Pacha – Pines & Needles

“Christmas Everywhere”

This is a strictly seasonal Pacha soap, at least I'm assuming, as I don't see it in the store, nor on their website, yet I was able to buy it the last two years around Christmastime. Two years in a row, and I'd call it a holiday tradition, for me, now. If it shows up next December, I can pretty much assure I'll buy another one, because it's one of my favorites. Just by using 10 bars of soap at a time, all the time (for research!) I've been able to make this one last up until summer. It's a refreshing soap to use all year around, particularly to wash your face. It also has somewhat of an aromatherapy function for me. Since I can't find anything in writing, at the moment, I'm going to assume the soap is scented with some kind of pine oil, and the little oblong fragments in the soap are pine needles. What kind of pine? I don't know, and of course, there are an infinite variety of those kind of plants and trees. Anyway, this is a particularly good smelling one, whatever the source. One thing I really like is that it's not in any way subtle. It just about knocks you off your feet. It might be a little much for some people. Not me! In spite of the sledgehammer fragrance, it's also very gentle on your skin. It probably has the biggest fragrance to gentleness disparity of any soap I can think of, for that matter. How does it work in an aromatherapy sense? Well, the fragrance evokes a time and place, which could be holidays, and walks in the woods, in winter. The strong evocation of Christmas, of course, comes with some inherent sadness, at least for me, and probably for most people. Having gone there, instantly, with that intense smell-memory, you can then emerge on the other side, wherever you happen to be, say a sunny summer day in June. Maybe not cured, exactly, but able to take that next step in a positive and constructive direction.

Soap Review No. 68

Nature's Blend – Walnut & Sandalwood

“Artie Fufkin”

I'm not finding too much internet exposure for this soap—I searched by name, looked at images, found one, looks just like the one I have, and that's because it's my photo! It's under #newsoapsunday, which is now a world-wide, albeit infrequently exploited, destination. I'm happy to help out, Internet—but when are you going to kneel down and kiss my ass? This soap is from New Zealand, which is about as far away as you can get without, you know, going into space. I'm looking at my globe, and it looks to be about the same size and shape as California. Can that be right? Maybe it's like the the anti-matter California, like if you're a worthless shit, you could go to New Zealand and find someone who looks almost exactly like you who's a good person. Technically, you could launch a one-person sailboat off from the California coast somewhere and just take a straight shot across the Pacific and land in New Zealand in a few—what? I have no idea how long it takes! Make sure you take plenty of energy bars and some fresh water. So how does this soap, made down there, get back up here anyway—and end up being affordable? I suppose by some kind of container ship, packed in with a lot of other crap.

The rather hefty bar came simply wrapped in kind of loose plastic with a wraparound paper label with all your pertinent information and virtually no graphics. Really, this is one of most minimally packaged soaps I've seen. The name is so innocuous as to suggest a parody. The ingredients do include some chemical-y crap, but also walnut grounds, sandalwood oil, glycerin, and fragrance—yet the fragrance is so subtle I'm not even going to try to describe it. The good thing, I suppose, is that it doesn't have an off-putting, lingering presence like that other nut soap, the pistachio one, did. The rectangular bar is a very uniform, pale beige color, but once you start to use it, walnut fragments reveal themselves and give you this pleasant, kind of fun texture—though I don't know if it has, really, an exfoliating function. You'll find a lot of cheerleading for the health claims of walnut, when eaten, and you know, they just feel healthy, if a little boring. Though, at one point, way back, I bought a huge bag of shelled walnuts very cheaply, and one afternoon ate way too many. I mean, I think it was too many, because later I hurled—though I can't say for sure if that was the walnuts' fault. But since then, I've been a little frosty toward them. I can't really say if they add to the fragrance in this situation, and honestly I do not smell sandalwood at all, which doesn't mean it's not there. Overall, this is a really pleasant, long-lasting, inoffensive, healthy feeling, nice bar of soap. I guess you don't always need to be jumping up and down about something, right?

Soap Review No. 67

African Black Soap

“Clean Room”

This particular African Black Soap isn't black at all, but kind of marbled, textured, multi-shade brown—looking like nothing so much as a hippie bread you'd by at a farmer's market, which contains lots of oats, nuts, seeds, dates, maybe other dried fruits, and is probably pretty sweet and tasty. I did not, however, stick it my mouth just to see. It came in a little ziplock plastic bag, no label, nothing official. I did not, however, attempt to smoke it. I was pretty confident that what I had on my hands was not nut bread, and not drugs, because it was given to me by friends, handed to me by people I trust, and who in turn most likely received it the same way. I am pretty sure they said it was from Ghana. I wonder what the rules are for packing Ghanaian African Black Soap in your suitcase, or otherwise shipping it? I know you can buy it online, in unmarked, unlabeled quantities, and it looks, in pictures, exactly like this one I received. This internet says this soap is made with maybe plantain skins, or leaves, or pods, dried, and burned to create ash, then mixed with maybe palm oil or shea butter, in the soap making process. Why it ends up so uneven and textured, I don't know. Also, that's kind of general. I guess this particular bar is a mystery.

