Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hidden Gems: Little Pleasures from Two Sides of the Globe

Some wonderful things in this life are well-known: Veuve Cliquot champagne, the Nutcracker suite, Mercedes Benz S-class and Gregory Peck. The again there are those little things that while not essentially secretive they float with little collective wow as much as they trully deserve it.

The Non Blonde (from New York) and yours truly decided to sit down and reveal some of the "secret" things that makes us tick. Things of a local but also international colour to take you away from your everyday existence into the cosmos of a friend city-trekker and which we hope will inspire you to seek them out this autumn.

Foodstuff and aromatic delights:
Mastic or lentisque, the natural resin of the mastic tree, is one of the local products which I feel few people outside the Mediterranean know about and that's such a shame. Because mastic is medicinally beneficial to so many ailments (soothes the stomach, strengthens the gums, whitens the teeth, refreshes the breath, helps with catarahh), it is also an excellent... aphrodisiac but most importantly its aroma is delicious, unusual and very pliable to so many uses in food, drink and fragrance (Infusion d'Iris by Prada is said to borrow its aromatic note).
Mastiha Shop is the brandname of Mediterra SA company founded by the Chios (the Greek island) Mastic Growers Association. Whenever a foreigner comes to my city I always take them to the Mastiha Shops: a paradise for everything around mastic! The Mastiha site is excellent and you can spend lots of time seeing the products, the shops and reading about how they are collaborating with other Eastern Mediterranean companies such as Al Doucan, Junan Natural Lebanais, Senteurs d'Orient Sarl and Haki Bekir SA. The best part is probably the Recollections section on which there are dots on the map of the whole Mediterranean with customs around mastic for every one on the map (on the Folklore sub-section), tales about travelers and historical references aplenty. Get their gum with rose essence if you can: yum!

Books and films
Jeux interdits (forbidden games), is a novel by François Boyer. The synopsis has a girl of 5 orphaned in an air raid while fleeing a French city with her parents during WWII. She is befriended by a 10 year old peasant boy when cut off from the other refugees and is taken in for a few weeks by his family. The children quickly become friends in the purest and most tender love story of them all in their attempt to assimilate the deaths they both face and the religious rituals surrounding those deaths through the construction of a cemetery for all sorts of animals. However child-like and adult activity often are at cross-purposes till the climactic finale.
The novel got adapted into a 1952 French language film directed by René Clément starring Georges Poujouly, Brigitte Fossey, and Amédée. For once a film respected the book and became according to filmsdefrance.com: "almost unquestionably the most compelling and intensely poignant drama featuring young children ever filmed" . If you have small children or have not forgotten the sensitivity of your childhood, it is highly, highly recommended. Take a box of Kleenex with you too, you will need them. Available through the Criterion Collection. Watch this little montage.

And if you're embracing your cynical, adult side, don't forget the Italian spaghetti western classic from one of my favourite directors of all time, maestro Sergio Leone.
Here is Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach in one of the most poignant treatises on war & the individual and the best showdown ever (click to watch): Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) from 1966 set to music by Ennio Morricone. "There are two kinds of people in this world, my friend: those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig!" A masterpiece.

Homage to a tortured soul:
Guillame Depardieu, son of France's greatest living acting legend, died on Monday out of complications of pneumonia according to Google. Gifted in acting himself, with the ill fate of growing up feeling side-tracked by his father's fame, and having to go through the loss of a leg due to a motorcycle accident a few years ago, he had a rough life that ended unjustly. He was 37.
He will always remain in mind fair, young and passionate as he was when he appeared alongside his father in Tous Les Matins du Monde (all the mornings of the world), a 1991 French film by Alain Corneau about the baroque music of Sainte Colombe and Jean Baptiste Lully which I had referenced when talking about O de Lancome and a big-fat-shinning gem of its very own. This is for you, Guillame. Godspeed...

Another passion of mine, I'm afraid. There are so many things to appreciate in a well-crafted jewel beyond its monetary aspect: the craftmanship, the cultural inspirations behind it, innovative designers making portable art. It makes my day to look at beautiful and inspired jewels and my collection is growing thanks to careful selection and generous gifts.
I tend to prefer vintage pieces with rose-cut diamonds (those grey irregularly-cut stones that resemble hazelnut shreds). Fanourakis is a Greek goldsmith fronted by an admirable woman, Lina Fanourakis, who designs the most ecclectic mix of portable sculpture: small flies become dainty earrings, a corset is shaped into a bracelet, drops of liquid fall off the length of a brooch. Take a look here and if you pass through Ermou St (Hermes street) in Athens, turn on the left before Kapnikarea church so as not to miss their boutique.

