Archive for June, 2009

Talkin’ Shop: Therapeutaté
June 4, 2009

I’ve known the gentle-spirited Aquarian Rodney Hughes for a number of years but only recently have I had the opportunity to really sit a spell and enjoy lengthy conversation with him. We’ve tried to coordinate our schedules for some time now so that he might introduce his line of aroma-therapeutic fragrances, Therapeutaté to me in his fragrance studio, the genesis of the magic.

As we descended the stairs to the basement laboratory, I was struck by the desire for deep inhalation, I longed to fully absorb the lovely aromas wafting from below and was elated that I actually perceived them. Formerly anosmic, I savor scent. Post life-saving surgery for a cerebral aneurysm, I lost then gradually regained my sense of smell, though its acuity wavers from time-to-time. Unwavering, however is the intensely evocative nature of fragrance. Scent memory is powerful, from the mother whose breasts cry milky tears at the whiff of her baby’s blanket to the elation I felt on a sweltering day when a group of boys who’d been playing ball–hard–walked by and it all came back to me, the stench of sweat a welcome return to olfaction.

In an afternoon of beautiful discussion about the primal importance of the olfactory sense; the therapeutic power of plant essences, the wonders of Mandy Aftel and the varied paths –both planned and surprising– we find ourselves on in our life’s journey, I felt peaceful and contemplative before we even got around to sampling the gorgeously blended, healing fragrances of Therapeutaté (an ancient ascetic healing order.)

Reiki practitioner Rodney has felt the call to healing from childhood (his initial inclination was toward the clergy) and has studied myriad routes toward that end. An avid student/researcher of history, he embraced the ancients’ belief in the medicinal properties of botanicals, their efficacy extending beyond the physical being to the spiritual self as well. The age-old tradition of incense-burning across many differing spiritual practices attests to this belief.

During the course of many years of overseas travel, Rodney began utilizing the essential oils of Lemon and Rosemary to combat the perils of his growing intolerance for in-flight recycled air. He soon began creating personal blends for his Reiki clients to supplement their attunements and was then urged by a friend to create a line to sell at retail. Immersing himself in every book and article on the subject of aromatherapy that he could find, he developed a line within six months. He further stoked his aromatic passion by pursuing formal studies in aromatherapy and now Therapeutaté has expanded to 3 lines: Pure Essene Oil Therapy™, Parfum au Natural™ and Rx remedies.

I’d read about his Vert 9 on the wonderful men’s fragrance blog, Fragrant Moments, and was curious about that one. I see why blogger Barney Bishop fell for it. In its pure Essene oil therapy myst form, it is light, refreshing, a crisp breeze through verdant hills. The natural parfum iteration is earthier, with a woody, masculine feel that would be absolutely appealing on a man but also intriguing on a woman.

I am wildly enamored of the smoky blend of Vetiver, Citrus and Lavender that is Aur Kasdeem (Light of the Magician) a grounding fragrance purportedly good for use in high stress environments. I believe that it is, as some recent stresses have been abated by a calming inhalation of this divine concoction.

The Hierodulai oil therapy has a balancing effect on the divine feminine, the name a nod to the sacred women of antiquity. As he sometimes does, Rodney has expanded on this fragrance to create a more complex version. HD Extrême Reserve, in the natural perfume line is beautiful, sweet but not cloying. It immediately evokes in me memories of women I’ve loved and lost, my grandmother, a favorite aunt, strong women. A continuum of womanness. It is intentionally symphonic, strongly inspired by a 1957 Miles Davis soundtrack to director Louis Malle’s Ascenseur pour l’Échafaud.


Another popular scent, 775 Through the Smoke Reserve from the Haute Parfum au Natural line was deepened by the addition of a “stinky” note. “Can’t be afraid of the funk,” Rodney says. What might be considered a malodorous element singularly can round out a fragrance synergistically. By bringing in da funk, he created the sensual, intoxicating Extrême version that I love: a magic potion of fruit and flower, root and wood.