People say that African Black Soap is good for your skin. I use so many different soaps at one time, it's hard for me to really do a controlled experiment, but I found it pleasant on my skin—it's got a nice lather, very soapy and soft. The most interesting thing, though, was my reaction to its subtle presentation of fragrance. There almost is none—definitely no perfumes or added fragrance—but of course, there is a smell. My initial reaction—the first word that came to me, when trying to take in its olfactory essence was: “natatorium.” And it's not nearly that harsh—it's very subtle, but not particularly pleasant, either. (Time passes.) I've lived comfortably with this soap and now it's sometime later, so I'll focus on one more impression of the smell: Can't put my finger on it—it definitely has a smell, but I just don't know what it reminds me of —just some far-off smell of maybe a cleaner, or a clean room, or a swimming pool. I'm just not sure. The funny thing is that it always fools me—I look at it, and it looks like a piece of delicious fruit and nut bread, but I know it's not. Why are there these things that you know intellectually is one thing, but because of some strength of appearance, or a repeated reliving of the initial impression, you just ever get over that tragically mistaken impression. It fools you and just keeps fooling you. Never mind the haunting, almost non-fragrance, or the lush, comforting, soapy lather—you just keep getting fooled. But then, we're nothing if not fools.

Soap Review No. 66

Castelbel Porto – Joy! – Elderflower & Prosecco Scented Soap

“Bubbly”

This is one giant bar of bath soap, 10.5 oz., which seems to be the hurt-yourself in the shower size, if you're not careful, or maybe just sit-unmolested in the McMansion powder-room size. It comes wrapped in off-white paper with large, gold polkadots, and a golden string—so of course I couldn't resist. Internet search first finds this on Amazon, where you might be able to buy it—or if it's anything like buying their iPhone charger, you could possibly end up with a dog-turd wrapped in a toxic cape. I picked up mine, I think, at TJ Maxx. Like I said, it was the polkadots—I have no sense of Elderflower, and I thought Prosecco was a kind of cheese. If there was anyone who could be remotely excited about a cheese soap (though, without researching it further, we'll just kind of hope none exists) it is me.

Anyway, I was immediately, and have been subsequently, so charmed by the fragrance of this soap, I eventually looked it up. Prosecco is an Italian wine, I think often presented in a version similar to Champagne—anyway, it's a delicious fermented drink made from grapes, and it perhaps translates as a soap fragrance in its somewhat sweet, deep, earthy and complex essence. Of course, I might be getting more a sense of the Elderflower—the flower from the Elder tree—which, if this soap is any indication, smells quite lovely. Elderflower is also used to flavor certain drinks, such as gin. I'll pretend I didn't see that gin part—it's the kind of thing that could lead to the slippery-est of slopes. Anyway, so it's Elderflower on top and Prosecco on bottom (except for maybe on Sandwich Nite, when they mix it up with a little mild roleplaying). Okay, I've run out of ways to try to describe the luscious fragrance, and even though this soap has an ingredients list that you wish was even smaller print, this is a real-life top-ten buy-again soap.

Soap Review No. 65

La Saponeria Firenze – White Roses

“Rose Covered Coffin”

This is a fine Italian soap from Tuscany, according to the fancy box (which probably costs more to make than the soap) and is big enough to keep and use for something, like maybe a coffin for your pet rat, or a place to keep jewelry or old keys. It's a big soap—10.5 ounces, which is a little impractical, honestly, for even me, a large man, and certainly for someone who is small, old, or doesn't have superior arm or leg strength. I imagine it as a bath soap, but you'd have to be very careful not to drop it on your foot in the shower. It should maybe come with a warning. This long bar of soap—it's a tasteful off-white—has got an intricate design sculpted on the top on it——there are flower patterns, and a building of some kind, and the name of the company, and “Italy.” I imagine some people might put this in their fancy downstairs half bathroom—the kind of soap you just politely brush your hand against when you're visiting and ask to use “the powder room”—and of course are then impressed with the giant bar of Italian soap with the beautiful designs carved in it that's too large to pick up, or really lather up, which would almost feel like vandalism. Or it might be a soap you buy for someone as a gift (who more than likely never removes it from the box) in which you impress them with your deep pockets—that is, as long as they don't shop at TJ Maxx and see countless boxes of this for $3.99.

To me, the actual bar of soap resembles a boat—or maybe more a coffin, because it has a definite top and a definite bottom—and there is a little ridge around the outside of the top so it actually looks like it has a lid you could open. And because of the dimensions—how it's disproportionately longer than wide—it's more of a coffin shape than anything. The somewhat dated, floral fragrance fits the shape and look of this soap perfectly—it does conjure up roses, or maybe an elderly lady's perfume—but a wealthy, reserved woman, very tasteful, and subtle, not overdoing it. Just a pleasant, all around wholesome rose smelling soap—but maybe lacking passion to some degree. It reminds me of the scene of the two funerals in My Own Private Idaho (1991)—this soap would be the smell of the staid, dignified funeral for Scott's father, the mayor, while the funeral for Bob would be something else entirely—maybe patchouli, weed, and gunpowder.

