On a reporting trip years ago, I lodged at a bed-and-breakfast in upstate New York. My room was wallpapered in pink roses; members of the rose family were patterned on lamps and quilts, and also comprised a silly number of wreaths. The place even smelled of roses. I locked scented things away in the rustic dresser, but I am an allergic type, and three nights there had a certain effect.
Back in the city, sinus-sore and sniffly, I scanned the aisles of my indie pharmacy. There were the usual suspects, and then an unfamiliar box, white and royal blue, that pictured an astronaut afloat in starry darkness. It was a nasal emollient called Ponaris. It was once, the packaging advertised, a NASA staple — included in the agency’s medical space kit on every Apollo mission. Ponaris had gone to the moon. The package promised that it would help rose fever, which I’d become convinced I had gotten from all that potpourri, so I bought it. It worked wonders immediately.
I liked it even more after learning that it is manufactured by a tiny family-owned firm in New Jersey. They’d acquired Ponaris from a doctor who’d acquired it from its creator Jacques Romano, “an exceedingly entertaining little skyrocket of a man,” The New Yorker described him in the 1950s, when he was 94. Romano built a business around iodine therapy, to which he credited his uncanny mental and physical youthfulness. Another of his concoctions would be branded as Ponaris.
Romano’s recipe remains unchanged. It consists of oils of eucalyptus, pine, peppermint, and cajeput blended with a cottonseed oil base and some iodine. To administer Ponaris, you tilt back your head and send a little up your nose with a dropper — Flonase, this is not. Good for nasal congestion, dryness, and inflammation due to allergies, colds, and weather (and “rebound sinus reaction from drugs and smog,” as the website puts it), it feels quenching and cooling inside there, and the smell transports me to an herbal forest. It drains gently, even pleasantly, into my throat. The taste is like a spa, in a good way.
Each spring, the astronaut drops come out. I live in France, where occasional visits to gorgeous but dusty, fusty châteaus are both a dream come true and a sinusitis nightmare. But lately, it’s become even more of a mainstay, given the elevated concern for our nasal passages. After an hour spent wearing a mask, it’s just so soothing to snort this stuff — and because it’s all-natural, I can feel good about my habit.
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