– a review – and a story – of Amouage Interlude Man/Woman
Like so much else in his frenetic life, what he was doing now was absolute madness, rushing like the White Rabbit down West 14th Street so he wouldn’t be late, late, late for this very important date, wouldn’t miss this for anything on Earth, this seeming mundane insomniac four A.M meeting in a donut shop of all places because it was the last place anyone would think to look for either of them in this nowhere hour, too early to be morning and too late to be night.
She was too careful to leave much to chance, too cautious not to cover her tracks and leave back doors open for a speedy exit. Like any woman worth knowing, she had many secrets and kept them well.
One reason he was running down the street at this insane hour was simply because she knew all of his, too.
They had known each other since the days before everything happened, before they became what they were now, before the rest of the world demanded all of both of them with a fifty percent tax on top. Before life became so frantic with all the things they had to do to stay where they wanted to be and needed to do. Ever since, he had a deal with her – to meet once a year, no matter what happened or where in the world they were, in a location they both agreed upon at the meeting before.
He felt guilty that until forty-odd hours before in Hong Kong, he had forgotten all about it, so guilty he bought her an expensive present he thought she might appreciate. It was with him now with the companion he bought for himself in the hope it would remind him of her and of all this secret history that made him rush breathless into a donut shop at four in the morning to be greeted with the welcome, warm surprise of hyper-fragrant empty calories.
She sat at the last stool towards the back with a huge cup of Starbucks and an apple fritter she had yet to touch. She looked much as she always did at four A.M., with her hair up under a sixpence pulled down over her face and no makeup, her leather jacket making her look much younger than he knew she was.
“I nearly didn’t make it,” he said when he sat down next to her. “I was in Hong King when I got your message.”
“For shame. What do you do, put me up on the lost and found shelf the other three hundred sixty-four days of the year?” She mock-punched him in the shoulder.
“No. I just try not to cross the days off in the calendar until the next time. What on Earth were you thinking – to meet up at this hour?”
She laughed. “I had a deadline. This was one way I knew I could make it on time. I told myself yesterday I couldn’t get out of the chair until I finished, so I could meet you with a clear conscience.”
“Did it work?”
“Actually, it did. Otherwise I would have had to cancel, and that wouldn’t do.” She shrugged. “Life is crazy enough, don’t you think?”
“I know it is. You should have seen me have hysterics at the ticket counter in Hong Kong. I had to be on that plane.”
“I’m so glad. Where are you even these days?”
“Everywhere. Singapore. Paris. Los Angeles. Buenos Aires. Hong Kong. Shanghai. London. I go where they send me, and try not to complain about it.”
“Poor you. Doesn’t it get old, living out of a suitcase?”
“Of course it does. I heard that you moved, by the way.”
“I did.” She sipped her coffee. “I either bought real estate or I paid way more taxes. So…Manhattan. Just to make my life a little more frantic than it already is. ”
“Meeting an old friend at four A.M isn’t frantic? It’s almost enough to make me wish I drank.” That made her laugh, just as he knew it would. “That reminds me. I brought you a present.”
“Ah. You shouldn’t have.” Beneath the brim of her cap her grin spread from one ear to the other.
“I know. I did it anyway. I think it reminded me of you.” He put the glossy bag on the counter, and immediately, she pulled out the gift-wrapped box.
“Oooooh,” she cooed. “Perfume. Very, very expensive perfume. You realize this has all sorts of loaded significance, don’t you?” She opened the box, and although it was almost too quick for him to catch it, he saw the surprise write itself on her face, saw her face light up as her smile changed. “My favorite shade of blue.” She snuck a furtive look at the waiter behind the counter at the other end, and as he looked away, she removed the cap and sprayed her wrist underneath the counter. “Hello!” she exclaimed when she sniffed her wrist. “This is an entire novel in a bottle, you know that.”
“Of course I do. Perfect for a novelist!”
“That sounds so much more distinguished than mere ‘writer’. Hmm. It’s green, it’s bright, it’s spicy, it’s… a breath of fresh air in a window I fling open after working all night. When I look to see the sun is coming up outside my windows.”
He reached for her apple fritter and bit into it. “You mean, that moment when you stop whatever it is you’re doing and realize that for just a few seconds, it seems as if the world has stopped too, ” he mumbled around a mouthful of pastry.
“Yes. Like that. Oh! Wake up and smell the coffee, baby! Is that coffee?” She laughed again, and watching her evident, child-like pleasure was almost worth the panic attacks he just sidestepped to get there on time. “Fruity coffee!”
“You tell me. You used to write about perfume.” This was one hell of an apple fritter.
“Another life ago. Is that what you’re asking? You want the perfume writer’s scoop on your present? ”
“I guess I’m asking what you think, or if you’ll wear it, or…you know. I’m not usually in the habit of buying you perfume.”
She sniffed her wrist again. “Next time, I’ll just call you up at four A.M. and ask what you’re wearing.”
“The Wall Street Journal. Reading glasses. So not sexy. Or…” he suddenly remembered. “The counterpart to what I just gave you.”