Soap Review No. 64

Cinthol – Confidence+

“Door to Door Salesman”

I'm guessing this is a “deodorant soap”—by the name, packaging, and especially by the smell, which reminds me of that old-fashioned kind of canned aerosol deodorant that might be used by an overly nervous, sweaty, balding, middle-aged aged car salesman. While the regular Cinthol is green and comes in a red package, which evokes, I don't know, Talking Heads: 77?—this white bar of soap comes in a sleek black package which I think is supposed to say: wealth, success, plain-speaking (“give it to me in black & white”), no-nonsense manliness. I like the name, Confidence+, with the plus-sign, that feels, I don't know, like, “I can do math, I'm not intimidated by math!” It says that in gold letters, which means wealth, obviously. Then, in smaller blue letters (the only blue in the packaging) it says: “Germ protection + Deo soap.” I'm assuming “Deo” means deodorant—but I've never seen that before. Is that a young people thing? Are they trying to get in with the under 55 crowd that this soap might not otherwise be reaching? By the way, I am overly nervous, sweaty, balding, and middle-aged—I'm not trying to make fun of a particular guy or type. And seeing how people have their mid-life crisis in their thirties now, I might be getting too old to call myself middle-aged. And balding might just be wishful thinking. The sweating is no exaggeration—I often look like a character in a less than subtle classic film noir who's on the verge of being at one end or another of a bludgeoning.

And do people even know what a door to door salesman is, anymore?—I mean younger people? Do those jobs exist? I would, at this point, kind of welcome one, if they came by—well, at least the idea. Not really. I mean, do NOT come to my door. Contact the concierge and set up a meeting downstairs in the Armada Room and I'll join you in my gold button blazer and tasseled loafers to see what kind of financing you can offer on that Kirby. If you smell like this soap, I might get out my checkbook. I kind of like it. I mean, there's sometimes a fine line between migraine-inducing and I'll buy two. You never know which way that crazy nostalgia-factor is going to swing. I mean, I don't necessarily recommend using the cologne that comes out of the machine next to the condom vendor in the Kocolene filling station men's room, but once in awhile, seeing how I was apparently never molested as a child by someone who smelled like this, the firm handshake of a chemical-y bullshit Godrej slick guy soap can warm your heart. Of course, sometimes there's a fine line between a fine line and a fine line, so watch out for that fast talkin'!

Soap Review No. 63

Vatika DermoViva – Aloe Vera Soap

“Barbadensis”

This may be the most boring soap I've bought (that's not, you know, the usual grocery store brands)—it was very inexpensive, at an Indian grocery, and you can find it online—this company has a million different skin care and beauty products. I liked using it—it felt very clean and fresh and light, and I didn't feel like I was going to get a weird rash—but there is nothing remarkable about it either. The bar is white, and shaped in that familiar “Dove” soap bar shape that always reminds me of a certain automobile design (not Toyota Camry, but that name makes me think of soap), or a wireless computer mouse. The picture on the box is of an aloe plant with a little magnified section so you can see the tiny moisture droplets emphasized (I find this charming). Info on the box is in six languages—the English version says nothing too interesting—and the ingredients list a lot of chemical-y bullshit, which shouldn't surprise me. The “natural” quality is an illusion—the only good thing there, besides aqua and glycerin is Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract (and I'm not really sure about that—but I'm definitely going to name a band “Barbadensis”). Nevertheless, this soap, though not riveting or deeply stirring, was a pleasure to use.

Soap Review No. 62

Goldfish-in-a-Bag

“Secret Goldfish”

This is a kind of novelty soap, I guess, or craft item that can be made at home—or maybe it's something made in a hippie shop somewhere and sold as a gift. To tell the truth, I'm not sure where it's from—it was a gift from some dear friends—but where the gift came from, I mean before it came into the possession of the gift giver, is not something you ask a gift giver, friend or otherwise, dear or not. It's a clear glycerin soap (I'm assuming) with a little goldfish centered inside of it, and it's shaped in a plastic bag with a little tie at the top, so it looks like you have bought a goldfish at a pet store and are carrying it in a bag of water. It is very clever. I'm not sure, at this point, if the goldfish inside is a little plastic toy goldfish or a real goldfish. I guess I'll find out! And viola... (much later) the soap is finished—and it was a clear, odorless, glycerin soap—nothing wrong with that, just no fragrance—which I suppose is preferred by some people (though personally, I just don't get that). I guess it's nice that it's made less boring by the fish inside. It turned out to be a plastic fish and, I guess, one ultimately has to be relieved that the fish inside was a plastic fish, and not a real fish, which would not be odorless, had it been, but fishy, or worse, possibly horrifying, or if nothing else, just plain gross. As it is, though, I have a little plastic goldfish to remember this soap by, not to mention the dear, dear gift givers.

