Poesie

Miss, Behave! Mokarrameh Ghanbari

Joelle Nealy

Last spring we gave you a collection inspired by the kind of women you want on your side, the kind of women you want to be. You loved it, and we loved making it. And that’s why our spring fragrance collection is inspired by 9 women artists. We know you’ll love these muses and their scents just as much as we do, and we’d like to share a few of their stories. Narrowing down the artists to feature in the collection wasn’t easy, but we knew we had to include Mokarrameh Ghanbari. Not only did we fall in love with her work, but the story of how this outsider artist came to painting so late in life, and the personal challenges and cultural hurdles she overcame to pursue her art is so inspiring we had to share it with you.

 Mokarrameh Ghanbari (1928-2005) born Darikandeh, Iran

Mokarrameh Ghanbari (1928-2005) born Darikandeh, Iran

Forced into a marriage at a young age and never given the opportunity for an education, before she became a painter Mokarrameh Ghanbari raised nine children, farmed, and worked variously as a healer, seamstress, and makeup artist. One of three wives, by her own account her marriage was an unhappy one. (Tellingly, she never included her late husband in her paintings.) It was not until she was 64 that Ghanbari took up painting, for which she never received any formal training.

Ghanbari came to painting as a way to express her feelings when her children, concerned for her health, would no longer allow her the farm work and cow herding she enjoyed. In the agrarian Caspian plains of northern Iran where Ghanbari was born and lived, women often have strong attachments to the cows for which they care. The widowed Ghanbari, then in her early sixties, spent her time caring for the cows that she loved and doing farm work, until she became very ill and had to go to Tehran for medical care. While she was sick in bed, her children, who were concerned about her health, sold the cows in order to reduce her workload. But their well-meaning act sent her into a depression. Her first painting was a portrait of one of the cows she missed so much.

Blog Post Ghanbari painting gourd (1).png

A friend gave her paper and colored pencil to express herself, and Ghanbari immediately began to draw obsessively. For four years, she kept her art a secret out of fear of what her neighbors would think. She was an illiterate farmer and a woman -- what right did she have to put brush to paper? She painted late at night and hid her work if anyone came into her home, lying about the paint on her hands. But her creative spirit would not be suppressed. Her work found its way onto the walls of her home, her stove, and the backs of discarded wallpaper.  When he discovered her new passion, her son brought Ghanbari 50 sheets of paper and she soon covered both sides of them all, making her own paint of natural dyes when she ran out of the store-bought kind.

 Interior of Ghanbari's home and wall detail

Interior of Ghanbari's home and wall detail

At first, her neighbors were shocked and opposed to her newfound creative outlet. Not only was it unheard of for an uneducated farmer to paint, but strict Islam forbids the use of human figures in art. Ghandbari never felt her art conflicted with her faith. When asked about it, she said, “I didn’t go to school and I am not literate so I do not know enough,  and I only looked at a few pages of the Qur’an as an inspiration, but I cannot really read the Qur’an. I don’t lie. I don’t think Islam says that drawing shouldn’t be done. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it.”Ghandbari’s paintings, which have been compared with Chagall and look like something out of a colorful dream, are peopled with the stories that she heard told at night, stories from the Quran, the Christian Old Testament and Persian folktales. Marvelous figures peer from every corner of her small home, Adam and Eve, Jesus, and a pair of young Persian lovers mingling freely. Eventually, her fame spread and  the revolutionary guards heard rumors about the paintings. They came to question her, but never stopped her.

 Ghanbari's colorful, dreamlike paintings drew on inspiration from stories she heard.

Ghanbari's colorful, dreamlike paintings drew on inspiration from stories she heard.

Before she  passed away in 2005 at the age of 77, Mokarammeh Ghanbari’s work won over more than just her neighbors. There was an exhibit of her work in the capital of Tehran, a documentary was made about her, and people came from across the globe to meet her. There were rumors of a Hollywood biopic. Mother Mokarrameh, as she was known, has been called “Iran’s own Picasso.” Today, her small house is a museum. And the neighbors paint their own front doors and walls, in her memory and in hopes that future artists will not go unseen.

