King Cake

'A Woman Who Does Not Wear Perfume Has No Future'

June 21, 2015

Aksenia Krupenko and Salamander Spa Director Penny Kriel (Photo by: Ada Polla) Aksenia Krupenko and Salamander Spa Director Penny Kriel

A woman who does not wear perfume has no future. Coco Chanel 

Last Thursday, the Washington Spa Alliance brought together a beautiful crowd of spa industry leaders at the French Embassy for an evening presentation: "The History of Natural Perfumery: from Cleopatra to Chanel" presented by Michael Scholes, President of Laboratory of Flowers. Scholes describes himself as an Alchemist, Therapeutic Formulator, and Natural Perfumer.

He reminded a captivated audience of key facts about the sense of smell, including that smell was the first of our senses and that the olfactory system ha a direct link to the brain which is primarily subconscious recognition. Indeed, smell is a prime mover of higher brain function: the sense of smell is wired directly into the limbic system. This is where we process emotions, memory, basic drives, hormonal responses, and a part of the brain that tells us when we have had enough. 

Anjali Dighe, Pilar DiVittorio, Heather Shaw Menis (Photo by: Ada Polla) Anjali Dighe, Pilar DiVittorio, Heather Shaw Menis

He then explored the history of natural fragrance throughout the ages while having the his listeners smell various samples, in effect making them travel on an aromatic journey through time. He passed around rare and precious oils including jasmine, rose, geranium, tuberose, narcissus, violet, orange blossom, wild orange and other concoctions that mark time, celebrate moments in history, as well as the sacred scents of biblical times. 

The mission of the Washington Spa Alliance is to act as a knowledge center, connecting spa professionals in the nation’s greater capital region. WSPA works to promote the exchange of education and innovation in the field, and to ensure that the highest ideals of spa are met through policy and action. For more information, visit Washington Spa Alliance.


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E Pluribus Unum

April 19, 2015

"Remember that all of us are descended from immigrants and revolutionists." FDR

My family has called me “the American” for quite some time. As of Tuesday April 14, they are no longer factually incorrect when doing so. This past Tuesday is the day that I became an American.

Almost exactly 20 years ago, in August of 1995, I landed at New York’s JFK airport, alone, to attend college in the US. Luckily, a dear family friend, Aileen, was there to pick me up and drive me to school. 20 years later we are still friends and she will always hold that special place in my heart – the one who picked me up and helped me start my American journey. On Tuesday, I began a new phase of that journey.

Nothing prepared me for the ceremony or emotion of that morning. The moments I will forever remember include:

Bryant W. Johnson, Records Specialist and for all intents and purposes, the Master of Ceremonies and our Entertainer for the morning. He organized us, told us where to sit (front row seat for me!), what to do, and kept us both laughing and serious as the situation demanded.

The moment when I had to relinquish my green card to a court officer. We all did. Mr. Johnson apparently knew how uncomfortable we were doing this. (The one thing I have trained myself to never, ever, lose, no matter the situation, is my Green Card. It possibly was my most prized possession until this past Tuesday.) After we had all given it back, he joked we at that moment were not quite legal, and recommended that should the fire alarm go off, we catch him!

Watching the sign language interpreter. Of course, the US being the amazingly inclusive country it is, she was there from the beginning to the end, translating he ceremony and every joke Mr. Johnson made.

The speech by Nisha Desai Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. A naturalized citizen herself, she reminded us of her favorite quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”

The speech by our judge. 12 weeks in the court, it was Judge Amit P. Mehta’s first naturalization ceremony, and he was appropriately (and adorably) nervous. He told us of his story, which began in India. He was naturalized when he was 10 years old. He spoke of the great journey that is America. “America is not a destination, it is a journey. It is a constant state of striving for that perfect Union.” “The story of America is fundamentally an immigrant story,” he reminded us. “This country was founded on shared values, not a specific race or religion.”

And indeed, that was reflected in the room – 50 countries were represented. All ages, both genders, all skin tones, and many languages. We were 119 altogether. A true representation of “E pluribus unum.” Most people came with friends and family members. I, however, came alone. When I left for college, I left Switzerland alone, partly as a sign of fierce independence. Being alone Tuesday morning had a nice parallelism to it, and felt completely

Perhaps because truly, I was not alone. The gentleman sitting next to me, an immigrant from Morocco, was also alone. We took each other’s pictures (all the ones in this post are courtesy of him), spoke of entrepreneurship and the American dream (he too owns his own business), and laughed together.

I also was not alone because of the amazing social media love. Never before has that touched me so much. All Facebook comments, tweets, and texts made my day so very special – some worth highlighting include:

Congrats Ada! We’re happy to have you, especially since you make us all a little bit prettier with your magical Swiss blueberries!  (JH)

Congrats Ada. Very happy for you. The last question they will ask you is what is your favorite NFL team. Although you will be tempted to say New England, if you answer Washington you will pass the test. (SA) 

Congrats–we just (the US that is…) got better looking. (LHD)

Ada, this is the nicest thing that’s happened in a while and we welcome you. (BM)

While I had not expected to feel any different (after all, I have been living and paying taxes in this country for such a long time), it does feel different. It feels wonderful. Official. Proud. Humbling. I do not feel less Swiss or less European, instead, I feel more whole.

