“George Hadley walked through the singing glade and picked up something that lay in

the corner near where the lions had been. He walked slowly back to his wife. ‘What is it?’

she asked. ‘An old wallet of mine,’ he said. He showed it to her. The smell of hot grass

was on it and the smell of a lion. There were drops of saliva on it, it had been chewed,

and there were blood smears on both sides. He closed the nursery door and locked it,

tight.”

—Ray Bradbury, “The Veldt”

“Truly a work of Art is one that tells us that Nature cannot make what Man can make.”

—Louis Kahn

“Elegance is frigid.”

—Saito Ryoku

 

At the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, NV, boxers circle each other over the emblem of

the lion. Like Zeus, lions symbolize leadership, strength, and integrity, and are known

for eating their offspring. The lion is the king of the Jungle and of Disney’s England.

Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was the Conquering Lion of

the Tribe of Judah. The crest of the East India Trading Company has two lions, and was

emblazoned on their currency in company-ruled India.1 Dutch East India Company

coins have lions, too.2 The eruption of Vesuvius happened under the sign of Leo.3

The essence of lionship as we understand it is golden, slightly Christmas-y, rich,

woody, savage, opulent, gamey, and a little cloying—charismatic, if not altogether

pleasant. Scoundrelescent. Crusading King Richard I of England and Jean-Claude Van

Damme have been called “Lionheart.” Cologne based on lion-ness should be one of

many rare and meaningful parts, allowed to steep with one another, coalescing into a

rich, insistent, yet elusive odor—something Long John Silver or Patrick Bateman would

like. The smells of leather, grass, pheromones, flowers, dust, and saffron could mingle

with a spicy citrus note to communicate: lion. The wearer’s prospects would instantly

improve.

Borfima was an elicit charm worn by members of the intertribal Leopard Society

or Human Leopard Society, who were investigated and tried in Sierra Leone, Cote

1 “Coinage of the British East India Co.” 2 June 2015 Fitzwilliam Museum,

http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/gallery/East-West/India_1.html, (accessed Apr. 5

2015).

2 “Gold duit of the Dutch East India Co.” 2 June 2015

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/cm/g/dutch_eas

t_india_co_gold_duit.aspx

3 “Fish sauce used to date Pompeii destruction.”

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/26947215/#.VXB76ig5TRq, (accessed May 1, 2015).

3 “Dan Cruickshank’s Adventure in Architecture: Death”

d’Ivoire, and other countries under colonial rule in the west of Africa during the late

19th century.4 The Human Leopard Society and Human Crocodile Society carried out

grim sacrificial rites, while subverting control the British and Dutch had in West Africa

and threatening the sovereignty of individual tribal governments. It was believed that

the Leopard Society used witchcraft to change into animals and attack. Tarzan once

faced the Leopard Men.5

Human sacrifice was required to make borfima, usually a member of a pledge’s

family served. The victim/offer is sent down a path in the forest, while (usually s)/he is

stalked by men dressed in leopard skins, wielding curved, claw-like knives used to kill

and eviscerate their prey. The liver is inspected to determine adequate health, and then

blood, skin, egg white, grains of rice, rooster blood, among other components are put

into a leather pouch to be worn round the neck. Cannibalistic aspects of the ceremony

are a matter of debate. The amulet’s effectiveness depends on frequent re-anointment,

making borfima a rarified and labor-demanding substance.

Wearing borfima made men leopard-like: marked, a known killer, hunted, and

feared. Laws prohibited (unsanctioned) leopard costumes, curved knives, and borfima—

Imperial troops of the British protectorate in Sierra Leone were ordered to arrest those

in possession.6 Like shark fin soup, borfima was a prize to be kept from the prying eyes

of the law.

