31 Jul

 I’ve realized this Silk-Road project may well take up the rest of my life! I want it to be something for history to look back on with admiration–and indeed I do! If I’m already past the half-way point of my life (they tell me I am), I’d better get cracking. I’ve begun to see that cursory research is not what’s called for: I’m planning to buy books on each major country on the Silk Road. By researching _heavily_, I will be able to come up with some characteristic scents for each locale I cover; certainly, it will be a matter of my decision as to what scents are in fact characteristic of a given locale. With the right books, historical, cultural, horticultural, etc., I’m certain I’ll be able to sketch out appropriate perfumes. It’s a relatively massive task to set myself to: summarize aromatically my impression of the olfactory identity of an entire country/culture/ethnicity.
 Well, the first few perfumes are already made in advance. The middle east (Turkey) will call for myrrh and frankincense in the base, tuberose and rose (I know much rosa damascena comes from Turkey) in the heart, bergamot and lemon in the top. As we move to Syria/Damascus, we start to get into agarwood/oud, also commonly known as gaharu, jinko, and aloeswood; because agarwood is mentioned in Chinese texts from the 3rd century AD, I assume China was already on the receiving end of some new products by way of the Silk Road. It’s mentioned in one of the world’s oldest sacred texts, the Sanskrit Vedas from India. For Pakistan, I can use juniper and cassie absolute, which I don’t really like (some people adore it), but acacia farnesiana (from which cassie absolute is made) grows widely in Pakistan.
 When I start making perfumes for China, I will certainly use osmanthus, which is one of my favorite extracts (outside Lan Su traditional Chinese garden in Portland, Oregon, there grows a big osmanthus tree; every year, when it bloomed, I would go park my car underneath the tree to soak up the cosmic aroma). One other thing I will try to use is based on five-spice powder, commonly used in Chinese cooking; there are many formulas for the powder, but it’s most commonly made of: star anise, cinnamon, clove, fennel, and “Szechuan pepper,” which has no real western analogue, but it’s zanthoxylum piperitum. I will make two perfumes for China: one for Xi’an, which will based largely on osmanthus; one for Kashgar, which will likely include some of the spicy stuff.
 I looked up Szechuan pepper, and I found that Szechuan pepper is native to China, India, and, for some strange reason, is commonly used in Indonesia, in Sumatra around Lake Toba. My great grandfather, Tassilo Adam, lived around Lake Toba for 40 years, acting as the Royal Dutch Ethnographer (he was doing research, but mainly he was overseeing Dutch rubber plantations); he was a German citizen, but the Dutch still afforded him a 40-year stint on the other side of the world.
 When he arrived, the members of the tribe, the Batak, were cannibals; they believed they honored their dead family members by consuming their bodies. My great grandfather put a stop to that macabre tradition; he pointed out that tribespeople were actually dying from eating their kins’ brains. The Batak also believed they were descended from dogs, so they traditionally filed their teeth to the gums once they hit puberty, and each morning they’d blacken their gums with the coals from the nights fire; Tassilo, I’d imagine, was more than a little shocked to discover in some clearing one day a tribe of people with little black holes for mouths. Tassilo became best friends with the tribe’s chief; I imagine he and the tribe thought Tassilo’s western ways were pretty magical. Tassilo was there for so many decades, that one day it was decided he should take a wife from the tribe; on the day of the would-be wedding, he was shocked to discover a ruckus coming from the village square. He ran to discover various tribe elders about to file his would-be wife’s teeth to the gum. He demanded that they stop; word is, he went back to Germany and looked for a woman with the biggest teeth he could find.


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