Saturday, August 20, 2005

Remarks at cousin Sydney's Funeral

spoken July 22, 2005

How can we best summarize Sydney Johnson, my brother? There are many ways to describe him. Loving husband and father, servant of his faith, an engineer, a scientist, an economist, a man who faced adversity and held his head high.

I have another word for him – which summarizes what he meant to us, his brothers and sister. It may surprise many of you who knew him as he became increasingly housebound and even wheelchair-bound.

I would call Syd an Explorer. He loved to explore.

This was brought back to me last month, as I visited Syd in his Danbury hospital room. He was heavily medicated and sleeping and breathing deeply. On the TV above his bed were dozens gazelles and giraffes running across the screen – Cynthia looked at me and said: "He loves the Discovery Channel."

Suddenly, seeing those gazelles and giraffes, I remembered how much Syd loved to travel and learn about and explore many, many new worlds.
When he graduated from college in 1966, Syd was the first in our family to move overseas – to York and to London, England, where he spent the better part of two decades. He decided to take the old Queen Mary, a traditional transatlantic ocean voyage. He loved York – the old Minster, the Shambles.

I was privileged in the early 1970s to spend time with him in England. We traveled many places, both in the UK and elsewhere.

I recall, particularly an adventure in Morocco. We had just purchased Moroccan jalabas, the long flowing Arab robes, at a souk in Casablanca, and decided to wear them as we boarded a long distance bus, filled with Arabs and Berbers, across the Atlas Mountains.

I fancied that my French skills and my somewhat darker skin (after all, we have a Spanish ancestor on our mother's side) would enable us to pass as locals. Syd, whose Scandinavian origins were immediately betrayed by a face as red as a beetroot after a few hours of African sunlight, convinced me otherwise.

I remember another trip, when Syd's Serbian language skills betrayed him and he purchased a train ticket from Belgrade to Venice on a train that actually went to Switzerland – the Swiss police removed him from the train and, after he was released, he had to hitchhike through the Simplon Tunnel. He had a grand time, and told that story many times afterward.

Carolyn remembers the Christmas skiing trip in the Austrian Alps – Syd was an excellent athlete. And a protective older brother to us all.

I recall a phone call from Istanbul one day. It was Syd. He had taken the Orient Express train to Turkey. There had just been an earthquake in Istanbul and he wanted to describe it for us.

Yet there was one more trip.

The poet Elizabeth Bishop wrote, at the conclusion of her poem "Questions of Travel":

/ . . . / Should we have stayed at home

/ . . . / Wherever that might be?

Syd eventually learned that his travel days were over and that he would stay at home. But, like Lou Gehrig in very similar circumstances, he considered himself lucky – or as many would say, including Syd, blessed.

Lucky to be blessed with a loving and devoted wife. Blessed also with a son who was smart and caring, and whose interest in computers paralleled his own.

At home, during the final decade of his life, he became an involuntary explorer, on a trip that none of us would envy him for – as he faced his increasing disability. But he still loved to explore.

I visited him on the evening before his 60th birthday, last November. I shared with him photos of the recent trip that my daughter Marta and I had made to India. He was fascinated by the trip. Syd's eyes lighted up, and he nodded with glee, as we discussed photos of some village monkeys who begged money from tourists, and then took the coins to a local fruit seller, who gave them bananas in exchange. After the monkeys finished the bananas, they awaited the next tourist bus. Syd chortled.

In those final years, Syd dealt with his disease with courage, dignity, fortitude, and incredible grace – and never allowed it to undermine his faith. In that last journey, he became a hero for many of us – and now he has one more journey, one more exploration, and we who are left behind can only note how much we enjoyed his company, and his exploring mind, and say: "Thank you, Syd. Have a great trip."

Bruce Johnson (Seattle, WA )

Friday, August 19, 2005

A bizarre comparison: Musc Ravageur versus Jasmine de Nuit

You wonder why I am comparing them? Because they have a very similar "vibe." They could actually be the same perfume except for the candy/churchy differences. Let's see why . . . . .

I have The Different Company's Jasmine de Nuit on my right arm, and Frederick Malle's Musc Ravageur on my left arm. It's been 30 minutes.

Sillage: Similar! There is a sameness to the amount of sillage given the same exact quantity of perfume applied to each arm, and a similar "vibe" to the perfumes themselves. However, my nose picks up a beautiful candy sweetness from the Jasmine, and an incredible churchy incense quality from the Musc.

Taken from their sites:
  • MUSC RAVAGEUR. Sensual and sophisticated. Powerful yet perfectly controlled. Dramatic and mysterious. MUSC RAVAGEUR is a grown-up perfume, an uncompromising Oriental, which trumps current fads. Its explosive departure of bergamot, tangerine and cinnamon is set against a lusty backdrop of vanilla, musk and amber. No flowers, just a refined and exalted skin scent. Its creator: Maurice Roucel

  • JASMIN DE NUIT is a childhood dream, the sweetness of the flower that opens at nightfall mingled with a hint of star anise on a bed of amber. Egyptian Jasmine is used abundantly here and, combined with spices such as cardamom and cinnamon, delivers a series of sweet yet powerful sensual notes. Olfactory note: Floral and amber, fruity blackcurrent. Main components: Egyptian Jasmine, Badian (Star Anise), Ceylon Cinnamon, Cardamom, Sandalwood, Amber.

They have very strong notes in common: Amber and cinnamon. A common result: Musc Ravageur has vanilla and musk which may produce an accord similar to the Nasmin de Nuit's jasmine, which is a musky floral.

But here's the big distinction between them: The sandalwood and star anise candy-sweeten Jasmin de Nuit, while the bergamot-musk combination causes a skin-scent incense quality to Musc Ravageur.

I don't think I would ever layer these two perfumes, but I do believe that the Jasmin de Nuit and Musc Ravageur have such a similar impact on the skin as to be summer and winter renditions of the same perfume. Test for yourself and see!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Comparing Two Carnation Perfumes

CdG Carnation on the left wrist. JAR Diamond Waters on the right wrist. It's been 30 minutes.

It's not easy to tell them apart. However, I detect just a hint more clove in the CdG, and a smidgeon of jasmine in the JAR. The JAR also seems to have a very slight blend of oppoponax into it.

The CdG is an overall impression of Red Carnations and cloves, and has a very slightly soapy quality. The JAR is an overall impression of White, or more subtle Carnations -- and Oppoponax. It has no soapy quality whatsoever.

If I bring my nose out and away from my arm to catch only the sillage, they are identical except one seems warmer (the CdG) and JAR has a church incense vibe.

If I bring my wallet to the store to buy them, the CdG Carnation is in the $100 range, and the JAR Diamond Waters is in the $800 range. I guess it all depends on how much you want to spend, and whether or not you prefer soapy or incensy carnations!

FOUR HOURS LATER: The JAR has turned into a barely detectible light floral with hints of carnation and opoponax. It is not a "carnation" fragrance at this point. The CdG is just as strong as when I first applied it (LOL). And true. Steady as she goes!