It’s the dead of winter, 20 below outside, a howling wind, and you just cooked fish with brussels sprouts for dinner. I won’t question your judgment on the menu, but your nose is suffering as you do the dishes. Do you open the window and risk being flash-frozen? No! Here in Northern Europe, we burn papier d’Armenie, small rectangles of paper infused with benzoin resin. This beautiful and practical form of incense has been used here since 1885, when it was developed in Montrouge, France. At that time, it was used both to deodorize, and also to disinfect rooms. Now we realize that the disinfectant part was a bit of wishful thinking, but the deodorizing/scenting function of papier d’Armenie is delightful. For a few years, there was a cancer scare about benzoin/benzene fumes (possibly due to the similarity of the words), but further studies have shown that of at least 72 things you can burn to scent your room, papier d’Armenie is the least likely to cause any health problems, and benzene levels are extremely low. So no worries there. Scent away.
Master perfumer Francis Kurkdjian has worked with the makers of papier d’Armenie to develop his own line of scented burning papers (Papier Encens), and I was lucky enough to take some home on my recent trip to Paris. I chose the “Lumiere Noire”, made to match his rose and patchouli perfume of the same name. To use the papers, simply tear one from the booklet, fold it accordian style, light one corner, blow it out, and let it smolder in a ceramic pot or holder. Your room will be scented with Lumiere Noire, Aqua Universalis, or APOM for about an hour or so. They’re available at Maison Francis Kurkdjian in Paris, or from his website, for approximately $20 per packet:
I’ve also been trying several types of “smokeless incense” from Japan in this cold weather, and have found two brands I really enjoy. The first, Shoyeido’s Xiang Do series, has two scents that have become household favorites, Peppermint and Forest. They burn down without smoke and leave a gentle scent of (guess) peppermint, and conifers. The second is Seikado's Kyoyama Sumi Ink (available at Japanincense.com). The latter smells exactly like the evocative camphor-spiced sumi ink of Zen calligraphy and sells for about $16 for a box of 200 sticks. I’ve tried about a dozen “smokeless incense”, and many do indeed smoke, and many do indeed fume. These two brands deliver, essentially smoke-free.
If you’d like to try one of the Kurkdjian papers, please leave a comment, and my house rabbit, Limette, will pick one of you at random. (I learned this technique from Grain de Musc’s cat, Jicky.) If you’d like to try a few sticks of Sumi Ink, let me know in the comments, and Limette will pick one of you.