Ah yes, the glamorous life!
I have a nice back door, which is open now, despite the work crew out there. A new home is going up a couple of feet from this one, killing forever my kitchen window breeze. A crew of Pakistani laborers toils in the heat, managing to find plenty of tasks in the corner of the lot that affords a view of the ridiculous spectacle I must make, marching around with hoses, and buckets and glass beakers. Oh well, the door stays open. I’m not closing off my breeze.
The heat and humidity are not so bad if you are not trying to keep pretty, actually.
And have plenty of water to drink.
The frankincense situation here has not yet improved. There is a little available, but the price is quite high. That’s Dhofari frankincense I mean. There is still Somali. But I’m glad to have all this stock I bought before. The price is now double. And of the old stock I have, it needs to be cleaned, so that’s me now, sitting on the floor of my frankincense room, sifting out dirt, separating the qualities, removing bark and twigs….seems to be working though, the distillation so far seems great, fingers crossed.
Status quo here.
I have some new lovely dark violet bottles, from Germany I think, and they are very superior in an ultra-violet way apparently. They look cool as hell for sure. And I’ve got a strong basis of four oils—frankincense in 5 ml, French lavender in 10 ml, Romance blend in 5 ml and Bulgarian rosewater in 30 ml with sprayers. All come in little Thai silk bags and they are proving pretty popular.
I think some of us might have a skewed vision of the frankincense journey from the insides of the tree to the bottle bought from your favorite shop. We tend to see things through the filters of what we’d like to see, pretty as can be. It’s like envisioning India as a calm peaceful place full of yogis oming everywhere and happy cows frolicking through the streets.
I know of few essential oils that some through a clean and careful journey from plant to bottle and sometimes I hear people saying things about sterilizing their glass bottles before decanting the essential oils. Does this happen? I can’t believe it. And laboratory clean is not how nature works.
Frankincense generates a lot of sweat. First of all, the harvesting labor is intense, uncomfortable and not well paid, involving weeks spent in the baking hot and humid mountains and nedj, scraping trees gently, going back over the same areas again and again, sleeping in rocks, dealing with snakes and bugs, and the police and army if Somali, and on and on, I’ve discussed this part before. But once you’ve got it bagged, and met your contact who pays you and takes it down to Salalah, then it’s back up into those mountains for you, and the frankincense continues its journey to the wholesale souk in Salalah, where he sits in big burlap bags of 40 (35) kilos, in a hot storeroom until it’s time to clean him. I admit that even though I have seen these guys, usually Indians or Bangladeshis, cleaning the gum, I didn’t appreciate it until I started doing it myself.
It’s sifted, the dust (and dirt) sifted out and this is the cheapest one you find bagged for sale in the shops. You didn’t even use to see it, but now with the shortage it’s all gotta go on the shelves. Then the little parts that are not supposed to be there get taken out—the barky and twiggy parts. They are not supposed to be there in the first place because knowledgeable harvesters gently scrape the tears off the tree, not making the tiniest nick. But of course this is a fantasy, like so many things. But there is not a whole lot of this, I don’t think, compared to what there could be. I feel like one of those women in India or Africa going through the pile of grain looking for stones. It’s hard on the eyes and the back, but I smell good!
So once it’s clean then it’s bagged in kilo (800 gram) plastic and goes for out for sale. And there’s your starting point for distillation, although I skip the plastic bag part. There is no drying, don’t know how that rumor started. It makes no sense at all. The wetter, gooier and stickier the better of course, and it also keeps it heavier!
I am half afraid I will wreck my computer dripping sweat onto it like this. But my skin looks great!
I’m sure my parents would be proud of me, sitting in the outer reaches of this Sultanate, spending my days hunched over a pile of tree resin picking out bits of bark. This is what came out of all those hopes and dreams! Works for me though.
Last year in June I got to make a documentary for France 2 with Sebastien Legay and Olivier Le Hellard. The name of the show is Envoye Special and it aired Thursday night and again Saturday and Sunday I think in French speaking countries. I haven’t seen it yet. I hope to put it on the website one day, and also a TV interview I did in Assam in February for Nagaon Today.
Salalah is changing like crazy. After so many years without change at all, suddenly money seems to be pouring in from everywhere, and big projects are at least slated to go up. It’s a bit scary, to project ahead 10 or 20 years. I can only hope that the magnificent natural beauty of Dhofar will not be compromised, and that the corporate mentality will not overcome this little Edenic nook. Inshallah.
As May progresses, the ocean becomes rough, and soon it will be no more swimming until after Khareef. Flowers love the heat and humidity though and frangipani is out for days. Every tree is like a pack of paparazzi, clamoring for attention as you pass.
We have a new café—it’s Café de Paris and it’s at the far (or near) end of Haffa beach and it’s just ridiculous. You sit at little wooden tables on the sand, drink a cappuccino, enjoy the roaring surf, the ocean breeze and night sky, for hours and hours and no one ever asks you to leave, or pesters you in any way. The next table is safely out of earshot. The whole night can pass like this. Say what you like about anywhere else in the world; it can’t touch Salalah.