What is becoming a must-have for me is the Travel Set from Rx remedies, plant essences blended with botanical alcohol and distilled water for spraying. Consisting of the Jet Set Atomizer with its antibiotic, anti-infectious properties (not to be applied on the skin as it contains oils of Thyme and Oregano) and Purifying Myst to refresh and enliven the air, cleanse crystals and consecrate your space with essences of sage, rose and a hint of citrus.

It is a magnificent treat to be able to visit the studio for a personal fragrance tour, but if time or distance prevents that, the fragrances are available online at the Therapeutaté Etsy shop.

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The master at work in the fragrance lab.


An awesome addendum:

In a moment of synchronicity, just before I touched the “publish” button to send this post into the blogosphere, I received word of a new limited edition Therapeutaté fragrance. When I snapped the pics above, I didn’t realize that Rodney was working on what would become une rose pour Sharon. I can’t wait to try it. A bespoke fragrance. For me. I’m honored. Wow!

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para mi hermana…
June 4, 2009

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Brooklyn Moment #8: Bed-Stuy Bliss
June 3, 2009

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A Bed-Stuy sampler.

About a month ago, tax monkey off our collective backs, a break in a long stretch of inclement weather and a small break in my increasingly hectic schedule, I, at the behest of longtime friend and staunch advocate of the Bedford-Stuyvesant community, the artist TRUE, decided to check into his Macon Manor, a lovely short stay rental in the heart of the Stuyvesant Heights historic district. TRUE lives in the garden apartment and welcome guests on the top three floors of his 102 year-old, art-filled brownstone. Arriving at three I grabbed a cold drink of water from the in-room cooler, took in the view of the landscaped garden and perused the well stocked library of books, games and DVDs. After a brief chat with a friendly Australian traveler who’d checked into the floor below, I settled into quiet, enjoying refreshing cross breezes in the floor-through apartment and a well-deserved nap — afternoon delight.

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Afternoon light floods the living room.

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Some of the in-suite artwork.

I awoke just in time to stroll the three or four blocks to Olivino, the newer sister location to Clinton Hill’s similarly named wine shop for a tasting. The gregarious co-owner, Tony Walker and his friendly, knowledgeable staff, welcomed a multi-culti mix of customers to join the oenophilic assembly. It was lighthearted, unpretentious and a pleasant blend of both longtime residents and newbies.

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Olivino partner, Tony is flanked by Bed-Stuy newcomers from Japan and Sweden.

After nibbling assorted breads, cheeses & olives and sampling the evening’s tasting wines, I was sated and ready for a lazy return to the ultra comfortable bed at 424 Macon. I slept beautifully, really a wonderful night’s sleep and awoke to the sweet trilling of the birds on the tree-lined block and the gentle streaming of sunlight around the corners of the accordion pleated window treatments. I helped myself to the coffee provided in my small kitchen and ambled into the large, airy bathroom to prepare for the day and check out. With space at a premium for most New Yorkers, the apartments (sleeping 7 persons each) offer a wonderful, affordable way to put up out-of-town guests. Travelers from around the globe can get a taste of Bed-Stuy in a convenient location (near the A Express at Utica Ave).

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The spare, zen-like bedroom features two super comfy queen beds.

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True with a young friend.

Delighted by the temperate weather, I tossed on a summery frock and out I went to brunch with my friend Julia, a local resident and unofficial brand evangelist for Peaches, a restaurant on the corner of Lewis and MacDonough. An extension of her dining room, it is her Cheers, she its Norm and she sings its praises mightily. Weekend brunch is clearly poppin’ at this place, but it’s a great spot for dinner or an evening hang at the bar. Though I settled on and thoroughly enjoyed the shrimp po’ boy and coleslaw, I was nonetheless happy to see that in spite of the Southern/Soul food inspiration, there are several offerings to sate the vegetarian diner as well.

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Owner Craig chats with Julia about the close-knit nature of the Bed-Stuy community and its local merchants.

