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