- by Elaine Sexton -
She is perfectly ordinary, a cashmere scarf
snugly wrapped around her neck. She is
a middle age that is crisp, appealing in New York.
She is a brain surgeon or a designer of blowdryers.
I know this because I am in her skin this morning
riding the bus, happy to be not young, happy to be
thrilled that it is cold and I have a warm hat on.
Everyone is someone other than you think
under her skin. The driver does not have
a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in his metal
lunchbox. He has caviar left over from New Year's
and a love note from his mistress, whom he just left
on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 14th Street.
When she steps off his bus to take over the wheel
of the crosstown No. 8, she knows she is anything
but ordinary. She climbs under the safety bar
and straps the belt on over her seat. She lets
the old lady who is rich but looks poor take her time
getting on. She lets the mugger who looks like
a parish priest help her. She waits as we sit, quiet
in our private, gorgeous lives.
From Sleuth by Elaine Sexton, New Issues Press, 2003
Extraordinary City: New York
Every time I come to New York City, I love it more. In fact, this trip I'm on now is the first I've ever taken at this time of year. The trees are just beginning to blossom and people are still wearing coats but spring is definitely on its way in. Since Friday, I've been traveling from one perfume counter to the next and meeting perfumers as well as fellow writers and perfume enthusiasts. It's the kind of trip that really allows this city to work its magic. Here, everyone is potentially perfect and beautifully flawed. And therein lies the magic of a mosaic like this city, its inhabitants and visitors, and all the machinery that keeps us coming and going. One of the things I most enjoy in the city is wearing a hat and dark red lipstick and going out to wander around, pretending that I live here. I imagine myself a fearless navigator of subways and alleys, and I play little games with myself like making up stories about the woman sitting across from me on the subway, or the man sleeping in a doorway in Chelsea, or the gorgeous Amazon who's helping me select the perfect shade of city-red lipstick. I imagine each brownstone is filled with the most amazing books, old volumes and rarities stacked to the high ceilings, all waiting to be read. By me.
Extraordinary Event: Sniffapalooza
It's my first time attending the Sniffapalooza Spring Fling, and through it I have had the opportunity to meet many people whom I admire and hope to come to know better. Both Yosh Han and Ineke Ruhland were at Saturday's events, and they were radiantly charming. I could not have been more excited to find them as warm and wonderful in person as they were in their correspondence during the recent "Perfume in a Poem" event. And the writers! From Perfume-Smellin' Things, Marina; from Perfume Posse, March and Patty; from Sniffapalooza Magazine, Raphaella; and my companion and source of social strength, Alyssa, fellow Texan and amazing facilitator of introductions for her introverted companion (me). And the beautiful-inside-and-out Besotted and RockinRuby from Perfume of Life, both of whom I now crave meeting again. And the amazing Chayaruchama (who sang to me, and sings to me still!) and her dearest beloved. And Risa, with whom I had a long and lovely conversation; and InkDarkMoon, fellow poetry fan. And Leah; the memory of her smile still warms me. And LilyBP, with whom I had the pleasure of sharing lunch today, after meeting serendipitously at the Madison Avenue L'Artisan boutique. And there were many, many others whom I saw and heard but didn't have the opportunity (or the boldness) to approach: Marlen of PerfumeCritic.com and New York Times scent critic Chandler Burr, among them. Perfumers Neil Morris and Montgomery Taylor were there--and of course, so were the tireless organizers of the event, Karen Dubin and Karen Adams, who deserve all the thanks for making this opportunity a possibility. I continue to be overwhelmed, and will probably not even be able to think about it in punctuation other than exclamation points for several weeks.
Extraordinary Souvenir: Perfumes: The Guide
Aside from the fan I got at Takashimaya (to keep my sweaty self from melting into a puddle) the only thing I've bought in New York City so far is a book. Within two hours of my entrance into Manhattan, I was scouring the Borders bookstore at Columbus Circle for Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. I got the last copy in the store, and devoured whole sections late into the night. It will be a book to revisit often, and I recommend it on several accounts: first, even though (or perhaps because) I do not agree with the authors in their estimation of the beauty and quality (or lack thereof) of many of the reviewed scents, I find it very well-written and thought-provoking.
Second, this book will not be all things to all people (and as such, I'm not sure that calling it "the" guide is totally appropriate), but it will spur conversation, and that is the greatest possible effect it could have. Whether you agree or disagree, it is well worth your time to read through this book; if you take nothing else from the experience you should at least come to the conclusion that art is and should be appreciated subjectively. Criticism is less useful when the reader allows the critic to do all the critiquing - there is room here for plenty of dissent and in so doing, the reader will come to a better understanding of exactly why this perfume is or isn't what it could or should be.
Third, I halfway expect a brand new crop of perfume bloggers and writers and enthusiasts to enter the online community as a result of reading this book, and a greater pool of knowledge and opinion is ultimately a gain for us all. And among those new voices, perhaps a few will contribute to the excellence of our pursuit in ways that would not have been possible. And then there will be additional guides, and other equally fascinating and thought-provoking opinions to consider and to discuss and dissent from and agree with. And I am more than delighted to welcome those new voices to the chorus, however large and varied it may become.
Whether you find the book instructive, infuriating, or puzzling (or all three) you should in any case find it and form your own opinion. (Pithy bumper sticker alert: Think whatever you like, but by all means, think.)
Extraordinary Month: April is National Poetry Month
Many of you already know this, but just in case you don't: April is National Poetry Month. And April 17 - this coming Thursday, is being sponsored by the American Academy of Poets as "Poem in Your Pocket" day. If you enjoy poetry (and I assume you do, if you made it to this little corner of the blogosphere) you are encouraged to copy out one of your favorite poems and take it with you on that day. Unfold it and share it with those you love, and tell them that it's your contribution to National Poetry Month. You'll probably start some interesting conversations and you may find out some very interesting things about the people in your life. I know I always think I'm the only person in the room who loves poetry until I start talking about it, and then I find out that people have memorized strange bits of verse over the years and they recite those lines with a strangely beautiful nostalgia. Sometimes the nostalgia is for an emotion that the poem revisits, sometimes the memory is tied to the time at which the lines were memorized. If you are a blogger, consider posting a poem on this day; if you are a reader, send your favorite poem to a favorite blogger. However you do it, and whatever it means to you, share poetry with those in your life. It can and does make a difference.