Monday, November 12, 2012

"Singapore perfumes" : a subversive fragrance pyramid

A while back, on the perfume forum to which I occasionally post, a lady wanted to know what “Singapore perfumes” were. She came from Singapore and had never heard of the term.
Well, I explained, bluntly put, “Singapore perfumes” is a term, or a euphemism, devised by small retailers in the Philippines for counterfeit designer perfumes.

First, what makes them counterfeit, and different from knock-offs, dupes or imitations?  

Review: Cabotine de Gres

What a beauty indeed. It comes across as a white floral that has the greenness of the perfumes in that old, grand tradition (I'm thinking of the Miss Diors (original), the Rive Gauches). As I sniffed I sensed a cold metallic tinge, a particular combination of notes perhaps, that reminded me of

Reviews: Must II de Cartier & Ambre de Cabochard

Must II de Cartier EDT

I purchased a vintage 50ml bottle of Must II de Cartier EDT on the net. Perhaps the citrus top notes have faded with time, as I don't sense them, and the entire fragrance feels like it could be a slightly paler version of itself. Nonetheless, it’s the gem of my collection right now... the bottle is the kind that when you hold it, you feel a tightening in your chest.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fragrance reviews!

Here's something light -- a clutch of perfume reviews I put up on under my profile in For those who are interested in scent, or are contemplating the annual ritual of procuring something small, beautiful and expensive for a loved one, is a user-friendly, colorful and extremely diverse gateway into the world of perfumery. The reviews, done anonymously by hundreds of people around the world, are the work of the amateur, in the true and original sense of the word -- one who explores and writes about perfume out of sheer passion, and not the obligation to earn a living. Another excellent review and discussion site is

On Fragrantica, my user name is Lakambini. Below is a screen capture of the latest entries in my profile. As the text is too small to read comfortably, you'll find a couple of recent capsule reviews I posted after the screen cap image, and a dozen or so more after the jump.



I put a huge spritz on my arm and got dizzying gasoline fumes, and in this miasma a whiff of leather, evolving into a sharp green odor that reminded me of a conifer forest in still cold air. Fossil fuels, animal skin and pine -- all raw, real materials, all synthetically rendered. And after a good scrub I am getting a monster dry-down: I am growing taller, muscular, rational, decisive, I will strip down for a shower later on and give out a long scream at the discovery that I'm a woman. Fahrenheit is a work of art that I can't wear, and can only appreciate on other people, men actually.

I just feel warm, pulled-together and confident when I have this on. Starts out with a spicy-green note that reminds me of the experience of cutting and gathering tropical ginger flowers, then evolves quickly to a creamy, but very clean vanilla, which is pretty much the dry-down. I spray it on my scarves and sweaters for the experience of luxuriating in its soft understated goodness. I don’t think of it as “deep”, nor “red,” nor even “sexy” in the conventional whip-thin, belligerent, snarling-lipped sense. But if “sexy” means bringing out the best in me as a woman, then, sure, this fragrance is it.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

A dialogue between Danish and Indian writers IV: Carsten Jensen and Manu Joseph

Vera Alexander (moderator): Can you share your thoughts on your role as writers?

Manu Joseph: I'm not really comfortable calling myself a writer. To me it's embarrassing... There's something vain about calling oneself a writer. I used to claim I was a writer when I was 16. I grew up in a middle-class family in Madras, where if you are 16 years old you're supposed to be preparing for the toughest engineering exam in the world, otherwise you're pretty hopeless. And when I said I wanted to be a writer, people thought there was something seriously wrong with me. But now I'm not sure... it’s something you can call yourself at the end of your life. I'm pretty sure you could be a writer after many, many years. On days that I'm feeling vain, I call myself a writer, and nobody objects.

Carsten Jensen: (As a writer), and I know it sounds pathetic, you somehow feel as if you're a stranger on earth. It feels like you don't belong. So you look at everything with a stranger's eyes, because you need to know the world in order to survive in a strange, and to you unfamiliar, world, in which you can't really identify. And you're constantly questioning to get to know it. And I think when it comes to language, you very quickly, as a child already, discover that the language that is handed over to you it doesn't really fit your experience of the world. You don't necessarily see it that way, and then you start a lifetime search for more precise words. And this is also called talent, or inspiration, but I think at the bottom of it, there is questioning, but there's also I think, an informal sort of aggressivity, as there always is in questioning. You don't just take things for granted. You don't basically accept them. So you are, somehow, aggressive as a writer, whether you lead a peaceful life or not. You are somehow at war with the world.

Manu: I have a schizophrenic existence as a journalist and a novelist. As a journalist, though, I find novelists very naive. ... For example, I was at a conference where they were making a 30-second silence for Syria. There is a naïve idea that to be a writer you must be a good person. So that is my perception as a journalist, (that as a writer) there is a constant posturing, that we stand for decent things, we are against oppression... As a journalist I find that amusing sometimes.

