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.

A Gothic Grimoire


–  The Genie’s Guide to the Supernaturally Sublime

Something about October, the dance of glowing leaves in the wind, the shift in mood from the exuberance of spring and the dolce far niente of summer to a tinge of delicious melancholy, the very perfume of the air itself, with its first hints of looming winter and quietude, the mushroom scent of a forest floor after the rain, the sharp tang of fallen apples and the sudden epiphany of wood smoke in the air – all of these combined add up to what is without question one of my favorite times of the year.

If I were to put an epithet that somehow sums up all of October, it would surely be ‘Gothic’.

These days, Gothic conjures up associations of horror, darkness and menace, if not an entire subculture I once upon a storied time did my own small part to define the first time it surfaced in the zeitgeist of the mid-Eighties. While I may have outgrown my predilection for acres of black eyeliner and ditto lipstick, certain elements of that era have stuck with me ever since – a taste for melodramatic literature written at an operatic pitch of intensity, music, and a certain nineteenth-century feel and line in clothing. Although I still own an outsize amount of very black clothes, one indispensible item more than any other brings out that inspired state of being that consists of equal parts preternatural frisson, high drama, twinges of mortality, and the delectable, unbearable, existential darkness of being.


But what in all that chthonic murk constitutes a Gothic… perfume?

It goes without saying that all the happy-go-lucky flirty florals and fruity wonders we adore so much in high summer no longer cut it.

For a perfume to be deemed Gothic requires a few non-negotiable elements. First of all – that all-important question, my own pop-culture criterion:

Would Morticia Addams wear it?

If it is too light, too young, too obvious, too fleeting, the answer is likely a resounding ‘no’. Anything that doesn’t reduce our own resident Gomez Addams (should we have one) to a helpless pile of smoking ectoplasm need not apply. Speaking of ectoplasm…

All Gothic perfumes must by necessity contain an element of the numinous or the supernatural about them. It could be a question of composition, of overall texture, of unusual fragrant elements in mutual tension, but if it doesn’t give you a superstitious shiver down your spine and you can’t even explain why, what’s the point?

Since the Gothic mood and mindset is dark, intense, and brooding, the perfume must somehow convey all of these things. Therefore, Gothic perfumes are often very plush, with a lot of basenotes that may often include frankincense, labdanum, oud, patchouli, sandalwood, oakmoss, castoreum, civet, musk, leather and other wonders of that fertile alchemical undergrowth that provokes all our darkest, most secret, subconscious desires.

Last but never least, if you can answer an affirmative ‘yes!’ to the question…

Would you wear this to a graveside Halloween party?

Then you’ve found your very own Gothic perfume!

What follows below are my own personal decidedly Gothic favorites, arranged from vintage (and therefore, sadly, the current versions are reformulated beyond recognition and merit) to currently available.

Vintage Glories

Magie Noir – Lancôme

This 1978 classic by Gerard Goupy was a harbinger to come of those opulent Eighties orientals. It is also without question one of the witchiest perfumes ever made. I’ve worn it off and on since 1983, and it remains the single most complimented perfume I own, even today. In fact, I’ve never met a man who didn’t tilt backwards for this one, such is the Circe spell it weaves, turning any modern Odysseus into a slavering hog whether they want it or not. Although still in production, it’s not even a wan, pale echo of its former glory.

Narcisse Noir – Caron

Sometimes, I wonder at the fragrant bombshells I wore in my wanton youth, wonder I even dared to wear them. This great immortal classic, beloved of both Norma Desmond and Anaïs Nin, more than any other delineated my long-ago Goth days. It slew several wannabe latter-day Baudelaires I knew by taking a perfumery trope – orange blossom – and turning it completely inside out. Orange blossom is usually a joyous, summery, sunshine bloom. Ernest Daltroff’s 1912 classic inverts all those expectations and turns them inside out by being a dark, smoky, slinky animal of midnight and divine delirium. Narcisse Noir is still available, although it has irrevocably changed from its inky, slinky, seductive self to a prim Park Avenue mistress in palest dove gray.

Parlous Blooms

If ever an entire perfume house’s resident aesthetic somehow encapsulates all that is Gothic with a decadent French twist, it would surely be Serge Lutens. I doubt it’s an accident it is one of my all-time favorite perfume houses for precisely that reason. Best of all, Serge Lutens has – aided by resident alchymist Christopher Sheldrake and before him Maurice Roucel – subverted several classic florals into new, unnerving territory by making them eerie, and not just through their inscrutable press copy or their names, but throughout their very souls. Iris Silver Mist will send chills of otherworldly orris down your spine, Tubereuse Criminelle shall disturb you to your depths in all its heady jolie laide beauty, Sarrasins might sink its feral feline jasmine fangs into your nose and De Profundis exude its own cold kiss of mortality down your neck, but you will not forget them – nor will anyone who gets close enough to sniff.

Numinous Numbers

Certain perfumes are more than a little… numinous. Meaning they convey a hint or a whole ruined abbey of emotion, legend, ghosts of stories past and premonitions to come. They range from the transcendental to the uncanny, which is precisely why they’re so beloved.

Trayee & Ashoka – Neela Vermeire Crèations

It may seem a bit of a stretch to call Neela Vermeire’s Trayee and Ashoka ‘gothic’ when perhaps the first word that comes to mind is ‘exotic’, but think again – if we take the word to mean transporting in an emotionally compelling, numinous sense, then they both do precisely that in two different, very complex and nearly supernatural ways. Trayee with its sacred incense, oud and sandalwood, Ashoka with its sudden, shocking shift from deepest dark to luminous light – either is perfect for that lingering trail of sanctity we all aspire to leave behind us – or the samsara we all hope to achieve.