TLDR version: Not to be stopped by a forced marriage, lack of education, or societal disapproval, Mokarrameh Ghanbari picked up a paintbrush at the age of 64, and never looked back.

Mâdar, the scent inspired by Mokarrameh Ghanbari, features creamy, comforting Basmati rice pudding flavored with orange flower water, saffron, cinnamon. Rice pudding is a comfort food in many cultures, and Iran, where it is called Sheer Bernj, is no exception. There, it is typically spiced and flavored with rose water or orange flower water, and garnished with pistachios. In fact, the Caspian plain where Ghanbari lived is famous for its rice and for its orange farms. The area is on the shores of the Caspian sea, and during the spring the air is redolent of orange blossoms. We like to think that she made this pudding for her nine children, and that when she did, her kitchen smelled just like Mâdar, which is the Persian word for “mother.”

If you’d like to know more about Mokarrameh Ghanbari, there are a limited number of English language resources. Adventure Divas by Holly Morris contains a half chapter about her, which has the benefit of including some of Ghanbari’s own words, as the author actually interviewed her. We were unable to source an English copy of the documentary by Ebrahim Mokhtari, Mokarrameh, Her Memories and Dreams, however there are two shorter videos available on YouTube: Mokarrameh Ghanbari AKA Mother Mokarrameh and Mokarrameh Ghanbari directed by Majid Mahichi. The quality isn’t great, but if you can deal with that, you’ll find a fascinating glimpse of the artist and her work.

A Fantastical Banquet for Shakespeare Fans

Joelle Nealy
much ado blog post graphic - fantastical banquet.png

Much Ado About Nothing may be my favorite Shakespearean comedy. For starters, I can’t resist a literary love-hate relationship, and Beatrice and Benedick are the ultimate. Then there’s the wordplay, which is just as much fun today as it was at the turn of the 17th century. True, some of the homonyms are lost in translation because pronunciation has changed, but plenty remain even now. The Complete Much Ado About Nothing: An Annotated Edition of the Shakespeare Play by Donald J. Richardson was a great edition for adding historical context and explaining some of the wordplay that might be missed with a modern reading. But why stop with one reading and miss the chance to nerd out, Shakespeare style?

There are a few film versions worth watching. The classic 1993 film version directed by Kenneth Branagh is still beautiful and captures the sunny Italian countryside in all its glory. Emma Thompson is probably my favorite Beatrice, and the verbal sparring between her character and Kenneth Branagh’s Benedick (Thompson’s then-husband) is as sparkling as their surroundings. This version is basically the ne plus ultra of Shakespeare adaptations featuring flowy costumes, pretty faces, and magnificent Tuscan scenery. No big disappointments, no big surprises.

 The cast of Kenneth Branagh's 1993 film version, replete with flowing sleeves and bonus Baby Kate Beckinsale!

The cast of Kenneth Branagh's 1993 film version, replete with flowing sleeves and bonus Baby Kate Beckinsale!

 Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh as Beatrice and Benedick. Sybill Trelawney was hot, y'all.

Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh as Beatrice and Benedick. Sybill Trelawney was hot, y'all.

Joss Whedon’s 2012 version is a unique take. Shot in black and white at his home over the course of a long weekend, with a cast of familiar faces for anyone who is a fan of his other work (Buffy 4EVER!), it channels the manic energy of a classic screwball comedy fueled with plenty of martinis. Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof as Beatrice and Benedick have an effortless chemistry that speaks of a personal history hinted at in the text. Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry is a standout, too -- maybe my favorite version of the character, although this is not my favorite version of the play.

 In which Joss Whedon's swimming pool is forever immortalized.

In which Joss Whedon's swimming pool is forever immortalized.

 Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof reunited as Beatrice and Benedick. Be still my heart.

Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof reunited as Beatrice and Benedick. Be still my heart.

I’ll admit it -- I’m a bit of a purist and find that modern settings often take me out of the story. There are few performers who can insert Shakespearean lines into a contemporary setting while making it seem effortless and unaffected. David Tennant is one of the exceptional few, and it’s his performance as Benedick that anchors the Wyndham Theatre’s 2011 production directed by Josie Rourke. Catherine Tate makes a buoyantly fun Beatrice, too. It’s worth watching for the pairing of Tennant-Tate and for his outstanding performance. Just don’t expect a proper film with great production values -- it’s the filming of a play.

