Thursday, December 27, 2012

still-sound 135. Alexandria

I know two excellent men from Long Beach.  Adam and Matt travel the world eating, taking pictures of food, and styling it for photoshoots.  This would make them experts in all things edible and drinkable.  Shortly before Christmas they very graciously presented me with a tea called Alexandria.  The purveyor is called TWG and is based in Singapore.

The tea is a blend of green leaves and mint.  There are tiny blue wildflowers in the mix.  It tastes as beautiful and delicate as it looks.  I steeped some in a little celadon teapot I bought in Seoul.  I am drinking it now while listening to a Pointer Sisters album I found yesterday at Amoeba. 

No way to control it, it's totally automatic...

Sunday, December 23, 2012

still-sound 134. Bar Marmont

Rob asked me to house-sit for him while he spent the weekend in San Francisco.  He feared that his apartment would be burgled, making it the Christmas without gifts.  I didn't think he had much reason to worry but I took on the task nonetheless.  Rob's place is around the corner from Chateau Marmont - a legendary Los Angeles hot spot I've never visited.

I wondered if my friends and I would be admitted to Bar Marmont - as we arrived, two guys were standing around the door having been denied entry.  We were greeted warmly and made our way in.  I found that my friends had shared the same anxiety as me a minute ago.  I was relieved we made the grade, though I later wondered what the grade was exactly.  A man next to us wearing very low hanging white jeans spoke loudly in French on his phone.  I didn't understand what made him more Bar Marmonty than the guys who had been rejected at the door. 

The lighting was dark.  There was an oil painting of a Chinese girl above the bar.  Think 1950s Hong Kong.  The waitresses were blond and wore red silk Chinese dresses.  The ceiling was high and was papered in a style that made me think of an attic.  I didn't expect any of this.  I thought there would be large plate glass windows overlooking palm trees, a pool and bungalows.  I thought Helmut Newtony men would be quietly chatting in a corner.

We all drank Penicillin cocktails except Laura.  She had something else with a nice name, although I've regrettably forgotten it.  Evan and I had one more round of Penicillins before we left Marmont and walked through the West Hollywood nighttime air.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

still-sound 133. Resins

James came by the other night, like a wise man from the East, bearing aromatic resins.  I lit a charcoal and we burnt each incense separately.  The baltic amber came from Denmark.  It's tens of millions of years old.  It doesn't smell like amber in a perfume sense.  I think what we know as the amber smell is usually cistus labdanum or benzoin.  Smoldering baltic amber smells like locomotive fuel.  It reminded me of the Reading Terminal station in Philadelphia in the early 1980s. 

I chewed a drop of mastic gum and it tasted like pine.  Its lit smell reminded me of frankincense.  Piney and lemony.

This is a proper boswellia tear from Yemen.  I shaved off a slice and placed it on the charcoal.  Smoking frankincense is one of my favorite smells.

The most unexpected scent of the night came from the Indian guggulu resin.  It smells like burning leaves coated in caramel.  The gum itself was slightly sticky when I cut off a sliver with my pocket knife, like a dessert from a sweets shop on Brick Lane.

After a touch of sal tree resin and myrrh we ended the smoky progression with the glorious smell of Los Tres Reyes, a cathedral incense blend James had picked up in Spain.  Its smoke was symphonic.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

still-sound 132. Bay

I found a small bay tree at Hashimoto Nursery in Sawtelle last week.  I brought it home and planted it in a big terra cotta pot on the balcony.  I snipped off a branch near the bottom to allow the tree to direct its energy on vertical growth.  I strung the laurel in the kitchen.  I plan to use the leaves when cooking.

That night I watched an old episode of At Home With Venetia in Kyoto in which (coincidentally) Venetia dedicates her herb essay to bay.  She calls it the "herb of strength" and sips a mug of warm milk flavored with a bay leaf and honey before going to bed.

I asked my friend Ryota to watch Venetia's show with me several nights later.  I wanted to know if he thought her Japanese sounded native.  He thought she sounded fluent but not entirely flawless.  He found her minor mistakes charming.  Ryota also explained to me that the title of the show in Japanese is Cat Tail and Frog Hand.  I was shocked by this information. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

still-sound 131. Berries & lights

I decorated the perfume store where I work with berried branches in a black vase.  I decorated my home by stringing lights next to the big window.  One red and one white.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

still-sound 130. Coffee

How do you like my coffee set-up?  I was inspired by the cafes in Silverlake and Echo Park that charge $6 for a cup.  I watched mesmerized as a barista clad in an apron performed an intricate ritual no less mannered than a Japanese tea ceremony.  Hot water poured from a kettle with a long thin spout, resembling a watering can, moistening the paper filter, allowing it to submit to the porcelain cone.  The barista scooped a precisely measured dose of freshly ground beans to the filter and proceeded to water the grinds with the watering can.  A glass jug collected the drips of steaming, black liquid. 