Rouge Avignon – Phaedon

Rouge Avignon, inspired by the Papal palace at Avignon, embodies the very best of Gothic sensibilities in its very DNA. Rose, incense, smoke, dark, deep woods – it is its own unholy witchy brew of blackest red and reddest black, the shade of a drop of blood, of power and of carefully concealed secrets, too.


Mad, Bad and Dangerous To Know or… Les Hommes Fatales

Lady Caroline Lamb may well have had all sorts of personal reasons to describe George Gordon, Lord Byron as all of the above, but certain masculine-tinged perfumes will haunt me to my grave if not devastate me into a swoon, whether they’re worn by short, dark and interesting exemplars of the male gender or by tall, fair, rockstar poets in aviator shades fueled by Friday night and Pinot Grigio.

Baudelaire – Byredo

No fan of the Gothic can avoid a fatal predilection for the poetry of Charles Baudelaire. While I somehow doubt Byredo’s Baudelaire would be worn by its namesake, who did indeed have a great affinity for perfume, there’s no question in my demented mind it does full justice to the spirit of his words…erotic, evocative, subversive, and more than a little perilous to short, busty writers with (oversized) nitroglycerin imaginations. Poets beware!

1740 Marquis de Sade – Histoires de Parfums

This thick, heady, delirious leather/spicy/immortelle bombshell of a perfume was inspired by that greatest libertine of them all – or so the notorious Marquis liked to see himself. I say it’s much too good for his ghost, but absolutely grand for modern-day libertines out to slay the unsuspecting with everything they’ve got. So long as they’re careful never to promise more than they’re capable of delivering. I also say 1740 is everything any hopelessly romantic, Gothic-leaning female could wish to inhale, although the consequences of doing just that might be harrowing. My lips are sealed in scarlet ink. To paraphrase Tennessee Williams, things occur in the dark of night that make anything happening in daylight seem… all right.

A Haunted History

Perfume, I heard myself saying some time ago, is every bit as legitimate a way of telling a story as a painting, a sculpture, a film, a novel. Few perfumes tell quite such a timeless story as the most haunting pair I know…

Memoir Man/Woman – Amouage

The great thing about Amouage paired perfumes is the way both the feminine and the masculine versions reflect two sides of the same story, and here, it’s that eternal epic love story of a tempestuous heaven and a mutual melodrama heartbreak. Either of them have utterly ruined me for life for other so-called ‘bottled love stories’, since so far as I’m concerned, this one is unbeatable. Certainly, it’s unforgettable. As all the best love stories – and worst heartbreaks! – always are.

Les Femmes Fatales

Ladies – you’ve been waiting for these. These perfumes are the dragon-slayers and pale-faced Succubi of the perfume world, the pearlescent vampires, the Liliths, Ligeias and Morellas and the Annabel Lees, the transgressions, the most ebony of carnal sins and ultimate, bottled evils, the justifications for terrible, heart-rending beauty and bone-chilling emanations.  If you think about it – what is Ulalume compared to all of those? Edgar? Anyone?

Midnight At The Crossroads Café – Neil Morris

Gothic literature has been such a mainstay of popular fiction for so long, it’s increasingly hard to imagine anything new could ever be done with it. Unless you happen to be that justly famous Boston treasure, perfumer Neil Morris, who took an unknown writer’s opening chapter and turned it into a upgraded Gothic perfume novella for the twenty-first century without overlooking any single essential: a witching hour, a vulnerable woman, a glass of mulled wine, an empty café and the distinct, supernatural thrill of the definitely dangerous and dangerously erotic Devil himself. It can be classified as a chypre, but this is unlike any chypre you think you know – this is as good as fragrant perdition gets. Take it from me. I know.

Immortal Mine – House of Cherry Bomb

Two years ago (and how it could be two years I’m still not sure), I had the great good fortune to participate in the Clarimonde Project, a cross-media collaboration of perfumers and writers to explore in prose and perfume one of the earliest and most unusual vampire stories ever – Thèophile Gautier’s 1836 La Morte Amoureuse. House of Cherry Bomb’s Immortal Mine is one of the superlative finest and supremely Gothic perfumes money can buy. It’s as deep and impenetrable as Nietzsche’s abyss, as black and vast as a winter hour before dawn, as licentious as any celebrated courtesan and as haunting (if not daunting) as Gautier’s story and his creation both.

Babylon Noir – Opus Oils

Hundreds of perfumes claim to be noir. Most of them barely qualify as wannabe noir, if that much. Babylon Noir, created by perfumer Kedra Hart of Opus Oils for the Devilscent Project, is such an audacious, outrageous, luscious feline carnivore of a perfume, it makes vintage Narcisse Noir (no slouch in the darkness department) blanc in comparison. Equally suitable for vampires and aspiring Liliths, it will slay anyone it touches, guaranteed, because darkness gets no blacker nor more alluring. Wear it to any Halloween party and watch the competition turn orange in envy.

