Sunday, August 01, 2010

Scents Of The Mediterranean

My North Jersey backyard is as far from the Mediterranean as can be. Lilies, hydrangea and roses are bursting with colors and peeking from under tall oaks- a Canadian one and a white oak on opposite ends of the property. But the other side of the yard hosts a vegetable garden, where tomatoes, eggplants and peppers grow side by side with basil, oregano, thyme, lavender and mint. On certain summer days you can stand outside, close your eyes and let the aroma of sun-baked herbs and tomato leaves carry you far away, to places where the dry rolling hills are covered in dense shrubbery, pink and white cistus and wild oregano. From some of those hills you can see the Mediterranean Sea, and if the weather is just right, it's as blue as can be.

I'm only familiar with small parts of the Mediterranean and my impressions and memories are personal and subjectives. So many of them are intertwined with scents- of food and of places, and somehow it is forever summer there.

What smells like the Mediterranean? It depends. Are you looking for old markets and the Arab souq?  Serge Luten's Arabie will transport you to Marrakesh, Jerusalem or Acre with its spicy blend of dried fig, bay leaf and lots and lots (and lots) of cumin. Bois et Fruits is its gentler, cleaner sibling. More fruit, sweeter spices and  non of the back alley smells.

From cobblestoned streets to a cafe by the beach on the other side of the blue sea (don't you love how quick and easy it is to travel like this?)- Acquiilsssssima by Hilde Soliani has the salt air, the flowers blooming all around you and the sumptuous dessert you eat on a magical vacation, maybe in gorgeous Viareggio. Then there's Fleurs de Sel by Miller Harris, a magical pristine shore where you can smell the salt in the air and water and the mineral quality of the sun-washed rocks.

Then there are olive trees. I'm horribly allergic to their pollen, but their shape is a huge part of the Mediterranean landscape, and the taste of olive oil and the aroma of olives are in my blood. My two favorite types of cured olives are the salty raisin-like black ones and the ones that are kept green but are crushed a little before being pickled in a very bitter and spicy brine. You don't find them at the supermarket, and even the Whole Foods olives won't do. Get thee to the nearest Middle Eastern deli and ask to taste their offering. When it comes to olive in perfume, Sienne l'Hiver  by Eau d'Italie has the most realistic olive note, even if this chilly scent takes us away from the forever summer fantasy.

But to me the most Mediterranean of all are several Diptyque perfumes: The sadly discontinued Eau d'Elide and L'Eau Trois, the green Virgilio and the popular Philosyko. Virgilio is herbal and has an almost tender quality of the softest, freshest basil leaves. It's the perfect backdrop scent for an al fresco dinner that opens or ends with the sweetest, juiciest watermelon paired with feta cheese and garnished with thin shavings of a green jalapeño pepper. Seriously, try it.

Eau d'Elide and L'Eau Trois are really odd ones. It doesn't surprise me they weren't big sellers and I admit it took me a long time to learn to love Elide, but I'm glad I came around just in time to stock up on it. Bitter orange, lavender and sweet aromatic shrubs smell like an overgrown Mediterranean garden. The dry-down is sun-drenched skin after a day spent outside. L'Eau Trois is the somber side of shrubbery. Dusty dry earth, old branches baked in the sun and thick, chewy myrrh.

My favorite fig scent changes from day to day, depending on weather, mood and whim. While my most cherished one might be Christopher Brosius' Revelation, it is more about the tree itself than about the place where it grows. Diptyque's Philosyko is the Mediterranean. Shady groves, ancient trees, green and wood and just a hint of the fruit. I can wear it while sitting in my North American backyard just outside of NYC and all of a sudden the colors of trees and sky shift just a little and I almost see fig trees...

Please visit the following participants in this blogging project, organized by Ines, the lovely redhead, and Elena:

Perfume Shrine

All I Am A Redhead

Bonkers about Perfume

I Smell Therefore I am

Notes from the Ledge


Perfume Journal

Under the Cupola

Hortus Conclusus

A Rose Beyond the Thames

Smelly Blog

Katie Puckrik Smells

Perfume in Progress

Roxana Illuminated Perfume

Scent Hive

Waft by Carol

Title image by Ines Stefanović
Art :
Elisabeth Estivalet- La Mediterranee
Dmitri Danish- Summer Heat and Grecian Harbor
Leonard Wren- Rue de St. Tropez
Steven Quartly- Timeless In Liguria


  1. Gaia, you and me love the same olives... Good green ones are impossible to find. The best black ones in Vancouver are at Bosa Foods in the east side. I just got an idea: I shall go to Israel during the Mesik to harvest my mom's trees, prepare my own green cracked olives and than ship them to Vancouver. By the time the three months of surface shipping are up, they will be ripe and ready.

    Philosykos is the best fig fragrance I've ever experienced, though I also like Premiere Figuer and Fig Tea. Philosykus is the fig tree, fruit and the stingy milk that pours out of it when you pick the green ripe fruit.

    Really enjoyed reading your fragrant memories. Thank you!

  2. Oh, and while I love watermelon with feta, I'm yet to try it with shaved jalapeno. Who gave you this idea? It sounds brilliant.
    P.s. Do you know that dark chocolate with jalapeno tastes like green figs? You should try it!

  3. I agree for me my first thought was 'Philosykos' but I'm partial as it's one of my favourites... I love your selection of art work for the post

  4. Both you and Katie Puckrick mention the realistic olive note in Sienne L'Hiver, so now I'm dying to try it!

    Beautiful writing, Gaia, as always.

  5. Beautiful post! I need to try more of those Diptyques. Philosykos is great, but sounds like I've missed some others I would love.

  6. I love those shriveled "raisin" type olives. Well, I have never met an olive I didn't love so maybe it's not that big a deal ;-/

    Watermelon, feta and jalapeno is on my grocery list now. Won't be hard to find jalapenos here in SF.

    I was thinking something perhaps similar...that there are places with similar climes and vegetation making them smell and/or seem fairly similar even though the two countries in question might be across the planet. New Mexico reminds me a lot of Lebanon. And my aunt from Korea said that many parts of Virginia remind her strongly of Korea... just thinking out loud... New Jersey is so full of growth and vegetation (it IS the Garden State no less, most who haven't lived there think it's a big parking lot or highway which couldn't be further from the truth.)

  7. Great choices, Gaia! Your phrase "the somber side of shrubbery" cracked me up, for some reason. I imagine it as the title of a weighty tome with a moody author shot of the shrubbery on the back.

    Ayala, you're the Mediterranean version of Martha Stewart: "pick your own olives, then prepare tapinade, oil, body lotion and ice cream." Yum! Sounds good.

    Abigail, Roxanna at Illuminated Perfume discussed in her post the shared eco-system thing you mentioned. Apparently the Med clime is the "chaparral biome".


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