An Otherworldly Shortcut

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-  a fragrant Halloween tale inspired by the Clarimonde and Devilscent Projects

If not for the extra bottle of wine he drank at his mother’s birthday party, he would have done the sensible thing like a sensible man and called for a cab to take him home that night.

Yet somewhere between the family reunion with his nieces and nephews to fuss over, the bottles of Barolo throughout dinner, his brothers to argue with over the port with dessert, and his mother’s beaming, happy face across the length of the dining table, it seemed like a good idea.

A simple stroll along a familiar path through the beech woods, a shortcut to his downtown apartment that would get him home in an hour, and a chance to clear the wine and the evening from his head, his mind and the sense that he was the black sheep of the family, somehow he was the one who had failed the clan by not conforming to the prescribed script of adulthood with his esoteric tastes and alternate lifestyle, a lifestyle his more conformist brothers would never understand.

It would be so easy; he had walked it a million times in a million different moods and at all hours of the day and night since childhood. He knew every twist and turn and tree through these woods, knew where it dipped down to the stream and rose again with the steep hills toward downtown. His feet knew to watch where the voles dug their holes and burrows in the path by the shading of the leaves, knew where to turn left towards the dell to avoid the long, steep climb to the outskirts of town.

How hard could it be? An hour’s exercise. A clear head at the end of it and the knowledge that his familial duties were over for another year until the next time, the next birthday, and the next soul-crushing sense of filial failure.

So he laughed and waved away the offers for a drive home that night, and set out along the bridle path behind his childhood home with its ancient half-timbered walls and the welcoming glow of its lighted windows towards the towering beeches that guarded the entrance to the woods.

The air was a little colder than usual this late October night. No moon broke through the clouds this close to a New Moon. The only sounds he heard were his own muffled footsteps on the carpet of beech leaves beneath him and a lone owl hooting on the distance on an errand of its own. He breathed in the earthy mushroom scent of damp, molding leaves and tasted the steely, mineral taste of impending winter behind it, sensed a hint of the fallen apples in his mother’s orchard behind him with their sweet, vinegar tang of decay.

As his eyes grew more used to the dark, he saw too, how a rising silver ribbon of mist swirled and eddied and wove itself around the tree trunks, as if winding an Ariadne thread of its own for him to follow through the woods, so he would not be lost…

The very idea! He had walked in these woods since the age of three. That would be impossible when he knew nearly every tree and log by heart, knew that so long as he stayed on the path, his feet would find their own way home from sheer force of habit.

The damp made him pull up the collar of his jacket and burrow his hands a little deeper in his pockets, although he knew he would soon be warm enough so long as he kept his steady pace.

The beech woods were an eerie place at night. Now the street lights were behind him and he had only his night vision to rely upon, it seemed rustles in the leaves and whispers just behind him hovered just beyond his ability to hear, and surely, his eyes played tricks on his mind in the dark? A fleeting glimpse of a woman materialized out of nowhere, glowing with a light of her own in the shadows, but when he turned to look, no such entity stood by that beech, it was all… a superstitious trick of his mind.

Well, it was Halloween, after all.

This beech wood was his own, he had claimed it since childhood, there was nothing to fear here, no wolves in hiding among beneath the boughs, no wild things to make his blood tremble in his veins.

Just his mind playing tricks.

Further along the path, another spectral, human figure, a figure glowing with that same eerie, translucent light, pointing down the path to where…

Nothing more ominous loomed than yet another beech, wrapped up snug in the thickening mist that emanated from everywhere and nowhere.

Fog. It was fog. A cloud came down to kiss the ground, he recited from an old childhood poem, and kept his steady pace.

The night hush of the forest deepened. He heard himself breathe as he walked, a little heavier now, but the rustles and near inaudible whispers faded to silence, and all was quiet except for his footfalls treading softly upon the damp leaves.

All was quiet, almost too quiet for a forest at night. Until an owl right above his head hooted loudly once, twice, three times, and startled him so badly, he nearly ran off the path.

He shook his head, as if to clear away that unnerving feeling in his bones and the wine from his blood. Nothing caught his attention on this misty path, no ghosts hid to scare him behind the tree trunks.

It was all his own twisted imagination, or else that Barolo, or was it that chocolate-y, supernatural port with his dessert? He walked a little faster.