The barista filled the jug to a quarter inch, let it settle motionless then poured the offensive starter coffee out.  The newly emptied jug received the optimal brew which I enjoyed moments later after its transference to a mug.

I have professed my love for ritual in this blog.  I crave and invent new ones all the time.  As such I have been wanting to make a porcelain coffee cone to replicate this ceremony at home.  My first attempt bore an overly small vessel that did not properly hold the paper filter.  I often forget the extent to which porcelain shrinks during its two firings. 

Yesterday I took home my second ceramic coffee strainer and its matching cup.  I used them this morning to brew organic, fairtrade coffee from Trader Joe's.  The cookie is also from Trader Joe's.  It's only sold around Christmastime and is called peppermint joe joe. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

still-sound 128. Franky's barber shop

Look at the picture that appears at the top of Franky's barber shop blog.*  Is it any wonder why I decided to get my hair trimmed there?  Although my loyalty to Ian, Burbank's best barber, is ordinarily unshakable, I found myself wandering into Franky's the day before Thanksgiving.  My appearance was borderline straggly and Ian was taking a few days off for the holidays.  I simply could not wait.

It's an unusal set-up.  The shop is a record and used clothing store with a barber's chair in the corner.  The speakers reverberated with New Order's album Technique as the record spun next to the cash register.  I commented that the New Order concert for the the Technique tour with Public Image Limited and Echo and the Bunnymen sharing the billing was one of my favorite performances ever.  Franky saw the same show in Los Angeles.  It eventually became clear that Franky had seen every show that I had ever seen (in California, rather than Pennsylvania) plus, approximately 8,000 more.  He saw Christian Death play when Rozz Williams was still alive.  Something I had only ever dreamed about in my gothic-tinged adolescence. 

Franky admitted that the show "wasn't so great".  I did not expect this at all.  I was equally scared and excited by Christian Death as a teenager.  I was almost too frightened to flip through their albums in the record store because of what I might see.  I always did though.  I figured that to see them live would be the closest thing to entering Hell and watching Satan's own private minstrels.  Judging from Franky's reaction, this would not have been the case though.

I was pleased with my haircut.  Short back and sides with a side part.  I felt civilized again.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

still-sound 127. Mansard stone

I painted the back wall of my living room on Thanksgiving.  The name of the color is Mansard Stone.*  It took most of the day to complete the project.  The only pause occured when I drove to the supermarket to buy mascarpone cheese, a key ingredient in tiramisu, the dessert I had planned to make.  I forgot about the plan the previous day when I did the main shop for the meal - in fact I even bought a pumpkin pie because that's what I thought one served after Thanksgiving dinner.  But when I took a break from painting and spotted the box of lady finger biscuits above the refrigerator, I remembered my original tiramisu plan and decided to follow through.

When the first layer of paint had dried I panicked that it was too dark.  I added an extra light to the room as the sun set and I began cooking.  I eventually decided that Mansard Stone was not too dark.  It established the moody yet cozy atmosphere I had intended all along.  Rob and Ryota, my Thanksgiving guests, liked the color.  The meal turned out well.  Especially the tiramisu.

Do you want to see one of the pictures hanging against a backdrop of Mansard Stone?

A very talented artist named Sheila Pepe made this drawing with pen and white-out.  She graciously gave it to me in 1995 to thank me for my efforts in helping to organize an exhibition that included her.  The show was called Way Cool.  The gallery was Exit Art.  I worked there for a couple of years after college.  I like the visual rhymes in this drawing.  It's funny.

*I also considered Squirrel Gray and Tweed Gray.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

still-sound 126. Mushrooms & moss

This is what I saw the other morning while walking Rosie.  Today I'm thinking about my sister.  It's her birthday tomorrow.  Every now and then her birthday coincides with Thanksgiving.  I hope she and her family have a wonderful meal to celebrate.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

still-sound 125. Sunday morning & a shave

I slept so deeply last night.  I came home from an especially busy day at work exhausted to find cupcakes left at my door by my neighbor Tiffany.  I ate one after a large bowlful of Vietnamese vermicelli noodles.  I went to bed shortly afterwards.

This morning I emerged from a very dark bedroom to find that it had rained overnight.  The water on my balcony reflected the sky and trees.

