Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Decoding Obscure Notes: Africa Stone

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Sorry to disappoint you, but Africa Stone will not get you high. It has nothing to do with ganja. Nor is Africa Stone a precious rock or a mineral (although it does have some geological significance). Rather, it is a more romantic and mysterious sounding name for a fossilized metabolic product derived from the droppings (in other words: pellet-shaped poop) of the African-in-origin animal called Rock hyrax. Other names for it are rock badger, rock rabbit, Cape hyrax, or dassie if you are in South Africa it. In Hebrew Shaffahn Sela, and in Arabic وبر صخري ("wabr sakhri"). It roams not only in Africa, but also the Middle East - and can be found wild in Israel and Jordan, where it is also notorious for spreading the nasty skin diseases leishhmeniasis, unfortunately. 

This unusual yet commonly spread mammal has an appearance reminiscent of a large guinea pig, yet is surprisingly related to the elephant and the Sirenians (herbivorous sea mammals, including the manatee and other sea "cows"): all belong to the Paenungulata clade.  The rock hyrax (Procavia capensis) is a mammal from the Afrotherian superorder and is the only genus in the order Hyracoidea (and the only member of the family Procaviidae, which kind of defeats the purpose of belonging to a family at all...). The rest of its relatives, creatures from the Paleogene period have become extinct long ago. Hyraxes are relatively contemporary, having emerged in the relatively recent Neogene period. 

There are several curious things about its anatomy, which point to this direction: first of all, it has two unusual incisors, which are common to the tusks in elephants and dugongs. Secondly, its nails are flat much like the elephant's. 

Rock Hyrax

Rock hyrax is a territorial animal that lives in large colonies in caves and rock crevices throughout Africa and the Middle East. They usually have one male with a large herds of females and youngsters. The male acts as a sentry to the group, and will call out to warn them and get them all to return quickly to their cave. The male is mostly the one that marks their territory with highly odoriferous droppings that get their scent from animal pheromones that both the male and female excrete. 

Hyraceum: the aged and fossilized droppings of the rock hyrax. Because the hyrax lives in the same areas for generations. Their droppings and urine compress and petrify, and become almost like a fossil overtime. Some of these middens can be even 50,000 years old, and can show layers of evidence from bygone times [1]. Similarly to the amber from Pinus succinifera, this fossil retains its scent. And this is why it is so useful for perfume making. In South African folk medicine, hyraceum is called Umchamo wenfen [2] and is used to treat snake and scorpion bites [3], as an antidote for poisons, for abdominal pain, to ease pregnancy, to treat diabetes and prostate problems, as well as epilepsy and convulsions. Some research shows that it has an affinity with GABA-benzodiazepine receptorwhich is how it supposedly helpful in stopping seizures, much like the drugs lorazepam and diazepam. 

Its use in perfumery is fairly new though, and becomes increasingly more popular as it can replace civet and castoreum without the need for hunting or animal torture. 

Constituents: Unknown.  

Physical appearance & characteristics: In its raw form, Africa Stone does resemble a rock more than an organic matter. Depending on its age and how petrified it is, hyraceum can be very hard and difficult to break down, or it can be more sticky and resin-like. The pure absolute is a dark-brown, opaque viscous liquid not unlike molasses. 

Volatility rate: Base note and a fixative

Odour description: Leathery and fecal at the same time. Gamey, animalic, nutty, floral, yeasty/mushroomy (like porcini/cèpes), phenolic, tanned hydes, fur, dark earth, sweat, gassoline. Putrid, like a carcass.   

Perfumery Uses: An animal material that is cruelty free and possesses many characteristics that are similar  to both civet and castoerum. Can be used in minute quantities to amplify floral compositions and provide fixative support to any genre. Use in high doses in Russian Leather type fragrances in place of castoreum. In moderate doses in all categories such as Chypre, Fougère, Oriental, etc. to give a perfume the animalic depth it requires. It does not serve exactly as a substitute to civet and castoreum, as it as it does not have the same transformative power unique to these animal materials, where the smaller amount completely transforms the composition even if its own aroma cannot be clearly detected. Perhaps the Gods of Perfume require the sacrifice of animal life or welfare to grant the perfumer with such an effect.

Perfumes with Hyraceum: Hyraceum is a relatively new raw material in the fragrance context. A quick search down Basenotes directory of Africa Stone leads to a very short list of fragrances, and all of them contemporary by niche houses, including Fig by Aftelier, Foxy and Chinchilla by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Carmine and Kazimi by House of Matriarch, Gracing the Dawn by Roxana Illuminated Perfume and a few more. Curiously, there is one perfume by Penhaligon's from 1870, but I suspect this is a 2011 reformulation by Bertrand Duchafur that added this ingredient. Under Hyraceum you'll also find a few others, mostly by brands I don't recognize, and then Phenomene Verte II by Parfums Lalun (the 1st one was wonderful). By yours truly, you could first find Africa Stone in the now defunct Gaucho, which was launched the same year as InCarnation. More lately, Treazon, Narkiss and Inbar also contain this note.  

Aromatherapy uses: None. 

Blending Tips: Pre-dilute to 1-3% for subtle presence and to benefit from its fixative advantage without changing the personality of your composition too much. This is particularly improtant if you’re working with 10% dilutions with most of your building blocks. Use in as high as 15% dilutions in composition that require this note to be noticeable and dominant (i.e.: Leather, Tobacco, Orientals, etc.), or if you’re using pure essences (undiluted) when composing. Hyraceum goes well with costus, labdanum, vanilla, tobacco, tuberose, jasmine, castoreum, cade, narcissus, orris butter, agarwood, etc. 

Safety considerations: None known. Not for flavour use. 

