Spontaneous Homage No. 2

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Image source: the Saskatchewan website SaskTel.com

The wind grazing my cheek, lifting my hair, and something more: an intimate awareness of everything I am moving through — air, weather, distance, scenery, elevation, and the path beneath my feet -– every point of connection and all of it changing from mile to mile; the way it quiets my mind, whether I’m coasting along easily on autopilot or whether (more often than not) I’m focusing on keeping myself going until I reach my goal; the amazing way it constantly challenges me (it never gets easy) and the feeling of accomplishment at the end of any run, even the slow run where I had to slog my way through the discomfort of aching joints and tired muscles; the feeling of being connected to the seasons of nature -– to the northeast’s dramatic change-ups between winter, spring, summer and fall;  the go-anywhere adaptability of it, which requires no venue other than access to an open path, or barring that, a treadmill; the low-maintenance cost of it in terms of dollars, because the largest purchase it requires is for running shoes; the way it keeps my blood pressure low and my weight down (comparatively), and how it has been a part of my life from my late teens until now, my fifties; and most important of all, the intense way it connects me to scenery –- not only to the broad view but the detailed view of the bumps, bends and twists in the road – making me feel like I’ve been somewhere, on a jaunt or a journey, every time I do it, such that this isn’t exercise, it’s a liberation of sorts, and the cause, celebration and reason for this, my spontaneous homage to Running.

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Image source: photo by Jay Black for Outside.online.com

 

A Scent to Sweeten One’s Dreams

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Recently I ordered a bottle of perfume from Beautyhabit.com, an online store that bills itself as a “modern luxe apothecary” and lives up to that description (I could browse their website all day long). Having ordered from them in the past, I knew that I would get some complimentary samples with my package, but because I happened to order when they had a holiday promotion going on, I used one of their coupon codes and received an even more generous package of samples. When it arrived, wow! There was oodles of stuff, including a pretty tote bag, but the best part was discovering an item that I would never have ordered on my own, much as I love fragrance (I’m a perfume junkie and have written about fragrance for years at my other site, Suzanne’s Perfume Journal).

Cinq Mondes eau égyptienne is a fine mist of fragrance intended as a body, hair and pillow spray, and while there are actually several sprays in the Cinq Mondes line, this version – eau égyptienne – was composed by one of my favorite perfumers: Olivia Giacobetti. I had no idea it was her creation, the first, second and third time I tried it on; I just knew that it smelled captivatingly ethereal, which is Giacobetti’s style. Eau égyptienne is based on the recipe for Kyphi, the most sacred of the ancient Egyptian incenses. The experience of smelling Kyphi, according to the Greek biographer and essayist Plutarch, is akin to listening to beautiful music, and he attributed it with having the power to “rock a person to sleep, brighten dreams, and chase away the troubles of the day.”

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Perfumer extraordinaire Olivia Giacobetti

If Kyphi smells anything like eau égyptienne, which is to say, like allspice berries hovering on a cloud of delicate balsams, then I can understand why Plutarch likened it to hearing music, though I don’t have a sense of how to describe it that way, so will use a few culinary terms to describe it. This mist is very fine and effervescent: it is the olfactory equivalent of an apéritif , which is to say that it is meant to be only a light stimulant – an invitation to the senses, to awaken them (or to calm them) – and not a full course of scent. Whether used on pillows or on one’s person, it’s more fleeting than a perfume, but I’ve found that spraying it on well-moisturized wrists can make it last two to three hours. These aren’t the actual fragrance notes (I’ll list them below) but these are the notes I smell in eau égyptienne: allspice (a spice that smells like cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon combined, while also smelling gentler than any of those three) paired with whispery amounts of myrrh, with its rootbeer smell, evergreen needles, and a vanilla scent that issues forth from certain woods, such as pine bark. Giacobetti takes all of the sharpness away from these smells and somehow makes them meringue-like, such that they spark off each other in the subtlest of ways, creating a warmth that is sprightly rather than heavy.

Which makes it perfect for a pillow spray … making those pillows seem plumper when you go to bed, and then returning them to “normal” by morning, when this scent is long gone.

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Cinq Mondes eau égyptienne fine mist features lotus flower and 10 key essential oils from the Kyphi recipe: Rose, Mint and Geranium for the toning effect on the body; Cypress, Juniper, Myrrh and Jasmine for their purifying action; Cumin and Incense for relaxing properties; and Mastic for lymphatic stimulation (per the fragrance site Fragrantica.com). It can be purchased at BeautyHabit.com, where a 150-ml bottle is currently priced at $86. (I have no affiliation with the store whatsoever, other than being a fan.)