Another owl just ahead hooted once, twice, three times. And straight ahead on the path in front of him, an elaborate Venetian carnival mask on the ground by a tree winked at him with fiery violet eyes, and a perfume, so out of place in the woods and yet so very wild and untamed, so very much richer and denser than any wet leaves and wintry tang wove its way around the boughs along the path and sent his senses reeling.

Where was he? This was nowhere he knew on this old, familiar path, this was not the way home!

In a clearing in the forest, a bonfire burned brightly through the dark October night, burned the mist to memory on the clearing’s edge, and strangely dressed figures turned away from the flames to study him as he stood stupefied by the sight.

Just beyond the bonfire at the base of an ancient oak sat a figure he thought he knew from somewhere, a man not tall and not young, in clothes so strangely dark only his face and hands showed in the firelight.

“Come closer, young man. I’ve been calling you. It takes a while for you to hear, doesn’t it?”

The small group clustered around him as he stood on the path, as if to push him closer to the man in black. He had no choice but to skirt the roaring bonfire and approach him.

“Who are you?” he finally summoned up the courage to ask.

Above his head, an owl echoed his words, once, twice three times. “Who? Who? Who?”

“Ah.” The man laughed, an easy, relaxed laugh that told of long history and longer secrets. “I have so many names. You may call me Dev. Many people do these days. Many more will know me soon enough.”

“Dev? And what are you doing here?”

“You mean you don’t know?” The man motioned to the group that surrounded them. They began to murmur among themselves, some sibilant whisper he could almost but not quite comprehend. “Very well. I’m what you may call… a muse. Among other things. But tonight is my night off, so to say. This night, the veil wears thin between your world and mine, and you were the one to walk through and into it. This night, I call forth those who were to dance a measure with those who are, so they will not be forgotten, and you will not forget.”

What was it that defined this strange man in black to his mind? Was it that disturbing scent that wove itself around him like a cloak of deeper blackness?

Was it the group that stood with them in the forest clearing? They were dressed as if for a costume ball in eighteenth-century clothes, here a prelate in his long black cassock and his gleaming white collar and his sacred air of sanctity and smoke, there an elegant dandy fiddling with his extravagant Valenciennes lace cuffs and a dreamy, faraway expression in his eyes, a woman who sparkled like rubies and pearls in the firelight in her finery, and half-hidden at the back of the crowd, another woman, tall, luminous and blonde, a woman such as he never even knew existed except in his most secret, fevered dreams…

The man in black clapped his hands and more strangely dressed figures appeared in the clearing, some with the starched collars of the seventeenth century, and others with the crinolines, tournures, topcoats and stovepipe hats of the nineteenth.

A plaintive violin rang out in the night, a tune to break the heart beneath the boughs, when it was joined by another tune, a happier, faster melody that quickened his blood and made him want to move. An unseen hand in the dark passed him a glass filled with what appeared to be ruby port. He drank down its rich, decadent depths without a thought, without a care, and before he was even aware of it, joined in the whirl of the dancers around the fire because he could not resist if he tried.

He wanted to laugh, he wanted to sing, and above all, he wanted to forget any other moment or any other place existed as he danced around the bonfire.

He breathed in, and breathed out, a delirious, dizzy laugh, and next thing he knew, the tall, blonde woman he saw at the edge of the crowd stood beside him, as lustrous and as luminous as the fire itself.

“Dev-“ she turned toward the man in black on his oak trunk throne, “you chose him well. He is as like to my Romuald as one drop of water to another!”

The man in black bowed in acknowledgment, and winked at her.

She laughed, a happy, sensuous laugh, and as he stood beside her and breathed in her dark, delirious, deliciously heady scent, the scent that told his blood of all her many secrets, his heart seemed to fly right out of his chest with joy. He pulled her closer, and as she shifted and sighed and snuggled into his arms, he never noticed the silvery gleam in her eyes, never noticed how she snuggled so close to him, was much too preoccupied to notice a tiny pinprick on his neck. All he knew was the woman in his arms, the firelight and laughter in her eyes and the bonfire in his blood. So he whirled around the fire, so he laughed and drank down that delicious wine, so he pulled this woman who called herself Clarimonde aside and knew of all that made her so, knew indeed nothing at all else but how to drown in the silvery, otherworldly gleam in her eyes…

When he woke, he was leaned up against a tree trunk and it was early morning, the first light of day bouncing off the water of the fiord and glimpsed through the trees. As he stood and shook himself all over to clear the cobwebs, loosen up his stiff, cold muscles and what surely must have been some strange and eerie dream, he never noticed the tiny pinprick as he pulled his scarf higher on his neck and walked along the path towards home.

