Grandma's – Lye Soap

“Conundrum”

This is just a really good solid bar of soap. A rough-hewn rectangle with sharp edges—and it's not a uniform color—partly discolored because I've had it sitting around awhile before using it. I bought it at the hardware store!—which seems appropriate, somehow. Like a working-person's, no-nonsense soap. When you get it out of the packaging it's pretty rustic, but it gets soft (I mean usable, pleasant) really fast, and it's nicely lathery and heavy duty—a good, solid, hearty soap. It has virtually no fragrance—definitely no added fragrance—so what you're getting is purely the smell of the very few ingredients: food grade lard, water, sodium hydroxide (lye), with retained glycerin. There is a smell from this mixture, but it's pretty subtle, and actually I like it a lot. Evocative yet basic.

But not so fast... what is lye? It's a chemical compound, aka NaOH—that's its name—and doesn't mean “Non-alcoholic Ohio.” You've heard of lye—it's what Mickey Rourke put in the godfather's espresso in the unlikely ending of The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984). It's some serious poison, more caustic than the rich and powerful, and used to clean drains. Mixed lovingly with other stuff, it can end up as gentle, loving soap. I guess that's why they call it alchemy. But what is lard? As you know, it's fat from a pig. In order to get the lard from a pig, you have to kill it, whether or not the pig did anything wrong, and compared to humans, pigs are pretty innocent. Also, smart. Depending on how you feel about killing and/or eating pigs, you may not want to wash with them either. Okay, you thought Grandma's was going to be simple, but it's ended up being as convoluted as that movie Fight Club (1999). Isn't everything in life like that?

Soap Review No. 43

Bee & Flower – Ginseng Soap

“Chinese Church”

This inexpensive Chinese soap is very similar to Bee & Flower Jasmine soap—in fact, I can't say for sure that it smells any different—probably, a little, but I would buy these kind of interchangeably—I guess I should do a head to head comparison sometime, but now is not the time, since I'm trying a new soap every couple of weeks. But this is one I'll always come back to, from time to time, just because it's so cheap and I love the fragrance so much. It's hard to nail down the smell—maybe it's a combination of things—sandalwood is an ingredient, but it doesn't smell like sandalwood, but maybe subtly? I think it's just whatever perfume is used—it's not subtle, and I like that. It reminds me of a very old, very rich woman, maybe from an imaginary country. It's kind of great that this soap is so exotic smelling since it's among the cheapest you can buy. It first came from Shanghai in the 1920s, so says the packaging. I'm guessing most people reading this are familiar with this soap—or have at least seen it in stores, since it's very common—but if you haven't, you'll be pleasantly surprised when you do see it. Each bar is wrapped with orange-brown and yellow print paper with this great flower and bee print. Then each is wrapped by a band with the name, and another bee and flower design, and the info sheet is a separate piece of paper, and there's even a gold seal. I am guessing that more than a few people save this packaging to use in making art!

Soap Review No. 42

Nature's Blend – Manuka Honey & Argan

“Brick-O-Honey”

I picked this up somewhere—fairly inexpensive compared to prices I see online—it's the first Nature's Blend soap I've used, I think. I can't find a website—but it's kind of surprising how many soaps do not have websites. It's from New Zealand, which is about the farthest away on Earth you can go from here, where I live, that's not totally covered in ice. I'd be interested in considering moving to New Zealand, if someone could assure me that everyone there isn't a redneck (though I guess the world is comprised of about 90% rednecks, so good luck). Did this big, heavy, massive bar—8.8 ounces (250g)—a straight rectangular brick with sharp edges with no indentations or engraved logos—come all the way from New Zealand? It could sink a ship. It immediately has a soft lather, and it smells like honey. Very nice. Apparently Manuka honey is from Australia and New Zealand, made by bees that have a relationship with the Manuka bush, and has been used for medicinal and restorative purposes since ancient times. It also is known to have anti-bacterial properties, though that wasn't known until at least after bacteria was discovered. As far as the Argan oil, it's extracted from the fruit of the argan tree, from Morocco. It's good for your skin, and good to eat (the oil—don't eat this soap!) and in fact goats like it so much they climb the trees for the fruit. Though, with goats— I don't know—if Big Macs were hanging from trees, I'm not sure goats wouldn't climb the trees to get those, too. Anyway, this is a lovely, long lasting, honey-smelling soap. Did it improve my skin? It sure didn't make it worse!

Soap Review No. 41

Astrolabe Soap from Ono Kine Grindz

“Danger Will Robinson”

I bought this soap from the Ono Kine Grindz store in Wauwatosa, pretty excited in that it looked to me like some homemade soap that was then being sold through the store (I'm just guessing here, didn't ask)—using kind of weird molds for their soap, some with creepy images, like sea creatures, or this one, which looks like a really old gravestone or something... I'm not really sure! Anyway, once I got it home, since it's only wrapped in a mesh bag, it threatened to permeate my entire abode with its considerable dominating fragrance—so I wrapped it in several layers of plastic and put it in a cardboard box, waiting to be used. Now the time has come, but I have a bit of anxiety about this soap. Pretty much everything about it is a little scary—from the image of the mold, to the color—a kind of otherworldly blue that would be beautiful for something, but not soap—it's the same color of my dental floss container, and also, certain ghosts. But most of all—the smell—which is very familiar, but not pleasing. Very much like an older woman's perfume, but not high-end—maybe more like department store perfume from just before or after WWII—I'm not sure how the war might have affected perfume availability and evolution, if it all—something to look into. Anyway, you might have had the experience where you encounter a very elderly woman whose perfume smells like it was applied with no degree of subtlety—you have to love her, it's kind of touching—and if you have love in your heart, you'll feel that way—but you may also have a kind of survival skill instinct to get away, to escape! The fragrance is overwhelming, coming at you like creeping vines via time-lapse fast-motion. And it might not just be that the fragrance of this soap is too heavy, too much—it might be that it would be repulsive no matter how little there was.