After drinking a cup and a half of coffee I brushed shaving cream on to my face.  I recently acquired a badger brush and enjoy my new morning ritual.  It feels silky and nice to have the lather spread on my whiskers.  Beneath the soapy smell of the cream, the subtle but distinctive scent of a wet animal lurks.  I didn't expect this and consider it a nice surprise.

Delighted by the scent of wet animal fur.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

still-sound 124. Recorder music

I have an inexplicable fondness for music played on the recorder.  I'm not suggesting that my Asian background led to a predilection for this particular sound, but face it, when I look up videos of recorder music on youtube, all the performances seem to be in Taiwan, Japan and Korea.

This performance of John Dowland's work by The Royal Wind Music is particularly magical. I am filled with an overwhelming sense of calm while listening.  The instruments' voices are hollow and pure.  I love how the bass recorders are even taller than the musicians, the largest of which appears to be nearly double the height of the player.  While watching the video I couldn't help but imagine this musican's lovelife...meeting a prospective lover in a bar only to take him home to have him ask nervously, "So, what do you do for a living?".  She  would have no choice but to respond with "I play THIS", pointing to a twelve foot instrument

On Sunday I went to Amoeba and purchased several records.  After several listens I decided that my best find was, in fact, Bach fur Blochflote; compositions for recorder and harpsichord.  Baroque perfection.  My comprehension of German is limited at best, but I even I could appreciate the little play on words. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

still-sound 123. Wedding

Saskia Wilson-Brown took this picture

This is a vase I gave to my friends Saskia and Micah for their wedding.  When Saskia sent me this picture I was surprised to see that she fit three stems of carnation through the small opening.  I love how the vase seems to have become a feature in an altar to the newly-married couple's awesomeness.

I went to their reception last week.  Saskia was sleek and beautiful in a golden, floor-length sequined gown.  Micah was dashing, tall and lean in a black suit.  A Cuban band played music and my friend Laura and I started to dance.  I didn't even know that I knew how to dance to Cuban music but somehow it all made sense.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

still-sound 122. Smoke

I wonder what evolutionary course of events led to the instinctual enjoyment of the smell of burning wood.  I think most people like the smell of campfires and smoke escaping chimneys on cold nights.  In fact I know they do.  My work has me chatting with people every day about smells.  Campfires, coffee, the ocean and babies seem to be the most popular scents mentioned.

Obviously our brains are hard-wired to like the smell of babies.  So that we keep them around despite the crying and spitting up.  We are most likely repulsed by rotting food to keep from eating it.  You would think that the warmth generated by a fire and the prospect of cooking food would be reason enough to love burning wood - but the smell is equally pleasing.  So is the noise of the crackle and pops.

Perhaps there is something inherently sacred about burning wood.  Incense is most likely a result of this.  A purification by fire.

There are so few commercial perfumes with a smoky note that I like.  I may be seduced by the first whiff but on the dry-down I smell like a hot dog.  Hinoki by Comme des Garçons x Monocle is one of the few exceptions.  The wood and smoke notes stay balanced and true the entire duration of the fragrance cycle.

We started selling a new perfume at the shop where I work called Bois d'Ascèse.  It's one of two fragrances developed by an Australian milliner based in Paris named Naomi Goodsir.   I can't remember the last time I was so impressed by a new scent and have been spraying it on myself regularly.  A young perfumer named Julien Rasquinet designed it.  He trained under legendary perfumer Pierre Bourdon.  I particularly like a fragrance Rasquinet created for an Icelandic artist named Andrea Maack.  I discovered it last spring and it's called Silk. It smells like a dew-covered violet leaf.

Bois d'Ascèse begins smoky, resembling burning piñon wood. The fragrance settles into a pared-down, transparent scent resembling old wooden church pews infused with incense.

The name is funny.  It must refer to a monastic lifestyle which involves church and incense because a true ascetic experience would probably not include indulgent, expensive perfume.  But then again, those monks are responsible for some of the finest liquors in existence.  They must harbor sybaritic tendencies.  Or at least the French ones do.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

still-sound 121. Foreign junk food

Whenever I am in a foreign place I feel compelled to eat the local junk food.  When Rob and I were in France last spring we stopped into Carrefours Supermarché on the way to the house in Languedoc to stock up on wine, crisps and chocolate.  I hardly ever buy crisps in Los Angeles but oddly I can't seem to have enough of them in France.  It's become an equation.  France = Crisps.  Je préfère le saveur barbeque.

And Speculoos cookies.  They're Belgian delights, but again I associate the endless packets of slightly spiced cookies with France.

When Rob visited Munich in June, he brought back tinned fish.  The Germans appreciate a good tinned fish and have invented interesting flavors.  Like light mustard sauce with diced carrot.

