The Sunday Magazine: Colognoisseur Awesome Mix Vol. 1

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I went to see the new movie from Marvel, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, which is a fantastic piece of filmmaking. The movie is not going to be the topic of today’s column. Instead the movie inspired me to write something different. One of the characters in the movie is a cassette tape given to our hero Peter Quill by his mother just before he is taken from Earth. The tape is labeled “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” and was his mother’s favorite songs from her youth in the 70’s. The music is used ingeniously throughout the movie and the tape shows up as much as many of the secondary characters. My suspicion is if the movie is as successful as I expect it to be all of these songs are about to have a renaissance of sorts for the next couple of months.

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As I thought about the movie I got to thinking what would I put on a tape I labeled “Awesome Mix Vol. 1”. What were the songs of the 70’s I loved? What would make a great mix together? The thought exercise was fun as I sort of let my mind wander to that time in my life most of which was my time in high school and college. What I found as I just sort of let myself free associate was a pretty interesting group of songs. So here are the ten songs I would make a mix tape of to give my non-existent child just before being abducted by interstellar outlaws.

Joy to the World by Three Dog Night– If you just say the opening lines “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” you will inevitably smile. This was the first mega-pop hit I can remember as it dominated the charts during its release in 1971. It is still one of the best-selling singles ever.

Play That Funky Music by Wild Cherry– At the height of disco in 1976 the members of Wild Cherry were at a gig when they received a request written on a napkin, “play some funky music, white boy”.  From that request this song which is one of the most popular examples of funk rock came to be. The bass line, horns, and guitar hook make you get up and boogie.

Evil Woman by ELO– Electric Light Orchestra were one of those hybrids of rock music accompanied by a string section that the 70’s seemed to spawn weekly. ELO lasted because the impresario behind it, Jeff Lynne, had a clear vision of what he wanted. Evil Woman was the first big hit for ELO in 1975. This was not your father’s string section as halfway into this there is a moment where the strings take over for the lead guitar and show they can rock just as hard.

Rocket Man by Elton John– Elton John is one of my favorite artists and it was Rocket Man which was the first song by him that I played over and over on my cassette tape. The song about an astronaut getting ready for liftoff was a product of the post-moon landing generation. The combination of piano and synthesizer make a perfectly otherworldly duet to lay down the vocals over.

The Boys are Back in Town by Thin Lizzy- One of those songs with an insanely catchy guitar hook which lodges itself within my consciousness and sets up shop for days. It is all shimmering guitars and it might have been the first song I actively broke out the air guitar to.

Why Can’t We Be Friends? By War– War was one of those bands which tried to use almost every musical influence available and stuff it into their songs. This was one of their earliest hits which was as pop as War would ever get. The lyrics are hysterical and slyly subversive.

I Wanna Be Sedated

I Wanna be Sedated by Ramones– I had discovered Ramones when I discovered punk music in the mid 70’s but it is this 1979 song which will always be my favorite song by them. It is everything punk rock evolved into by 1979. As a reaction to rock bands with string sections, choruses, synthesizers and orchestras Ramones stripped it down to the basics and ripped it out in two minutes or so. Gabba Gabba Hey!

Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie– This collaboration by pop icons Queen and David Bowie is in my estimation one of the greatest songs of all-time. Bowie arrived to sing backing vocals on a different song but over time he and Freddie Mercury came up with this rock opera in four minutes of a perfect rock song.

One Way or Another by Blondie– As punk music began to gain traction it was bands like Blondie that helped provide that. Lead singer Debbie Harry had a perfect mix of punk look with the bleached blond hairdo and dark makeup while wearing a little black dress. Safe enough for people to dip their toes in the punk rock pool. Everyone knows about the vocals but Chris Stein’s driving guitar was also integral to this band’s success and in One Way or Another it is all right there.

The Ballroom Blitz by The Sweet– This song was inspired by the time the band was driven off stage by the audience throwing bottles at them. The song itself has a kinetic kind of wind-up similar to the way one might convince themselves to release their frustration. Beware what the man in the back says.