___________________________________________________

For Lucy.

Please also see Indieperfumes Clarimonde memorial post here. With thanks to the perfumers and fellow writers of the Clarimonde Project.

Clarimonde Revisited

- At the crossroads of narrative, perfume and prose 

One of the greatest joys and highest privileges in my time as a perfume blogger has been the opportunity to participate in what I can only describe as …magic.

Instead of wrestling with concepts and angles, wondering how to write about any given perfume, the concept is already a given. Instead of wrangling ghosts in solitude, I could write away to my heart’s content, happy knowing that other bloggers wrote as I did, that perfumers felt as I do. As we did, as even I did, we each in our own ways created something that became larger, lusher and far more lustrous than any of us or our readers could have anticipated.

This was – and still is – known as The Clarimonde Project, named for the 1836 Théophile Gautier story La Morte Amoureuse, or as it was known when it was translated in 1907, simply – Clarimonde. The haunting, evocative story of the young priest Romuald who was destined for the seminary and had never known any other love than God’s, and how it all fell away in an instant the moment he looked up at his ordination and saw the celebrated courtesan Clarimonde and in an instant, all he knew and loved and believed fell away…or did it? Did he dream of his other, alternate life as Clarimonde’s beloved, or was it only too real and his old life as a priest of God the dream? Was Clarimonde simply a woman of incandescent beauty, or was she as Romuald’s abbot claimed, the vilest form of monster, renounced as vile as the sins Romuald surely  - or maybe – committed with her? Just as Romuald’s fevered prose, the story shapeshifts and changes each time you read it or listen to Joy Chan’s spellbinding reading of the story.

The Clarimonde Project is the brainchild of my dear friend and fellow blogger Lucy of Indieperfumes, and has since grown to involve not just some truly haunting perfumes, but also a Pinterest page and the inspiration for a masquerade ball and a three-day event at MiN New York to start on October 25th. Tickets to the event can be found here.

But it began…with the story, which can be read online here, or enjoyed as an audio file read by Joy Chan at this link, which is highly recommended.

It continued with bespoke perfumes, lipstains, and a dream pillow created by Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer, Mandy Aftel of Aftelier, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Ayala Moriel Sender and the House of Cherry Bomb by Maria McElroy of Aroma M and Alexis Karl by Scents By Alexis.

So it evolved…into some of the best perfume writing to be found anywhere by some of the very best perfume writers in the blogosphere.

For the story of Romuald and Clarimonde – courtesan, woman, Woman or supernatural aberration – grew into other stories and other words, all of them a surrender…to the beauty of Gautier’s story and to the beauty of the perfumes that story inspired.

Of all my many, many words in my two years writing about perfume, I can say for myself that I have never written as I did for Clarimonde before or since. To this day, they all remain my very best perfume writing, just as the privilege to participate in something so special, so haunting and so magical is an honor I will cherish –  always. 

The Clarimonde Project on the Alembicated Genie:

Sangre – perfume and lipstains by Monica Miller: Blood and Kisses

Aftelier PerfumesOud Luban: The Sanctity of Solace

House of Cherry Bomb’s Immortal Mine: A Philter Perilous

Ayala Moriel Sender’s ‘Clarimonde’: Dreaming Venetian

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz‘ ‘Paradise Lost’: Reclaiming Eternity

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

Jade Dressler

Deana Sidney’s (LostPastRemembered) 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 of PerfumeSmellin Things: The Clarimonde Project:

The Clarimonde Project on WordPress

Clarimonde on Pinterest

Image: ‘Barbaric Red’ – via the Clarimonde Pinterest page, pinned from Hoop Skirts & Corsets

Best of the Best 2011 – Perfumes and Perfumers

If anyone had told me what kind of year I would have just three hundred and sixty four days ago, I wouldn’t have believed it. I would have believed it even less if I had known what magic carpet rides I would encounter, what places I would go, or what marvels I would breathe.

This has been an impossible list, impossible because there have just been so many discoveries and so many perfumes, perfumers and fellow bloggers I would have loved to have on my list, but if I wrote about them all – and surely, I’ve tried? – we’d be here until next year.

