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.
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.