Rob's friend Ryota is from Japan and cooks brilliantly.  The first time I met Ryota he whipped up Okonomiyaki, the delicious pancake stuffed with vegetables and seafood. Traditionally you squeeze strings of mayonnaise across the top and sprinkle flakes of smoked fish until they shimmer on the surface like iridescent scales.  Japanese comfort food.  I ate quickly and greedily, punctuating my pancake with gulps of Asahi stout beer.  At the end of the night I was offered a green-tea Kit Kat.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

still-sound 120. Tuba

One of my neighbors appears to have a tuba.  In the last few weeks I have opened the door to my balcony to be met with a lugubrious tonal splatter.  I can't tell where it's coming from.  My amateur tubist neighbor doesn't play any actual songs with his low brass.  Just an occasional, ornamental toot, toot, blaaah.

When I was in Seoul a few years ago I met a woman named Shi-ne.  She told me about her cousin who, when serving in the army (something all Korean men have to do) was commanded to learn to play the tuba.  Until then he had never played an instrument.  The point was to master a task for which you may display no inherent talent.  He learned to play adequately and served his country by marching along in the army band.

toot, toot, blaaaah.

Monday, October 29, 2012

still-sound 119. Blue

Today the moon is technically full but to my standards it was equally full yesterday as I drove home from work.  It hung heavy and swollen in the upper left hand corner of my windshield.  Against a pale pink 6 o'clock sky, it appeared translucent. 

When I walked into my kitchen I placed a bouquet of blue flowers I had been given into a white vase with water.  I noticed the fragrance of mint as I unwrapped the blossoms from the brown florist's paper.  Who knew to put sprigs of mint in a bouquet?  I'm glad someone did.

I reckon the flowers will live for five days.  Maybe six if it's not too hot.  It's an unusual and beautiful assortment.  Fronds of fern lift their prehistoric simple life forms out of the vase and point away from the orbs of hydrangea.

I quickly put on my sneakers and began to run through Elysian Park before it got too dark.  The moon had already lifted higher into the sky.  It had gained brilliance and saturation and reflected on the white coats of dogs going for walks, giving them an ethereal glow. I ran for nearly an hour.  I had earbuds in my ears the entire time but I never turned the music on.

Friday, October 26, 2012

still-sound 118. Oulan Bator

A nice guy called Todd sometimes comes into the perfume store where I work.  He has a beautiful shop down the street called Nickey Kehoe.  I stopped in a few weeks ago and discovered a selection of Japanese-made incense by a French brand called Astier de Villatte.  I sniffed all of them and selected one called Oulan Bator.  Todd wrapped the incense in paper and tied red and white string around it.  Somehow all of this seemed perfectly appropriate.  Expected even. 

I love the robin's egg color of the box.  I love the bird of prey. I love how Ulan Bator is written in the French spelling.  I love the French fantasy of distant, exotic places.  Like Tokjo.

It's difficult to describe the beautiful and elusive scent of the unlit sticks.  Leather.  Tea.  Spices.  Something fresh, like menthol.  A card inside the box describes the inspiration: Wild escape upon a desert steppe.  I thought about a documentary I watched about a young American boy with autism.  His father had a revelation (as one does) and decided that a shamanistic ceremony in Mongolia would benefit his son.  Sounds random and it kind of was, but compelling nonetheless.

The ceremony involved a long journey by camel into the desert, richly ornate animal costumes and drumming.  I don't believe that incense or smoke played a part in the ritual, but if it did, it wouldn't have smelled like Oulan Bator.  It would smell earthy, dusty and rooty, like the Tibetan varieties.  Rustic and rugged.  The incense in the pretty blue box, when lit, smells like a jewel box of a shop in Europe or America that sells Oriental antiques.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

still-sound 117. Cone

Uh oh.  Look who's in a cone.

She's not anymore though.

Some time during the summer, Rob came out of the bathroom after brushing his teeth to find Rosie's face grotesquely swollen.  Within a few minutes they were at the vet's and she was injected with steroids and benadryl and placed in an oxygen tent.  Little dogs with squooshed up faces can quickly die from a bee sting. 

This wasn't the first time.  A few years ago in Long Beach, Rosie was 'helping me' in the garden.  She found a lazy bee hovering close to the ground and ate it.

The cone was to protect her eyes.  The irritation from the sting made her scratch her face with such a ferocity that she, at some point, grazed her cornea.  She recovered after a couple of weeks.

Last night I meditated before going to bed.  Rosie hopped on to the cushion and settled on the sliver behind me.  She leaned her warm weight against the small of my back and didn't make a sound.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

still-sound 116. Rain

It rained all day last Thursday.  It was the first rainfall in Los Angeles since early spring.  When Rosie and I came back from a soggy walk in the morning, I baked a pumpkin bread from a Trader Joe's mix.  It seemed like a nice thing to do on a cold, wet day.  I ate slices of it, still warm from the oven.

