The Bahá'í Gardens in Akko

This spring I visited the Baha'i gardens in Akko (aka Acre). At the gate of the gardens, there's a beautiful marble fountain with red and white flowers planted around it. It is not only beautiful, but serves a purpose: cleansing one's mind in preparation for meditative, slow-paced walk on the garden's coarse gravel trails, and prayer inside the fragrant holy temple. You see, bathing is not merely an act of rinsing off dirt, but also bring on the clean, through the pure water that seeps through your pores; and the sound of water alone has the power to clear the mind's worries and establish a sense of peaceful calm.

The Bahá’í Gardens at Bahjí in Akko was built around the historic mansion where Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, resided during the final years of his life (he spent most of his life imprisoned by the Ottoman empire - first in prison and then in a house-arrest in this Turkish mansion near Akko - where he wrote the Kitáb-i-Aqdas - the central book of the Baha'i faith); and the shrine around his tomb. And quoting from their website: "The approach to the circular garden is a long, straight path framed with cypress trees and informal plantings. As you walk, the silence seems to grow in intensity. Entering the heart of the site is like arriving in a world of peace and serenity, a wall-less sanctuary that is protected without being enclosed. Here the formal, precise gardening flows around historic buildings and natural elements that include a centuries-old sycamore fig tree and the remains of an ancient olive grove".

The style of a Baha'i garden reminds me of the Persian miniatures book I would look at for hours at my grandmother's home. Everything is very manicured and precise. Each bed is tended daily to remove old and dying flowers - which are hand collected or even vacuumed by the gardeners. Flowers are cut at their peak before they come into seed to avoid any chaos in this orderly garden. The result is a vast space with defined areas for flowers, greenery, white gravel, black pebbles... Everything is very orderly and symmetric, like the artistry of a Persian carpet.

At the innermost part of the garden, there is the temple where the prophet-founder Bahá'u'lláh is buried. After removing one's shoes, one can enter this sacred space. Complete and total silence is demanded at this holy place, and touching of any of the objects is prohibited. In this total silence, you surrender entirely to the light, sights, sounds and scent of the place. It is sprinkled with copious amounts of rosewater, and together with the skylight and hanging greenery that grows towards the naturally-lit ceiling, the soft Persian rugs under one's feet, there is a sense of harmony, peace and serenity in this place. Yet, there is also a certain heaviness that is hard to quite pinpoint or explain, but it is felt - perhaps because the Baha'i faced prosecution at its beginnings in both Persia and the Ottoman Empire.

Roses seem to have a symbolic place in the Baha'i faith and were favoured by the Bahá'u'lláh, and surrounded his roses picked in the gardens:
Every day," Nabíl has related, "ere the hour of dawn, the gardeners would pick the roses which lined the four avenues of the garden, and would pile them in the center of the floor of His blessed tent. So great would be the heap that when His companions gathered to drink their morning tea in His presence, they would be unable to see each other across it. All these roses Bahá'u'lláh would, with His own hands, entrust to those whom He dismissed from His presence every morning to be delivered, on His behalf, to His Arab and Persian friends in the city." 

 I can't know for certain their significance, but in other traditions, roses symbolize harmony, love, peace - the core values of the Baha'i faith, which tried to create a unity of faith across the globe. Although a different faith - the Sufis (mystics of Islam) practiced meditation in rose gardens, which are the most important theme in Persian art – Persian miniatures as well as carpet designs depict such rose gardens. And not unlike the Sufi poets - they have noticed the relationship between the Rose and the Nightingale:

"One night," he continues, "the ninth night of the waxing moon, I happened to be one of those who watched beside His blessed tent. As the hour of midnight approached, I saw Him issue from His tent, pass by the places where some of His companions were sleeping, and begin to pace up and down the moonlit, flower-bordered avenues of the garden. So loud was the singing of the nightingales on every side that only those who were near Him could hear distinctly His voice. He continued to walk until, pausing in the midst of one of these avenues, He observed: 'Consider these nightingales. So great is their love for these roses, that sleepless from dusk till dawn, they warble their melodies and commune with burning passion with the object of their adoration. How then can those who claim to be afire with the rose-like beauty of the Beloved choose to sleep?'

Visiting the gardens I learned a few things - not just about the Baha'i religion history and heritage; but also about how important it is to dedicate a space for meditation, prayer and spirituality. Making a space for that in your physical world makes it also easier to give it space in our packed and fast-paced timetables. 

And tying it back to spring cleaning (my seasonal obsession): As daunting as clearing and organizing one's personal space may seem, it is also truly therapeutic and a spiritual process in which you rid your home of negative and stagnant energy, and make room for positive forces to flow. Beyond cleaning, one’s home should be an oasis from the outside stresses of the world. This is why in so many Eastern cultures there is a custom of removing one's shoes before entering a place of worship, or even someone's home. In the Middle East, washing the feet was an important part of hospitality.

In this day and age of fast-paced living, creating a barrier between work and rest, secular and holy is always a challenge. Using incense and candles to scent the home also creates a warm and inviting atmosphere, and ultimately forces us to pay more attention to our breath, subconsciously coaxing mindfulness into our hectic schedule, and will make us feel more connected to our surrounding. If you work from home, using a special scent at the end of the day to mark the beginning of your "off" time might also be beneficial. Additionally, burning a natural wax candle (made of bees or soy wax) candle helps create negative ions in the air, contributing to a sense of well-being and clarity of mind.

