Friday, February 17, 2012

Day 15 ~ One Year, One Nose


Frankincense (boswellia carterii)



Frankincense is one of my favorite scents. It is possible that I hold in such high esteem as it was the first thing I smelled upon stepping into church, back when I was a child and far too young to understand what religion was. I remember the silence of church, the hollow sound of a cough in a pew across the aisle, the almost supernaturally loud rustling of the priest's robes and how his hand smelled of shaving cologne, but what I remember best is the scent of the church itself. A combination of perfumes, hairspray and cologne dominated by the ever present scent of frankincense.

Olibanum, a much fancier sounding name for frankincense, comes in many shades and tonalities of scent -- some are more warm and resinous, others sharp and pitchy with high lemon notes, some with almost floral qualities. My favorite way to use frankincense is to blend a number of different varieties from different sources; it seems a more rounded, layered and character ridden version of frankincense is created this way -- and then I drop this mixture by drops onto a burning charcoal until the room is filled with incense smoke.

I evaluated frankincense carterii in a 10% dilution. One thing I always try to do when evaluating is to assign a color to the essence I'm smelling. This isn't as easy for me as it is for others as a few perfumers I know assign color immediately, and for me it's something that comes later when I'm really thinking about what color that smell was. They smell the color before their brain attempts to translate what they smell into words. And given that describing scent is a bit like rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time, perhaps color descriptors are a more direct way to project what you 'get' when you attempt to share your scent observations. Anyway. On a scent strip the olibanum comes off musty, bitter, resinous, aldyhydic (ha), a bit like solvent, then as it burns off the strip I begin to pick up on fruity notes (peaches? apricots?), the scent becomes tart, sweet, more warm resinous and dry, a bit woody.

The tenacity of this particular olibanum, even at 10%, was decent. At 30 minutes there was a distinctively woody, tart, resinous tonality with lots of green notes; at 1 hour it changed completely, exhibiting tones of orange mustiness (like an orange turning to moldiness) with background notes of woody greenness; at 24 hours all that was left was a fruity coolness (like chilled pit fruit) and a distinct soapiness.

Oh, and it's color is aqua.

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