Ormonde Woman – Ormonde Jayne London

Some very long time ago, when I was still fairly new to niche perfumery, I won a sample of Ormonde Woman on another perfume blog. That it was a green and witchy creature, I already knew from the review, but I wasn’t at all prepared for my own reaction. It was without question the most terrifying perfume I had ever encountered in my life, so much so, it was the original inspiration for Lilith’s perfume. Not for being repellent (which it wasn’t) nor even poisonous (although there was that hemlock absolute…) but precisely because it was such a feral thing of the forest. It took me a good long time (and very many perfumes) to come around to Ormonde Woman, but now I have another wafting weapon at my disposal to put the capital B in bewitching.

Lil – Olympic Orchids

Still with me on this fragrant descent into the heart of October darkness? In which case, you’re in for a very big surprise, because Olympic Orchids’ Lil – also created for the Devilscent Project – is not dark in the slightest. Ellen Covey happily took every Gothic trope and cliché in perfumery and subverted them into an absolutely terrifying – and horribly beautiful – perfume of sharp, piercing, eerie green light, as if she had somehow managed to capture a will-o’-the-wisp in a perfume bottle that will haunt (and taunt) your surroundings for a very long time. Wimps and wannabes need not apply.

The Moody, Magnificent Monster

Opus VII – Amouage

I’m a bit at a loss to describe Opus VII (although I’ve certainly tried) and its effects, but basically, this is a huge, shape-shifting beast of Faërie that takes oud, black leather, cypriol, fenugreek and galbanum and provides them all with the most delirious fangs  – or pangs! – you could never have imagined. You can wear it ten times and encounter ten different stories. You will catch a waft and think you have managed to parse its depths to your satisfaction. Ten minutes later, you’ll catch another and wonder what you were thinking. Then hours later, the only thing you can be sure of is one literal wild ride – or wild hunt through the undergrowth? – that surely explains every Dionysian mystery rite from antiquity to the present. Or does it? Only its sillage knows…

In short, if you seek the unusual, the preternatural thrill, the mysteries and the magic of a most magical time of year, these perfumes will be honored to send eerie shivers down your spine.

Because every day should be Halloween!

At least in October.


Serge Lutens perfumes are available from Luckyscent and for European customers, directly from the Serge Lutens website. Trayee and Ashoka are available at Luckyscent and from Neela Vermeire Crèations. Rouge Avignon is available directly from Phaedon. Baudelaire is available from Luckyscent and First in Fragrance. Histoires de Parfums 1740 is at Luckyscent and First in Fragrance. Amouage Memoir Man & Woman can be found at Luckyscent and First in Fragrance. Neil Morris’ Midnight is available through his Vault collection of perfumes by request. House of Cherry Bomb’s Immortal Mine is available at Indie Scents. Opus Oils’ Babylon Noir is available directly from the Opus Oils website, Ormonde Woman from Ormonde Jayne London, Lil directly from Olympic Orchids. Amouage Opus VII is available from Luckyscent, First in Fragrance and directly from the Amouage website.

With thanks to the reader who inspired the post…;)

Illustrations: Franz von Stuck, Die Sünde, 1893 and Lucifer, 1890.

A Florentine Adventure – Part Three

Of sights, sounds and Stendhal Syndrome

If it should ever transpire that you attend a trade show as a reporter in a glamorous European city you have never visited before, do you think you would be glued to the show for all the twenty-four hours it runs?

If you answer ‘yes’, then you are a far better person than I, because in my time in Florence, wild horses couldn’t keep me away from the rest of it. Between olfactory fatigue, pretention and amped-up sales pitches, I could only bear it all for so long.

The very first thing I did upon arriving early Thursday evening was to get spectacularly lost…

Lost and Found

I had arranged to meet with a dear friend downtown in the lobby of her hotel, and after asking at my hotel and being equipped with a city map (that hangs on my wall today), I thought…How hard could it be? I dumped my suitcase, changed my shoes and flew downtown with all the ardent fervor of the Newly Arrived. Only to find Centro Storico was quite a bit more convoluted than even I imagined. Somewhere in the twists and turns (phone calls from my friend asking ‘Where are you?’), I rounded a corner and was not prepared for what I found…

The Duomo of Florence by night.

No travelogue I could have read, no photo gallery I saw could have prepared me for the Duomo. It had all the visual impact of a kick in the consciousness, because suddenly, it was just…there! (and less than two minutes away from my friend’s hotel, as it happened). There are no words. And this is just the exterior…

The good news was, thanks to her hotel’s concierge directing me down the right street, my friend and I did find each other. We celebrated with bear hugs, conversation and Prosecco. The better news was, thanks to that first frantic Thursday night, I mapped out Florence in my head and never got lost again.

A Small World

Friday morning was an exercise in serendipity. Around the corner from my hotel and on the way to Stazione Leopolda, I discovered that great Italian institution, the pasticcheria. A combination bakery, café, sandwich shop and cakeoholic paradise, they were almost as common as gelato artigianale. I ventured in, swooned at the display cases, and haltingly made my selection in my execrable Italian. The elder gentleman behind the counter rightly determined I was a tourist, switched to English and discovered a) I was Danish and b) it just so happened that his cousin Claudio ran my favorite Italian restaurant in Copenhagen, where I had been a regular for years. From that moment on, Angelo fed me breakfast and cappuccino every morning with Florentine élan and calories. Don’t get me started on those crema alla mandorle-filled croissants. They were Petrarch poetry in pastry.

Pizzetta, a miniature-sized ‘pizza’ of puff pastry, tomato sauce, Fontina and grilled aubergine. Highly addictive. You have been warned.

