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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Memories of Christmas Scents: ADVENTure Ahead

By Tom

Roxana Villa is having a round-robin bold-o-rama celebrating the season. This is my contribution.

Growing up in New England the scents of the season are quite different that the ones I now experience in Southern California. First, there was the scent of snow. You might think that snow doesn't have scent, but you would be wrong: the air before a really ripping snowstorm has a particular scent to it. Pregnant with electricity and ripping cold, it says "take cover" more effectively than an air-raid siren. Curiously, the air seems warmer as the actual snow comes, as if the formation of the crystals heat the air. Then there's the smell when the storm is over and the air is scrubbed clean; the smell of people's hearths drifting lazily through the crisp air and the blinding whiteness. While this post isn't about perfume necessarily, Frederic Malle's L'Eau d'Hiver does come close to capturing this.

In New York when I lived there it was the scent of wool coats, the expensive perfumes of the lady shoppers, roasting chestnuts and the coffee seemingly everyone carried for warming sips. I did have the singular experience of a real nor-easter, one of the ones that shut down the city. Getting home to the East Village was something: NOTHING was running, cabs long had gone home to roost, the snow was coming in sheets vertically and there was actual thunder and lightning. I was never so happy to see my crummy 10th street hovel as I was that night. Walking to work down the middle of a traffic-free Broadway (because although the city was paralyzed, Dean & Deluca was damned well going to be open) was an experience. One that I don't need to repeat.

Now in Los Angeles the holidays are more about friends and perhaps the scent of food. We don't obviously have snow; we start to feel chilled to the bone when the temps drop into the low 50's, but you're just as apt to have Santa Anas and be in the 90's. I still can't quite get used to the idea of Santa ho-ho-hoing over the intersection of Wilshire and Beverly when it's that hot. For many years I have spent the holidays with my friends making a communal holiday meal involving all hands, food, drink and a lot of laughter; the scent of baking and bonfires, cocktails and conviviality. I love these times and know enough about life to cherish them. There are no guarantees that there will be another..

As we all move forward on our journey through life our memories are reminders of what made us what we are. They can be happy or painful and can sometimes be a trap. Scents are some of the strongest; please share yours with us and if I don't get a chance to write it I wish you all a safe, happy and peaceful holiday, whichever you celebrate (or don't).

Image source, аprilemillo.files.wordpress.com.

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30 Comments:

Anonymous lady jane grey said...

Oh yes Tom, I agree with you completely that snow (befor, during and after) has a scent. In two weeks I'll be moving into a new apartment, which is off Vienna. And not only off Vienna, but it's more/less in a forest - and so I'm expecting smelling snow this winter. And quite looking forward to it. Otherwise my winter scent is Annick Goutal's Christmas candle...

3:13 AM EST  
Blogger Marina Geigert said...

The scent of a fur-tree and of mandarins immediately makes it holiday-like for me

6:24 AM EST  
Blogger SignatureScent said...

What about mulled wine? It's so evocative of the Christmas season.

7:10 AM EST  
Blogger Mals86 said...

Thanks so much for sharing your memories with us, Tom!

You're right about snow smells. And you're right about those holiday memories, that they are part of us but shouldn't limit or define us.

My childhood Christmases smelled of fresh cedar tree, oranges, cinnamon rolls, candle wax, peppermint candy, and glazed ham. I've tried to recreate that for my own children.

And recently I fell in love with Teo Cabanel Alahine, which smells like the Madrigal Dinners we chorus students put on at college. Those were gloriously fun times, and I find Alahine the sunniest, happiest Oriental I've ever smelled.

And happy holidays to you as well!

8:51 AM EST  
Blogger Suzanna Mars said...

Lady Jane Grey, I have the Goutal candle also. It is superb and I highly recommend it for its true-to-life evergreen scent.

This was a wonderful post. I live in the muggy Deep South, where Christmas as I knew it seems out of place. We have moss in place of fir and sweat in place of smoke.

We bought a blue spruce the other day, and as we were hanging the ornaments, I rubbed the budding cones between my fingers: nirvana. Such a fruity, aromatic resin, rich with pine and mandarin elements. The sap stayed on my fingers for hours and made me feel like ordering Filles en Aiguilles unsniffed.

9:16 AM EST  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Oh Tom...
You have outdone yourself here.....Sheer Beauty and poetry........
Thanks for jump starting my day with such eloquence! Your words through me right back into the spirit of the season!

Kisses you....

10:08 AM EST  
Anonymous Flora said...