Dialogue between Danish and Indian writers III: Kirsten Thorup and Mridula Garg

Vera Alexander: I start off by inviting you to comment on your self-image as writers? What happens when you tell innocent people that you are writers?

Kirsten Thorup: I don't think about a role when I'm writing. I grew up with an oral tradition, and so when I write, I always think about telling the story. I always have this feeling I'm (doing so) more orally than written. When I went to school, I didn't like to write essays. So if somebody told me I was going to be a writer most of my life that would've been like depicting a hell for me.

But I had a need to write something I wanted to tell, or felt needed to be told. I'm mostly interested in the complexity of the individual human being, and the inner chaos. Also the individual towards society, their position, whether they are privileged or underprivileged. I'm very interested in people on the edge of society. I think it's because I myself feel that I'm on the edge of society. It's about being able as an individual to adjust to the rules and norms of society.

I start with the individual, and from that person, I create the story. I don't have a plot from the beginning. I'm interested in correcting the media's stereotypes -- that you have all these boxes that you put people in -- that certain groups are demonized or looked down on. I want to tell that all groups in society consist of individuals, with their own stories. I think that everybody's story is worth telling, if you go deep down in their life. I'm interested in the individual's struggle for existence.

So that's my aim: I want to give people voices, who do not have a voice for themselves. Of course every writer has his own standpoint, from which to tell about what is going on in society.

How people react to your telling them that you are an actor (referring to Astrid, an actor as well as playwright), or a writer ... they still find it strange that you are a writer. That's why it's not difficult for me to identify with all kinds of odd people, because you are placed there sometimes. I remember one time I went to a hospital and I had to register, and they asked me, "What's your job?" And I said, "I'm a writer." "Yes, but what's your work?"

A dialogue between Danish and Indian writers II: Githa Hariharan and Astrid Saalbach

Vera Alexander began the panel discussion by addressing the first pair, Githa Hariharan and Astrid Saalbach.

Key phrases for this first installment are: writer’s role, time and space, globalization, gender roles, Danish language, dansk, multilingualism, translation, theater, English, hegemony, Githa Hariharan, Astrid Saalbach.

Vera: Can you comment on your role as a writer? What is it like to be a writer? How does it feel to be a writer today -- has that changed in the course of your career?

Githa: In your day-to-day ... as a writer, you don't get a salary every month. And you're not a poet, you're not in a garrett, you're not this romantic figure. A novelist is a kind of middle-class figure, which is very boring indeed. I have a formula to describe my writing … It's called the well-constructed lie. Because we don't know ... And you're guessing as much is your readers are... but we have to construct it well.

So I came to my writing partly because I had a very traveling childhood. At the age of 13 I moved from Bombay to Manila, and there's nothing worse than being a 13-year-old in a classroom, and in those days we still had a very un-politically correct course called Oriental History, and the minute they began to speak of reincarnation and transmigration of souls, my 13 year old self would immediately look down and hope the teacher wouldn't call me to immediately explain this civilization that was such a burden on my poor little shoulders. But of course I was asked to explain, and so very early on I developed a deep and healthy skepticism about all forms of establishment, whether it was reincarnation or the nuns who ran the school...

More than anything you don't need to travel in India to find out that you live a multilingual existence, which is not of course all sweetness and light. There's a lot of tension, there is humor, but there's a lot of chaos, and I think that this is fertile ground for a writer. You know that language is something slippery, but it's something powerful and you better be very good friends with it. So I think this shifting ground is where a writer is made.

And finally, I think I really became a writer because I had a good job in publishing, and then I got pregnant. So when I went on maternity leave, I was surrounded by a whole lot of women who kept giving me contradictory advice, and then I had a baby who was wonderful, but terribly boring because you can't talk to a baby, so I wrote a novel.

Astrid: I'm still very confused when people ask what is a writer's role, because I still don't know after 30 years of writing. It's changing, I think it depends on how you look at yourself, and I look at myself as some sort of witness to a world that is disappearing, in my view. It is a way of understanding the world, and the difficulties of changing gender roles, and of belonging to the privileged part of the world, that I think is in its last days. And the guilt that I think we are born with, because we are so privileged, and we are living our very nice lives, because of so many people's not-so-privileged lives. And not being able to do anything about it. The skisma(schism) in everything.

Vera: Can we talk a little bit about the sense of place, and about the significance of the location in which you live and write, and write about, and the kind of feelings you have about places?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A dialogue between Indian and Danish writers in Copenhagen

Three Indian writers met and dialogued with three Danish writers last Monday, Sept. 24, in Copenhagen, in a program titled "The contemporary role of literature in India and Denmark."

Mridula Garg, Githa Hariharan and Manu Joseph were in Denmark to participate in the literary events series "India: Literature Now - Writers' Exchange" organized by the University of Copenhagen, Aarhus University and Gyldendal Publishers. The writers Carsten Jensen, Astrid Saalbach and Kirsten Thorup are all based in Denmark.

