It seems both recently and another age entirely that David Bowie died.
I really enjoyed this article in the New York Times I got here today.
I once had the pleasure of attending an event at Les Senteurs in London hosted by Francois Robert, creator of the Roses De Rosines originally reincarnated fragrances and there to promote his latest work for Londoner BEX : a range of perfumes aiming to capturing the essence of various districts of the capital. He was witty, passionate and approachable, and it was great fun talking to him in person (we both share an appreciation of Paco Rabanne’s legendary La Nuit).
I was also somewhat in awe (to put it mildly), to think of this perfumer’s lineage, to imagine that through just a few degrees of separation, I was standing next to the son and the great nephew two of the greatest perfumers of all time – Mr Robert’s father was Guy Robert, creator of Doblis, Calèche, and Equipage for Hermès, as well as Madame Rochas, Dioressence, and Amouage Gold; Francois Robert’s great uncle was of course none other than Henri Robert, the nose behind three adored Chanels: Pour Monsieur, Cristalle, and Nº 19, as well as the cold and diaphanous primaverile beauty that is Coty Muguet Des Bois. Aside from Jacques and Jean Paul Guerlain, in honesty it is difficult for me to imagine two more highly esteemed perfume creators, and I felt almost faint with excitement, standing there (almost) in their presence.
It is interesting, sometimes, to delve, if you get the chance, into the back catalogues of great perfumers and sample the perfumes they have created that are no longer with us; the more obscure and less famed productions from their oeuvres that yet must contain a fingerprint of their basic modus operandi (looking at the perfumes of Henri and Guy Robert, for example, we see that the former had an exquisite predilection for the cold, the elegant, and the green, while the latter, while equally prepossessing and chic, tended towards a slightly fuller and a fondness for rose jasmine and sandalwood).
Henri Robert – an absolute genius of elegance – first made Ramage (‘tree branches’) for Bourjois in 1950 – a green chypre I have not smelled personally (has anyone else on here?), but would love to.
In Guy Robert’s formidable osmography there are also some outliers (not every album you release can be a Greatest Hit): Mérefame by Menard, neither the perfume house nor the name of which I have ever heard of before until just this moment,
– and also on his curriculum vitae, a lesser known perfume by Jean Patou: Lasso from 1950 (which has also never crossed my path – and please do let us know if you know anything this one: Gabrielle I imagine you have them both! ).
Lasso is apparently a musky chypre floral from 1956, long disappeared.
One of Guy Robert’s less famous perfumes that I happen to be familiar with and do know well though is the lovely No. 1, atypical for the house, and in a globe of its own.
As a brand, for me Gucci has a less consistent image than other perfume houses (if you consider Chanel, for example); there is little consistency in terms of packaging, bottles, scent: now it is all Guilty and Flora; a great commercial behemoth; in the late nineties/early 2000s it was all the sleek, plastic Tom Ford Rushes et al, while the 80’s saw the hirsute hypervirile perfumes such as Gucci Nobile when Gucci was still all about those old fashioned Italian clasped bags, before the then still family owned business had regained its worldwide cool.
In terms of the Gucci perfumed ancestry, I have always rather liked Eau Parfumée Concentrée
– an Anaïs Anaïs on steroids from 1982 that I wear blithely on occasions when I feel like an easy eighties breeze reminding me of spoiled French or Italian exchange students in straw boaters and white blouses rowing on rivers in England in the summertime; one of those ‘private perfumes’, just for you, if you know what I mean, that you wear for the heck of it once in a while for the sensation that it gives you (but only at home).
I also like Gucci N⁰ 3 : more my thing, more chypric and taloned,
– more generic mid eighties megalith (but still quite fresh and understated in some ways – great for an evening sat knowingly at the bar in sophisticated expectation of your prey.)
Guy Robert’s N⁰1 for Gucci, on the other hand, is quite different.
A tender beauty; demure yet (somewhat( self assured.