Then again there is Rinaldo Gavello: an Italian designer married to a Greek woman and almost a Greek himself now...With boutiques in the glamorous Athens center, Thessaloniki and in always popular Mykonos, he designs the rock-chic pieces with skulls out of the tiniest diamonds and bright enamel that delight my Metallica-loving soul. Take a look at the new Josephine collier, inspired by black gazelle Josephine Baker and prepare to be awed! (click the link to see pic)

One of the fragrances that I have never heard anyone in the perfume communities know is an Italian Eau de Toilette by the French-sounding Jean Louis Gady brandname, christened Musk Oil (it's anyone's guess why they called it thus when it's in fact a spray alcoholic fragrance!) It's my favourite "extra" to include in international packages: there is no one I have sent this to who hasn't spontaneously commented that it is very pleasant and wearable. Warm, sweet but not intensely so, with hints of rose and vanilla, unisex and a proper "perfumey" fragrance rather than a clean musk, it garners compliments from everyone. It's a mystery why it's not widely available.

Another little-sung hero is Sonia Rykiel Woman, not for Men! from one of the more chic and favourite designers: musky, leathery, powdery and with an abstract touch of cosy warmth it's a wonderful, wonderful perfume that is unique, never nauseatingly sweet or heavy and a subtle come-hither. Nota bene, however: all this describes the Eau de Parfum in the bottle with the bronze studs on the cap and the purple accent lettering, not the pink one with the silver studs (the Eau de toilette, which is yet another trite fruity floral).

Demeter's Rain is not exactly what one would call "perfume" and indeed I am not advocating you wear it as a personal fragrance. It's more of a mind-altering mood in a bottle: it is exactly the smell of those baby humidifiers-ionisers which shoot negative ions in the atmosphere to boost energy levels and clear the air. It smells as fresh as the first raindrops from a blue cloud in the autumn sky.

Body indulgences:
The shower gel which I most enjoy during the late summer and autumn months is none other than Felce Azzura (means "blue fern" in Italian) by Paglieri. There is some pungent aromatic and slightly bitter essence like crushed dried herbs gathered on a Greek hill along with a lingering powdery quality about it that never stops having me swooning (a dangerous thing in the shower!). Refreshingly cool in late summer's humidity and unlike any usual citrusy or minty bath product it has an autumnal feel that is a perfect fit for the current season in particular. It also comes as a body powder with the same heavenly smell. And it's relatively inexpensive, making it the perfect everyday indulgence. Once upon a time, as attested by the ad designed by Moltrasio in the 1950's which is clearly inspired by my look-alike, there was also a hair brilliantine. Kill me now!

Hair guilty secret:
I am über-loyal to Elnette hairspray for dry hair ever since I remember using something to hold my stray strands, ever since it was non cool and not fronted by Penelope Cruz and Claudia Shiffer in those nifty ads. Seeing my mother and grandmother using it obvsiouly had a deep and contradictory impact: I wanted to break out of the mold and try "younger" hair stuff, quirky, punky, whatnot. After hundreds of flings with lesser mortals I always return to this one: it brushes off in an instant, does the job well without sticking the hair into barbed-wire and has a nostalgic faint smell that doesn't bother my perfume wearing.

Makeup unsung hero:
Guerlain has my hard-earned Euros on many things; one of the constants however, apart from perfume, is mysteriously enough a highlighter-cum-concealer: Issima Precious Light. A click-pen with a little brush at the edge that delivers the creamiest, most becoming little shot of light for under the eyes, over the brows, at the edges of nose and lips, to give a gentle luminosity to the face to lift it through the darker days of the cooler season. More creamy than the Yves Saint Laurent analogous product and less sticky or thick than the comparable Dior, it is the perfect consistency to blend without tugging. I use Beige Naturel 020 and it doesn't need anything else on top (the sales assistant who insisted my light skin needed the Beige Clair 010 hadn't realised that too white-ish gains a grey-ish pallor over any trace of blue under the eyes...)