Instead, I’ve split my best of the best into three – this one, to celebrate the perfumes and perfumers I was introduced to in this momentous year, second, to celebrate my favorite reading material/avoidance actions/friends and facilitators, and third, a tribute to the ones I wore with a passion and loved with a fury. The perfumes I mention in this post have been without exception released this year, which meant omitting others that were released previously, but they’ll receive their own mention in Part Three. It also means that in spite of other important releases issued, I’ve only mentioned those I’ve had the opportunity to try.

Indie Love!

My heart belongs to the indie perfumers of the world. With a few notable exceptions, the idea of handling a perfume bottle that has been touched by the hands that made it, the mind that conceived it, the perfumer who wrote me, wrapped it up and sent it to me, Ms. No One In Particular, makes it that much more…special.

All the indie perfumers who have made it to my Best of list put the ‘mano’ in the Italian phrase ‘fatto à mano’, made by hand, made with love, care and ‘ àl ‘onore della m’arte ’ – “in honor of my art”, an art that mainstream releases all too often ignore in their mercilessly commercialized hunt for the Next Big Thing.

It is a dedication I have rarely found until this past year, a dedication I had all but given up on ever finding again. When you support the indies, you support the artists themselves instead of filling the already overstuffed coffers of Sanofi, Proctor&Gamble, LVMH…

Support your indie perfumers, and you support a commitment to quality and artistic vision that even the Fragrance Foundation itself has now acknowledged with a category all its own. For a reason – the indies are…that good! They do it without much advertising, but only simple editorial write-up (if they’re lucky to get it), reputation/word of mouth and a little help from the blogosphere.

The Perfumers

This was the year I discovered the staggering creativity of American artisanal perfumery. Granted, I had a lot of help to point me in that direction, but geez, Louise…the scope, the breadth, their sheer jawdropping, sleight-of-hand artistry…

Each has their own personal signature, that singular touch and aesthetic vocabulary that makes them instantly recognizable.

This being my own year of Great Epiphanies, I’ve decided that rather than single out one of them, I’ve put them all up on the Number One spot. Ladies – you have all won my heart and undying loyalty to my dying day, and I can’t ever imagine a perfumed life without any of you!

Mandy Aftel, Aftelier Perfumes

The early morning I found an email from Mandy Aftel in my inbox redefined that lovely Yiddish word…’plotz’. Yes, I did. I had read reviews, I had perused her website, I had some intimations of what to expect…so I thought. Nothing could have prepared me for the olfactory shock treatment my Jacobsens’s organ had in store. Mandy’s perfumes redefine sensual shock treatment. Mandy had an amazingly creative year – with Haute Claire in her collaboration with Liz Zorn, with Oud Luban for the Clarimonde Project, and with Secret Garden, her tribute to the classic florals of yore in collaboration with Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. Heaven help me, I love them all. Mandy herself has been a constant encouragement and inspiration for me this past year, and for that, I love her, too!

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Parfums de Beaux Arts

Where does Dawn Spencer Hurwitz quit? I mean…where does she quit? First, she blew my mind with Vert pour Madame, a throwback to my most favorite ever perfume family, the green floral chypre, and next, she created the Cities of Splendor collection in a unique collaboration with the Denver Art Museum, and then…she gave us Pandora, her staggering ode to Mousse de Saxe, and to top it off, she also gave us Paradise Lost for the Clarimonde Project. Not one I couldn’t love, not one I couldn’t rhapsodize about until the cows came home, not one misstep. Dawn’s perfumes will surely be the death of my borrowed credit card. Or me, whichever comes first.

Maria McElroy, Aroma M

Maria is someone who somehow manages to bridge the gap between the time-honored art of Japanese perfumery and thoroughly modern Western scented sensibilities. Her Geisha perfume line of eaux de parfums and perfume oils is incredibly diverse and heart-rendingly beautiful, and therapeutical, too! She outdid even herself when she gave us Geisha Amber Rouge, a thick, heady, all-out outrageously opulent take on her famous Geisha Rouge (another favorite of mine), but she also created Immortal Mine for the Clarimonde Project with Alexis Karl, with whom she makes Cherry Bomb Killer Perfumes. Maria has become very dear to me and she is as lovely in person as her breathtaking perfumes.