Another thing it reminds me of is the Norma Desmond character (played by Gloria Swanson) in Sunset Blvd. (1950) and the part where Joe Gillis describes her, or her house, as smelling like tuberose. He says: “...which is not my favorite perfume, not by a long shot.” I'm not exactly sure how tuberose smells, but you think of Norma Desmond and you get the picture. So maybe that's what this scent is—maybe that's it—the core scent, here. It's a very cloying, suffocating floral scent—what you might associate with church, or funerals, or anywhere with an overwhelming amount of flowers. I think there is a deep-seated instinctual thing in humans where we know that once we lose our dominance on Earth (a time coming maybe sooner than we think) the plants will take it back, slowly but surely, and it'll only be a matter of time before there is no trace of man left.

I'm making this sound kind of dreadful, but the weird thing is that the soap grew on me (no pun intended). I actually got to like it more as time went on. I realized it reminded me a little of Tide laundry detergent, which has a certain nostalgic appeal—to the extent that once I had to mop the floor of a restaurant kitchen with a big mop pail, and we used Tide laundry soap in it—and I actually found that quite pleasing! Same thing as when you're walking around and smell someone's laundry room. I mean, that can also be a dreadful smell, it just depends. Same as this soap. It will be lovely one time and repulsive the next. Maybe it's a “she loves me, she loves me not,” kind of deal, a two sides of the same coin kind of thing, love and hate, darkness and light—they need each other. It's messed up, but if it wasn't for that, the world would stop spinning and we'd all die of boredom. On the other hand, it's just soap.

Soap Review No. 40

Argane – Savon Pur Vegetal

“French Exit”

This soap came in a little box, printed on all six sides (it just occurred to me that a box has six sides, like a die, even if it's not a cube, which seems weird). The name, “Argane Savon” is printed on all sides. On the front it also says: “Savon Pur Vegetal – a l'huile d'ARGANE,” and on the back there is an entire paragraph in French, but I'm neither going to translate it nor reproduce it here. Savon, of course, means soap, and I'm guessing the Argane part is referring to argan oil, because there are some crude pictures of leaves and little yellow-green fruits on the front that look like the argan fruit. So I'm guessing this is a French argan oil soap. The bar of soap is crudely formed, but a particular shape, as if it's made in a very old soap mold (or however soap is made). It's shaped kind of like a little pillow, actually, with sharp edges, like a crease around the edge. The logo, the name “Argane” is imprinted in one side, or stamped in. The color is beige or light tan. The smell is mildly perfume-y, but I can't make it out. It's pleasant, but very subtle. After washing my hands with it, it leaves them with a very good smell. Right off the bat, I like this soap, like, a lot. Sometimes there is just nothing like a fragrance that is subtle. Maybe if it was more pronounced it would be unpleasant, but as it is, it's really evocative of something. It's kind of giving me an old-fashioned feeling, like it's an outdated fragrance, maybe something you'd smell in the presence of a very classy, very beautiful, rich, older, French woman. Of course, I could be wrong—it could just be a men's room or coin laundry—but I'm going to keep the illusion alive, and for the duration of this small but long-lasting soap, I do.

Soap Review No. 39

Pacha – Watermelon Mint

“Inside-Out Watermelon”

Another Pacha seasonal soap (summer) I bought at Whole Foods and enjoyed for summer use! One reason I liked this soap so much is because I've been a fan of watermelon all my life—I just love it. At one time I collected watermelon memorabilia—pictures, ceramics, etc.—and people would give me watermelon stuff—but it got to be too much—I needed to rent a McMansion just to house it all—so I had to put an end to that. But I still love watermelon. I tried making watermelon pie once, but that didn't work out too well (as you can imagine). One thing about watermelon is, you want to eat it cold! There was one of those many summer festivals near where I grew up—most of them agricultural in theme, of course—the Milan Melon Festival in Milan, Ohio was my favorite. It was about all melon (personally, I think you could have a separate festival for each melon!) but anyway, I loved that one—they'd always have various melon foods—the best, of course—being watermelon ice cream. Another thing I just thought of, when I was young, living with my parents, we always seemed to have a jar of candied watermelon rind—which always kind of seemed weird to me—but I loved it—of course it was very sweet. I haven't had any of that in awhile—do they still make it?

This bar soap is the usual Pacha rectangular shape with one rough end, and it's one fourth dark green (mint) and three fourths dark pink (watermelon) with little black dots (seeds!) that appeared after I started using it! It's good, wholesome, doesn't causes rash. It does smell like watermelon! One weird thing is that when was using it in the shower it took on a kind of an unpleasant smell—this is an odd phenomenon with some soap that I don't really understand, but soap does have a different fragrance, sometimes, when you're using it as hand soap or bath soap. Very strange. I think that's true, but it could just be me—at the time—having different reactions to it. But based on this experience, I'm going to maintain that I liked this one better as a hand soap than as a bath soap. After using it for awhile, the green mint end (it's about one fourth or fifth of the length, on one end) has gotten much smaller so it looks like the green part is inside of the red watermelon part! It's very odd! This company makes some really weird soap! Even right down to the end, it still maintained its red with black watermelon seed look—though I'm not sure what the little black nubs representing the seeds were?—nothing weird or harmful, I'm sure—I trust them! And right up to the bitter end (it has occurred to me that soap reviewing is about learning to say good-bye) the little green nub was still protruding, like some kind of alien fruit.