Additional sources:
[1] Quaternary Science Reviews Volume 56, 21 November 2012, Pages 107-125
[2]. 2014; 11(5): 67–72. Published online 2014 Aug 23.
[3] South African Journal of Science S. Afr. j. sci. vol.103 n.11-12 Pretoria Nov./Dec. 2007

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Sunday, October 07, 2018

Decoding Obscure Notes: Civet

Masked Palm Civet - 02

“Civet: Animal secretion from the so-called civet  “cat” – an African animal that resembles a mongoose in appearance. The male and the female have special glands located between their genitalia and anus that produce civet. The civet was first discovered in coffee plantations, from which they would steal coffee berries. Curiously, civet coffee (beans recovered from civet faeces) is now sought after by coffee connoisseurs, and sold for a prime price. Less exciting to learn is the fact that most, if not all, civets are kept in captivity under horrible conditions. The reason is that the more angry and agitated these animals are, the more civet they produce. They are held in small cages and occasionally poked and prodded with sticks to “encourage” the secretion of civet. Therefore, civet has become a controversial raw material, as there are no known ethical or cruelty-free civet farms. Civet secretion is processed with solvent to produced an absolute – a thick paste with an enormously intense odour, dominated by indole and paired with other animal nuances that are warm, strong and musky. At low dilution, they create a very pleasing, almost floral sweetness that is sadly inimitable.”

- Excerpt From: Ayala Moriel. “Foundation of Natural Perfumery: A Practical Hands-on Guide for Creating Your Own Fragrances.” 

While preparing my article about The Painted House and Z'bad, I realized to my astonishment that after all these years of blogging, I have never dedicated an article to civet! Civet is perhaps the most iconic animalic raw material, without which many classics would simply not exist. Too many to count, really, but just from the top of my head - Tabu, Youth Dew, Joy, Miss Dior, Diorissimo, No. 5, Jicky, Bal a Versailles, Korous, Old Spice and so many more. While many perfume nerds know about indole as being the major component in the faecal hit that civet is known for, very few have actually ever smelled it in its raw form. Civet has a paste-like, golden appearance and texture not unlike a generous dollop of human earwax treasure. In its raw form, civet is overbearing and intrusive. Impolite to say the least. But there is more to it than indole.

Zoology and of Civet:
Researching this animal, I realize how little I know about the animal kingdom. And while researching and trying to understand the zoological classification of civets, I also found out not only that hyenas are more related to cats than to dogs, but also some fascinating facts about the spotted hyena's female genitalia, which is a proof that nature is a lot less decisive about male-female distinction. But I digress so let's turn back to civets.

First of all, although they share some physical similarities, mongoose are closer to cats than they are to civets, so my analogy is not all that off the mark. Both the mongoose and the cat belong to the Feliformia suborder. Civet (Civettictis civetta), however, belongs to the suborder Viverroidea and the family Viverridae, which are the primitive predecessors of the feliformia. It consists mostly of the genera: ViverraGenettaHerpestes, and Suricata. The "civets" in this family belong to three sub-genres within the viverranae sub-family: Genetta, Poiana, Viverra (which has many types of "civets" within it), viverricula (which consists only of the Indian civet), and lastly the Civettictis where our subject, the African Civet (which originate in Ethiopia) belongs and is the only member of, and also the main one of interest to perfumery (and to a lesser extent also the Indian civet).

These animals are mostly found in Africa and Southeast Asia. They like various habitats, including mountains, savanna, woodlands and especially thick tropical forests. Unfortunately, with the massive deforestation on our planet, their habitat is diminishing. Most of the animals belonging to this family have renewable scent glands on their skin. They have long tails and long snouts, particular teeth structure which I won't bore you with and other anatomical characteristics. Basically these are small carnivores (smallest being the wee African linsang, and the largest of them being binturong, which can go up to 25kg). The civet in question, however, is actually an omnivore, relying mostly on a plant-based diet consisting of fruit and somewhat on nectar. Which explains why it likes to eat coffee berries and produces the famous "kopi luwak" from the partly digested coffee "beans". But more on this later.

The African Civet's scent glands or "pouches" are located near the anus, and occur in both males and females. However, the males produce larger quantities of the funky civet secretion. It is unclear what is the purpose of these glands, but it is very likely a deterring mechanism, much like the skunk: the animals produce more of this secretion when they are under stress.

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Historical Uses:
The African Civet is native to Ethiopia, and therefore we need to look into this country's history and heritage to discover the first relationships mankind had with this animal. It is believed that civet paste was used in Ethiopian perfumes, cosmetics and perhaps also incense from time immemorial, and that Queen of Sheba brought this as a gift to king Solomon. Yemen being just across the Red Sea from Ethiopia would explain the emergence of the Zbad (زبد) perfume paste in this country - a solid perfume or unguent made mostly with civet, and with added resins, spices and perhaps even with other animal musks. The specimen I have is redolent of camphor, spearmint, myrrh and opoponax.

Even to this day, Ethiopian civet is collected in cups made of zebu horn (a type of an ox), which is also where they were traditionally stored. Each horn would be filled to the brim with the semi-solid civet paste, the production of four years of civet from one animal - between 35-40oz of the material. It was often also adulterated with other zebu products, such as clarified butter, other fats, beeswax, honey and even baby excrements (!). To test the civet for quality, civet traders would actually taste this paste, with the honey being a tell-all sign for adulteration. Yum.

Zeved (זֵבֶד) is mentioned in the the Torah (Old Testament) once, although in a different connotation - a blessing of thankfulness of Leah after giving birth to her son Zevulun. In this context, the word could mean a gift, but it might also have meant perfume, and some modern translation use the same word (which has very similar spelling equivalence to the Arabic Zbad) - it is used simply as "civet".
It is speculated that the third gift the magi brought to Christ upon his birth along with the frankincense and myrrh was not gold (Zahav in Hebrew), but in fact civet. Since the New Testament is originally in Greek I can't comment on the language there, because my knowledge of this language is less than minimal.