Soap Review No. 61

Caswell-Massey – Newport

“Gay Langland”

I just love this soap so much I'm almost prepared to just settle down with it for eternity and give up this life of fooling around. I said almost. If I ever do a soap ranking, though, this one will make the top ten—though, of course, as time goes on—ten becomes 100, Citizen Kane (1941) doesn't even make the list. This does smell like the soap Charles Foster Kane would use, though—it's a rich guy, manly soap. Please never tell me certain rich guys who shall remain nameless scum use it and ruin it for me, thank you. It reminds me of the cologne this older guy I used to work with would wear, though some days (or maybe too close) he smelled like Old Spice (which I used to wear, I admit) and sometimes that smells pukey. I just watched Hard Eight (Sydney) (1996) on TV (they replaced all the “fucks” with “freaks”—really weird, and so dumb!—maybe in the future, whenever you have to remove a “bad” word in a movie on TV, replace it with one of the advertisers' (“I'm going to Chevy Truck you up!”)—that would work, right?—and be funny, and maybe then they could not have so many commercials otherwise. Right. Anyway, the Philip Baker Hall character in that movie, that guy just totally smells like this soap. It's Masculine with a capital “M”—not always a good thing, but when we're talking soap, why not. It reminds me of my Dad, or an uncle (I had and have some good ones!)—I was lucky to grow up with some very classic 1930s, 1940s, good-smelling, nice guy, positive-influence men in my childhood, and for that I am eternally grateful.

I do believe the fragrance here is somewhat dated, and they have a cologne by the same name, and it's all going back to like the 1800s, so it's beyond dated. Named after Newport, Rhode Island—meaning it's got a nautical theme going on (which just made me remember, did I have some cologne, as a kid, with a sailing ship on the bottle?)—sailors are a definite reference here. It reminds me, maybe, of some soap-on-a-rope I had as a kid, or maybe my dad had—maybe it was this one! This does come in a soap-on-a-rope version, I believe (and I have a birthday coming up, hint, hint). So the nostalgia factor here is out of control. I'll admit that—but as far as nostalgia goes, when it's this strong and intense, then, yeah, bring it on! (I just said that because that expression seems appropriate, somehow, in this case). The soap comes in one of those big oval or egg-shaped Caswell-Massey bar soap sizes, which retains its shape as it diminishes, just smaller and smaller. I'm as sorry to see it go as anything. It's a really lovely but intense, aggressive, dark green or blue color, depending on your gender (like the green or blue light on the top of the Seattle Space Needle)—it was brought to my attention that there's a certain in-between blue and green color that women see as one, and men see as the other, (and Mark Twain sees as indicative of something). I'm not sure which is which, but does it really matter? It might, in this case, since I would say this is a 100% manly man's soap—which isn't to say a woman couldn't use it—and in fact, if I met a woman who smelled like this soap, I'd ask her to marry me right then and there, even though I don't believe in marriage any more than I believe in the Easter Bunny—speaking of whom, if you're reading this today, you can skip the jelly beans, peeps, and dyed hardboiled eggs, and just put an egg of this soap in my Easter basket—and I'll leave you a complimentary pint of JTS Brown whiskey.

Soap Review No. 60

Ivory – Ivory

“Ivory”

I can't remember what all soaps we had when I was a kid, but Ivory was the most prominent, most common, probably my favorite, if I had a favorite. As I got older I saw no need to ever use any other soap; Ivory was good enough for me—for life! My life is much better now—look at my soap list! It gets me thinking, are there other things that I'm kind of in a rut about, that I don't question, but if I'd decide to branch out I could enrich my life? Traveling is a good example; there's nothing I like more than staying at home, yet whenever I go somewhere new I think: how am I not doing this all the time? Maybe I need to see more bands, go to plays once in awhile, and shop at a different grocery store. It reminds me of when I was in high school—I used to only wear Levi's, t-shirts, tube-socks, and white Jockey underwear. Then one day, in my Senior year, I went nuts and got a pair of tan corduroys, and it opened the floodgates. The next thing you know, I'm wearing boxer shorts with hearts on them, a wide brimmed felt hat from LL Bean, sporting belt buckles with my favorite beer brands, dropping acid for 28 days straight, and having sex with scarf-wearing elderly gentlemen in the men's room of the Olde Dutch Tavern.

