Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy Midsummer!

oberon titania I love seasonal changes! In fact, I love them so much that I even teach a class about them at my university, called (admittedly a bit awkwardly) “A Midsummer Night’s Weirdness.” This class chronicles in particular the liminal moments of the seasonal year as celebrated in traditional societies, for long before Shakespeare wrote his play, strange things have been happening on the longest day of summer and the longest day of winter in Medieval European literature. Portals to other realms open up, lovers fall in and out of love, strange fairy women appear to choose a mate or a victim, and magic boats materialize at the shore, waiting to take an adventurous hero away on a voyage he’ll never forget—and from which he may never return. My class examines some of the texts which describe the otherworldly effects of these weirdest of nights, including Celtic, French, and Spanish romance, including works by Chrétien de Troyes and Marie de France, Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, British ballads, fairy and folk tales, and of course, Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

One of my favorite bits of literature about midsummer to teach is La Misa de amor (the Mass of Love), a traditional late-medieval Spanish ballad, in which a supernatural being enters the church on a Midsummer morning, throwing the worshipers into confusion. I include the original for you Spanish speakers out there, then follow it with my own rough translation (sorry, don’t have my dictionary with me, so some of the vocab might be a little off—especially some of the archaic terms for the Lady’s wardrobe):

La Misa de Amor :

Mañanita de San Juan, 245px-Morgan,_Evelyn_de_-_Flora_-_1894
mañanita de primor,
cuando damas y galanes
van a oír misa mayor.

Allá va la mi señora,
entre todas la mejor;
viste saya sobre saya,
mantellín de tornasol,
camisa con oro y perlas
bordada en el cabezón.
En la su boca muy linda,
lleva un poco de dulzor;
En la su cara tan blanca,
un poquito de arrebol,

en los sus ojuelos garzos
lleva un poco de alcohol;
así entraba en la iglesia,
relumbrando como el sol.
Las damas mueren de envidia
y los galanes de amor.
El que cantaba en el coro,
en el Credo se perdió;
el abad que dice misa,
ha cambiado la lición;
monaguillos que le ayudan,
no aciertan responder, non.
Por decir: "Amén, amén",
decían: "Amor, amor".

Collected by Ramón Menéndez Pidal in Flor Nueva de Romances Viejos.

My translation:

It was the morning of St.  John’s Day (Midsummer)

early in the morning,

when gentlemen and ladies

go to hear mass.

In then came the lady,

among all the very best,

With a bunch of piled up petticoats (?),

and a mantle the color of a sunflower,

A dress with gold and pearls,

embroidered at the hem.

In her little mouth so lovely,

she sucked on a little sweet,

and on her lovely face, a little bit of blush.

Her hazel eyes sparkled as if with alcohol. (?)

thus she entered the church

shining like the sun.

The ladies were dying of envy,

and the gentlemen of love.

Anyone who sung in the choir,

forgot the words of the creed.

The abbot who is reading the gospel,

has messed up the readings

and the little acolytes who aid him,

they don’t know how to respond.

When they mean to respond: ‘amen, amen’,

they can only say: ‘amor, amor’!

Thus the wild spirit of Midsummer and love messes with staid reality in the most pleasant ways! I wish you all a very pleasant Midsummer Night's Eve!

CREDITS: Evelyn de Morgan’s Flora and Sir Joseph Noel Paton’s Titania and Oberon courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

fragrance shopping in Detroit.

IMG_5092 There has been a lot of bad press about Detroit and its environs lately, but I must say, it is a great place to shop for perfume. I have had a great time this past week exploring the little specialty boutiques, as well as the big stores packed with scent. It is a welcome change for me from my small upstate town, which is nice in its way, but has absolutely nowhere to sniff things! SO here, my list of must-dos in Detroit for perfumistas.

First, one simply must head off to Birmingham, a gay-friendly suburb of IMG_5095 the big city filled with locally-owned upscale boutiques as well as a few chain stores here and there. There you’ll find two very pleasant venues for sniffing. Well, actually, these shops are more than just pleasant. I had a great time in both of these charming boutiques, and found myself wishing I lived closer so I could enjoy the sniffings offered in Birmingham more often.

IMG_5097 The first, Lori Karbal, is  an adorable, well-curated beauty supply and clothing store. I spoke with the very helpful and well-informed owner Lori, who told me that she had run the store for 19 years! She obviously knew her stuff, and had a clear passion for fragrance. The perfumes offered stand on a series of shelves near the door, and I got a good 40 minutes of sniffing pleasure there, and would happily have stayed longer—I’m sure I would have been welcome to do so. The ambience is cozy and creative, and I really liked all the women working there. They were very helpful butIMG_5098 not pushy at all. Here’s a list of the lines they carry there: Santa Maria Novella, I profumi di Firenze,  L’artisan, Keiko Mecheri, Fresh, Perfect, Tsi-La, love comes from within, and Loree rodkin.  I left with four large bottles of the Loree Rodkin patchouli based EDC line, at a very reasonable price. (I know,IMG_5101 ironic, right, after my post about keeping the addiction under control)

Lori told me that she was getting a lot of new niche lines in, some of which have not been carried much in the states. I look forward to seeing them the next time I’m in the area.

The second boutique in Birmingham is the beauty salon and beauty-supply store Todd’s Room. A nice SA named Eric helped me; he cheerfully left me alone to sniff to my heart’s content, yet was ready with help should I need him. Todd’s Room carries Serge Lutens, Odin, Comptoir sud Pacifique, Parfums d’orsay, Keiko Mecheri, Christine Calle, Frank, Miller etIMG_5090 Bertaux, and Bond no.9

By the way, both of these boutiques were very generous with the samples.

Beyond niche perfumery, Detroit has the second-largest Arab-American population in the US, so I love to head over to Warren road in Dearborn, a mind-bogglingly long street simply packed with Arabic groceries, butchers, delis, and coffee roasters. Digging around those stores long enough can turn up some really interesting smellies as well. You just have to ask…..

Beyond that, Detroit also has the large shopping centers. I go to The Somerset Collection—a bizarre segregated mall with the high-end and normal retail stores housed in two separate buildings connected by a sky bridge. There, you can smell creed, annick goutal etc., at Saks 5th Ave and Neiman Marcus, but ask for samples at Nordstrom—I find they are the most generous. Also in these odd twinned malls: Anthropologie, Sephora, Hervi Bendel, L’occitane, Aveda, and more designer boutiques (w/accompanying perfumes) than you can shake a stick at.

The bottom line: head to Birmingham for some really exciting niche perfume shopping—you will enjoy the experience and like the shops. Then, if your nostrils haven’t partied enough, consider heading to Dearborn and Somerset Collection.

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