O Tannenbaum

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 and Krista for inviting me to participate.

For my post, I am trying something different: two short pieces of writing (one fiction, one not) inspired by two woodsy perfumes.


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 them, and hear of them. My grandparents emigrated from Positano, and the town is full of relatives and family friends who love 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 three 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 Parks’ children, says that Mr. Park spends his days swimming laps in their pool and disappearing for long drives. 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, but I let it drop. I saw Mr. Park face to face for the first time in town. Slim and taut with a swimmer’s body in fitted, expensive 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 cars roar up the hill past my house. This summer, I stayed up later and later, idly watching the lights in their house and listening to the squawking 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 walked down to the beach. Stepping out of my dress, I laid it down on the beach and laid back on it. The air was 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 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. Wearing Un Jardin en Mediterrannee is truly evocative of the Mediterranean, and the perfume’s evolution follows the day from afternoon to late at night.


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.” Most of the singers extra for it. They have signs. “Saints, $10.” 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 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 whisper 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. “Can I eat these?” I asked the man who sold me another cup of coffee. He rolled his eyes and laughed softly, not unkindly, before he walked away. 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 is complex, sensual, flirty, difficult to pin down. It smells of cedar and a sweet, rummy amber. Flowers, steamed milk, and nutmeg. 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.

All I am….is a redhead

Beauty, Bacon, Bunnies

Beauty on the Outside


Eyeliner on a cat

Fragrant Reviews

Muse in Wooden Shoes

Olfactoria’s Travels


Redolent of Spices

Scent of the Day

Suzanne’s Perfume Journal

The Candy Perfume Boy

Undina’s Looking Glass

Samples were my own acquisitions. Reviews are never compensated, and posts are never sponsored. See my Media & Disclosure policy for details.

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36 responses

  1. I love your first perfume choice, the Hermes, and I am intrigued by your second. I lived in New Orleans for several years and loved your story about it. The music there (and the food) is incredible! I’m really enjoying reading everyone’s blog posts for the O Tannenbaum project :)

    • Thank you Julie! The Hermes is one it took me a while to warm up to but that I do now really like. Bal d’Afrique is probably more “me” though, as it’s a bit more introspective. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  2. Your short stories work splendidly with the perfumes you chose, Natalie. And you make Bal d’Afrique sound amazing … cedar, amber, florals, steamed milk, nutmeg, and maybe a cordial? OMG, that sounds good!

  3. What a beautiful post, Natalie- I love your two pieces of writing- I hope you do more of these..
    I have always wanted to visit New orleans and hope to next year, maybe not during Mardi Gras though..

  4. I love these, Natalie. Paired with the perfumes, and also on their own. I am particularly infatuated with that silent and elegant cipher, Mrs. Park– the image of her pale skin like a lit lantern in the dusk, so beautiful. Thank you for these!

  5. I love these stories! They are so intimate in tone, almost like secrets.
    You need to find a perfume that goes with part 2 of your Positano story. I want to know what happens next.

    I’m with Suzanne – you do make Bal d’Afrique sound amazing- this coming from someone who usually runs at the mention of milk in perfume.

    • Thank you so, so much! I am so grateful for the positive comments on the stories, which I poured my heart into. Bal d’Afrique is underrated, I think. But then I feel that way about several Byredo perfumes.

  6. Excellent post, I enjoyed reading your stories very much!
    This project has brought out amazing things in our little community of wonderful people.
    I am going to hunt for my sample of Bal d’Afrique the second I stop typing…

    • Thank you so much! I agree, this was a wonderful project for this time of year. It reminds me how much I enjoy our community and how grateful I am to be a part of it. Enjoy the Bal d’Afrique!

  7. Pingback: «О, Ёлочка!» – O Tannenbaum! « Undina's Looking Glass

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  9. Oh my goodness Natalie, I’m blown away by your writing! So intriguing. How much is fact? How much is fiction? Either way you certainly left me wanting to know what happened nect. Each one captured a sense of place and a certain set of emotions so well. You must, MUST keep writing like this, N. You obviously have a great talent. Never mind the perfume! :)

  10. Love you, Natalie! (are you an E.A.Poe contemporary pupil or what…???!!!!)
    You perfume blogger people are so skilled!

    ooooh how I lovelovelove Positano and Praiano and Ravello and the whole ‘f….’ amalfitan coast…… It Has Been The Most Fabulous Road Trip I Ever did in my life…

    Bal d’Afrique was my very first approaches to Byredo, and left me in a perfect mood equilibrium.
    It’s FULL of Grace: sooo nice, delightful, perfectly tempered, subtle and unobtrusive, softly floral, softly sweet, softly woody and softly musky. It has it all just in perfect dosis with absolutely no stridences, I think it’s a total Like/or/Love … There’s no escape.

    • Thank you so, so much! You are too kind.

      I love the way you describe BdA. It’s so true that one of the things about it is how it blends so many elements without any of them becoming strident or making jagged edges. Great observation!

  11. It was lovely to read your impressions of Bal d’Afrique in particular, because it is indeed such an elusive scent, and one I forget to wear, but have a goodly decant of thanks to Ines. Bal d’Afrique brought us into contact a couple of years ago on the swapping scene, and I recall Ines taking it with her on a skiing trip if my memory serves me, so a great winter pick on your part!

    I don’t actually like the JCE scent in question, but have at last got round to reading Le Parfum, in which he talks about the scene in Africa which inspired its creation. So I am interested in it at the moment, even if it is not an Ellena which “speaks to me”.

    • It’s lovely that BdA brought you and Ines together.

      I have not read Le Parfum, but I would be interested in reading that account. I was surprisingly intrigued by the account in ‘The Perfect Scent’ of the inspiration behind Un Jardin sur la Nil. I should add Le Parfum to my reading list.

  12. Natalie, these two stories are just wonderful! To have a perfume reference in the end is a bonus. But stories themselves are interesting and intriguing. If I was given a choice to read book(s) from which these scenes are cited or to try actual perfumes (and I haven’t tried yet BdA), I think I might choose the former.

    I would have thought both stories were autobiographical if it weren’t for my previous experience (Diana has added the short description in the beginning of the story only my comment). So now I always assume I’m reading a talented fiction.

    Thank you for the enjoyment I got from your post!

    • Thank you so much Undina! I’m so flattered that you liked them, as you write so well.

      Luckily for me, the first story is not autobiographical. (If it was, my life would be very dysfunctional!) The second one is factual. I should have clarified. :)

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