Pizzetta, a miniature-sized ‘pizza’ of puff pastry, tomato sauce, Fontina and grilled aubergine. Highly addictive. You have been warned.

In Honor Of My Art

Those twisting, narrow streets are stuffed to the brim with antiques dealers, bookshops and touristy bric-à-brac you can find much cheaper on the Piazza San Lorenzo. But look only slightly further, and you will find many versions of that uniquely Italian expression: “In onore della mi’ arte”. Artisanal craftsmanship of the highest order, in other words, arguing that even such utilitarian objects as The Perfect Handbag can be just as much a statement of artistry as any perfume, whatever anyone might argue to the contrary. The Florentine aesthetic – as opposed to, say, the French – is one of supremely delineated moderation. Not only that, those shops will allow you to peruse their wares to your heart’s content even when you’re blatantly unable to afford it (yet) and treat you as an honored customer as you do. While I can appreciate Italian designers as much as anyone, my own inclinations tend toward those artisans who are so flawless, they don’t need international brand recognition to be perfect.

In a perfect world, I would have brought this back home with me. And used it for the rest of my unnatural life span.

In a perfect world, I would have brought this back home with me. And used it for the rest of my unnatural life span.

The Celebrated Stendhal Syndrome

The story goes that the French writer Stendhal was so overcome by the beauty of Florence, he suffered a fit of nervous exhaustion and had to leave town. Even today, there are stories circulating of tourists suffering a surfeit of aesthetic overload and heart palpitations amidst the glories of the Uffizi. While I already knew I wouldn’t be able to do the Uffizi any justice whatsoever in a few stolen hours, I also knew this time, I would have to pass on those glories. And tried not to think too much about those Botticellis…

A Florentine gentleman, caught in an antiques shop window.

A Florentine gentleman, caught in an antiques shop window.

Which is not at all the same as saying that beauty didn’t ambush me all the same. For it was everywhere and both old and new, and like all beauty that sears itself into memory, it found me at nearly every twist and turn.

Florence is an immensely proud city and always has been. Proud of its history, proud of its reputation, proud of the beauty its inhabitants pull from the aether and magnanimously pass on to a hungry world. If ever a statue somehow embodied all that pride, it would be Neptune (from the Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati) on the Piazza della Signoria. Hundreds of miles from any ocean, he looks toward the Uffizi with Cosimo I de Medici’s famous visage, as if to say…

“I’m perfect and I know it. You, on the other hand, need to know this: Attitude is at least half the battle.”

“I’m perfect and I know it. You, on the other hand, need to know this: Attitude is at least half the battle.”

As I drank in Palazzo Vecchio, the piazza, the constant ebb and flow of humanity, the horse carriages waiting for customers and conversations in many languages, random facts floated to the surface of my brain. This peaceful scene was once the very heartbeat of the Florentine republic, and is still the city’s heart today. History, reputations, collaborations, assassinations, assignations, ideas, concepts – everything began here. One famous Renaissance Rebel With A Cause even ended his life here.

Where Savonarola was burned as a heretic.

Where Savonarola was burned as a heretic.

I came across this shop window display and was instantly stopped in my tracks. Since the photo was shot through glass, it might be hard to distinguish the level of embroidery and beaded detailing, but take my word for it – it was exquisite in such a seemingly simple gown, worn according to the card at a court ball in Lucca in 1802. Who wouldn’t feel fabulous wearing this?

Wearable beauty applies in 1802 as much as in 2013.

Wearable beauty applies in 1802 as much as in 2013.

But if velvet and silk are too tame for your inner animale, Florence can supply that, too. I have a dear friend in New York who absolutely adores animal print. I saw this shop window and instantly thought of her. (She would wear it all with flawless aplomb, too!) My own inner Goth/punk sensibilities were also more than a little thrilled.

Change your spots or show your stripes, so long as you make ‘em growl…

Change your spots or show your stripes, so long as you make ‘em growl…

Amicizia istante

We humans get so cynical with age. Once upon a time in our childhoods, instant friendships were forged in a manner of seconds and locked eyes across the sandbox. That level of trust seems to get so much harder as we grow older, or else our demands shift and change with our experiences good and bad.

What follows is a (very) true story about social networking and media, common interests that span the globe and yet another manifestation of sheer serendipity.

My fellow perfume writer and dear friend Lucy of Indieperfumes is also, just as yours truly, a great art aficionado. One day on Twitter, she piqued my curiosity about another blogger, this an acute Australian researcher who writes on the Renaissance, Raphael and all things art blog Three Pipe Problem. Over the course of a few months and interaction on Twitter followed by Facebook, we became great friends who have never met. When he read via my Facebook page I was going to Florence, he offered to introduce me to a friend of his, a Venezuelan firebrand named Sandra, who works in Florence as a certified tour guide. Numbers and text messages were exchanged along with my abject gratitude, and on Saturday afternoon, Sandra and I arranged to meet by Giotto’s campanile on the Piazza del Duomo.

9. This picture was taken about 30 seconds after we met. Yours truly on the left (looking rather the worse for wear), Sandra on the right.

9. This picture was taken about 30 seconds after we met. Yours truly on the left (looking rather the worse for wear), Sandra on the right.

