Perfume in the Time of Plague


– with apologies to the (dearly adored and admired) ghost of G. G. Marquez

Since I last wrote on this blog, the world tilted on its axis, a virus still ravages the planet, the news from my other country, USA, became and still is a Thing To Avoid Because Sanity Also Matters, and perfume seemed so superfluous. Why care about perfume when the world is on fire? Why care about art, literature, science or even the human condition when it’s glaringly obvious we’ll all be fighting for survival soon enough?


Once upon a time, I can hear myself saying to grandchildren some day, the world was a different place. People… mingled.

The Extrovert’s dilemma

We went to concerts, exhibitions, the movies. We arranged potluck barbecue parties with our fifteen closest friends, and hoped the weather would cooperate. We would sometimes turn to each other on the street – an old and dear friend, a perfect stranger, a potential flirt – and smile. We hugged, if you can believe it. We even kissed each other on the cheek!

We struck up conversations with people we’d just met a few minutes before at wine bars over a delicious glass of Blauburgunder. We paid for theater tickets and went to see plays, ballets and operas on that Human Condition. If we got lucky, we even went home and told everyone else about what we saw, where we went, whom we met.

Not once did we ever stop to count our blessings. Not once.

Four months on, I find myself wondering whether the world will ever be the same again, even after reopening. I’m not sure it ever will be – the same. For this happy extrovert, lockdown was torture. I was one of those idiots who looked forward to school every morning. I dreadfully missed my history teacher, since the lockdown meant we missed nearly an entire semester of his eminent teaching, and we still  had to hand in our history didactics theses and  have our final oral exams. I missed the cheery smiles and hellos of my other teachers these past three years and I missed joking with the canteen ladies.

I also missed writing, and I certainly missed writing about perfume, except that my minuscule perfume collection was looking a bit … tired. I loved what I loved – that hasn’t changed – but in all other respects, I needed an epiphany or two, and those have been relatively thin on the ground lately.

So to celebrate my birthday, cheer myself up and maybe find a new olfactory epiphany, I bought a perfume blind.

Things only perfumistas know

Lemmings in perfumista terms are those pangs of desire we feel when something is described so beautifully, we want to toss ourselves over that cliff, try it for ourselves and all consequences be damned. That was how I felt after reading Colognoisseur’s review of Jean Patou’s Collection Héritage Chaldée, and Persolaise’s rapturous review was no help at all. When I located it on a perfume discounter website at a price even an impecunious student could afford, I bought it. I thought that if I hated it, I could always sell it on.

Dear readers, I fell like a metaphorical large pile of bricks.

Opoponax was listed as a note, and that made me nervous. I suspected it was the opoponax in Shalimar that turned it to scorched, acrid rubber on my skin, and that’s no way to feel about one of the 20th-century Greats.

That didn’t happen with Chaldée. At all.

I’d tell you what did happen, only that’s an upcoming review. Stay tuned.

A ghost in the bottle

Wearing perfume, you are always playing a free association game. Wearing AND writing about perfume, the free association game becomes a habit. I’ve found myself writing posts in my head while shopping, while out for a walk, while doodling in a notebook during class, or even on the train home from school.

Last September, a supremely dear fellow perfume writer and friend died suddenly. The kind of friend who would gossip with you on Messenger, the kind of friend who posted the best jokes, the kind of friend you’d dearly wish lived much, much closer than Puget Sound, the kind of friend whose death had me bawling in the rain on a train platform one morning on my way to school. Someone so full of life, his life force encircled the entire solar system, I’m sure of it. His writing was quite often lemming-inducing, but for whatever reason, nothing got my lemmings hurling faster than his review of Perris Monte Carlo’s Ylang Ylang Nosy Be. I’ve been most thoroughly impressed by the Perris Monte Carlo line. Ylang is one of my favorite notes. So when he described it as the ultimate in tropical escape juice, I’d clutch at my metaphorical pearls and considered buying a decant. I even once ordered a sample, but for whatever reason, that order didn’t go through. Curiosity would definitely kill this cat.

Then, on a FB perfume group, someone had a bottle for sale at an outrageously great price. I bought it. Only to discover that damn-it-all-to-hell, Robert – you were right!

He was in the bottle, too. I wore it for my (virtual) history exam. Surely, on that Thursday afternoon, the ghost of Robert Hermann was sitting on my shoulder whispering “work it, girl!” So I did. And I like to think – this being my final as a history teacher – I did him proud.

I’ll also be reviewing the Ghost of Robert/Ylang Ylang Nosy Be.

The scent of summer

It’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Sometimes, in summer, you long for Great Big Orientals just to antidote all the light and flighty ‘fumes. And sometimes, light and flighty is fine so long as it’s an interesting ride.

I’ve been a devotee of Hermès Jardin line since I discovered Un Jardin sur le Nil. Not all of them – Un Jardin Mediteranée didn’t work for me at all. But enough to be at least curious. But one tugged at my heartstrings and stuck in my mind. That one was Le Jardin de Monsieur Li.

I’m not much of a cologne-y person. I like my perfumes full-bodied, thank you. At EdT strength, Monsieur Li won’t swipe your surroundings off the floor, but it is substantial, complex enough to be interesting and it uses kumquat as a main note, and how often does that happen?

Better still, it’s the epitome of summer-vacation-in-a-bottle. A villa overlooking the endless blue Paleokastritsa bay of Corfù, say, nestled behind kumquat and lemon trees. I can’t afford the real deal yet, even if I can travel again, but in the meantime, I’m not complaining.

The Big Back 40 Backlog

A few days ago, I came across a Perfumes To Be Reviewed list from last summer on my workbook. And promptly realized I had missed two big ones – Neela Vermeire Créations Niral, and Amouage’s Portrayal.

I’m not going to give you my l-o-n-g list of excuses, but I did have two massive exams which didn’t leave a lot of time for too much else.

But you’ll have those to look forward to, too.

What has been exciting YOU lately? Let me know in the comments. And I hope you are all weathering these extraordinary times as best you can.

More madness later?