Soap Review No. 38

Fresh Thyme – Orange Patchouli

“Hippie-Fudge”

A “Fresh Thyme Farmers Market” grocery store recently opened near enough my neighborhood to walk a half hour extra for grocery shopping because they have so much my close-by store (which is a shithole) doesn't have. One thing that bugs me, though, is how, in keeping with their logo, Fresh Thyme's soap bag says: “Organic Handcrafted Fresh Thyme Farmers Market Bar Soap”—really? Modest research shows that the Fresh Thyme store is (relatively) new, small—but still a chain grocery store, ultimately owned by a very large company, so big, even, that they hesitate to reveal themselves, wanting to keep the image of a little mom & pop store, or, as in their name, a “farmers market.” Now, we all know what a farmers' market is, and this is not a farmers' market. I suppose there's nothing terribly wrong with them using that in the title of the store, with the understanding that they're not really trying to fool anyone, and the farmers' market thing is in spirit only. But if you transfer that logic to the soap, does that mean that this soap isn't literally “hand made”—but is factory made, but it somehow retains the spirit of handmade soap? There were hands involved somewhere in the process—say, the hands on the computer keyboard that arranged for the manufacture of the soap at the soap factory, and the shipping and payment of the soap, so it could reach your local Fresh Thyme. I don't know, really, but once someone lies to you, no matter what the spirit is that's involved, it makes it tough to have faith that they're ever telling the truth. So “handcrafted”—meaning, in the spirit of handcrafted, and “organic”—not actually, but in the spirit of organic? Can I believe, literally, any part of this packaging?

Anyway, the soap itself is fairly delicious—the fragrance subtle yet undeniably there—orange, and patchouli—and the feel of the soap very soft and clean. It takes on a beautiful, pale orange color which gives it even more of a feeling of something you can eat. There are little nubs of plant matter that reveal themselves increasingly as the soap wears away—larger as it goes along. I guess these are orange peel particles of some kind—I'm not sure. I don't think they are patchouli particles—I don't know what patchouli comes in, but not big nubs, right? It's only subtly patchouli-y—I suppose to be pleasant to the average person, but I'm always wanting a little more. I wonder what the most patchouli-y soap out there is? I can imagine a very Speenish one—maybe called Speen-chouli, or something, that just kind of melts your socks. But all-in-all, it's an extremely pleasant soap. It goes kind of fast, but that's okay—most hippie soap is not long for this world—unless it's owned by actual hippies, who don't bathe—and, hey, that's cool.

Soap Review No. 37

Jergens – Soap

“Jürgen Fritz”

I not-so-recently came across a bar of Jergens soap while cat-sitting (this time, not in the “North Woods,” but on “The Shore,” in a dusty old town somewhat frozen in time—I don't need to tell you that can be both a good and bad thing)—and a dusty old bar of soap like this might have come out of a dollar store multi-pack, or out of a closet; either way, I love that there is no shelf-life on soap, so you can find some old ones or ones that have the illusion of old, and either way, get slightly time-machined. I'm not sure if this is Jergens Bath Soap, Mild Soap, or Mild Bath Soap, or just Jergens, but it definitely had a distinctive smell, somewhat pleasing to me, and even more nostalgic than pleasing. Sometimes, as I always say, nostalgic and sad are two sides of the same coin. So much did it just remind me of “soap” I was tempted to leave it at that—but I decided to go deeper and consulted Internet who told me the Andrew Jergens Company was founded in 1882 in Cincinnati, Ohio. There are a lot of products that have come out of Cincinnati. I wonder if they have a museum. Anyway, 1982 is long time ago. 1882, however, is closer than you think.

The internet then redirected me to the Japanese Kao Corporation, which now owns the Jergens brand. With no way of knowing the date of manufacture, it's possible this soap actually came from any number of countries, each with its distinct culture, none of which is reflected in the bar itself. It's also possible there were ingredients used that you don't even want to know about. The next time you buy a 10-pack of soap at Walmart for under $3, consider that. Even more strange, I saw a list of brands owned by the Kao Corporation, and it shockingly almost exactly matches the early list of projected performers at next August's Lollapalooza festival—which I'll list in alphabetical order: Attack, Ban, Biore, Curel, Goldwell, Healthya, Jürgen, John Frieda, Kanebo, Kate Middleton, KMS, Laurier, Lease, Magiclean, MegRhythm, The Merries, Merit, Molton Brown, Oribe, Segreta & Sofina, and Success. Coincidence? Or just some weird Perry Farrell bullshit? Anyway, the one I really took notice of was Jürgen, wondering if that is Jürgen Fritz, keyboard player and composer with one of my favorite 1970s bands, Triumvirat. Now that I think about it, Jergens products always reminded me of Jürgen Fritz. I once listened to Triumvirat's 1974 album, Illusions on a Double Dimple, while smoking weed purported to be “Jamaican” and saw visions of the musical instruments coming from the speakers—though, now, I strongly suspect it was shitty pot laced with PCP.

Soap Review No. 36

Himalayan Blends – Lemon Sunrise

“Fun Marigold”

This was an intriguing soap, smuggled back from India by friends taking a great personal risk—maybe I'm blowing that out of proportion, but I do appreciate it! It's not as easy or cheap to bring things back from other countries anymore. That reminds me of when (pre-9/11) a friend brought me a set of bongo drums from India that I believe were fashioned out of hardened hashish and masked with a sparkle gold finish. I don't have them anymore as they were stolen! I hope whoever took them realized their composition and had fun smoking them up, or smoking them out, or whatever the kids say.

