Devil Sans Disguise

VI The Lovers - The Bohemian Gothic Tarot

-  a review of Histoires de Parfums’ ‘1740 – Marquis de Sade’ 

Since that November night two years ago, when I first conjured up my idiosyncratic Devil and my own Faustian tale, I’ve been haunted by…that scent he emanates. Why I wrote it into the story, I can’t tell you. It just arrived out of the ether unbidden in the very first draft…arrived, and then refused to leave.

Meanwhile, I’ve sniffed many things to see if I could find some close approximation. I’ve read a lot of reviews. I do mean…a lot…of reviews. Along the way, and with certain goosebumps of …intuition?, I came across one in particular that for no reason I could define (other than those goosebumps), made me think that heretical thought:

“What if…this were the one?”

It wasn’t the wildly differing reviews I read, not the obvious associations, not even the list of the notes themselves, nothing except that cold chill of intuitive anticipation…something, something there, something about that genie in that bottle, that idea, that concept…

Along the way from there to here, I huffed and I puffed like a latter-day perfumoholic Goldilocks, always on the hunt for the one that was…just right… 

Some were too elegant, some not quite refined enough. One came very close, but that was a scent for one very particular occasion in my story…my protagonist’s first fatal forty hours with the Devil at the Chelsea Hotel, but what happened later?

What would the Devil wear when he appears in a Copenhagen café on a sunny spring afternoon, what has that whiff of damn-the-consequences, that erotic taint of danger and taste of subversion that makes my protagonist think:

“I don’t care. I don’t care. Now. Yes. Please.

These not a few scents later, the writer who cooked that hare-brained idea up knows, knows it in her bones, and it is – much like her Devil – not at all what she expected.

Understand, this perfume is a leitmotif throughout the storyline, and I had not planned for it. In that way only a perfume can be, it was something sinful, something sexy, something dangerous, something skewed masculine, something with a tinge of leather and a twinge of rock’n’roll and the fevered heat of 4/4 and an underlying howl of testosterone. Sacred and profane, sin and damnation, want and need, scorching heat and blinding light.

That was my idea of the Devil’s scent, and all this time, it was hiding in plain sight. Yet, I knew it was out there, knew it would find me…and one day, it did.

Meanwhile, a friend and fellow blogger of mine is jumping up and down with ill-concealed glee, a friend who knows the entire tale of my protagonist and her Devil, she knew even before the author, she knew…

It is, ladies and gentlemen, Histoires de Parfums ‘1740 – Marquis de Sade’.

Yes, Dee, you can laugh in 3…2…1…

I sometimes refer to fragrant epiphanies as ‘having a cow’. Sometimes, I’ve had an entire herd of mild-mannered bovines.

‘1740’ is not a herd of bovines. This is an entire cattle ranch of stampeding Hereford across the Argentine pampas, hell…it’s all of Argentina and every cow in Australia, too!

M. Ghislain, you have some explaining to do. How did you know? 

Readers, just indulge me for a moment and pack away any associations with that notorious Marquis. I’ll be getting back to him. Forget whatever you might have heard about ‘1740’, forget it all.

Come with me to a Copenhagen café on a bright spring afternoon. Cue that sunshine burst of bergamot…oh, hello! How nice to see you here…whereupon the poor woman is hit with that note that always unglues her whenever she encounters it. It’s given as ‘davana sensualis’, which is a fancy way of saying ‘artemisia pallens’, the sacred herb of Shiva.

Surprise! So the hapless Shakti in my story is swiped sideways in all ways… and next she knows, she is swept off her feet by a hint of black, leathery patchouli, cardamom and coriander, faintly repulsive, animus and animal, yet so fascinating, so swoonable and almost overpowering, she is helpless to resist.

Surely, you expected no less of the Devil’s scent?

My Devil is no ordinary Devil, is not, in fact, particularly evil. Evil, as he says in the prologue, is a construct humans have invented to justify their actions. But he is a bit dark gray in places, places the protagonist wants to know, and darker still in other places where his temper lurks to startle her – that breathless lash of birch and leather, that shock of labdanum and in some secret place only he and she will know, that sweet and haunting, elemi trace of vanilla and immortelle, where he breathes into her ear one midnight hour when they are all the world they need to know…

No one knows but you.

‘1740’ is that tale in a bottle, that love letter in the story, that mutual heat and divine madness.

And all this time – two years by now as I wrestle with revisions – I thought it was a perfume or a soul only my imagination could be twisted enough to conjure.

I have one fervent prayer. Bastet, Goddess of perfume, please ensure that I never, ever encounter this on my Devil’s chosen disguise, or else I shall redefine the ‘perdu’ in ‘pain perdu’. I can’t be held accountable for the consequences if I do.

Maybe you might have an idea that ‘1740’ is simply a very unusual masculine, named for one notorious 18th-century iconoclast and byword for Dearly Dedicated Pervert. It is – a very unusual perfume, and I dare say, if as a woman you have the attitude for Piguet’s ‘Bandit’, you can certainly get away with this.

I prefer not to ponder too long on whatever perfumes the Marquis might have worn. However, in common with my creation, my Devil, they both share a common thread. No matter what you might associate with the Marquis or his writings, if they have one common theme, it would be a declared war on hypocrisy and dogma, a right to assert one’s philosophy and all consequences be damned.

As he writes himself in “Philosophy in the Bedroom”:

It is only by sacrificing everything to the senses’ pleasure that this individual, who never asked to be cast into this Universe of woe, who goes under the name of man, may be able to sow a smattering of roses atop the thorny path of life.

My Devil would agree. And then, he would disappear, off for his next assignation with that poor, doomed protagonist, whose nose could never resist such temptation..or such a Devil as her own… and mine.

