Aquamarine Vintage Eau de Toilette (Revlon)

The gemstone known as aquamarine is actually a variant of the mineral beryllium aluminium cyclosilicate-- 'beryl' for short. If a beryl is goldfinch-yellow, it's called heliodor; if tawny pink, it's morganite. Is yours bright green? Congratulations, proud owner of an emerald. Deep blue? Watch out-- that's no sapphire, but a maxixe, like the famous dance from Rio de Janiero. The pale blue version is aquamarine, and for good reason: as its name suggests, its heavenly vitreous color evokes a wave undulating against a white sand beach somewhere in paradise.

Unfortunately, to my nose, Revlon's Aquamarine does not smell like ocean surf OR heaven. It smells like a 1960's hospital ward-- lemon disinfectant and nicotine layered upon walls painted barium green, that chilly, chalky, impersonal hue meant to suggest strict standards of institutional cleanliness. The fact that all of these unsettling elements perch atop the same lickable civet base used in Revlon's smash hit Intimate does not make me like Aquamarine much more. No: the disconnect between clean and dirty is too jarring here, whereas the lascivious Intimate simply slides from dirty to dirtier. She's a glamorous brunette, alluring and unalterably nocturnal-- and Aquamarine is her less interesting blonde sister, if you like.

On the very first page of her Booker Prize-shortlisted novel The Clothes On Their Backs, Linda Grant calls Revlon Aquamarine "the scent of eau de nil and gold". I'm positive Grant didn't literally mean Nile water, which I'm given to understand smells like brackish garbage even on a good day. I agree that the color eau de nil -- a lovely tint of green, warmer than seafoam and paler than sage -- looks particularly beautiful next to tarnished gilt, and I appreciate the hint of synaesthesia Grant embedded into this literary snippet.

Too bad it's fiction, all fiction.

Scent Elements: Aquatic, ozonic, and floral notes of an unspecified identity, laid like a dainty white crochet-work coverlet over a bedrock of pure-D skank. Sound strange? You bet. Does it work? Not hardly. Nice try at shoehorning Intimate into a frumpy mother-of-the-bride outfit, though. To quote Elaine Stritch: "Does ANYONE... STILL WEAR... a HAT?" (I'll drink to that.)

The boatman's call.

To be quite blunt, today I feel like shit. I'm stressed out, snowed in, and sleep-deprived. I took a hot shower but am no warmer or more relaxed for it; I drank half a pot of coffee (which is supposed to wake you up, isn't it?) and only feel more exhausted. Though the world outside is diamond-bright with the glitter of sun on ice, I want nothing more than to hole up and hibernate in the nearest cave.

In these days of polar vortices, what sort of health tonic (besides chicken soup) can keep one's internal temperature from tanking? I vote for the wonderfully medicinal Caravelle Epicée de Frapin. Given that it was only nine degrees outside at dawn (and at 2:00 pm, it's barely cracked 20°F), the thermal boost I'm receiving from its overload of spice is most welcome. Just as comforting is its guaiac, an able (if not equal) substitute for sandalwood. Guaiac possesses a rich, "fat" quality that absorbs, extends, and exalts other notes the way that ghee carries the flavors of a sumptuous Bengali meal to the tastebuds. It lends perfume impressive longevity on skin without egocentrically taking it over, the way sandalwood might. I've called it 'benevolent' in earlier reviews because it really does seem intent on putting other notes first. But in the end, you can always find it in the lingering drydown it makes possible. Ah, I feel fortified just talking about it!

I'm pairing Caravelle Epicée with The Boatman's Call by Nick Cave-- a beautiful album for drifting downstream towards the land of Nod. Let me embark on that journey now.... and I'll see you on the other shore.

Snow White = Rose Red.

When ice commandeers the landscape around the middle of January, the hallowed month of Þorri begins. Some celebrate Þorrablót -- the ancient feast sacred to the Norse god of strength -- with hákarl (fermented sharkmeat) washed down with lashings of homemade akavit. Me, I become enamored of a brand new raspberry rose.

