Today I’m participating in ‘O Tannenbaum’, a joint blogging exploration of perfumes that feature prominent wood notes. For links to all the other participating bloggers, scroll down to the end of the post. Big thanks to Joanne of Redolent of Spices for inviting me and to her and Krista of Scent of the Day for their coordination!
I am trying something different today: two separate short pieces of writing inspired by two perfumes but not directly describing them. If you want “just the facts” (as I see them) about the perfumes, check out the italicized bits.
In summer, they come to Italy. Trailing endless luggage and children too weary even to misbehave, they take a house near mine in Positano. Like my husband and I, the Parks are American, but we don’t know them. We only hear of them. My grandparents emigrated from Positano, and the town is full of relatives and family friends. They like to praise me for speaking Italian like a native and spending every summer here at what was my grandparents’ house and now belongs in name to my parents. And they like to gossip.
Mrs. Park looks barely old enough to be the mother of their two children, a girl about seven and a son who has been saying for two summers that he is four. If I’m on my back balcony at lunch time, I know I will see her making her way down the steps from their place to the water, her face hidden by a pair of sunglasses. She walks up the beach, then back, then past my house in the opposite direction. My friend Alessandra, who takes care of the children, says that Mr. Park spends his days swimming laps in their pool and going for long drives in his very fast car. I asked where he goes, and she made a gesture that said “Who knows, but we can all guess, can’t we?” I couldn’t, so I let it drop. I saw Mr. Park face to face for the first time in town. I was almost surprised by how slim he is, a taut and disciplined swimmer’s body dressed in very fitted, very expensive European clothes.
Almost every night, the Parks host parties of three or four other couples. Their guests wake me up, early in the morning, as one after the other their powerful cars roar up the hill that passes the front of my house. Last summer, my husband didn’t come with me to Italy. I found myself staying up later and later, watching the lights in the Park’s house and straining to hear the voices. Sometimes they had music, sometimes they ate outside on their veranda, overlooking the ocean. Often the whole group went skinnydipping toward the end of the night, racing naked down the steps and yelling as they clambered into the water. Only Mrs. Park walked slowly down. She picked her way like a wild animal, and in the moonlight, her pale skin looked to me like a lantern, swinging lightly.
One night, after midnight, I made myself a mojito and walked down to the beach. Stepping out of my dress, I laid it down on the beach and laid back on it, sipping my drink. The air was still warm and salty. Before long, I heard footsteps coming down the steps from the Park’s house. Mr. Park was almost past me before he saw me. He looked down at me, a naked silhouette against a printed dress, then back up at his house. “Swim?” he asked.
Un Jardin en Mediterrannee is an Hermes fragrance created by Jean Claude Elena. Its official notes include fig tree, orange blossom, bergamot, and white oleander. It starts on my skin as a simultaneously clean and earthy scent. There is a salty quality to it, and although it isn’t listed in the notes, I smell lime. It clearly suggests the ocean. At the same time, there is the damp richness of vetiver, the creamy sweetness of fig, and a subtle hint of florals. As the fragrance dries down, it shape shifts to a stronger woody smell that is slightly sharp, and then mellows to a woody-creamy-almond blend. For me, wearing Un Jardin en Mediterrannee is truly evocative of the Mediterranean, and its evolution follows the day from afternoon to late at night. I only wish the late night phase retained a little bit more of the interesting bits of the rest of the fragrance. I find the late drydown rather boring. But, since I get about eight hours of wear from Un Jardin en Mediterranee, I don’t have a problem reapplying and starting my Mediterranean day over again.
In New Orleans I stayed in a tiny hotel room. Its wood floors creaked at all hours, and mysterious birds cried in the night. The tropical humidity of New Orleans is constantly watered with gulf breezes and rummy cocktails, making the air a heady mix of flowers, alcohol, and swamp. I wandered the streets, waiting for the city to whisper soulfully in my ear, eating beignets and becoming a connoisseur of renditions of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” My favorite singers were those who charged extra for what they call “Saints.” Some had signs. “Saints, $10,” they read. I listened to them for hours, drinking cups of coffee to stay awake, not to miss a moment of the songs they sing late at night after most of the tourists have wandered away. But I spoke the shorthand of “Saints” rather than the real poetry of New Orleans. In the low, flat buildings it was the same. Their dim, shady interiors spoke of tragedy, but I couldn’t quite hear them. It isn’t a city made for eavesdroppers. I retreated to the gardens for rest. Plaintain trees strove to take over everything. I related to their eagerness, was charmed by their omnipresence. “Can I eat these?” I asked the man who sold me another cup of coffee. He rolled his eyes and laughed softly, not unkindly. But that was all the answer I got. When it came time to leave, I was exhausted and unsatisfied, but still high on coffee. At the airport, I scanned the tired but happy faces of my fellow passengers. Bedheaded and bedecked by mardi gras beads, reeking of spicy sweat and stale beer, they could pass for the shamans of some other civilization. Did they find what I sought? I didn’t have the courage to ask.
Bal d’Afrique by Byredo was created by Jerome Epinette and is intended to represent Paris in the 1920s, and particularly the then-current obsession with Africa. Its official notes are bergamot, lemon, neroli, marigold, bucchu, violet, jasmine, cyclamen, amber, musk, vetiver, and cedar. Bal d’Afrique was an instant “like” for me, and is slowly growing into a love. It’s complex, sensual, flirty, difficult to pin down. On first applying, it is heavy, but not overpowering. I smell a lot of cedar and a sweet, rummy amber. But there’s a lot more going on which eludes my nose — some florals and what smells to me like steamed milk and nutmeg. After a half an hour or so, I start smelling a little bit of fruitiness, a hint of liqueur or cordial. Surprisingly, the fragrance lightens as it dries down. After a few hours, the amber has a transparent quality, and all the notes seem to swirl around, revealing different facets of the perfume as they go by. For me it evoked this time in New Orleans that I’ve described above, and my attempts to get the city to share its soul with me.
Here are the links to other participants today.