What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Monday, July 2, 2012


I spent the weekend at an orchid show and sale in a small town in the southern part of Washington State. While the rest of the US is cooking in record heat, we are currently suffering the usual midsummer doldrums of weather that’s neither hot nor cold, just clammy and mostly cloudy. Usually on the 5th of July the sun comes out and stays out until September, but that’s still a few days off.

The orchid show was held in a commercial greenhouse. On Saturday, the sun was shining part of the time, warming the greenhouse up to at least 80-85 degrees F (28-30C). It was surprising how quickly things warmed up once the sun started shining in. It was a perfect demonstration of the “greenhouse effect” on a relatively small scale. Of course as soon as the space got warm, everyone started whining about the heat. I was perfectly comfortable after stripping down to my tank top, but everyone else insisted on keeping their long-sleeved t-shirts and fleece hoodies on, sweating, and complaining about how hot they were.

People in the Pacific Northwest wear fleece jackets or hoodies year-round as a sort of uniform.  I’ve come to do so, too, usually as a middle layer that can be removed if it’s warm (seldom), or added to with a leather jacket if it’s cold (often). It’s a practical way to deal with the unpredictable weather, but a lot of people don’t seem to realize that the fleece is removable.

Saturday night I stayed at a cheap motel. The room smelled like it had never been aired out, retaining the smell of years worth of steamy showers and the resulting odor of dirty hair and mildew. I will have to say that it wasn’t as bad as the smell of years worth of cigarette smoking in the old days, before non-smoking rooms. Every hotel or motel room has its own characteristic odor, some worse than others. A lot of them reek of cleaning supplies, some almost to the point of being intolerable. In the US and Europe, the cleaning odors are caustic and vaguely synthetic-citrus, and can be practically asphyxiating. I remember once staying in a hotel near the airport in Madrid where the cleaning supply smell was so bad that I picked a lot of lavender and rosemary from a flower bed outside and slept with it under my nose to mask the odor of the room. In the old DDR and other Soviet bloc countries, everything smelled of a certain type of phenolic disinfectant – I still think of that as the smell of communism.

The other thing I noticed at the motel was that the air conditioning unit in the room next door was running all night long, making noise. The temperature outside was about 68F (22C), so I don’t know whether the people were heating or cooling the room. It could have gone either way. My guess is that they were cooling it, given that the restaurant where we ate on Saturday evening was significantly colder inside than the temperature outside. I’m always puzzled by the practice, common in the Pacific Northwest, of using air conditioning when the temperature outside is in a comfortable range. There’s something that’s just not right about having to bundle up in cold-weather gear when shopping in a supermarket or eating in a restaurant. The most ironic thing of all is that the production of energy to run all of the air conditioners in the US must be generating a huge amount of CO2, which contributes to the greenhouse effect and global warming, which causes people to run their air conditioners even more … a vicious cycle if ever there was one.

It’s my understanding that humans first evolved somewhere in Africa, where the temperature is warm to hot. Speaking for myself, I’m pretty sure my remote ancestors were closer to monkeys swinging in a jungle than walruses sitting on an iceberg, so I like to be warm enough to go barefoot and take off my fleece jacket. I now seem to be in the minority, since most people like to be much cooler than I do, and I can’t help wondering if humans are evolving in a way that is causing them to lose the ability to temperature-regulate when it’s warm. 

[All photos from Wikimedia]


  1. Here in the US Southeast, if the temperature ever dives below 70F, everyone dives for their winter closets. I'm not kidding, I've seen Miamians in parkas and earmuffs when it's 68F! And they're shivering. It could well be that we lose the ability to thermoregulate when we don't have to anymore. Makes me worried about losing power/AC for sure, as so many of us are completely dependent on it now for much of the year. I do know that domesticated animals have far less temperature tolerance than their wild counterparts. We're probably the same.

    1. Marla, it's exactly the opposite here. If the temperature goes above 70 degrees, everyone starts sweating and fanning themselves and complaining about the "heat". They break out the shorts and the sundresses and start drinking iced coffee. It's funny to see!

  2. I remember what you are talking about, Marla. Much of my childhood was spent in FL and alternately WA, early adulthoood in the Southwestern US, Middle Eastern desert countries and Eastcoast US. It seemed that it usually took two or three days to acclimate to the changes in temperature, altitude and humidity. Kind of a climate jet lag. Air conditioning (or turning up the heat) just seemed to interfere with the process of adaptation. When I travel now I find I need the same amount of time to adapt although, as I get older, any kind of change is more difficult. That being said, I'll happily take 65 and rainy over 110 and smokey. Ellen, we CAN go barefooted around here at 65 degrees! We just have to keep an eye out for slugs. Really big ones this year.

    1. OK, I'd take 65 and rainy over 110 and smoky, too, but I wouldn't turn on air conditioning (i.e.cooling) when it's 65 and rainy. Actually, I have hobbit feet and DO go barefoot down to about 50-55 degrees. Don't get me started on the slugs. I hate them with a passion, and have certainly stepped on my share of them. Yuck.

      I just heard about a new herbal slug killer called "bitter ash bark" and have ordered some to try. I'll report on it after a thorough trial.