Kedra Hart, Opus Oils

I have reasons to suspect that Kedra Hart conjures up an imp for every perfume she makes, because in every Opus Oil perfume I’ve ever tried, it sneaks out and makes me write things or imagine things I never dreamed I could. Mischief and mayhem, time travel and Tiger, and I never know where I’ll end up, but it will certainly… be so much fun, I have to do it again. And again. Kedra, too has had a banner year…with her soliflore collection of good-time gals Les Bohemes, with her Wild Child that won the Patchouli Summer of Love award (and put the POW! in patchouli), with Starfucker for her house model, Tiger the Tempter, and with her latest amazing creation, the world’s first perfume for anosmics, Eau Pear Tingle, which I can’t wait to try. Had I but known that perfumed perdition could be so much fun…and I suspect, there will be…many more imps to come! And a Tiger. And other hazards to my sanity…

Honorable Mention:

No slight is intended to either Liz Zorn of Soivohle/Acoustijuice or Neil Morris, except to say I have been thrilled beyond measure and compare to explore two more lines I had never had the opportunity to try. Expect to see reviews of both Liz Zorn and more Neil Morris in the coming year!

Best Mainstream Niche:

The three that made it to this part of my list are both made by houses that hold a special place in my heart – Amouage and Serge Lutens. What’s worse is that I’ve only reviewed one of them, which will be amended shortly. My opinion is definitely in the minority, but I don’t care – they are each of them the reason I love what I do.

Vitriol d’Oeillet, Serge Lutens & Christopher Sheldrake

Serge Lutens released Jeux de Peau, Vitriol d’Oeillet and De Profundiis this year, and much as I liked Jeux de Peau with its burnt toast, melted butter and delicious sandalwood drydown, I loved Vitriol so much, I arranged for a decant…and drained it. I’m no stranger to the old-fashioned splendors of carnation, but not many carnations have surprised me so consistently as this one, from its pepper punch opening to its silky-smooth drydown and its hourglass shaped development.

Honour Man & Honour Woman, Nathalie Feisthauer, Alexandra Carlin, Violaine Collas with Christopher Chong, Amouage

One thing to love about Amouage is how their perfumes tell two sides to the same story from a masculine and a feminine perspective. Inspired by the final act of ‘Madame Butterfly’ as a filial tribute, they both represent something new – the resinous, black pepper explosion of Honour Man, and the love letter to the big, white floral feminine that is Honour Woman. Both beautifully rendered, both surprising, both stunning. As for the ex who drained my sample of Honour Man to the last drop…he can buy his own!

Favorite Indie Trend:

Once upon a time, I gave up hope that anyone, anywhere would ever love the Green Fiends of yore as much as I did. Was I ever…wrong! I came to discover the marvels of Puredistance Antonia, Aftelier’s breathtaking conciliation of galbanum and ylang ylang, Haute Claire, and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Vert pour Madame and Pandora. Green is the color of hope, and all of these give me just that. If I were to look into a magic mirror and predict what might lie ahead, that rediscovery of green would be one trend, but more importantly, I believe that indie perfumers are rediscovering the inherent challenges and thrills of the all-out, opulent florals…as we saw with Aftelier’s Secret Garden, or the opulent Oriental, such as Aroma M Geisha Amber Rouge.

Worst Mainstream Launch of the Year:

Chanel no. 19 Poudré

I had such high hopes for this one, was so excited to try it, and was so unbelievably let down. What on Earth were Chanel thinking when they decided to give Chanel no. 19 a makeover? Yes, it’s difficult, yes, it’s different, and yes…it’s an icon for a reason. So they took my beloved no. 19, which I’ve worn for almost thirty years without fail, filleted it, flattened it, and added an overdose of baby powder to make it more palatable for the mainstream consumers who might be intimidated by the original. I was hoping for a no. 19 Eau Premiere. What I got was a pale, wan, semi-starved seventeen-year-old who photographs well but is very vague in person. Me, I’ll take intimidation any day of any year.

Worst Advertising Idea, Ever:

Nothing against the lovely Natalie Portman, you understand, but I am…in an outrage of epic proportions when I see that Dior has now dropped the ‘Cherie’ from Miss Dior Cherie and is now promoting it as simply Miss Dior. Now, an entire generation will equate this hot, synthetic strawberry mess with the perfume that made Dior famous. This is superbad in the worst possible way.

