Fragrance: Flitting and flirting

Have you ever looked at an old photo of yourself and thought, Who was that? Certain elements endure, but the surround has entirely changed. You can't imagine yourself back in the same clothes, or with that shag.

The same happens with scent. 

When I pass a perfume counter, I sometimes spritz what was once "my" fragrance, Lancome's Magie Noire, though the reformulation is a travesty. Magie Noire conjures white wine spritzers, shoulder-pads the size of footballs and "Don't You Want Me, Baby?"

I have a vintage bottle under cello wrap, but opening it would feel like releasing a genie; would I fall under its spell again and maybe phone my Aramis-wearing old flame? Chasing now-defunct perfumes is like restoring a vintage sports car: endless expense for a hint of former perfection.

Presently, I'm looking for an interesting (but not numbingly costly) everyday fragrance for winter. I currently enjoy Diptyque's Philosykos, Hermès' Eau de Merveilles, and Eau de Italie's Magnolia Romana among others, but I've got that wandering nose again.

Au revoir, So Pretty!

My friend Natasha made a recent pirouette from Cartier So Pretty (discontinued) to Stella McCartney's Stella, and there she is happily ensconced.

When I saw Colette recently, I dabbed Andy Tauer's sensuous L'Air du Desert Marocain on her wrist; she swooned. That's a penthouse-priced frag, though, and I want a more reasonable daytime splash, neither one-note nor teenagey. That spot is currently occupied by Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely (to which Chandler Burr accords top marks in his book, "The Perfect Scent") but I'm open to change.

Every few months, I've been ordering a selection of 7ml samples from LuckyScent, either their house sample packs or my own selections. I read the descriptions with a grain of salt; scents described as extraordinary may deliver all the allure of car deodorant. Other times, a note I'm convinced I dislike delivers delight.

To find their sample sets, search the Brands menu for LuckyScent Sample Packs. If you have a fragrance-loving friend, or even one curious about scent, the packs are spot-on gifts. There's one for men, too. Other niche vendors who will ship samples internationally are The Perfumed Court and The Posh Peasant.

The LuckyScent perfumes are not drugstore brands, though, and to sample is to learn that, with only rare exceptions, you do get what you pay for; I won't find my stealth bargain there. (Last year, a reader suggested Origins Ginger Essence, which I enjoyed, but like the Jo Malone line, the scent vanished in ten minutes.)

As for the health risks of fragrance, I am going to embrace my vice. The tiny amount I apply markedly improves my spirits (especially in the grip of our deep winter) and Le Duc loves scent, both on me and himself.

No sun, no smoking, less wine than I wish were advised—geez Louise, leave me with something! (Did someone murmur, "chocolate"?)  For those few drops' summoning of salt-washed beach or courtyard of gardenias, I am willing to repent... in a future life.  (Should I wear fragrance in public space, I choose a natural scent, except in bars. I mean, if I can smell someone's Dark and Stormy from five tables away, can we have a little give and take?)

Next year, I plan to explore more natural, eco-certified fragrances, and have already found that one in particular, Hiram Green's Shangri La, delivers a heady, fabulous chypre—but the price is steep as the imaginary paradise's snowy peaks; the eau de parfum is $US 165 for 50ml.

The Passage closes from today until 
January 5, 2016.
Have a merry, restorative, warm holiday.
Thank you, as ever, for reading
and especially for your comments!

Older: What is hip?

A friend sent me this photo with the wish, "...I hope my friends are this young at heart and hip forever."

(Though many Facebook comments refer to her as "old", I read her as an early-middle-aged women who went white early.)

I enjoyed her well-wishes and at the same time, thought, No way I'd pick that shirt. (Among other constraints, the eyes would pop out at a distressing place on my chest)—but she projects joie de vivre and a whimsical style I'd call more "creative" than hip. Good for her for letting her feline flag fly!

Even if I wouldn't rock a giant cat face, I'm not averse to orange frames; below, me at the softball game/BBQ the evening before the kids' wedding:

Before you think I'm a badass instead: the event was licensed for the beer I'm holding.

As Tower of Power famously asked, What is Hip?

Urban Dictionary says hip is, "Cooler than cool; the pinnacle of "it"; beyond all trends and conventional coolness". (The related word hipster addresses a young-adult demographic; see entry here.)