Sprinkling of water - especially fragrant ones - can also be a cleansing experience, both spiritually and physically. Regardless of one's religion, or lack of it thereof - there is power to such rituals of cleansing that goes beyond what meets the eye. The intention of the action has a lot more impact than the pure science of these action (using anti-bacterial agents; or using plants - in incense or water - that symbolize those values to you: Are you cleaning your home to make it bacteria-free? Or are you doing it to make space for positivity and renewal?

By the way, there is an important Baha'i holiday coming soon: the Festival of Ridván, beginning April 21st, this 12-days-long festival celebrates the public declaration of Bahá'u'lláh's mission. 

Father’s Day in the VanDusen Gardens

I noticed that while Mother’s Day was pretty much all over the place in blogs (about perfumes or otherwise), Fatehr’s Day is not as popular a topic… I happen to be spending most of father’s day, surprisingly, with my own father. Which is quite unusual, as he lives all the way in Montreal. Along with my boyfriend, he was patiently dragged along the beautiful VanDusen Gardens, while I was admiring the flowers and even taking some elaborate botanical close-ups for my upcoming new website (which will be featuring images of the individual note for each perfume).

Well, just like mother-child relationship, the relationships between children and their fathers have never been too simple. On the other side, the bond between father and child is not as obvious as the nurturing physical/emotional bond between mother and child. It requires a lot more investment to compensate for those lost 9 months…

Beginning with the metaphoric exile from the Garden of Eden, and followed by modern day stories such as Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant and Nagib Mahfouz’s The Children of Gebelaawi the archetypal Father have been more severe, intellectual, judgmental and emotionally distant than the archetypal Mother, which is the merciful and nurturing - at times to the point of sacrificial.

So, to all fathers who actually have the guts and the courage to put the time and tremendous emotional investment to bridge the 9-months gap and reach out to their children once they are born - despite busy careers, wars, vengeful mothers and spouses, emotional blocks and whatever excuses and unfortunate life circumstances that has often left children fatherless – I dedicate this little virtual stroll along the garden paths, and hope we could all return to the Garden of Eden at least for a few moments in each and every day in our life.

Amongst my favourites, this garden includes a maze, a Mediterranean garden, an herb garden, peony garden, Zen meditation garden, a little bamboo forest, and a soul-refreshing abundance of bodies of water such as streams, lakes, ponds, water fountains and a waterfall.

The VanDusen Gardens are tremendously beautiful, and like most well-designed (and maintained) gardens, they provide their visitors with an interesting insights into one’s life, besides the obvious pleasure of the beautiful sites, fresh air and fragrant plants. Gardens encompass elements such as water, flow, structure and drama that make one connect to their very own inner self as well as ancient archetypes. The most repeated theme in gardens is, I believe, an attempt to create a Paradise on Earth. This is the secret behind Bahai gardens, but reaching tranquility as in the Zen gardens is, at the core, the same concept.

I will be re-visiting VanDusen Gardens again this summer, this time on my own, not only to take more photos and catch up with all the trails and gardens I missed – but also for further meditation on the concept of Paradise on Earth, which is something I believe can be condensed into a bottle and be worn as a perfume.

Saturday at the Rhododendron Garden

A couple of weeks ago, I was welcomed every morning by the refreshing and intoxicating lily-like scents of the yellow rhododendrons in my back garden and every evening reminded me that it’s time to go visit the rhododendron garden in Stanley Park. If you happen to be visiting in Vancouver at this time of the year, don’t miss a stroll along the paths of this extraordinarily beautiful and romantic garden. And if you live in Vancouver you can enjoy it year around – it is a lovely stroll even when the rhododendrons are not in full bloom as they are now…

Although there are a number of rhododendrons native to Europe and North America, for the most part – we owe the beauty and variety of rhododendrons to Asia – where there is are numerous species growing wild on the Himalaya, in Tibet, China, Japan and in the Sikkim region in India (to name just a few instances). If you like, you can read more on the history of rhododendrons.

In Greek rhododendron means “Rose Tree”. And like roses, there is an incredible amount of hybrids. The diversity of fragrance found amongst rhododendron flowers is very much like that of lilies. Therefore, I will not hide my puzzlement at why does rhododendron not have a more respected place in perfumery. Besides a few perfumes in my own line (Fetish and Rebellius which both use wild rhododendron from Nepal), I have only seen it listed as a note in Estee Lauder’s Intuition. For some reason, despite the abundance of flowers and the fact that the leaves and stems themselves possess a sweet, green-balsamic and slightly floral aroma – it is hard to procure rhododendron oil or absolute. Perhaps the toxicity of some of the varieties (the leaves, nectar and pollen of some of the species are toxic, and it is said that the honey from rhododendron or azalea flowers can make people ill). Maybe I need to join one of those secret rhododendron cults to find the answer…

The following photos were all taken last Saturday, May 13th 2006. I decided to include both varieties that had a significant odour and those that were a mare visual delight… Rhododendrons present quite a variety of colours, sizes, scents and also the shapes of the flowers vary tremendously. I noticed that the ones that had a lily shape were the most fragrant, and for the most part smelled like lilies.

Beyond Paradise

My favourites were the one I have titled “Beyond Paradise” as it smells, in my opinion, the way Estee Lauder’s perfume of that name would dream of smelling. I think you can guess which one I like better. The colours are so tropical in this one, and so is the scent – a shameless tropical floral that asks to be worn on the head or make into a lay. It’s heady, fresh, fruity… Sounds like a familiar ad copy of the florals from recent years? They only wish they would live up to this rhododendron’s standards!
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