My ideal wintertime raspberry rose is more than just a combination of two aromachemical elements, one flower, one fruit. It must be a cozy, syrupy, gourmand concoction -- sweet, spicy, and maybe even a little puerile. It must start a fire in me and keep it fed through the dark times. It must take the edge off of Þorri's chill. Not a lot to ask, is it?

Part of my ritual involves the recitation of all the previous years' raspberry roses, their names forming a compulsive litany. In 2010, I wore Parfums de Nicolaï Balkis. In 2011, I wore Christian Lacroix Tumulte. In 2012, it was Parfumerie Générale Brûlure de Rose. And in 2013, it was... wait. Is this saga missing a stanza?

After Superstorm Sandy brutalized us in October 2012, the entire stretch encompassing Hallowe'en, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, and my birthday (during Þorri, natch!) proved a sodden, undifferentiated mass of pessimism. Everyone I knew was depressed. Everyone. Various perfumista penpals expressed confidence that things would soon be "back to normal" for us, but what did they know? At such a distance from the storm's epicenter, they could never see it as we did... and now, with homelessness, crime, and heroin use skyrocketing in the places where Sandy made landfall, normality here is nothing but a memory.

Maybe it was for this reason that I blocked out the one raspberry rose that got me through the post-storm season: Anna Sui Original. She is so very quiet, you know-- unobtrusive, not willing to interrupt your train of thought. Her heart is true, and she keeps your secrets-- even when you need them back. Mum's the word... now and forever.

As I look back through my posts of that period, I find no other raspberry roses which comforted me. Frédéric Malle's Portrait of a Lady? A cruel chypre whose berry reads like a droplet of red blood on a woman's lip. Ineke's Briar Rose? Though it possesses the proper scent elements, it does not provide succor-- a non-negotiable criterion in the bleak wintertime.

At this very moment, Winter Storm Janus is barreling across the Appalachians in our direction. I'm wearing Yves Rocher's Rose Absolue, which is everything I need it to be: pink-cheeked, liqueur-sweet, as encouraging as a bright smile. If I hadn't felt the chill of Þorri approaching, I might never have started eyeing what was left in this sample. But sometimes the right antidote presents itself at the right time-- and Þór himself knows, we need all the strength we can lay our hands on if we're to make it through to spring.

Coromandel after a sleepless night.

Sleep has been a stranger lately. I'm averaging three hours a night, waking up frequently in a dual state of bodily pain and mental frustration. Once I've dragged myself up off the mattress, the labor of getting myself showered and dressed seems as arduous as traversing a mountain range. Once the deed is done, I want only comfort-- something to cushion my bruised and aching self. Today it came in the form of Coromandel, the most sympathetic of patchouli fragrances (and one that's in it for the long haul, unlike Monegal's rather uneven version). To those who stand outside of the screen, Coromandel projects a graceful vulnerability, a softness akin to angora-- but in actual fact, she's all backbone. And after the nights I've been having, I need her. Oh, how I need her.

Mon Patchouly (Ramón Monegal)

Oh, god, how I wish I'd left well enough alone. If I couldn't find my sample of Mon Patchouly on the first pass, I should have just stopped looking. Then I wouldn't be in this infernal tangle between hate and... not love, exactly, but something slightly more than tolerance. Grief, maybe. Or regret.

I despise Mon Patchouly's opening note, a soapy-indolic accord that encapsulates jasmine's most deplorable traits. (Why not pick one -- clean OR dirty -- and be done with it?) A flood of aftershave commences, from which a tiny thread of vegetation surfaces only long enough to evoke a wistful sigh. In a heartbeat, I understand what this fragrance might have been -- a mossy, tobacco-tinged patchouli, so very fetching. Then it sinks down, down, disappearing with a gurgle beneath the jasmine-scented waves, and I curse the heavens because there's no saving it.

It haunts me, that patchouli. I would make it mine, if only I could strip away the claws of that floral-fougère horror that drags it under. All I can advise it to do is close its eyes, swallow deep, and let Scylla and Charybdis do their dirty work.