Fresh, floral green and aldehydic, with notable carnation floral tones and the familiar woody musk undertones typical of this classic kind of perfume, to me No 1 smells like the lovechild of Guy Laroche Fidji and Ricci L’Air Du Temps, with some DNA from Paco Rabanne’s celebration-of- a-bubblebath masterpiece, Métal. Delicately peached, leafed and garlanded with florals, this perfume is far too ‘untouchably feminine’ for me to wear on my skin personally. It simply wouldn’t work. And while lovely, N⁰1 doesn’t, I would say, have quite the uniquely recognisable heft of perfumes in Mr Robert’s revered gallery such as Calèche, Doblis, or Madame Rochas. And yet it is its own creature. Nothing else is quite the same. And I sometimes take the small parfum that I own and smell it from the box. I like having it there.
Sometimes the reaction to a perfume entirely depends on the weather. When I first received this scent, by Liverpool-based brand Essen Minimal, in the boiling Japanese summer, it just seemed faint and prickly, defeated by the dense humidity. In winter, it feels entirely different. Black pepper and pink pepper blended with Calabrian bergamot smell fresh like new neroli, while the stringent, frankincense undertones give a curiously contradictory effect almost like a memory of Narcisse Noir. In the cold weather now, this simple and minimalist scent – clean and resuscitating – feels psychologically appropriate.
In terms of the news, and discussions of Certain People, my brain filament burnt out completely last November in that regard, so I am literally now unable to further discuss it. Watching the footage yesterday, I was wide-eyed, but wordless. Unsurprised. In some ways, to me it feels like a perfect ending (if it even is the end – Lord help us). Horrendous, yes. But a fitting denouement.
NOW JAIL THIS ASSHOLE
During the first coronavirus official state of emergency in Japan last March, my comforting go-to perfume of the time was Santa Maria Novella’s delicious pomegranate powdery aldehyde classic, Melograno. As fresh, crystalline aldehydic as it could possibly be, this is the most famous and enduring of all the SMN fragrances, used in bath salts and room fragrances and all manner of products from the venerable Florentine apothecary, purportedly aimed at men (and thus quite iconoclastic in many ways ; with a crisp, tart top note of fruity pomegranate with cyclamen, ylang ylang and rose, it is has nothing in common whatsoever with the typical, hairy masculine, although Japanese taxi drivers in Japan do often wear powdery woody floral aldehydes that put me in mind of Melograno; the scent of hair creams, and pomades; shaving foams and skin tonics).
While always quite superficially enjoying this perfume, the times I have smelled it from the bottle or all around me in Santa Maria Novella’s boutiques (the original shop in Florence an oasis of beauty in all regards) it wasn’t until acquiring a cut-price full bottle of Melograno last year and wearing it on skin that I realized just how damn sexy this perfume actually is. On me, the hawthorn/ fern / iris / oakmoss heart of the perfume soon dries down to a powdery labdanum amber opoponax vanilla that you would never have even known was there if you were concentrating solely on the snowy ice crystals of the opening facets of the scent. I soon found that D was reacting very positively to Melograno : one of those perfumes I was seemingly born to wear, and since that time it has become a reassuring, dependable staple.
On January 2nd this year, having remained nested at home all day on the first, we walked down the hill in the evening to celebrate the arrival of 2021 by having dinner at a French/ Japanese restaurant. Yukari, near Meigetsuin Temple, while a tad austere and respectable-than-thou, is a nice place to have a quiet, high quality meal (locally farmed vegetables; beef in red wine). While conscious – very conscious, now, as things get worse in most countries – things seem particularly horrendous right now back in England – that we perhaps shouldn’t be doing this any more, the restaurant was spacious, well ventilated, and all the upright-backed patrons were taking small bites and sitting at correctly spaced out tables wearing face masks for the entirety of their equally cautious visits except for the moments they were actually eating; conversing quietly, and sipping.