Some of that is actually true. A bar of Ivory soap brings it all back with the force of nostalgia. Of course, sometimes nostalgic and sad are two sides of the same coin—as memories are rarely only good or bad if you remember deeply enough. The first thing I thought of with the smell of this unwrapped bar of Ivory soap was my memory of it floating in the bathtub, and the discussion about how it floats while other soap does not. Legend says they came upon this by accident, like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups—but you know as well as I do that's bullshit. The company wisely chose to play up the novelty of floating soap rather than its cheapness. You won't lose it in the bathtub, and you can carve a boat out of it! In fact, one could make freighters and warships out of this soap, and leaks would be no big deal—of course it might not be environmentally sound—though seeing how corporations and governments care little about the environment, I strongly suspect that the reason ships aren't made from Ivory soap is that they would melt before reaching distant ports. Another interesting fact about Ivory is that when you scramble the letters, you can make exactly one other word: Vroiy. That's not a word; you can't make any.

The smell strikes me as rather harsh, even acrid (unless I'm not sure what that word means). It reminds me of grade school, I guess, though not as strongly as the disgusting odor of tomato based meat sauce flavored with the official spices of Ohio (salt, pepper). You'll notice that all the super-common soaps by the super-gigantic corporations usually come in 10 or 20 packs and are dirt cheap. That's because they know if any sane person ever decides to give something like Chandrika a try, they're never going back.

Soap Review No. 59

Stoney River – Patchouli

“Hippie Creek”

This is maybe the most hippie-ish soap I've bought, and I mean that in all the best ways. Sometimes I think I should give up this quest to try—and try to write about—soap after crazy-ass soap—some which are probably not all that environmentally sound or ethically good or healthy or pleasant. Though, honestly, I rarely come across a soap that gives me a headache or rash. But anyway, sometimes I think I should just settle on this kind of good hippie soap made by local soap-makers. This one comes from Oxford, Wisconsin, which isn't that close to where I live, but if you got a lot of these shitty cars and trucks off the road, I could safely and enjoyably bike there. It's one of those small towns where you had better stay on good terms, if you live there, with the one cafe—you know, the one that probably has gingham curtains and a hand-painted sign of a stack of pancakes.

I bought this at a local store, moderately priced, in minimal packaging (a band of paper with the name, ingredients, and a crude drawing of some hippies). It has a modest beige color, and I feel like I detect a very slight green tinge, but that may be my imagination. There is no chemical-y bullshit in this one, it's: olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, lye, water, patchouli, cedarwood, and ylang ylang (essential oils, those last three). At first it had that, what I've come to love, natural olive oil smell, with patchouli, definitely there. As I've used it, the fragrance has mellowed out, but is still evident. They don't hit you over the head with the patchouli (not that I'd mind that, I love patchouli). It is a really nice lathering and healthy feeling soap. I admit I'm wishing right now there was more bold fragrance—though I suppose it was stronger when it was new. Sometimes I really appreciate the subtle, and other times I want more. Can people change? Yes, they can, and do, and will—day to day. Anyway, you can send me a gallon of patchouli oil for my birthday, that wouldn't be weird.

Soap Review No. 58

Mystery soap from URSA

“Goodbye Austin”

Last summer, I think it was, I stopped by this charming “lifestyle boutique”—in Milwaukee's Bay View neighborhood—called URSA—I looked for a FAQ (Further Asinine Queries) page to see what their name means, no dice, but it's all caps, so I'll take a stab at it. How about, Utmost Rad Stuff Around? (Though it could have something to do with a constellation or a bear.) It's the kind of store I normally ignore because it's not cluttered, which makes me nervous—even though, looking at their products—everything from accessories to plants to fragrances and soap—I realize that it's curated in such a way that I probably would enjoy everything there, especially the health and beauty products—that is, if my wages were in line with my tastes. But anyway, on this day they were having some kind of garage or yard sale event, outside of the shop, selling both personal items (I presumed of the owners, or employees, but I'm not sure) and, I guess, shop overstock and maybe discontinued items. There was some good stuff... affordable, too. A nice, vintage motorcycle and some older stereo equipment caught my eye—but as much as I like clutter, I'm struggling to live in mine. I picked out this bar of soap that had neither packaging nor logo engraved, asked how much it was, and this nice guy with a large beard (owner, maybe) said free. My kind of price. The bar of soap itself was medium-sized and rectangular, with a really pretty marbled green color. It was a fine bath and hand soap while it lasted, very natural smelling, kind of herbal, and with what I interpreted as a scent of possibly fennel or anise. At the time he gave it to me, he was busy with the sale, but I asked where it was from—and either he couldn't remember the name, or he told me and I can't remember. I think he said it was from Austin, and I'm presuming Texas, so that's my only clue. But it's mystery soap, at this point, and I think it's going to remain mystery soap.

Soap Review No. 57

Pré de Provence – Cashmere Woods

“Kashmir Words”

I picked up this soap, attracted to its deep, clay-like, red-brown color, and I'm always a fan of the Pré de Provence soap—I can't figure out if they're becoming more ubiquitous or more scarce as time goes on—I guess that's part of the inscrutability of the French. I've never known Pré de Provence to have a website at all (maybe it was exclusive to the French Internet?), but now I see one!— and there are about 37 varieties of bar soap pictured—is that too many?—or should they just go for it? I'm seeing for the first time: White Gardenia, Ocean Air, and Angel's Trumpet. I want to try those! With this one, even more than the color, the name intrigued me: “Cashmere Woods”—what? I'd never heard of that place, or that term, or those two words used together. It turns out that “Cashmere Wood” is a general fragrance—usually a woodsy, earthy scent with sandalwood, amber, musk, vanilla, etc. (according to the briefest search)—and I'm not sure if this French soap company adds an “s” to wood to make it stand out, or imply a place, or because they just don't give a fuck (about English—they're French!)

