Before my first trip to California I had a skewed image of it based partially on 70’s TV shows like Three’s Company and Charlie’s Angels, and partially based on stories I heard of my grandmother’s single visit circa 1974. To hear her tell it, everyone walked around naked on the streets there, had hard liquor with a chaser of hallucinogens for breakfast, prayed to statues, and slept with people before asking their names. (In five subsequent visits since 1989, I have never seen a single naked person on the street, although perhaps I am visiting the wrong places because more modern family members visited last summer, and texted me to tell me about the naked guy standing on the street corner by Disneyland advertising some club.)
My first visit was to the Bay Area in 1989, a few weeks after the big earthquake, for a cousin’s wedding. Because the bridge was still out, many people who had responded yes were unable to come and my cousin filled the empty seats with patients from the drug rehab center she worked at. It was around Halloween, and they showed up at this formal country club wedding in costume. The groom was also a former patient, he was the first man who ever told me I was beautiful, and the marriage lasted less than a year. None of those facts are connected, I merely state them to point out that had I been predisposed to stereotypes, my impression might have been similar to that of my grandmother’s.
My aunt and uncle, who were transplants from New Jersey and “killed” their East Coast relatives by moving out there, were proud to show a new generation some of the very real attractions there. Their modest suburban home had a breathtaking view, and their cabin in the woods was surrounded by redwoods I had only heard about in textbooks. We drove through miles of lush farmland and had delicious meals composed of local produce. Everyone was preternaturally friendly and generous. While one cousin had converted to Sikhism in a rebellion against our strong Italian Catholic background, I had to give her points for originality (everyone else was becoming Buddhist).
Diptyque Tam Dao reminds me of my first glimpse of California– giant tree canopies and martinis on cliffs with ocean breezes, ubiquitous hot tubs (one stereotype that is entirely verifiable), and bountiful buffet brunches with string instruments playing in the background. While the inspiration is Eastern, to me it is filtered through a clear California sensibility– clean, modern, and dry as a good Chardonnay aged in an oak casket. Given that the fragrance is centered on sandalwood, it is not what I expected– there is incense here, but it is ambiance sticks in a chic boutique, not a gilded temple.
According to Fragrantica, top notes in Tam Dao are rose, myrtle and italian cypress; middle notes are sandalwood and cedar; base notes are spices, amber, white musk and brazilian rosewood. The sandalwood is dry, not creamy, and inhaling takes me right back to the Shadowbrook in Capitola, one of the most unique restaurants I have ever had the pleasure of dining in. Tam Dao is available in EdT and EdP concentrations from LuckyScent, and can also be found at Beauty Encounter, Nordstrom, and in Europe from Diptyque’s website. LuckyScent indicates different notes for the EdP concentration; this review is based on a sample of the EdT from my own collection. Prices vary depending on concentration and size of fragrance, but average $80 for a 1.7 oz EdT.
This review is in memory of my beloved California Uncle Armand; I hope that heaven has you reunited at the cabin with Aunt Gilda and all the people you love.