In the cold crisp air of the night as we went back home, Melograno smelled lovely; a glow of warm powder and possibility. When shower-fresh, the brace of the top notes is delightfully clean (“you smell so soapy !’). A day later, on the body, warmed up on skin it comes across more naughty, a little Marquis De Sade, which shows you that there is definitely more to the deceptively simple perfumes of the seemingly traditionalist Santa Maria Novella collection than perhaps initially meets the eye.
On the topic of Italy and Italian perfumery, I received the Italian edition of my book in the post yesterday morning (” Profumo: Alla Ricerca Della Tua Fragranza”), and I have to say that I couldn’t be more delighted with the translation. Despite the pain of physically holding up the book all day as I embarked on the curious but wonderful experience of finding my own words translated into another language, I was ecstatic to discover that the person responsible for transforming my fragrant tome into Italian really knows what she is doing. Claudia Valeria Letizia has captured precisely what I was hoping to express (a great joy and passion for scent and its connection to experience) in a delectable Italian vocabulary and a perfect sense of cadence and syllabic rhythm that even stretches to all my made-up language and vocabulary – ‘almondisms’ becomes ‘mandorlismi’, for instance: she goes with the flow and sometimes changes things for the better while keeping the original intact: I was overjoyed, all of yesterday; this being an entirely new experience for me, the grey, miserable January day fading into the background as I indulged in the familiar yet obviously different sphere of my own prose. Later, upon looking up what works this translator has done before, I saw that my instincts certainly hadn’t been wrong; the Italian version of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, as well as books by Joyce Carol Oates, Muriel Spark, Djuna Barnes and Vita Sackville West,among many others, were all translated into Italian by Claudia Valeria Letizia – so I want to say thanks very much to my Italian publisher, Ippocampo, for selecting someone so naturally gifted and talented.
Just to write a little bit more on the subject of Perfume. A couple of weeks ago or so I was asked – amusingly; semi-ironically, perhaps caustically – why I had decided to write a ‘book of dodos’. This was a fair point, and was obviously referring to the fact that so many of the selections in Perfume are difficult to find, discontinued, obscure or at least not on the shelves of airport duty free sections or of niche perfumeries. No one is more conscious than me of the fact that the book, intense and dense and incredibly self-indulgent as it is, should have had more, that it could have been four times as long, that there are glaring omissions in my selections (depending on how you look at it), and that so many new fragrances have been released since its publication – tens of thousands; more even, such is the rate at which new perfumes come and go nowadays : the fact that it is anything but comprehensive. A perfume guide written by another person would probably contain an entirely different and unrelated set of fragrances: mine is certainly idiosyncratic and eccentric (but based on my own personal discoveries and memories – hence their inclusion: in some ways this book was like an autobiography). It was both a mortification and a wonder for me having the opportunity to have a book of perfumes published, one that is now sold in Harrods, Selfridges as well as in book shops all over the world – my friends have bought it at Kinokuniya in Tokyo – both the English and Italian versions are now sold at the Lush Perfume Library in Florence – it is sold at Waterstones in my hometown …….. but having to choose what to include and what to reject, to sew it all into a inclusive whole was an excruciating labour of love I will never forget (also; in discussing perfumes that are gone or semi-extinct, I know that deep down I was influenced, to some degree, by the experience of reading the original French edition of Luca Turin’s ‘Le Guide’ from 1992, many years after it was originally published. So many of the entries in that ground-breaking and poetically beautiful book were not available to me personally, yet I think I masochistically enjoyed the tantalising descriptions of the perfumes that I couldn’t smell even more than the ones that I actually could…….. The words, themselves, captured my sensory, olfactive imagination).
