Cocaigne: Upcoming New Perfume

Cocaigne: Upcoming New Perfume

As the October acenstral festivities are approaching, is time to announce my upcoming new perfume, which has been in the works for close to two years. It is a tribute to my late grandmother (who was never late!). She was hospitalized a week millions of elderly and sick people world-wide, who were hospitalized and have died during this unfortunate times of confusion, loss of common sense, reason and humanity, she has died alone.

During those fives weeks we were not allowed to visit her, and were frankly too scared to do anything about her. The hospital allowed only one family member to accompany a patient to the hospital, and in her case, because she insisted to live in her apartment in Tel Aviv till her last days, that person was her live-in caregiver, a dedicated, compassionate and wonderful woman from the Philippines who she grew very close to in her last six years of life. While we knew she was in good hands, during this time of confusion, even she was too scared to stay at the hospital for too long, from fear of contracting COVID-19 from somebody. These were dark days of fear and isolation. Even me and my daughter, who are now living next door to my mother and three brothers, were completely isolated. We knew very little about Coronavirus back then, and I was terrified that I may be a carrier of that virus (even though my contact with the public is very minimal, as my work is mostly done in isolation to begin with, running an online business and a perfume studio that only hosts in-person events, courses and workshops only a few times a year). So I was neither able to take my daughter with me to visit Grandma, nor leave her with my mom, who is considered at a very hight risk for lung diseases not just because of her age, but because of other multiple chronic health issues. 

I've spent those six weeks of being torn away from Grandma intermittently ridden with worry, guilt, sorrow and an urge to disobey all rules and just go visit; and every time I would run this idea by my family members, was talked out of it as being an impossible option, based on inside information from friends who worked in hospitals and knew the mad visitation policies that suddenly have taken place. This would just drive me so mad with this internal conflict, that I just couldn't bear the thought anymore, and switched gear into perfect oblivion, in which I would just "live in the moment" and try to make the best of the horribly restrictive times. Luckily for us, it was spring, the weather was beautiful, and we live int eh countryside - so even though we couldn't really see people, at least we weren't physically confined to the four walls of our home. I try to emulate an air of calm and happiness to my daughter, who is autistic, and the whole situation that happened overnight without any warning, was very unsettling for her and induced a lot of anxiety (we got the notice that her day program would shut down, contrary to previous notices, at 11pm on Saturday night, when she already had her backpack by the door ready for the next day - FYI workweeks in Israel begin on Sundays). 

After five weeks of hospitalization, grandma was transferred to a special care facilities for the elderly, rather than return to her apartment Tel Aviv, as she was too sick to be at home, requiring 24/7 oxygen and additional medical care. We were kinda in denial that she's going to die very soon. I was truly hoping that she will get over it and return home. We did our very best to get her into a centre that is relatively close to us, and this was still an hour drive, and we were not allowed to visit. But unlike the hospital's nurses, who made zero effort to update family about her condition, or let us talk to her on the phone (she was bed-ridden), the caretakers in the new facility made sure we speak to her on a webcam at least once a day, and updated us in detail about her. She arrived there on a Friday, and by Saturday night they've informed us we're getting a special authorization to visit her once (anyone from the family, but just this one time), provided that we will be wearing face-masks and protective gloves, and will remain at the gate, while she will remain two meters away from it. 

It took the family other day to decide who is coming, and it turned out to be just me and my eldest brother. That day my daughter also returned to her program, so I drove her there, and continued from there to the village Daburya, on the foothills of Mount Tabor. The night before I baked grandma's favourite cake - a fluffy cheesecake with a topped with vanilla whipped cream. 

On the way there, my brother asked me which route I'm taking, and if I'm going to turn right onto Mount Tabor's church site. I said I don't know, I'm just following the GPS steps. A couple of kilometres later, I turned right and immediately was stopped by a police officer. They wouldn't let us go into the village, making silly excuses that it is infected with COVID-19, and that we shouldn't be driving at all (when in fact that day was the first day that everyone were allowed to go back to work again). It didn't matter that we told them that grandma is dying and we were given a special permission by the care facilities to visit her this one time to say goodbye. We pleaded and followed their instructions, supposedly allowing us to go in if we give them our IDs as a reassurance, and call the care home to confirm that we are allowed to visit. After all these efforts, they still said "NO". We turned around, furious, frustrated and genuinely holding back our anger as to not lash out at them (only because we didn't want to get in trouble); but refused to give up. I remember the alternate route my brother was mentioning, and we took that turn, passed the Mt. Tabor church, and went through a winding way to enter Daburya from another entrance. We were not stopped by anyone and were able to deliver the cheesecake to grandma. 