And Dee, devious minx that you are, you have some explaining to do…As does M. Ghislain…;-)

I truly love my fragrant friend and facilitator, Lucy, who made this possible. I am more grateful than she knows…

Notes for ‘1740 – Marquis de Sade’:

Top: Bergamot, Davana Sensualis

Heart: Patchouli, Coriander, Cardamom

Base: Cedar, Birch, Labdanum, Leather, Vanilla, Elemi, Immortelle

The entire ‘Histoires de Parfums line is available in many locations, including The Perfume Shoppe and First in Fragrance, as well as directly from the Histoires de Parfums website.

For other reviews of ’1740′, may I recommend Suzanne’s, Lucy’s, Dee’s, and Olfactoria’s.

Image: “VI The Lovers” from The Bohemian Gothic Tarot

One Smooth Devil

-  a review of Damien Bàsh ‘Lucifer no. 3’

Once upon a time, I was too poor to buy perfume. I knew nothing of samples, decants or Fabulous Fragrant Facilitators, and although I did know a bit about perfume, I didn’t know enough not to commit one Cardinal Sin – otherwise known as The Ultimate Exercise in Perfumista Masochism.

To my everlasting damnation, what I did own was a catalog from the renowned Manhattan niche perfume boutique called Aedes de Venustas. This particular fragrant-by-proxy perfume porn fuelled my fantasy life for years. I dreamed of those opulent images, imagined in my head as grandiosely as any Jean Baptiste Grenouille the fleeting treasures in those beautifully photographed bottles with their purple-prose descriptions.

If temptation lurked anywhere, it would have been within the pages of that catalog. Somehow, it seemed to fit that I encountered the name of a line of perfumes that stopped me cold in my superheated fragrant phantasmagorias…

Damien Bàsh Lucifer, numbers 1 to 4.

Not even my polymorphously perverse imagination could have cooked that one up! This Hammer fan girl was floored…floored that these things happen only in real life and floored such evocatively named perfumes existed.

Damien Bàsh is a photographer and artist so hyper-refrigerated cool, I had never heard of him. But just as with the other contents of that catalog, all I could do was dream of the day I’d waft something diabolically fahbulous, dahling, and when asked, I could look up my short and snooty nose and say in my best Dietrich alto voice… “Lucifer…number three.”

There is an abiding admonition in metaphysics.

“Be careful what you wish for. You will get it!

These not so many years later, and my, have I evolved! Thanks to my perilous prose, I now have acute indecision every morning over What To Wear Today. I can even say with utter conviction and a bad Dietrich imitation, that I am wearing…Lucifer no. 3.

A name like that carries certain associations. Since those days of the dog-eared Aedes catalog, I even managed to cook up my own version of that fabled and much-maligned creature…

The Devil. Lucifer, the Bringer of Light, the Adversary, the Questioner…although I doubt he would be someone John Milton would recognize. My hapless protagonist of my 21st-century Faustian tale, Quantum Demonology, is undone by not a few things that fateful night she makes her deal with the Devil, but more than anything else, it is his scent that unglues her.

I can close my eyes right now and evoke that perfume, almost breathe it in as I type…and it is not, I’m happy to say, Damien Bàsh’s ‘Lucifer no 3’, since if it were, I could never wear it. For one, it would be hard to think one coherent thought, never mind write them it down.

What ‘Lucifer no. 3’ does have in common with that fictional ideal is incense. And is there any better time of year for one of my all-time favorite perfume notes than November, that month of deepening dark and the cold stone and steel breath of winter down my spine?

It kicks off green and bright, bergamot and orange and that pine-lemon kick of elemi bouncing in on a moonbeam, but right behind it are intimations of darker, deeper things, shadowy whispers woven into that bright green opening light that breathe a calming, centering puff of myrrh and frankincense, sandalwood and labdanum, with fir resin accentuating and continuing the woody-lemon green elemi. As it evolves throughout its lifespan of about five fleeting hours, it becomes a seamless, smoldering mélange of myrrh, sandalwood and glorious frankincense, but not, I think, just any frankincense.

The scent of frankincense can vary wildly according to variety and location. The same species of Boswellia in separate locales can produce completely different facets of frankincense. Somali frankincense smells nothing at all like the (justly!) famous Hojari frankincense of Oman, and again, nowhere similar to Indian frankincense, which is earthier and spicier.

I can’t say for certain what variety was used for Lucifer no. 3, but take it from me…it’s very, very good. It shares certain characteristics with the three samples of Omani frankincense I have in my Devilscent kit and with the drop dead devastating incense used by Amouage, so I’m going to guess it’s Omani.

This Devil is a very smooth, suave, classy Devil. He doesn’t shout his presence, doesn’t bother with any obvious associations of evil or even gender. This wears equally well on both men and women, and equally appealing. The sandalwood is silky smooth, the labdanum with its goatish touch is just that – a touch. And meanwhile, the myrrh and frankincense dance such a beguiling, subtle dance on my skin, and perhaps that’s the biggest surprise of all – this is an understated perfume, which does not make it forgettable.

It shares something of the same elegance as another favorite incense of mine, Andy Tauer’s ‘Incense Extrème’, but isn’t quite so austere or bitter.

This is a Devil I love to wear. I came to find out that it hasn’t received much love in the blogosphere or even many reviews, possibly for being guilty by association – c’mon…Lucifer! – and then not delivering that hoped for Ultimate Bottled Malevolence. (I think Etat Libre bashed him to it!)

But the Devil has been infinitely maligned as the perpetual human scapegoat, the Fall Guy for all our human failings, and if ‘Lucifer no 3’ is an olfactory interpretation of that archetype, then maybe there’s much more to the Devil than most of us think – if we think of him at all!

My own conjuration stalks my dreams and my notebooks and even several hundred pages of my prose. I can imagine he would have good things to say about ‘Lucifer no. 3’, but only if I wore it. It is, after all, one helluva perfume!