Best Mainstream Launch:

Bottega Veneta

Color me surprised. When a fashion brand best known for its hyper-luxe gloves and woven-leather handbags launched its own eponymous perfume, I had no expectations whatsoever. So I was in the perfect place to be taken aback by the restrained, elegant and very ladylike Bottega Veneta, which is nowhere so restrained it’s boring, but also so consistently well-made, it’s easy to love, even for this cranky leather fan. I might even buy it, so long as I get a handbag, too.

Coolest Fusion of Fumes and Phrases:

When Lucy of Indieperfumes asked me to participate in the Clarimonde Project in time for Halloween, thrilled was not the word to describe my reaction. A vampire story unlike any other, an immersion into the netherworld of dark and light, faith and passion – what wasn’t to love about that idea? Seven bloggers, six perfumers, one story and a kind of synergy I have a hard time describing, but some kind of magic occurred along the way, something very special was created in both perfumes and words, and in several compelling ways, I’m not quite what I was that day I wrote her back to say I’d love to be a part of it. Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer, Mandy Aftel, Ayala Moriel, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl all rose spectacularly to the challenge of being inspired by Théophile Gautier’s 1836 story, and it was all this blogger at least could do to hope I was up for doing each of their creations the justice they deserved. Certainly, Monica, Trish of ScentHive, Lucy, Beth of PerfumeSmellin’ Things, Jade Dressler, Deana Sidney of LostPastRemembered and I pulled no punches each in our own ways to dive into the vials and wrest their interpretations of the story from them. All  – the words and the perfumes – happily coalesced into a special kind of magic I will always feel proud to have been a part of.

Most Dangerous Perfume of the Year:

Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl, Immortal Mine for the Clarimonde Project

I have reasons to suspect that on occasion, not even the perfumers involved in creating a perfume are entirely aware of just what genie they’re unleashing upon an unsuspecting world. The term ‘mortal peril’ is a bit of a cliché in perfume terms, but in the case of Immortal Mine, take my word for it – it’s no cliché here! I broke that dripping, blood-red wax seal and my blood immediately ran icy cold and scorching hot. Even now, I get goosebumps just thinking about it. Magic, mojo, that blood of a slayed Wyvern, the soil from an unmarked grave…whatever else they put into Immortal Mine, it is, hands down, the most dangerous thing I’ve smelled all year, and likely ever in my life. They will have to wrest this one from my cold, dead hands if they can…or bury me with it, so I can haunt my descendants!

Stay tuned tomorrow for Part Two – and more favorites of the year! And tell me, what were your best and worst of 2011?

Image: The Coronation crown of King Christian V of Denmark, made in 1670-71 by goldsmith Paul Kurtz in Copenhagen. This is the crown depicted on all DK coins and it is known as ‘The Crown of Absolute Sovereignty’. Image from the Royal Danish Collections at Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen.

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.

The Sanctity of Solace

THE CLARIMONDE PROJECT

The Clarimonde Project – Part Three

Aftelier Perfume’s ‘Oud Luban’

It is a paradox of Roman Catholicism that even as its doctrine denounces the sensual world in favor of a life of the mind and the spirit, its rituals are deeply sensuous. Sunlight streaming through the jewel colors of a stained glass window depicting the lives and deeds of saints and apostles, the ornate vestments of its celebrants, the flowers adorning the altar and the pews on holy days scenting the air, the smoke of the thurible, burning its ethereal bridge between Heaven and Earth, mundane and divine.

This was the world that Romuald, the narrator of ‘Clarimonde’, knew as his own, that cloistered world apart of seminary and church, mind and soul. In all his short life, he held no other ambition than to give himself completely to God and be perfectly content in his choice and his renouncement of the mundane world and all its pleasures.

Until that fateful day of his ordination, when he glanced away and saw Clarimonde, and all he knew and thought he loved and believed came into question by his first awareness of Woman. And ever after, that duality of carnal and spiritual, dark and light would haunt him night and day, with Clarimonde and in all those endless years without her, an unending dream war between pleasure and priesthood. What was the dream and what the reality – the decadent princely paramour in Venice, who denied himself no indulgence yet was still tortured with a vision of a life he had renounced, or the poor parish Curé attending his duties and his flock, thinking his life of luxury with Clarimonde no more than a fevered, sensuous dream? Or was all his ecstasy and sorrow but a dream born of the one heartfelt longing in his soul not even God could fulfill?