That’s my list. If you want to listen to it and are on Spotify; friend me and you will find it labeled Colognoisseur Awesome Mix Vol. 1 in my account.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Kim Harrison’s The Hollows

I am about a month away from the final book in one of my favorite urban fantasy series being released. Author Kim Harrison’s version of a contemporary world where the supernatural is real and is out in the open is called The Hollows.

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Kim Harrison

The tipping point for the supernatural races to reveal themselves is a virus spawned by genetic engineering of tomatoes. The virus destroys a quarter of humanity and at that point the combined supernatural community realize they are no longer outnumbered. Many of them help during the ensuing chaos and reveal that they were already embedded in powerful positions throughout society. This event is called The Turn and takes place in the 1960’s in the fictional timeline.

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The first book “Dead Witch Walking” takes place forty years after The Turn as the existence of supernatural creatures has become commonplace but not necessarily accepted. The stories within The Hollows series are set in Cincinnati. The name for the series comes from the section of town where the supernatural folk called Inderlanders live. Law enforcement is also divided with each society having their own entity. In the beginning of the series we meet witch Rachel Morgan, who is the first person narrator of all the books, and her partner vampire Ivy Tamwood. The first book sets up their friendship and along with a pixy named Jenks create the three main characters the rest of the installments will focus on.

As is common in these urban fantasy series Rachel is a character who manages to straddle many of the supernatural races. Through the course of the twelve books she has profoundly affected the power structure within The Hollows and Cincinnati. What is great about the way Ms. Harrison plots these books is every decision Rachel has made has had consequences which have rippled through the following books. All too often in urban fantasy the protagonists do things which are forgotten by the next book. Ms. Harrison has loaded the proverbial one straw short of a camel’s burden on Rachel and unflinchingly shown her main character dealing with it.

There is also a very aromatic compnent to the series as places smell of burnt amber and certain races smell of sandalwood, cinnamon, or wine. I often recall the perfumes I like best when these passages are read in my mind.

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For all of this the series is coming to an end with the publication of the thirteenth book “The Witch with No Name” right after Labor Day. As I look back over the previous twelve books it is interesting to notice when I think Ms. Harrison switched from writing episodes to actually plotting the path to a final ending. In my estimation it is book eight “Black Magic Sanction” where Rachel begins to bear the consequences of her actions and as she resolves the issues that are placed in front of her is, slowly but surely, creating a society of the outcasts and creating a family out of her friends. Ms. Harrison writes this with gusto and I race through each new entry.

Now I am down to one entry left and I am looking forward to seeing if Rachel lives happily ever after. I suspect she will but not without one more trial to overcome before getting her storybook ending. I can’t wait.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: HGTV Love It or List It

Many evenings in the Colognoissuer household are spent with me in my chair reading, testing perfume, or surfing the internet. While I do that my wife will often have the television on the cable network HGTV. Most of the time it is easy for me to tune it out and I’m only required to look up when Mrs. Colognoisseur asks me, “Do you like that?” Sadly for her the answer is often no. Over the past few months though there is one of these HGTV shows which has managed to penetrate my studied air of indifference, Love It or List It.

Love It or List It is a show where a current set of homeowners are given the opportunity to renovate their home, Love It, or find a newer improved home, List It. Most of the homeowners have begun to outgrow the home they bought years ago but have emotional reasons for not moving, or at least one of them does. Interior Designer Hilary Farr comes up with a plan to renovate the house using the budget the homeowners give her so they will want to stay. Working at odds with Hilary is realtor David Visentin who looks for a new home which has all of the things the homeowners want and might not be able to get. By the end of the hour with the renovations done and usually a perfect house found the homeowners have to make the decision to stay or go. I can’t explain it but I have so much fun trying to guess which way they will go.

