Long intro, you can skip ahead to the fragrance review, I swear it´s down there.
I got bitten by the humbug a couple months ago. Humbugs are tricky – they´re so small you barely notice them at first. I live in a city where people scrape against each other like nails on a blackboard, and humbugs are easy to catch in this environment. People jump lines, shove on the subway, don´t yield in traffic. If you´re not careful you´ll get a serious infestation of humbugs, and before you know it you´ll be getting out of your car to yell at some asshat who just whipped his shiny BMW into the space you were backing into.
I had ten minutes before the twins´ dentist appointment (yes, they were with me in the car), and Mr. BMW couldn´t really park properly until I moved my car out of his way, so I made the most of my time. Having tried (and failed) to appeal to his common decency, I insulted him in every way I could think of. I impugned his morals and his driving skills. I moved on to insulting his immediate family, his lineage, his very existence, and even his car, an entry-level model. “It´s not even a good midlife-crisis car,” I yelled at him. “You couldn´t pick up a fifteen-year-old boy in that car!” (Yeah, this from a woman driving a 9-year-old white Toyota minivan.) At that point I had an audience, mostly office workers and construction guys, who paused in their daily routine at the sight of a mad-as-hell woman standing in the middle of the street in a very nice neighborhood, literally across from Tiffany, shouting obscenities at a much larger man. I still can´t believe the police didn´t show up.
But they didn´t, and eventually I had to go. Hecate informed me primly as I got back in the car that it´s not nice to yell at people. I prayed, earnestly and vigorously, that she and Buckethead would be unable to remember the new words I´d just hurled, none of which were things I wanted to hear coming from them.
Mostly, though, I was mad at me. What was my problem? Okay, the guy´s a putz (I told him so, and more), but for pete´s sake – it´s a parking space. And it wasn´t the last space at the mall the day before Christmas; I drove to the lot where I usually park, which is actually closer to the dentist.
Karma. Do people really get what´s coming to them? There are moments when I hope desperately that the answer is no. My humbugs followed me like a black cloud for the rest of the day. How did I allow myself to be so bothered by something so trivial? What kind of example was I setting to my kids? I try to give kindness to strangers, which is hard in a city where offering to let someone with a sandwich and a soda cut in front of my groaning cart at Trader Joe´s is met with suspicious disbelief – there must be a catch, right?
I´ve been waiting for Christmas. Not the actual holiday, but the secular, consumerist run-up, which we embrace in all its tacky glory – the holiday bazaars, chocolate advent calendars, Rosemary Clooney on the hi-fi, ugly lights. The kids and I make toffee and cookies and our own hot chocolate and we all watch Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer over and over and I stencil the windows with artificial snow … except this year it´s been 75 degrees and I wasn´t feeling it. Not even a murmur. Humbugs.
Tuesday morning a cold front blew in, wild and windy, and we were doing the usual madness (where are the mittens? Where is your lunchbox?!?!”) when it started to snow. Snow pouring right out of a brilliant blue sky – I couldn´t see a cloud anywhere. The kids grabbed their parkas and ran outside – look! Look, there it is!! Snow!!! After 30 seconds of grumbling I grabbed my parka too and went out to join them on the lawn in my slippers, head back, eyes closed, tongue out, face to the sky. A single snowflake on the tongue – such a tiny dose, like those homeopathic pills — is an excellent remedy for humbugs.
Yesterday we had our first, glorious snow, so today I want to celebrate the arrival of the snow and the banishment of the humbugs by blogging about three great scents from an obscure-ish Japanese line: Annayake Miyako, Tsukimi, and Pour Elle.
I´ve never seen the Annayake fragrances in stores here, although I think they are available overseas in places like Douglas. Annayake has a skincare line (maybe someone can comment in terms of its popularity and presence outside the U.S., I am assuming it´s something like Shiseido and/or Kanebo?), and there are several fragrances, including four seasonal scents and some others. Tsukimi is the “Autumn” scent; notes are pepper, grapefruit, lemon, jasmine, violet, cinnamon, patchouli, sandalwood, vanilla. That is one list of notes (and I´ve checked in more than one place) I find completely inexplicable – I cannot pick out a single one of those fruits or flowers. In fact, before I looked the notes up I assumed it was a mildly spiced woody scent reflecting the last four notes on that list. Tsukimi came into my life in my favorite way – a random sample vial (thanks, Dinazad!). It was one of those joyous, rare occasions when you pop something open, dab it on, and are filled with fragrant joy. It is a perfect rendition of autumn – warm, quiet, meditative. I needed more immediately, so I got online and bought a bottle from Cosmolane in Canada (which has some of the others as well). It´s a fairly linear scent, a little sweeter at the opening, settling into faintly sweet, dry sandalwood. It is a bit like Shiseido Feminite du Bois, with its smooth, creamy warmth and woods, but less sweet and more reserved. I find it extraordinarily comforting. Cosmolane also sent me a sample of the scented Tsukimi lotion, which I am coveting, and which layers beautifully with the fragrance.
Within the perfume blogosphere I think Miyako has more fans. Notes for Miyako are cardamom, cinnamon, frankincense, hinoki, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, patchouli, cedar, sandalwood, musk, rockrose, benzoin, myrrh, and amber. My ride with Miyako is a tiny bit bumpier. My skin really emphasizes a harsh, bitter opening note that I´ve never read anyone else complaining about. I tend to keep my nose away from my skin for the first half hour. The drydown, however, is everything you could want from that list – rich, sensual, spicy, but still quite soothing. I get a lot of spices but they are so beautifully blended with the other ingredients that it is difficult to pick out any individual notes. It’s spice, woods and incense without any noticeable florals on me at all.
Finally, I bought a bottle of Pour Elle unsniffed along with my Tsukimi, based on the notes alone – bergamot, fig, elemi, water lily, tea, cypress, and white musk — and how great does that sound? I didn´t like it nearly as much when I got it several months ago – the opening is a bit sharp. To be honest, I sort of forgot about it, and trying again I was pleasantly surprised. It´s not a comfort scent like the other two, being a summery, green thing, but it´s reminiscent of Patricia de Nicolai´s Fig-Tea, with more of an attractive herbaceous bitterness. The bergamot fades rather quickly, the tea note is quite strong, and the green note strikes a lovely balance between fennel-like pungency and sweetness; after the initial watery sweetness fades, it goes through an hour or two of being really unisex. I´m feeling a bit ashamed I didn´t give this more of a chance.
Based upon what I´ve sniffed so far, however else I might feel about the Annayake line at least I´m not complaining about overwhelming sweetness (although that might change with the spring/summer scents, which do sound more fruity/floral.) If anyone has tried any of the others and would like to report in, please do so. The scents hang together nicely; I would describe them as deceptively simple rather than minimalist, and I´ll resist any temptation I feel here to veer off babbling about elegant simplicity and Japanese tradition, about which I know next to nothing. Instead I´ll just say they don´t smell like anything you´re going to run across at Macy´s this Christmas.
I went looking for a pic of the fragrance bottles to illustrate this post. Instead my search lead me to the perfume blog of Divina, who comments here sometimes. Divina is smitten with the Annayake line and has written reviews of most of them, which you can find on her blog by entering “Annayake” into her search feature. These thoughtful and beautifully illustrated reviews talk about the scents within their cultural context; they´re a great read if you´re interested in learning more. I note with interest that Divina has also compared Tsukimi to FdB.
image: Hiroshige, Gion Shimu in Snow, wwar.com