Habanita, rose, copal, orange, palo santo

Today, let’s say I’m writing this to you using one of those little lavender-coloured ball-point pens, with scented mauve ink for writing “love notes”. And let’s say that with every scent I mention, you catch a whiff of it, too, just a little. These are a few of the things the nose knows.

They cleaned the carpets in our hall this week, and our place reeked from the powerfully scented intense floral cleaning fluid. It reminded me of all those old scents that were used to mask weird chemicals ALL THE TIME IN ALL PRODUCTS in the 20th century. You know: “pine” “lavender” “floral summer”. Before Febreze and the little units that plug in and exude those artificial pheromones. (Not to mention, even delicately, floral “feminine hygiene products”.)

That choke-inducing carpet cleaner wasn’t even scented with Mille Fleurs: a scent sold in bulk and shipped worldwide. It is just the leftovers, really, of all the flowers at once. I saw a photo of the Mille Fleurs tanks behind a French parfumerie, by the dumpsters. It is used for laundry soap and other cleaning products. At least these scents are not all artificially created back in the lab.

I just have to mention my vivid memory of those great cosmetic toys: jewel-coloured bath oil spheres. Scented oil, maybe a variant on mineral oil, in brightly-dyed multicoloured gel balls that were supposed to dissolve in the bathtub. Did they all smell the same? I think so. Mille Fleurs? Red dye #2.

And I confess that I nostalgically enjoy the strong orange scent in my Costco hand soap. Its perfume is lurid and artificial like the colour of orange crush pop, and fades fast. Seduced by the charm of packaging, I got the box of four (yes four, I will never ever run out) each with a different artificial scent: Orange Blossom, Meyer Lemon, Olive Thyme and Coconut Hibiscus, each in a plastic simulation of a ceramic container. Looks lovely, n’est-ce pas? I should have shown the French side of the bottle in the photo so it would have more cachet. “Fleur d’oranger” is much finer and more rare than “Orange Blossom”. The Meyer Lemon smells like Sunlight dish detergent - I’m not so happy with that one.

Not all manufactured aromas are bad. Their stable molecules revolutionized the perfume industry of the 1920s and they range into the rare and fine, such as those that had kept “Habanita” the same since 1921, until last decade when Molinard’s formula was updated (why?). It was first created to scent women’s cigarettes, carried into the air on the tobacco smoke of liberated - or libertine - flappers. I love Habanita, and put it in today’s photo, along with a Palo Santo stick.

When Palo Santo wood burns, the sweet smoke is almost too much. Its natural incense fills the space with a sort of sacred-ish kind of shamanic connection with South American sources. It feels ceremonial. A single being, it’s the opposite of the 600-ingredient gang in the Habanita formula.

And of course, there is always incense. The thinner, darker stick is good old rose, from India. It’s a thin fine stick that burns all the way down without choking out the place. The thick lighter incense stick in the photo is Mexican copal, super-strong and powerful, I use it lightly. I like it outdoors. I love catching a scent of incense outside. The corner store right downstairs from us sometimes burns a floral incense at their doorway - what a delight when a little of that smoke finds its way up and into our open window!

Along with the memory of old fake scents from the past, I let Habanita, rose, orange, copal and palo santo carry me along these winter days and nights.


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