Yurt Life

We are moving into my mom's charming little yurt today!

While waiting for our permanent home to be renovated (which, as it turns out, takes even longer than building a new home) - we've been living semi-nomadic life for close to four months now, about three of them in a yurt.

Life in the yurt is different. There is no way around it (pun intended). For one thing, it provides a round space, that encompasses most of life's functions in one area: cooking, eating, reading, puzzling, snuggling, cat-feeding (an extra duty we've picked up on the way to freedom - not unlike an unwanted pregnancy that you just can't get herself to terminate), office work (whenever my MacBook Air has enough power to work for me - not to mention its battered battery now needs replacement, which turns out to be a HUGE ordeal in the land of milk and honey), Pilates practice, and even occasional entertaining (when it rains even my dear family avoids it like the plague). It's not truly all in one space, because it actually has an annex to the north, with the washroom (including a shower and a compost toilet - a killer combination for dirt and cleanliness), as well as a sleeping den which has beautiful greenery all around it, as it is built from old wooden windows.

That beauty comes with the price of this space being as cold as the outdoors in the winter. In the summer this room is actually a lifesaver, because the yurt collects way too much heat, although it is much better insulated than the sleeping den - even when its skylight is open. We don't have an oven, but were able to pull together delicious and nourishing meals from the two-flamed gas stove, and have even prepared some raw treats for our daily tea parties. To be perfectly frank - mostly, we've been lazy and buying baklava and cookies whenever we are in the vicinity of a bakery - so I am now in the know of where to get good baked goods. I'm sure this knowledge will come in handy in the not so far future, even after we're back to our productive baking life. When it comes to baking, it's always good to have a good back-up plan.

Of course, that did not stop us from being experimental in the kitchen, trying new ingredients such as nigella seed spread and authentic freekeh, which is an amazing way of preparing green wheatberries by burning them off the wheat chaff. The result is a smoky, nutty grain that is delicious and easy to cook (and digest) and really gives unmistakable character to dishes (the one I bought in Canada was actually stale wheat dyed green). More on that in another post!

To sum it up - living in a yurt is "an experience". Just like camping is an experience. In camping terms this is a five star facility. I'm sure with its running water and gas-operated refrigerator it is also considered a luxury in comparison to straw huts in Africa or yurts in the Mongolian steppes. You get the picture. It's an experience. And we're three months into it and can't wait to experience something else.

To lift the edge off the nervous anticipation for proper housing, I've decided to compile a little list of fragrances (both mundane and wearable) that will let you into this experience, even if just a little... This compilation is a random array of fragrance fit for yurt life, even though I imagine most people who choose to live in this humble abode would rather dab some animal fat and cooked cabbage juice behind their ear than any designer's fragrance. Nevertheless, I find the task amusing, and I hope it will make for a fun read.

We are moving into my mom's charming little yurt today! Here is a view of the inside.

I also hope that my mom does not get hurt because apparently in our parts of the world, patience ("Savlanut") is considered a virtue (which very few uphold), and also belongs grammatical to the same root as the word suffering ("Sevel"). And in this part of the world, stating the facts is considered complaining... I'm sure those who choose to live in a yurt or even just stay in it for a short amount of time will thoroughly enjoy it - it is cute, rustic, pretty, calm and completely in tune with nature. You get to experience all the elements - fire (sun), air (wind), water (we have running water, and thankfully also very little of water leakage despite its very temporary feel); and last but not least - you can't get any closer to earth than this. It is a very, very earthy dwelling and you really feel Mother earth's belly as you tickle it with your slippers walking to and fro. Last but not least: nothing compares to coming out of the yurt at night and seeing the clear black skies dotted with bright stars.

Muscs Kublai Khan - for the obvious body odour effect - musk-enhanced unwashed hair and sweaty armpits with hints of rose and aldehydes.

Kiehl's Fig Leaf & Sage - milky herbacous weirdness. It's unusual yet very easy to wear and has a freshness without being boring. It also goes well with the cucumber and parsley scented products we currently have in the house - hand wash, shampoo and conditioner. Something green and clear-smelling yet non pretentious.

