Suzanne's Perfume Journal

March 19, 2014:

Painting a Picture of My Town with Photos

and Olfactory Strokes

Winter is dying, finally. Though it can’t go fast enough for me, I’ve been grateful that, at least where I live in central Pennsylvania, we haven’t had a terrible amount of snow. February was fairly snowy, yet we managed to miss a number of storms that were supposed to hit us and mainly only had to deal with the arctic chill of the “polar vortex.” I can deal with frostbite weather if the skies are blue, and since the best cure for anything that ails me is usually one of “getting out,” that’s what I’ve been doing. A couple of weeks ago, I decided that now would be as good a time as any to embark on a project I’ve always wanted to do—to create a portrait of the area I live in, both in photographic and olfactory terms—and though I'm not far along in it, I'm far enough to realize that one doesn’t always have to wander the world to get a fresh perspective on life. Winter might seem drab, but when I decided to walk the neighborhoods and snap photos of my favorite houses, I realized just how colorful, textured and diverse my proverbial “back yard” really is. I live just outside of State College, Pennsylvania, so named because there is a state university here, and while I live in a tiny development on the rural outskirts of town, it only takes fifteen minutes to drive into any of the town’s pretty neighborhoods.

Pump Station cafe; photo credit Naomi Elle Schwartz

Quaint and cozy, yet with a sense of decorum and formality, the Boalsburg neighborhood, pictured above, is a great place to head if one is in the mood to stroll and browse its little shops, most of them housed in colonial, federal and Victorian-style homes. It’s a place that smells like arborvitae (thuja) because there are so many well-maintained hedges, as well as coffee, because my favorite coffee shop (the Pump Station, a café converted from a former gas station) is there. I can look out its front windows and be bathed in winter sunlight while remembering the times I accompanied my father to church, when I was in my late 20s and early 30s, at the brick, Lutheran church just across the way, next to the cemetery where (it is claimed) our nations' Memorial Day holiday originated. My perfume scent-of-the-day when snapping these photos was Honoré des Prés Vamp a NY, which is a tuberose scent married to spice in such a way that the usually diva-like flower smells like candy and spice—and (in seeming contradiction to the hip name of the perfume) an old-fashioned form of candy: Necco wafers; particularly the lavender-colored ones that smell and taste of cloves. For those unfamiliar with them, Necco wafers are thin starchy discs, starchy in the way of candy cigarettes or certain bubble gums, that come in a range of muted colors and are, in simple terms, the taste version of an olfactionary, with each disc representing a pure flavor (lemon, lime, chocolate, black licorice, and so on). The houses in Boalsburg remind me of Necco wafers, with their colorful yet still classic, features … their nostalgic charms. The pairing of Vamp a NY with a walking tour of Boalsburg seemed just right.

In contrast to Boalsburg, in the borough of State College the architectural style is wide-ranging, even with houses keeping company on the same street, yet despite the lack of uniformity, it somehow works. Most likely because, in the best neighborhoods, the houses have generous lawns, and what they don’t share in terms of a common style they make up for in their commitment to having a sense of style, period. These aren’t the cookie-cutter houses of modern developments, where entire neighborhoods are composed of homes put up by the same builder. The homes in the borough seem to be interested in conveying their owners unique aesthetic—or rather, the aesthetic of the people who originally built them, as many of these are old, yet scrupulously maintained edifices: the kinds of homes “they just don’t make anymore.” While many are stone houses of colonial or federal design, modern (minimalist) architecture is also well represented—and tucked into the wooded hillside of this same neighborhood there are even some A-frames (my favorite being one with a bold exterior painted in lavender and white—colors that accentuate its angularity and seem the perfect complement for a Swiss alps-style of architecture because they remind me of the smell of lavender and the feel of snow, both of which convey an air of briskness and movement). Certainly there are also blocks of the town where a uniform architectural style reigns, and on one of them is a small series of homes that look they were built by the same person, but again, not in a cookie-cutter sameness. Each house is different yet they share an oriental aesthetic and look like something out of a Japanese garden, with their corresponding stands of bamboo providing an elegant screen of privacy along the sides of each one.

When I’m walking in the heart of State College—its borough—I feel like the neighborhoods accurately reflect the diversity of thought, and of people, that one expects of a university town. In truth, the undergraduate population of our university resembles a homogenized group of white-bread, small-town kids from across Pennsylvania, but there is also a thriving, multi-national graduate-school population here that has made the area I live in richer (especially culinary-wise). That’s what I’m reminded of when I wander these streets that possess both a familiar and solid home-town feel and an air of the grand and expansive. Appropriately, the perfume I was wearing when I captured this second group of photos was Milano Caffé by La Via del Profumo (which I have slated for my next review—it’s so good!). Cafés, coffee houses … whatever name they are called by, they are my favorite places to hang out, and they too are places that are both homey and artistic, cozy yet outward-looking (the best ones are haunted by worldly, idea-happy people). Milano Caffé represents that idea well—it’s a coffee perfume that is more fluid and elegant than the gourmand coffee scents I usually wear. More about that later, but for now I’ll say that it’s a sleek coffee perfume, well-suited to a stroll through the neighborhoods of State College that I think of as being both historic and fashionable in a classic way.

As to how this part of town, itself, is represented in terms of an actual scent for me, I can only say that it smells wonderfully clean and ozonic … like pine trees and cool, quick-moving air. Whenever I’ve been away from home and spent time in the city (usually New York City), I come home marveling at how refreshingly clean everything smells here, no doubt due to the fact that State College is surrounded mostly by mountain ridges and farmland.

At some point in the near future, I’ll present my photo-and-olfactory impressions of the collegiate and downtown areas of State College, but as I’m not sure this type of post has much interest for readers (it’s more or less a project that is helping me remember how beautiful my everyday world is, at a time of year when it’s easy to forget), I’ll interject them in between posts that hopefully are more perfume-specific.

Photo collages of houses in Boalsburg and the borough of State College are my own; photo of The Pump Station cafe in Boalsburg was stolen from and snapped by Naomi Elle Schwartz, whose profile of the cafe (and other terrific photos of it) can be viewed at this link.

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