Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Smell and Tell Lectures: Three Years and Counting



The history of "Smell and Tell" presentations in Ann Arbor, Michigan began on June 6, 2012. Three years and 26 presentations later, the unique multisensory lectures continue to delight and intrigue a wide audience. From elementary school children at 826Michigan, to students at The University of Michigan, and patrons of the Ann Arbor District Library, the demand for Smell and Tell lectures continues to grow.

Evangelizing the perfume arts with an art-science twist has led to an interesting side effect; a sense of community through the sense of smell. The experience of attending a Smell and Tell is not only educational; it is profoundly self-authenticating. Smell is memory's sense and memory is identity, so there's no getting around connecting with others in the same room when a Smell and Tell takes place.


















Seeing someone who is shy open up like a flower when they smell a raw material or perfume is powerful. Everyone deserves to be respected, understood and listened to which isn't easy in our hurry-hurry world. Smell and Tell supports this as it creates a safe, non-judgmental space that is conducive to learning. This is key to positive outcomes in an educational setting that is multisensory by design. It's also what motivates me to take Smell and Tell to higher ground at The University of Michigan and beyond.

Comparing complementary and contrasting responses to aroma materials weaves a rich tapestry of conversation and affirms a sense of community. Smell Mapping, a technique I developed from my perfumery training at Givaudan and the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), teaches Smell and Tell attendees how to get comfortable with evaluating scents versus judging them based on likes and dislikes. They learn how to do this by immersing themselves in the science of olfaction and the art of perfumery.


















Another benefit of Smell and Tell is that it teaches attendees how to develop an olfactory lexicon; something that is painfully lacking in occularcentric culture. Learning how to describe what can be sensed, but not seen supports communication skills, some of which are compromised because of reliance on digital devices. When you can't see something and have to describe the invisible, you need to get comfortable with the absence of visual proof. Turning inward isn't comfortable for some, but we do this every time we think silently to ourselves. The more you exercise the sense of smell the better you get at decoding the invisible. It's a superpower. All you have to do is follow your nose.

This is an extraordinarily powerful exercise in a culture attached to binaries. Sometimes an object isn't black, white or grey; it simply is. Smell and Tell is about cultivating presence and objectivity so you can decode the invisible and engage curiosity. When curiosity is allowed to thrive it can be harnessed to solve problems and innovate. This benefit of Smell and Tell catches on quickly in academia as it bridges art and science while fueling communication skills that support creative confidence and interdisciplinarity.

This week marks the debut of Glass Petal Smoke's YouTube channel. Programming from a Smell and Tell at the Ann Arbor District Library is now live. "Chanel No. 5: The Art and Science Behind a Timeless Perfume" was produced by the Ann Arbor District Library and can be shared via a Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives 4.0 International License. The video has been edited to fit a specific time frame so the smelling of Spanish Leather (created by perfumer Christophe Laudamiel for the lecture), Aldehyde C11, Dihydromyrcenol, Cashmeran, Aldehyde C10, Grasse Jasmine and Rose de Mai has been omitted. These materials were attached to specific contexts that are best suited to a live lecture.

If you want to experience the real thing you can attend the next Smell and Tell at the Ann Arbor District Library in August (date and topic to be announced shortly). Keep an eye on the right hand page of Glass Petal Smoke for information on future Smell and Tell programming. If you have any questions you can direct them to glasspetalsmoke [at] gmail dot com.

Smell and Tell Lectures Given Between June 2012 and June 2015

“Exotic Woods and Ethereal Exudates in Perfumery.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, May 20, 2015.

“Serge Lutens: Collaboration in Luxury Fragrance Design.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, April 8, 2015.

“Secrets from a Trained Nose.” TEDxUofM at the Power Center for the Performing Arts, March 20, 2015.

“The Scent of Disappearing Trees.” The North Campus Sustainability Hour at The University of Michigan, February 25, 2015.

“Chanel No. 5: The Art and Science Behind a Timeless Perfume.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, February 10, 2015.

“The Aromatic Allure of Patchouli.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, December 3, 2014.

“Olfaction and the Art of Perfumery.” University of Michigan Biology and Arts Course: “Mandorla of Life Sciences and the Arts,” October 10, 2014.

“Chanel No. 5: The Art and Science Behind a Timeless Perfume.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, August 27, 2014.

“Smell and Tell: Follow Your Nose.” The MSTEM Academy, Center for Engineering Diversity and Outreach, University of Michigan, July 29, 2014.

