At the back of the hill

Warning: May contain traces of soy, wheat, lecithin and tree nuts. That you are here
strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton.
And that you might like cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


It happened on Kearny near Sutter. Now I know why I seldom go down to that part of town. It's a very strange neck of the woods.

I had been looking around for a shop that is no longer there, when I smelled cake. Nice fresh cake, with a slightly odd undertone of savage musk. When I looked around there were no cake shops nearby. Momentarily the smell got stronger, then faded again. At that point I realized that it had been a middle-aged gentleman (older than me) who had just passed, and I also understood that it was his aftershave. Some older people are less acute in the nose department, and just don't smell themselves really well. Consequently they splash on what others merely sprinkle.
This post is not about sprinkling those past early youth.
Such as men with non-functioning olfactories.
It is about what men shouldn't do.
As well as fragrances.

The smells of a fine cake, alongside a small cup of coffee or tea, is one of the most intensely private of sensations. Fresh moist sponge, perfect fruit, and a subtle drop of vanilla, added to the faint faint nose-whisper of rich whipped cream........ And a toasty hue of coffee in the air, or wine-like black tea.
An aromatic recall of summers past, sunlight, and dense green beyond the curtains. Or a fond memory of early spring rain, darkness during daylight, and a warm room.
Perfect, indeed, entirely by oneself. But cake is made in measures far too large for just one person, so inevitably there is also an association with others, who might not be present when that most delicious slice is guiltily enjoyed alone.
Cake is the distilled epitome of sharing.

I can imagine several personal fragrances I would much rather have on a middle-aged man. Cake must obviously fade into the bottom rung of choices. Perhaps a whiff of pine-tar, or a shadow of gasoline and brake oil. Rope, leather, and saddle grease -- although that is more of a Castro Street affectation, I think.
An suggestion of dark Dutch shag tobacco, for a bright young teenager.
Or tweeds with an underlay of fields, and heather in bloom.
Tannins from oak leaves in Autumn.

Several years ago there was a men's cologne with a very pronounced pong of vanilla. Yes, other essences too, as the overall effect was meant to suggest a tropical island, albeit one with carnivorous wildlife. Altogether a bit much. But it went through a phase, and every day you'd get on the elevator and someone was wearing it. You could tell when their own awareness of it's effect weakened, as over a period of weeks the smell got stronger and stronger.
At times it was so horrendous that you wished that someone would get in after eating onions. Or maybe salami, real Italian or Hungarian cured meat, with a juicy reek of garlic. No, tuna fish. My kingdom for some tuna fish!
A basket of orchard peaches, bruised and oozing!

Or even, in a pinch, cake.

As perfumes go, cake isn't so bad.

Men should not smell of cake, however.

Maybe persons of the female gender should.

But rather than wearing cake, it ought to be shared.

Over cups of crema-capped espresso or kermesite-hued tea.

I spent the next few hours thinking of cake. But I did not go search for it, as even one slice is a bit much for an adult. Cake, almost more than anything else, is the province of the young.
People with quick digestions, high metabolisms, tons of rambunctious energy, and above all, extraordinary tolerances for sugar.

Once you're past twenty you quiet down a bit.
Cake comes only on special occasions.
That, too, is a pleasure.

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  • At 3:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Somehow this post conjured St. Bruno to my brain.

    The topping recipe consisted of these essences: Cascarilla Bark, Violet de Parme, Coumarin and Civet Musk.

    I'm fairly new to pipes and have only smoked the recent Imperial/Orlik pouched version, but I love the stuff in spite of some of the oldtimers scorning it as only an over-perfumed shadow of its former self.

    I know you wrote about this on Thursday, August 25, 2011 and here's a lovely excerpt: "St. Bruno smells vaguely like Ennerdale Flake, which I once affectionately described as having all the fey charm of a cake of pissoir disinfectant."

    Great quote!

    I'm curious if you ever got to sample the Ogden's made stuff back from when it was readily available over here and if so, do you remember it well enough to compare the older with the newer?

    I've seen 80's/90's Ogden's tins going for $75 per 50g. I wonder how much, if any, the recipe has been altered/shifted since its original incarnation?



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