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The show is formulaic as it can get but the personalities of Hilary and David as they interact with the homeowners makes it seem fresher than it should. The first part of every episode is the introduction to the couple who own the home and one of them who really wants to stay and one who really wants to move. Hilary and David do a home inspection with David snarking about the home and Hilary promising she can make magic happen. They sit down with the homeowners and get their respective budgets and “must haves” to stay or go. In the next two segments renovation gets underway and almost every episode a hidden issue is uncovered which eats up a chunk of the renovation budget forcing a choice on something to give up. Oh no Hilary is in trouble! Interspersed between that David takes the couple to two houses which also contain significant flaws and it seems as if he will need to find the impossible to satisfy these homeowners. Oh no David is in trouble! This leads to the final segment where Hilary pulls it all together despite the challenges and David finds the perfect home. Yay our heroes rally! After the new renovation is revealed the decision to Love It or List It is revealed. So far, through 118 episodes Love It leads List It 69 to 49.

Of course this is reality television and this is HGTV which has admitted other of their shows are less “real” than they might seem. I am sure Love It or List It is no different and much of the “conflict” is manufactured and the decision is pre-ordained from the moment filming begins. I don’t care as I am not expecting a documentary and it really is the way Hilary and David carry the show that makes it enjoyable for me. The real fun is the smile I get from Mrs. C when I put down the laptop, close the book, or lay down the perfume vials to pay attention because I have decided to Love, Love It or List It.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Irving Penn

When the discussion about whether perfume can be considered an art form comes up I am often reminded that photography wasn’t really considered an art form until the 1970’s. The mythical gatekeepers that consider “What is art?” finally gave way under the volume of work that could not be ignored. One of the modern photographers who I most admire, Irving Penn had one of my favorite quotes about the power of his works. He said, “A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart, and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it; it is in one word, effective.” I read this on a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago just before I entered the gallery containing some of his photographs. Mr. Penn is much more than just effective his portraits and still lifes do what any art form does as it communicates the mundane on a subliminal level of beauty.

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Mr. Penn’s rise began as he started working at Vogue Magazine in 1947. Throughout 1948 he would take a series of pictures of some of the famous people who came through the Vogue offices. He posed them in a narrow “V” of plywood which was made apparent by the larger framing to allow you to see the room around the artificial confinement. The picture of Elsa Schiaparelli above is one of my favorites because it shows the fashion designer could not be contained by any artifice at all. Each subject used the narrow space differently.

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Jacques Fath had a pair of shears with which he was trying to cut his way out.

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Georgia O’Keeffe squeezed herself as far back as she could and Mr. Penn pulled the camera back further on that shot than any other in the series.

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Spencer Tracy looked at ease. This was Mr. Penn’s gift to use something as simple as a restricted space to display differences in personality.

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He would meet his wife while at Vogue, model Lisa Fonssagrives. She would become the subject of many of his fashion shots the most striking of which is the Harlequin Dress seen above.

3 Chanel Products Irving Penn

The other large part of his artistic collection was still lifes of objects placed exactly so. The picture of the 3 Chanel Products is a perfect example of this style.

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By the 1990’s he shot some spectacular nudes of which my favorite, “Leggy Nude, New York” is seen above.

Mr. Penn always shot what he loved and what moved him and that emotion is apparent in every one of the photographs. In the end I believe art is all about connecting to our emotional core and if something can reliably do that there should be no question about whether it is art. I believe perfume has its Penns and Adamses who will also eventually create a volume of work that will be undeniably art, it just takes time. Thankfully Mr. Penn’s time arrived before his death in 2009 so he could see his creations lauded for their artistic value.

All images by Irving Penn found on the Art Institute of Chicago website.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin

It seems like everywhere you turn there are artisanal small batch versions to be found. When it comes to fragrance it is my pleasure to support the independent perfumers who work to their own rhythm. I am also finding the same is true when it comes to the potent potables I drink. One of the best examples of this is the story behind Vermont’s Caledonia Spirits and their Barr Hill Gin.