This is the dilemma Mandy Aftel seeks to bridge with ‘Oud Luban’, her perfume solid contribution to the Clarimonde Project, and just as with Monica Miller’s ‘Sangre’ and Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl’s ‘Immortal Mine’, to call ‘Oud Luban’ anything so prosaic as mere perfume is a bit like pointing to a perfect blood-red rose and calling it ‘flower’.

‘Oud Luban’ sings in both melody and harmony – the opening melody of a sunshine-bright soprano aria of orange and Hojari frankincense, an illuminating sunbeam of light through a window, Romuald’s first glance at Clarimonde, that fated moment when all he knew and thought he loved fell away to dust, and a plush, richly faceted basso profondo that soars and sweeps to the rafters of the cathedral and sings its song of the eternity he lost with one fevered beat of his heart.

As ‘Oud Luban’ warms and evolves on my skin, oud entwines around those basso profondo notes like the smoke of a thurible, but this is no oud I have ever encountered before. Blended from eight varieties of oud, it glows its unearthly, animal aura through a decadent velvet patchouli dream that lingers with the smoky burnt aroma of choya ral, opoponax and benzoin and conjures visions of Clarimonde, blonde hair embers of gold over her pearly white shoulders and in another wisp of smoke, she is gone, a haunting dream that never left him or a reality that negated all Romuald’s other life into nothing more than a dream.

In the way of all evocative dreams that stick like cobwebs in the mind long after they’re gone, ‘Oud Luban’ haunted me for days and nights on end, haunted me harder than any ghost for being so familiar a memory and yet I could not place it, until it came to me in a dream, a dream much like Romuald’s secret life. I had breathed this in before, had been haunted by this perfume of soul and longing, oud and incense, elemi and patchouli, sanctity and solace.

At the very top of Mount Lykavettos in Athens, there is a chapel to Saint George, built in the nineteenth century on a Byzantine ruin in the Byzantine style,. It is tiny, and would fit inside a space not much larger than my living room, a simple, white-washed structure with its small golden icon at the altar, a few wooden pews, a box of candles to light and a strongbox for the coins to buy them. Saint George is a saint very dear to my heart – I was born on Saint George’s Day. I entered that little chapel on a blustery January day, intent on lighting a candle and making a wish or saying a prayer, and all too often, they are one and the same. But as I entered, I was struck by two things…the chapel’s complete barebones simplicity in a city filled with opulent Byzantine churches, and that scented air of sanctity, of what to my inexperienced nose was the perfume of countless centuries of faith and prayer and sacred space. I had no reference for that perfume, had never encountered it in my own agnostic upbringing. I only knew of my own frantic heartbeat and a perfume that touched my soul in a way I had never known before and never quite would again, not in any other of the many churches I visited in my time in Greece, not in all the many years that followed.

Not until a dark October night, when ‘Oud Luban’ made me remember what I thought I had forgotten, and a timeless perfume took me back in time and forward through space and on through the words of Théophile Gautier and ‘Clarimonde’.

‘Oud Luban’ is the bridge between dream and reality, and it is also the heritage the Abbé Serapion offers Romuald as a consolation for his loss of Clarimonde – here is your heritage and our shared history, the light of faith that will illuminate the dark of your soul and console you, here is all you know and all you lost, here…is the smoke of the thurible and the sunlight through a stained-glass rosette window, here… is the sanctity of solace.

Notes for Oud Luban:
Top: Elemi, orange terpenes, blood orange, Hojari frankincense CO2
Base: Oud, opoponax, choya ral, benzoin, aged patchouli

‘Oud Luban’ is available as a solid perfume from the Aftelier website.

My sample was provided for review as part of the Clarimonde Project by Mandy Aftel.

In the Clarimonde Project, ‘Oud Luban’ has also been reviewed by Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer, Scent Hive and Indieperfumes.

Other reviews in the Clarimonde Project:
Monica Miller’s ‘Sangre’ and her two lipstains:
Indieperfumes
Scent Less Sensibilities

Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl’s ‘Immortal Mine’:
The Perfume Pharmer
Indieperfumes
Scent Less Sensibilities

LostPastRemembered has a stunning entry on Clarimonde, vampires and other lore of the dark, as well as an opulent recipe for perfumed port.

Alexis Karl has also composed music inspired by the story. Find it here.