Hariharan and Joseph write in English, Garg in Hindi, though her work has been translated into English. Jensen, Saalbach and Thorup write in Danish.

The panel discussion, chaired by Vera Alexander of the University of Copenhagen, grouped the writers into pairs, each pair asked to respond to a series of questions. Eventually, the discussion became more freewheeling -- commonalities discovered, disparate views aired, and some of the deep-seated tensions that attend a writer's position relative to ethics, to colleagues and to the market, vaulting up as well.

The experience of having these six different individuals responding to one another at that very moment and in that same space, is something that will not happen again, so I’m sharing it with readers of this blog, and hopefully it will find an audience in those interested in literature as a whole. As many brilliant things were said, my coverage of that afternoon will as much as possible be in the writers' own words, as per my transcription, and will be in the three posts that follow this one. - L. Sitoy

From left: Manu Joseph, Carsten Jensen, Mridula Garg, Kirsten Thorup, Astrid Saalbach, Githa Hariharan. 

 Johannes Riis, director of Gyldendal (top)
and Peter Andersen of the Center of Global South-Asian Studies, University of Copenhagen


To come:
*Githa Hariharan and Astrid Saalback
* Mridula Garg and Kirsten Thorup
* Manu Joseph and Carsten Jensen
* Free discussion and open forum
* ALOA sponsored program: Mridula Garg, Githa Hariharan and Manu Joseph talk about their work at Trankebar bookshop in Copenhagen
* Author biodata






Saturday, September 22, 2012

A study process description (Cultural Encounters at Roskilde University)

At Roskilde University, students enrolled in the Cultural Encounters M.A. program are required to send in what is known as a studieforløbsbeskrivelse (study process description) at the end of each semester. There's no set format for the study process description, nor does the language have to be particularly academic, but it does have to indicate what you read over the semester, and what you learned relative to the five governing angles of the program. In addition, it must be approved by the supervisor of whatever project you undertook during the term; in the final term, that will be the supervisor of your thesis.

At RUC's Cultural Encounters, an MA student must show that she has effectively worked with all five of these governing angles by the end of her studies, so an important aspect of the study process description is the choice of which angle/s to apply for in a semester. The student must then provide enough material to support that application.

Through the study process description, the student reflects on what she has learned so far, and fits it into the larger pattern of her studies, including work she did for her bachelor's degree, and even her life. It's also a great way of keeping track of what one has read (or needs to re-read, or hasn't read, or is supposed to have read). And the very act of summing it up and committing it to writing imprints it on the brain, so that (hopefully) one need never stand slack-jawed at a cocktail party when asked, "Sooooo, what did they teach you at university?"

Here's how I answered that question in the last study process description I sent in, albeit with considerably more time than one gets at a cocktail party:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

M.A. in English and Cultural Encounters from Roskilde University

We came back from a trip to find a beautiful sheaf of papers in the mail.

There was a letter of congratulations signed by the rector Ib Poulsen, my diploma, my transcript, a profile of my competencies (general for all RUC students, and specific to my two areas of study), and a supplement that serves as guide to the Danish university system.

So now it's official. I have an M.A. in Engelsk og Kultur- og sprogmødestudier (English and Cultural Encounters) from Roskilde University, Denmark. And I have the proof!

These are images of the list of competencies attending both areas of study in the M.A. program.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Demonstration in front of U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen

As the Unitarisk Kirke's service ended earlier today, we became aware of a voice over a megaphone farther down the street. The Unitarian Church is a few buildings down from the American embassy; across the street the protesters were massed. At issue was the film critical of Islam that has sparked demonstrations and violence around the world.
This rally was organized by Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group known in Denmark for its extremism.

I couldn't understand what was being said over the megaphone (the language wasn't Danish by the way), but one of those placards held aloft says, in English: "Freedom of expression is a means of repression." What the pictures don't show is the movement of the crowd ... men, women and children of all ages and diverse dress calming walking over and ducking under the striped tape to join the rally; none of them "ethnic Danes," however. The crowd grew to 1,000 in the course of the hour, radio reports said later. Those men in hazard vests are part of the organizing group, not police. 
That's the embassy in the picture below, with the police cars neatly lined up at an angle in front of it. There was no visible riot gear, no shields, no obvious display of firearms, just the police standing in their sky-blue shirt sleeves next to their vehicles, while the crowd chanted and a man called out a long harangue over the sound system.  

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Over the Carpathian Mountains

Over the Carpathian Mountains, flying from Cluj to Bucharest in a Tarom propeller plane.

Here's a street crossing at the southern end of Bucharest.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

2007 Interview published in People Magazine (Philippine edition)

Blast from the past. Here's an interview I did by email with Samantha Echavez, which appeared in the February 2007 issue of People Magazine (Philippine edition). That's Dayanara Torres on the cover. - Lakambini Sitoy