I like the idea that it's a mythical place, like maybe in The Lord of the Rings or the English Countryside, or the South of France, or a wee faerie place in The Song Remains the Same (1976). Searching a little further, I see that there is an air freshener called “Cashmere Woods” and it has a little circled “R” next to it—so what's that mean? It's made by Glade, the air freshener company—I was shocked they still exist—I thought they went out of business after the Fifties. I looked at their website (which made me want to drink gasoline) and it said “Cashmere Woods smells like coziness.” I'm guessing the Glade version smells like that stuff they sprinkled on vomit in grade school, but it seems they want to make the name their own. If this is the thing that leads to a war between the USA and France, can I suggest that we limit battle to swords, daggers, and battle axes?

Anyway, I loved this soap immediately—sometimes you're in the mood for one of these earthy, manly smelling soaps. The first thing that comes to mind is a guy in a huge, baggy sweater, that is if he doesn't smell like BO and a wet dog. Maybe a fictional version of a guy in a hole-ridden sweater, plaid shirt, and work boots who can fix anything, and also happens to be interested in poetry, which he recites while fixing things—rather than carrying on with some racist or woman-hating bullshit. If he smokes, it's those French cigarettes, held between the third and fourth finger with the hand held upright at the mouth, as in an expression of wonder or terror. And the “outdoors” is more of a concept, one for the pages of a longish novel, and the flesh and blood version is—not necessary reviled and feared—but kept at a respectful distance. And maybe there is some “making love”—either on the horizon, or in a rosy past we all agree was both better and worse, but for the most part non-traumatic.

Soap Review No. 56

Al Wazir – Soap-on-a-Rope

“Hangin' 'Round”

The only English on the box (I believe the rest is Arabic) is the “AlWazir” logo, then inside “AL Wazir 100%,” an oval that says “High Quality, Natural, and 100%,” “Recommended by Dermatologists” and “Recommended for Hajj and Umrah” and “This product is free of fragrances.” It's an earthy green colored soap with a loop of twine emerging from one end—soap-on-a-rope! It's the first soap-on-a-rope I've had since I can remember, possibly as a little kid. That's something we'd get for birthdays or Christmas once in awhile, but I have absolutely no memory of what kind of soap that was, except that it usually smelled like a used car salesman's cologne. This soap has no fragrance whatsoever—it does have a mild, pleasant smell, and I'm guessing that it's the olive oil soap smell, but since there are no ingredients in English, I'm just guessing. There is a drawing of a plant on the package, with what looks like olives, so maybe that's it. The internet tells me that Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca (that Muslims might do once in a lifetime) while Umrah is a pilgrimage to Mecca that may be any time of year. I am assuming, then, that this soap and its ingredients are deemed okay with Muslims—is a Halal soap. There is also a website address on the package in English (tiny print), but I can't reach it. Anyway, I love the box—it's got a little jagged oval window cut in it so you can see the soap. I'm going to keep this box. After looking for an hour, I just cannot find this soap on the internet, so I'm giving up. I found other Al Wazir soap, which is from Lebanon, so I'm going to guess that's where this if from, though I may be wrong. And even though I'm a fan of fragrance, generally, I did like this soap a lot. It lasted a long time, too, though partly that's because I had it hanging from my shower head, and I mostly take baths. I wish I could remember where I bought it—some small store in Milwaukee. I'm going to buy this soap again if I can find it.

Soap Review No. 55

Pacha – Pipe Tobacco & Coffee

“Early Shift”

I saw this Pacha soap, Pipe Tobacco & Coffee, at Whole Foods and probably did a theatrical double-take, unable, for a moment, to believe someone would make a soap called Pipe Tobacco & Coffee—well, if it was indeed scented as pipe tobacco, then, why not—it's not like it's cigar and Scotch soap (which... I could see considering that one, actually) or like 7-Eleven Coffee & Merit Menthol soap. I love pipe tobacco, and I smoked a pipe since I was a youth (though have totally given it up now). My friend Peter and I had the idea that we would smoke pipes (occasionally), but only in autumn, which seemed like a good rule. But the last time I tried it, several years back now, it gave me a migraine, so I've totally given it up. Now I'm down to going to the tobacco shop and smelling the tobacco. Milwaukee has a great old smoke shop, downtown, called Uhle's—which you'd better appreciate now because they may be gone soon, like the drug store lunch counter. So I love the smell of pipe tobacco, anyway—I'll follow an old guy smoking a pipe down the street until it gets uncomfortable. This soap does capture the smell of tobacco—which is kind of amazing.