As for what he wears…you’ll just have to guess a little longer!

Notes for Damien Bàsh ‘Lucifer no. 3’: Orange, bergamot, elemi, frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood, labdanum, fir resin.

According to Damien Bàsh’s own notes from his website, ‘Lucifer no. 3’ is an all-natural perfume. It is becoming increasingly hard to find, but Sündhaft in Munich carries the entire line.

For a review of ‘Lucifer no. 3’ you can’t afford to miss, I refer you to the glorious Vanessa of Bonkers About Perfume, who was also diabolical enough to send some perfumed perdition to me…

Image: The Devil, by Niki de Saint Phalle, from the Tarot Garden in Garavicchio, Italy.

Orange Bomb!

- a review of Tauer Perfumes‘Orange Star’

Associations can be a dangerous thing. When I close my eyes, touch my nose and think of the word ‘orange’, very definite memories come to mind.

I grew up in Southern Florida, and at that time, you would be hard-pressed to find a backyard anywhere that didn’t contain at least one orange tree. These oranges did not look like the oranges we’re accustomed to buying every winter. They were more green than orange, with definite orange blotches, and even now, I can close my eyes and conjure up their taste of tart, sweet sunshine, or the smell of the blooming tree in all its white-green-gold bridal glory…heady, indolic, with a zesty hint of the wonders to come lurking in the blossoms.

I can remember another memory…a roadside stand somewhere on the road to Delphi in Greece on a blustery January day and a farmer selling bags of gargantuan, softball-sized oranges that glowed like jewels far down that road, oranges flavored with all the heat and toil of that blazing Mediterranean sun.

I think ‘orange’, and I automatically think ‘happy’ and I think ‘joy’. Both of these words and any of their synonyms all add up to…

I’m the world’s biggest sucker for…orange. Orange zest, orange blossom, neroli, petitgrain…whatever way it’s used – and indeed, orange on one incarnation or another is one of the most ubiquitous notes in perfume – will find me day-dreaming at the thought of inhaling happiness in a single sniff. I own not a few…a bell jar of Serge Lutens’ ‘Fleurs d’Oranger’, Bertrand Duchaufour’s ‘Orange Blossom’ for Penhaligon’s, Atelier Cologne’s Grand Neroli and Orange Sanguissime, Dior’s ‘Escale à Portofino’, the delicious orange accords of Aftelier’s ‘Candide’, ‘Tango’, ‘Oud Luban’, Doc Elly and her interpretation of the orange cattleya orchid…

Yes, I love, love, love orange! Now, if someone would ever dare to make a smoky, sultry orange-themed chypre…

Therefore, I was an accident waiting to happen when Andy Tauer launched ‘Orange Star’ in 2010. The idea of Andy+orange was enough to make me swoon with anticipation in front of my laptop as I read one glowing review after another. Somehow, a few drops managed to find their way to me, and it was…love. That tiny sample vial was gone in nothing flat. When I finally remembered to review it, I had nothing left.

This was no way to do an orange – or indeed Andy Tauer – the justice they both deserve. Recently, a decant found its way to my mailbox, and I was one happy blogger as I tore open that envelope and sprayed.

And hated it! Soap! LOTS…of super-luxe, beautiful, glorious…soap!

On the wall in front of me, I saw a neon sign blinking two very depressing messages.

“Philistine!” said one in Da-Glo orange neon. “And you dare to call yourself a perfumista!” said the other in equally pulsing Las Vegas orange.

Oh, the shame of it! My perfumista street cred would never, ever live this down! 

But before I could pack up all my samples, bottles and decants and send them off to more sophisticated, appreciative, far less Philistine homes and noses, I took a deep, deep breath. I know enough by now to know that first impressions can be misleading. I packed it away for a few days. It could have been the day, my mood, or my hormones playing tricks on my perceptions.

Over the next few weeks, I straightened my spine, re-schooled my nose, steeled my resolve and tried again. At some point, this orange finally dropped.

 ‘Orange Star’ is…there is no other way to put it – an orange pulse bomb. Take that as literally as you please.

Because this is every aspect of orange, every quintessence of Citrus Sinensis you could possible think of. A stop-motion orange movie played backwards in slow motion.

It’s biting into an exploding sensory orange bomb as you would bite into an apple, the bittersweet perfume of the rind, and the wet, sweet glories of the flesh as the juice runs down your chin. You are engulfed in some alternate universe of orange, mandarin and Clementine that fills your senses as far as you are able to perceive, and best of all, this marvelous stage lasts for quite some time, far longer than most other orange-centered perfumes I can name. Those thirty-second summer colognes with their thirty-second moments of glory turn green with envy.

The fun is nowhere over yet. A good long while later, as you revel in your own wafts of orange magnificence, this perfume begins to bloom, first softly and imperceptibly, like a far-off, ghostly memory of orange blossom, and then, those blooms open wider and wider, and you lie in sated bliss beneath the canopy of an orange grove in full bloom, swooning in that heady, sensual scent. The sun is shining, the birds are singing in the flawless blue above, and orange blossoms rain their delectable nectar down upon you as you inhale deep with every breath, joined by that earthy, bittersweet dark green of petitgrain and heated earth – this must be the lemongrass listed in those notes – and if optimism has one perfume note, this would be it. I don’t know how anyone could be blue as they breathe in that scent. All I know is I can’t. Blues? What blues? Happiness…is orange, and as any visual artist knows, the complementary color to blue is…orange!

Hours and hours later, you are still there in that mythical orchard, still with the ghost of juice running down your chin, still breathing in those staggering, beautiful blooms, still so happy it’s a wonder you can stand. Only now, ambery, incense hints creep in through the shadows deepening in the sunset of this perfect day, a suggestion of smoke, of sultry, sexy patchouli, a feather-light touch of vanilla glowing on your skin, glowing in the corners of that perma-smile on your face.

