Monday, October 1, 2007

The smell of fear

This weekend Pat, Robert and I went on a little vacation.

We were going to drive to Las Vegas and take in a show, eat at a nice restaurant (Pat was particularly excited about eating at one of the winners' restaurants featured in Gordon Ramsey's Hell's Kitchen), and generally enjoy the experience of getting away. Robert wanted to get in on a poker table and stay in a reasonably luxe environment. Only problem? The length of the drive made two nights absolutely necessary, and for some weird reason, Las Vegas is no longer the home of freakishly cheap lodgings. We opted for a trip to the Getty, a more luxurious hotel in Los Angeles, a great restaurant, and a trip to Universal Studios. And I sneaked in a small request... I wanted to visit the Memoire Liquide counter at Fred Segal Studios.

Going to L.A. instead was a good decision. We lived large and had a lot of fun. The hotel was a treat (although Robert was immediately above the cafe courtyard and did not rest quietly 'til people went to bed)-- high thread count sheets, creature comforts, vanilla candles burning 24/7 in the lobby and public areas (Robert remarked that it smelled like cookies, and it did.) The restaurant was just divine... I will review it separately, but do go to Tommy Ray's Restaurant if you get a chance.

I would be writing about the Memoire Liquide counter right now if I could, but Fred Segal's had some kind of commercial autism going on this weekend. They shrouded all their regular displays in almost-opaque deep blue curtains, pinned together, and herded us through narrow and twisting labyrinths of unsaleable dreck marked half off.

The whole experience was a little like a high school house of horrors, presented blandly so as not to terrorize the visiting grade schoolers. "Behold, a bowl full of... spiders," whispers a kid in a T-shirt marked "Haunted House 2007." Somewhere in Fred Segal, a siliconed wannabe actress in a white T-shirt emblazoned "Fred Segal Studios" puts on her bravest commercial smile and chirps, "Everything is half off, today!" There were legions of employees, shockingly friendly, actually, given my fat and sunscreen-smeared, Wal-Mart-coutured appearance and the complete failure of my crystal deodorant.

Nor would they take the time to show us more expensive items at full price, because they really, really want to get rid of the sales stuff, I guess. Bizarre. Oh well, another time.

For now... another house of horrors has my attention. The one at Universal Studios. I could not help but notice that the signs read "if you are pregnant, have asthma, are sensitive to strong odors, go sit somewhere safe and don't make us risk our liability insurance profitability index" blah blah blah.

Sensitive to strong odors? What?!

They meant it.

A mock-up Frankenstein's lab smelled of ozone, cordite, and suitably convincing formaldehyde (I think it was plastic, but ... eew.) The brick and earth catacomb, featuring stacks of skulls amusingly less horrific than the pious outlays of bone in the St. Francisco cathedral in Lima, smelt convincingly of mold and damp brick. "Bodies" wrapped in plastic smelled unpleasantly of chilled plastic, like the creature from the black lagoon doll my friend Troy insisted on keeping in his freezer during high school and college-- tainting all the ice. Or like freezer-burned meat in its original grocery store wrapper. All these smells were faint and reminiscent... but... but...

The "mummies" were saturated in myrrh, frankincense, and patchouli oils, giving them a suitably convincing stink of sanctity. This was the creepiest detail in a pretty vivid, entertaining haunted house, to me-- the very breath of verisimilitude.

On a very different note, the Getty pumps soliflore scents into its enormous, high-ceilinged, pristine white, modern rooms -- petunia in one, geranium in another, rose in the elevator. Not much, not intense, and you must sniff to detect them, but they add a lovely and gracious touch to a space in which one mills around with other sweaty tourists, and this practice freshens and beautifies the space.

What public places have you been in lately that shape their perceptual spaces with fragrance? And which ones do it subtly, interestingly, and well?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Breakfast of champions

I have a quarter loaf of yeasty, freshly baked French bread slathered lightly with new butter, with paper thin shavings of inexpensive truffled cheese and two tiny Somerfeld apples. The bread and butter is comfort food par excellence, particularly with a shaving of perfumed cheese resting on top. The almost-garlicky savor of the truffles is offset by the creamy bite and sharpness of the cheese.

And Somerfields-- ohhh, they are the best apples you can find. Wine-rich, extremely crisp and crunchy, they snap juicily under the teeth and give off their intense, almost condensed apple tartness. They are the perfect balance of sweet, tart, intense, rich, and crunchy.

My house is perfumed by baking yellow cake. Lest any of you fear that I have a gourmet bone in my body, rest assured that this from-a-mix (dosed with homemade bourbon vanilla, though) cake is destined to be split, filled with a mix of buttercream frosting and marshmallow fluff, and then frosted/glazed with seedless raspberry jam and sprinkled with coconut. I am going to make an enormous raspberry Zinger for a treat with tonight's game.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Welcome to Lizard Forebrain

Well, here we go. I've made myself a little blog for writing about the senses; mostly fragrance and flavors, knowing me, but we'll see how it turns out.

When I get to rambling about sensorium and aesthetics this will be where it goes.