Delicacies are often put away, tucked under, nearly forgotten, and allowed to

ripen, appreciate, ferment, or cure. They are curated or deconstructed in order to be

4 K. J. Beatty, Human Leopards, (London: Hugh Rees, 1915),

5 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan and the Leopard Men,

6 Beatty, Leopards

appreciated, if not enjoyed—think wine, lutefisk, scotch, sauerkraut, savings bonds, “The

Cask of Amontillado.” Garum, a beloved Roman fish sauce and commodity originating

in ancient Greece, was made by covering fish parts with salt and leaving them under the

sun for months, in order to harvest the slimy residue drawn out by a process called

autolysis.7 Garum production was moved to suburban areas like Pompeii due to the

extreme stench. Garum residue was used to pinpoint the date of Mount Vesuvius’

destruction of Pompeii to August 79 AD.8 Pompeii was also a perfumery center.9

Perfumers use odors to make associations with abstractions like exclusivity,

luxury, and power not by mimicking the odors or pheromones of the rich and famous,

but often by employing agents with little to no obvious material connection to wealth.

Among others, ambergris, a substance created when squid beaks get lodged in the

digestive tract of a sperm whale. Ambergris is used mainly as an odor adherent or

musky base note in expensive perfume and occasionally as a flavoring in Egyptian

cigarettes.10

Formation of ambergris relies on an unlikely series of events that only occurs in

around one percent of whales, which begins with a leaking sphincter, and ends with a

catastrophic, fatal intestinal rupture. After a period of disintegration and

dismemberment by sea life, the ambergris is released and drifts in the sea, sometimes

7 “Garum”

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/wine/garum.html,

(accessed May 29, 2015).

8 Rosetta Lorenzi “Fish sauce used to date Pompeii destruction.”

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/26947215/#.VXB76ig5TRq, (accessed May 1, 2015).

9 “Cruickshank’s Death”

10 Christopher Kemp, Floating Gold, excerpt posted 2012,

http://press.uchicago.edu/books/excerpt/2012/kemp_floating.html, (accessed March

10, 2015).

curing for years before being discovered. Cetologists decipher the chunks similarly to

the way dendrologists read tree rings.11 Fresh ambergris smells of manure and is useless

to perfumers: the mass must stay out to sea, appreciating, its discovery becoming ever

more improbable.12 The substance is highly valuable fetching $200,000+ per kilo from

perfumers, but it is not traditionally used decoratively, nor is its image deployed in

heraldry.13

The image of the common violet is not a symbol of wealth either, unlike its odor,

a favorite of Cleopatra’s.14 Strangely, humans detect violet scents very intensely one

second and hardly at all the next. The elusive and oscillating presence of the odor itself

is caused by ionine, which “short-circuits” the sense of smell.15 More volatile processes

like distillation and maceration denature violets and kill the scent. Even alcohol

extraction negates the aroma. The scent of violets is traditionally extracted through

enfleurage, wherein petals are arranged on a layer of lard spread across a framed pane

of glass (the enfleurage chassis), cycled out with fresh petals every few days until the

scent of the violets displaces that of the lard. The product can be reduced to a pomade, a

concrete, or an absolute (the silt-like remnants of botanical matter used by perfumers).

Violets’ abundance has little bearing on the value of its essence—a vast number is

necessary for enfleurage: it takes two million petals to extract one pound of absolute.

Unlike the scarcity and unlikely obtainment of ambergris, it is the scale of the endeavor,

12 Beuse, http://www.fragrantica.com/notes/Ambergris-524.html, (accessed March 10,

2015).

13 Interview with ambergris hunter Adrienne Beuse, Fragrantica.com,

http://www.fragrantica.com/notes/Ambergris-524.html, (accessed March 10, 2015).

14 Ackerman,

15 Ackerman, “Of violets and neurons” A Natural History of the Senses, (New York:

Random House, 1990),

the amount of time, and the labor demanded by the delicacy of the violet that endows

preciousness.

 

The word for the smell of rain is petrichor, from the Greek petra for rock, and

ichor: the blood of the Olympian gods. The odor is comprised of plant oils and

particulate that combine to form the compound geosmin. Petrichor is distilled into

perfume in the Indian village Kannauj, where it is called mitti attar in Hindi, or “Earth’s

Perfume.”16 The subtleties of petrichor/mitti attar are specific to nearby agriculture,

plant life, the composition of the ground, the proximity of the sea, recent weather

patterns, and a number of other variables. The porous surfaces of concrete structures

are perfect for collecting and dispersing the subtle odor of rain.