Yep, that's a Northeast winter scene come to life all right! Thanks for the memories from a fellow New Englander. :-)

And my word verification today is NOIRE. :-D

1:17 PM EST  
Anonymous ghostranchguy said...

thank you...

nice images...

i however grew up in a david hockney so.cal. environment... sprinklers and sidewalks and manicured lawns gone brown for winter

as a kid it was all about broadway (downtown l.a.) and the christmas windows... ladies in gloves... men in hats... towering buildings that seemed gigantic after the low suburban sprawl.. that would be the late 1950's and the smell of dairy valleys and fog and an occasional orange blossom... los angeles long lost… it's so dense now the fog never rolls in anymore

so yes... we bring it all back with scent... oddly and obsessively

so let's go back to the 16th century and dab ourselves with a very rich jasmine... la reine margot feels right right now (on a man that is)

cheers !

2:43 PM EST  
Blogger Roxana said...

Tom your writing is so clear and poetic. It's a joy to go on these aromatic adventures with you.

In the 80's I lived in Brooklyn Heights. The subway was my main source of transportation. Thus, my strongest NYC scent memories during winter include wet wool coats in an overcrowded and hot subway car, urine, fuel exhaust and the smell of roasting chestnuts as I emerge from the underground tunnels!

3:53 PM EST  
Blogger Patty said...

I say "ditto" to your description of the smell of NYC in the winter, and would also add "burnt pretzels"!

4:35 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

Jane-

I would like to visit some snow- if I was sure that I wouldn't get caught in it.

A few years ago it actually snowed here in parts of Westwood and Bel-Air. The new helicopters covered it like Lindsay Lohan crashed her car again..

4:41 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

Marina-

Yes, Mandarins. They've been a constant holiday scent

4:41 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

signaturescent-

mulled wine wasn't a tradition in my house and never got to be one in my life- lord knows why since it's a great pleasure and smells fantastic!

4:42 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

mals86-

I'm going to have to give that a try!

4:43 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

Suzanna-

I love that scent. And Filles en Arguilles has it in spades. Just sayin'...

4:44 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

Beth-

Thank you!

4:44 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

D-

I do miss New England sporadically; leaves until I remember having to rake them, snow until I remember having to shovel it. Then I rejoice that I'm in SoCal

4:46 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

ghostranchguy-

I often walk on Broadway and wonder how lovely the old buildings must have looked back in the day. I love hearing others memories of my adopted home. I have a friend my age who remembers when there was a kiddie amusement park where the Beverly Center now stands and one who is 95 and remembers when Sunset Blvd wasn't paved through West Hollywood..

4:49 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

Roxana-

Thanks so much for asking me!

I hated the subway when I lived there and tried to avoid it as much as possible. I have to say that it's a lot cleaner then when I lived in NYC in the 80s

4:51 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

Patty-

and hot dog water..

my word verification is "billionr". If only..

4:52 PM EST  
Blogger rosarita said...

Thanks for a lovely post. It snowed today and smelled exactly as you describe. :)

5:35 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

rosarita-

Thanks!

6:00 PM EST  
Blogger elle said...

Wonderful, evocative post! For me the scent of fir trees and cardamom, ginger and cloves are what the holidays are all about. I'd love to be able to open up little beautifully wrapped boxes and have them filled w/ just those scents - the perfect presents! I know, I could do that w/ candles and perfumes or spice jars, but I just like the idea of having them wafting out of magical little boxes that I could open all year long. :-)
Hope you have a great holiday season!

6:19 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

elle-

That would be a wonderful, magical gift!

11:47 PM EST  
Blogger Scott said...

Tom: Thanks for a really wonderful post. You made me homesick for Boston and Maine, and I concur with everything you said about snow and its transformational effect on a city. Living in California now, I don't missing the shoveling but I do miss that first magical snowfall, which brings a quiet hush over the city. Happy Holidays!

11:53 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

Scott-

that's the word for that first snowfall: magical!

12:35 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your post, Tom - thank you for it :) - Emma

8:35 AM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

Emma-

Thank you!

5:47 PM EST  
Blogger anna said...

Thank yoou, Tom for a beautiful, evocative post redolent with so much meaning.

4:02 AM EST  
Anonymous Theo Trollbeads said...

In New York when I lived there it was the scent of wool coats, the expensive perfumes of the lady shoppers, roasting chestnuts and the coffee seemingly everyone carried for warming sips. I did have the singular experience of a real nor-easter, one of the ones that shut down the city. Getting home to the East Village was something: NOTHING was running, cabs long had gone home to roost, the snow was coming in sheets vertically and there was actual thunder and lightning. I was never so happy to see my crummy 10th street hovel as I was that night. Walking to work down the middle of a traffic-free Broadway (because although the city was paralyzed, Dean & Deluca was damned well going to be open) was an experience. One that I don't need to repeat.

11:53 PM EST  

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