Actors to watch now:
This guy has been steadily gaining a small but dedicated fan club, mainly thanks to his inclusion in the Tudors. I fist spotted him in The Count of Monte Cristo. I don't know why they don't employ him in almost everything!
Opposite physionomy to the virile one above, fabulous acting chops, this one is another gem not to miss: I don't know why they don't employ him in almost everything either! Best thing of all: you never hear about their private lives: wise boys...

Music to listen to this autumn:
Manos Hadjidakis is no unknown in Greek music. He shares demi-God status. Yet not many people abroad who only know Greek music from Zorba the Greek instantly recognise him as immediately as the latter's composer (equally talented Mikis Theodorakis). Here is a clip from Gioconda's Smile, his 1965 instrumental album inspired by his stay in...New York City. Available at Amazon.

I'd love to hear from you about your favorite hidden gems (regional or of a wider scope). Share them in the comments and please don't forget to check out The Non Blonde's for another take.

Art photo on top by Charettevia. Felce Azzura ad via trocadero.com. Jeux Interdits poster via Wikimedia. Clint Eastwood pic from the Clint Eastwood Archive.


  1. Stella Polaris16:49

    (I in London, and finally got time to get to Ormonde Jayne, what a delighful experience that was, and such a beautiful and pleasant quite shop! The young SA was very nice and now am sit here with Tolu i edp and body lotion, and many samples for me and my husband! Other places I have got many very nice, but also not so nice olfactory experiences. Bluebell was on me worse than I ever could imagine a perfume could be!) Now I have my only time left for looking at clothes, so I must run:)

  2. leopoldo17:19

    I saw Cillian Murphy with a big pile of clothes in his hands in Uniqlo a few weeks back. Superskinny.

  3. Dear S,

    London: fab!!! Have a GREAT time :-))
    And you couldn't have chosen a better winter fragrance than Tolu: it's exquisite! (and body lotion too, huh? You're making me jealous, now!) Glad you had such a nice experience in the OJ boutique!

  4. Dear L,

    how are things? HOpe you're very well and tending to your furry beauty :-)

    There you go: the guy is low-brow enough to shop at Uniqlo. What better ref than that is there? I'd be seriously worried when he starts having a personal shopper shop for him in Cavalli. :P
    Yeah, skinny... They all are. We get fooled by their big heads. (I'm referring to the little known fact that actors usually have big heads because it "reads" well on the screen)

  5. Afternoon Helg. Its hot and dry here. Still no rain.
    I do not know mastic or lentisque (its other name) but I have a Greek deli nearby and I am going to investigate! I love the sound of that Blue Fern gel- lovely on a hot day . I did not know Depardieu had a son - so sad - he was like Dean Martin and Paul Newmans sons - trying to keep up with their fathers but be independant too. So hard.
    I shall see if my husband has the good , the bad and the ugly. I do like Clint Eastwood and where are the men in the movies that are that cool ??? Oh that music ! I
    Now - Elenette. Love it and we do not get it here anymore!! Rrrrr . I remember the smell and the little ones for the handbag too.
    Now me I guess. I adore maria Callas and play her music when I am in a "mood". Now there was a Diva! I love Paulo Conti too - way cool. I really love to eat Marzipan. Some hate it - I'm addicted .
    I love champagne cocktails, Cab Sav from New Zealand and with a bowl of prawns/shrimp - heaven.
    I love Jicky, Mitsouko but my little "must have" is a bottle of Goutals Eau du Ciel. It is such a wonderful and strangly mystic gentle scent to me. Hard to get too. Rrr.
    I draw in pastels so I love to see THAT room in the Musee D'Orsay. Full of famous pastels.
    I will watch any movie with Jean Reno - I know he looks "quirky" but I love him! LOL

  6. M,

    please do!
    Yeah, it's hard to follow after a famous parent and be independent too. In this case he mapped out an interesting course with many hard bumbs along the way...
    Clint was the ambodiment of cool (and very beautiful) in his young days. I ADORE Morricone's music so that makes two of us :-))
    Why have they discontinued Elnette in your market?? Doesn't make sense since they're pushing it so hard again all over in Europe and the States. (!?!)