Anyway, the first intriguing thing about this soap is the box—a kind of plastic coated cardboard, virtually indestructible, that reminds me of something you'd buy at an Army Navy store—as it's a kind of a flat green gray—incidentally, the exact same color as the shirt I'm wearing right now, which I bought just last week. Besides the name, the box says: “Handmade in India,” and “Energizing lemongrass, skin polishing turmeric and fun marigold petals in a nourishing vitamin E base.” The box also says: “Himalayan Blends soap is rich in glycerin and Vitamin E. Its natural ingredients exfoliate and moisturize skin so you will feel fresh and rejuvenated.” Under that is a list of ingredients: “LEMON GRASS ESSENTIAL OIL, MARIGOLD PETALS, TURMERIC, SAPONIFIED RICE BRAN OIL, COCONUT & PALM OILS, FRESH SPRING WATER.” And finally, “Mfd. by A.S. Self Help Group.” There's an address, in India, and a Hotmail email address.

The soap is a pleasant light orange brown with uneven orange-brown specks throughout—which the box leads me to believe are the marigold petals. Are they fun? You bet! Well, that might be a little over-enthusiastic, but anyway, it was a very pleasing soap to use, as the color and texture varied a bit over time and decomposition. The scent is very mild—almost no scent, but a natural, soapy one. Obviously no artificial fragrances. It's down to a nub, now, and I'm saying goodbye to it while looking out at the “lemon sunrise” of another day. If you're an adventurer, you may be able to find some of this soap—who knows, at a local store—or you might have to travel to India—or maybe online, if you're adventurous with your credit card. I'm left with this very substantial box that I feel like I should use for something, though I'm not sure what, yet.

Soap Review No. 35

Patanjali – Haldi – Chandan Kanti

“Dependable Friend”

I am not sure of the name of this soap—I have just typed the English version of the words as they appear on the package—it's an Ayurvedic soap from India, which I bought at India Bazaar for $1.99. Patanjali is a giant consumer goods company, so you might imagine this soap is quite common, though it's the first time I've seen it. There are pictures of some twigs and leaves on the package, presumably the ingredients! This is an orange brown, oval cake of soap, and it smells kind of medicinal—kind of reminds me of Cinthol in smell, and a sandalwood soap in color. It's not particularly pleasant, but gives you the sense that it's going to do its job in a no-nonsense, muscular way.

Much later now, as it's running out, now just a small nub. It's actually kind of grown on me, this soap. That orange color is a color I don't associate with anything but soap, right? It's kind of a brown-orange, not looking like any kind of food that I can think of. The scent is still a bit harsh and medicinal, or cleaning product-like, but really very pleasant. I think that a weird phenomenon about soap is that it will grow on you, in the course of using a bar of it—as long as it doesn't go the other way, and repel you. Very few have done that, actually—that is the odd case, when one starts to repel you, but when that happens, it's really kind of a profound thing. But in this case, the soap has definitely grown on me. I like it! I'll miss it!

Soap Review No. 34

Au Lait – Extra Large Milk Soap – Scottish Fine Soaps

“Watts Tea Shop”

This enormous, oversized, dinosaur egg of a soap, at 300 grams, or 10.5 ounces, is the biggest soap I've ever seen, besides those hippie, cinderblock soaps, of course. It's really a huge thing, hard to handle (be careful not to drop it on your foot!) until it has shrunk down by half, which takes awhile, and then it lasts forever. It's from the Scottish Fine Soaps company, a 40 (plus) year-old company with a 40-strong team (that's a lot of 40s, but no matter) based in Stirlingshire, Scotland. They make a large variety of beauty products, and obviously ship them about—this soap ended up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Milk is one of the major ingredients in the soap, and you can imagine this part of Scotland is beautiful, with cows roaming about, and centuries-old buildings—though I imagine, in reality, there are a lot of the same horrific (in design) late model automobiles everywhere you look, just like everywhere else—really, the curse of our modern existence, at least visually. I wonder if, locally, this company is looked on as a kind of sell-out, or if they are revered and respected? One thing you know for sure, there are local soap-makers here and there, just as there are here, making small batches of genuinely handcrafted soap—because you don't need much more than a kitchen to do it—but you've got to go to Scotland to get those soaps. One day Soap Exotica will get our traveling budget!

I like the fragrance of this one a lot; trying to describe it in a word, I come up with: Church on Sunday, Aunt Dorothy, Rich Lady. One of my friends had a rather negative initial reaction, saying it smelled like an old lady, and I have to agree; that is what it evokes in my mind, too, but I don't have a negative feeling about that. It's extremely nostalgic to me, leading me to think I had some contact with one of my older aunts when I was a small kid, and remember their soap or perfume. I guess this might be described as “powdery,” too—but not in that negative sense, of being overwhelming. Sometimes you will encounter a person (often an older woman) who has on such heavy perfume or powder that it causes a reaction, eyes watering, nose running—it's too much. (I know there are those who are very sensitive to this, and even a lesser amount of cologne can give them a very negative reaction. If this is you, you might hate all these fragrant soaps, understandably.) But ultimately I rather enjoy this soap, very soft and lathery, big and luxuriant, its fragrance evoking the feeling you might get from the older clientele at a dated but still classy tea room—thus my “one word” description, Milwaukee's gone, not forgotten, downtown Watts Tea Shop.

Soap Review No. 33

Eggwhite Soap – Eiwit Zeep – with Chamomile Flowers & Lecithin

“Teacup”

This Eggwhite Soap is imported from Belgium—the box is bright blue with an old-fashioned font, and there are full color drawings of flower maidens, one with flowers, the other with little chicks and a basket presumably with eggs. There is a small drawing of a windmill—if you didn't know it was Belgium, you'd think Netherlands. It comes in a box with six little, white, egg-shaped bars of soap, like eggs in a carton. The bar itself is egg-shaped, snowy-white, and has “Eggwhite Soap” engraved on one side and “Eiwit Zeep” on the other. It has, initially, a lovely, kind of feminine, old-fashioned, maybe old-lady smell, but very pleasant, even compelling in the way of nostalgia, at least for me. I have smelled this smell before, but I don't remember where.

