March 21, 2014 6:38 pm

Let’s talk scents – and why ebooks cannot replace the real thing

‘My taste for incense comes from my early days when I was an altar boy swinging the thurible at mass’

A reader has asked me to throw away my book(s) because of the invention of the ebook. Such wanton advice would render redundant the decorative power of bookshelves, unless one is insipid enough to want them filled by a solitary Kindle or iPad. More to the point, the dispensation of the book would be an act of overwhelming disloyalty, as so many of us have found it to have been a life-long companion, cultivated through years of careful thumbing, unable to put it down, growing familiar with its smell and, on finishing it, leaving it in view among other great compendiums, awaiting future encounters. And imagine the devastation of a shipwreck that would instantly destroy any ebook, while physical books would dry out in the desert island sun and their print reappear with undiminished powers. Just think, for example, how much poorer and less exciting the worlds of theology and archaeology would be without the Codex Sinaiticus.

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David Tang

I am rather keen on the burning of incense sticks in a style reminiscent of my navel-gazing youth – floor cushions, kaftans, Moroccan rugs, Leonard Cohen melancholia and Marie Rose sauce – the best are Namche Bazaar by Astier de Villatte. Do you burn, or is it passé?

I love a pervading scent in a room. A raging log fire emits the best natural smell – homely, comforting and snug. But I also love incense in whose resin form I used to buy in the markets of Marrekech, Fez and Tangiers. The only problem is that they are quite overpowering, and might have been even in the languishing 1960s of hairy psychedelia to which you allude. So nowadays I cheat with incense sprays and oils that are dropped on to terracotta rings that cleverly fit into the girth of a lightbulb.

My taste for incense has come from my early days when I was a regular altar boy swinging the thurible at mass and benediction. At the same time, I discovered that incense sticks were also burnt on our Buddhist altar at home where my father and grandmother and great-grandmother prayed. Therefore, I was brought up soaked in incense and cannot get enough of it. So for my scent, I choose Comme des Garçons which produces five shades of incense all of which I mix up to form a landscape of odours, foxing even the fashion cognoscenti.

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Peacock-blue velvet sofa in Battersea – OK?

Anything goes in Battersea, made famous by Roddy Llewellyn, the professional landscape gardener who decided to divest his natural talent by being involved with opening a nightclub in that suburb. It was called Bennett’s and his good friend Princess Margaret became a celebrated customer. I don’t think it had a peacock-blue velvet sofa, but its provenance in that neighbourhood has presumably signalled tacit approval for the use of exotica in all those endless mansion flats that line the area across the park. Mind you, the irony is that when the nightclub applied for an alcohol licence, the genteel residents were up in arms against the intrusion of anything so trendy. None of it put off Liberace who turned up for the opening.

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Is your column morphing into your own soap box. I can’t work out if you are an agony aunt on the niceties of social niceties or platforming your political views. I am confused.

An avuncular oracle on life is what I aspire to, although I know I am still light years away from Delphi. All of our social behaviour is surely influenced by history and politics, and our opinions are never one-dimensionally formed. I also believe we should be relentless in our search for knowledge and the wider the spectrum we have of life, the better equipped we would be in trying to make a difference. Very grandiose, you might argue, but my conviction is there is no point in mediocrity but every point in meritocracy.

For example, my decorative style has developed through both the occidental and oriental perspectives, and much in the context of their histories which interweave and influence each other. The Chinoiserie movement was an obvious product, although it is amusing to discover that it originated from a minor Dutch diplomat who happened to have been an excellent sketcher.

Ergo, stop trying to put me in a pigeon hole and desist from lapsing into that ugly American habit of turning a perfectly good noun like “platform” into a verb.

I would like readers to post comments and questions online at the end of articles rather than via email. That way we can have a debate of spontaneous and dynamic responses, an arena for opposing views

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