Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Travels In Spain, Part Five: Granada and the Alhambra

Reviewing: Rania J Cuir Andalou, L'Artisan Histoire d'Oranger, MDCI Nuit Andalouse

A visit to Granada would complete our tour of Spain's Andalusian region. We had stopped at the beach along the way after our departure from Ronda so our arrival was in the late afternoon. Catholic monarchs may have conquered this area in the 1400's but the city's medieval Moorish past is alive and well in the Albaicin, the old part of the city where we were lodging. Our accommodation was atop a steep hill accessed by thread-narrow streets with impossible 90-degree turns amongst claustrophobic walls, navigated in our now obviously too-large car. We gratefully arrived at our destination and after settling into our very comfortable apartment atop the hill we went to get directions to the city below. "Right at the bell tower, left at the carpet shop, past the lantern stall and down the hill," we were told.

The directions sounded a little bit like Peter Pan's directions to Wendy: "Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning." When we arrived at the bottom of the hill we were spilled into a rabbit warren of narrow cobblestone paths lined with stall after stall selling leather goods, colorful glass lanterns, fancy spices, and indeed, it did seem we might have stumbled into Neverland, or at least Morocco.

It truly felt as if we'd left Spain and sailed across the Strait to North Africa. It was admittedly a tourist trap of goods, but the food in the colorfully decorated restaurants was amazing and the place came alive at night.

I had brought a couple of leather-based perfumes with me and decided that Cuir Andalou by Rania J  perfectly reflects the smells and exotic attitude found in these shops of the Albaicin. Cuir Andalou opens with the smell of new leather, such as when you first purchase a quality leather bag. It is nice but fairly linear on my skin for the first thirty minutes and I am starting to be disappointed, as I found Jasmine Kama by Rania J (reviewed here) very interesting. I was expecting more than this. Just about the time I've forgotten about the perfume I suddenly start smelling something wonderful. My chin is resting in my hand and the scent wafting up off my wrist smells divine as the perfume starts to bloom. I'm still smelling the leather but it has been muted with the scent of flowers and a trail of smoke. As time passes I'm smelling the whole ambience of these lanes and the narrow shops filled with exotic goods. I smell the warm spices, the faintest touch of flowers in the iron window boxes overhead, dust, and earth. There is a curious combination of smoke and oud, like warm incense and candles burning against the cold stone of the sanctuary walls. This perfume feels as ancient as the streets I'm walking. Castoreum makes the leather more pronounced and gives it an animalic quality. Patchouli and vetiver give the perfume its earthy appeal. Notes of neroli, rose, iris, and violet are responsible for the floral mid notes and saffron adds spice. The base notes include sandalwood and oud.

If you can't tell from my description, I find this perfume very appealing. I often have trouble with leather notes so when I find one I like it makes me happy! To date my favorite leather perfume has been Bottega Veneta but this one is a contender. My only gripe; its longevity is not what I expected. It throws off such a mesmerizing glow for several hours that I assumed it would be one of those perfumes that I could still faintly smell at night and even into the next morning, but such was not the case. However that is easily solved by spraying again. This is another win for me from Rania J.

This is the Alhambra. It is why people come to Granada. Like a magical palace cast from tales of the Arabian Nights, the Alhambra looms high above the town of Granada, and it is one of the largest and busiest tourist attractions in Spain. In fact since we were going to be in Granada during August, the height of tourist season, we had to book tickets to view the Alhambra a couple of months in advance as if going to a concert. Show up without tickets and you probably won't be able to get inside. You can choose morning or afternoon viewings, and as I had read that most tour groups go in the morning slots I opted for the afternoon. It is a huge complex and it took us several hours to make our way through the grounds, palace, garden, and ruins.

As in Seville, my visit was not timed for the blooming of orange blossoms but since it is such an iconic scent of the region I decided to review two more orange blossom based scents. My fellow blogger, Undina, will probably be happy this is my last orange blossom review as I just found out she doesn't care for the note!

Pinterest image of Generalife Gardens in the Alhambra.

L'Artisan Histoire d'Orangers was introduced in 2017 and perfumer Marie Salamagne asserts that the inspiration for the perfume came in the form of a scented memory from a trip to Morocco. L'Artisan has not had a pure orange blossom scent (correct me if I'm wrong here) since the release of its limited edition scent, Fleur d'Oranger 2007. There was the release of Seville a l'Aube which features the orange blossom note, but it is really too complicated of a scent to call it just an orange blossom perfume. I have a bottle of the limited edition from 2007 and I will be comparing this new orange blossom scent to L'Artisan's older model.

Histoire d'Orangers has a beautiful opening, all gauzy and floaty with tendrils of orange blossom releasing their scent on the warm soft breeze. The orange blossom feels wispy and almost transparent and opening notes of neroli give green aspects of the plant to lend a scintilla of bitterness which balances the flower's sweetness. In contrast to this graceful opening, the 2007 limited edition version begins with the clash of fragrant cymbals as notes of orange blossom make a dramatic entrance to the stage, accentuated with great dripping lashings of honey. Whereas Histoire d'Oranger feels like you're strolling down the path and suddenly catch the scent of some distant orange blossom trees, the 2007 version feels like you've lain in a hay field bordered by a grove of orange blossom trees in full bloom, the scent of nectar is thick in the air, and the sound of bee's buzzing gives a somnambulant, almost tipsy effect.