Internet says “Eiwit Zeep” is Dutch, and translates as “protein soap.” I found discussion of two different eggwhite soaps, one from Sweden, and this one, which includes, chamomile. I guess the idea is to put the lather on your face for five minutes and it will tighten up your facial skin, so essentially it's a beauty soap. I tried this a few times, and it was really very pleasant! I was surprised—I would normally be afraid that such an activity would make me break out in a rash, or at least itch unpleasantly—but it felt good, and was kind of fun. I'm not sure if it had any benefit—I guess you'd have to do it regularly over time to figure that out.

I try again to describe this charming soap with one word: “teacup” comes to mind. Teacup, because it makes me think of a really old, fragile, kind of corny, but still beautiful tea set—and the one little ceramic teacup that is impossibly thin, with a tiny handle that looks like it will break off when you pick it up. I think about some rich, old, elegant lady having tea. This would be her soap.

I kept this one going for a long time after it got smaller and smaller, just because I like the smell so much. It is a very elusive, elegant fragrance—very much the perfume of a rich, old person, but totally a pleasant one—not in any way off-putting. This is just about my favorite smell of any soap—and the feel, too—this would be my regular if I could afford it, but it's kind of pricy! I'm almost done with it, now—I kind of pathetically kept around a little sliver as long as I could just so I could go wash my hands with it and smell it—because every time I smell this soap it takes me back somewhere—not sure where, somewhere in childhood. But I don't think it's childhood, necessarily, as the time period—which would be the 1960s. This is a real olfactory time-machine to the past, this soap is. I'm actually mourning its demise—but then it occurred to me: I can go out and buy another little magic egg of this soap. I don't even have to resort to the internet—you can buy it at the store. It's a bit expensive, for me, but if I was a rich person, I'd always have one of these around in one of my bathrooms. But would it, then, lose its magic? Maybe, maybe not. But anyway, I am a rich person, if you consider the wealth of soap I have accumulated, at home, on my “on deck” soap box, waiting for me to try.

One final note (in what may be my longest soap review ever—but then, this may be my favorite, yet). I did go look at some of this soap at one local store—Beans & Barley (where they have a fine collection of odd soap), and the strange thing is that this soap is now yellow, not white. Or was some white and some yellow? But the packaging looks the same—weird. If it's yellow, wouldn't that be egg yolk soap? And when I smelled it, it didn't smell the same as I remembered. Was there a change, or would it be different if I got it home, started using it (soap is always different from the store to home, and from the box to using it, wet). Also, there is the Swedish version of eggwhite soap, which has weirdly similar packaging but is from another country entirely—how would that compare? Clearly, I am not done with the eggwhite soap. There are a few soaps I want to return to, and use more, research more, and see how time affects my opinion—and this is one of them.

Soap Review No. 32

Huiles No. 7 – Luxurious Soap Sticks: Charcoal, Himalayan Salt, Coffee

“Paris at Dawn”

I found this plastic jar containing 12 sample size bars of soap and I thought it'd be a clever way to experience a lot of soap cheaply, but it turns out there are really 3 varieties here, 4 bars each, and there is no way for me to know for sure which is which, so I've got to write about these all at one time, so my plan kind of backfired. Plus, I'm wondering if the scents are influencing each other. Also, I can't find anything on the internet about this company, Huiles. I have found a few things, sure, but not in English—I think it's French, but it's hard to tell, since I don't speak French. It's interesting how many languages around the world will have ready translations in English, but French speakers just don't play along; it's like, fuck you, we're French, it's the language you should be learning, not the other way around. It's hard to argue with that sentiment, actually. It's a better language, and I should have learned French, way back. If I have any regrets (and like Sinatra, I have a few) it's that I didn't concentrate on learning French at some point when I was younger and that part of my brain was more malleable.

Anyway, I'm going to try these little bars of soap out one at a time, but compare them all, too, best I can, and I guess do it without any internet support, so what is here is what we get. The packaging says: “infused with coconut oil” and the ingredient list has the usual Sodium Palmate, then a lot of chemically sounding bullshit, and then one does have charcoal powder, one does have Himalayan salt, and one does have coffee, but I don't know which is which, so I'm going to have to guess. Each ingredient list also includes “Parfum” as one of the ingredients, which I assume is an additional fragrance, but what goes in the parfum? Impossible to know, I guess. I'm starting out with the black bar, which seems the mostly likely candidate for “Charcoal.” My first impression is that it is perfume-y, as in kind of strong smelling with a kind of sharp, acidic scent that reminds me, at first, nothing so much a urine. This is not necessary a terrible thing, as it's not all that unpleasant, at least when you know it's not urine. Or, I guess for some people, even if they knew it was. I suppose, in some cases, even, this could be a selling point.

So rather than wait too long, so I still have a point of reference, I started to use the other two bars. The all white one I'm going to guess is the Himalayan Salt, and the one with little brown specs, the coffee. The all white one can't be either the Charcoal or the Coffee, right?—that would be weird. Anyway, as far as I can tell, they both smell exactly like the first one... the black one. I'm going to try some blindfold tests to see if I can tell. Not that I have a blindfold—but my eyes closed... and, yeah, they all smell exactly the same. Or at least very close. Like, I'm sure one does have Himalayan salt, and one does have coffee, and one does have charcoal, but each one also has this similar “parfum” which I think is the dominant fragrance. And it smells a little like urine. But at this point, I have to say, it's growing on me a little, kind of the way a city, which might seem harsh at first, can really grow on you. Which really, with soap, is better than the other way around, when it's intriguing at first but later becomes repulsive. You just never know.

