On my last night in Saudi I was out following my final drop off and I stopped in a little commercial area to get a pizza. I didn’t want to wait in the pizza shop so I went exploring and found this little place, unerringly translated atrociously by Bixby – the compulsory joke of a “personal assistant” app that Samsung foists on all its users whether they like it or not.
I find Bixby Translate is good for a laugh from time to time. You won’t get sense out of it though. And it’s not worth the wasted button on your phone. For those who missed it, here’s its attempt at the menu in the coffee shop opposite my hotel. It made me howl.
Anyway this isn’t a blog about how hilariously crap Bixby is. This is a blog mostly about the result of my visit to “Pill Stick”. This is actual Pill Stick without the crap translation overlay.
Pill Stick sells oud. There are lots and lots of oud shops in Saudi. Scent is powerful and strong in this culture. Oud is a range of scents made from the Agarwood that grows naturally in Saudi – specifically from a resin produced by Agarwood infected with mold. It’s mushroom and wood together. Two things I like. I went in to buy some for Lou.
The guy behind the counter had no English and I had no Arabic. That was an interesting start. We made do with grunting and gesticulation. I knew I was gonna buy some no matter what. He was going to sell some no matter what. Our needs aligned.
I didn’t know what I was buying though. It was all so arcane and he was excited but not particularly helpful. Trying to ask him questions like “What is the oil for, burning or perfume” resulted in the response “Yes! Yes, oil. Yes.” So I thought I’d just buy some and work it out.
I sat with Lou just now as she opened a little box he had made up containing both oil and wood. She put some oil on her arm and rubbed it. She sniffed like and connoisseur. Rubbed it. Sniffed again. “Hmmm. I like it. It smells of Camel shit.”
I didn’t get out of that shop for cheap. Oh no. Reading up on it, it seems I inadvertently bought one of the most expensive materials in the world. Worth it for the lady to smell of camel shit. “It’s alright,” she adds – “camels are vegetarian…”
A bit later she sniffs it again. It has settled now. “Oh actually you know what this reminds me of?”
“I dread to think.”
“I was in the Himalayas.”
“It was a hot day and we’d walked up a mountain, and there was this cold beautiful waterfall. I just went and stood under it.”
Beautiful. Hot water. Steam. Nature.
“Then this woman came up the hill and she had this buffalo. Great big thing it was, and you know how buffalo go where they please – well it went and lumbered under the waterfall with me.”
I don’t like where this is going.
“It was hot. It probably hadn’t washed for weeks. All this steam was coming off it. Buffalo musk and sweat and shit. It smells like that.”
So there’s the oud oil. It might be for burning, of course. If not I’m gonna be pursued by the scent of hot buffalo shit. Still, it’s the thought that counts. There was wood in the package as well.
We improvised a censor and of course Lou had some quick light charcoal. We burnt some of the resinous wood. It is strangely beautiful to look at, every piece a different shape, smooth and dark and thick and hard. Burning it with a lighter doesn’t take like the incense we are mostly used to. We had to put it on top of charcoal. Then it filled the air. The scent of the wood is certainly less animal – subtler. I got some of that for myself as well and I’m glad of it. I love burning things for scent. I think in a past life I liked it a bit too much. In this one though I love the smellyburny things. I’ve ordered some of that charcoal now already and I’m wondering if maybe the oil should soak the wood before burning… Perhaps…
They also had some actual definite perfumes in that place, one of which he sprayed me with before I could stop him and which I found terribly cloying for several hours. Every time he pointed to that section I waved my hands in protest. I tried to avoid getting Lou something that sweet. Perhaps that’s how she ended up with the finest Chateau de Buffalo Humide. I like nothing more than a fine woman who smells like a ruminant bovidae.
We walked in the woods, as is our way. It’s too damn cold. Roll on summer.