I drove James to the airport in the afternoon and a downpour forced everyone on the freeway to slow down to a crawl.  On my way back I decided to pop into the CVS drugstore to get change for the washing machine.  The aisles in the front of the store, marked 'Seasonal' lured me with plastic pumpkins, black witches and bags of candy.  The air smelled strongly of cinnamon. 

I bought a can of Pringles for $1.50.  I delighted in the prospect of getting only quarters in change.  I asked the young girl at the cash register if I could please have my dollars back in coins.  Her face filled with a cheeky smile and she said "I suppose...just this once."

I came home and looked at a rainbow outside of my window while eating Ranch flavored Pringles.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

still-sound 115. Fountain pen

A few weeks ago I met a cool perfumer from Portland named Josh Meyer.  He has an interesting brand called Imaginary Authors and he stopped into the perfume shop while in Los Angeles.  It turns out we geek out over similar things: vinyl records, record players, whiskey, typewriters, fountain pens and all the other things market researchers expect artsy designy guys in their 30s to like.*  I bet Josh is interested in old cameras too.  I am, of course. 

Josh noticed the disposable Pilot fountain pen I was using and then pulled out a white object from a German penmaker called Kaweco.  I inspected it, doodled for a bit, admired the golden nib and decided I wanted one immediately.  He told me the name of a website that carries this and other beautiful writing instruments but I failed to write it down (despite the abundance of pens) and quickly forgot. 

A few days ago I spotted a black Kaweco fountain pen at the fancy stationary store across the street from the perfume shop.  It's the 'sport model' like Josh's.  I like the German idea of 'sport'. Like Ritter Sport, my favorite candy bar.  'Sport' includes things like portable fountain pens and chocolate.  I picked up a box of ink cartridges at the same time as the pen, anticipating the moment I go dry.

I've been slowly reorganizing and cleaning my apartment.  I haven't lived alone in many years and have decided to let all of my anally-retentive tendencies flourish.  I threw away all of the scraps of paper and torn envelopes by the computer, on which I would scribble any bits of information I'd most likely require later.  I replaced the messy set-up with a neat, brown notebook from Germany.  It sits, fully prepared for any notes I might write down with the Kaweco.  So far it contains the details of two art events that friends have invited me to, both on the same night at the same time but in different locations.  And on the second page of the book, driving directions to LAX airport.

*And the odd 40 year old

Friday, October 12, 2012

still-sound 114. Broomcorn

I saw these strange, black flowers at Trader Joe's the other day.  I couldn't resist them.  They're called broomcorn.  I like plants that are called broom.  Ginestra is also known as broom although I don't believe it is related to the gothic stalks currently arranged in my test tube vase. 

They have a distinct scent.  Like curry, or celery.

When I got home I wish that I had picked up another bunch to give my neighbors Tiff and Tom.  Tiff sometimes leaves gluten-free cakes by my door when she's spent the afternoon baking.  I show my appreciation by leaving them flowers in a mason jar.  They would have particularly liked these inky, curry-smelling brushes. 

Tom is a drummer and just got back from a tour with a band that opened for a famous '90s grunge act.  The singer is known equally for his drug addiction as for his manly singing style.  During the tour, Tom was able to hang out with the now-clean rock star -- who convinced himself during their chat that Tom was, in fact, an undercover FBI agent.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

still-sound 113. Geranium

Look at this odd contraption.  I cut back my geranium plant and attempted to regenerate some of the cuttings.  I kept them in a vase for a couple of weeks, hoping that roots would begin to emerge like fine hairs.  Two of the cuttings simply turned brown.  I threw them away.

One cutting, the heartiest of the bunch, seemed to be doing just fine.  Although I still didn't find any trace of roots, I decided to plant it in soil anyway.  The only cup I had that provided any drainage was a coffee strainer I made in porcelain.  It's too small to effectively support a paper filter so I'm glad that it serves a purpose as a geranium pot.  I placed the strainer on a vase, to lift it up a bit and to collect any drained water.

I really don't know if this cutting will take root.  Only time will tell.  I've had success in the past.  In fact, I'm pretty certain that the plant I have on the balcony came from a mother geranium I originally bought four or five years ago from Whole Foods.  I love geranium because of the scent it leaves on your fingers when you rub the fuzzy leaves.  Sort of like a cross between lavender and mint.

Look how new life sprouted from the plant I so viciously cut back.  Seemingly overnight.