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Todd Hardie

Todd Hardie has been fascinated with bees since he was 12-years old. This has led to a life of beekeeping and farming in the far northern Vermont region hard against the Quebec, Canada border. This is a land of dairy farms and one of my favorite quotes on the website is Mr. Hardie mentions that his bees require no documentation to cross the border and pollinate. As a working honey farmer he also grew grains and on Barr Hill there was wild juniper growing. One night as he was wondering how to maximize the use of all of his land the idea of distilling the grain for alcohol, using that to extract the juniper to make gin and then finish that gin by adding raw honey came to be. Over about 24 months a still was built, from recycled parts which produced the ethanol and allowed for vapor extraction of the juniper berries. The bees added their special ingredient and Barr Hill Gin was created. At first Mr. Hardie sold it in Vermont and one store in NYC. Since then Barr Hill Gin has become a true word-of-mouth success.

Gin is my favorite liquor. I used to distill my own when I was in graduate school and got to be competent at it. Once I had a job I was content to let the more experienced make my gin for me. I’ve probably been through all of the gin crazes from Tanqueray to Bombay Sapphire, to Hendrick’s and I like all of them. The addition of honey to Barr Hill Gin sets it apart. It makes it a gin for many people who aren’t fond of gin.

While sipping Barr Hill by itself, as an extremely dry martini, is a pleasure and the honey takes the coriander “edge” off that many people don’t like. It really comes to life in the right cocktails. As a class Barr Hill would be considered an Old Tom Gin as opposed to a London Dry Gin like Tanqueray or Bombay. The difference is an Old Tom Gin is a sweeter gin and the craft cocktail movement has made this style more sought after as more and more bartenders want to use it in their new cocktails.

barr hill gin

There is no gin-based cocktail I haven’t found to be improved by the addition of this gin but there is one which far and away almost seems it was particularly made for.  Back in the 1920’s the phrase used to describe something as cool was the “bee’s knees”. It is no surprise that a bartender created a cocktail by that name. Unfortunately because this bartender created the Bee’s Knees during Prohibition nobody knows who to appropriately attribute it to. Considering the gin used in speakeasies during that period was probably more like my amateur efforts in grad school bartenders were really looking for a way to take the “edge” off. The Bee’s Knees does it quite simply with honey and lemon juice.

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Bee’s Knees Cocktail

2oz. Barr Hill gin

¾ oz. lemon juice

¾ oz. honey simple syrup (dissolve 1oz of honey into 1oz of water)

Pour all of the ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into a highball glass with a couple of cubes of ice.

As a Colognoisseur variant to add some fragrant aspects to it I take a teaspoon of Crème de Violette and float it on top and add a sprig of rosemary. This combination always reminds me of two of my favorite fragrances both of which contain a honey and violet accord; Ulrich Lang Anvers and Serge Lutens Bois de Violette.

I do have to say the use of Barr Hill Gin has made gin lovers out of many of my friends who thought they didn’t like gin. You might even say they think it is the bee’s knees of gins.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Songs of Summer 2014

When it comes to summer for some reason it is the season when we allow ourselves to enjoy multiple guilty pleasures. Summer seems to give us permission to go see the new Transformers movie and wallow in the explosions and robots. The books we read are page-turners, India Drummond’s Caledonia Fae series is my beach companion this year, meant to entertain instead of provoke thought. The fragrances we wear are meant to be lighter, cleaner, less challenging; summer is cologne season. Underneath all of this is each year’s soundtrack of music. It seems every summer has a song to remind me of it. Whenever I hear it I am back in the sun-drenched time and place I heard it. In 1977 it was Sheena is a Punk Rocker by The Ramones. The aptly named The Boys of Summer provided the backbeat to 1984. Len’s Steal my Sunshine had me pounding on my steering wheel in 1999. Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie fueled 2006 and Katy Perry’s California Gurls took 2010. Of course Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines was last summer’s infectious beat.

For a summer song I want something which allows me to play imaginary keyboards or slash at a drum set only I can see. I want it to have a chorus I want to sing at the top of my not American Idol quality voice with the sun roof open headed to the beach. It also needs to hold up to being on a short playlist set on permanent repeat without boring me. I am headed to the beach for the Fourth of July and here are the five new songs which will be added to my perpetual summer playlist.