My initial reaction: it has an immediate deep, strong smell, kind of sharp, and also sweet. I'm attracted to it, but I can imagine a lot of people wouldn't be. But a lot of people are just really sensitive about scents—and I guess I'm lucky that I enjoy such a wide variety, and unusual things. Then I think: why not a catchy name, like “Bus Station Ashtray”—though actually, it really does remind me of a public restroom, men's room, where the urinal doesn't flush properly and dudes are always dropping their cigarette butts in (which will be there until some poor bastard, whose job it is, fishes them out). It's that smell exactly—well, not exactly—but it reminds me of that—which sounds really unpleasant, I know, but to me there is a nostalgia thing there. Also, it's got a granular quality, and leaves a lot of residue where it's sitting, so it's like coffee grounds, maybe actual coffee grounds. I wonder if there is real tobacco in it? The Pacha website says: “with exfoliating coffee grounds and swirls of activated charcoal.” Which I can totally see, but sounds a little dangerous—but it's probably safe, right? If I don't totally trust the FDA, I do trust Pacha.

I got a second bar of this because I liked it so much, I guess! Something compelled me to. I quite enjoy this one. Thinking about the smell some more—you know how sometimes, when you're making good coffee, you smell chocolate in there, and it reminds you of tobacco, too—or at least pipe tobacco. There's pipe tobacco that reminds you of coffee, and chocolate, and other things—but overall there is this elusive smell that is so attractive, I guess, because you can't totally put your finger on it. This soap has that quality. And it's big and bold, too, not subtle. Sometimes I appreciate subtle things, but other times I really like things to be forceful, in your face, and undeniable, and this soap is that.

Soap Review No. 54

Hemani – Black Seed Soap Bar

“Magic Paving Stone”

This is a very severe looking bar of black soap (not to be confused with African black soap) with sharp ridges, defined edges—the front of it very sculptural like it could be some kind of building brick. There is the name: Hemani, in relief, and a couple of stylized leaves—kind of both retro and modern in design. The initial fragrance is a bit harsh, kind of like an inexpensive cologne or incense—but once you get it wet and start using it, the smell becomes very mild. The lather is pretty black. There is artificial “colour” in the ingredients, so it's hard to tell how much the black color is the black seeds and how much is some kind of dye. It has a very soft and substantial lather that is also kind of black in color. Once you get it going the scent is very subtle, more or less pleasing. I could spend all day trying to get a straight answer on the internet about what actually black seed (or blackseed) is, and is for, and actually does... but you either already know that or can make your own assessment. Supposedly good for everything from skin lesions to parasites—hey, it is said that King Tut took it with him in his tomb (not this brand, presumably). This one is from Pakistan, and it's very inexpensive, and it's got a great box that looks like it's from the Sixties. I found the soap to be pleasant, non-irritating, and sure, I'd buy it again.

Soap Review No. 53

Cinthol – Original

“Orion”

This is an Indian soap—it's from Godrej, a big Indian company, I think, judging by their website, and how many soaps I see with their logo on them. It seems there are a lot of different varieties of Cinthol—it's hard to tell exactly how many—I saw a website ranking ten of them. This is the Original “Deodorant and complexion soap.” It's in a bright red package, but the soap is a dark green color. It's not very pleasant—kind of chemical-y, and medicinal and harsh. It reminds me of another one—can't remember offhand—another Indian medicinal soap. The dark green bar of soap has the name “CINTHOL” indented in it. One odd thing is that there is a darker green line running around the circumference of the rectangular bar, toward one edge, so it kind of looks like there were two pieces fused together. I've seen this before in soap, but I don't really understand what it means. Anyway, my overall impression is that it's just kind of medicinal and industrial, like a cleaner or something. I can't get over the doctor's office vibe it gives me—maybe the dark green color reminds me of the color of the pHisoHex soap bottle (at least how I remember it)—does anyone remember that? My mom used to always have it—this doctor's office, hardcore, heavy-duty anti-bacterial soap. That's how it was spelled, kind of creepy. It had a unique smell, which I totally remember. This soap doesn't smell like that, yet I thought of it—though maybe it's the color—the old pHisoHex bottle was a serious dark green. Well, this soap promises to kill germs, but it doesn't do much for me otherwise.

Soap Review No. 52

Barr-Co. Soap Shop – Willow

“Summer Vacation”

This soap comes in a simple green paper package with white printing—it's a square, white bar with an engraved logo, very old fashioned, kind of “Old West.” It's from St. Louis (so says the package) which I guess is where the West starts. It's got a really pleasant floral smell, that also reminds me of Ivory a little. Once I got into using it, though, the smell smoothed out and became just really lovely and floral and lush, not too subtle, but not at all artificial. I don't think I'd be able to, blindfolded, tell the soap from the flowers it gets its scent from. The suds are also very lush and soft—it's a great bath soap, and it's gentle, too.