“Cooking with Flavor.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, June 11, 2014.

“Smell and Tell: Lavender.” Relax and Rejuvenate event at The University of Michigan College of Engineering, May 20, 2014.

“Smell: The Ultimate Provocateur.” University of Michigan Interdisciplinary Course: “A Dialogue of the Senses,” February 25, 2014.

“Baking with Flavor.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, February 19, 2014.

“Reconstructing Meaning in the Face of Loss.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, November 10, 2013.

“The Aroma of Terroir.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, September 18, 2013.

“Stories of Anosmia.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, June 8, 2013.

“Eau Whisky: The Essence of Peat and Perfume.” Nerd Nite, Ann Arbor, April 17, 2013.

“Aroma Spies.” Smell and Tell Workshop Series at 826 Michigan, March 7, 2013.

“Smell and Tell: Vanilla.” Autism Play Connection at the Ann Arbor District Library, February 17, 2013.

“Smell: The Ultimate Provocateur.” University of Michigan Interdisciplinary Course: “A Dialogue of the Senses,” February 25, 2013.

“The Alchemy of Scent.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, January 12, 2013.

“Sacred Scents.” University of Michigan Art Course: “Rethinking the Power of Art,” November 14, 2012.

“Sacred Scents and Aphrodisiacs.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, October 30, 2012.

“Flavorology: A Bubblegum Smell and Tell.” Smell and Tell Workshop Series at 826 Michigan October 17, 2012

“Using Your Sense of Smell for Creative Inspiration” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, June 13, 2012.

“Smell and Tell: An Olfactory Writing Class.” Smell and Tell Workshop Series at 826 Michigan, June 6, 2012.

Notes:
A special thanks goes out to AADL librarian Erin Helmrich who didn't wrinkle her nose when I first proposed the Smell and Tell series in the winter of 2012; even after she smelled an indolic jasmine that smelled more like a horse stable than a bouquet of flowers.

Another thank you goes out to Glass Petal Smoke fans. Your enthusiasm, tweets and emails continue to inspire me.

The Glass Petal Smoke YouTube channel is not taking comments at this time, but you can reach me on Twitter if you'd like to connect on social media.

Images included in this post are: Fumée d’Ambre Gris by John Singer Sargent, a portrait of Mumtaz Mahal, and a photo of two Canadian women sporting accoutrement designed to protect their noses from the perils of snow circa 1939. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Secrets from a Trained Nose at TEDxUofM



It's been over three years since I began calling Ann Arbor, Michigan home, and over two year since I took a job as a communications specialist at The University of Michigan. I've been an evangelist for the art-science connection in perfumery since I arrived, so you can imagine how excited I was when I received an email requesting that I give a TEDxUofM talk related to the sense of smell.

TEDxUofM is run by students at The University of Michigan and is supported by faculty and staff who believe that great ideas are worth spreading. Everything you'll see and hear in "Secrets from a Trained Nose" is true. What's even more amazing is what happened four days after an audience of 1300 experienced "Secrets from a Trained Nose" at The Power Center for the Performing Arts. Two congenital anosmics were interviewed in The Michigan Daily. Those of you who are familiar with the articles I've written about anosmia know that a person is more likely to encounter someone who has lost their sense of smell versus someone who was born without a sense of smell.

I continue to get feedback and email regarding "Secrets from a Trained Nose," which took place on March 20, 2015. I look forward to receiving news on the call to action at the end of the talk. The creation of a functional and affordable smoke, carbon monoxide, natural gas detector will help those with and without a sense of smell. I hope the solution will coincide with greater anosmia awareness, as well as the addition of "anosmia" to spellcheck because being nose blind stinks.

Notes:

TEDxUofM Salon Organizers, April 2015 

















Thanks go out to all of The University of Michigan students who organized TEDxUofM in 2015. Special thanks go out to Adam Levine, who sent the email asking if I would give a TEDxUofM talk; you were a terrific and insightful speaker coach. (Adam Levine is not "the Adam Levine," but he's a rock star in his own right who happens to be on the far left in this photo.)