Granda was wheeled to the care home's courtyard, stopped two meters short of the gate, and her caretaker kept trying to get her face bask back on, which slipped back over her eyes, and she had no clue what was going on. Why would a lady who requires 24/7 oxygen, and who has just passed a COVID-19 test (negative of course), both when being discharged from the hospital, and upon arrival at the facility, would be forced such a mask in the open air is beyond me. So we were not able to see too much of her face at first. But seeing her discomfort, we were able to convince her caretaker to take it off (while we remained masked). This is when it occurred to us that both her hearing aids and eyeglasses, as well as false teeth were all left at home! She hasn't had them at the hospital for all these five weeks of hospitalization, and arrived at the facilities completely helpless and unable to communicate, see, hear or eat. Good things the cheesecake is so soft nobody even needs teeth to eat it. 

Savta was not communicative, and I don't even known if she could see to hear us. But I sang her a few of her favourite German Lieder that she taught me, while crying yet trying to remain calm. We spent only ten, maybe fifteen minutes there all in all, because that's all we were allowed. I would never be able to hug Savta again, or eve hold her hand. 

Savta didn't get to eat her cake till a day or two later. And that night, she passed away. We're told she passed away peacefully in her sleep, and in all truth and honesty, I want to believe it to be so; but I saw the torture and fear of death on her face, and the horror of it. I saw her fight death before, walking between the worlds, and trying to untie and make amends and sew together all the unfinished pieces of her life. And get back to life after that. I really wished she would be able to get out of this before the lockdown was over, and get back to her home as she wished, and die there and perhaps even be able to hold her hand one last time. Alas, this was not to be. I made peace with that at that time, telling myself that she wished to die alone, not being a burden on anyone. Not being helpless around those who always leaned on her and needed her strong. It almost seemed as if she needed the quiet of the lockdown and its restrictions, to be allowed to leave this world and cross into the next. 

On the way back from Mount Tabor my bother and I stopped for a little picnic on a cliff facing the Sea of Galilee. We met a new (to use) aromatic medicinal plant there, Mountain Tea, which in Hebrew is called Barzilon, alluding to the word "Iron", and which I hoped will give me strength despite Savta's hreatbreaking condition. I tried to transplant a few but they died too. It was the last road trip I took with any of my brothers, and the last time we felt close as a family. At the end of the Shiva, it felt like the whole family has been torn apart, unable to reconcile, and each and everyone's grief process was different and clashing and nobody was ever able to be sensitive to the other person's needs or sorrows. Especially not those who remained in denial. Only 18 people were allowed to her funeral, and it was heartbreaking and traumatic to pay her last respects in such an disrespectful way. Unable to see and be seen with our grief. Unable to hug people during the Shiva due to COVID-19 fear. Two days after the Shiva the lockdown was cancelled completely and left me bitter, with the feeling of losing a relative in the holocaust just a day or two before liberation. 

This post was not even meant to be about how I lost grandma, but about the perfume I made as a tribute to her living presence and enduring spirit, and comforting home. But as I began writing it, I realized I wanted to share some of it, and as it took me months and months to unpack the trauma of her departure, and be able to sleep again without seeing a grotesque funeral of masked people, and feeling constantly disembodiment and disassociation, not to mention loneliness and suicidal thoughts from the horrid condition that our family has arrived at with its roots, pillar and foundation shattered and fragmented this way. It is a very vulnerable part of me, and I would only share it in hopes that it helps any of my readers who experienced a similar loss during this insane and cruel era. Please do know that you're not alone in this, and this is not right that our funeral and grieving rights were robbed of us. And please don't be ashamed or embarrassed to discuss it and demand justice and healing for your bereavement, and to make amends with your Dead in whatever way shape or form. 

My personal was to visit grandma's house as much as I could, and carefully go through her belonging and correspondence, and sort them and pack them lovingly. Both my daughter and I have suffered much from this loss, both mentally and physically (she was diagnosed with an IBD only recently, after struggling and battling with it over a year and a half, and is only now beginning to heal).

The other part of my healing process included finishing this perfume I began working on one of the last visit I had with her, while she was still alive. So I would like to share some of that process with you, and am planning to launch the perfume on her birthday, December 26th, with a pre-launch October 31st, for Noche de almas perdida and Dia de Los Muertos. This perfume is both nostalgic and ceremonial, and includes some elements of raw materials that my grandmother loved or that I associate with her. But it's not a replica of her scent (that would be impossible to create!), nor the smell of her house. But to create the feeling of it. The scent itself is something new altogether. Which I would classify as both Ambery/Incense and Floral-Aldehydic. 

