Thursday, May 26, 2005

Perfumed Timelines

I was browsing in today and came across this article about a UK designer working with scientists to produce “smart” clothing that can deliver scent to the wearer as the need arises. Jenny Tillotson thinks that one day fashionistas will be able to get their aromatherapy fix or pheromones direct from her prototype outfit, whose fabric is lined with tiny veins of perfume that activate upon changes in the wearer’s body temperature. They might want to wear it to attract lovers at a party, for instance – just think of the market for this! According to the article, through this technology, asthma sufferers will one day be able to get their Ventolin directly from their clothing. It’s odd, but the article also mentions that there might also one day develop a future military application for scented apparel (to throw off bloodhounds in pursuit?).

Tillotson’s favorite scent is that of a newborn baby, which she says lasts for only three weeks. When my sister gives birth in October I think I’ll take a deep whiff of the baby. One of my childhood friends loves the smell of a puppy’s milk breath; something about it brings out her maternal instincts. Two real good scents in my book would be coffee and baking bread; I’ve heard real estate agents in the US either make coffee or bake bread in houses they’re trying to sell, to project the sensation of “home”.

“Smell is the most primitive sense and can remind us of all sorts of early memories,” says Tillotson.

Let’s take a little look back at my history in scents: Joy by Jean Patou came in a tiny black bottle with a red lacquer stopper and reminds me of my mom when I was growing up (her present scent is Lancome's Tresor). My dad smelled of Old Spice aftershave back then (his present scent is Armani). [Side story: In college I asked a male friend, “You smell good, what is it?” He said, “Old Spice”. I remarked innocently, “I love that smell! Reminds me of my dad!” Alas, he blushed and never wore that scent again, as he wanted to smell more “dangerous” and therefore more attractive to girls.]

In high school girls either smelled of Johnson’s baby cologne, or of "Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific" shampoo or were wearing Sweet Honesty, an Avon product. The original Paco Rabanne scent reminds me of my college English professor in UP, who gave me a grade of 1.0. My first boyfriend smelled of baby powder (yum!). My second boyfriend, who had a leather jacket a la Tom Cruise in “Top Gun” and drove a restored 1967 Ford Mustang, wore Grey Flannel. He was more vain than I and always had scented hankies. He was the one who introduced me to the fragrance shampoo Finesse (which I still occasionally use). Then came an assortment of Spanish citrus-based colognes which every girl wore, namely Denenes, Baby Gal and Nenuco. Shortly after this there boomed a market for local body sprays, but I don’t remember the name of the brand. Then I received Ralph Lauren’s Lauren as a birthday gift, the one in the jewel-red square bottle with a gold stopper. I stayed with that for a year or so.

Next, the college party girls started wearing Christian Dior’s Poison (which to me smelled of “rich old woman” and wasn’t appropriate for girls our age). Then Drakkar came into fashion. In small doses it smelled great, but could smell toxic when you’re trapped in an elevator with a guy who's slapped it on in lieu of a shower. My third boyfriend wore a cedar-based aftershave from St. Michael (which I gave to him). Then someone gave me a tiny bottle of Givenchy’s Amarige, which I loved, and promptly lost on a trip to Baguio. After graduation I worked in garments retail management and went through a couple of little metal spray bottles of Gap Heaven and Dream. A few boyfriends later: Mr. Nicole Miller for Men smelled absolutely yummy, Mr. Hugo Boss Dark Blue inspired lust, but in the end it was Mr. Ralph Lauren Romance I loved most. I did ask for the nearly empty bottle of Nicole Miller and stowed it in my suitcase so my clothes would smell good. Although those relationships didn’t last, at least I remember the boyfriends smelled good, and I therefore can’t think badly of them (yes, I am too nice).

By the time I finished grad school I had gone through Tommy Girl and Clinique Happy (both gifts, I never bought my own scent even up to that point), so at the Duty Free Shop in Sydney I bought myself a small bottle of Estee Lauder’s Pleasures and one of Davidoff’s Cool Water Woman. Back in Manila there were days when I would walk through Rustan’s perfume section after work and get one of those Japanese paper cones sprayed with scent and put it in my bra so that my body warmth would spread the fragrance. I’d come in looking bedraggled and later walk around feeling like a million bucks.

At present I still wear Pleasures, it’s such a classic. I confess, at times when I feel low I sniff it in the bathroom like glue, after which I emerge feeling all right. I alternate that with The Body Shop’s Cotton White eau de toilette (another gift), which has a lovely clean freshness.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Awaiting Rain

(for Preston Mark Stone who, in our Usenet days, kept encouraging me to keep writing)

Clouds stingy with rain gather over the restless city.
The monsoon is nearly upon us,
But not quite. The weather is a terrible
Tease, the odd drumbeats of thunder signifying
Nothing, yet. For an interminable while,
We are hostages to this pregnant gunmetal sky.

More than grasses have died,
Where there was no shade or where
There has spread an unintended fire.
Dry throats plague all travelers;
The roads need their dust tamped down.
The northern winds are late in coming, but
They can banish the still air that imprisons us
And this parched country. We quiver
With impatience, waiting
For the wash of water.