It was a case of instant, mutual, lightning-fast friendship. Over the course of lattes at Scudieri and a conversation that never once stopped except for breath, we found we had more common ground than a public park. We’re both extremely enthusiastic and not afraid to show it in public. Sandra was also a lover of perfumes, her favorite being L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Fou d’Absinthe. So naturally, she took me to her own pit of perfumed perdition, a jewelbox store of marvels named Olfattorio, and just like that, I was no longer a niche store virgin. Every single L’Artisan! LeClerc cosmetics! Diptyque candles! All of it combined to equal Heaven On Earth. This is yet another reason I have to become a bestselling writer.

Somewhere between a conversation that spanned the range of art, feminism, motherhood, perfumes, history, food, Florentine quirks, men, love, singlehood, fashion, age and the pathetic state of Literature Real Women Want To Read, she also took me to another shop she loved, this an English apothecary and herbal store, Antica Erboristeria Inglese, which also carried Frèdéric Malle’s Editions de Parfums (so I introduced her to instant love Carnal Flower, because I’m Evil Incarnate), and lo and behold, Serge Lutens’ export line. After nearly three days of New, Strange and Wonderful, between Sandra’s sublime company and the welcoming warm ambience of the non-English speaking shopkeeper and a familiar, much-beloved logo, I suddenly felt… home. The shopkeeper asked me which Lutens’ were my favorites. And wouldn’t let me leave until she gave me samples of all of them. I felt like I had received a bear hug from a favorite uncle, but then again – maybe I had?

Sandra and I said our reluctant goodbyes shortly after, and I meandered towards the Ponte Vecchio to honor a promise I’d made a friend – to throw coins in the Arno and make a wish that we too might meet up in Firenze. I had brought two DK 5-kr pieces expressly for that purpose, but first, there was…Ponte Vecchio, an onslaught of street merchants selling handbag copies and souvenirs and jewelry shops priced waaay out of my solar system if not my entire galaxy. Most of it a lot less exceptional than the exorbitant price tags, but just when you think you’ve sussed out the neighborhood, the very last shop does you in…

As this window display certainly did…

As this window display certainly did…

As for Sandra – if I thought before I would return to Florence for the Uffizi, the Ferragamo shoe museum or the cakes at Scudieri, never mind that Perfect Handbag (which is all true), now my most pressing reason to return as soon as I can is an instant friend and/or Soul Sister I never, ever want to lose.

The cakes at Scudieri. Damnation never looked so delicious.

The cakes at Scudieri. Damnation never looked so delicious.

Rooms With A View

On Sunday, I duly paid my morning respects at Pitti Fragranze before I decided to let profumi be profumi and meanwhile, there was Florence…

I decided to set out for the Belvedere and the Boboli Gardens, fortified by limoncello gelato and sheer determination.

A statue on the Ponte alle Grazie

A statue on the Ponte alle Grazie

In my four days in Florence, I must have, I discovered when I came home, managed to walk a good eight to ten miles a day. There’s an excellent and affordable city bus system – you bought bus tokens at newsstands – but I was much too impatient to wait for a bus when I could walk. Only to nearly kill myself walking the steep back road to the Belvedere, since the view – and the location – were worth it.


13. The breathtaking view from the very top of the Belvedere.

The internationally renowned Chinese artist Zhang Huan showed his artwork at the Belvedere and could hardly have found a more auspicious location than Florence – in artwork that celebrated the junction of spirit and matter, in the very city that turned that particular junction into its own celebrated art form. After Pitti Fragranze, it was the perfect antidote to trends and rampant hyper-luxury consumerism. For an hour or two on a Sunday afternoon, serenity returned, and there was nothing else but the rare art of dolce far niente, of breathing, of having every cell and fiber of your being entirely present…in the moment.

 I looked for enlightenment, and caught it looking back…

I looked for enlightenment, and caught it looking back…

Returning some hours later through the Uffizi courtyard and the usual long, long lines of tourists waiting to get in, two street performers played to the waiting crowds from across nearly three thousand years and two cultures, one of them this meticulously decked out character…

Of course the Egyptians knew all about Florence!

Of course the Egyptians knew all about Florence!

Yet the biggest crowd pleaser that afternoon was certainly this exuberant…cherub? Putto? Statue? Whatever the case, his charm and personality had the crowd in his white-gloved hand…

Cherub? Statue? Or Putto? You decide!

Cherub? Statue? Or Putto? You decide!

All too soon, Pitti Fragranze was over, it was Monday, and I would be departing in the late afternoon. Yet before I did, I had two things on my agenda – to say goodbye in style on the Piazza Santa Maria Novella – a favorite of American poet Henry Longfellow, and who was I to argue with my favorite Dante translator? – and to make a pilgrimage – there can be no other word – to L’Officina Santa Maria Novella.

The Last Latte. Alas.

The Last Latte. Alas.

I whiled away an hour or so over my latte, trying to phrase my impressions into words – the curse of a writer who can’t experience life without wanting to turn it into art! – and wondering what lay ahead. You see, so far as L’Officina Santa Maria Novella was concerned, I had heard such stories, and they couldn’t possibly be true – could they? Only one way to find out…

Down the Via Della Scala, in through a passageway, and what followed was…well, a retail experience unlike any other I have ever had.

Once through that passageway, you are quite literally… in another world. A Baroque edifice of splendor so stupefying, hardly anyone dared speak above a whisper. Beautiful salla followed beautiful salla… and then.

I. Was. There.

A shot of the ceiling in the anteroom at L’Officina Santa Maria Novella. Sadly, I was far too intimidated for more photos.