Being so intrinsically bound up in the creation of the book when I was writing and editing it, with all the frantic tos and fros between the editorial staff and myself at the time, strangely, I feel as if I hadn’t really read it before plunging into its Italian translation over these last two days. It has been as though I were reading a book by somebody else and yet by myself for the first time: really quite an intriguing – if possibly narcissistic – sensation. (I love it.) It’s like doing a homework assignment on your own book. Bizarre and slightly mind-bending. There are so many words I don’t know in this Italian language version that I will have to refer to my own original to know the precise meaning of every sentence, reminding me of all those years ago when we had to read Italian novels at university despite having only just started learning the language, constantly referring to the massive Italian-English dictionary on my desk (Emma, you will remember those fraught scholastic times). Now, with this slight linguistic distancing effect, I have the feeling of being able to read it as an outsider in one go, as it was intended to be read – at very least dipped into – in doses – as I see now just how pungent the writing is as a whole – indigestibly concentrated; reeking. It has been quite eye-opening. In retrospect, seeing it all anew, I am pleased that I described so many classic and timeless perfumes from so many eras rather than just trying to do a guide to the local department store, as it works, for the author at least, as a ‘fragmented history’, a voyage into my own exposure to many of the masterworks of perfumery through the lens of my own life. I still feel, also, that the overall structure makes basic sense: a good starter, perhaps, for someone who is trying to make inroads into the world of perfumery (the key to the book being in its title: In Search Of………..); the division into chapters featuring descriptions of individual perfume notes followed by some examples of scents that are dominated by that particular olfactory theme hopefully prising open a little a mysterious world that to many people unfamiliar with perfumery remains hermetically closed.
Naturally, I would love to do an updated version if given the opportunity. To expand it all, add contemporary independent perfumes that have come out in the meantime that I have enjoyed, that I find interesting in some way and would recommend. But if that were to happen, I would also definitely include new old discoveries – such as Melograno, which I am really enjoying wearing again at the moment. It is a simultaneously grounding and scintillatingly uplifting scent ; the only problem, from the writerly point of view, being which themed section to put this perfume in ?……………The Classic Aldehydes; Fruit; Amber, or – the most likely – my most over-the-top and obliviously epicurean, hedonistic chapter ——- The Boudoir ?
In Japan it is deemed auspicious to dream of Mt Fuji at New Year. I dreamed of the virus all night long on the 31st, but woke up to a beautiful clear, sunny, vibrant day, feeling I was awakening to a new start.
It turns out in any case that as few people get a proper night’s sleep on New Year’s Eve, in Japanese folklore, the dreams you have on the night of the 1st of January actually foretell your luck for the year , particularly if they feature Japan’s sacred mountain, a hawk, or an eggplant ( the noun ‘nasu’ also a verb meaning to strive for success). I had no aubergine-drenched reveries myself (‘She Dreamed Of Moussaka’) but I did have a very pleasurable dream about us having a beautiful house in Bangkok made of stone with a courtyard of tropical trees.
Like many people in the neighbourhood, we went out for a walk in the morning to celebrate the arrival of the new year. Most go to a shrine to perform the ritual of ‘hatsumode’, but this year we didn’t fancy the crowds.
Instead, we walked ten minutes from our house to the viewing platform over Kamakura. The colour of the sky suggested we would be able to see the elusive Mt Fuji – invisible most of the time – and we were not disappointed. It was nice seeing families and couples who had climbed up from the other direction to admire the view. The air was wonderfully clear and fresh.
A very Happy 2021 to you.
2020 was an ouroboros; a snake eating its own tail.
Time itself has felt compressed, elongated, stretched, quickened; repressed:
Christmas/ New Year 2019 feel like eternities ago to me, and yet just like yesterday. More recent than the summer or this Autumn. Whole swathes of time feel irretrievable, as though our brains themselves went on lockdown; pouches of time put away; stored. The spring feels like centuries ago. The usual, graspable continuity trashed. Our emotions mushed. Mangled. In survival mode.