Aromatics Elixir - an earthy, big sage scent that is sophisticated yet at the same time rustic enough to wear in the wilderness. Especially grateful for it on cold wintry days.

Arabie - the spice market, sweat and dusty cobblestones - and all the spices I have in storage (and don't have in my kitchen) kvetched into one bottle. Awesome.

Coco Noir - the opposite of yurt life: polished, elegant, artificial and urban. Jasmine, berries and plums, rose, patchouli, musk and vetiver with a a dusting of cocoa.

Poivre Samarkand - because I heard that there are also yurts in Samarkand (Uzbekistan). Can't find any perfume inspired by Mongolia (which is where the yurts supposedly originate). Besides, it's a perfect sprinkle of heat on those chilly nights when the shower runs only boiling water or ice cold ones, and when you step out of the shower it's the same temperatures as outside (not as extreme as in Canada, but 5-11c is cold enough to feel like real winter).

Musc Nomade (Annick Goutal) - I'm picking this one because of the name alone. I remember smelling it very vaguely and that is was vegetal and delicate... Admittedly I'm also too lazy to go digging in my shipping container now and find the little box where I "filed" all my music samples but I'm pretty sure I've only tried it once when I was in Paris.

Tam Dao - if you've ever encountered compost toilet, you know that it's the human equivalent of hamster cage. pine or cedar shavings are used to cover up the mess, and the result is a more subdued version of human waste, that eventually turns into a nice scent of the forest floor. Anyway, this explanation made me think of Tam Dao, which is a fine sandalwood and cedar fragrance and also has some clean smelling musks underneath, to make you forget all the other business.

Tea for Two - We've been enjoying my limited selection of teas that I make a point of finishing off. True to form, we've been brewing lots of chai, which I've been already giving you plenty of recipes for... And of course Hulnejan - the wonderful root brew of galangal, dried ginger and cassia bark.
Zangvil also reminds me of this "witch brew" with its notes of fresh and dried ginger, honey, amber, jasmine and ginger lily.

Finjan - we've been drinking lots of espresso on the stove top mocha machine, and lots of Arabic/Druze/Turkish coffee (each nationality claims it as their own - but essentially this is very dark roasted coffee with cardamom that is brewed on the stove). The latter is well represented in the perfuem I created titled Finjan (the name of the little porcelain "shot" cups that you sip the coffee from; mistakenly, most Israelis refer to the little pot used to brew it as "finjan" - but its real name is "Ralai").

Mastic - Whenever it rains or gets really chilly, the mastica bushes and wild ivy behind the yurt release their fresh, green-balsamic scent. Grin's smell encompasses this verdant freshness with its notes of galbanum, violet, oakmoss and a classic floral bouquet.

Geranium and Wild Oranges - My citrus orchard was overcome by wild orange shoots, and I've really let it go. We finally pruned the orchard this fall, which mean an overwhelming amount of wild oranges that had to be put into use somehow. The result? An orange cello with a touch of herbs from the yurt's garden, among them rose geranium. One sip of this liquor is enough to uplift the spirits.

Lotus: A Thousand Petals of Transformation

Pink Lotus

The lotus is an important symbol in several Eastern cultures. There is an ancient confusion between two equally beautiful and elusive water flowers: the true lotus (Nelumbo) and the water lily (Nymphaea). However, both carry very similar meaning symbolically and spiritually. Both plants grow out of the depths of mire and rise above them with a blossoming purity. The flowers in both cases possess an impressive visual appearance and a corresponding intoxicating perfume.

Blue Waterlily

Let's begin with Ancient Egyptians, who referred to the so-called "blue lotus" (Nympheae cerulea) really a blue water lily) with much reverence. In Ancient Egypt blue lotus was abundant all around the Nile Valley. Nowadays, it is a scarce plant that grows in marshes and ponds in that area. The flower blooms only for 3 days, in which it rises 20-30cm above the water, opening around sunrise, between 7:30-8:00am and closing around noon, a cycle that echoes the solar rising and setting.