To me, the ephemeral ether of hip inhabits a less capricious neighbourhood than Ms. Kitty's, more Rick Owens than Trash & Vaudeville. Hip is hatched from a confidence that rejects conformist behaviour such as ironing your hair straight when it's not (guilty, up to my mid-twenties) or starving yourself to size whatever while you're miserable.

The hip women I know are uninterested in copycat InStyle outfits, but always have one audacious detail, a scarf or an unusual ring, or 'their' way of wearing a hat. They are not necessarily pretty, but have strongly expressive faces, like these women:

Left, poet Anne Carson; centre, visual artist Shirin Neshat; right, filmmaker Agnès Varda.

Trying to be hip is like trying to be witty: effort kills it. So does hanging onto youth; as TOP sang,
"...and if you're really hip, the passing years will show."

So who's hip?  To one woman it's Ms. Kitty, to another it's Patti Smith. And, does it matter? I think my friend's wish that we stay "young at heart" is a more compelling goal. Getting older while retaining a sense of humour, the ability to give and receive love and friendship, and an active curiosity—now that I will pursue wholeheartedly!

A gift in hand: Three simple savouries

One of the first lessons I remember is my mother's counsel, "Don't go to anyone's house with one arm as long as the other."

Because there are so many parties this time of year, here are three really easy, inexpensive and, best of all homemade treats to hand your host. Because December's a sugar blitz, a savoury treat seems especially clever.

Murph's Mustard
(Time required: 20 min.)

"Murph" was my Aunt Magdalene, an elegant but not overly domestic banker. She'd whip this up, put it in a cute pot, and enter in cloud of Chanel and swishing taffeta. 

1 4oz. can dry mustard (like Keen's)
1/3 cup and 3 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup water
2 eggs

Combine and cook in saucepan 10 min. while stirring, or in double boiler till slightly thickened. Yield: 1 pot. (What does she mean? Beats me; I'd estimate it makes about 1 1/2 cups of mustard, enough for a good-sized gift jar with a little left for you to enjoy how good it is.) Store refrigerated.

Also appealing is this Moutarde maison au miel de lavande (in French) from Alto Gusto.

Sweet Dill Pickles
(Time required: 10 min. and three days to marinade) 

These these start with good old garlic dills, you do just enough to them that they taste different. 

1/2 gallon whole garlic dills
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. celery seed
1 tsp. mustard seed
1 tsp. garlic chips (or chopped garlic)

Mix everything together except the dill pickles. Drain the pickles, slice them into spears, put into that dill jar and layer with the sugar/herb mixture. Refrigerate and shake a couple times a day for three days. Pack in a glass jar.

Painted Potato Chips
Time required: 20-30 min.

Before Miss Vickie's offered every flavour known to humans and some not, my mother made her own flavoured chips to serve with cocktails. It's still a really cool thing to do—you get a chip that tastes like no commercial one.

Preheat your oven to 350F.

She'd just melt 2 tablespoons of butter, and mix in one teaspoon of B-V broth and sauce concentrate. (I don't see why you couldn't use jerk sauce, either, as long as it's not the thick, gloppy kind.) That mixture goes into a small shallow bowl.

Open a bag of good unflavoured commercial potato chips. Take out your pastry brush. Brush one side of each chip with the mixture, using a lightish hand, and place each painted chip on your cookie sheet so they don't touch, 'painted' side up. (Don't worry about covering the chip edge to edge, just give it a good lick.)

Pop into oven and roast, watching carefully so they don't burn. (You are just 'drying' the paint, the chips should not get dark.)

Let cool and pack in a tin to take to your friends. I said take your hands out of there right now!

For those with more time and the willingness to fry, impressively gourmie homemade chips with nori salt will stand out.  This is an intriguing homemade potato chip, though if you are getting out your mandoline and making them, any flavour—or none, just salted— will be leapt on. The recipe is from the renowned (now closed) Chicago restaurant, Butter.

PS. For sweet-lovers, that divine sweet and spiced nuts recipe is here. (It says 'walnuts' but you can use any nut or a combo.)

I re-post it every year; last year a reader told me she made it and then she and her husband stood in the kitchen and polished off the batch!