How reluctantly rain falls,
Flashing us now and then
With a lightning sneer,
As if we owed a debt to heaven
Impossible to repay.

We need the rising smell of
Moistened earth to call out the cicadas,
Whose song is the sound
Of the monsoon announcing that
A cool twilight has finally come.

25 May 2005

Copyright Pomona Caccam. All rights reserved.


My closest friends and I have been together most of our lives. Half of them are in Manila, and the other half are overseas. We keep in touch via yahoogroup, where correspondence can be on any topic from the quality of Darna starlet Angel Locsin's skin to NBA games to world politics to virgin coconut oil. In fact we're averaging about 1000 posts a month! Another friend of mine (from college) is including us as subjects in her masteral thesis on "Computer-Aided Interpersonal Communication".

Lately the guys were dredging up the names of women in their past, just for fun of course (their wives have access to the yahoo group as well). At a certain point in the email exchange, someone invoked, "TSTA!"

TSTA - Thou Shalt Tell All

When TSTA is invoked, one has to tell the other person the truth. When one chooses not to, the other person can invoke, "TSTATA!"

TSTATA - Thou Shalt Tell All To All

This time the person is required to tell everyone the topic at hand. When he/she demurs, everyone is free to invoke, "TSTATAAT!"

TSTATAAT - Thou Shalt Tell All To All At All Times

This puts the person on the hot seat, and he/she has to tell everyone everything.

There never has been any malice attached to TSTA, mostly mischief and curiosity. This is a measure of how close we are as friends, all embarrassing truths render us equal to each other. The counterpoint to this is that we should not judge each other, because we all have our idiosyncracies, and who is to say we are better than the next guy? Of course now we are more mature we hardly invoke TSTA, we usually wait for the person to volunteer the information. It's not that we don't have any privacy from each other, it's more like we're family enough to accept each other for what we are.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Execution Dream

Last night I dreamed that I was in an office building with a group of people. Suddenly there was an explosion outside, so we all ran to the balcony window to see what was happening. There were armed men in the courtyard, in military camouflage. They ran up the stairs to the room we were in, and announced that we were all political hostages. They made demands over a cell phone and announced they would be killing one hostage soon.

They picked me. I was frightened and my mouth felt dry. They took me to the balcony and made me kneel down, and then they shot me in the back of the head. Before they shot me I was thinking, "I hope this isn't going to hurt."

Oddly enough, I felt the cold entry of the bullet, and nothing else. It felt like my consciousness shattered into millions of pieces, parts of me becoming shining fritillaries being showered across the universe, and then coming back together again. I was still me, but only in spirit. Then I looked at everyone in the room I had just left. They were all pale with fear. My consciousness went over to each one, trying to see if I could communicate with them after death.

I found my ex-boyfriend A. in the room and waved my hand in front of his face. He frowned and shifted his eyes from left to right. It was like he could almost see me. I tried talking to him telepathically, and it felt like my broken up thoughts were entering his brain much like white noise. Then I saw a tear roll down his face, and I thought, "I knew you'd miss me."

Monday, May 16, 2005

Weather With You

It was with some shock that I read online about Crowded House drummer Paul Hester's suicide by hanging in a Melbourne Park last March. I had a similar shock reading about INXS frontman Michael Hutchence's suicide several years ago. It's sad when talent leaves the world that way, abruptly.

I've been a Crowdie since "Don't Dream It's Over" hit the US Billboard Charts at No. 2 in 1986. Recently I completed my Crowded House mp3's (both studio and live tracks), and came up with a playlist of my favorite 21 tracks from across four of their albums (Crowded House, Temple of Low Men, Woodface and Together Alone). Their music has been alternately described as pop, folk-rock and blues. I love the energetic and soulful guitar on most of these tracks, and I always find myself unconsciously singing backup to Neil Finn's amazing vocals. Been playing it over and over; if you ask me, it's the kind of music I'd bring with me to a desert island:

1. Don't Dream It's Over
2. Something So Strong
3. Mean To Me
4. I Walk Away
5. Now We're Getting Somewhere
6. Tombstone
7. World Where You Live
8. I Feel Possessed
9. When You Come
10. Into Temptation
11. Distant Sun
12. Private Universe
13. It's Only Natural
14. Fall At Your Feet
15. Whispers & Moans
16. Four Seasons In One Day
17. Fame Is
18. As Sure As I Am
19. How Will You Go
20. She Goes On
21. Weather With You

Naturally, I've also been collecting Neil Finn's solo work ("Try Whistling This" and "One Nil"). I love his voice, the same way I love Paul McCartney's and Paul Young's voices. I'm not the first one to note the Beatles vibe; one reviewer on says, "Neil Finn has a McCartneyesque gift for melody and a Lennonesque gift for lyrics." Imagine, for example, The Beatles' "Blackbird", segueing to Crowded House's "Into Temptation".

