Admittedly they are tourist souvenir photos, the kind that are still taken by Moroccan street vendors today, and yet they always send a small thrill through me every time I see them. They were taken in 1974, when my parents were visiting Spain and decided to make a daytrip to Tangiers, and the first one was shot while their tour group was waiting to enter the kasbah. My mom remembers that they were milling about, idly watching a snake charmer entertain the crowd, when suddenly a giant cobra was being lashed around her neck. That look on her face is genuine: she was startled and more than a bit frightened, but something else in her expression suggests to me that she was also experiencing a bit of awe in that moment.

The second photo (below) of my parents with the beautiful Moroccan bellydancer—my father in his hippie, flowered shirt—reminds me of how young and free-spirited they were at that time in their lives, and how glamorous they seemed to my then twelve-year-old self. Considering that they were running a busy dairy farm, which is perhaps the most labor intensive of all farming operations, and raising three kids, I now realize that the free-spirited and glamorous parts of their lives were very small parts indeed. But the fact that they carved out time for themselves to travel occasionally, to spend time with friends outside our farming community, and to cultivate a more worldly viewpoint, makes me realize what an important gift that was, both to themselves and to me and my sisters, their children. “You’re lucky, your parents are so young!” my friends used to say, and this always secretly pleased me, not only because it made me proud to have parents who were so admired, but because I knew it was true: I was lucky. My parents usually took us with them on vacation, and my memories of those trips are especially cherished, but I am equally fond of recalling those rare trips when they traveled alone. The stories and souvenirs they brought back from their outings—whether their tour of Spain or a hunting trip out West—gave me an awareness that there was always a larger world pulsating around me, throbbing with mystery, beauty, sadness and the utter vastness of life.

Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Serge Lutens Miel de Bois has notes of ebony wood, gaiac wood, oak, honey, beeswax, iris and hawthorn. It can be purchased at a number of online fragrance boutiques, but here I feel compelled to plug The Perfume Shoppe in Vancouver, Canada, (and now with a store in Scottsdale, Arizona, too) where I got my sample. Naz, the owner of The Perfume Shoppe, is an absolute doll!


Image Sources: Photos of my parents in Morocco, top and middle of post, are from my family's collection of photographs (thanks, Mom!) and the image of Serge Lutens Miel de Bois is from Fragrantica.com.

July 15, 2009:

Some weeks ago, I received a sample of Serge Lutens Miel de Bois, a fragrance composed of honey and various wood notes, and after smelling it I called my mom and asked her if she still had the photos from her Morocco trip. Miel de Bois reminds me so much of the trinkets that my parents brought back for us from their kasbah shopping excursion—leather belts, tasseled wool hats, and bongo drums constructed of two clay pots covered and bound together with goatskin—because it smells (albeit much more pleasingly) just like those trinkets: a weird mix of urinous, animalic, sweet and woody notes, with a little dung thrown in just when you least expect it (a little kicker at the end of the scent’s long life). I realize I’m making both things, Miel de Bois and the kasbah souvenirs, sound positively revolting—and of course, they’re not.  They’re magical and fascinating in the way that things that smell slightly repellent often are. 

Leather in Morocco, at least cheap leather, is tanned in the ancient way, by soaking the animal skin in urine to soften it, then smearing it with dung. (Cow urine and pigeon guano are typically used in the processing, from what I’ve read.)  I’ll never forget how buttery soft those leather belts were, and pretty too, but there was no way my sisters and I could wear them—they smelled too much of urine!  And though that smell never completely went away, it did eventually lessen in intensity; not enough to encourage us to wear the belts, but enough that I enjoyed poking my head into the closet where they were kept with the other items—the wool hats and the clay bongos—to sniff them. In this aired-out state, the belts smelled like the honey note in Miel de Bois: urinous in a way that is equal parts acrid and sweet. The bongo drum, which had a hard, dry goatskin for a drum head, didn’t smell urinous but possessed an earth-and-charred-woods smell from the clay pots that formed its base. The little hats, they smelled like lanolin. 

Altogether, they smelled foreign and shocking, which is how Miel de Bois struck me at first. The exotic wood notes of ebony and gaiac, along with oak, seem to age and deepen the honey note, at times making it seem pitch-black. Beeswax eventually sweetens and lightens it. And then hours later, when you think that the honey has been tamed and that the scent itself will soon fade from your wrist, the smell of cow or horse dung hits you out of nowhere. Don’t let this be a worry: the scent has grown light by this point, and only you will be able to smell it ... but wow!  It’s a quirky little surprise to get one last whiff of the unclean wrapping itself around the pretty.

Photographs and Memories . . . and Miel de Bois​

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