Preparation of Civet Extracts:
Crude civet paste is extracted with hydrocarbon (a solvent) to produce a concrete, which is further processed with alcohol to yield an absolute.

A low-tech Civet extract in the form of tincture can be fairly easily prepared from the crude civet excretion by alcohol maceration, using one of the following ratios of civet paste to 95% ethanol:
1:5 (labeled as 20% civet tincture) 
or -
1:10 (labeled as 10% civet tincture)
This mixture can be placed to macerate overtime, or gently heated, then chilled prior to filtration, in order to separate any fatty or waxy material from the alcohol.

What does Civet Smell Like:
Civet has a distinct animal, faecal odour which is full concentration is objectionable and repulsive, smelling like fear and danger. Just like the animal's state of mind when it secrets it. Upon dilution to 10% it is still very strong and repulsive, like pubic hair and the nether region after not being washed for more than a day. At 1% would, civet presents a honeyed, floral aroma, sweetly reminiscent of unwashed beard, sexy and with a still superb diffusive powers.

Chemical Makeup
Civet extracts (tincture or absolute) is especially known for being dominated by indole and skatole (AKA civettol, which is closely related to the former) but the truth is that these only appear in small amounts (about 1%). The more important molecules in civet is the musk cyclohexadecanone (AKA civettone or zibethone)[1], which gives civet its honeyed, musky-floral, lasting power. Civet that has too much faecal or uric qualities is likely adulterated with indole and skatole, and in any case is considered of inferior quality.  

Both civettone and civettol were successfully synthesized, and have largely replaced civet in the fragrance industry, their appeal not limited to their consistency and availability, but also to their lack of faecal facets. In this exactly lays their disadvantage though - because they do not represent the full spectrum of natural civet.

Daring
Civet in Perfume:
There is hardly any class of perfumery that can't use some civet, even if just for its fixative qualities. And indeed, one of its most versatile uses is to prefix alcohol. Civet is particularly valuable in floral compositions, giving them not only lasting power, but also a highly diffusive power, depth of character and enhanced aphrodisiac qualities. It is especially valuable in narcissus basis, but is also very useful (in minute quantities, of course) in lighter florals such as Lily of the Valley (Diorissimo being a prime example). However, civet in large and identifiable quantities is particularly in use in the oriental classification, rounding off to Spicy/Woody Orientals,  adding depth and warmth to Ambery Orientals and amber bases, honey bases, "black" musk compounds (as opposed to the "white musk" which is relying on ambrettolide and other vegetal musks), leather, Fougère, and more. Civet goes particularly well with rose, jasmine, agarwood, ylang ylang, orange blossom, honey absolute, vanilla, patchouli, tonka bean, other musks, and more.

Civet in Flavour:
Perhaps you'd be surprised that civet finds any use in flavour, especially after reading about its adulterants. But it is in use, especially in compounding berry flavours, and finds its use to many flavour categories, including alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, chewing gum, baked goods, frozen dairy, puddings/gelatin products, hard and soft candy (Fenaroli's Handbook of Flavor Ingredients, p. 333). No specifics were provided. 

The coffee aficionados have probably heard of the lucrative Kopi Luwak - coffee beans that were partly digested by civets, and therefore have not only gotten an additional extra special aroma, but also the process of passing through the creature's digestive tract have fermented them and created a supposedly superior taste. These can go for a very high price - I have seen a small tin of roughly quarter of a pound sold for $100 many years ago, and recently for a much reduced price of $45. Some places are reputed to serve a single cup for a $100, so this sounds like a very good deal. However, as curious as I was - I did not feel comfortable supporting this kind of product, not to mention actually ingesting it. So I can't comment from first hand about its hedonic value.

Civet and Ethics:
It's impossible to talk about civet without discussing ethics (or lack thereof) and animal welfare. African Civets are the ones commercially used and are captured from the wild and kept in small cages to keep them in a state of fright. The reason being, that the more pissed off they are, the more secretion they'd produce. As mentioned earlier, African Civets eat mostly a vegetarian diet. However, when fed meat, it was discovered that they produce way more secretion.

Here's an excerpt from Arctander's "Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin" to give you an idea of civet's living conditions, including its diet over four years - the amount of time a civet takes one civet to fill a zebu horn with a marketable amount of secretion:
"During this period, the animal will consume something like the raw meat from 50 (fifty) sheep, and the poor cat, frequently teased in its narrow cage, will have undergone 400 to 800 painful "scrapings" of its glands. The raw meat diet, the narrow cage and the teasing are all means of increasing the production of the civet secretion which is scraped off with regular intervals while the cast is caged." (p. 174). The ethical questionability in it is not just with the animal torture itself (and changing its diet to something it won't normally eat), but also the many sheep that get killed in the process, in very poor countries where they typically are used to feed entire families for years on end as dairy, and only occasionally slaughtered.

Civet boycotting began in the 1970s, but have drastically increased in the last couple of decades, thanks to the internet and more recently the advent of social media,  animal welfare and activism have taken the forefront on civet issues, and large (and small) perfume houses  felt a pressure to be politically correct and deny their use of civet in their perfume. This is only a half truth. While I'm certain most mass-produced perfumes no longer contain civet, not only because of their cost, but also because of the general decline in strong, dark musky animal notes in the general market; I'm just as certain that many perfume houses still use civet, which is necessary in many older formulations which are still commercially viable (classics such as No. 5, for instance, are still using high quality natural raw materials exclusively for the extract formulation, and I won't be at all surprised that natural civet is still in that jus). Just because companies announce they don't use something doesn't mean that they stopped using it. The proof is in the pudding. If this were true, there would be no more civet farms, would they not?