The Roman Coliseum was built from concrete. Concrete is our second-most

heavily used natural resource, after water. Concrete is commonly used to alter and

redistribute the flow of water: the Los Angeles Aqueduct and the St. Francis Dam17, for

example. Mobile homes would appear less like they attracted tornados if their only

significant structural difference from McMansions were not the concrete foundations.

The state of the union is readable in the concrete footings of high-traffic bridges.

Concrete-lover Louis Kahn, in a moment of thrilling hubris said, “The sun never knew

how great it was until it hit the side of a building.”18

Concrete will protect us from The Bomb. It makes up the Imperial overbite of

Brutalist architecture. In the World Trade Center, reinforced concrete created large

open spaces that supported modular interior design solutions.19 It can be molded into

virtually limitless forms: animals, roads, walls, swimming pools, birdbaths, lions,

gnomes, even boats. It can be used to revive or mimic classical architecture and

statuary. Concrete is to architecture what the light bulb was to Marshall McLuhan.20

16 Cynthia Barnett, “Bottling.” Quartz 25 Apr. 2015, (accessed April 30, 2015).

17 Blitz, Matt, “On occasions like this, I envy the dead: the St. Francis Dam disaster”,

Mar. 12 2015, Smithsonian website, (accessed May 5 2015).

18 Louis Kahn, from Robert Hughes’ The Architects: Louis Kahn, (New York: New word

City, 2015).

19 Interview with Leslie E. Robertson, Clog: World Trade Center

20 Marshall McLuhan Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, (Cambridge: MIT

Press), 1994, 8.

During the dormant season, grass turns yellow. Greenskeepers spray blue dye on

the dead grass, rendering them an unconvincing but visible shade of green. The dye is

also used to subtly track pesticide spraying during golfing season, to ensure even

application. The ultramarine of the dye is deep, like Yves Klein’s International Klein

Blue (IKB). On its own, in a container, or on a neutral substrate, the dye is the blue of

water on maps. The dye turns yellow grass into a shade resembling green dye fading

from bleached-blonde hair. When the dye is sprayed on dormant Bermuda grass, it

changes nothing about the texture of the grass or the performance of the ball. The

difference is a reassuring aesthetic, maintaining that grasses needn’t die, and that all is

quite well in hand.

 

Homeowners paint the ceilings of their porches a shade known as “haint blue” to

fool wasps and birds into thinking there is be no place to build a nest, and to fool evil

spirits who are unable to cross water.21 Blue is clear. Maps are mostly blue, though water

is not. The smell of chlorine reminds of cool, blue swimming pools. Blue is the concrete

of colors.

Tarzana is an edge city on the ledge of Topanga Canyon in the San Fernando

Valley region of Los Angeles, CA. The high school scenes in “The Karate Kid” were

filmed at Portola Middle School in Tarzana.22 Balthazar Getty, star of “Lost Highway”

and son of the infamously kidnapped Jean Paul Getty III23, is a resident of Tarzana.

The land that would be called Tarzana was acquired from Mexico through the

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. After decades as ranchos, land for expatriate

Spanish gentry, the land was purchased by Harrison Otis, publisher of the Los Angeles

Times and member of the controversial “San Fernando Syndicate,” a group of

businessmen buying tracts of land in anticipation of the Los Angeles Aqueduct in

1909.24 The scheme, built from dubiously purchased water rights in the Owens Valley,

culminated in the California Water Wars (the context for the Roman Polanski film

“Chinatown”). The water was moved through dams, reservoirs, and the Los Angeles

Aqueduct: hundreds miles of concrete canals, tunnels, and conduit.25

21 David DiBenedetto, et al, “Shades of the South” in The Southerner’s Handbook, (New

York: Harper Collins, 2013).

