriate because of its aromatic desert wind inspiration. It spices the air around you and imparts overheated conditions with the dry resinous beauty of cedar crossed with the heady dreaminess of jasmine. More of an end of the day fragrance for me, after you get back into a cool room for the night, sleepy from the heat and humidity and noise of the day.

Annick Goutal's Eau d' Hadrien is as clear as a bell, combining acidic lemon and grapefruit with cypress green tones that reminds you that places like Capri exist in  the world.

A huge proportion of Roger & Gallet's collection is city-summer heat appropriate. Their bath and fragrance products on the themes of Green Tea, Ginger, Blue Lotus, Citron, Lavandre, Vetyver and Shiso all have a delicate but stimulating property similar to that first morning coffee.

Above photo by Garry R. Osgood, Prospect Park from Endale Arch, the longest open view in NYC without buildings, designed to resemble an English park from the Age of Enlightenment...


brian said...

Wow. That kind of writing is like brain candy. Do you ever go to the cathedral of St John the Divine up near Columbia? I used to go there nearly every day. It makes you feel very alone in the world but the loneliness is like a very sweet, rich cake. The spaciousness inside creates the sense that your thoughts are expanding around you in all directions, and you think with the kind of clarity which is often impossible in a big city, where everyone's thoughts are drowning out your own.

Lucy said...

Thanks B!

Yes, I am becoming aware that there are these structures in the city (churches) that are mostly empty most of the time that are beautifully made and beautifully maintained slices from the past, still around in the form they always had, like time machines. You can hear yourself think in them sometimes. I've only been to John the Divine a couple of times. I would like to see the blessing of the animals there, I understand really big exotic ones often show up too, along with the regular pets.

Anonymous said...

Dear Lucy,
Your blog is insightful and full of natural wisdom. Dave and I chose this area of Brooklyn to reside in because of the meditative and peaceful qualities that the park provides. Thank you for allowing me read your indieperfumes.blogspot.com. You have the gift of combining your knowledge regarding scents, and visually conveying your experiences to your readers. You possess a real talent and I hope that you pursue this, and continue to share with others. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with me.