The fact and the matter is, civet is still raised commercially in Africa for scent-gland scraping which is mostly for use in perfume and finds some use in flavour also. Other farms (primarily in Asia) specialize in raising civets close to coffee plantations and feed them exclusively on coffee berries until they have blood-shot eyes from caffeine overdose. Both types of civet farming are alive and well as anyone who visits them could attest to. It's not just the Kopi Luwak aficionados that are responsible for the existence of civet farming - and subsequent cruelty.

Boycotting is a huge tool to raise awareness to an issue. But it is rarely a solution to a problem. On the contrary - it makes a bunch of privileged people (I'm talking about all of us in the perfume industry) feel better about ourselves, and rienforcers our sense of entitlement by flaunting righteousness all while doing absolutely nothing to solve the problem beyond sitting at the comfort of our armchair and pretend like we're solving the world's problems.

Just as the war on drugs has not erased drug use and its many dark implications on society (like crime, prostitution, overdose, contractions of STDs, etc.) or improved the life of those affected by drug abuse - so did the boycotting on civet hasn't improved one bit the conditions in which civets are raised not supports the civet farmers to abandon those practices and replace them with humane ones. While the West is boycotting civet loudly, civet farmers are getting paid less and less for their labour, and instead of selling directly to the fragrance houses before those washed their hands from the whole civet trade - they need to pass it through several hands to the larger grey markets in Asia, and finally it ends up with the same fragrance houses in France and the USA.

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Solution to the Problem? 
The correct way to remedy this as an industry is to claim responsibility and directly purchase from civet farmers, while at the same time improving the civets conditions, and supporting those farmers in transitioning to

Throughout the years of my work, I haven't used civet for commercial purposes, because I did not feel comfortable with this situation. Now that I have better understanding of the issues surrounding civets, and also live closer to where they are grown - I feel that I would like to be more involved in making civet conditions humane, and as a result also having an ethical civet product on the market. This is a huge undertaking - way bigger than one perfumer can do on her own, but if many of us small indie perfumers will show support for this trade and get truly involved, if we continue this discussion and start following an action plan, I think we may be able to use civet ethically in our lifetime. 

I highly encourage you to read all of Dan Riegler's articles on the topic. Dan visits in Ethiopia frequently and has contact with civet farmers and even an action plan for how to make this happen. Let's support him and make civet trading ethical! This will benefit everybody - the civets, the farmers who raise them, the classic perfumes that had civet in their formulation, and also new natural perfumes that could be created using them, guilt free.

[1] Please note Wikipedia entry for civet in perfumery lists three other molecules,  cyclopentadecanonecyclohexadecanonecycloheptadecanone, and 6-cis-cycloheptadecenone, which upon further research are either compounds of the muskrat odour, or simply misspelled.

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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Z'bad

Z'bad

Z'bad, Zebad or Zubad, Zabād, Sinnawr al-Zabād simply means civet in Arabic, and is the origin of this word in Western world (Civet, civette, zibet and zibetum are some of its Western spellings). In the Arab world, civet paste is still used today in its raw form, as an aphrodisiac, and a hair grooming product: to smooth and scent eyebrows, moustache and beard, as well as treatment for hair loss and various other folkloric uses. If you understand Arabic, this video explains how it is used also. But Z'bad is also a perfume type, just as "White Musk" is a type of fragrance nowadays, and not just one literal ingredient. Although civet is the key ingredient that gives it its character, it is not the only one. Z'bad was used to protect against the evil eye, so it is a magical concoction as well as an aphrodisiac.

I first heard about Z'bad from Dan Riegler (Apothecary's Garden), who have found it in an old perfumery and apothecary in the midst of a Souk in Yemen. I was both intrigued and hesitant about purchasing it because it was a bit unclear to me at the time what this was - aged civet paste or an authentic Yemeni perfume, and since I don't use the former in my creations, it seemed superfluous to make such a purchase.

When I stumbled upon this article about The Painted House and heard from Ayelet Bar-Meir that the Yemeni artist used this mysterious perfume and that it was a strong memory she left with her children and grand children, I knew I had to try it for myself. Dan has kindly gifted me with two jars, and I'm so thankful he did. The Z'bad that Dan found in Yemen is indeed not just aged civet but a full perfume, a solid paste of civet mingled with camphor, spices and that has aged and mellowed for decades.

In Dan's own words, "Z'bad is a potent traditional Yemenite Civet based perfume mix, used for hundreds of years among the Yemenite Jews, but abandoned by younger generations, Z'bad, or Zabad, doubled as a prophylactic against the evil eye, which may also be a contributing factor to its decline in popularity(...)". Which fits right in with what I read about Afia's use of it in that article, and what Ayelet has spoken about.

I received the Z'bad while I was still in Canada, and made great efforts (over the course of four weeks!), to not open the jar till I entered The Painted House. I wanted to have a very specific place association and emotional memory with it. And trying it on first at the house of a woman who lived with similar fragrances and put great care to incorporate them into her daily rituals. It was at first surprisingly fresh, and surprisingly familiar: a burst of camphor and spearmint emerges from the jar as I first uncorked it and smeared some of the dense, rich salve onto the back of my hand.  It had strong banknotes of balsams and civet, but nevertheless there was a surprisingly green, minty, camphoreous freshness to it for the first few minutes. It was a tad medicinal, but not as medicinal as Tiger Balm (which is what the uninitiated nose might dismiss it as at first sniff). There are also earthy qualities, almost musty-dusty, which makes me wonder if there isn't some patchouli oil in there as well, or more likely - a kind of infusion of the dried leaves. I have very little knowledge of how these traditional perfumes I made, but from the little I know about Arab aesthetics, just as the oud oil is used as the "base oil" for other ingredients, in this case it is not unlikely that the civet paste was infused with several resins, spices and herbs to create this rich perfume preparation. I'm also smelling cedar, which gives it a rather pervasive dryness in the opening hour of so on the skin. Perhaps even a hint of myrrh or opoponax. There are no flowers to be smelled in this, but it is unnecessary. There is so much indole in the civet that it really blooms on the skin, and develops into this luscious, purring animalic-balsamic presence for hours on end afterwards. It is not overmpoering at all, but simply becomes part of my skin.