Favorite Christmas Card

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This is my favorite Christmas card of all times. British artist MacKenzie Thorpe’s “Out with Dad.” It seems so simple, and yet it strongly evokes the quiet mystery and joy of a winter’s night shared with a father who has made it special for you. My dad used to take my sisters and me for sled rides when we were little, after he’d spent most of the day working out in the cold on our family farm.

Perfect Romantic Film to Watch at Christmas

 Love Affair (1994), starring Warren Beatty and Annette Bening

 

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The first thing someone will say, if you mention that you adore the 1994 film Love Affair, is that it’s no An Affair to Remember – the 1957 film starring Carey Grant and Deborah Kerr, of which Love Affair is a remake. I wouldn’t know; for some reason I’ve never enjoyed watching classic black-and-white films, so I’ve never seen An affair to Remember (nor the 1939 version, the original Love Affair starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer). What I do know is that if you want to see a film that is romantic in every sense of the word – with two sublime actors, Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, who had just gotten married in real life not long before they started shooting this film; with cinematography that has a dreamy soft-focus quality, golden lighting and beautiful scenery throughout, taking us from New York to Tahiti and back; and which features the late-great Katharine Hepburn in her final film appearance (she was 86 then, and Warren Beatty wooed her to do the film through begging and sending her “lots and lots of flowers,” he told a magazine reporter at the time) – the 1994 version of Love Affair merits watching.

I saw it when it first came out on the big screen, I own a copy in my Amazon video library today, and I think this film was tended to so lovingly by Beatty that it stands the test of time: it’s a classic that manages to feel fresh rather than dated, even if much has changed in the world in the past 22 years, and even if the part of the film that features Katharine Hepburn seems like something from a fantasy rather than something out of real life. (Beatty produced the film and co-wrote the screenplay, and though he didn’t direct it, I recall reading that he had a lot of input concerning lighting and wardrobe: he wanted Bening to look especially beautiful and she does). He once said of the film, in reference to its sentimental nature, “Making this movie is, like, standing up at a rap concert and singing `Danny Boy.’ You shouldn’t make a career of singing `Danny Boy,’ but it’s a good tune, so if you’re going to sing it, you shouldn’t change the words.”

I couldn’t agree more. And I’m recommending it as the perfect film to watch at Christmas, not only because it’s final scene takes place on Christmas, but because at this time of year, we are most in touch with our sentimental side. I’d venture to say that for a good many of us at the holidays, sentimentality of the kind expressed in Love Affair is precisely what we crave.

 

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Katharine Hepburn and Annette Bening in a scene from Love Affair, the last film in which Hepburn appeared.

 

Decking the Halls of a Small Home

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Living in a small home (it’s not tiny by any means, but it’s not as large as the average homes that are being built today), I find that when the holidays roll around, I’m not keen on putting up a Christmas tree in my living space. Much as I love looking at a beautifully decorated tree, I find that after a week or more, they start to make me feel claustrophobic; I generally feel like I’m walking around the tree just to get from one end of my living room to the other, and because the living room is also where I do my pilates exercises, if I have a tree there it cramps my style in that regard, too. Of course, I could try putting up a tree in other rooms – I always thought it seemed very romantic to have a Christmas tree in the bedroom, but in truth, I don’t feel like lugging a tree upstairs, either.

Still, I want to feel the spirit of the holiday season and share it with others who come into my home, and I’ve found that it’s actually the little things that can make a big difference, and you really don’t have to spend a lot of money. Most years, I go out into the woods and gather white pine boughs, which I arrange in large antique crocks (the kind that look like they were once used for moonshine), trail across the center of my dining room table, weaving them in and out of candles and a couple glass ornaments, and use them to line the dry sink of an antique cupboard which then becomes the repository for my wrapped presents. It has a similar effect to laying gifts beneath a tree, as the presents look so pretty with the pine sprigs peeking out beneath and around them. White pine has very soft, long needles and working with it is easy, though the cut boughs will leave some of their fragrant, waxy pine pitch behind, so you either have to accept that you’re going to have to scrape the pitch off later, or put an inexpensive cloth lining beneath them. If one doesn’t want to go to this trouble, then consider visiting the floral department of your local grocery store, many of which have evergreen and topiary-style arrangements that rival in appearance what florist shops have to offer, yet the price is so much better. I purchased the beautiful tabletop tree pictured above – a pairing of boxwood branches with baby’s breath, decorated with small red Christmas balls of varying textures (some are glittery, some shiny) and a simple gold bow – from my local Giant grocery store for only $28, whereas a slightly fancier version at Teleflora starts at a price of $64.95.