Buying Jewelry on Amazon: Should you?

This post, originally published on Dec. 8, was intended for today, Dec. 10, so I'm re-publishing it on the correct date.

When I shop, I cast a squinty, wary eye on mass brands (including status ones) and vendors. But I would not cut off my ring finger to spite my hand, either, because such retailers sometimes offer very good prices.

Though I usually shop with artisanal and the vintage vendors, monster sellers are well worth a look for seasonal pieces, or for the replacement of a generic item, such as a chain from which you hang your great aunt's locket.

Amazon is not Twist, where I could pretty much close my eyes, point, and be happy—but bargains are tucked in there, especially via time-limited offers.

In the Passage's windows today: a sampling of what's offered by Amazon's UK site, which gives better service for international sales than the US, though not every vendor will ship to every country.  (Note: Prices do not include shipping or applicable taxes and duties.)

Hang on to your mocha, you might be surprised!

Solange Azagur-Partridge is a usually dizzingly-priced London designer, but she has put a particularly affordable piece on her country's site:

The Hot Lips ring is enamel on sterling silver, and comes in about six colours; price, £69, a mwaah! for a handful of rings that might have slipped into staid while you weren't looking. 

Normally I don't like cute, but I enjoy jewelry that reflects the season, and this pearl snowman with his onyx top hat made me smile. A layering piece for £15.49 including the 46cm silver chain: a steal. (There's an earring version too, but not for anyone over twenty.)

Diamond snowflakes are not limited to strictly winter when they're as abstract as Carissima's. A total of .81cts of pavé supplies a sparkly skiff of snow on 9ct yellow gold flakes Price, £131.

Georg Jensen on Amazon? Yes, and well-priced; this classic, chic Archive ring is £195:

So much for austere Danish good taste; I was gobsmacked by a stack of wild Bijoux Famille bangles, printed leather on gold plate. Money talks, for £145.

Why else use Amazon? If others shop for you, you can post pieces you like to your Wishlist. I'd slide Lizzie Fortunato's pearl and iolite Oasis earrings between my books; price, £269.

I have sidestepped what I can't assess online (diamonds and some coloured gems), the overpriced and overexposed build-a-charm bracelets, the twee bridesmaid gifts. The pearls did not entice, and I gave costume a miss—be my guest, if you have spare time. 

But neither will I make the site a one time visit; serious specials, specific delivery dates and, amid a sea of so-so pieces, some unexpected glamour make Amazon if not a rival for the best online jewelry sources, not one to dismiss, either. 

Girlfriend visit: The fabulous and the frugal

I am lucky to have multiple Susan-friends, and one is visiting in a few days. Le Duc will be away, so we have only ourselves to please, and will indulge in a happy blur of delights. We will see an intriguing exhibit at the Musée des Beaux-Arts on 1920s Modernism, "Colours of Jazz", browse a large, well-curated craft show, have one dinner out at a good restaurant and one in.

To mark our forty-two year friendship, we often we buy one small identical item: fanciful knee socks, a box of chocolates, a calendar.

On her last visit, she said, "I don't want to be rich, but I would like to buy anything I wanted, for just one day." She was not referring to couture Lanvin, but I wondered, What might we get up to, if we shredded the budget?

In my fantasy, our girlfriend duplicates deluxe might include:

1.  Cashmere dressing gowns from Brora
I'd buy the pink, and she'll have blue. (Another feature of my fantasy life is that I have no moths, ever.) Price, £695 but who cares?

2.  Christ shearling coats
We have a history here. In the '70s, I owned a no-name version, so heavy it felt like I was carrying the sheep. I sold it to her, but she abandoned it after one winter. This time we're getting coats made by Christ, remarkably light. Price for the Carola model, €1,900. Chicken feed!
3. Rings
We would like some jewelry, please. I prefer to shop vintage, but then we couldn't have our twins. I know she'd thrill to a Dorothée Rosen One-Footer Ring, and let's get them in gold, baby. In 18k, $2, 795. So reasonable I might add a diamond to mine!

Well that was fun! But the perfectly-fine reality is that we'll follow our longtime tradition, donations to one another's favourite charities, Doctors Without Borders for her, HelpAge for me.