Much later: this soap has grown on me more and more, day by day, so it's one of the things I'm looking forward to each day. The smell has just an intoxicating floral-ness. I wish I was able to identify the flower that it smells like. Maybe it's a combination. The name of the soap is “Willow,” after all, so maybe it's from that plant, or tree, but it's, more than anything, giving me the sensation of blossoms in spring. At this moment in time, the writing of this, it is my favorite soap. I'm looking at the package again, and it says it's made with olive oil and shea butter, and the scent is “a fresh floral, grassy blend of aloe and gardenia hinted with notes of black pepper.” I don't know about the pepper notes, but sometime its those hints that complete the complexity. Maybe it's the gardenia that I'm smelling most, though—what does gardenia smell like? I'll have to keep that in mind the next time I'm around some actual gardenias.

Much later now: almost done with this one—I've been keeping it around way too long, but it possesses my favorite floral scent of any soap, and I hate to see it go. I'm looking at the packaging again for more clues, and looking online. The package says “97% natural”—so what's the other 3%? Some heinous chemical-y bullshit? Though maybe in the soap world that's a good ratio. There is no actual address or contact info for where this soap comes from, no website, nowhere to write a paper letter, email, or call on the phone. That has me suspicious. The only place I see it online is for sale through other online stores, and the “Willow” variety is very hard to find. There's a bar of it on eBay for $14! So it's kind of baffling to me, because I would like to buy it again sometime. I have just really loved this soap—for the fragrance, anyway—I'd put it in the top 2%, maybe top 1%—and it might, I mean if I felt like I could count on it—and it wasn't some kind of a phantom or something—I might even put it in my actual top ten.

Soap Review No. 51

Parrot Botanicals – Green

“Tank Top”

I didn't like this Parrot soap nearly as much as the yellow wrapper, jasmine variety, which as I recall, I was pretty crazy about. This soap is solid, though, pleasant, and also inexpensive. But maybe not one of my favorites. Again, Parrot Botanicals is from Thailand, and there are other varieties (or at least colors of packaging) which I haven't yet tried. There's a lot of writing on the packaging that I assume is Thai. I can't read it, and I wish I could, to try to get another reference for the fragrance. Besides the green parrots and the red and blue flowers on the wrapper, there is also an isolated white flower with two words that seem to be a kind of fusion of English and Thai writing—I don't know—it may as well be a secret code. I'm not going to reproduce it here, since some of the letters are not recognizable. So we'll just have to let its mystery reign, for now.

As far as the scent, it's hard to nail down, but it strikes me as very masculine. The scent is a little angular, though not so much as the jasmine variety, and it reminds me a bit of men's aftershave, or cologne—you know the classic man scent. It's like that businessman of the past, used car salesman, slightly sleazy aftershave scent. Though sometimes that is really strong—you know when that man walks into the room—and this is much more subtle, more pleasant. I'm still going to associate it with a man, though, maybe a locker room, maybe a laborer, maybe—if we want to be really romantic—a spy or secret agent. But it could just be a lover, and it could even be a woman, but masculinity is the first thing that this soap evokes.

Soap Review No. 50

Goat Milk Soap – Pistachio Scented

“Pretty Picture”

I was really excited about this soap, initially because of the packaging, which is a lovely light green box with a matte finish—it's the kind of finish that was popular for awhile in publishing, I think, and other products, maybe, that was meant to say: classic, and quality. I think that was the intention. Essentially the opposite of glossy. You'd think you came upon an eighty-year-old box here, but no, it's all image. It does look nice, with old-time fonts and a really cute line drawing of a goat. It's impossible to figure out what the name of this soap is, even with Internet's help—it says on the box, “Savon, Lait de Chevre, Goat Milk Soap,” and then on the side “Pistachio Scented”—giving you the impression that it's French, which it is not. It's made by CST, an American soap-making behemoth. The ingredients do show “Goat Milk”—so that's good, but along with a lot of other chemical-y sounding mystery substances. So, I was excited, yes, but the mildest research has revealed that this soap it not what it seems—I mean, if you're expecting French and old. But maybe there's nothing wrong with that.

The bar itself is also an elegant light green, with “Savon” and some squiggly lines indented, and it's huge, 9 ounces. It's got a very subtle pistachio scent, so it started out well. Then a weird thing happened: as I was using it, I found the scent to be increasingly unpleasant—oddly sweet and cloying. I have no idea why. Maybe just because it is the pistachio nut flavor? Some flavors are good when eating, but not so much on your skin. Or maybe it's because it's an artificial scent? I don't know, and it wasn't that bad—I kept using it, happily, but it just wasn't something that gave me bath-time inspiration like so many soaps do. Eventually I switched it over to a full-time hand-soap, for the remainder of its tenure. I can't say I'll rush out and buy another one anytime soon. I'm keeping the box, though—they did a really good job there.

Soap Review No. 49