I’ve never known a perfume like ‘Orange Star’, never met an orange like this one, and I’ve never encountered an evolution like it. Forget everything you know about top, heart, and base notes…this one swirls and dances and bounces for hours, one constantly evolving, burnished surprise. When I inhale and think my happy thought of ‘amber-patchouli-and-is that tonka bean?’, it winks its zesty, saucy wink, and when I think ‘zest’, a puff of orange blossom takes my breath away. Like not a few Tauers I’ve encountered, this has the half-life of some radioactive isotopes. Not for the commitment-phobic, it will last, and last, and last, and l-a-s-t.

Not everyone will love this, and I can see why – there is a definite scaffolding of the famous ‘Tauerade’, which works for some people and not for others, so I can only state what I always say…try before you buy!

Back in my day, I planted Andy Tauer in my Perfume Pantheon for the genius that is ‘Incense Extrème’. Thanks to ‘Orange Star’, he’s still there, just glued a little tighter to that pedestal…I blanche to contemplate his many other creations…

If you have ever loved an orange, you should try it. Give it time, give it more than one chance, give yourself a chance to get to know it.

Let ‘Orange Star’ explode upon your skin, and blow those winter blahs to smithereens!

Because happiness…is an orange bomb!

Notes:

Top: Mandarin, Clementine

Heart: Lemongrass, orange flower

Base: Ambergris, tonka bean, vanilla

Incense isn’t listed, but I swear it’s there…

‘Orange Star is available from Luckyscent, First in Fragrance and directly from the Tauer Perfumes website. Samples are also for sale at all those locations.

Benjamin-Constant-L'Imperatrice_Theodora_au_Colisée

Sailing Through Byzantium

-  a tale of the Empress Theodora  – and a review of Aroma M’s Geisha Amber Rouge

Today is the day the world shall truly be mine. Today is the day I shall be crowned Empress, today is the day I never thought would happen, the day everyone but Justinian so fervently prayed would never arrive.

Today, the world shall be ours.

I can hear them outside these doors in the Palace, see it in the eyes of my slaves and waiting-women as I’ve seen it on the faces of my detractors…Euphemia, most vehement of them all, not more than an ambitious temple priestess in her day, opposed our liaison, opposed our marriage with all the weight of law behind her, and all to no avail. Procopius, that sniveling little chronicler with his ink-stained hands and his all-seeing, snake-like eyes, lurking in the shadows behind his patron Belisarius’ broad and faithful back. Euphemia is gone, Justin is dead, and Justinian and I remain behind, today to be crowned and rule this world of Rome and of Byzantium.

Today, that world is ours.

I have come so far since I danced with my sisters as a child for the Blues at the Hippodrome, come farther still since the geese ate their supper on my naked form, come farther and climbed higher than even I could guess the day I decided to abandon my old trade and my old ways, and one day came to entertain one well-dressed stranger with my stories as I spun my wool and linen in the sun.

Now, that world awaits me on the other side of two bronze doors, this moment countless courtiers cool their heels in the corridor. At the cathedral, the Archbishop’s acolytes are preparing the oils to anoint us, the resins for the censers, the rose petals for the roaring crowds. On my bed lies the gold-embroidered silk brocade robe, the thousands of pearls to adorn my neck beside it, and just as surely as any beast of burden is yoked to a plow, this jewel-studded collar will yoke me for my lifespan to this all-devouring many-headed monster of multitudes known as …Byzantium.

Let them wait a little longer as I linger with my old familiar self some precious moments more, as I bid my last farewell to Theodora, child mascot of the Blues, Theodora, toast of the Hippodrome in my diaphanous robes, Theodora, celebrated Constantinople courtesan…Theodora, common whore.

“Kyria…” a slave dressed in the livery of the Imperial Court calls me to attention with a small box in her hands, an ornate gilt wooden box, perfectly fit for an Empress of Byzantium. “This has arrived from Just…” She corrects herself, blushing a pretty shade of pink as she recalls, “The Augustus, for you. It has been proved safe…”

Yet another peril it will not do to forget, to trust no one, to try nothing new until all danger is disproven.

Inside the box, wrapped in precious silk, I find another priceless treasure, a small glowing vial of carved amber that sparkles all the fiery gold of sun through my window, and in the vial, a perfume oil, a perfume such as the old Theodora would never own or even know, so costly is this vial, so rare this blend of essences.

Let them wait. The Empress shall arrive soon enough. But this woman needs a few precious moments more to breathe in this fragrant glimpse of her new and august self.

I inhale my husband’s gift, a perfume for this day of all the days of a life I never could have hoped or dreamed before that day he came to me. No flowers for this all-too mortal rose, no lilies for this lady, but only all the spice and fire, heat and blood that he and I would know alone, have known in this very room.

Captured in its amber cage are all the spices of faraway Cathay and fabled India and likely places farther still, spices that saw all the wonders of that long and storied road that ends here this day at this center of the only world I shall ever know. Yet spice alone is only half the song it sings and less than half the road this perfume travels in my mind as I breathe deeper. Heat, yes, the blaze of a Syrian sun riding the endless blue above, the cool and sacred secrets of the balsams of Tyre are woven into the vial, the darker, deeper mysteries of myrrh and frankincense pulsing their heathen heartbeat prayers beneath, prayers so primeval no God will acknowledge them and no mortal can ignore them.

This perfume is me in sum and total, all my questions answered and all my hopes fulfilled and all my deepest dreams come true. I shall be proclaimed Empress today, I shall be anointed, I shall co-rule this world, and yet…

He knows me well, my Emperor, knows that even this day, the woman underneath the silks and brocade, buried in her pearls and gold must be appeased if the Empress is to rule, and so he gave me this…and captured all my secret selves and that one heated secret we share in a carved and costly amber vial.