Grandma's home always smelled like a warm hug. Her hands, wide and reassuring with deepening veins and stained by time, are what gave me strength for as long as I can remember myself.

Landing in her pad was always a comforting and stable place to be, no matter how far and wide I've travelled from. She would greet me with a smile and a table spread at any weird hour, the most generous hospitality that it always felt like a true homecoming to me. And I could always count on a perfectly made bed with crisp, fresh linens. And a good night blessing for golden dreams, sealed with a kiss.

On one of my last visits to my grandmother's home, she gifted me with "The Joy of Cooking". In it I found a recurring word I could not understand, Cocaigne, and when looking it up I learned it is the Land of Plenty, a place for gluttons par excellence. I immediately thought it was the perfect name for a perfume tribute to my grandma. Sadly, she did not live to smell it in it's completion, and it became a comfort to me during the  grief process, in which I have not only lost my grandmother, but also my spiritual home and place of safety, and the pillar of strength, confidence and support she has always been for me.

Notes: Ginger, Cinnamon, Cape Chamomile, Petitgrain Absolute, Jasmine, Hawaiian Sandalwood, Atlas Cedar, Sweetgrass, Bushman's Candle, Palo Santo, Vanilla, Araucaria


New: Bone Flower (Omixochitl) Creme Parfum

New: Bone Flower (Omixochitl) Creme Parfum

There are some thees that are so elusive and intriguing that a perfumer can go back to them time and again, and never get bored. Tuberose is such theme, which I've explored times and again, first in White Potion (softness and creamy powdery aspects), Schizm (heady, earthy and mossy facets), and Treazon (intense, narcotic, and controversial). 

There are many qualities of tuberose, and I most often work with what I have on hand a paste-like absolute that has a softness, and an almost green-violetty tonality. Occasionally, I come across an exceptional distillation that inspires a different approach. And this was what inspired me to create Bone Flower solid perfume. I've used tuberose concrete, a material I've never come across before, and which brings the best of all worlds, perhaps because it also contains the very rich-smelling floral wax. It showcases tuberose's green, dewy, cut-flower aspects, its creaminess as well as the heady and intoxicating richness of the intensifying flower as the day progresses. 

Guided by the philosophy that what grows together goes together, an especially creamy and intense batch of tuberose  was paired with other botanicals indigenous to Mexico and Central America - the region of where tuberose originates: instead of a neutral scented base oil, I have used an in-home infusion of copal oro resin, and to round off the tuberose I've also added palo santo and vanilla absolute. This potentially cloying bouquet is balanced by the freshness piñon pine, and a bitter-herbaceous white sage. 

Omixochitl, the Aztec name for tuberose (Agava amica), means "Bone Flower", alluding to its white colour and nocturnal behaviour, and use in funeral rites. And this is how I decided to name this perfume. Each rectangular tin contains approximately 10 grams of long lasting and concentrated tuberose solid perfume.

Enjoy this fall along with Ancestral Feast copal incense cones or sticks. 

Ancestral Feast Incense

Ancestral Feast Incense

Ancestral Feast Incense was created originally as a Five-Copals blend. The intent behind it was to have a special incense to burn to honour our ancestors. I have first used it in summer of 2019, when my grandma was struggling with death, and I was sure I am visiting her for the last time before she enters the gate to the other side. If you've ever been near a dying person, you may not be surprised to hear that she was communing with all her beloved that passed before her - her mother, father, and grandmother, and also her late husband (my grandfather) and her soul-mate that she was able to happily spend her later years with. I burnt this incense then to soothe her soul, and also burnt this on her funeral and continue to do this whenever I want to honour my ancestors, a practice I started a few years ago, and which I fell very important especially now after her passing.

Why copal you may ask? The word comes from copalii in the Nauhatl language (an Uto-Atzecan tongue), which simply means incense!

The smoke of copal of Central and South America (which comes from several different species, which I will get into in a bit) was considered the blood of the trees and food for the Gods, and also used in rituals and ceremonies to feed the soul of the deceased, and also used as a medicine to this day during sweatlodge ceremonies, where it is placed on the hot rocks within the lodge.

In a ceremonial well in Chichén Itzá, Copal pieces painted turquoise, and sometimes embedded with jade - supposedly a reference for the jade pieces that were placed in the mouths of the dead, to nourish them on their journey to the underworld (as jade was a symbol for the maise that was the most staple food in this part of the world). Additionally, among archeological findings in Lake Chapala and Nevado de Toluca were pieces of copal resin that were shaped into cobs of corn, or wrapped in corn husks like tamales, a custom that remained intact even after the Spanish conquest.  