Scent Elements: Patchouli, oakmoss, incense, geranium, jasmine, amber

A flower, from the heart.

As I sort and straighten, the Scent Cabinet continues to give up its long-forgotten treasures. Example: Coeur de Fleur by Miller Harris. Despite a positive introduction two-odd years ago, this delightful fragrance rapidly wound up in perfume purgatory. Why? I can only offer the most hackneyed of reasons for our estrangement: so many perfumes, so little time. Swept from my sight by a flood of incoming 'fumes, Coeur de Fleur remained true to type: "a fickle thing, designed... to wither and fade".

And yet it seems that my memory of Coeur de Fleur, though buried, was not erased; it is easily refreshed with one spray. It's still the scent of "milk, sap, honey, spice, all in dilution", but was that ever a bad thing? It calls to mind both Givenchy L'Interdit and L'Artisan La Chasse aux Papillon, both of which I own in greater quantity, and both of which I've worn in the interim. Maybe therein lies the problem: these two fragrances usurped Coeur de Fleur's place in my purse because I thought I had more of them to use up.

But whatever its volume, perfume slowly evaporating in a spray vial is no good to anyone. It must needs be worn-- and so yesterday and today I spent time with an old olfactory friend.

I could not be happier for our reunion.

Coffee and Cedar (Plume Perfumes)

After my appendectomy, I felt overwhelmed-- mentally, physically, sensorially. Ten days in the sterile atmosphere of the hospital blunted my perceptions to such a degree that the palest fragrances smelled like full-strength Giorgio. But eventually equilibrium reasserted itself; I celebrated its return with an application of Plume Perfumes' Coffee and Cedar.

A sample of this all-natural, artisanal perfume oil had come to me in a care package from Natalie, who wrote about her own experience with it here. I wanted that comforting softness she described-- and Coffee and Cedar seemed to deliver on its promises. Could it be a new favorite along the lines of Arabie or Jolie Madame? From my initial description of it as "a rich, complex scent blend", you'd assume so.

It must have been the hyperosmia talking, because now -- twenty months later -- I feel thoroughly puzzled by my former infatuation for this scent. Where is all its complexity, longevity, density, depth? It seems so mild and nondescript today, nothing like the espresso powerhouse I recall. Has time diminished its potency to the same degree that my memory seems to have magnified it?

Or has the coffee simply gone cold?

Scent Elements: Citrus, lavender, rose, vanilla, patchouli, Atlas cedar, Virginia cedar, coffee, incense

Nomad's journey comes to an end.

Pawing through my sample bin in search of items to toss in the wastebasket, I happened upon the tail end of a vial of Odin New York Nomad (now called Sunda). Some samples you never get around to emptying due to indifference or downright antipathy; others you deliberately put off using, as if hoarding them will preserve the pleasure you experienced upon first wearing. Nomad falls under the second type of sample. Impulsively, I upended its scant contents into the palms of my hand and stroked the scent all around my throat, the nape of my neck, one wrist and then the other. Oh, there is no change in how much I love it... only there's none of it left now, and the pleasure must finally find a resting place in the annals of memory.

Agar Musk (Ramón Monegal)

I think I've figured Ramón Monegal out: three duds for every beauty. My first three fizzled; Dry Wood dazzled. So did this one, so I'd expect the next three would just waste my time.

As its name suggests, Agar Musk is two things: a deep, dark oud and a rich, animalic musk. The first glistens like a polished lignite bead on a black satin cord; the second is as slick, frisky, and alive as a otter glimpsed among riverbank reeds. But here you'll also find a great smoky vetiver, a supple touch of leather, and (I swear it!) a touch of costus producing the unmistakable effect of unwashed but wet hair-- smooth, glossy, warmed by the sun and scented by the skin. And maybe Agar Musk is derivative of a hundred other, similar fragrances, but in all the right ways and best aspects. If it reminds me of something, it's something I want to be reminded of.

