Diffusers, random wares make for a smelly, meandering shopping trip

Janet's World

December 30, 2007|By Janet Gilbert

Last week, I was doing some holiday shopping in a popular retail establishment; let's just call it "Wharf Uno."

Wharf Uno is a pretty smelly store -- there is always some sort of enigmatic scent wafting through the aisles, emanating from a new scent-delivery system called "reed diffusers." These reeds look surprisingly like incense sticks, but they are cleverly incapable of igniting your draperies and burning your house down because you do not light them. Instead, you stand them up in a jar of fragrant oil, and they soak it up. Through some sort of magical transference system, the air starts smelling.

The day I was shopping, the scented oil in the store's jar was labeled "Africa." I have never been to Africa, but I enjoyed breathing in its fascinating smell, which was slightly spicy with exotic sandalwood overtones and a bold yet harmonious finish of sesame and cardamom. It occurred to me that my oldest child is traveling to Gambia for a few weeks. But I did not buy him the "Africa" scent because I thought he should first experience the real thing, which I have a hunch is not remotely similar to the romanticized Wharf Uno concept.

How do I know this? Well, I have been to France. And one might think that France, as a renowned perfume, wine and culinary arts center, would impart a lovely scent. But I lived there for a year, and let me tell you, you do not need fancy reed diffusers to experience France. Just leave a wheel of Camembert in your backyard tool shed during a particularly rainy month. Soon your neighbors will be sniffing and commenting about your extraordinary new backyard ambience. Welcome to France.

While cruising through the convoluted aisles of Wharf Uno, it occurred to me that you had better find the scent-of-the-day pleasing, because you will not be able to leave the store quickly no matter how hard you try. Wharf Uno executives are apparently not graduates of the esteemed Sam Walton Convenience Superstore School of Design at the University of Maryland, College Park. You are on a forced meander in Wharf Uno, because no aisle is longer than about 4 feet, at which point you will have to turn because there will be an enormous carved Brazilian rosewood egret perched on a shelf above a 5-foot-tall hand-woven basket filled with willow balls.

Yes, these are softball-sized spheres made of twisted-up, dried willow branches. They probably have 1,001 uses. I can't think of a one.

I saw them and immediately pointed them out to my husband. I swished my hand among the willow balls filling the basket and picked one out triumphantly as though I were a winning contestant on the game show Lingo.

"What sort of a decor do you think would be accentuated by a basket of willow balls?" I asked him.

"I don't know," he said. He walked on ahead, less ambling now and more like a kid trapped in a corn maze. "Let's just get those picture frames and go."

Just then, we had to make a sharp right, and there in front of us was a shelf full of enormous willow balls. These willow balls were the size of basketballs.

"Look," I said excitedly. "Mature adult willow balls."

He took hold of my elbow to steer me toward the register. Perhaps he thought that the strong scent of Africa was affecting my judgment, and that I might suddenly insist on purchasing a carved mahogany candleholder in the shape of a poisonous frog or a decorative metal twisted-vine wall accent.

"Let's just get going," he said.

So we paid for our picture frames, and we headed out to our vehicle, which had the lingering, not altogether unpleasant scent of our recent lunch, a honey-mustard chicken sub. I wonder if that comes in a reed diffuser.

Contact Janet at janet@janetgilbertonline.com.

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