Youth Dew & Z'bad

In both its scent and consistency, Z'bad reminds me a lot of vintage Youth Dew solid perfume in a vintage necklace I have that is probably not that different in age. It seems like Z'bad was the inspiration for Youth Dew, as well as its predecessor Tabu. Both rely heavily on civet, and have a distinctively heavy-sweet-cloying-exotic character that is heavily inspired by the Orient. To Westerners that never smelled the original, these two must have been earth-shuddering at the time, and immensely original. And they are in their own rights. But they wouldn't be around without this Arabian unguent.

Likewise, the evocative packaging and thicker liquid in the Western Orientals - Tabu, Youth Dew, Opium, Obsession and Shalimar - is created in such way as to recreate the ritual of applying a thick paste to the eyebrows, nape of the neck and perhaps other unmentionable strategic spots. The richness of materials create a heavy veil of scent that is highly intimate, personal and also precious. It does not need to be applied in great quantity, and ironically - the economy in which is can be used is part of its luxury and appeal.

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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Adornment as Survival

The Painted House

In the edge of the sleepy border town of Shlomi, there is a run-down neighbourhood of subsidized housing whose appearances are as yawn inducing as ever. You pass by a synagogue down an abandoned alley, courtyards with neglected gardens, and walk a few stapes up the mouldy staircases, and then there is a gate to an otherworldly temple. Even before the door is opened for you, you know you're stepping into a different time-space zone. It is decorated with intricate designs, resembling an African weaving patterns.

The moment you step inside, the colours shout at you from all directions. Very striking earthy and almost primary colours, reminiscent of African art and perhaps also with some Mexican association (if it weren't for the very sparse use of azure colours). There is also an overpowering scent of highly-perfumed floor cleaner. There is no place for the eye to rest or think of anything else but what the artist intended to create here. A magnetic energy both suffocates you and transports you into the inner corridors and innermost secret chambers of her life, and death.

The Painted House

The foyer is tiny, and packed with portraits and collages of the artists superimposed over newspaper clippings. Before you realize where you are, you're already in the kitchen, of which the only homey remnants are the aluminum pots still stashed away in the cabinets. But in this context they seem more like witches cauldrons than anything else, and it's hard to imagine any sustenance cooked within these spirited walls. Behind it is a service balcony with broomsticks and buckets and other cleaning affair, also looking like they carry much more magical meaning than their humble appearance. It seems like not even a good idea to step closer - like the Sorcerer's Apprentice, at any moment these object may start walking towards you and drown you with bucket-water all on their own. The broomstick is also painted with zebra-like stripes, and all the pipes running through this balcony are meticulously decorated, to conceal any distracting parts of reality from the eyes of the beholder.

The Painted House + Perfume

The other rooms are just as haunting, an disturbingly intimate - with beds laid with the same blankets and bedsheets of the artist who dwelled her, and with the artist's personal belonging in the painted closet: antique face powder, with an unrealistic peach colour of no real skin... Crusted-blood-red nail polish, hand creams, medications, and a quarter-liter Eau de Cologne that smells nothing fresh or cologne-like, but rather like a deep, rich ambreine perfume, in the vein of Shalimar: some bright bergamot drowned in a syrupy concoction redolent of vanilla, castoreum and patchouli. The legendary perfume that Afia's children remember her by is probably sitting right in front of me.

The Painted House
This is The Paineted House of the late artist Afia Zekharya. You don't need to know her life story to appreciate the power of her art and the magic of this space where she lived and ultimately died. But it sure helps to understand why she did what she did: spent the last 15 years of her life covering everything inside this apartment with art. Also, similarly to other female artist that focus on their internal storytelling, and although her art is immensely biographic, it is more figurative and symbolic, and less elaborate than Frida Kahlo for example, whose art also portrays the deep suffering - although infused with joy - she experienced in life.

There is more unknown about Afia's life story than there is know, party because she spoke only Arabic, and therefore hasn't communicated much with her neihbours. But also because her family keeps its privacy, and does not like to be interviews about here. Whether it is to protect her memory or because they are media shy, we will never know. But we do know she was born in Southern Yemen, got married off at a young age (probably 10), and has immigrated to Israel with her husband, a traditional Yemeni jewellery artist (if you haven't seen Yemeni silver jewellery - it is very ornate, and requires much skill), and their six children (although according to what I've heard she's given birth 15 times - so most of the children did not survive). They were first settled in a big Arabic house in the abandoned village of Al-Bassa, whose inhabitants fled during the War of Independence/AKA The Naqba in 1948. The village was mostly ruined and on top of it was built the moshav Betzet, and parts of the industrialized section of the new Israeli border town of Shlomi. 

The Painted House

It was a big house with garden and yard and Afia had dedicated her life to raising her children, cooking traditional Yemeni food in a taboon (a specialty clay wood stove for baking flatbreads) that was built in the house - a lifestyle I imagine was still somewhat familiar to what she had in Yemen, despite being displaced in a new foreign country. But before each day has began, she would take great care adorning herself: painting her fingernails with nail polish, wearing Yemeni regalia and jewellery and dousing herself with her signature perfume - an Oriental concoction that is forever engrained in her children's and grandchildren's memory. Perhaps this was her only pathway for self-expression, because Afia was forbidden by her husband to pursue her true passion for painting - something that according to a rare interview from 1994, she was very good at and was even recognized for while living in Yemen. According to her story, she was so gifted and her art so loved that she was especially commissioned to paint a king's palace in her youth.