To the ancient Egyptian imagination, the yellow centre with its shooting yellow stamens set agains the blue flower symbolized the sun set in the azure Egyptian skies, and associated the "sacred lily of the Nile" with the sun god Ra. Blue lotus plays a role in an even earlier Egyptian myth - a myth of creation, which tells how the flower rose from "Nun" - the chaos - even before the sun itself was created.

"I am the pure Lotus which springeth up from the divine splendor that belongeth to the nostrils of Ra. I have made--my way--, and I follow on seeking for him who is Horus. I am the pure one who cometh forth out of the Field." (The Papyrus of Nu). 

Garlands of blue lotus were found in tombs and are portrayed and mentioned in the Book of Coming Forth by Day (AKA Egyptian Book of the Dead) - the guide for the soul in the afterlife.  "Transformation Into Lotus" is described in both in the papyrus of Nu and the papyrus of Paqrer. Blue lotus was also found in countless frescos and decorations on various ritual chalices. The priests would steep  the flowers in wine and harness its narcotic and hallucinogenic properties in their rituals to reach a state of ecstasy.  The flower's naturally occurring amorphine, nuciferine and nornufcferine are what give it hallucinogenic properties.

Blue lotus is not the only waterlily grown in Egypt. There was also the white waterlily (Nympheae lotus) which blooms at night and had only aesthetic use.

Flower of Enlightenment 
Pink Lotus

Another noteworthy waterlily is the Indian Blue Lotus (Nymphaea stiletto), which is sacred to the Buddhists and the Hindus. Buddha is said to sit on a lotus (Padma), and practitioners of meditation and yoga prefer the Padmāsana (AKA Lotus Pose), which literally means "lotus throne", a position that allows a completely straight spinal cord, redirect the blood flow from the legs to the belly, and creates pressure on the lower spine which along with the still position, initiates a calmer state of mind and provides less physical distractions while meditating. The lotus is also a symbol to the Sahasrana, the crown chakra, which has 20 layers of 50 petals each, in all the spectrum of colours.

The Buddhist consider lotus a symbol of Dharma (creation). In Hindusim, the lotus symbolizes the transformation from decay and transcendence above one's  muddled material existence to achieve something greater. Interestingly, Hindu mythology also consider lotus to be the home of their sun deity.

"There is no need to distinguish between lotus and the waterlily because it is recorded in the sutras 'the lotuses of heaven can change according to people's wishes, flowering when needed'. In this way, they bring joy to the hearts of all. There is no need to declare one false and the other real. both are called the wondrous lotus flowers" 
(Roman Keiser, Meaningful Scents Around the World p. 121).

Lotus Bud
If the lotus flower is enlightenment, lotus bud is the potential for the unfolding of the thousand petals.

Merging the Spiritual and the Fragrant
In my early days as a perfumer, I was guided by an insatiable thirst to harness the aromatic potential of plants in spiritual practice of meditation and incense-making. The Perfumes of the Zodiac were part of this process of my spiritual quest, as they are truly a study of human personality in all its many nuances and variation. This was the first collection I created. Lotus was the connecting link between two of the three water signs:

Scropio is the most firey water sign of all. If Cancer is the deep and wide ocean with all of its tides and waves, and Pisces is a babbling brook – than Scorpio is a deep, dark lake in the throat of a lava-mountain, bubbling with heat deep down. Scorpio signifies transformation, and therefore, the essence of lotus is particularly fitting for this perfume. Lotus being a beautiful, pure and fragrant, sacred flower that rises from the dirty swamps of decay and darkness. Other essences in Scorpio Perfume were chose for their association with Mars and the warlike qualities it represents: opoponax, choya loban (burnt benzoin), black pepper and blood orange. I also chose tuberose for its intensity and for supporting the fragility of the lotus flower.

