Poetics of Place

Note:  Ann is out today so I’m posting in her place.  March will be posting for my Wednesday.  Everybody Change Partners & Dance!


We all know that perfume can conjure of memories of people and experiences.  It can also conjure up memories of place.  Interestingly, I find that the ‘place’ scents are far harder to pin down – they’re subject to so many attendant variables:  temperature, light, time, situation……..and even then they can be a bit chiaroscuro in their sense of place.  For example:  Agraria Bitter Orange.  I first came upon ABO in San Francisco, back in the Jurassic Era.  Agraria was started in a little Nob Hill shop and for decades was pretty much limited to SF (I’m not kidding with the Jurassic – this was 1970 – we didn’t even have brick phones yet, let alone the Internet!!) – anyhoo, in the 70s San Francisco was Everything Magical to me.  Cool, fabulous, a portal to infinite possibilities for this Midwestern Catholic convent-raised geek.    Agraria should’ve been the essence of San Francisco.  But it’s not.  It’s the essence of midtown NY on a warm Spring day.    And everything is green and blue – no orange in sight, except for the slice in the tall, cool glass of Constant Comment iced tea on the cafe table.  And Maroon 5’s  Sunday Morning is the soundtrack.   …..but not just any SM soundtrack and certainly NOT the video.  No.  It’s the version in Something’s Gotta Give, where Frances McDormand comes upon Keanu at the Hamptons Farmer’s Market.  Try to parse that, I dares ya!

Ambre Grisea.  The Brittany coast.  No other coast.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  Weirdly, I’ve never worn it while at the Brittany coast.  But one spritz and I’m back there, on a blustery early-Autumn day, in a cream-colored cableknit jacket (that Patty is gonna knit for me, I just know it!).

You’d think Ubar would conjure up visions of exotic Spice Routes.  Instead, whenever I wear the vintage I am immediately transported to this sweep of highway on I-180, quite possibly the least exotic, most bucolic sweep of highway in Central IL.  And it’s in early Autumn.  James Taylor’s Walking Man is on the box and I’m on my way to get cinnamon rolls at the bakery in Bishop Hill (which is a good 45miles SSE from where I’m headed – but hey! it’s Poetics of Place and distance and Time can be bent at will).  Doesn’t make Ubar any less gorgeous (and gorgeous it is) – but it’s a fascinating departure of Place, innit?

And y’all already know where Liz Zorn’s Violets & Rainwater takes me.


Notice that none of these are Big Classics?  I think that’s because  powerhouse signature scents tend to defy the poetics of place.  Two of my Big Girls:  Mitsouko is its own planet – consider that it’s gotten me through a tornado in the midst of a Central IL ravine at 10p as well as facing down a Commercial Banker at 10a in Chicago.    Chanel No 5  (edt and parfum) is Everyplace.  And always with her grandmother’s pearls clasped firmly around her neck.

Below is a photo from the amazing Lynn Geesaman.  It was from her book that I learned the phrase ‘Poetics of Place’.    PoeticsOfPlace1 I’m fortunate to have a few of her pieces, from Thomas Barry Fine Arts.  Let’s have a bit of fun with one of her photos, shall we?  Here is a gorgeous one (well, they’re all gorgeous – but I like this one for this exercise)…..if you’re in the mood to play, Scent This Place.   There are no rules and no right answers.  I’d just love to know what you think about this.  I’ll pull 2 comments and … I’ll send you the scents that have assigned themselves, in my mind, to this Place.

lynn geesamanspeaking of random/comments/WINNERS:

Last time’s winners are:  taleofahare (30) and caroline  (10) – gmail your evilauntieanita with your details.  I’ve become quite proficient at actually getting the stuff to the PO!  so strike while that particular iron remains hot!  The packaging is a bit scary – March and I pride ourselves on our ability to gink up a package – but the stuff inside is always a bit of fun, I hope!

  • March says:

    I swung back around to see what scents people have recommended… that photo is so atmospheric, I’m struggling. I’m going with my vintagey bottle of L’Artisan Navigateur.

  • flowergirlbee! says:

    for some reason my first thought was dzongkha, even though it seems too dry on second thoughts.there is something about the atmosphere of it that is right.

  • Winterlude says:

    Ahh, that image? Comme de Garçons Avignon or maybe Zagorsk. I’ve only recently experienced them and they both put me deep in a quiet muffled wood.

  • The picture makes me think of Iris Silver Mist. It also kind of looks like it could be an Opeth album cover, and I’ve always thought ISM goes with their music (I’m thinking like Blackwater Park, not the more recent prog stuff).

  • Hamamelis says:

    To me this Place smells like Frederic Malle’s Vetiver Extraordinaire. The scent of mist, mossy stones, running water, grassy watery freshness. More black and white or sepia than full colour.

  • disteza says:

    I’m thinking Chanel’s Sycomore for the picture: A bit of incense with that green vetiver background. Although, if the day were warm, Sl’s FIlle on Aiguilles might work too!

  • Julie L says:

    Hm….makes me think of something mossy, quiet, yet with a mystical incense quality. Something achingly melancholic, which is how I’ve been feeling lately, missing my mom, family, old times and places gone by never to be replaced. I recently layered Mitsouko with Femme Rochas and a dab of patchouli oil. Maybe something like that would fit the bill for your beautiful photo.

  • jirish says:

    I love this exercise! I’m thinking of Cuir Ottoman – which is what I am planning on soon spritzing on! Tea, leather, incense, cool iris, and a touch of melancholy.

  • Kandice says:

    What a great post. Scents always remind us of a variety of things, but I’d somewhat dismissed place. Thanks for the thought provoking piece (and I love the musical soundtracks you provided). I’d have to say this picture made me think of Magnolia Grandiflora Michel, cool and green with just a little bit of skank to it. Here’s hoping you’ll post what your picks are later once the drawing’s over. It will be interesting to see what we all come up with.

  • Elisa P says:

    I’m feeling Angelique Su la Pluie. When I smell that fragrance I imagine a quiet car ride down a drizzly/foggy California canyon in the early morning. With the windows down you get intermittent whiffs of damp trees and rainwater coming up from the tires.

  • Connie says:

    I would pair that beautiful photo with Hermes’ Santal Massoia. It has a sort of grey and foggy scent, very soft and a bit mushy with oatmeal-like massoia woods and pale fig. The colors are all soft and dove grey, just as in the photo.

  • Dina C. says:

    That photograph made me think of Jacomo Silences, all green and lush and quiet. I loved the way you tied places, soundtraks and scents together Musette. For me, scents are like a Tardis that carry me back to a certain time period. 🙂

  • mikasminion says:

    It certainly is odd how tied to a moment a scent can become, even when it isn’t the first time one has worn it. Wish I could think of an interesting instance but I’m just too tired.
    As for the gorgeous photo, the first thing that popped into my mind was Green Oakmoss and the second was Caliche.

  • Victoria says:

    Givenchy’s Ambre Velours conjures up memories of magical days in California… I spritzed it on in a random perfume shop and strangely enough, it lasted on me for a week! Now I keep a little sample bottle of it to sniff when I want to think about California. 🙂