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An Interview With Karin Tanabe

April 2, 2015

You know it is a fun book club when you invite authors to attend, and they then want to join as a participant. This is how I met Karin Tanabe (thank you Kate Michael for introducing me to her!). As an author, Karin is smart, witty, funny, and amazing at weaving characters into tales of love, political scandal, and art collector shenanigans. As a woman, Karin is kind, even funnier than her writing, gorgeous, and impeccably dressed. (Other things I love about her: she is half Belgian and wears Guerlain perfume.) In a previous career, she wrote about beauty for glossy magazines, including in Dubai. She is a self-professed beauty junkie, so much so that we have a date to go to Sephora together and compare notes (apparently our beauty shopping habits differ dramatically … stay tuned for the story of that trip). She may indeed have tried every product on the planet. And she has opinions. Strong ones. (Oh, and yes, she kissed Mick Jagger – must ask her about this next time I see her …)

AP: What city were you born in? KT: Washington D.C.

AP: What city to do you live in? KT: Washington D.C. (This makes me sound rather boring, but there were a lot of places in between!)

AP: What is your middle name? KT: Elizabeth.

AP: What is your astrological sign? KT: Leo

AP: What is something about you most people don’t know? KT: I kissed Mick Jagger.

AP: What is your most prized possession? KT: My first book contract.

AP: If you could have dinner with the person of your choice, who would it be? KT: I’d love to break bread with Donna Tartt and ask her what she does in the ten years between her books. I’d also like to know if she gets bored of wearing menswear-inspired suits on the regular.

AP: Describe your fashion style in three words maximum. KT: Classic, globally-inspired.

AP: Do you wear a watch? If yes, what model? KT: Nope.

AP: Diamonds or pearls? KT: Diamonds! The more the merrier.

AP: What is your #1 beauty secret? KT: Sunblock. So much sunblock. I like the cheap stuff and mostly buy Hawaiian Tropic because it smells like the beach.

AP: What fragrance do you wear? KT: L’Instant de Guerlain.

AP: Botox or not? KT: Not yet, but I’m not opposed in the future.

AP: Hair color: natural or not? KT: I don’t even know what my natural hair color is at this point.

AP:What are your special diet tips, if any? KT: Drink soy milk to stay full, pretend bread is poisonous.

AP:What do you do for exercise? KT: I go to a morning boot camp class four days a week and run one day a week.

AP:What are three things that you always have in your fridge? KT: Lemonade, tangerines and cheddar cheese.

AP: What is your cocktail of choice? KT: I go very high low. I like either champagne or cheap watery beer.

AP: What is your secret to work/life balance? KT: It’s okay to be a hot mess sometimes. I think when we say work/life balance it sounds very organized and Zen, but often I have to sacrifice work for life or life for work and that’s okay. I think that’s the trick. Letting one win every now and again and not feeling guilty about it.

AP:How many miles do you fly per year on average? KT: Lately, book deadlines win more than travel so about 15,000.

AP: What are your three top tips for travel? KT: Really warm socks, earplugs and patience. 

AP: Three songs on your iPod right now. KT: The only music I can listen to when I write is classical, so that tends to dominate my playlists. Right now I love Lakmé by Leo Delibes, Air to Air by the Silk Road Ensemble and Chris Thile preforming Bach’s Sonata No. 1 in G Minor on mandolin.

AP: What book are you reading right now? KT: I just went to a Kazuo Ishiguro book signing and bought The Buried Giant, but I’m finishing his When We Were Orphans before I crack it.

AP: Quote to live by. KT: “Do crazy things with your hair while you still have hair to do it with.”

AP:What is your worst pet peeve? KT: Visible clutter. I don’t mind if drawers and closets are a disaster, but I like to live in denial and don’t want to see any of it.

AP:What time do you usually wake up in the morning, and how many hours of sleep do you usually get?KT: Weekdays I get up at 6:15 and sleep seven to eight hours. Weekends I just roll with it.

AP: What is your favorite thing about the beauty industry? KT: I’m a beauty junkie so it’s hard to boil it down to one, but I’d have to go with innovation. There are always new products to try.

AP: Least favorite thing. KT: Narrow-mindedness.

AP: Who is your mentor? KT: I never had a mentor when I worked in journalism as I was always working at these dog eat dog publications, but now that I write books I would say that my editor Sarah is my mentor. I think that the editor/writer relationship just lends itself to that.

AP: Words of advice for young women starting their careers today. KT: It can take a very long time to get the career you want. Work hard, make smart choices and be patient. Also, it’s more important to be smart than “pretty.” That sounds extremely obvious, but the world is constantly telling us that the opposite is true, so I think it’s important to say it again and again.  

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