I shall wear this perfumed secret beneath my robes of gold, my jeweled yoke, my ropes of pearls. I shal wear this costly blend, this my secret self, this fragrant song on my skin as I pass through the bronze doors and into my new self and on through all my life ahead.

I shall wear this as I sail through Byzantium on this day of days, as proud as any ship that salutes from the Bosporus, I shall wear this…sailing through Byzantium, this day the world shall become mine.

Aroma M Geisha Amber Rouge is available in a roll-on perfume oil from the Aroma M website.

Painting: Benjamin Jean Joseph Constant, ‘L’Imperatrice Theodora au Colisée’

A Philter Perilous

THE CLARIMONDE PROJECT

- a tale and a review of Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl’s ‘Immortal Mine’, inspired by ‘La Morte Amoureuse’ by Théophile Gautier

Such sadness in our village when Curé Romuald passed away and finally found his peace with God. You must understand how important he was, this gentle man, who seemed to live all his life under some impenetrable, black pall of melancholy and we never knew its cause, can perhaps even say, now that he is gone, that we knew him not at all.

So many of us had never known another curé, never known of a time when he had not somehow been present to comfort our ill, to ease our poor, to speed the dying onward to their heavenly reward, there to name a new soul into his flock, or to bless the union of some of us, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer.

I had myself been one of them, welcomed into his congregation as a babe, recited my dutiful Hail Marys at First Communion, been blessed by those heartrending eyes the day I wed my Pierre, only to bury him with our infant son a mere year later on a desolate winter day of wind and snow.

That day, I stood by the newly dug graves of both my loves, and I wept my bitter tears of loss, and that day, Curé Romuald offered me a purpose and a reason to drag my unwilling soul through the sorry remainder of my life, rather than hurl myself, my hate and my fury at God for my loss onto Pierre’s simple pinewood coffin and never rise again. It was not to be, said Curé Romuald, for God has his reasons we mortals could never know, and there he was without a housekeeper, and I without a home, a husband, a babe in my arms.

It came to pass that I, the widow Séverine, came to the presbytery and never truly left it since.

In all our years together, Curé tended his parish and his duties as our shepherd, and in all our years, he took very great pains to ensure all propriety was observed. He taught me my letters and to read in Latin as well, and when I had become certain enough of my new skill, I would often read to him from those few books he collected, stories from the greater world outside our village or fantastical tales of angels and demons, epics of lost empires, mellifluous poems that flowed like rivers of words, singing their songs of good and of evil.

I remained in this humble presbytery these ten years on, ten years of tending a man so utterly unassuming, so modest, he gave his small stipend to his parishioners rather than use it for himself. I cooked his meals, I darned his vestments as well as his socks, and on those long winter nights that stretched before us as endless as eternity itself, I would read to him those tales, those stories, and all the while, I never knew, never knew…

The Abbé would surely make some small provision for his belongings, so it came to pass that I sorted through his trunk of clothes, the black wool serge worn to a shiny finish, the countless darns of his shirts beginning to fray with age and use and laundering. I set them aside for the rag merchant, unless the Abbé wanted them returned, but surely, they were far too worn for that?

Strange, one of his coats was rather heavier than it should be, and as I unfolded it, I discovered a large box, made of some foreign, fragrant wood and exquisitely carved in a phantasmagorical, vine-like pattern on all sides, a pattern that seemed to play tricks on my eyes as I looked, one moment losing that flowery, fluid vine, and the next, there it would be, nearly vibrant and alive on that strange box, with neither lock nor key to open it.

Ten years of thorough house cleaning and tidying and laundering had made me believe he had no secrets for his housekeeper, yet this box I had never seen before. I pulled at the lid and it came off with a long-forgotten sigh and a whiff of perfumed wood.

Nestled inside was a length of dark red velvet, so sumptuous, so outrageously opulent in these poor surroundings, so rich, it glowed in the afternoon sun through the window like the ruby-tinted pelt of some otherworldly animal. I ran my fingers over it and they tingled with a newborn pleasure as I did. The velvet, too, seemed almost to breathe beneath my fingers, and nearly powerless to stop myself, I pushed the velvet aside and saw what it concealed, what secrets the box had kept all these many years.

A sheaf of papers written in the Curé’s hand, but with an intensity to the blackness of the lines and the haste with which his pen had formed the letters on the page I had never seen before.

If I could yet say I would come to regret that moment in time when my life changed so utterly and forever, there might yet be some redemption for my soul, but I had buried it with my husband and my son. I did what any woman would do. I sat down on that narrow bed, and I read the story on those fevered pages.

All these years, the Curé and I had shared this roof, and I had never guessed at the length and the breadth and the scope of the passion and the torment contained within those words. Yet they explained so much of his unrelenting melancholy state, his utter desolation at losing God and gaining a knowledge he had been better off without, a knowledge of pleasures and palaces, a knowledge of a woman – or a beloved monstrosity named Clarimonde.

Underneath them a flash of gold sparkled, a locket that contained a painted portrait of a woman, an eerie, strange beauty with hair much the same shade as my own, and below, a philter of clear glass, sealed with a blood red wax seal that dripped down its sides, stamped with a ‘C’. It was an oil of some kind, some sacred relic for a rite I could not imagine, a shade of dark amber no less magnificent than the velvet that concealed it.  I opened it.

It was a perfume. I had no knowledge of such grand and costly things, owned none of my own apart from the Marseilles soap I used in the household over the Curé’s insistence that lye soap cost rather less. Yet I inhaled it, then with a compulsion I could neither comprehend nor articulate I applied a precious drop to my skin, and as it warmed to my skin and I breathed, I felt my heart and soul expand and my blood roil dizzying in my veins, I felt my heart beat in my chest as I had not these ten years past, I felt as I could imagine my poor Curé at the day of his ordination as he gazed upon Clarimonde, when all he knew and thought burned to cinders before his eyes, when all his old self fell away.