Rather Be by Clean Bandit– I break out my air violin for the opening of this before switching to the catchy keyboard hook. The band enlists Jess Glynne to do the vocals over the tracks they lay down. It puts a happy skip into my step.

I Wanna Get Better by Bleachers– Bleachers is Jack Antonoff’s of Fun. solo project and it has the same catchy drum line as the best tracks of that band. Mr. Antonoff also adds in hook after hook until we get to the chorus where I am singing/yelling “I Wanna Get Better”. The last minute of this from the guitar solo straight through to the end is everything I want from a summer song.

Am I Wrong by Nico & Vinz– The guitar line in this one is infectious and it builds to a crescendo by the first chorus which powers this all the way throughout.

She Looks So Perfect by 5 Seconds of Summer– This Australian sort of boy band produces a power pop confection that is the very definition of guilty pleasure. It is so formulaic that it should be forgettable but there is a genuine joy in the performance which allows this to rise above that formula

Summer by Calvin Harris– If you name your song Summer you’re clearly angling to be put on people’s summer playlists. It is a good thing that Mr. Harris produces a synthesizer laden homage to the dog days.

I hope everyone is having a great summer and allowing yourself to enjoy the simple pleasures of this time of year. If you need me you’ll find me on the beach, headphones in, sunglasses on, nose buried in my book.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Petite Sirah

When I teach my wine course for wines under $15 I ask people what wine they serve with burgers off the grill in the summertime. The usual answers are a bunch of white wines which opens the door for me to introduce the class to an underrated grape varietal, Petite Sirah.

Petite Sirah was a varietal imported from France, to California, where it was called Durif. In France it was never a very remarkable grape for wine and that is probably one of the reasons it isn’t very well known. If French winemakers can’t do something with it there must be a reason….right? This is an example of an unremarkable grape in one microclimate being transferred to a different one and flourishing. As the California vintners planted it the drier climate there caused it to blossom, literally and figuratively, and the small intense fruit to produce some wonderful red wines.

Petite sirah grapes

Petite Sirah Grapes on the vine

Over the last 15-20 years these California Petite Sirahs are true red wine bargains although you can find expensive ones, the more economical versions are very good. These are great wines for cheeseburgers and I have successfully paired them with spicy curry dishes. Petite Sirah often manages to be the perfect answer to foods that don’t have obvious food pairings. These are also red wines that are very drinkable when you purchase them, they can improve with some aging but the ones I recommend below are ready to go right from the store shelf to your glass.

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Spellbound Petite Sirah is my favorite low price Petite Sirah regularly found for less than $15. Spellbound is the vineyard run by Rob Mondavi, Jr. the fourth generation of Modavis to go into winemaking. His Petite Sirah is one of the easiest drinking red wines you can buy and it has gourmand notes of caramel and coffee to the nose before getting a rich deep berry flavor over the oak of the barrels used to age the wine. The currently available 2012 vintage is excellent and shows all of the qualities that make Spellbound Petite Sirah exceptional.

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McManis Petite Sirah runs a close second to Spellbound for me. It generally has a more pronounced caramel quality and the berries are juicier which makes it drink much softer. The 2012 vintage is available now for less than $10.

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One of the things I find fascinating about Petite Sirah is the variations that can be found and the Cupcake Vineyards Petite Sirah is very different than either of the ones above. The winemakers accentuate all of the sweeter character inherent in the grape and so this becomes the perfect companion to a dessert of summer berries and whipped cream or key lime pie. The 2012 vintage overflows in cherry, raspberry, and blackberry flavors. This is on top of a nose of cinnamon and coffee as you sniff before drinking. This is also widely available for less than $15.

So fire up your grill, gather some summer fruit and pop the cork on a Petite Sirah it’s a perfect summertime combination.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Newport Mansions

We currently live in a world where the power brokers like putting their names on things, often as big as they can get it. The size of the sign somehow has something to do with the size of the influence, I guess. Not that competition among the wealthy is anything new it has been going on for centuries. Each trying to have the biggest and/or grandest whatever is important in that era. I am reminded of that every year when I attend a scientific conference in Newport, RI.