Soap Review No. 31

Nag Champa – Satya Sai Baba Beauty Soap

“Motel Ghost”

This soap came in a familiar looking box, if you're familiar with Nag Champa incense, that blue box with a red and white label, though of course it's soap bar shaped and not incense stick shaped. The huge cake of soap is wrapped in waxed paper, and as I open it I'm shocked to see a very strange shape—it's oval, but with very pronounced ridges running around the edges—really resembling a machine part, or gear, more than anything in nature. Since I'm a nerd, I counted the number of ridges—there are 20—and I wonder if there is any significance in that? Besides being big, and sharply ridged, it's also very thick and heavy (I weighed it, it's 6 ounces). It's a very pale, yellowish beige color, and “NAG CHAMPA” is stamped into the top, and what I think is the Satya Sai logo, with an “S” and then an “S” on its side, stamped on the back. When I get it wet and lathery, the shape with the ridges around the edge is really pleasing to my hands.

The fragrance is actually surprisingly subtle; immediately noticeable is sandalwood, along with something else, maybe frangipani. What is frangipani? I guess it's plumeria flowers—so it's a floral scent, but a very particular one. My mom used to have this favorite perfume, called Plumeria, which she bought at this Polynesian restaurant, The Kahiki, in Columbus, Ohio—I don't know if she ever figured out where to buy it besides the restaurant's gift shop. But I remember it was her favorite, and I probably opened it and smelled it a million times as a kid. I'm not sure if I actually remember the scent, or if this soap smells like that, but there might be something happening subconsciously. The more dominant scent is that of sandalwood, and it also has that warm feeling of sandalwood, but there might really be some frangipani, or plumeria, in there that's working on my subconscious, because all the factors together: the feel of this soap, its weird shape, the pale cream color, and the alluring scent—it's all working together very well. I washed my hands with it, and its smell mixed with my skin is really evocative of something, very nostalgic, or bringing back memories, maybe of my mom, and maybe my aunt who used to own and run a motel. My mom was influenced by her a lot, and it was really magical going to my aunt and uncle's motel as a kid. It would make sense that there are some olfactory memories, particularly my aunt's perfume, that go along with these other intense visual and spacial memories from childhood.

Soap Review No. 30

Soap of the Earth – Star Anise

“Enticing”

I bought this soap at an outdoor market last year, can't remember where, didn't use it for awhile because it's not in any packaging and I just liked smelling it. Then I used it, for baths, and it was my favorite for awhile because I love star anise so much. It was not afraid to really smell like star anise, either, and I thought it might get a little overwhelming, a little over-bearing, but it never did. You can look up their website and mail order soap and other products. I don't know offhand where they are sold otherwise, but if I see them at a farmers' market or outdoor festival this year I'll buy some more soap! This is truly handmade, small batch soap (I get that feeling, so I hope it's true), so it's not like they will always have every variety in stock, and maybe there will be some new, odd ones from time to time, who knows. I looked up their mailing address on a google map, and then the street view, and it was seriously out in the country, like a farm, and there was even a person (you know, with the face blurred) out getting the mail—which could be your fan mail! Why don't I do that? Send fan mail by mail anymore? Think how much that would mean to someone! Anyway, it's in (or outside of) Whitewater, Wisconsin—a town nearby me that I've never been to. I'd like to check out the town sometime. Is there whitewater there? I think there's a branch of the University of Wisconsin. Is there a little diner in town? Is there somewhere to buy this soap in town? Anyone want to go on a road trip?

The ingredients for this particular bar of soap are: “saponified olive, coconut and palm oils, star anise powder, & the pure essential oils of star anise, bay & lime.” The anise smell is unmistakable—they're not fucking around with that. The bar is rectangular, it looks like cut from a larger cake. The color is a light brown or beige, with maybe a greenish tint, with darker brown swirled in, not a uniform color at all—rough in shape and color, feeling very homemade. It was a lovely bar of soap. Gone now. The first and only star anise soap I've used. I used to make tea with star anise, and I put it in stuff I'm cooking, sometimes, like curry. I used to go to this Indian food cart in Portland, Oregon, run by this guy named Tony who cooked everything, and he used lots of star anise in the curry, so when you'd get down to the end you'd get pieces of it, softened, of course, but just emitting all that flavor. You could chew up a piece if you wanted to, it was almost like dessert, or a digestant. That this soap reminded me of that happy, heathy dining time, that's a good thing. I'd buy another bar of this, for sure, though next time I see their soap somewhere maybe I'll try a different variety.

Soap Review No. 29

Fax – pink, yellow, and green

“Office Soap”

I bought this Fax soap hoping to get “3-for-one”—that is, three mysterious, not-specified-on-the-packaging scents. There is no indication, neither from the packaging, nor from the smell, that there is any difference between the pink, yellow, and green soap, except for the color. The colors of pink, yellow, and green remind me of copy paper—those three, innocuous, boring colors that are the most common colors of paper in the common office, used most often as a divider between white pages—most often for clarity, not inspiration. I didn't expect much from this soap, seeing how inexpensive it was, but the name is funny, recalling the glory days of the office FAX machine. Also, being three of them, it reminded me of times when there are three flavors. Not Neapolitan, though, since the colors don't match. What I thought of was the three Christmas candles from childhood we would bring down from the attic each season, which had enchanting scents. They were candles poured into brandy snifters and then painted outside with rough, sparkling, colors to match the candle wax: there was green, red, and yellow—if I'm remembering correctly. The green was lime, and the yellow lemon. I can't remember what the red was, because I don't think strawberry, though maybe, because it wasn't cherry, I don't think. Perhaps some unspecified red, Christmas scent. Anyway, the soap bars all smell the same, and like soap, and so the association with these candles is immediately lost.

