Dreaming Venetian


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:

The Perfume Pharmer’s reviews of
Oud Luban
Immortal Mine
Ayala Moriel’s Clarimonde
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Paradise Lost

Jade Dressler

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

Scent Hive
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Indieperfumes’ reviews of
Oud Luban
Immortal Mine
Ayala Moriel’s Clarimonde
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Paradise Lost

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.

The Sanctity of Solace


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.

In the Clarimonde Project, ‘Oud Luban’ has also been reviewed by Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer, Scent Hive and Indieperfumes.

Other reviews in the Clarimonde Project:
Monica Miller’s ‘Sangre’ and her two lipstains:
Scent Less Sensibilities

Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl’s ‘Immortal Mine’:
The Perfume Pharmer
Scent Less Sensibilities

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.