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Chateau sur Mer

For the burgeoning American industrialists of the late 19th century the competition was for the biggest house with the most exotic building materials designed by the premiere architects of the day. For the architects these had to be half dream project-half nightmare. The dream part was having a client who could acquire any material you wanted to be incorporated into the design and you would be encouraged to push the envelope on that design to be wholly original. The nightmare part must have been the pressure of not delivering to the most powerful families in America, if they weren’t satisfied you were probably done as an architect. I’m sure the same thing is true for bespoke perfumes as the perfumer has some freedom to create singularly but if it misses what the client is hoping for then the perfumer will be seen as untalented for not being able to deliver.

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Beechwood

One heavy concentration of these mansions is located in Newport. The influential families of the day had decided that Newport was where they wanted to spend their summers and they had to have homes which confirmed their status. The acknowledged first mansion was called Chateau sur Mer which was built by the Wetmore family who had made their fortune in the shipping business. Chateau sur Mer was built in 1852 but it was barely twenty years later when they asked architect Richard Morris Hunt to redesign it in what was called the “Second Empire” style. The Wetmores had started the race.

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Marble House

Once it had been started the two most prominent families of the day, the Astors and the Vanderbilts, had to enter. What is funny is the same architect, Mr. Hunt, was used almost in succession as the Astors employed him to renovate Beechwood. William Vanderbilt would hire him to build Marble House only to have his older brother Cornelius outdo those all by having Mr. Hunt design The Breakers.

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The Breakers

My conference is at Salve Regina University and it sits next door to The Breakers while the once Carriage House and stables of Chateau sur Mer now make up Wetmore Hall. Making an interesting bit of historical bookends to my daily walk back and forth across campus.

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Richard Morris Hunt

One final thought about all of this was none of these were the main residence for any of these families they were referred to as “cottages”. They spent 8-10 weeks a year here. The influence of this summer society is still apparent today as their preferred method of play was sailing and tennis. Even there the competitive nature would rear its head and the early beginnings of the America’s Cup and tennis’ US Open were borne out of this endless trying to be on top.

The names may have changed and the area of competition may have evolved but the game remains the same.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The FIFA World Cup

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When it comes to sports there is nothing like competing for your country at an elite level. Every athlete in any sport you can name strives to wear a uniform with their country’s flag sewn on it. My favorite quadrennial national competition is about to start this week, the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. For the next month the greatest football (soccer) playing nations on earth will compete to be named the World Champion. This is a magical moment as whole countries come to a stop when their national team is playing. As someone who has had the pleasure of attending the World Cup in 1986 and 1994 I have seen the emotion played out live. I also have treasured memories of traveling in a country on the day they are competing and sharing the experience with those countrymen.

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Manno Sanon agains Italy in the 1974 World Cup

My first experience of this kind was being in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti in June of 1974 at a crowded dockside bar as Haiti took on the mighty Italian team. At the end of the first half the score stood at 0-0. Then right at the beginning of the second half Manno Sanon scored the first goal against the Italians in 19 World Cup games. The bar exploded, people danced on the dock, and boats blew their horns. Then the tension really set in as everyone hoped against hope that Haiti could hold on for a famous victory. Six minutes later the score was tied at one and the Italians would add two more before the end of the game. This was the moment I fell in love with the World Cup as a sporting event.

I’ve been in an Italian-American club when Paolo Rossi scored three goals to lead Italy to a 3-2 victory over Brazil while grown men wept with emotion. In every city I’ve lived in the Brazilian community would have an impromptu car honking parade on Main Street after each victory. The World Cup captivates the entire world and it was why I wanted to experience it firsthand.

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In 1986 I spent the month of June crisscrossing central Mexico going from site to site to see games. The US had not qualified and I was this oddity, an American who knew something about the game. As a result I was adopted by one group of fans or another. The Brazilians welcomed me on to their conga drum line against Spain. The Spaniards taught me the cheers of their team a week later when they played Northern Ireland. Spending thirty days immersed in the madness made me long for the opportunity to be able to root for the US team. Eight years later it would happen.