A shot of the ceiling in the anteroom at L’Officina Santa Maria Novella. Sadly, I was far too intimidated for more photos.

In a large, gray marble room as you enter, an elegant woman behind a perfume bar on your right will hand you samples of their perfumes sprayed on paper sample strips. You can’t simply douse yourself – you have to ask which of these perfumes you would like to try.

On your left, a long, marble countertop with long, crypt-like closed marble shelving behind it, where you are served by more deathly intimidating, elegant shop assistants. There is a list of L’Officina wares by a flower-laden table, even in English. (This is also on my wall now)

One glance at the price list, and it was clear that the only thing I could afford for my loved ones was bath soap (so much for my dreams of Melagrano!) but no matter – if the cherubim didn’t sing when I used it, I would never dare ask for a refund!

So I approached the black-clad, red-headed shop assistant – who eyed me with chilly hauteur – and informed her of my choices. These were transferred via magic,telepathy or computer to a chip card before an imperious hand pointed to the innermost sanctum behind the main room.

More cream-colored walls, more gray marble and very high counters, more occult merchandise hidden behind who knew what Florentine mojo and marble, and I waited my turn, handed the card to yet another Signora Frigidaire and was rewarded this time with my pathetic four bath soaps in a L’Officina bag before departing with my filthy lucre, now with prospects of being slightly less filthy with L’Officina soap!

Goodness! It was all true! Everything I had heard! Then again, it was an experience – and a carnation soap – I’m not likely to forget in a hurry!

I had just enough time to hasten back for a quick pizzetta with Angelo and a hurried goodbye before collecting my suitcase (who had piled on a few pounds in the meantime) and calling a taxi back to Peretola airport.

I can’t get back fast enough.

And reflected – on Pitti Fragranze, on all things Florentine, on the many people I’ve finally met at long last, on the perfumes I’ve smelled and the places I went and the magnificent friend I’ve made, when this forgotten quote by a forgotten British writer popped up in my mind. Fanny Burney had this to say on Italy and on travel:

‘Travelling is the ruin of all happiness! There’s no looking at a building here after seeing Italy.’

All this time later, now the dust has settled and my quotidian life has returned full force, as I look outside on a cool, windy, rainy autumn day – it’s all true.

After seeing Italy, everything… changes!

The view from Ponte Vecchio. Picture Perfect.

The view from Ponte Vecchio. Picture Perfect.


Note to my readers: Although this final installment of my Florentine Adventures is not strictly speaking perfume related, I thought you might like to live a little vicariously…;-) I’ll be back to more perfumes in a few short days, and would also like to point out that October and part of November have a theme: Gothick! Stay tuned!

A Florentine Adventure – Part Two


Of sales pitches, scents & sensory overload at Pitti Fragranze 2013

Imagine…a huge, old, mid-19th century red brick edifice, with soaring arches high above your heads, with bricks that resonate with the ghosts of a million hellos and goodbyes, joy, sorrow and anticipation somehow swirling invisible above the throng in this vast space. Once upon a storied time, this was the gateway to all things Florentine – the history, the heritage, the ever-present art that somehow elevates all in this city to myth and impossible dream. Such beauty, such stories, such history cannot be, and yet… it did and it does, even here and even now.

Welcome to the Stazione Leopolda in Florence, home for three frenetic days to Pitti Fragranze 2013.

For three days, this is the epicenter of the highest expressions of European perfumers’ and perfume companies’ alchemical art, this is where burgeoning reputations and successes are built, cemented and sometimes destroyed. Distributors are found, deals are made, agreements made, epiphanies are sniffed, discussed and sometimes felt in visceral, fatal ways.

Because presentation matters.

It’s important to understand one thing about my own idiosyncratic perspective on Pitti Fragranze: I have not one niche store anywhere near me, very, very rarely buy full bottles and I don’t own a credit card. My samples are either sent by brands for review (for which I’m far more grateful than they know) or sent by perfumista friends. (Ditto.)

So you can well imagine I wasn’t about to waste a chance in sniffing what I could while and as I could! Only to find that no matter how I tried – I couldn’t. Sooner or later, in spite of coffee beans and a scrap of wool in my handbag, olfactory fatigue would set in. This was a lesson I learned on my first day, which explains why I came home with so many samples and promises of emails for more… samples. Yet very many sample strips still found their way under my nose, and even a few sprays on my person, because having something applied by the mind that conceived it is its own certain thrill.


The Agonist display at Intertrade

And the displays! Bottles glowing like jewels (Intertrade’s section displayed under black lights), bottles in a swoon on transparent shelves and pedestals, bottles set up as epic tales of transport in library settings, bottles lined up as transcendental idols on flower-laden altars…

Presentation was – and is! – everything.

What all discerning pooches and pussycats will be wanting for Christmas.

What all discerning pooches and pussycats will be wanting for Christmas.

Amouage went all out for their presentation of Fate Man & Woman and had an entire booth devoted to them. I had never seen, never mind held a full bottle of any Amouage, and they took my breath away. Should I ever (I can dream!) get my hands on one of those factices, it’s getting its own display case.

Amouage Fate display.

Amouage Fate display.

Temptations in white and blacklight

By far the most unusual display of brands came from Intertrade, who distributes Boadicea the Victorious, Bond no. 9, Byredo, Blood Concept, Agonist, Czech & Speake, Nasomatto and the perfumes of the Icelandic artist Andrea Maack. In three separate rooms off the main hall of Stazione Leopolda, a luxe lounge lizard cave beckoned the curious closer. After wafting and wending my way through the Byredos, the Bonds and Czech & Speake, including happy reunions with old favorites Baudelaire and no. 88, I was stopped in the inner sanctum by this riveting sight:

Who says perfume can’t be its very own drug?