The Painted House

But sometime in  her old age of 80, after all her children left home, and her husband already among the dead - Afia was displaced again. This time because the town of Shlomi needed the land where she lived to expand the industrial compounds. Without knowing the language, she was signing a lease that robbed her of her house, and instead was provided with a claustrophobic rental space in the Amidar neighbourhood of Shlomi. No garden, no chickens, no taboon to bake her bread. Instead of using the sun balcony to keep contact with the world, Afia shut herself in and in secret, with cheap paint, began telling her story that was locked inside her all these years, on every surface of the house. Including all the walls, the frosted-glass window panels of the sun-balcony, the screens that keep away mosquitoes, the cupboards, closets and even the toilet bowl. Then the floors, (all the parts that were not covered by carpets, so now that the carpets were removed, you can see some bare floor). And finally, despite her short height, painted the ceiling. To overcome her height obstacle, she placed a chair atop a table and methodically decorated the entire ceiling in each and every room in the apartment. She was almost done painting the last square meter of the ceiling when she fell and injured herself so badly she had to be hospitalized.  

The Painted House

But that injury did not stop her creativity. She now stocked up on multiple dolls from the souk, created Yemeni regalia to cover their bare plastic skin, and painted their faces with traditional Yemeni -style "makeup" - adorning their eyes with blue and black frames, painting their lips a bright red and adding henna-like decorations for their skull-like yellow-painted faces. Like the pattern on the walls, all the faces replicate each other, and all replicate Afia's face, which she also painted, reigning on her kingdom of painted dolls. As if frozen in time in their childhood, the part in life which Afia was never really able to live to its fullest. They're stuck in that moment in time, the night of there Henna ceremony, their eyebrows and forehead smeared with Z'bad - a seductive solid perfume made of civet paste, camphor and spices. 

The Painted House
The dolls look all alike: their seamless baby-plastic complexion suffocated by cakey makeup and weighed down by heavy metal jewellery and ornate ceremonial Yemeni-wedding embroidery. Their once innocent appearance now seems menacing. Frozen on the eve of their wedding night, like a serial-killer's victims - or perhaps like a murderess themselves.   

This art and the house struck a chord with me on many levels. First of all, because Afia Zkharya is also a Fringe Artist like my daughter Tamya (an autistic artist that paints and draws purely out of her own need to express herself, and less so from a need of an audience or recognition). My daughter's innocent portraits seem violet at times - wide-smiling "happy" girls exposing sharp teeth and claw-like nails, surrounded by dense patterns and many colours.  

Secondly, on a more personal or emotional level, being a woman and having experienced the blurring of my identity (being raised by a stepfather of Moroccan descent who hated anything to do with my European heritage, he insisted on silencing of my voice and criticizing me whenever I was singing German Lieder or Italian opera), and the general oppression of my art and creativity while growing up - especially confusing when on the surface it was nurtured and encouraged, and I was constantly praised for my "talents". Something that I believe a lot of women can relate to. As women, we are often not allowed to show the full spectrum of our emotions, not even through a socially acceptable form of art. And this is especially apparent in more traditional patriarchal societies and those still strongly dominated by that. 

The Painted House

Last but not least, on a more political level, being an Israeli all those oppressive events, such as wars and violence, and especially violence agains minority groups and women from those groups is deeply disturbing and affects me even if I wasn't an Arab-Jew or an Arab-Palestinian thrown out of my home, or having my children stollen (which happened to many Jewish women from Yemen, the Balkans and other Arab-Speaking countries) on the pretence that they were still-born. This is an affair that is only recently being acknowledged by the Israeli government - being denied as being an urban myth even though we as a collective all knew and believed the victims all along, a story that kept being told and there was no other way. This kind of pain is not something that no matter how much you try to - it cannot be erased or denied. The truth comes out because it is part of people's lives who live among us, even if it doesn't affect us directly. And this is also true for the Sixties Scoop in Canada, which is a too-obvious comparison, and has bled through all level of society, whether if we like to acknowledge it or not. Jut like a war, you can't have a whole generation scarred and lives displaced and shuttered this way without having a multi-generational effect on all of society.  

The Painted House

The fact that her art is recognized, and the Painted Palace saved from erasure, just as Afia insisted on expressing herself despite all odds, and being rented to another family is a consolation. Just like the artist has and preserved her language and her name (Israel's melting pots of the 1950s and beyond was very aggressive about morphing everyone into "Israelis" and not allowing preserving their identity and culture from abroad - beginning by forcing people to forget their mother's tongue, and change their names into Hebrew names. For example, Afia, which means Health in Arabic was "Hebrewsized" into "Ofra" (which means a baby deer),  Now the art and culture division of the town of Shlomi is fundraising for preserving the house so that many more generations can experience this magical place and be touched by Afia's story and the suffering she's endured. Like Dia de los Muertos, this creation feels more like a commune with the dead. Next time I go there I want to bring a Yemeni soup as an offering, and give Afia's doll one of my cherished jars of Z'bad I received as a gift from my friend Dan, to refresh her painted face and perfume all her self-portraits. 

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Coralle, Revamped

Pineapple 112


Revamping Coralle  was a spontaneous act. One thing led to another - to begin with, I had to test a new kind of alcohol. I tested it with some ylang ylang. It didn't dissolve. I decided to try to fix the matter by adding more alcohol and the only scent I could think about making with ylang ylang was Coralle. And then, instead of just making a straightforward bath of the original formula, I decided it was time to put to use my research on fruit tinctures. Pineapple, if to be more specific. It was a total streak of luck. I had no experience using pineapple extract before. I just had a hunch that it will work beautifully with the banana-like notes of ylang ylang, and with the davana (a strawberry-and-hay like essential oil) cassis absolute that are already in the formula.