Speaking of memory, for the life of me I can't recall where I put my sample of Mon Patchouly-- and I don't count it as much of a loss so long as there's Agar Musk to wear. I'm good. I'm set.

Scent Elements: Oud, leather, nutmeg, vetiver, amber, musk.

Dry Wood (Ramón Monegal)

Wobbling on the brink of totally dismissing Ramón Monegal and all his no-good fragrances, I reach for the next sample in line: Dry Wood, about which Birgit of Olfactoria's Travels wrote... what's the opposite of an accolade? Malediction? Anathema? No matter. It could not damn, for I was already damned. Because I really like Dry Wood. I mean, really, REALLY like it. Jesus Christ, finally something to like!

Given my previous experiences with the rest of the Monegal line, I didn't expect to take to this fragrance at all-- so there must be significance in the fact that I wear it one day and can't wait to wear it again the next. What more succinctly hammers home the primacy of empirical knowledge over prejudice? But don't believe me: you have to wear this thing yourself to see what I mean.

Every minute brings something new to the fore, not the least thrilling of which is a fresh and unexpected green bell pepper aroma that wafts in a moment after the lemon-herb top notes have finished setting the stage. (Monegal's website offers readers both Spanish and English options, but strangely, the scent notes en la versión en idioma español are expresado en francés-- so "pepper" is given as poivre when I am certain they really meant poivron.) At any rate, bay and summer savory make a very Mediterranean scent of Dry Wood. In this herbal bouquet I recognize traces of Nueva Maja-- and of course Myrurgia having been founded by the Monegals, perfume remains a family affair.

I just wish the rest of the family were as scintillating, as fascinating, as likable as Dry Wood-- the black swan of the flock.

Scent Elements: Citron, cedar, bay leaf, pepper, oakmoss, savory, sandalwood, cashmeran, Norlimbanol woods accord

Cuirelle (Ramón Monegal)

Basically Tabac Aurea on a saccharine diet. Beauty duplicated and dumbed down. I swear, if Ramón Monegal keeps it up, I'll either perish of boredom or be forced to start drinking this stuff just to get some kind of buzz.

Scent Elements: Somali incense, Indonesian patchouli, Bourbon vetiver, Virginian cedarwood, cinnamon, beeswax absolute

Mon Cuir (Ramón Monegal)

People who are not from New Jersey profess some pretty strange beliefs about our state. Apparently, we all live exactly halfway between the Short Hills Mall and the Shore, in a land from any point of which the Manhattan skyline can magically be glimpsed. We breakfast on toxic chemicals drizzled over U-Pick farm tomatoes, then trundle off to our day jobs doin' contract hits for the Mafia. (It's true!)

Even within our three-million-some-odd square miles, debate rages as to what kind of New Jerseyans we are. North, South, Central, Shore? Do you live closer to New York or Philly? Do you root for the Giants or the Eagles? Are there sprinkles or jimmies on your cupcake? Taylor ham or pork roll on your breakfast sandwich? Where do you go for summer vacation? Since I grew up on the coast -- where summer is no vacation, believe you me -- I never went down the Shore as someone from Camden or Perth Amboy might. And anyway, only bennies have time to waste lolling around on a beach, am I right or am I right?

For any local hoping to cull out the newest crop of Jersey-come-latelies, one simple shibboleth will do: Say the name of our state. We call her New Jersey. Some of us drop the "New", which makes the rest of us narrow our eyes (come on, man, show the lady some respect). But the true tell, as they call it, lies in the pronunciation. Nobody from here says "Joisey". Nobody. Ever.

Fashion is a touchy subject for the so-called Jersey Girl. In the minds of many, we all dress (and act!) like stereotypical Bon Jovi groupies circa 1988. Jackets covered with studs, bleached-denim skirts shorter than a summer night, lace and fishnet tights, thigh-high dominatrix boots with heels to make a hooker die of envy-- and of course, lots of leathaaaah. The past decade (which has foisted various Sopranos, Real Housewives, and Bridezillas upon us) has only compounded our image crisis. The reality? Cotton halter dresses and Havaianas in the summer; stretch leggings and fleece pullovers for cold weather. Our Mid-Atlantic winters sure can be bitter and slushy. If you're going to wear leather, better get a good, sturdy pair of boots... and mink-oil the bejesus out of them.