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Will serves up libation at the bar, while “Peaches” (a family elder for whom the restaurant is named) watches over from the portrait on the left.

As we left we bumped into the proprietors, Hillary & Lloyd Porter of the popular, next-door coffee shop/wifi cafe, Bread-Stuy where Hillary whips up scrumptious baked goods; life-of-the party Lloyd makes every visit feel like hanging with a favorite cousin and baby Maclemore has captured the attention of the entire community. Impromptu chess tourneys and DJ sets are not uncommon in front of this “village center.”

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The Porters with their baby girl, “Macy.”

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Bread Stuy. Photo by Bud

Anchoring the other end of the bustling block of Lewis Avenue is Crystal and Walston Bobb-Semple’s Brownstone Books. With its emphasis on titles of African diasporic interest serving the longtime predominately African-American community (their second location, opened last year at the Brooklyn Academy of Music has a largely performing arts-related inventory), Brownstone Books serves the literary interests of young and old with their children’s story hour as well as author readings, lectures and open-mic poetry night. I plan to return to get the August Wilson Century Cycle soon.

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Crystal Bobb-Semple and the seminal collection of August Wilson’s Century Cycle stocked at Brownstone Books.

I bopped around a bit, taking in the scene at the four corners of Macon and Lewis: the recent renovations to the Macon Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library; Gallerist Richard Beavers shared his commitment to established as well as emerging artists of the African disapora at his House of Art. Estelle Harris’ recent addition to the SOLA (Shops of Lewis Avenue) mix, Creative Blossoms brings clean, simple floral arrangements and a gardening center to the neighborhood; and new Mom, Josie Almonte played with her gorgeous daughter while sharing her goal of bring stylish, affordable fashion, accessories and home accents to the nabe with her Little Red Boutique.

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Renovated BPL Macon branch.

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Currently on display at House of Art: Jennifer Crute’s hard-hitting, “I Pledge.”
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With his urban setting and elongated figures, Bua’s “1981” is reminiscent of the work from the late Ernie Barnes.

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Little Red Boutique owner Josie with her little angel.

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Kicky Spring shoes.

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A sampling of the simple, elegant arrangements from floral designer, Estelle Harris’ Creative Blossoms.

Before heading to my hotly anticipated appointment with friend Rodney Hughes at his fragrance lab (see the post, Talkin’ Shop: Therapeutaté), he introduced me to another offering on the art front. Brooklynite Gallery is a labor of love and creativity from couple Rae and Hope McGrath on Malcolm X Boulevard. I knew Hope back-in-the-day from her fashion production company, Asha and was excited to see what she and her artist hubby have brought to the area east of the SOLA hub. They rehabbed a dilapidated old building in the ‘hood into a sleek, modern gallery which takes advantage of yard space and natural light. The gallery is a celebration of Pop Art with a particular emphasis on Street Art and pushing the boundaries. The gallery website, for example, features new media elements like Brooklynite TV, streaming live video and encouraging live chat.

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Brooklynite Gallery. The McGrath family (from Global Fusion Productions.)

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An iconic photo from National Geographic is re-imagined.

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Culture reporter, music critic and local resident Siddhartha Mitter checks out the outdoor display at the gallery.

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The office as seen from the backyard gallery.

On Sunday I had grits, eggs and thick slices of smoked turkey bacon at the counter of Ma-n-Pop, a humble diner with an Obama-inspired, patriotic stars-and-stripes decor while Beat Street played on the television hanging hospital-style overhead. A cheap, good meal in a real neighborhood joint.