If water means change, than Pisces is the epitome of water. It is changeable and mutable and lively like a cheerful little fish swimming in the brook – sometimes upstream, perhaps… Pisces is intuitive, spiritual, sensitive and emotional. Like Sagittarius, it is ruled by Jupiter.
The essences I chose for Pisces are moist and mossy, and being the end of the zodiac year's cycle are not unlike the decaying of leaves in the forest, on which new vegetation will strive.
Oakmoss, seaweed, amber, juniper, jasmine, lotus and sage make Pisces a simple yet interesting Chypre composition that has salty undertones.

Lotus Harvest

Lotus harvest - photo courtesy of Christopher McMahon of White Lotus Aromatics

Lotus originates in Kashmir, but has travelled with the monks all over Southeast Asia. It grows wild in the ponds of the East Indian jungles. Unlike modern Western perfumers, the East Indian perfumers actually distill their own essence. They are in touch with the plants in their original raw state, and at times even pick them from the wild. Using a light, portable copper still, the perfumer can carry it on his back while entering the wilderness to collect flowers in their blooming season, be it from the coast, the jungle or the pond. To harvest both the lotus and water lily, the perfumer must immerse themselves to the waist in the very murky waters from which they've ascended.

"Lotus Effect"
Lotos Effect
The surface of the lotus is observed on leaves that have water-repelling (ultrahydrophobic) properties. What happened is that the water slides off the leaf and cleans it from impurities such as dust, dirt, etc. In effect, this is a self-cleaning mechanism of the lotus plant, as well as many other superhydrophobic leaves. This is what creates the impressive effect of perfectly pearly drops of water on certain leaves.

Medicine and Myth
Homer's Odyssey tells us about the "Lotophagi" or "Lotus-eaters" - people who live on an island full of lotus plants, and who rely on it entirely for nourishment. As a result, they are in a constant state of peaceful slumber and comfortable oblivion. Perhaps he was referring to the ancient world's junkies: lotus flowers are a hallucinogenic. The Egyptian steeped the blue lotus flowers in wine to create a narcotic concoction that was used by priests in sacred rituals.

Lotus leaves have interesting chemistry, that makes them potentially valuable for medicine, with the following properties (please do not interpret any of the following as medicinal advice or prescription - they are intended for your botanical and cultural interest only):
Astringent; Cancer; Cardiotonic; Febrifuge; Hypotensive; Resolvent; Stomachic; Styptic (and used to treat various conditions such as excessive bleeding); Tonic; Vasodilator.  In TCM, it is also considered an aphrodisiac, calming and cooling, nutritive tonic, nervine.

However it does not seem like this potential was utilized yet in modern medicine. All parts of  the lotus, but particularly the root and seeds, remain a core ingredient in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The following are some examples for medicinal applications of various plant parts which I have gathered online. Most of the medicinal preparations are decoctions - method of extraction in which, much like the traditional brewing pf Turkish coffee, the plant matter is boiled to dissolve its active chemicals. TCM uses both the rhizomes or leaves, usually in conjunction with other herbs, to treat "sunstroke, fever, diarrhoea, dysentery, dizziness, vomiting of blood, haemorrhoids. The whole plant is used as an antidote to mushroom poisoning" (Source: MDidea).

Leaf: juice from the leaves is used to treat Diarrhea. TCM
Flowers: a decoction is prepared from the flowers and the flower to treat premature ejaculation and as a cardiac tonic; and from the flower's receptacle (torus) to treat abdominal cramps and bloody discharges. TCM use the pounded petals for syphilis. In Java they are also used for cosmetic unguents.
Flower Stalk: Haemostatic (stops bleeding), and used in instances such as leading ulcers, heavy menstruation and postpartum hemorrhage. TCM  uses the flower stalk with other herbs to treat uterine bleeding.
Stamens: Diuretic, urinary frequency, premature ejaculation and uterine bleeding.
Fruit: fever and heart complaints.
Seeds: Hypotensive, sedative and vasodilator. Contain flavonoids and alkaloids. Lower cholesterol levels and relax the smooth muscle of the uterus; Poor digestion, enteritis, chronic diarrhea, insomnia.
The plumage and radicle are used to treat thirst in high febrile disease, hypertension, insomnia and restlessness. In TCM, the seeds are considered a "cardiac tonic, seminal tonic, astringent, sedative, refrigerant, strengthens kidneys, clears phlegm, clears inflammation of eyes" (Source: MDidea).
Fresh Rhizomes (often called "roots"): Cooling when eaten raw, stimulate the appetite when eaten cooked
Rhizome Starch: Diarrhea, dysentery. Taken internally in the treatment of hemorrhages, excessive menstruation and nosebleeding.
Root Nodes: Nasal bleeding, haemoptysis and functional bleeding of the uterus.