 Rourke's version is set in 1980s Gibraltar. Yes, you read that right.

Rourke's version is set in 1980s Gibraltar. Yes, you read that right.

Getting to see a live production of the play was the true highlight of my Fantastical Banquet endeavor, especially because I got to see it at the American Shakespeare Center in charming  Staunton, VA. American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse is a replica of the Jacobean theatre which burned in the Great Fire of London in 1666. But the setting is only part of the magic -- the company also uses Shakespearean staging practices that turn any sense of stodginess you might associate with his plays on its head. The universal lighting, brisk pace, and the way characters come and go from one scene to the next with no break brought an electric energy and sense of fun to the whole production. If you’ve ever wondered why Shakespeare’s works are still performed 400 years later, see one performed at ASC and wonder no more.

 American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse

American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse

If you still haven’t gotten enough of The Bard, and you want to know more about what his plays would have been like back in the day, don’t miss this delightful video about Shakespeare’s original pronunciation vs. received pronunciation. Featuring father and son David and Ben Crystal, respectively a linguist and actor, it unveils the mystery of a many a mismatched rhyme and lost pun by delving into how the words would have been pronounced originally.

 Adorable father-son Shakespeare nerds, Ben and David Crystal. Click through to see them in action.

Adorable father-son Shakespeare nerds, Ben and David Crystal. Click through to see them in action.

Guest Blog Post: In Which We Dig Into the Truth About Vikings

Joelle Nealy

As you may have noticed if you're following this blog, a lot of research goes into each Poesie collection. Could we just make some scents, slap theme-related names on them and call it a Norse/Jane Eyre/Twin Peaks inspired collection? Sure, but where's the fun in that? Our fragrances are inspired by delving deep into a new world and taking you with us on the journey. So, when the initial idea of a Viking and Norse mythology themed collection came up, who better to ask about Viking foodways than someone we knew was a fan of historical recipes? As it turns out, it was kismet. Because the answer we got was a thorough list of fruits, herbs, and much more that were based on historical evidence -- from an actual archaeologist with connections to the Vikings! The information she shared was so fascinating, we would have been remiss not to give you a peek into the topic. 

The smart and lovely Karen is a former student of history and anthropology, who became very interested in pigment and cosmetics history after a foray into an archaeological career. She is now the owner of Crow & Pebble and makes stunningly beautiful eyeshadows and more. You'll definitely want to check them out! In the meantime, thanks for nerding out with us!

                                                                                                           -- Joelle


As an archaeologist, the most common question I get has always been, “have you found any treasure?” This is a fantastic question and the answer is absolutely yes!

Of course, when they ask, they tend to mean precious gems and metals, beautiful works of art and jewellery. Sometimes they even mean impressive weaponry like swords and axes. These are incredibly rare, of course - that is why it is “treasure”. I haven’t found anything like this. Most archaeologists have not. Most of our finds are shards of broken pottery and little bits of animal bones.

 Yes, National Treasure was actually a documentary. This is totally realistic.

Yes, National Treasure was actually a documentary. This is totally realistic.

So what is the treasure I’m talking about, then? Well - it’s the bits of pottery and animal bone. Oh, and dirt. Lots and lots of dirt. Buckets of it. These are the things we use to build a picture of what a past civilization might have been like.

When Joelle approached me about rebuilding the scents of the Viking Age, my thoughts initially went to recipe manuscripts from the time. Of course, that sort of written information simply doesn’t exist from then. So I started digging through my archaeological archives. The primary source of my research for rebuilding the scentscape of the Vikings was environmental sample studies. In order to get these, we would fill up buckets full of soil from a particular “context” and analyse what we found therein.  A context is a section of the soil that filled up a hole in a certain period of time. By using a geological principle called stratigraphy, we are able to estimate the time period from which the soil contents come.  If you’d like a very detailed explanation of how and why this works, you can read the foremost textbook on the subject here for free. If you’d like a basic overview, here is a good one! Using the data from Viking sites across Northern Europe, from Scandinavian and British sites primarily, I was able to give some suggestions as to what kinds of scents you might find in the Viking era. We use water to make organic materials like charcoal and plant seeds and pollen float to the top and strain these from the muddy water, which is then discarded. These bits of organic material let us know what kinds of foods were eaten and plants grown in a particular time period.