The leather I wear is entirely embodied in Doc Martens and perfume. Don't I adore me some vintage isoquinoline, as found in Jolie Madame or Cabochard! But today I'm wearing Mon Cuir (My Leather), which doesn't even smell like leather-- more like pleather or PVC dusted on the inside with talcum, à la Bulgari Black. It borrows its orange blossom from the same unpleasant source as Maison Francis Kurkdjian's APOM Pour Femme; even its cistus smells vaguely, coldly chemical, like some acrid emission from an industrial smokestack. (Is this another joke on Jersey? Jeez louise.) Isolated, Mon Cuir's flaws are extremely off-putting; however, they've been juxtaposed just skillfully enough that they mute (if not cancel out) each others' ill effects. The result smells like a new shoe fresh from the Payless factory... but I would really have to like shoe-shopping more than I do to find this an attractive trait in a perfume.

My leather? No, thanks. I could cuir less.

Scent Elements: Leather, orange blossom, nutmeg, patchouli, Australian sandalwood, musk, labdanum

Umbra (Ramón Monegal)

In every season, wood incense remains one of my prime homesteading pleasures. I reckon that if I can't have either a fireplace or chiminea, I delight in the fact that I can still scent my domicile with a fingertip-sized tablet of incense lit by a kitchen match. Crafted of pulverized evergreen needles or sawdust from fragrant woods such as mesquite, cedar, alder, or piñon pine, it splits open as it burns, sending forth billows of savory blue-gray smoke that penetrate every corner of my castle.

A particular favorite of mine, balsam fir needle incense possesses an odd, burnt-sugar aspect not shared by pine or spruce. That hint of piloncillo is clearly discernable even before you burn it, but remains true long after the match and the self-igniting charcoal have done their work.

Ramón Monegal's Umbra boasts a similar caramelized quality, but it's prefaced by something I swear to god is standard-issue calone blended with the most unpleasant synthetic geraniol outside of Duc de Vervins. Eventually the geraniol loosens its death grip and lets some dusty black pepper take over, followed by the fir. Sadly, this is Umbra's least persistent note; it concedes too rapidly to a salty, pencil-gray vetiver, then back (how?!) to more (more?!) of that hellish geranium. (And dammit, I LIKE geranium-- but I can't bear what passes for it here.) If there's any tonka to be found, it's buried in Umbra's ashes.

Based on this one fragrance, I refuse to write off the entire line. (FOURTEEN perfumes! Lord o'mercy.) Well, to be honest, I've already drawn a bead on Monegal's two sticky-sweet "leathers", Mon Cuir and Cuirelle... and there's also Agar Musk, Dry Wood, and Mon Patchouly waiting to be tried. Only time and my patience for playing guinea pig will tell whether or not the effort has been worthwhile.

Scent Elements: Vetiver, tree moss, black pepper, geranium, balsam fir, tonka

All morning long with Absolue Pour le Soir.

The morning of a day when a blizzard is due seems fraught with panicked activity-- so much to do, so many places to go, so many hatches to batten down before snow blots out all opportunity! I hit the laundromat (three loads wash-and-dry, hurry, HURRY!) and grocery store (milk! bread! cream without which coffee is USELESS!) and raced home to lock windows, locate flashlights, and count cans of soup. All the while, I wore Absolue Pour le Soir, which I love because: A) it insulates me like a form-fitting angora knit dress, B) it blends well with the warm, sleepy scent of hair washed last night, C) it reminds me of Michael Storer's Winter Star but is more honeyed and less, well, rude. But I'll make you a deal: if we get those twelve promised inches of white stuff and the library stays closed tomorrow, I'll wear Winter Star ON TOP OF Absolue Pour le Soir and hole up in my lair like a cavewoman. Let the Ice Age begin!