That's not to say we're on an unalloyed austerity program; our Québec designers will offer alluring crafts both at the show and online via the Métiers d'Art du Québec web site. (Prices on site and below are in $CDN.)

Since the robes are out of reach, how about hers-and-hers handmade sleep masks? We'd chose from an assortment by Velvet Moustache par Marjorie Labreque; price, $22.
Susan especially likes ceramics, and who doesn't need a spoon-holder? We'd choose these, by Frédérique Bonmatin, $12 each—and maybe one for a hostess gift, too.

And it wouldn't be the first time we bought the same earrings! Maybe I can interest her in Osmose's tin earrings with small pearls; I like the mix of materials and graceful design. (Price, $38).

You never know what hijinks might arise. Last year, enroute home from a late, long dinner, we got into a snowball fight with kids standing outside a bar.

Look out, we're off the leash!

Glerups: Gentle wooly souls

Until I moved to Montréal, shoes were shoes: you know, those things you put on your feet, and leave on till bedtime.

But here, many households run shoes-off. That's partly because we are in snow boots or Wellies about five months of the year, and easily trek in whatever's on our streets. We carry shoes to visit homes; hosts appreciate non-abrasive soles that preserve their floors.

When I was recently buying a pair of Blundstones (cherry red), I was taken by Glerups, the Danish indoor shoe. Now there is an simple, amiably Scandinavian shoe (or slipper), heavy enough to foil cold floors, plush enough for comfort, finished with a soft moccasin-style leather sole. And they come in absolutely biteable colours.

Here's the slipper:

The shoe is higher-cut, so warmer:

There's a boot model too, all of them similar—rather like Blunnies. They offer kid's, women's and men's sizing, and one rubber-soled outdoor model.

The US site introduces the new ballerina, which adds silk to the wool:

In Montréal, the Neon location on St.-Denis has a good assortment, including these ballerinas. (They are truly "slippers" without arch support, but you could slip in insoles.)

Glerups are hand-washable in cool water, or machine-washable on "wool program" setting. There's a sweet family story about the Danish grandmother who designed them, and a few more encouraging tidbits on Glerups' site.

The Shop feature on the Canadian site seems to be on vacation; the US one works. Some models are available via Amazon or well-stocked The Australian Boot Company. Price is around $CDN 90.

Splendid gift idea, but if one family member receives a pair, that could incite deep envy among others.

Any readers Gleruppping? How do you like them?

Recommended: "Being Mortal"

Pearl sale alert!  
Kojima Company have reduced everything on the website by 20% 
 from now until December 20,
with special offer code GLOW2015.

I unreservedly join the chorus of praise for noted surgeon's Dr. Atul Gawande's call for flexible, de-institutionalized, and more compassionate late-life care, from the time when a person needs help with the everyday tasks of living through to the days.

Though concerned with the US medical system, it's relevant to anyone who wishes to address that period with compassion and competence.

This is a subject we can uneasily avoid, and in fact I had it on my Kindle for months before I waded in—but I'm glad I did. Dr. Gawande doesn't sugar coat his pill, but neither he does default to the vague "something must be done" approach.  He gives readers some tough love, tracing the lives of family members and patients who endured displacement, pointless and invasive procedures, and (worst of all to me) a disgraceful dearth of straight talk from the medical community.

Gawande contrasts these incidents with inspiring stories of unusual and innovative resources, from assisted living facilities alight with birds, dogs and visiting schoolchildren, to hospices where both physical and emotional comfort are freely supplied to give each patient "her best day possible, now."

Each of us can influence health policies and practices, through how we vote, the requests we make of health care professionals, and how we approach family decisions. But in order to raise our voice, lend a hand, or even hold a hand, we need to know what counts, as the bottom of life's hourglass fills. "Being Mortal" will be a book to which I return, and will inform many conversations.

Concurrently, I watched Dr. BJ Miller's TED talk (19 minutes), "What Really Happens at the End of Life", about how he and the staff of the the Zen Hospice of San Francisco care for their residents. Normally I can waste time on a makeup video for some goop I don't even wear; this really did change my life, and will likely change my dying. Please watch, to experience a realistic sensitivity that is both rare, and deeply needed.

Thanks to TED's generous policy, I am posting it here. I hope each of us, and our loved ones, can one day be helped by such lovingly radical caregivers.