The bars of soap are small ovals with a few ridges, kind of rough and dusty, and it says “Evyap” on one side and “Fax” on the other. Evyap has a website, easily found, with text in English, and the first thing it says is: “As time flows by like a river, happy memories remain with EVYAP!” It appears to be a beauty care product company based in Turkey, started as a soap company in 1927 and now one of the 100 largest Turkish industrial corporations (with production facilities in Turkey, Malaysia, and Egypt), they make a full line of beauty products that includes Duru and Arko. The website says that Fax soap has been around for 37 years, in liquid and bar form, and it shows several flavors of bar soap including jasmine, chamomile, and strawberry. The soap I bought came in a plastic bag, five bars of different colors (pink, yellow, green) and at $2 for the bag is among the cheapest soap I've ever seen. The bag also says “Fresh” in larger letters, and “beauty soap with cream” in small letters. As far as I can tell, though, all three of the colors smell exactly the same, which is a kind of generic, slightly unpleasant soap smell. More than anything else it reminds me of a bar of soap that's sitting in a ceramic soap dish in the downstairs, half-bath of an elderly relative, that likely only ever gets used when guests are over and seems to have been sitting there for several decades.

Soap Review No. 28

Caswell-Massey – Jockey Club

“Uncle Don”

Another big, oval bar of soap, this one a pale green, and again the color “celadon” comes to mind. As soon as you unwrap it from its protective plastic cover it unleashes its scent on the room and dominates like a brash and very present houseguest. My first impression, the first words that come to mind are: 1950s, door-to-door salesman, vaguely inappropriate middle-aged bachelor next door neighbor, mysterious uncle, millionaire playboy, private men's club, rendezvous suite at the Taft Hotel, Mr. Gladstone. This is the soap that started me giving each variety a one, two, or three word “nickname”—for better or for worse. It occurred to me that this one might be something like: “Uncle Don”—everyone has an Uncle Don, or knows one, right? An older, kind of odd guy who seems to exist out of time. I had two Uncle Dons, as well as an older cousin, Don, who would also have been a classic Uncle Don. They may all have used this soap.

I just went in for another “first impression”—ideally trying to clear my mind of baggage and pretend I'm experiencing this for the first time. This time it brought me back to somewhere in childhood. It's possible my parents had this soap, or something similar, because I can't tell you what soap they did have when I was young—the only one that I actually remember, though, was Ivory. It's more likely that one of my relatives had a similar soap, and it could have well been either Uncle Don on my mom's side or Uncle Don on my dad's side.

I'm going to check the Caswell-Massey website and see how they describe it. They claim it's “rumored” to be a favorite of John F. Kennedy—so what does that mean? Nothing confirmed, I guess. His affair with Marilyn Monroe was also rumored—what was her favorite soap? Did she buy this soap for JFK, or did Jackie? The smell of this soap is so distinctive that it would become part of a person's appeal and your impression of them. The Caswell-Massey site calls it fresh and magnificent, and I have to agree—fresh, in spite of associating it with dead guys. They say it has “citrus top notes of grapefruit, lemon, and orange warmed with amber, musk, and patchouli”—meaning what? I'm not going to start using phrases like “top notes” here, or “finish”—just because that whole wine snobbery business puts me off my lunch. When I smell this soap, nothing citrusy comes to mind, though it might be there. It's not overly patchouli-y either, though some is likely—responsible for its appeal to me, as well as musk, which could add to that kind of leather-bound book study, manly English aristocratic vibe. It's funny, my word processing program wants to capitalize Musk, thinking I'm referring to “Elon Musk”—I wonder if he likes this soap, or what his favorite soap is? As far as amber goes, I always think of the hardened resin (like the amber stem of tobacco pipe) but upon looking it up, I guess some form of amber resin is used in perfume and scent-making, its quality being that of trees, woodsy, earthy—so I can see that with this soap. I learned something, which is always a plus, and the best thing about any soap is that it keeps revealing itself, keeps teaching you something.

Soap Review No. 27

Asantee – Tamarind & Turmeric Soap

“Thai For Last”

This is from A.S.P. Internation Herbal Soap Co. in Thailand and comes in an extremely elaborate cardboard box that is shaped like an oblong hexagon—so if you stood it on its end it would look like a lot of modern skyscrapers. This is a major soap box; it even has the Asantee logo printed in the inside. The box is glossy with elaborate pictures of what are presumably its ingredients: tamarind, turmeric, and also honey (there are bees and a honeycomb pictured). One side of the box has English print, and the other side is what I presume is Thai script. The photos are full colors, and the letters in red, yellow, and black—and there is also, oddly, kind of a holographic dot pattern overall that only shows up in certain kinds of light. I can't figure that one out.

It also says on the box: “Two colors scent” which refers to—I realized as soon as I opened it—the bar of soap is two-tone—half one color, half another, divided down the middle, lengthwise—one side more orange, and the other more light brown. Strange, huh? Presumably, one half tamarind and the other half turmeric. What I'm guessing, though, is the fragrance is uniform throughout and the two shades are just colors—which they pull off somehow. I don't know this for sure, though—maybe the two sides are different scents, as well. You can't really tell by smelling one side, and then the other. Now, the overall smell of this soap is kind of strange in itself—very hard to describe—and not entirely pleasant, to me. I've got some tamarind extract, and some powdered turmeric, which each have their distinctive smell—neither of which is all that pleasant, either, but the soap, to me, smells like neither of them, and more like just some kind of generic, industrial hand soap. I'm sorry, but I keep going back to it and not really liking it. It's funny—it's probably the most distinctive, nice looking soap I've yet purchased, but the smell, I can take it or leave it, but given a choice would leave it.