Culinary Lotus
Lotus seeds
These images of the fresh, full bods and the dry empty ones equally spark my imagination. The dry pods are sometimes also found in floral shops, sold on their stalks for long-lasting bouquets.

One of my favourite dim-sum treats are sesame balls that are filled with delicately sweet black paste made of lotus seeds. The seeds are not easy to come by (I will have to make a point to hunt for them on my next trip to Chinatown), and I have only experienced them in desserts; but they can be used in a versatile range of recipes, both savoury and sweet, i.e.: as a filling for sweet festive cakes such as mochi and sesame balls, puddings, Indian sweets, curries, and roasted and puffed for snacking.

Lotus seeds

Lotus root

In contrast to the flavourful seeds, lotus "roots" (botcanilly speaking they are the rhizomes)
are rather bland. Their value is more visual - having a pretty flower-like shape when sliced. They have a crunchy texture and a mildly starchy vegetable taste, very much like that of bamboo shoots of palm hearts. They are used in hot pots, stir fried, deep fried like tempura, or even like a crispy alternative to chips.

Lotus Aroma Chemistry
According to Roman Keiser (Meaningful Scents Around the World), the blue water lily's headspace reveals the following constituents:
Benzyl acetate, anisyl alcohol, (E)-cinnamyl alcoho, cinnamyl  alcohol, and derivatives of (E,E)-undec-5-en-2-ol: (E)-undec-5-en-2-one, (E)-undec-5-en-2-ol and their corresponding acetates, alpha ionone and beta ionone.

White Lotus has 1,4-dimethoxybenzene, which gives it a rather unpleasant medicinal aspect. Hybrids with the Yellow Lotus, AKA Amriecan Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) breed a more pleasant  aroma, as they contain also jasmine and methyl cis-(2)-jasomnate.

Organoleptics of Various Lotus Absolutes: 
White Lotus

White Lotus has a powdery, earthy, dark floral, exotic, strange, dense aroma. Reminiscent of tuberose absolute. Sweet yet subtle with a tad of nutty and mushroom-like quality and hints of anise. Reminds me of old, well-worn silk garment. Dominated by medicinal, warm-herbaceous sweet odour of 1,4-dimethoxybenzene

Pink Lotus is sweet, silky, fruity, intense yet subtle. The rich, over-the-top floralcy is to me a very Indian smell - bringing to mind scouring through my friend's parent's collection of little vials of Indian perfumes. 

Blue Lotus (or Blue Waterlily) is a sheer, light woody-floral, nutty, musky, aquatic/watery, subtle, slightly green, refreshing, hyacinth-like, violet-like, sweet-aromatic, clear, light, effervescent, ephemeral.

Both the white and pink lotus absolutes are a dark orangey-brown viscous liquid, and with highly staining qualities. The blue lotus absolute is a clear light green viscous oil.