All my old life of these ten years past was torched in a moment in a roaring conflagration by this perfume that bloomed upon my skin. Was this her perfume, or was this her captured soul that once had lived and beat and flamed undying for my Curé in his youth?

In this philter made of glass were all the secrets of all women throughout time, women who loved and lived and laughed, women who dared dangerous, sinful, decadent things. The glories of the entire world were captured in its amber depths, orange blossom and jasmine in foreign garb, spices that sang their many different songs of a burning Oriental heat, herbs that now would grow fragrant forever more, precious, dark woods from mythical trees thought only to exist in fairy tales, a dragon’s kiss and a unicorn’s heart and all of it entire, all of it the sum of a desire which could scorch to ash in an instant.

This perfume exhaled that danger, that ruby-hued desire and its epic depth and everlasting dark, it whispered its secrets on my skin even as my old self, my half-dead self and all my half-lived life went up in flames. I rocked half-moaning on the Curé’s bed as I learned all I never knew in a single breath, as I knew what I would now be compelled to do, as I breathed in that long-lost soul of that unknown face in the locket.

This little philter in my hand and its contents on my skin could compel the world entire to do my bidding, and not one soul would realize the perils of that compulsion, would comprehend this magic to my hand, invisible, yet compelling, tangible yet untouchable, a cousin to the grief I still felt for my poor Curé. This philter contained a magic so perilous yet so masterful only a woman would know to harness its infinite power.

A woman had worn it. Very well, a woman would wear it still. As I carefully closed the philter and wrapped it carefully in the velvet in its costly box with the papers and closed it, I knew what task I had before me.

Clarimonde had died and the Curé had died with her, tormented all his life by what he knew. What I knew was that now, my time of mourning was over, my losses behind me like all my other, careworn life.

I should go to Paris, once the Curé’s affairs were settled, I thought. I thought many things as I went about my tasks in the days that followed, thought of a future I could now believe in thanks to a captured love in a small glass philter.

A man had lost eternity, all for a woman. He was gone, yet I remained, and I would go out into the world, and claim my own eternity back, all thanks to a philter most perilous, and the soul it contained, and sorrow could touch me nevermore.

Notes for ‘Immortal Mine’: Soil from an unmarked grave. One single drop of blood from a slayed Wyvern, the sweet elixor of dying jasmine and fading neroli. Amber found in ancient tombs of civilizations lost. Longing. Essence of smoke from the funeral pyre. A cut of material from Bela Lugosi’s cape, the dust from a bat’s wing. Wood resins gathered from the Forest of the Dead, myrrh scraped from the cliffs of the Dark Realm. Precious ouds unearthed from burning desert sands. Wax dripping from balck, white and pink candles, ashes of a Phoenix, words froma dead poet’s mouth. Rare herbs found in a cathedral’s forgotten garden. Desire.

‘Immortal Mine’ was made exclusively for the Clarimonde Project and is available in two sizes from Indie Scents and also from the House of Cherry Bomb /Aroma M studio in Brooklyn.

Disclosure: Sample was sent to me by Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl for review.

The Perfume Pharmer’s reviews of
Oud Luban
Immortal Mine
Ayala Moriel’s Clarimonde
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Paradise Lost

Jade Dressler

Deana Sidney’s post on Clarimonde, vampire lore and the perils of perfumed port

Scent Hive
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Indieperfumes’ reviews of 
Sangre
Oud Luban
Immortal Mine
Ayala Moriel’s Clarimonde
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Paradise Lost

Beth Gehring’s post for Perfume Smellin’ Things:

The Clarimonde Project

Painting: ‘Portrait of a young woman’ by Henry Fuseli, 1781. Photo: my iPhone.

Reclaiming Eternity


THE CLARIMONDE PROJECT

The Clarimonde Project – Part Five
- the final thoughts of Romuald…

A tale – and a review – of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ ‘Paradise Lost’

I am dying. I know it well. I sense my rasping breath lift itself unwilling from my chest, hear the rattle behind it that foretells the chains they will use to lower my coffin into the earth.

And I see it also in the limpid green eyes of Séverine as she clutches at her handkerchief, her cheeks stained with her tears, who came to me borne on another ocean of sorrows, came to me as one who had lost all hope for herself, and in so doing, came to give me some semblance of hope that my penitence might have meaning, my betrayal a purpose I would some day come to understand, if never to forgive.

She had lost so much so young, is indeed young still, and even now, even after these ten years of the life we shared in this presbytery I could call my Purgatory, she does not know my secret, or the secret of her choosing. Yet I, who once knew so little of humanity and far less of women, know her well enough to say my secret shall be found, if not the secret that concerns her.

For Séverine is as like to my beloved Clarimonde as one drop of water to another, that same summer sunlight captured in her hair, the same melancholy aspect glittering in her eyes in certain moods, the identical vibrant wit in others, the same fairness of form that has haunted so many sinful dreams since the youth I can now only half-recall. So my decision to have her as my housekeeper became yet another penitence for my sin, yet another flail to whip the soul I no longer have any hope of redeeming.

Ah, what does it matter. I am dying, dying as the day itself is dying, the long tendrils of late afternoon light creeping up the walls of my bedchamber like the vines that will soon adorn my grave. Soon, Séverine will rise to fetch the candles and banish the shadows, and I would scold her if I could for her extravagance, but instead, I shall have her stay just a little longer and let that deep twilit blue linger as it can, and when it has faded to the black of night, so shall I leave this mortal coil behind me and pass beyond, to what damnation I cannot guess.