In 1994 the World Cup came to the US. At the time I lived in Connecticut and was positioned within easy drives of three venues in Boston, New York, and Washington. I bought two tickets to as many matches as I could and I took a friend with me to every game. This time I had company as we drank Guinness with the Irish fans in NYC. Helped Spanish fans carry a coffin with Italy written on it into the stadium for their quarterfinal. I was introduced to salt licorice in the parking lot prior to a Norway match. I really enjoyed watching my friends become exposed to the fervor of the World Cup firsthand.

This year I will once again be highly distracted by the events taking place in Brazil. The US team has been drawn in to a very difficult group but like every fan I live in hope that the American lads will pull off a surprise or two. If you need to find me for the next month I’ll be at the bar watching with my new friends sharing in a world-wide experience.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Rothman & Winter Crème de Violette

I think those who know me know if I could my life would be violet tinted and scented. Purple is my favorite color and I have written extensively on my love of all fragrant products violet. There are days from my shower through to the clothes I am wearing where violet is the word for the day. There is one violet product I knew about but which had been extremely difficult to find until the last few years. It isn’t a fragrance or a piece of clothing it is a unique liqueur called Crème de Violette.

The resurgence of Prohibition Craft Cocktails has also resurrected some of the ingredients that went into those classic cocktails. Crème de Violette was a key ingredient to many of those libations. The source of Crème de Violette back then, as now, was the Austrian firm of Rothman & Winter. The care that goes into making it starts with harvesting two types of violets Queen Charlotte and March Violets and macerating them in a grape brandy called “Weinbrand” and then adding cane sugar to sweeten it. This produces deeply purple liqueur that adds a unique color to any drink it is added to. It also adds a wonderful scent of violet to whatever it is added to. Crème de Violette is not limited to using in cocktails if you want to add a hint of violet to cupcakes or macarons adding a few tablespoons will add an exotic twist to the most vanilla of recipes. I know of one baker who uses it in her violet macarons and garnishes it with candied violets.

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The Aviation cocktail

For me I use it in the things I drink and here are a few suggestions if you want to add a bit of violet to your drinks. One of my favorite uses is to take one tablespoon of Crème de Violette and swirl it into a glass of lemonade and then take a teaspoon and carefully float it on top for Violet Lemonade, this is the perfect drink for me when I am wearing Tom Ford Violet Blonde. For those of you who like Kir Royales or Champagne Cocktails replace the Chambord/Kir or Brandy, respectively, with the Crème de Violette. You will get a vibrantly colored version as the sparkling wine seems to make it feel like liquid neon. The same goes for a classic martini if you, again, take a teaspoon and float it on top you have a Violet Aromatini. My companion scent for these is Atelier Cologne Sous le Toit de Paris. My favorite use of Crème de Violette is in the classic cocktail The Aviation, whose recipe is below:

1 ½ oz. Dry Gin

½ oz Crème de Violette

½ oz. Maraschino liqueur

½ oz. fresh lemon juice

Take all the ingredients and mix them over ice. Shake, strain and serve in a martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist or a maraschino cherry.

You should end up with a lavender tinted concoction which looks, and smells, as good as it tastes. This particular cocktail has turned many people who told me they don’t like gin into gin drinkers. Depending on your taste there are two variations on The Aviation. In The Blue Moon the Maraschino liqueur is removed to make a tarter version. In The Moonlight Cointreau replaces the Maraschino liqueuer and lime juice replaces lemon juice. All of them are delicious. What do I wear when serving these drinks? Comme des Garcons + Stephen Jones, of course.

If you also like your world violet tinted go pick up a bottle of Rothamn & Winter Crème de Violette and see how you can add a little more violet to your life.

Disclosure: This is based on a bottle of Rothman & Winter Crème de Violette I purchased.

Mark Behnke