    Marzipan I am not that keen, but Conti and Callas, oh yeah! I envy you the prawn-Cab combo: wish I had some right now.
    You know, EdC has been described to me as smelling a bit of sunscreen (someone had asked me "did you put on sunscreen just now?") and it stuck; now I think it over I realise that it is perhaps that hay-like feel along with the subtle florals that recall a very specific sunscreen lotion from a while ago (it was a French product).
    The Musee d'Orsay is chokefull of wonderful impressionists, it's such a pilgrimage...and I LOVE Reno!! (have you seen The Big Blue and Ronin?)

  7. Demeter Rain -- ah. That, and Norrell, are two landmarks in my path to perfume. Rain because it fascinated me quite a while ago, when I still didn't otherwise perfume. Would sometimes spritz it into the air to smell it and ponder it. In retrospect, I was definitely engaging in olfactory exploration; it's just then, it was a laser focus with little time allocated.

    Other hidden gems: Choward Violet pastilles. Choro music. Jose Eisenberg "Jose" for her perfume ('twas inexpensive comfort; I think it is gone now). Goat cheese and sun dried tomatoes tossed into macaroni and cheese. The used bookstore just south of Broadway and Addison in Chicago.

    Uh-oh...my list is starting to get long...thanks for this interlude!

  8. memechose14:18

    Hidden gems: halvah and loukhoum (two very fattening turkish candied confections), my grandmother's dolce con leche(dates dipped in caramelized cream), Clive Christian X- unbeliavably beautiful fruity chypre, Daniela Corte fashions, a Boston based designer who creates simply elegant and flttering clothing for women who celebrate their curves, cle de peau waterproof mascara, asiago bread, The Flea Market retaurant on Ave A in NY, Lakshmi perfume by ajne, The Dresden Files books, and lastly footwear by Vanessa Bruni.

  9. Anonymous14:13

    Hi E!
    So many amazing tips in your post! Thank you...
    After reading Lady Jicky's post I found out that I don't own any strangly mystic gentle scent. I guess it is a must for every girl. :)Any tips for mystic scents?
    I like tahini a lot - with banana, it is a real drug, I used to eat it everyday as a breakfast.
    From books I can mention my new finds: Japanese books, especially some old books. Tomorrow I will visit our library here to get Sei Shonagon's The Pillow book. Sei was a court lady around the year 1000. I'd like to rent Izumi Shikibu book too, but all pieces are currently lent, so I have to wait. It is sold out in the shops for long time.
    My relatively new hobby is art. But I am only admirer, not buyer.:)But from what I read around internet, it is a very snobbish world, even false and two-faced. For example I just found out that it is a weird fashion among contemporary art buyers and lovers to slander impressionists.:-(
    Have a nice day!

  10. It's always interesting dipping into another person's world- thank- you for sharing.

    I love Henry Cavill and Cillian Murphy to, although they're quite different.

    Have you seen the I Capture the Castle film? I think Henry Cavill is excellent in that, it's a quiet performance but I think he is almost perfect as that character. Plus it has the great scenes with the girls loving the bluebell perfume! It's one of my favourite re- watch Christmas films

  11. Phew! Meme-d up and ready to rock!

  12. S,

    thank you and welcome! And so glad Rain struck a chord! (isn't it a mood smell?)

    Are you referring to J'ose (=I dare) by Jose Eisenberg? (which I only now realise is also a wordplay on his first name)
    I didn't know it was discontinued, that'd be a pity, I was recommending it a few weeks ago on another venue. Or is it a different scent? (in which case I don't know the first thing about it and therefore you've got me intrigued!)

  13. MC,

    thank you for your suggestions: very enlightening and food for exploration! (the Bruni shoes will need some searching for, I have a thing for shoes ~well, a highly unoriginal hobby for a woman, huh? LOL)
    I LOVE halvah, but yes, very fattening, can't indulge as much as I'd like to :-(
    And I have heard good things about the Anji perfumes so will definitely take you up on your rec :-)

  14. Lavinia,

    thank you for stopping by and sharing your gems :-)

    Tahini...now there's another one who knows about those Med things ;-) I haven't tried it with banana (on which I am not very keen), but it goes well with butter cookies (upping the calories though!)
    The Pillow Book is amazing and the film is also good ~if you're not averse to Ewan McGregor that is ;-)
    And now you have me hankering after Izumi Shikibu's poems...I doubt they'd have her in my library though, will probably look for it through Amazon and other online sellers (?)