I inhale yet another precious breath and as I do, what miracle is this? What mirage of the dying mind makes me breathe deeper and inhale a perfume? Is this the one glimpse of Heaven I shall be allowed, the one frantic hope of a life all but gone in the twilight hour? In an instant, my heart, so leaden for so very long, lifts up and up and nearly out of a chest that knows only to wheeze its last, and in these blue shadows, I sense more than I see another kind of light, a light never seen by mortal eyes, the very light of Heaven itself, and my heart, my soul, my deepest, darkest sin…I see you, Clarimonde, beckoning to me…

I exist in this borderland of blue, suspended between day and night, between life and death, and you are here, I cannot question the flower-filled air I breathe, I cannot doubt the vision that has appeared before my eyes.
It is you, beloved, you yourself in every fragrant flower wreath that dances in your gleaming golden hair as you move around our chamber, costly, exotic flowers you thought nothing to buy as you desired when you lived, to wear or to clasp between us, you in this heated heart of perfumed candlewax that scented our desires, sweeter far than any joys of spirit I had hitherto ever known, sweet as the heady, opulent air that always pulsed above your skin, another aspect of my Clarimonde to breathe and to savor and to desire as no woman had ever desired, as no woman was ever desired before nor since.

This cannot be, this must be that last temptation of a dying man, this my last and cruelest punishment of the love I betrayed in my torment, but this perfume in my heart, this scent in my dying soul tells me other wise and sings other memories as fevered as my own dying wish…to see you once more, to feel you by me, to breathe you fully in one last, eternal time.

Clarimonde! It is truly you, it is you wrapped in the sable furs of our journey to Venice, it is you whose furs, whose magnificent clothes, whose very skin exhales all the richest, most decadent secrets of the Orient to tempt me away from all I knew and what little I had, before you came to me.

You come to me now, beloved, come cloaked in sables and russet silks and sacred myrrh, and I see you shining brighter than any candle, far more luminous than any earthly light by my bed, and I feel your heat in this hand that holds my own, breathe in your soul with every inhalation of your fragrance, a soul so pure and a scent so sweet not even the Almighty himself would dare deny us.

Séverine cries, Clarimonde, and I can no longer console her, no longer dry the tears that mourn my passing, but it matters not at all, for she will find my secret, this I know, and she will know to use it well and happily and there find another varied aspect of you, and in so doing, you shall find another kind of immortality.

Bend closer, my beloved. Bend to take this my last and dying breath, let me breathe your flowered secrets in again, and let me taste that glistening drop of blood on your lips. Let me remember the Paradise we lost and as I do, let us reclaim Eternity, and let us be forever reunited, forever one in this lingering twilit blue.

________________________________________

Notes for ‘Paradise Lost’:
Top: Wild blue chamomile, immortelle, pressed violets, golden champaca
Heart: Faded flowers, candlewax, Oriental lotus, black orris
Basenotes: Sable fur, fossilized amber, myrrh gum, bloody sweet accord, mitti. (attar of baked earth)

‘Paradise Lost’ will be available in a limited edition of thirteen antique bottles manufactured in 1907, the year of Lafcadio Hearn’s translation of Théophile Gautier’s ‘Clarimonde’.

Images: Bronzino, Lucrezia Ponciatichi, 1540, Uffizi.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ ‘Paradise Lost’ presentation, my iPhone.

Thanks to Lucy of Indieperfumes for giving me the opportunity to participate in The Clarimonde Project.

Don’t miss the other participants in the Clarimonde Project:

The Perfume Pharmer’s reviews of
Oud Luban
Immortal Mine
Ayala Moriel’s Clarimonde
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Paradise Lost

Jade Dressler

Deana Sidney’s post on Clarimonde, vampire lore and the perils of perfumed port

Scent Hive
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Indieperfumes’ reviews of
Sangre
Oud Luban
Immortal Mine
Ayala Moriel’s Clarimonde
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Paradise Lost

Dreaming Venetian

THE CLARIMONDE PROJECT

The Clarimonde Project – Part Four

Ayala Moriel’s Dream Pillow and Perfume ‘Clarimonde’

It was a delirious thought, a delicious idea, an idea none of us could have refused if we had wanted to – one project, one story, five perfumers and six writers, all of them and all of it wrapped up in a city whose very name echoed its own kind of silken promise – Venezia.

Venice, where Romuald had lived out – or dreamed – his decadent self, all those sensual pleasures he had never known until Clarimonde. We were all of us assembled in our rented palazzo in the Cannareggio, there to create another kind of magic and breathe our mutual inspirations into other stories we would tell in essences and absolutes, in words, songs and poetry, in utterly magnificent meals and laughter both sumptuous and intoxicating.

So we gathered, our little coven of eleven women, convinced of all our creative possibilities to come in that heady, happy rush of synergy and estrogen, in that vortex of time and timeless that was…Venice. The colors, the smells of the canals, the lilting Venetian dialect that echoed off the narrow alleyways, the peculiar glint of sunlight on the canal that reflected off the ceiling and would wake us in the morning and evoke that peculiar phrase… ‘fare la vecchia’, to squint against that flash of light like an old woman squints…

But all was not well on the Fondamenta della Misericordia in the Cannareggio…Two ferocious guard dogs – the hounds of Hecate? – guarded us from unwanted visitors, and one morning, we woke to the horror of finding one of them mysteriously dead, apparently eaten by the other, and just as eerily as they came, they vanished.

Still, it was Venice. We were there for a purpose, and so we all set to work in our different ways, gathering inspiration in the company and in our views of Murano in the distance across the lagoon, gathering synergy from each other and our walks and the glories around us at every turn, a fellowship united by one purpose – to create something extraordinary, something never before seen, never before written, sung nor smelled…

Until the token blonde – that would be me – was stalked by an apparition of my own, yet this ghost was no vampire, and I knew him very well. He would always come when I least expected it, always when I happened to be alone, lurking behind a column on the Piazza San Marco, reaching out to grab me from a murky alleyway in the Giudecca, startling me on the darkened stairwell of the palazzo at 2 AM as I went to fetch my notebook and write by the fire, distracting me as he only knew with all he had.