How wonderful it would be to be able to just say phew, we got through the year. But despite the excitement over the vaccines, those syringes of hope that I am looking forward to having injected into me as soon as possible, the coronavirus continues to rampage its shitty way through the world, causing untold misery for hundreds of millions, billions of people, whether from struggling to survive economically because of the damage the pandemic has caused, contending with the symptoms of the disease itself, or mourning the loss of people who have died from it. I know that I am stating the obvious.
I must also say that I do feel very lucky to have been here in Japan. The country does have its strict, suppressive tendencies sometimes, but overall it is a rational, civilised, and really quite sensible place. The US has roughly three times Japan’s population but one hundred times more deaths. The UK has half Japan’s population but a far, far, higher mortality rate. Purely from the self-preservation perspective, being here in a country where masks are worn at all times inside, and out – with the crucial exception of eating and drinking – has been a blessing. The policitization of mask wearing- is surely one of the main reasons for this, as it is just so obvious, even for one as unscientific as myself, that the virus would thus have been otherwise constrained. This was a heinous blight on humanity, and so unnecessary.
What has also become more clear to me recently though is how truly complex so much all of this is; what we can realistically expect people to actually endure. What the limits are (Sorry, also, if this post is an incoherent ramble; I don’t physically have the capacity today to go back and edit this post too much, as I mentioned previously, I seem to have some kind of shoulder/arm/wrist/hand/tendon problem – possibly repetitive strain injury, and although I can write more easily on a computer as I can type very quickly – it has become almost impossible on my phone at this stage; each tap of the key too painful – it is obvious that I definitely need to see a medical professional about it at the earliest opportunity if I can do so safely in Tokyo. So frustrating. . I literally can’t even spray a perfume with my right hand – the very height of effeteness. So it would probably be better for me to just sit staring at a screen rather than posting on one. Just riding out the rest of 2020 with yet another TV show. It is just that writing The Black Narcissus all through this year; being able to express so many different sides of (my) life and feelings and thought processes in a way that has been so stress-relieving : interacting, having a space where I am able to vent, knowing how others have themselves been doing, has been a wonderful experience in itself. I have felt connected. ‘A room of one’s own’. A world apart from the grubbier, shabbier, aggressive, and cell-ravaging real one. So today, on the last year of 2020, I just wanted to really say thank you, and to wish everyone a much happier and safer 2021. Our communication has meant a great deal to me. And I hope that it will continue.
Where was I?
Oh yes, I wanted to write about my hypocrisy.
One thing that I have realized, recently, as I was saying, is the fact that it is so easy to make pronouncements, nonchalantly, about various aspects of this difficult time, particularly in relation to other people: one of mine being, what is wrong, precisely, with having to stay in the house? Why are you bored? What’s wrong with being at home all the time? Isn’t it better than being out there and risking dying from asphyxiation and virulent fevers? It is, but I don’t think I have quite taken into account the strain that many people have been under, nor the individual character traits that make different people react as they do to being denied stimulation and human contact. Extroversion/introversion. Physically active, vs physically lazy (like me). Everyone has been under pressure and stress: each, with their own particular predicaments. For me, teaching in a mask, sometimes several two hour lessons at one time, in environments that have been very far from safe, with almost no ventilation, and zero social distancing; a viral hotbed (both D and I have had students or their family members who have tested positive; we know it is in the population and must be in the air around us, and this has caused me to just zone out, pretend it isn’t real, which I know is a great stressor in itself, that lie ——the consequence of which being that any free time, any days off just spent here, feel like bliss. Just dancing alone in the kitchen to old records, a big middle finger to Miss Corona.)