But of course, I did not have any pineapple extract. So I had to make my own. I've began some experiments this summer with fruit extracts, using freeze-dried fruit that can be procured for rather hefty price but with a lot of fresh-fruit-flavour. Pineapple was one of them, and the one that preserved the fresh fruit aroma the best. I was so surprised by the result. It was one of those things that sounded too good to be true when I read about it on Charna Ethier's blog. And perhaps it is too good to be true with some fruit - because the freeze-dried pear and apple I found didn't taste at all like the fresh versions of themselves and their crispy, fluffy-crunchy texture was the only thing going for their bland persona.

I also tinkered with the base notes, adding a few things that make it a bit less agreeable and more three-dimensional. nothing that is veering too much off the theme of tropical flowers, creamy notes and dry woods. But still.

The result was pleasantly surprising: A distinctively old-fashioned Fruity-Floral perfume, leaning slightly towards the Chypre-Fruity, Floral-Aldehydic zone. Although there is not a drop of oak moss to be found there, it has a certain dryness at the base that along with the ylang ylang, herbaceous-fruity dabana and the fruit accents, creates a Chyrpesque personalty. Not in the teeny-bopper fruity-floral sense, but rather in the retro 50s and 60s style Chypre-Fruity and Aldehydic florals. More along the lines of Fidji, and definitely not anything similar to Escada's serial fruit-punch perfume releases.

Coralle
Top Notes: Ylang Ylang Extra, Grapefruit, Clementine, Pineapple
Heart Notes: Ylang Ylang Cream, Bourbon Geranium, Davana
Base Notes: Spanish Amber, Bourbon Vanilla, Papyrus, Vetiver 

I realized to my dismay that I don't even have proper bottle labels for my current packaging of eau de parfums: only the tags from days of yore, when I still was bottling all my alcoholic beverages in frosted tear-shaped flacons. Therefore, I am using hand-written labels for now; and once the High Holidays in Israel come to a close I will print new labels - which would be my first time doing so since moving my headquarters to Israel.

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Sunday, September 23, 2018

Guava Jam

Made another batch of #organic #guava #jam with my SIL yesterday.

There are two types of people: Those who love guavas with passion, and those who can't even stand being in the same room with it. With its strong aroma, it may not be too surprising that it is related to myrtle. I've been having hard time finding innovative recipes for it. But they're out there, and also inside my head. Adding guava juice, pulp or nectar to smoothies is a no brainer (try it with coconut milk, banana and mango; but avoid orange juice as it will make it taste like orange toothpaste! I sweat!), chutney, fresh salsa (that is so easy that doesn't even require a recipe!), and inside a curry. 

Recipes I've been dreaming of are guava sorbet and/or gelato, guava creme brûlée, guava cheesecake, to name a few. Guava jam is our family tradition each fall, because no matter how much we eat it, there are always some fruit that don't get snatched in time and taste too mushy or stale and can only be salvaged if turned into jam. 

Like quince, it will become pink-orange with cooking. It's quite astounding how much fall fruit have in common: strong personalities, strong aromas, interesting textures. And just like quince, it is easily candied into a jelly-like confection (look for it in Mexican stores, sometimes it comes in a roll). 

I like to make my jams on the less-sweet side, so ration of 1:2 sugar to fruit. i..e: One kilo of guavas to 500g of sugar. Squeeze some lemon juice over the fruit, add the sugar, and add a couple of cinnamon sticks and between 5-10 cardamom pods. Clove buds are also an option (I leave them out because they can overpower easily). Another seasoning direction which is entirely different is add a couple of small, dried chilli peppers to the jam. 
Cook over medium-high heat while stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves completely. This could take about 10-15 minutes. Don't rush it by increasing the heat as to avoid any unnecessary scorching.  
Once the sugar is completely dissolved, reduce the heat to low and cook while stirring frequently with a spoon, until a spoon that is dipped into the jam is covered and remains covered. This would take about an hour. 
Sterilize your jars and fill them while the jam is still hot. Use a hot-bath method if you're really serious about your jamming and are planning to sell or give away or made a big batch. Mine usually gets eaten pretty much right away so I'm not the most diligent sterilizer beyond rinsing them with boiling water and filling and covering right away, turning the jar upside down to create a vacuum-like seal. Which gets popped up within less than a week and eaten in about as fast... 

Homemade #guava #jam

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Saturday, September 15, 2018

Nerikoh

Handful of Nerikoh

Here's a handful of shaped and rolled nerikoh - incense balls from a Saturn planetary blend. The last one to complete my series of Planetary Incense Pastilles. It was a long journey to get to this point, so let me share the steps with you. Unbeknownst to you, I hav been working on a series of incense pastilles for the Seven Ancient Planets. It all went swimmingly well (not counting the years of trial and error prior to that, which began in 2001 when I first tried to make such pastilles, and abandoned it pretty quickly to move onto making the perfumes you've been enjoying all these years).

When I came to compounding the incense for Saturn, I got stuck. I went back to some of the ingredients I've used originally, and that are associated with Saturn: Myrrh, cassia, patchouli, vetiver, cedar and cypress. I changed the formulation to make it a little less harsh. Also I had actual Arizona cypress, which smells amazing - both leaves and twigs - added to this blend, rather than cypress essential oil which I used in the original formula. I was rather happy with the smell albeit it dry and bitter/acrid character (which is rather typical to Saturn energy). However, there was one problem: despite the large amount of resin, these did not form into pastilles when alcohol was added. I really did not want to turn these into incense cones. After consulting some of my incense friends, they've advised me to turn these into Nerikoh, which are Japanese incense pastilles. These are made with any compounded fragrant woods, spices and resins but are glued together with sweet sticky materials such as plums or honey.