I protested, I tried to pull away… “But I can’t, I shouldn’t, I have to write this down, I promised that I would and that’s why I’m here.”
“Yet you know that isn’t all you want, that is your ambition and those friends are your duty but this is another kind of want…”

Somewhere in that violent conflict of promise and pleasure, somewhere on the shadowy, echoing stairs of a Venetian palazzo on the Fondamenta della Misericordia, I woke up…and was not in Venice, not with the women I had come to know through one haunting story and five haunting perfumes that have echoed through my words and thoughts this month past, but only in my own bed beside a very startled Hairy Krishna. His eyes glinted a disdainful shade of amber reflected in the streetlight outside my window, he twitched the tip of his tail and settled back down deeper in the feathers of my duvet, as if to say: “Silly.”

Such was the content of my first few hours with Ayala Moriel’s dream pillow, created especially for the Clarimonde Project, a beautiful square of hand-sewn raw cream silk adorned with one glittering garnet, sewn while Ayala listened to Joy Chan’s evocative reading of the story. Or, as Ayala tells it:


‘In his efforts to banish impure thought from his sleep, Romuald has sewn simple rough fabric into a little pillow stuffed with soothing, sleep-inducing herbs: valerian, lavender and violet leaves…Alas, when he awoke, the fabric was transformed into silk, and the herbs tinted with an intoxicating Oriental perfume of half-faded roses, saffron and sweet cassie. Clarimonde’s presence has crossed over to his daily life, there was no denying…’

I’ve never slept with a dream pillow before, and once again, I’m presented with perfume in a novel form to experience in a novel way. The dream pillow – about the size of a folded handkerchief – is placed in the pillowcase above the pillow, and as you move and stir in your sleep, its odor is released as the herbs and leaves are warmed by your head. I had my slight hesitations about the valerian – it may indeed promote a restful night, but it also has a unique, unmistakable and not entirely pleasant scent. I had nothing to fear as it happened – only that my cats, attracted by the valerian, both insisted on pillow space as well, which they did. Yet that pillow gave me such dreams…dreams interlaced with the story of Clarimonde, half-awake musings perfumed with the herbs and the evocative perfume that scented them, musings lost to pages in my journal as I fell back asleep and dreamed other, equally haunting stories, ghosts and places.

I wrapped it in tissue paper and put it away last night. Having either the flu or a bad throat cold, a fever and sleeping with a dream pillow turned my dreams into startling Technicolor phantasmagorias bound like a ghostly ribbon with the perfume Ayala also calls ‘Clarimonde’.

Each of the perfumes created for the Clarimonde Project have focused on different moments of the story as they inspired the perfumers and as we writers in our turn were inspired by those perfumes…Monica Miller’s ‘Sangre’, the perfume of an entire love from epiphany to heartbreak, Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl’s totality of desire, ‘Immortal Mine’, Mandy Aftel’s solid of sacred solace ‘Oud Luban’, and now, with Ayala’s ‘Clarimonde’, that moment in her bedchamber when the last rose petal drops in the flickering candlelight as his beloved breathes her last. She is gone, eternity is lost, and only this opulent, even decadent creation to remember her by…the cold, earthy-green wintry breath of violet and ionone (a natural violet isolate), the plush, pulsing, burning heart of saffron and rose and carnation, and the long, lingering drydown of antique patchouli, sandalwood, dragon’s blood and costus, echoing Romuald’s lifelong regret.

As it happened with the other three I’ve reviewed so far, this is something far too precious and magical to be called a mere ‘perfume’. There is a mighty mojo in that pillow, as my dreams could attest, and a magic no less in the perfume that accompanies it. This is yet another captured soul of the story, Clarimonde as she lay dying in her chamber, the violet-tinged chill of the grave, that one trembling rose petal on its calyx, poised to fall with her last earthly heartbeat, and the epitome of all desire with its vibrant, spicy, fiery, floral heart, evoking Gautier’s words:


‘To have Clarimonde was to have twenty mistresses, aye, to possess all women, so mobile, so varied of aspect, so fresh in new charms was she all in herself…’

In its depth and the breathtakingly rich patchouli drydown, held aloft by its piquant, intoxicating pillars of costus and sandalwood and dragon’s blood, like the token drop she takes from Romuald every night, like the pomegranate seed of garnet on the dream pillow – or Persephone’s pomegranate seed in reverse – is all of one hapless priest’s eternal regret, and all that he has lost, and all he yet had in those vertiginous, unforgettable moments he dared to truly live – and dream – Venetian.

Dream Pillow: handsewn raw silk, filled with herbs (Valerian root, violet leaves, roses, lavender buds, orris root, liatrix and patchouli)

‘Clarimonde’ perfume: Antique patchouli, sandalwood, costus, saffron, roses, carnation, violet and ionone (natural isolate), cassie and dragon’s blood.

The other participants in the Clarimonde Project:

The Perfume Pharmer’s reviews of
Oud Luban
Immortal Mine
Ayala Moriel’s Clarimonde
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Paradise Lost

Jade Dressler

Deana Sidney’s post on Clarimonde, vampire lore and the perils of perfumed port

Scent Hive
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Indieperfumes’ reviews of
Sangre
Oud Luban
Immortal Mine
Ayala Moriel’s Clarimonde
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Paradise Lost

Photo of Venetian bedchamber, ca. 1700 : From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Photo of Ayala’s ‘Clarimonde’ presentation: my iPhone.

Disclosure: The sample was sent to me for review as part of my participation in the Clarimonde Project.