At the same time, now that I can’t spend my days writing, and am off work, I find myself waking up thinking how the hell am I going to fill up my days. Writing on here is my lifeblood; but for the time being I probably can’t actually do it. This is a great blow. Even lifting a book or a newspaper is painful, so I can’t really even read. All I can do is watch Netflix. Which is great, but also after a while, more than a little stultifying. Or go for a walk. And I suppose this is what a large majority of people have been feeling all along , as well. Especially those who don’t necessarily feel the need to express themselves publicly like this. For the more active type of person, the more naturally socially cooperative, not being able to go anywhere or do the usual things you do must be extremely hard to deal with, day after dull day. Wake up. Repeat. Go to bed. In this regard I myself am the opposite: my work days require such a great deal of exertion that I am always contented to be at home. Until now. Now I understand more how my and D’s parents have been feeling; my friends stuck at home working on Zoom, just trying to hold their family households together but without any letup. Boredom is not something I usually suffer from. But in these new circumstances, I can feel it slowly encroaching.
Another way that I have been hypocritical – very – is about going out.
I have berated my parents for going to a restaurant on my mother’s birthday, when they were gasping for some kind of social atmosphere, to properly celebrate the occasion, and have a meal cooked by somebody else (we all know that these are the most dangerous places for infection) – but despite what I said to them in warning, I can’t deny that D and I have been eating out all along since the end of the first lockdown – and even before. Partly because it simply hasn’t been as dangerous here, for whatever reasons, but also because in my case, greed overcomes common sense – and everyone else has been eating out too. True, compared to a normal year there has been virtually no socialising at all. We don’t really meet friends. No one has stayed over at our house (very unusual). We haven’t been to Tokyo at all. I have seen people socially in the flesh maybe five or six times all year.. So in that sense, we have been very careful.
Recently, however, it feels as though it has been unravelling. I tut when I see the pictures of people out on the streets in the UK, shopping for Christmas, but then I myself have an event in a department store where I can’t help hugging my friends, and then end up asking a group of ten of them if they fancy a cocktail on the top floor because I just wasn’t able to stop myself ; a place where we were all sat together with our masks off, next to a margarita Mexican lounge thronging noisily with people laughing and eating and drinking. I think we were even sharing some nachos. Insanity. And this includes an older friend of mine who has some serious respiratory problems and should be taking the most serious of precautions but was out having a drink anyway because he just really thought fuck it – I need this, and it was so nice (but in retrospect so very stupid). A different part of your brain takes over. The Pleasure Principle. You forget how much you have missed doing it; talking to people face to face; how integral other people are to your existence.
A week later, my Japanese colleagues and I went for a lovely walk in the forest overlooking the temple complexes of Kenchoji and Hansobo as arranged; there was Mt Fuji, and the ocean – the sun was bright, and it looked incredibly beautiful. We had a lovely lunch at the soba place one minute from our place. And they came back to my house to listen to records and drink wine. Talk and eat English mince pies. Wearing masks just didn’t seem right. And so we didn’t , except intermittently. Again – foolish. And then, just a few days ago, on the way back from Atsugi we met Michael – who we haven’t seen for a year, since making the ‘Martin’ video in Osaka (which is in a state of emergency): Kamakura was packed; we went to a bar, a restaurant overlooking a Japanese garden at night that we chose for its sparsity, but then after for a nightcap there was another place, maskless with young women and each other; talking for hours. I feel that we have been reckless at every turn, and a part of me hates myself for not having been stronger; having had more will power to just be clinical and logical. Not risking infection with a terrible disease. What is the psychology of this? Have you been at all similar? Or have you been dutifully locked away the whole time? Have you been a perfect model, coronacitizen? I have tried, but I definitely can’t claim first or second prize. I think in my own case, it is partly the fact that I am constantly in a swirl of people at work with no protections, and can’t avoid taking crowded public transport, although always masked, masked, masked (I can’t wait not to wear a mask any more! ) – so I suppose being constantly immersed in this congested, human soup I have become a little gung-ho. We even went and stayed at a hotel at the seaside.
Admittedly, the New Fujiya Hotel, a classic institution we have never been to before, very popular with couples, extended families, all kinds of people,was strict about Covid-19 prevention measures. Sanitiser everywhere, preordained masks; obviously the mass breakfast buffet was hands clean first and then rubber gloves before you could touch anything, but still, everyone there, to some extent, was taking a risk (again, why? Should we not all just have been stuck in our houses? Then again, the number of deaths is far less than the annual flu here……….).