Anosmia Hope offers more information on smell loss and is part of The Monell Chemical Senses Center website  The number of people with anosmia is likely greater than 6.3 million, but more research is needed to arrive at a true number as anosmics don't always self report and doctors don't always recognize smell loss.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Lessons from a New York Moment in Ann Arbor









 










I had a New York moment in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It's been over three years since I arrived from New York. Developers have cannibalized half the places I miss in the city, but home is home and certain things make you miss it like hell even if the places you knew don't exist anymore. New Yorkers can't help themselves. What's trapped inside our heads from childhood defines our whole life; forever

A New York moment, now? It took me a year to realize that all of the things I thought I couldn't find anywhere else in the country were here; food, friends, quirky creatives, local coffee roasters, community, people who are driven by "why?" instead of "so what?"  So what took so long? 

Lesson One: My problem was that I thought New York City was the center of the universe. It isn't. Especially now.

The possibility of a New York moment in Ann Arbor existed the day I arrived. There are a lot of ex-New Yorkers in Ann Arbor. Some up and left because they were bored. Others had kids and thought New York City was 'no place to raise a family'. Some folks went to The University of Michigan and felt the same urge Diaspora Jews had for "the return". Baby boomers who experienced one too many trips through the revolving door marked "failing economy" got tired of the unrelenting vertigo and took off to explore entrepreneurial terrain. 


Ann Arbor has grit that's driven by synaptic impulses (it's home to The University of Michigan) and it's cheaper to live here than it is in New York. There's no shortage of great restaurants either, though you'll have to go to Ypsilanti if you want really good Chinese food. As far as supermarkets go Kroger is a food mecca and if you're in luck, the first cashier you meet will know more about science fiction than the entire cast of The Big Bang Theory (in my case a cashier recognized that "the Krell" were an advanced race from outer space in the movie Forbidden Planet and was happy to tell me so when he saw the spelling of my middle name). Buh-bye New York. I'll visit often, but when I do please know I'm not staying for good. People in Ann Arbor are characters and as the only "trained nose" in Ann Arbor, so am I.

Lesson Two: Wishing for a New York moment is equivalent to spell casting; one wish and the moment will immediately find you. 















My New York moment in Ann Arbor (or A2 as the locals call it) happened when the unstoppable troika of food, love, and loss followed me into the jam section at Babo: a Market by Sava. Babo is a gourmet food store in Ann Arbor that feels like a less neurotic Dean and DeLuca and is marked by authentic conviviality that is particular to the Midwest.

I dropped by the market on a grey winter day in February and was on a marmalade mission. Babo stocks Medlar marmalade from Spain that's impossible to find if you live stateside. Juergen Ausborn introduced me to this unusual fruit via a jammy confection sold at a Pierre Marcolini chocolate shop he managed in New York City. (The chocolatier is based in Brussels and is no longer operating in New York; the line was dropped a year after Ausborn drowned while snorkeling in Bermuda).

Pierre Marcolini offered some of the most exotic and delightful chocolates I'd ever eaten. The store was around the corner from The Clarins Fragrance Group where I worked as a marketing consultant so it was easy to give into temptation at least twice a week. The chocolatier was known for masterfully applying floral flavors in some of his chocolates. What he did with violet and tonka bean was beatific. 

I walked up to the cash register at Babo's coffee counter with flavor remembrances in tow when suddenly my eyes were drawn to colorful and oversized rainbow bars (aka seven-layer Neapolitan bars). They were childhood magnified. The decades peeled back as I looked at them; I was standing at the cookie counter at Weber's bakery in the Bronx hoping one of neatly arranged rainbow bars in the glass cookie case would find its way into my mouth. If an accompanying parent didn't buy the rainbow bars I'd deploy "cookie face" which was a glassy-eyed combination of wonder and sadness. Cookie face worked wonders on the meanest lady in a hairnet. I never left the Weber's without a few free treats. This amused my father. My mother, on the other hand, found it reprehensible even though I'd always share.

Lesson Three: When you think you've found New York you have really found yourself; no matter where you are.


















All of the cookies that Babo makes are showcased inside glass domed cake stands. The presentation is so beautiful that even an oat bar looks like a deliberate work of art. The colorful macarons are a visual respite from what can be seen at the opposite side of the counter by the window; dull snow covered sidewalks, salt parched asphalt roads, and a gray sky that lasts into forever. The cashier tells me that the macrons are delicious, but very delicate. "Once in a while I get to eat one that breaks," she says with a reserved smile. I tell her how excited I am to have finally found medlar jam and she encourages me to speak with one of the store's owners. "His name is Kris and he loves to talk about food," she says. 