Nerikoh for Rosh HaShanah

I made a tiny experiment with just one ball of Nerikoh before leaving for my trip to Canada. It worked well, and didn't get super hard, even though I added some makko powder prior (with the thought of turning this into incense cones). Adding honey to my Saturn planetary incense blend on Rosh Hashanah seems very appropriate. And this is what I did on Rosh Hashanah even. Of course, I added too much honey, so I left it to dry for a few days... In the above photo you can see the first step in making Nerikoh. It looks and feels very much like baking - but smells quite different!

Nerikoh
Now the honey is all mixed in to form a dough. This has a very sticky consistency, not unlike the  honey cookies I make every year for Rosh Hashanah!

Shaping Nerikoh

Shaping the nerikoh begins with making a "pitta" from the sticky "dough" and scoring it into stripes and then further cutting into small tiny squares. From these we'll make little balls, as close in size as possible. The tricky part is that it's a very sticky dough! A little like making honey cookies for Rosh HaShanah. Of course, if your mass is less sticky than the one I made, it would be easier. I also imagine that having a better surface would also help. I imagine a granite or marble surface would be better than the screechy stainless steel I have here. Although it does work quite okay.

Making Nerikoh

Forming the nerikoh dough into tiny balls. A little like making minature chocolate truffles... But way stickier! I used extra powder of sandalwood to avoid stickiness. And even then I had to go over the balls several times in the following days because they kept sticking together. Blame it on humidity. Oh, and the overdose of honey which obviously haven't dried out quite well yet.

Nerikoh
Nerikoh is ready... Almost. Needs to be cured for 6 months though before it is properly dried and develops its full character. And then it can be warmed on a micah plate atop charcoal buried in ash to fully enjoy its aroma. This can be also done with an incense heater, or even an aromatherapy diffuser (a little bowl set above a tea light).


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Chypre Perfumery Course - Sign Up Now!

Lightree

The island of Cyprus (Chypre in French) is where the most ancient perfume factory was discovered. Just like these first Cypriot perfumers, we'll roam the Mediterranean garrigue and discover how to infuse local wild plants in olive oil, for both healing, beautifying and fragrant properties.
Chypre is most iconic fragrance family for fall, as it is inspired by the scent of sun-baked earth and Mediterranean plants, and the damp forest floor. There is no better time in the year to craft Chypres than the fall and in their original natural habitat where so many of the raw materials grow wild!
This week-long course covers studying the raw materials, perfume structure, how to blend a formula, how to write a formula, building accords and creating simple oil-based perfumes using oil infusions that we'll be handcrafting ourselves, and basic Chypre formulation in an alcohol base.
For those who can't attend in person, you are welcome to browse Ayala's classic collection of Chypre  perfumes.

Featured Workshop: 
Oil infusions from wild plants and/or making Oiselets de Chypre (Medieval potpourris shaped into birds)

Fragrant Field Trip:
Exploring the Mediterranean Garrigue

Featured Guest Speaker:
Local vintner, owner of a local boutique winery plus wine-tasting the "Garrigue" wines they offer


Location:
The course takes place at Ayala Moriel's new studio in Clil, Israel. This little off-the-grid organic village has scenic is in one of the country's most fascinating regions, the Western Galilee - and has a view of the Mediterranean sea (gorgeous beaches are only 20min drive), Haifa Bay and Mount Carmel. Clil provides a unique experience for students who choose to stay here (although you don't have to - there are also plenty of places around, but keep in mind that in that case car is a must). The village is solar-powered and has small population of under 1000 people, who live in custom-built homes and semi-temporary dwellings (yurts, teepees, modified train cars and shipping containers, etc.) that are scattered among ancient olive groves and wild bush and Mediterranean garrigue (comprising of carobs, oaks, pistachia and thorny bushes). Despite its size, the village is a community bustling with life and culture: our neighbours are the village's cafe (inside a tent) that is opened Thursday-Saturday and hosts live concerts, and there. A large percentage of the population are alternative healers (we're just across the "street" from an integrated holistic clinic offering massage, acupuncture, ayurvedic treatments, and more) as well as creative artists, who have their ateliers in the village - and some would also be happy to show you around - painters, sculptors, potters, glass artists, silversmiths and goldsmiths, basket weavers, etc.

Amenities:
There is a bakery that is opened twice a week (Sunday and Thursday) and offers Pizza Nights on Tuesdays. On all other days bread can be pre-ordered or purchased at the local Organic Garden (which tops off their own produce with other fruit and vegetables and organic goodies produced in the village and by nearby artisans). Thursday evenings there is a little market in the village's playground, weather permitting. Also less relevant but sometimes handy are the village's book exchange and clothing exchange, which is open 24/7 and is completely free (take what you want and leave what you no longer use).

Accommodations within the village include one boutique hotel, one guest house (India-style "hostel" on the second level of one of our neighbours) and several cabins for rent - some also offering breakfast. Sublets among the village's inhabitants are often listed and could be arranged if booked enough in advance, and also near Cafe Clil there is a small campsite for those who enjoy a fully rustic experience. If you choose to stay outside of the village - we are only 20-30min drive (depending on traffic) from lovely towns that offer also many wonderful attractions to visitors - i.e. Acre and Nahariya.

In short - there are plenty of places to explore and people to meet in Clil, so I'm sure you will enjoy your visit and find things to do and discover outside of the classroom.

There are only 2 spaces remaining in this session. Sign up now to secure your spot!



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