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Collard greens and potato salad at Ma-n-Pop

Later I was enchanted to stumble across Macon Hardware, a delightful hodgepodge of greeting cards, laundry carts, live plants, a selection of toy WWF championship belts and an extensive collection of church hats. When I saw a window full of Sunday-best crowns in a hardware store that proudly bore the name Mrs. Peter Hayes on the door, I had to take a peek. Mrs. Hayes, looking lovely in lavender was making a set of keys for a customer amid the nails, bobby pins and general store merch mix. She (and the space) reminded me of childhood Southern summers spent returning glass Coke and Mountain Dew bottles to Washington’s Servicenter in Kenbridge, Virginia where anything you needed could be found in Mr. Washington’s shop. I asked where she was from. “North Carolina, but I’ve been here 62 years, 47 in this building.” I noticed the prominently displayed black and white photo of her late husband and she began to share the story of how they once lived in the Marcy projects which were at that time, housing for military families, but the apartments were reserved for couples with children. They as a young couple were allowed to move in but “when I didn’t have a baby after six months, they said we had to move, but I wasn’t ready to have a baby.” With the gumption she still has today she convinced the powers that be to let them to stay. She has seen them come and go and with development many do go to somewhat nearby Home Depot, but she has a loyal community following (like that of paint specialists, Oz Hardware on Malcolm X) that I hope mightily continues to support her.

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Mrs. Hayes, a photo of her late husband and the proprietor signage on the door of Macon Hardware.

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Staff member Jace Rivera with Desmond Prince, owner of Oz Hardware.

I wrapped up my Bed-Stuy sojourn by strolling with friends to the nearby Weeksville Heritage Center, bordering Crown Heights for a free concert on the historic grounds by the awesomely talented DC native, Alice Smith. Giving body and incredible cool in the blazing heat, Alice performed a phenomenal acoustic set backed only by a guitar and sheltered by a yellow canopy which mimicked the sun.

There are many other treasures in this Central Brooklyn community: Solomon’s Porch restaurant, the new wine bar, Therapy, Hibiscus Day Spa, the positive vibes and healthful cuisine of Food 4 Thought Cafe, professional framing at the Lewis Gallery and the famed Italianate villa-cum-bed and breakfast inn, Akwaaba Mansion among them. Coming soon will be the area’s answer to the Brooklyn Flea, SOLA Public Market; another wine bar with organic nibbles, Liquid Oz; what promises with its wood-burning oven to be a delicious hotspot for Neapolitan-style thin-crust pizza, Saraghina; upscale grocer, Butternut Market and from the mastermind of Cake Bliss, Margo Lewis, Dahlia’s, a Courtney Sloan-designed restaurant featuring healthy fare.

Though my trek was within the 11233 and 11216 zip codes, Bed-Stuy is a vast  neighborhood bordering Bushwick, Brownsville, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights,East New York, and Williamsburg. Don’t sleep on the historical, architectural, cultural and gastronomical gems in this vibrant community.

(Thanks to Julia Chance for providing some of the photos)

Akwaaba Mansion 347 Macdonough Street 718.455.5958

Bread Stuy 401 Lewis Avenue 718.771.0633

Brooklynite Gallery 334 Malcolm X Blvd. 347.405.5976

Brownstone Books 409 Lewis Avenue 718.953.7328

Creative Blossoms 370 Lewis Avenue 347.240.9720

Food 4 Thought 445 Marcus Garvey Blvd 718.443.4160

Hibiscus Day Spa 558 Halsey Street 718.573.0831

House of Art 373 Lewis Avenue 347.663.8195

Lewis Gallery 225 Decatur Street 718.624.8372

Little Red Boutique 374 Lewis Avenue 718.443.1170

Ma-n-Pop Soul Food 349 Lewis Avenue 718.596.9933

Macon Branch, Brooklyn Public Library 361 Lewis Avenue 718.573.5606

Macon Hardware 339 Macon Street 718.574.4244

Macon Manor 424 Macon Street rental@TRUErealty.biz

Olivino Bed Stuy 426D Marcus Garvey Blvd. 718.249.0721

Oz Hardware 302 Malcolm X Blvd. 718.484.8830

Solomon’s Porch 307 Stuyvesant Avenue 718.919.8001

Therapy Wine Bar 364 Lewis Avenue