The woman at the counter was right about Kris. He and I had an animated conversation about food. Kris and his sister Sava own Babo, Sava's Restaurant, and Aventura in Ann Arbor. The food business is family business and each of their enterprises is well run and beloved. There was something familiar about Lelcaj's elocution and it turned out that he and his family once lived in the Mosholu section the Bronx. My family moved to nearby Pelham Parkway after spending 20 years in the Fordham section of the Bronx. We reminisced about the neighborhood bakeries we knew, trips to Arthur Avenue, and agreed that the Bronx was and still is a very special place, which is largely due to its diverse immigrant population. 

"Whenever I visit it doesn't matter whose house I'm in. When my head hits the pillow and I hear the overhead trains I know I'm home," says Lelcaj. I began to recall an experience I had when I visited my sister in Forest Hills last year. I was instantly comforted by the sound of overhead trains on the first night I went to sleep after flying in from Detroit. Forest Hills resembles a larger version of Pelham Parkway so it's easy to feel the comfort and nostalgia of being home in Queens. I hadn't recalled this memory until Kris shared his story.

Lesson Four: If you talk about food it can bring back the dead.
                            "Our family has always been in the food business," Lelcaj says. "The store is named after my father, Mark. He was with us when we got started, but died of pancreatic cancer in 2011 before it was finished." 

I thought about my own father who died of pancreatic cancer in 2009. I told Kris I was sorry about his dad and we shared stories about our fathers' experiences before and after cancer. Kris tells me that Babo is an endearing Albanian term that loosely translates to "father". "It's funny," he says. "People who never knew my father say his name all the time. I like that. It's like he's always here." Kris's voice is mixed with humor and low-key irony.


                                                                                                                                                       

                                      




The conversation shifts to neighborhood bakeries including trips to Arthur Avenue. Kris informs me that Babo's offsite baking facility smells like heaven on earth when the all of the ovens are running at once. I imagine the smell of the Stella D'oro cookie factory from my childhood, and the perfume of vanilla, anise, cinnamon, and lemon that made my sister and I roll down the car window so we could get as much of that sweetness into our lungs as was humanly possible (we'd practically hyperventilate). These experiences led to the permanent appearance of Stella D'oro Breakfast Treats on the shelf next to the cereal in our kitchen pantry. The "S"-shaped treats were a food group in our household and each of us was known to enjoy them with a little bit of grape jelly. 

Lesson Five: New York has a cookie that really isn't really a cookie, and a really good one doesn't exist in Ann Arbor...yet.
















The texture of Stella D'oro Breakfast Treats is slightly crumbly and reminds me of a New York cookie from my childhood that is really a large handheld cake masquerading as a cookie. Black and white cookies are frosted with equal halves of vanilla and chocolate icing. Memories of eating them inspire an insatiable craving so I ask Kris if he remembers them and he does. The staff at the take-a-number bakeries of our childhood would hand tie boxes of these cake-like cookies and hand them off like presents. Black and White cookies had a tendency to disappear. 

There aren't any cake boxes or spools of striped bakery twine at Babo, but the gourmet food shop is rife with imagination and possibility. I ask Kris if he thinks Babo could make black and white cookies. He thinks about it and smiles. We exchange business cards and I make my way towards the door with four jars of medlar jam in hand. The temperature outside is bitter cold, but it doesn't bother me. Kris had a gleam in his eyes. I saw a black and white cookie in their light...

Notes:
For a great description of the Stella D'oro aromascape read Ian Frazier's article "Out of the Bronx: Private Equity and the Cookie Factory," in the February 6, 2012 edition of The New Yorker

For the record, the producer of The Big Bang Theory is Mark Cendrowski; a graduate of The University of Michigan. Word, nerd...

Kate Krader, chef and writer for Food and Wine, insisted on visiting one of the local Pelham Parkway bakeries in my neighborhood when we were just out of college. Her quest? The perfect black and white cookie. She returned to Greenwich Village with a bag of them.

I've been working for two arts organizations at The University of Michigan since February 2013. Each organization promotes interdisciplinarity that is inclusive of the arts. The Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (a2ru) is a national organization. ArtsEngine is a local one. Both are housed on North Campus at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Happiness in a Bottle: Christmas Fir Cabin Spray by Juniper Ridge

Unseasonably cold temperatures across the country have triggered polar vortex memories that most of us would prefer to forget. It's an unfortunate association, but there's a sensorial antidote for the collective PTSD affecting portions of the country experiencing December weather this November; it's Christmas Fir Cabin Spray by Juniper Ridge

The product is the sixth in a series of "cabin sprays" made by Juniper Ridge and is described as "Christmas tree in a bottle". One spritz and you can say goodbye to forest-inspired scents that have been conning nostrils for decades. Christmas Fir Cabin Spray's fresh arboreal bouquet replaces memories of store bought fauxery with the soothing aroma of fir, cedar, and pine sourced from Mt. Hood. The product smells "real" because folks at Juniper Ridge go into the forest and forage for raw materials before distilling the ingredients by hand.