Lotus in Perfumery: 
Lotus is a rare and costly raw material and is only rarely used in its natural form.  Most "lotus" perfumes you'll find out there bare very little resemblance to neither the living flower nor the absolute extraction, and customarily belong to the yawn-inducing aquatic floral fragrance family.  Traditional Indian perfumers and modern natural perfumers are the  only ones whom I know still  work with the true lotus and create authentic perfumes that resonate with the spiritual and esoteric layers of the flower - which is inevitable as this is such a weird, complex and rare raw material. It is very rich and can easily clutter a perfume is used incorrectly. However, when it is used in tune with its aromatic and spiritual properties the results are quite astonishing and versatile: it is incredible beautiful and haunting in chypre compositions, where its musty, mushroomy origins are accentuated. On the other hand, when used sparingly and in the right environment, it can create a shimmering, effect that brings to mind the delectable waterlily-like perfume echoing the blue skies from above, or working in conjunction with narcotic, sweet or fruity florals to create a rich tapestry of odours.

Perfumes with noticeable lotus note:
Pink Lotus:
Blue Diamond (Setphen Arctander - created in 1979 and discontinued for many years)
Coeli (Ayala Moriel Parfums) - discontinued
l'Écume des Jours (Ayala Moriel Parfums)
Gypsy (Providence Perfume Co.) - discontinued
Hanami (Ayala Moriel Parfums)
Itoh (Mikmoi)
Pink Lotus (Aftelier)
Scorpio (Ayala Moriel Parfums - discontinued
Waterflower (Soivohle)

Blue Lotus:
Arunima (Strange Invisible Perfumes)
Blue Lotus Oil (Soivohle)
l'Eau d'Issey (Issey Miyake)
Lotus Blossom & Waterlily (Jo Malone)
Lumieré (Aftelier)
Lyric Rain (Strange Invisible Perfumes)
Naima (Ayala Moriel Parfums)
Nymphaea Cerulea (Régime des Fleurs)
Purple (p)Rose (Ayala Moriel Parfums)
Secret Garden (Aftelier)

White Lotus:
Misetu (Soivohle) - discotninuted
Padme Lotus (Dawn Spencer Hurwitz)


"Butterfly Maiden is the female fertilizing force. Carrying the pollen from one place to another, she cross-fertilizes, just as the soul fertilizes the mind with nightdreams, just as archetypes fertilizes the mundane world. She is the center. She brings the opposites together by taking a little from here and putting it there. Transformation is no more complicated than that. This is what she teaches. This is how the butterfly does it. This is how the soul does it.

Butterfly Woman mends the erroneous idea that transformation is only for the tortured, the saintly, or only for the fabulously strong. The Self need not carry mountains to transform. A little is enough. A little goes a long way. A little changes much. The fertilizing force replaces the moving of mountains." (Clarissa Pinkola-Estes, Women Who Run With The Wolves, p. 209-210)

I found great solace and inspiration in this thought. Some days, and especially in a year like this one (when it seems that all hell has broken loose in so many parts of the world - and it would take a miracle to not turn into a 3rd world war - if we're not already there) - making perfumes is not something that seems too important.

To know that even the smallest of changes could be the seed for transformation, is truly meaningful to me. While perfumery originates from alchemy, this is a concept so foreign to modern-day living, where so much of our life goes by fast-forward, and we can barely scratch the surface of superficiality in so many of our interactions or areas of interests.

Perfume has changed my life, and even in times like this, when I stand helpless facing the horrors that are abound the world over; when I feel like a very small piece of the puzzle, I need to remember this. Perfume may just mean a toiletry, a status symbol, or a token of love to some. But even a small thing like a drop of perfume can change the way you feel. Even if it will just mean a woman feels connected to her wildish nature and her inner self one night, after dabbing a perfume on - it still accounts to something. Maybe it will stir something inside her. Maybe it will awaken her to understand a certain aspect of herself better.

A speck of pollen dust on the feet of a butterfly may not seem like much - a pigment, a powder - but has the power to pass on genetic information and turn a flower into fruit and grow seeds. A seed in the ground is quite and dormant, but hides the potential to transform into a massive babobab tree - and with it transofrming the earth around it, providing food and shelter for animals and other life forms.

A drop of perfume. Inhale. Exhale. Cross-pollination. Inspiration. Transformation is subtle. It is part of us, ever changing us as our cells divide, multiply and die. And as we grow and inspire others, we are part of it too...
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