Of course, if you stepped through a time portal into the Dark Ages, the first scents to hit you would probably be somewhat offensive ones. Bathing was not a common practise among the peoples of Northwestern Europe, and the infrastructure for carrying sewage and waste away was not particularly developed, at all.  However, if we take those things out of the equation, the Viking Home would have been wonderfully fragrant.

Environmental analyses show a wealth of fruit and spices at the disposal of the Vikings. Particular favourites were various types of berries, and especially plums. Plum pits have been found on many Viking sites throughout the Danelaw, Ireland and Denmark. In fact, plums were so popular that both domestic and imported varieties are found at the same sites, implying that the local crop did not nearly meet the demand for them. It is likely they were eaten both fresh and dried as prunes.  The berries included cherries, bilberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries and were likely eaten fresh. Pears and apples were also quite popular. Peaches were extremely rare, but prized. A major part of the diet was nuts - particularly hazelnuts, although almonds, walnuts and acorns also occasionally make an appearance.  

 Plums feature in Beloved, which smells of sugared plums and delicious cake. 

Plums feature in Beloved, which smells of sugared plums and delicious cake. 

Vikings also grew large flower and herb gardens which would have included poppies, primrose, dandelion, coriander, dill, mustard, hops, sage and fennel. By looking at the travels of the Vikings, and knowing that they even managed to make their way down to Constantinople, in what is modern day Istanbul (we find viking rune graffiti in the Hagia Sofia), they would have access to  variety of Eastern spices like black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, saffron, mace, ginger, anise, caraway and cumin.

 Mead of Poets contains real hops, as well as a blend of other herbs and spices based on historical recipes.

Mead of Poets contains real hops, as well as a blend of other herbs and spices based on historical recipes.

The final few bits we normally find are the vegetables and grains, which included barley, rye and oats, and carrots, cabbage, radish, peas, string beans, cress and celery. So we know from our environmental analyses that the Vikings likely had very fragrant pantries!

So already we’re building a picture of the scent of Viking life, but what about the other parts of Viking life? Well, we know that they set up life in Northern Britain, and travelled as far as the Eastern coasts of North America and as far south as Turkey and perhaps into the Mediterranean.  This we have gleaned from the Viking sagas and from finding viking artefacts within Native American and Mediterranean contexts. Their oceanic travels and sagas can also inspire the impression of scents, from the salt of the sea and the ambergris of whales, to the skin (or birch bark) canoes and birch tar associated with First Nations, to the pine forests and summer fruits of North America and the holy resins and incenses of the Middle East.

 Viking helmet photo courtesy of NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet

Viking helmet photo courtesy of NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet

Though the Viking era seems to be all salt air, steel and blood on first glance, Archaeology tells us differently!

 

Further reading:

Pernille Rohde Sloth, Ulla Lund Hansen & Sabine Karg (2012) Viking Age
garden plants from southern Scandinavia – diversity, taphonomy and cultural aspects, Danish
Journal of Archaeology, 1:1, 27-38, DOI: 10.1080/21662282.2012.750445 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21662282.2012.750445

Carolyn Priest-Dorman (1999) Archaeological Finds of Ninth- and Tenth-Century Viking Foodstuffs https://www.cs.vassar.edu/~capriest/vikfood.html

Viking Graffiti, National Museum of Denmark. http://en.natmus.dk/historical-knowledge/denmark/prehistoric-period-until-1050-ad/the-viking-age/expeditions-and-raids/viking-graffiti/

L’Anse Aux Meadows, Viking Settlement in Newfoundland, Canada. UNESCO World Heritage Site http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/4

Gill Campbell, Lisa Moffett, and Vanessa Straker (2011) A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Methods, from Sampling and Recovery to Post-excavation (second edition) https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/environmental-archaeology-2nd/