Just in front of this blue neon sign on the front of the hotel was a rotenburo, an outdoor hotspring that was good for my aching skeleton, even though it was strange to be walking stark naked in the cold afternoon onto a balcony little sheltered from the strong winds. The thermal waters themselves were very soothing, even if soaping down and showering beforehand felt anti-intuitive and a little chilly.
Pre-bathing, as J-hotels usually do, the establishment had its own selection of signature toiletries; available for sale, of course, at the hotel gift shop in the lobby; a honey shampoo/conditioner/body soap, a camellia one, and my favourite – horse oil and cherry blossom, a bottle of which I even took home with me as an Atami souvenir. On a poster, they even went to the trouble of breaking down the shampoo into top notes, middle notes and base notes, a la perfume.
The smell is lovely, actually. Not quite vegan, to say the least, or of that ilk, but with the sakura and rose and cherry and almond it smells like Loutens Louve and Elizabeth Taylor’s Diamonds & Rubies, and I am always on the look out for new shampoos that suit my remaining follicles. Glowing from the waters, soothed deeply in the muscles and skin, we went back to our room, got dressed and went out to our favourite Chinese restaurant (oh the chicken ) wandering the always delicately run down and haunting streets of Atami, a deserted if tourist-populated place that stems from another time, but nevertheless always bids us return.
Down at the beach, Christmas Eve, as scattered crowds gathered, stood apart, on the sands, there was, to our surprise (we only heard about it ten minutes before) , a special Covid-19 Christmas five minute firework display. Despite the winds, we decided to huddle with the other people there, socially distanced. At first, after rampacious Queen’s Thank God It’s Christmas had echoed strangely along the coastline, ghostly reverberating in the delayed feedback promenade tannoys announcing the beginning of the show, those there looked out to sea, the harbour, expecting the horizon to be lit up with colour. Instead, as a J-pop christmas hit about the Holy Night began on the radio station and the fireworks began, we had to adjust our expectations to economic reality, as a rather small scale celebration of Christmas ‘fire flowers’ took place to the right by a jetty.
As the voice over the loud speaker thanked us for being there and urged us now to go back to our hotel accommodation for virus safety, I felt a little desolate for a few moments as though in North Korea; while the old song from Pinocchio, When You Wish Upon A Star came on unexpectedly to the sound system; , its timbre perfect, its timelessness and emotivity potent as I thought back over past Christmases with my family and I found myself crying – sad, yet perfectly happy to be alive in the moment.
On Christmas Day and Boxing Day, D was wearing Rogue Perfume’s Mousse Illuminée. He also wore this scent this time last year, when we went to the hot springs in Hakone, where I remember its red-coloured woody mossiness being perfect in the cold, mountainous air. This year, with its coniferous tang over cedar, it smelled, to me, purpler, in tone, like grapes ; regal ; a celebratory aspect that went ideally with our walks around the neighbouring hot spring towns of Yugarawa and Manazaru.