    Art is terribly snobbish, has always been more than other sectors and of course the first thing about snobbism is to peg down the Masters (who have also mostly circulated unnoticed and unacredited during their lifetime)...You're not cool if you simply like Caravaggio or Vermeer, everyone does ;-)

    (having said that and with no snob aspirations whatsoever I have to say that the collection public reverence on certain artists/writers/musicians etc. does get on my nerves a bit: it's as if we're conditioned to believe they're infallible no matter what, aren't we?)

  15. Rose,

    yup, thought it might interest you to see some of my "quirkier" (?) choices.

    I haven't seen I capture the Castle yet, apart from the free Youtube clips uploaded of course, but I have it on my list thanks to your rec. I like quiet performances and perfume references as well :-)

  16. RUSHING to see and you look like a very cute geek! (honest to God)

  17. **blush** thanks, hon!
    Oh I love lists of people's secret recommendations! A few of mine:
    Roger & Gallet "Laitue" shower gel - actually smells like fresh green grass rather than lettuce, but so refreshing in hot sticky weather.
    Toni & Guy Heat Protection Spray - great if like me you have too much hair and spend hours drying it. Smells so much like Gucci Rush that I fear for the copyright.
    Double espresso from Giuliano's Deli next door.
    gawker.com - so rude! So compelling!
    Museum shops - absolutely fantastic for presents, treats, etc. The V&A one is great, the Tate Britain one is excellent, and the Science Museum shop is perfect for kids' presents.
    Belazu Smoked Chili Jelly - How to adequately enthuse about this? Smoky, sweet, perfect on cold or hot meat, lifts a cheese sandwich into the stratosphere...

  18. stella polaris16:30

    Hours spend in the exhibition The Cold War Modern Design 1945 - 1970 really is among the best if in London just now, at the V&A. And share the view of Lucy Fishwife - museum shops are great! :)
    I also like (fashion & ) accessories; in the Tate Modern shop they have the book Fashion & Accessories by Jan Brand (2007). Run and have a look, or alternatively, there always is Amazone..
    When thinking of soaps, my favorites must be the ones made by the nuns at the cloisters at the small island Tautra in the Trondheim fjord (Norway). (they have a very nice web site)

  19. Stella Polaris20:11

    Some musical gems from the northern outskirts of Europe. This is actual my nearest naghbour, he feeds our two cats when we are away :)
    His music is inspired by folk music from this area. This music, is inspired of Balkan, and the bass player is a friend of mine

  20. Stella Polaris20:13

    (neighbour, it should be. sometimes my misspelling are embarrasing..)

  21. L,

    thanks so much for your suggestions, how fascinating!
    I must have missed the R&G product: is it widely available? Never heard of it before. :-O
    Toni & Guy Heat Protection Spray goes right onto my list because I have the same problem :too much hair, too little time to dry (and the scent sounds fab too, which is..ahem...one of my sensitive points)
    I soooo agree on Museum shops: they have wonderful things. The V&A especially is a treasure trove. I do a similar thing here with an ethnographic one: they have amazing things!

  22. S,

    how wonderful of you to include these here! :-)) Thank you!

    The Tate is another great one (get that book now! I am interested in your review of it more than the anonymous ones on Amazon).

    And a scented product made by nuns: you share tastes with Luca, dearest one.;-)

    I assume Fang doesn't mean the same thing in Norwegian as in English? (the music sounds very soothing). The second Youtube clip is great like that, shot in segments.
    And he plays bouzouki!! Wow! But where is the clip? I see a guitar only.

    On the second page, I think the Balkan inspiration is refined, LOL!
    (but they do have Taraf de Haiduks as a friend there, so explore the more "agitated" versions)

  23. Oh, and not a problem on typos. I make many myself! :-)

  24. Yes, I mean the Eisenberg, and not the other J'ose.

    ScentDirect does not have it in stock; the only supplier I was able to find State-side was *bay, and that went "poof" long ago.

    I had been quietly offering it up as a reasonably priced comfort amber...sorry to see it gone, myself.

  25. stella polaris09:05

    Fang means lap, and what is more soothing than sitting on someones lap? :)
    I didn't see the bouzouki either!
    (I added the music because of my personal relationship with these guys, that reinforces really the feel-good-feeling - like then wearing a perfume with a halo of nice associations :)

  26. Thanks S for the info.
    And very true :-)


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