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
Muse in Wooden Shoes
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.