Getting back to the Christmas tree, while I don’t have one in the house, I found that I quite love having one outside, just in front of my picture window, where I can look out and see the top of it when I’m indoors. I have it decorated with ornaments that look like glass but aren’t, as well as with felted ornaments, and I make sure that the back of the tree, near the top, is decorated as well as the front, for my own enjoyment when I look out my window, even if its primary purpose is to greet motorists and passers-by. The accompaniment of two lighted deer sculptures makes the tree seem part of a tableaux, which I really like and which I mention for this reason only: to encourage anyone who feels like their home is too small for a Christmas tree to think outside the box – literally – because Christmas trees on an apartment balcony, porch or patio can be just as whimsical and fun to put up as the ones most people have inside.

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First Snowfall

This morning we woke up to the first snowfall of winter, a powdered-sugar dusting of it that made the view from my windowpane look like an old-fashioned postcard offering Seasons Greetings from a rustic place in the Adirondacks or New England. What a difference a little snow makes when it is glistening and new, especially when it is new to the eye, meaning you haven’t seen it in nine months or more. I always think I hate winter, and then the first snow arrives and it has the same effect as someone changing the furniture in a room (something my mother used to do brilliantly when I was child, changing up various rooms in our house in a way that created a different flow – a different dynamic – and making what was utterly familiar seem strikingly fresh and different). It made my rural neighborhood, which I already love, look idyllic in the way of those rustic places one thinks of when one couples the notions of romance and nature. The houses in my neighborhood are small and there is nothing fancy about them, but most are well-maintained and, with the pristine halo of snow about them concealing their driveways, covering over any cracks, accentuating the roundness of their trimmed shrubbery and the long trunks of the oak trees, they looked cozy and sweet today—not quite cabin-like, but giving the impression that a tiny Christmas village had come to life and that you could walk into any one of those homes and expect the welcoming aromas of coffee, tea and cookies baking, or see a basset hound snoozing on a couch.

Later in the day I went for a walk with my husband in the surrounding farm fields – a large expanse of acreage owned by the local university and resting at the base of a long ridgeline. It was so very cold, only 25 degrees, but the snow was still holding me in thrall. At various turnings, especially where a field met up with a fence row or a patch of woods, I would imagine scenes from favorite films and books. I could see Ada of Cold Mountain out shooting turkeys in the snowy North Carolina woods, suddenly training the barrel of her shotgun on a man who has just entered her awareness, whom she mistakes as a threat at first, not recognizing that it is Inman, the man she loves and whom she hasn’t seen since the start of the Civil War, four years before. I could see Jo and Laurie, of Little Women, racing on their ice skates on frozen Walden Pond. And though I could not picture Smilla (of Smilla’s Sense of Snow) in my neck of the world, I thought of her too, as I usually do every winter, navigating the snowy streets of Copenhagen with a man she simply refers to as the Mechanic, whom she doesn’t fully trust but is falling in love with as they attempt to solve the murder of a child. There is a passage from that book that I am thinking of tonight as I write this. It follows a scene in which Smilla, who is half Inuit and was raised by her mother in Greenland, remembers the first time she was able to “read snow” and guide the orientation of her mother’s tribe of hunters as they were making their way by dog sled through an area of winter winds and, later, dense sea fog. After recounting the experience and wondering if her memory of that day—when she discovered her innate sense of orientation—is correct, she observes: “Maybe it’s wrong when we remember breakthroughs to our own being as something that occurs in discrete, extraordinary moments. Maybe falling in love, the piercing knowledge that we ourselves will someday die, and the love of snow are in reality not some sudden events; maybe they are always present. Maybe they never completely vanish, either.” †

Perhaps that is the case for me. Every year when I think about the coming of winter, I tell myself that it is not my season and that I wouldn’t miss it if, by some odd happenstance, it bypassed us or if I lived someplace warm. I’m too old for it, I say. And then the first winter day arrives and, no matter how cold it is, it calls to me as if I were always longing for it to arrive, the way I longed for it in childhood.

†Excerpt is from Smilla’s Sense of Snow, a novel by Peter Høeg, translated by Tiina Nunnally; Translation copyright © 1993 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, NY, 1993, page 43)

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By the way, this gorgeous photo is not my own; I found it on the web a few years ago and fell in love with it. Unfortunately, I can’t remember where I found it or to whom I should credit it.

Apricity

I just learned today that, though it can no longer be found in the dictionary, Apricity is an obsolete word that describes a common yet very specific phenomenon: the warmth of the sun on a cold winter’s day. Isn’t that a delightful word? One wonders why it didn’t catch on … I love its conciseness! There’s a short yet very lovely description of the origin of the word here: http://unusedwords.com/2012/07/04/apricity/

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Boxer experiencing a moment of apricity last winter.