22 “Tarzana overview”, JDS Realty website, (accessed Apr. 3 2015).

23 Woo, “J. Paul Getty III dies at 54; scion of oil dynasty” LA Times 7 Feb. 2011

http://articles.latimes.com/2011/feb/07/local/la-me-john-paul-getty-iii-20110208,

(accessed Nov. 12, 2015).

24 Ralph Herman’s history of Tarzana Ranch, http://www.tarzana.ca/, (accessed Oct. 13,

2015).

25 Dana Bartholomew, “100 years of water: Los Angeles Aqueduct, William Mulholland

helped create modern L.A.”, Los Angeles Times, Fri. Nov 1, 2013,

http://www.dailynews.com/environment-and-nature/20131101/100-years-of-waterlos-

angeles-aqueduct-william-mulholland-helped-create-modern-la, (accessed June 1,

2015).

In 1919, 550 acres were sold to Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of the Tarzan

adventure novels, who named it Tarzana Ranch.26 Burroughs eventually subdivided the

acreage for homes and it was sold, adhering to racially exclusive codes and covenants, as

was the style of the time. The name “Tarzana” was specifically intended to evoke themes

of white flight and manifest destiny associated with the story of Tarzan.27 The Wikipedia

page for Tarzana used to have this information, but now it says little more than,

“Tarzana is an affluent, highly-educated neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley

region of Los Angeles, California.”28 It might be different now.

Burroughs was born in Oak Park, IL, a “sundown town” then, where it was

unwise for nonwhites to allow the sun to set on them inside city limits. Sociologist

James W. Loewen says, “Tarzan may have lived in ‘darkest Africa,’ but he was born in

one sundown town (Oak Park, home of Edgar Rice Burroughs), and the proceeds from

his wildly successful novels and movies underwrote Burroughs’s creation of another

(Tarzana, California).”29

26 “Edgar Rice Burroughs—first citizen of Tarzana”, May 1969, (Tarzana: Tarzana

Chamber of Commerce and Tarzana Bank of America).

http://www.tarzana.org/docs/citizen1.jpg, (accessed Oct. 13, 2014).

27 Laura Baraclough on the establishment of Tarzana, A People’s History of Los Angeles

(Los Angeles: University of California Press), 2012

28 Contested Wikipedia page “Tarzana, Los Angeles”,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarzana,_Los_Angeles (accessed May 1, 2015).

29 James W. Loewen, Sundown Towns, (New York: The New Press, 2005), 14.

Mulholland Drive, named after San Fernando Syndicate kingpin and engineer

William Mulholland, is the main route across Tarzana. Locate Tarzana on an iPhone,

with the view magnified enough to see the names of the residential streets, and follow

Mulholland west to the intersection with Topanga

Canyon Boulevard. Find a paramecium-shaped cluster

of streets to the south named for Native American

tribes: Cherokee, Apache, Zuni, Mohawk, Aztec. Zuni

Street is the only of these to have a designation like

“street,” “drive,” “boulevard,” etc. 30 If the view is tight

enough to see Navajo, it takes fewer than two pinches to

zoom out to the point where the tribes’ names and the

streets disappear, just like the house at the end of

“Poltergeist”.31

30 Top of Topanga Home Owners Association (HOA) website, FAQ

http://www.topotopanga.com/faqs.html, (accessed Nov. 12, 2014).

31 Tobe Hooper dir., “Poltergeist”, (, 1982)

 

*

Tarzana Syndrome: A small tin containing Odor of Lions pomade;

concrete blocks with artificial grass dye, offered as Housing Authority; a piece of

backlit sidewalk emitting petrichor proving The sun never knew how good it was

until it evaporated water off concrete; an amortization schedule of a family loan

for the non-tax-deductable portion of the $3 million Getty ransom, arranged into

The Seven Columns of Wisdom; and Tarzana, CA, a photograph of a fleeing

concrete giraffe in Lake City, Seattle.

 

C. 2015 Matthew Schau Allen

 

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