Who says perfume can’t be its very own drug?

Poor taste or effective marketing – you be the judge of that one!

A tall, striking blonde in a floppy black hat walked the innermost room, and with that strange Norse mojo that seems to apply wherever we congregate abroad, I knew precisely who she was – artist Andrea Maack. She and I had a long involved conversation that circled around themes of darkness and congregations prompted by her latest release, “Coven.” Fans of the Devilscent Project take note – “Coven” is a definite relation and variation on that theme of erotic darkness.

The Really Bad Case of Iwannas

Another variation on the theme, namely perfume, came from Panpuri, whose luxurious spa and skincare line has now branched out into perfumes (very good) and home ambience with a series of scented candles inspired by legendary women of history and literature. It was the Panpuri display that caught me (it was beautiful, and I was so enthralled I completely forgot to take photos), but those candles were breathtaking even before they were lit and smelled as divine as they looked. I came away wanting one of everything Panpuri. Fat chance. In the meantime, I can dream of having a candle inspired by Scarlett O’Hara, a favorite literary heroine of mine.


I’ll take one of each, please.

Pitti is also the location for Really Big Releases, and one of the biggest was certainly Neela Vermeire’s ‘Ashoka’, which was such a deserved hot topic at Pitti, Neela was in the spotlight and often on camera every day of the event. I am here to tell you that everything you might have read of Neela in person in absolutely true – she is so wonderful, even my purple prose fails me. She was also sweet enough to let me try her new Mohur Esprit de Parfum, which is so incredibly special, it will be especially reviewed.


Perfume displayed as idols on altars of transport…

The likewise very darling Vero Kern has been a very busy gal, releasing both last year’s Mito in a sumptuous liquid-velvet extrait and all four perfumes of her line in ‘voiles de parfum’ – which are evolutions of their original ideas because that’s how Vero works, bless her heart. They are neither diluted extraits nor amped-up eaux de parfum, but entities unto themselves which have to be felt to be properly experienced.

I was hijacked in the middle of a conversation with Vero by the very charming and persuasive Italian perfumer Lorenzo Dante Ferro, who is behind the Amorvero line of perfumes created for the Hotel Hassler in Rome and also his own line, Profumi d’Autore. Signor Ferro invited me to a cocktail party at the new Café Florian (an offshoot of the famous Café Florian in Venice) in Florence, for the launch of a line of ambient room sprays evoking the ambience of the original four salle, or rooms in Venice, and of course a series of supremely sumptuous perfumes to wear. It was an evening I won’t forget in a hurry – beautiful people in a beautiful café with a storied, centuries-old name, scintillating conversations about perfumes and people, introductions and hellos and promises of emails, and prosecco flowing like the Arno throughout. I left a good many hours later with samples galore and floated all the way back to my Porta al Prato hotel on perfumed prosecco bubbles…

I was certainly thrilled to find San Francisco-based perfumer Ineke Rühland among the exhibitors, since shortly before Pitti I had received her stunningly presented “Floral Curiosities’ collection of soliflores to try. Not only could she remember me, it also happened we knew quite a few people in common. Watch this space.

Another unparalleled pleasure was confusing the heck out of one of the Genie’s very favorite perfumers – and people. Andy Tauer was also in Florence to present his perfumes and also his new customizable collection of decants (something I wish far more brands would do), and just as Neela, Olivier Durbano and Pierre Guillaume, the poor man was mobbed with fans and admirers from morning till night. So I made a habit of sliding by and winking at him a few times a day before moving on through the crush on Friday and Saturday, until on Sunday, I finally grabbed my chance and waited out the throng. Andy has been an ardent supporter of TAG for quite some time, and it certainly meant the world to this perfume writer finally to be able to thank him personally for all his encouragement. I left some time, big hugs and a great conversation later with devious plans to get my greedy hands on Carillon Pour Un Ange (a huge surprise since I’m not the world’s biggest fan of lily-of-the-valley) and Noontide Petals (it really IS all that!) as soon as I possibly can. I foresee a decant set  – or three – in my future…

With so many brands competing for distribution, space, words and sometimes notoriety, it will inevitably happen that a gimmick or quirk will settle in your mind and refuse to leave. The Most Outrageous Gimmick award of Pitti 2013 (although my inner punk applauds the artist’s, shall we say, twisted sense of humor, my outer Taurus knows quite well I’ve Been Thoroughly Had) goes to O’Driù’s Angelo Pregoni for the sheer chutzpah of his latest creation, ‘Peety’. As for the perfume itself, what can I say? Except that if you want to accent one decidedly human aspect in perfume, your idea has been executed with far more flair, elegance and wearable finesse already, my sorrow to say. It was made by Neil Morris for the Devilscent Project and is called ‘Dev #1’.