Garden in the Alhambra. 

The new Histoire d'Oranger begins to quietly build in intensity. The structure of the smell hasn't changed; it's just building steam and gaining more presence. The musk has entered the scent and to me it intensifies the gauziness of the orange blossom, amping down the sweetness to a manageable level and thus intensifying it's fuzzy comfort effect. Ambroxan in the base intensifies this aura, and with a tonka bean note adds  a slight creaminess to the scent. There is supposedly a note of white tea in the perfume but I don't smell it; for that matter, when I drink white tea I don't taste anything, so there's that. Meanwhile, my arm sprayed with the limited edition is smelling more like a jar of orange blossom honey than orange blossom. The beeswax has intensified and it is much heavier and more gourmand than the Histoire d'Oranger. I'm taking into account that my bottle is ten years old and the top notes may have dissipated somewhat. My memory of what it smelled like ten years ago is unclear and my tastes have changed since then anyway.

When comparing the two orange blossom L'Artisans side by side the new Histoire d'Oranger seems a bit pale in comparison to my 2007 version. But when I tested it again on its own I was able to appreciate the art of the way perfumer Ms. Salamagne has delicately rendered the orange blossom, making what can sometimes be an almost obnoxiously dominant white floral into a diaphanous white scent trail. I really enjoyed wearing Histoire d'Oranger and believe it deserves to stand on its own accolades within L'Artisan's stable of scents. However if you are not an appreciator of that flower I doubt this perfume will win you over.

MDCI Nuit Andalouse is the last of the perfumes I'm reviewing that were inspired by the Andulusian region of Spain  and it's a favorite of mine. I think all the MDCI perfumes are well done, but this one! It literally makes me swoon when I first put it on! My eyes roll back, I'm weak at the knees, and all the little happy! happy! receptors in my nose are bursting into the Hallelujah! chorus. Ok, maybe I'm laying it on a bit strong but this smells so good! The blurb on the Parfums MDCI  site describes Perfumer Cecile Zarokian's 2013 olfactory representation of an Andalusian night thusly: "An enchanting composition around the gardenia theme which carries us at the heart of a warm summer Mediterranean night, languid, with the rustling whisper of the fresh fountains and of voices and far-off signings (sic) which can be heard in the splendor of the gardens."

The listed opening notes are orange, violet, and green notes. There is something magical happening in that opening but I would never have been able to pick those notes out, not even the orange. The combination smells ebullient and lilting and serves as a launching pad for the next stage, the entrance of the gardenia, ylang ylang, and rose. These notes have never smelled better together. The creaminess of the ylang ylang, the lushness of the gardenia, and the primness of the rose, all together in one big beautiful bouquet. Later base notes of sandalwood, vanilla, and musk will soften and ground the bouquet. Once I'm about thirty minutes into the wear of this perfume the notes start settling down and my initial excitement abates. Several hours after application I mostly smell creamy vanilla and ylang ylang with a slight hint of the gardenia. At this point in the perfume's life, I've been to this party before; it's nice, I'll stay, but it's not sending me over the edge as it does initially. While it would be nice to live in the perpetual state of bliss that the first spray delivers, it's just not meant to be. Even in nature, beautiful scents are fleeting. If you are continuously exposed to something it loses its magic, at least that's what I believe. Clearly, I love this perfume, but if you don't like bursts of big florals or the creamy sweetness of ylang ylang and vanilla then this may not be your cup of tea.

As for me: have you ever been someplace that is so beautiful that you think I have to remember this. Or had a moment that you think I'll pull this memory out next time I need to be reminded that the world can be beautiful. I have had several of these moments when I travel and a couple on this trip. The opening notes of this perfume is the olfactory equivalent of those moments: something that can't be sustained for too long or it would lose it's specialness, but oh, how beautiful it is while it lasts.

This wisteria is why I need to go back in the spring! Only a few blooms when I was there in August.

And now for Serendipity. The hardest thing in the world for me is to get rid of books. We had to clear out my parent's house eight years ago after my mother passed away, but I still have a couple of boxes of my father's random books that I wasn't able to find space for or rehome. During the time I was in the midst of writing this review I decided it was time to get those boxes off the floor. I went through the boxes and hiding at the bottom underneath the other books I found this.

When we were at the Alhambra there were several references to the writer Washington Irving, his stay there, and the book he eventually wrote called Tales of the Alhambra. I had decided I would seek it out to read once I got back home, so this discovery felt like a gift from my Dad who's been gone thirteen years now, delivered at exactly the right moment!

Read more about Spain, this trip, and my perfumes at Part One, Part Two, Part ThreePart Four, and Part Six.

Top Alhambra shot: Second Alhambra shot: from Architecture Arts and City. Wisteria shot from Pinterest. All other shots my own unless noted. Perfumes my own.

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