Walking to a friend’s place towards the end of Macleay Street, Potts Point the fragrance of sandalwood stops me at my tracks. I know that perfume. I am familiar with it because it is, possibly, my favourite scent. In front of Potts Point Bookshop, I stop to follow my nose. The source is not too far down the street – the furniture shop next to my friend’s apartment. I see ashes on the shop floor, the smoke of incense licking me on the sidewalk.

I visited this shop regularly not just because it is the only place in Sydney that stocks Mysore sandalwood incense, and, once, Balaji Chandan oil, but I was attracted to the man wearing round glasses and a faded Russian blue linen shirt behind the counter. He studied psychology and ended up becoming a furniture designer, and eventual director of his furniture business, which is the second, and smaller, of its Sydney boutiques. We had  dinner once, it didn’t evolve but that wouldn’t stop me from stocking up on his excellent choice in incense.

In the 1990s I bought Aveda’s sandalwood incense, discontinued before the Y2K. When I’m in Newtown I walk at the end of King Street and head to Fiji Market to buy Chandan Supreme Sandalwood Masala incense. A friend gave me a bottle of Hermes Santal Massoïa knowing my passion for this oil, and because she’s just generous. A partner once gave me Le Labo Santal 26 candle on my birthday. The label said he loved me. In Serge Lutens’ Palais Royal boutique I opened the bell-jar bottle of Santal de Mysore and found it. Something.

When sandalwood floats in the streets, my nose lifts and the tips of my nasolabial folds twitches much like a bloodhound. “What sandalwood is that? Which perfume? Where is it going?” I search for sandalwood in perfumes, especially when they are deep, resinous, dark, and warm. I like to blend sandalwood pure oil with rose, but I love blending rose with anything I have on hand in the spirit of experiment – that’s another story. A few of my memorable sandalwood scents are 10 Corso Como, Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore, Diptyque Tam Dao.

Other than sandalwood, some of my favourite notes are: rose, chamomile, honey, almond, eucalyptus, oakmoss, musk, wood smoke, frankincense, and so much more.


Bois d’Ascèse by Naomi Goodsir

Walking inside Sydney’s Botanical Gardens, the sun bright on all those greens surrounded by ocean and sky, I felt grateful for my friend who asked to meet me at the cafe above the pool on the other side of the gardens. The park immediately inspired and energised me as I cut across it. In my earphones, I listened to On Being’s Krista Tippett interview Benedectine monk, David Steindal-Rast on the subject of gratitude. Steindal-Rast said in the interview, “Spirituality is aliveness on all levels. It must start with our bodily aliveness. For many people, say the sense of smell is practically non-existent. If you really are grateful, come alive with your smell. Start smelling, not sight seeing, but smelling smelling.”

As of late, I have been “smelling smelling” like there’s no tomorrow. I’ll smell anything. I’m alive. I have a handkerchief that I spray Naomi Goodsir’s Bois d’Ascèse in. I open it like a book, or my palms, or a chest, and I bury my face in it. Its perfume loads me with images of times crossing the past, present and future.

Bois d’Ascèse, as stated in Naomi Goodsir Parfums‘ website, encompass notes of tobacco, whiskey, cinnamon, amber, cistus labdanum, oak moss, smoked cade wood, and Somali incense.

Here is the poem inspired by Bois d’Ascèse –


The wind, muted by stones, whistles under the door

Cobwebs tremble


On the cool, dusty floor a chair creaks

The sepia years turns smoke to filigree

Kisses stick to these lips


Remember when our breaths staved off the blues?

Against the horizon’s weight we turned the sky upside down so its beauty could spill on our faces


Long ago those tears sustained us


Naomi Goodsir’s handwriting in blue