The scent of the forest belongs in the air which is why Christmas Fir Cabin Spray by Juniper Ridge is rife with Proustian potential. It's not a scent you have to learn; it's a scent you know in your DNA. Whether the memories are tied to gentle walks in the forest or Christmas trees lined up for sale, this olfactory creation is a righteous must-have at $30 a bottle.

Notes:
Image titled "Douglas Fir Variations" is comprised of four Creative Commons graphics. It was designed by Michelle Krell Kydd.  The images are (clockwise): Douglas Fir and HemlocksCoast Douglas Fir Cone by David Douglas, Douglasie by Petwo, and Abies Alba by Böhringer Friedrich.

This article was serendipitously posted on the anniversary of the first volume of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time (1913). A future Smell and Tell workshop that links scent, memory and literature is in the works for 2015. December's Smell and Tell is focused on Patchouli and takes place on Wednesday, December 3, 2014, from 7:00pm to 8:45pm at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library. For more details click here.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Scented Memories: My Father's Leather Shop




When I was a child I would accompany my father to his leather shop on 236 West 27th Street in the garment district. The world changed the moment you walked into the freight elevator and were greeted with the scent of gear oil and metal. I remember the aroma of the shop which was a combination of leather, rubber cement, tailor's chalk, spools of thread, rolls of acetate lining, coffee, manila pattern paper, pencils, wooden cutting tables, rack and push hand carts, metal chairs ornamented with handmade cushions, buttered rolls and bagels, and the warm metal of zealous sewing machines stitching away.


                                                         





A flock of women from the Caribbean to South America worked there. I remember watching them change from their work clothes into street clothes and admiring how lady-like they were. The changing room was a flutter with slips, skirts, dresses, pantyhose and the staccato of Spanish conversation. The women were like butterflies. When they'd leave the shop you could smell traces of soap, hand cream and eau de cologne from Spain in the changing room. The soap was different from the one we used at home and smelled of citrus, cinnamon, and white flowers.














One of the women who worked in the shop was from Cuba and her name was Dulce. I remember how hard she worked and how beautiful she was. The sound of machines and hands working inside Brand X Fashions never leaves my memory. The video "Soul of a Shirt" captures the spirit of what I remember even though it's modern and related to shirt production (my father made coats, dresses, and suits in leather and suede).  



















The building that housed Brand X Fashions now includes the Fashion Institute of Technology The 12-story deco sandstone building is across the street from the fragrance lab on 27th Street where I studied perfumery with Virginia Bonofiglio of FITOn the first day of perfumery class I met Dulce Urquiza of Givaudan. We became fast friends and no matter how much time goes by she always reminds me of the Dulce I knew in my childhood. Both are of Cuban heritage and have an interesting blend of strength and sweetness; just like a perfect café cubano...













Notes:
The aroma of Swedish Dream Sunflower Facial Soap inspired this story; it smells exactly like the soap that sat on the porcelain sink in the women's changing room at Brand X Fashions.

The video that accompanies this post is curated by The Skyscraper Museum of NYC and can be found on their YouTube channel. My experience in the Garment District took place in the early 1970's. Though the video was shot from footage in the 1950's it affords an interesting historical perspective.  

The image of my father's business card is embellished with the wooden portion of a garment rack that was used to walk finished product to a contractor or distributor. I took a few rides in these, as a kid as did my sister. 

The picture of a vintage Singer
® sewing machine was taken by Jorge Royan and was used with permission. It was remixed with an image my cousin took of the building where my father grew up. The building is in Brzeziny, Poland.

Image of "Leather Bouquet" featuring bolts of leather skins in bright colors taken by Michelle Krell Kydd.


Dulce Urquiza is Senior Creative Fragrance Development Manager at Givaudan and a chemical engineer; she puts the flower in STEM. A future story about her journey as a woman in science is planned. It is a precious story that has never been told before.

The Annette Green Fragrance Foundation Studio at The Fashion Institute of Technology is modeled on professional facilities and is the only fragrance lab on a U.S. college campus.