So what is copal, then, and which plants does it come from? Botanically speaking, many resins other than frankincense that are light in colour, often are named copal. It comes from a variety of genus, primarily Bursera, and also Pinus and Agathis. In North America, we find Mayan Copal from Pinus contorta, that grows in the USA and produces a brittle, light brown and beige resin; while White Copal (Bursera jorullense), from Mexico, which is more of a clear, light yellow and sticky resin. Bursera is related to Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens), as well as to Black, White and Gold Copal from the Philippines are all produced from the same species - Agathis Dammara. From Africa there is Angola Copal (Copaifera demusii), and Zanzibar Copal or Amber Tree (Hymenaea verrucosa), which was used for wood and picture varnish. Most of the African copal is subfossil, meaning it is found a few meters deep in the earth below the trees it originates from. Subfossil copals also come from various other species  found all over the world: New Zealand (Agathis australis), Japan, Madagascar and in South America in the Dominican Republic and Columbia. 

This new batch of incense is a little different (with sixth kind of copal added: Angola Copal), thus making it an incense blend that has resins from 4 continents: North and South America, Asia and Africa. The base is also more complex and balanced with this blend, and I'm very happy with it.

I was able to make a larger batch than my original one, and roll some into cones, and others make into incense sticks. This is the first time I'm selling my incense sticks online, after much practice and although they are far from being perfect in shape - they are handmade, authentic and beautiful. I truly hope they will bring you the healing and connection that you are seeking with your own spirit and that of your ancestors.

To burn incense cones: Place the cone on a heat-proof dish or on a surface that you won't mind scorching (for example: a coin placed on top of a ceramic plate or tile; a ceramic bowl filled with sand, etc.), and away from any flammable materials, light the tip and blow off the flame. Allow to burn off completely.

To burn the incense sticks: Place the lit stick (light the tip and then blow out the flame) on a bowl full of ash (preferably rice ash). This will enable the stick to burn without any bits left off. If you have a designated incense dish with a hole you may also use that. It will leave a tiny bit of incense unused though.

Four Copals Incense

Four Copals Incense Cones Drying
I'm getting deeper into the world of incense again, which is like coming a full circle (for those who don't know me, my perfume path began with incense). I enjoy the earthiness of this occupation, taking into consideration other aspects that are not relevant to the ethereal perfume making, such as shape, colour, texture of all the materials and how they need to be processed by hand. And also I'm a bit of a self-confessed incense addict when it comes to burning good incense. It's a great way to start the day with and clear all the cooking smells after breakfast. It helps me to concentrate when I want to practice Pilates or meditation. And it changes the atmosphere in the room within a few moments, sometimes also making people who are terribly chatty and obnoxious swoon and start to really listen to what's around them. This is especially pertinent to large groups that sometimes visit my studio.

It's much trickier than making perfume, so I am progressing very slowly. And find it a challenge on all fronts - first of all there is the challenge of designing the fragrance to smell good in all stages, including after the burn (aiming for that wonderful afterglow you find in a room long after an incense has been lit in). This is affected by many other factors besides the actual materials, including the shape of the incense. And this is where I'm still struggling majorly.
Four Copals Incense Making (Dough stage)
I've been trying to form incense sticks and almost every time I make a batch specifically for that shape it ends up impossible to make them properly (these fuzzy sticks in the pic below are not what I'm after!).
So again, I resorted to making cones. These are lovely looking albeit labour intensive to shape by hand. What I like about them is that they stand on their own and don't scatter ashes all over the place. They can be placed on any heat-proof surface and will hold their shape after combustion. What I like less about them is how fast they burn and how much smoke they make. Because their circumference of ember keeps growing, they only intensify in smoke as they progress down the cone.
Four Copals Incense Testing
The result of these Four Copals incense cones is almost as perfect as I wished them to be. Their base is a combination of sandalwood and trailing arborvitae, the latter was added as a last resort because the mixture was far too soft and moist. I wish I added something more neutral - I have a feeling this creates extra smoke. But I was worried about making it sandalwood-dominant. It has a pinch of Palo Santo, and other than the sandalwood, it is very heavy on the copal: four types were used and ground by hand in a marble mortar and pestle: Mayan Copal, Gold Copal, Black Copal and White Copal. They are now available for purchase (very small amount was made, but I will happily make more if you like!).

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