Crowded House's strongest album, in my opinion, is "Woodface". My favorite lyrics come from "Mean To Me":

So I talked to you for an hour
In the bar of a small town motel
And you asked me what I was thinking
I was thinking of a padded cell
With a black and white TV
To stop us from getting lonely

Crowded House remains underrated and tagged unfairly (outside of Australia and New Zealand) as an '80s band. I beg to differ; the songs in my playlist always sound fresh and undated, except possibly for "Don't Dream It's Over" (as a result of its relatively heavier airplay, because it's such a classic). They also performed really well live. I believe they could've been managed and promoted better in the US, but then that's moot. They broke up way back in 1996, holding a mammoth farewell concert in Australia, and releasing their greatest hits album "Recurring Dream". Fortunately Neil Finn has gone from strength to strength in his solo career.

My favorite songs? The heartbreaking "Better Be Home Soon", the romantic "She Goes On", the atmospheric "Private Universe" and of course the anthem "Weather With You".

Friday, May 13, 2005

Personal Geographic

Joy that was, the time
When I was blind, and blinded
Times over to all that warning senses
And the known world's boundaries
Had ever taught, that plain sight
Never could, completely.
And so I embarked to diligently map
The rough terrain of your
Uncharted country.

I had fallen and drowned, and was
Wrapped in the winding sheet of
Love which was a kind of death
From all life's tiresome etiquette,
Yet was reborn for a time
To walk in beauty and in music,
In the book for whose pages
We continually hungered.

I can never travel there again,
Where once we walked invisible
Among the real lives of others, though
Time and its easy way of
Erasing the paths of previous explorations
Reluctantly allows me every
Ghost of you.

It is another life to which I have
Awakened. The protocols of duty,
Their continuance, now consume me,
What was left of the fires
Even we could not extinguish.

After taking stock of all
My memory's possessions,
I grant the braille of your lips to be
The most indelible, having read them
Repeatedly, then, with all
My exposed and secret skins.

23 January 1995

Copyright Pomona Caccam. All rights reserved.

And Here My Troubles Began

In the past few weeks I've had the pleasure of reading a series of different graphic novels, from Tristan's personal collection. This included the classic definitive Batman comic "The Dark Knight Returns", "Sin City" (soon to be a motion picture starring Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis and the very dishy Clive Owen), the drama-filled "Watchmen" (about a group of costumed crimefighters contemplating their obsolescence, quite a period piece), and the whimsical yet literary "Moonshadow" (dreamy watercolors and witty, thought-provoking dialogue). I love comics and graphic novels, but I'm not a collector or such a rabid fan that I know all the names of the writers and artists and be able to compare them like fine wines. I simply like what I like, and what stirred my heart was reading Art Spiegelman's "Maus".

The "Maus: A Survivor's Tale" series is made up of two volumes, "My Father Bleeds History" and "And Here My Troubles Began". The latter volume won a special Pulitzer Prize, and with good reason. There's a story within a story: Art Spiegelman struggles to tell the story of how his father Vladek and his mother Anja survived Auschwitz, while coming to terms with his ragged relationship with the obsessive-compulsive Vladek in Rego Park, New York. All the Jews are portrayed as mice, and the Nazis as cats, and other nationalities as other animals. Think of the food chain. The frightening aptness of these representations, in black and white, only heighten the drama of the story. The dialogue is also worth mentioning. I guess I've watched too many tv dramas/comedies portraying cantankerous yet affectionate, aged Jewish fathers, but while reading "Maus" I can distinctly visualize Walter Matthau, talking like Einstein.

Spiegelman's artwork is so honest and raw, you can see where the ink is so agitatedly applied to the page. I found myself strongly affected by two particular scenes: the one where Vladek organizes a belt and shoes for a friend in Auschwitz, and the one where Art and Vladek argue about matches in the Catskills. In these scenes we see Vladek the survivor, and the older Vladek who never quite gets out of survival mode.

Witness the virtuoso play of irritation, stubbornness, impatience, and somehow, affection in the following exchange. In a perverse sort of way, it's funny and painful at the same time:

Vladek: -- ARTIE! WHAT DO YOU DO?!!

Art: Huh? I'm just lighting my cigarette…

Vladek: Better you shouldn't smoke: For YOU it's terrible, and for ME, with my shortness of breath, it's also no good to be NEAR… But if ANYWAY you're smoking, please don't use from me my WOODEN matches. I don't have left so many, and already to make COFFEE you used one. Only to light the OVEN I use them. These wood matches I have to BUY! The paper matches I can have FREE from the lobby of the Pines Hotel.

Art: JEEZ! I'll buy you a whole BOX of wooden matches!

Vladek: It isn't necessary. At home our oven is automatic, and here I'm staying only 15 more days. And I have still 50 matches left. How many matches can I use?…

Art: What a MISER! I can't take any more. I'm going out for air!

Vladek (to Francoise): Always Artie is NERVOUS -- so like his mother -- she also was nervous.

Art (outside on the patio): Bah.

To those looking for a different kind of read, I highly recommend both volumes of "Maus". Reading both volumes is a MUST, otherwise the experience is incomplete. "Maus" is a very human, intimate and yet heroic work that treats the history of tragedy and the triumph of survival in a very different way, becoming powerful literature beyond "plain comics", that bears reading again and again.