Soap Review No. 26

Chandrika

“Time Machine”

There are few pleasures in life more particular than opening a new box of Chandrika soap—it comes in a cardboard box and then is loosely wrapped in white, waxy paper—it's a flat sided oval, dark green, with the logo: “Chandrika” stamped in the soap, the “C” twice as big as the rest of the letters, which recalls the logo of Chowards Violet candies (intense, square, violet-flavored candy, often only available at filling stations—the name confusing, because the company is C. Howard, but the candy: Chowards). The first thing you notice, though, is the rough-hewn quality of the cake—it's got rough edges and imperfections, which makes it seem like it's either manufactured by machines from two-centuries previous, or actually by hand. (The box says: “Hand Made”—I'm inclined to believe it.)

This soap comes from India—and the ingredients list such things as: coconut, patchouli, lime peel, orange, sandalwood oils, wild ginger, and hydnocarpus oil—and is an Ayurvedic soap, which uses knowledge and practices from ancient Indian medicine. But in this case, this sum is much greater than any of the parts, because on the whole this soap evokes something very hard to describe. How does it make me feel? I'll try to describe it here! I keep going into my bathroom to smell this soap, and every time, without fail, it transports me somewhere—I don't know if I'm time traveling, or if it activates some part of my brain otherwise not activated; if it's about memory—it could be childhood, a relative, or a teacher, or maybe it's about the future, or sex, or some experience otherwise forgotten. Regardless, I can't seem to place it, or describe it; nor am I able to communicate how this smell makes me feel. This may be its power and allure, after all—maybe being just beyond my grasp is what makes it all the more powerful.

I try again, but I still can't nail it down. It occurs to me that it's easier to describe something that I don't like than something I love, especially if the thing that I love has a subtle appeal, which is often the best kind of appeal. The new shampoo I have (I won't name it) reminded me today of grade school lunch—I don't know why, and it's not exactly a pleasant memory, yet it is evocative, and in its own way, nostalgic. So that mindset permeated my latest attempt to describe Chandrika—and what came to mind was the Bookmobile—an old, mobile-home decked out as a mobile library that would park down at the end of the street periodically in the summer so kids could check out and return books and generally explore. There were metal steps going up to the door, and the interior was dark (at least in contrast to the hot summer day) and cool and mysterious. Why Chandrika made me think of this, I have no idea. Then it also brought recollection of riding bikes—past NASA, farmers' fields, and a dilapidated haunted house—out to this semi-rural, general store which contained several aisles of candy—much more candy variety than in stores today. No favorite that I recall—I wanted to sample it all—though the tiny, wax bottles with colored, sweet liquid inside kind of stand out in my memory. There must have been a definite smell in that place—the candy mixed with produce and fertilizer and old, wood floors—all as vivid, right now, as if I'm there—thanks to this Chandrika soap.

Soap Review No. 25

Addendum: I saw a box of Chandrika in a store but realized it was somewhat different than the one I had bought and reviewed, so I decided to try it. I didn't have any of the previous one left to compare the two, but I'm going by memory. It's pretty much similar art and logo, but not quite the same, and the bar of soap is square and not oval, but it's the same dark green color. I tried to read online if anyone discussed the differences between the two—and I came across all kinds of bizarre opinions, so I abandoned that investigation. As far as I can tell, from using it, it is the same Chandrika. I've been making it last for the past month, and every time I use it, it gives me the same evocative, nostalgic, magical feeling. Nothing has diminished. If I had to choose today—my favorite soap—it would be Chandrika.

Al-Jamal – Olive Oil Soap

“Infinite Impression”

This is a Palestinian Olive Oil soap, made in Nablus. It's a medium sized square, almost a cube, of fairly heavy, dense soap that's kind of pale yellow or beige, and is very irregular. There is a round indentation stamped on one side, but it's impossible to see what it says. The soap is very soft and lathery, and seems to be gentle, I guess what you'd expect from olive oil soap. It's also very dense and after some use hasn't diminished in size at all. There is no added scent, I don't think, but it does have its own particular smell—I'm presuming the smell of the olive oil and whatever ingredients are used, but no added fragrance. There are no ingredients on the packaging, at least not in English. It comes wrapped loosely in a waxy paper cover with a blue and orange design, with a drawing of a camel in the middle that looks like the Camel Cigarettes camel. The name Al-Jamal and description is in English, and an address and TelFax number, and the rest of the packaging is in, I presume, Arabic.

I bought this at the Holy Land Grocery & Bakery, in Milwaukee on S. 27th and Ramsey. It's a great store—I wish it was in my neighborhood. The Palestine Online Store sells this soap and has a nice description of how it's made—poured onto a floor and then cut into cubes, stamped, then stacked in towers, to dry. The only ingredients are olive oil, water, and a sodium compound. It's been made like that for centuries. “It is said” that Queen Elizabeth of England liked this soap, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Rolling Stones did, too, so I'll start that rumor right now. Thinking about the ingredients got me to thinking about where does olive oil come from? I guess from olives, which come from olive trees, and thinking about the parts of the world where there are olive trees makes me feel a little wistful. And all the trees that produce nuts and things like olives, from which we get oil—when it comes down to it, is there anything more interesting in the world than food based oil?

So... the smell of this soap—I'll try to describe it. Well, I can't describe it—there is no smell, really. But there is—and it evokes something, but I can't put my finger on it. Maybe it's just the smell of unscented soap—I'm sure that's something I've smelled before. Maybe that's what it's recalling. I'm wondering if my parents used some kind of cleaning soap when I was a kid, and that's what this is bringing back, now. I suppose that is the case, but there's no one to ask, so I've just got to dig deep into my memory. And I did... and that yielded nothing, not even demons. It's many months later as I still try to describe this soap. It's no smaller now than when I started it. Now it's years later, and it still has not been diminished. The soap has been passed down from my father, and his father before him. It's generations old soap. Still the same size. It's been passed down for epochs, and eons. Eons! Same size. It's probably clear, at this point, that I'm exaggerating.

Soap Review No. 24