Wednesday, June 22, 2016


There are two kinds of naps in Montana summers.  One is the August nap when all the covers are off the bed except a sheet at the foot to pull over your chilled shoulders just before dawn when the cat comes in to warm up, but not during the day.  The other is the June nap when the thunderstorms are traveling over the prairie close together so that time at the computer is interrupted again and again by the need to evade electrical events.  Might as well close tired eyes and coast through the green silk rustling afternoon.

I think so much about senses other than sight that maybe it’s only natural that naps are scented — first raindrops hitting dust, bruised grass, the cat’s wet fur since he’s prone to staying out through the first drops because he’s got his head focused on a bird.

At the moment I’m scented with a free sample of very expensive perfume in my shirt pocket because of a thing called “Scent Trunk” which is a subscription perfume mailing plan. I hadn't realized there was such a thing or that it was used by men mostly.  Turns out there are a dozen of these businesses. 

My free trial first sample so far leaked in transit from its tiny atomizer, so what I really got in the mail was a mere suggestion of the full-strength potion.  One reviewer of the scent claimed that it’s pretty strong once the top notes have evaporated, so maybe that’s a good thing.  He discovered the intensity at a concert, distressing the sensibilities of the person next to him.

Ramon Monegal

This sample is “Umbra” by Ramon Monegal.  Besides oakmoss, the topnote ingredient is Haitian Vetiver, a grass.  An allergy test dab-on is advised.  My advice is that if you object to strong perfume, you should not come to my house.  We could meet in a café to smell burnt coffee dregs and over-used French fry grease.

In 2012 oakmoss, or rather two of the molecules it contains, was going to be banned by France.  “The best known fragrances containing oakmoss include the original versions of Chanel No 5 and Miss Dior, but the prized essence is an integral part of all chypre and fougère scents for women and men. Chypre is the class of fragrances that usually have a top note of citrus and woody base notes derived from oakmoss and ambergris, while fougère fragrances have a top note of lavender and base notes of oakmoss and coumarin. The first perfume with a dominant chypre note was François Coty's Chypre, created in 1917.”  I don’t know what finally happened.  I do know that the original recipes for classic smells get morphed.

Umbra” is extremely expensive except in the tiny vial size that drained before I got it.  Ramon Monegal is Spanish.  I had imagined a monk-like figure in a stone cottage, but the actual man is a member of a distinguished family famous for its perfumes and he also has credentials in architecture.  Myrurgia has created perfumes for four generations.  In childhood I knew Maja, but only from the soap, which my mother had, I think because someone gave it to her.  Maybe her sister who served in the US Army on the continent in WWII.

The container for the normal-sized quantities of Monagel perfumes is designed to look like an old-fashioned inkwell.  “Sticking to his principles that involved using the best materials, he chose semiautomatic handmade glass that allowed him to produce a flacon with a unique body, feel and presence; bakelite —a formaldehyde resin that was widely used in perfumery in the mid-twentieth century and he wanted to recover for its valuable characteristics of feel, sound and neutrality — for the lid and the presentation box; and, finally, bonding together glass and bakelite, a crimp made of zamak, an alloy that combines zinc, aluminium, magnesium and copper, and gives the flacon an unmistakably rich feel and sound.”   

“A crimp made of zamak.”  Ah.  I love luxury advertising copy whether for a Mont Blanc pen or a fine revolver.  (What is semiautomatic glass?)  Because of helping develop the Bighorn Foundry with Bob Scriver, I take an interest in alloys, aware of how different they can be.  We used red bronze (high copper content) at first and then went to silicon bronze, which was harder to patine.

The middle notes of “Umbra” are Geranium and Black Pepper.  Quite ordinary, even on a conventionally domestic day in my very modest house — maybe with coffee and chocolate if things are going well.  Then the base notes are Canadian Fir, and Tonka Bean.  

“Tonka trees areDipteryx odorata (commonly known as "cumaru" or “kumaru"), a species of flowering tree in the pea family, Fabaceae. That tree is native to Central America and northern South America.  Its seeds are known as tonka beans (sometimes tonkin beans or tonquin beans). They are black and wrinkled and have a smooth, brown interior. They have a strong fragrance similar to sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) due to their high content of coumarin.” 

Sweet Woodruff

Coumarin is a blood thinning medicine, but also the scent of sweetgrass, sweet clover, and balsam fir, considered holy by Blackfeet.  It is also rat poison.  Heigh-ho!  Glamorous smells are often dangerous — glamour once MEANT witchcraft.  In too high concentrations it can “paralyze the heart.”  Ah.  But it is not banned in France where they use the beans in desserts and stews.  And it might be in tobacco.  

All things are dangerous in excess, but often a delight in moderation.  This is true of naps.  Scent Trunk promises to replace the leaky container of “Umbra”, but even the faint trace of it slips in under a dozing consciousness.  The word is a favorite of designers and gamers —umbra, penumbra, antumbra.  "These names are most often used for the shadows cast by celestial bodies, though they are sometimes used to describe levels of darkness, such as in sunspots."  I say “penumbra” quite a lot but never understood antumbra — “the region from which the occluding body appears entirely contained within the disc of the light source.”  I still don’t get it.

So . . . this perfume does not suggest cutting hay on a bright August day.  It is funky in a good way, earthen.  When the murmurous breeze of my falling asleep is swept away by high wind, the swish of thrashing tall grass drying, and Finnegan squeaking open the cat flap, tapping lightly through the house and squalling for his little buddy or for cat food or just because the wind woke him up, too.  

Sun searchlights flash through the moving branches of the poplars and splotch the slapping shade against the sill.  I feel an impulse to remove every object from the house except the bed, a table and chair, and the bookshelves.  I will furnish the rooms with aroma only.

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