Among the new brands and discoveries from Florence you can expect to see reviewed on TAG in the months to come are: Bruno Acampora, Parfums de Marly, Schwarzlose, Eau d’Italie, Maria Candida Gentile, Oliver & Co., Peccato Originale, Laborattorio Olfattivo, Phaedon (of which I’ve already reviewed Rouge Avignon), Lorenzo Dante Ferro, Ulrich Lang, Panpuri and a few more big surprises I’ll keep close a while longer. J

That Fragrant Malaise

But some time late Sunday afternoon, as I paced the Stazione Leopolda’s halls again, looking for brands I missed (there were a few) intentionally or otherwise, a certain malaise crept in. I wondered at the machinations of the European hyperluxe end of Planet Perfume, and had to confess to a definite bias I didn’t even know I had. For every Andy Tauer, Vero Kern, or Neela Vermeire, all three of whom show a degree of unparalleled dedication to their artistic vision and uncompromising quality, there are four brands who want a piece of that action – and fail. Not for a lack of trying, not for a lack of understanding their markets, but something far more fatal – a lack of vision. Put simply, they underestimate the customer base that is supposed to validate their existence as perfume brands. “They want fruity-figgy-green? Oud? Oud is hot, let’s make an oud. Call Givaudan/IFF/Mane and have them cook something up…”

If anything, the success I sniffed at the Pitti exists precisely because the brands that will be around five or ten years from now refuse to stoop so low. They know that niche and indie perfume connoisseurs are far more discerning than they’re given credit for, and will know a shortcut when they smell it. But above all in the Sunday afternoon miasma, what I missed most of all from all those emerging brands was originality. I missed the chances taken by American indie perfumers – the all-out sensuality of a Mandy Aftel, the exquisite restraint of a Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, the playfulness exhibited all over the Pacific Northwest by brands such as House of Matriarch, Olympic Orchids, Imaginary Authors, Slumberhouse, or the elegance of Envoyage Perfumes. I missed a sense of humor and risk-taking, the kind you’ll find with Opus Oils in Hollywood or East Coast brands like Neil Morris and House of Cherry Bomb.

There were plenty of fragrant revelations, but most came from the usual, consistent suspects, and not nearly enough from all these emerging brands. It all somehow melded into Eau de Pitti…expensive, expansive and yet not nearly distinctive enough.

How to feel fabulous in Florence: Sit among all the fabulous people.

How to feel fabulous in Florence: Sit among all the fabulous people.

Towards the end of Sunday afternoon, as brands began to dismantle displays and pack up, I left the fug and the fumes behind and went to sit outside, trying to sort all my impressions, trying to find a place for all the happiness I felt in finally meeting those who have meant so very much in my own perfumed journey.

Not long after, I was approached by a woman who sat down beside me with a sigh of relief.

It seems such an insult to call her “old”, although she was nowhere young, since I could tell from that twinkle in her eyes she had long since transcended all such adjectives, was far beyond all such judgment and opinion. Such women are rare, and intriguing when you find them. She was eccentrically dressed in violently clashing colors and floral patterns, with her white hair braided and finished with two periwinkle blue flowers that danced on her chest. She smiled at me, I smiled back, and was greeted with a torrent of Italian. I shrugged in apology, mentioned I spoke Inglese, and at that confession, she seemed to beam wider, as if the very word ‘English’ brought back memories of happy, distant times.

“Ah, signora,” she said. “Sei Americana?”

“Scusi, no. Danesa. I thought for a moment. “Io sono una scrittora.” And thought, not for the last time, that everything sounds so much better in Italian.

“Ah! Danesa! È una scrittora. A writer…” She looked me up and down, still with that devastating twinkle in her eyes. Then, with all the authority of what must have been at least eighty well-lived years, she straightened her shoulders, sat taller and demanded:

“Dammi la mano. Your hand.” She pointed to my right hand.

I handed it over. She traced the lines in my palm, bent and flexed my fingers this way and that, as she muttered sotto voce in Italian.

“Sei famosa. Or you will be. Molto famosa. You know l’amore, si?”

I was too flabbergasted to be anything but honest. “Yes. I do.”

“You will know more. This one-” she traced a line, “will leave, but there is another waiting. For you, signora. You will see. And fame. You will see.” She dropped my hand with a bawdy laugh and tilted her head back, towards Stazione Leopolda. “What you think? Of tutti… in there?”

A universe of implication in those few words and in her tone.

“So many perfumes,” I replied.

“Troppi profumi! That is their problem. Some great, some… not so much.” She shrugged, eyes twinkling. “For you, signora – fame! And l’amore, si? Un grande amore! But there…” Again, that eloquent backwards tilt of her head, the flowers dancing on her braids, a disbelieving shake of her head.

“Too many perfumes!”

She took my hand, gave it a squeeze, walked to the exit with a wave and a laugh, and was swallowed by the crowd outside Stazione Leopolda.

Even today, as the sun shines cold outside my window and I’m battling some sort of flu bug as I type, I’m still not convinced she wasn’t an angel.

Yet there were indeed…  troppi profumi!

With special thanks to all at Pitti Fragranze who made me so welcome; Neela Vermeire, Andy Tauer, Vero Kern, Lisa of Campomarzio70, Sonia Acampora, Andrea Maack, Marillene of Parfums de Marly, Tamas and Veronika of Schwarzlose, Ineke Rühland, and of course Lorenzo and Cindy Ferro.

Also one very large thank you to Sandra Perrone of Florence, human firebrand and an instant friend who opened up Firenze for me, and to Hasan, who introduced us.

Thanks no less to my fabulous readers, who made these words possible.

Note: With apologies for the (near interminable) delay in posting this, but September has been so mad/hectic, I didn’t even have time to change my mind! And when I did, I was felled – by the flu.

All photos: My iPhone.