She leaned closer right by his neck and breathed him in. “That’s outrageous. I do mean outrageous. Allspice with a green bite underneath it, and…oh! Leather! Sweet, luscious, supple, silky leather and am I getting…what is that? Tarmac? Rubber? Not just any rubber, and nothing in the slightest bit bad, but much more than a little…dangerous. Yes. Dangerous! That’s it! You’re the gazillionaire bad boy my mother warned me about. The guy who lights fires in hapless lovelies on five continents and always leaves in the morning. His secretary has been instructed to send roses. Not that it helps.”
He had to laugh. “I’m nothing like that. And you don’t like gazillionaires anyway.”
“True. ” She sniffed her wrist again. “But I love this. Why they always say a perfume has evolution, I don’t know. This is more of a revolution…it goes up and down and all around a thick, floral heart, like a spiral spinning around all the many contradictions that define it. It’s really busy in a very intricately crafted way. Frankincense that should be written out in capital letters, but no frankincense is ever so glorious as this…this is…the apotheosis of all the word and the material implies. Ah. But wait! There’s more!” She laughed again. “A novel in a bottle! We’re getting to that inevitable point of no return. There will be no happily ever after.”
“For four thirty in the morning I’m hugely impressed.” He was, too. No amount of money could have bought him a conversation like this one. Too bad he could only have it once a year.
“Hush.” She leaned in on him again and breathed in. “Smooth, but just… rough enough to make it interesting. A girl always likes a little bit of…rough.” As she said that last, her voice dropped to a smoky, sultry alto that gave one simple word a universe of meaning the scent he wore seemed to embroider upon, sparks and glints of heat, of firelight and wisps of rising, fragrant smoke from a roaring bonfire of exotic woods that only grew where dragons lived to guard the trees.
It was jetlag. It had to be. Or else it was these two infernally great perfumes. Worth every yuan he paid for them just to hear her say ‘rough’ like that.
“I don’t have enough time for bonfires,” he heard himself saying.
“I know. I don’t, either.” In the space of a heartbeat, her regret played across her face like a piano note and was just as quickly gone, but he caught it in the way she shifted on her chair and slightly away from him, as if wrapping herself just a little tighter and smaller. A piano note with the damper pedal down.
“So why do we meet like this once a year?” He found himself wanting to distract her from that hint of blue he saw in her eyes, illuminated by the light bouncing off the display case of cookies in front of her.
She blinked, turned back towards him again and lifted one eyebrow. “You mean you don’t know?”
“You’re the novelist,” he shot back. “You tell me!”
“Well, to remind each other that it’s the world that’s crazy, but you and I aren’t. You’re my anodyne, and I’m yours. Everything and everyone coming at us from all directions, constant streams of information, stress, noise and clutter and all that messes with our minds.” Again, he saw that lightning flash of regret that blazed over her face before it vanished.
“That there’s…” she went on after a while and a sip of her coffee, “these rare instances every blue moon, where everything just…stops, and you stop with it. When you breathe in, and you are all of a piece, you’re whole and entire and an entire, complex universe in one fleeting, shining instant. You don’t have to do, you don’t have to go, you just have to be. Like now.”
She replaced the blue bottle in its box, put it back in the bag and sniffed her wrist again.
“How do you know I’m not crazy?” He had to ask. Sometimes, he wanted to be just a little crazy.
“Because you brought me serenity…in a beautiful blue perfume bottle! And you wore your own to see me. That tells me everything I need to know.” She had a mischievous glint in her eyes, one he hadn’t seen in a long time.
“Don’t move. I’ll be right back.”
But when he returned to the counter, she was gone, with only a trace of that magnificent, ambery, opulent trail behind in the sugar-scented donut shop. There was a card on the barstool.
On the front was her name, her new address, her email and phone number. And on the back, a quote from a poem.
The soul selects her own society
Then shuts the door
On her divine majority –
Obtrude no more.
Below, she had written “Hong Kong. Make the time for a bonfire. Oh. Yes. You’re going to need two more bottles of this.”
Which was when he realized that she had taken not just the bottle he had brought for her, but his own too, still in the Tsum department store bag.
He laughed, laughed so loudly, the waiter at the other end of the counter came over to ask if everything was OK.
Oh, yes. It was just about perfect. As perfect an anodyne – or an interlude – as anyone could ask for.
Image of Interlude Man & Interlude Woman: Amouage
Notes for Interlude Woman (Perfumer Karine Vinchon-Spehner): Bergamot, grapefruit, ginger, marigold, kiwi, frankincense, rose, coffee, orange blossom, helichrysum, jasmine, opoponax, vanilla, benzoin, amber, sandalwood, oud, oakmoss, leather, tonka bean, animalic notes, musk
Notes for Interlude Man (Perfumer Pierre Negrin): Bergamot, oregano, pimento berry oil, amber, frankincense, cistus, opoponax, leather, agarwood smoke, patchouli, sandalwood
Disclosure: Samples were provided for review by Amouage
With thanks to the usual suspect and Emily Dickinson, too.