I remember at that time last year I was going to write a full review of this perfume, but somehow the days passed over the New Year holidays into 2020, December bled into January and then everything happened ; first in China, then over here, with the cursed Diamond Princess docked in Yokohama back in February, a time when none of us had any idea of the global ramifications of it all but I was here, ranting and raving on the Black Narcissus about the incipient dangers to us all like a deranged Cassandra. The stress was mounting. There was a head in the sand evasion among the authorities in Japan, a pretending nothing was happening; then all of a sudden we went into lockdown, a strange and unnatural-while-totally- natural time that passed by so quickly and yet so slowly, days repeated, a grip on life, the anchor of the daily routine fallen to the sea bed of subconsciousness. You never really knew what day it was, or even the date or the month; time, as we knew it, had definitely changed. Some of you reading this have probably been in this situation ever since that time ; some alone, not even with the comfort and psyche-preservating bedrock of a partner to talk about it all to and share meals with; I do realise that people who have truly been isolated have had it really hard. But even for those in more fortunate positions, the uncertainty, fear and worry of it all as you ‘grimscroll’ or whatever the expression is through bad news after bad news has taken its toll; an ‘end of days’ panic; even if you were in relative comfort and could enjoy the new quiet, the stepping back from the frantic alarm clock normality, there was still that underlying apprehension. Always. Like a lump in the psychological throat. For me, these blocks of time; abnormal, extreme, were something I just plunged into like everyone else ; the initial doom-of–dark-clouds lingering above wherever your mind went in order not to go mad, but thus, losing track of time in the process; then, for me and D and all the sweating teachers of Japan, the contrasting havoc of plastic face shields in boiling hot July when I was thrust back into it all or else lose my job (being the only person in the company refusing to go in to the office had put in me a precarious position), and going back – though part of me thrilled to interactions in the classroom, it was still a time I only could get through each day, with my eye on the finishing line of each term, exhausting (relatively, of course: I can only vaguely imagine what it must have been like all of this time being hospital workers fighting to keep patients alive day and night. In fact I can’t imagine it. And I know have no right to complain). On top of it all, though, to really fuck us in the head and heart and soul and everywhere else, of course we then had to have the truly torturous, extended electro-convulsive shock treatment of the American Election, which in its future Orwellian implications – actually more dangerous to humanity in the long run than the coronavirus – left me truly battered, quasi-lobotomised; bound for intense and longing hibernation the moment it seemed that we might finally be out of the water.
Perhaps this is why last Christmas feels more recent: because the subsequent ten months were just too much for the mind to take in. I remember D and I walking along in the crystal cold air of Hakone, at the end of 2019, waiting for the bus to take us up to the hot spring, the comforting semi-new school aroma of the Rogue Perfume hanging in the clarity of the trees around him. Fast edit in my mind clip to just a week ago, and he was still wearing it, like a continued moment (A little too Ralph Lauren Polo-like to be a regular feature, I did still really enjoy smelling this on him this year and I think it might become a regular Christmas Scent. I was wearing my vetiver oil – my staple of this yea – and some Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier Racine).
This Christmas Day itself we wandered happily and aimlessly, out in the open air; a warm December day, by the sea. In the evening, after a fantastic meal in a French restaurant (again taking risks…..my god the crispy crab quiche and perfect pumpkin soup though .. ) we Facetimed with our families; D’s grinning nieces and nephews and his brother and sister-in-laws and parents in the kaleidoscope of the Zoom frame; my parents in their red jumpers and Christmas hats; my sister, in London, unable to get home – wrenching, but, again, also a reminder of how much technology has been an absolute godsend this year. The true isolation, otherwise, would have been hellish.
It has been an indelible year: terrible. Yet despite the distress of it all , I feel that I have been extremely lucky. The effect on the world of this virus has been huge. For different people in different, and unique ways. We will be talking about it for decades to come. Monumental. And I personally have had it comparatively very easy, even if it hasn’t been a picnic for me either, I have to say: each of us has their own problems and issues to contend with: I have in fact had other experiences unconnected to this, connected to some close family members, that have been truly like nightmareish horror – convulsions to the spirit that have made me ill – but which I can’t discuss. My parents have suffered terribly, but continually managed to have a brave and cheerful face whenever I have called, and if you are reading this, I must tell you I love you for it. It has been very tough for both of them. It has also impacted my own health, and my mind. Work has not been easy. Being a ‘foreigner’ has its challenges. Simultaneously, I cannot deny that me and D have had a blast: making films, writing, going on short trips, binge-watching TV series, smelling perfumes, walking around beautiful Kamakura, dancing around the kitchen; . I feel appreciative of things; the important things. Yes, it has been a maelstrom, and I sincerely wish, for all of humanity, that next year is far, far better. More peaceful. More stable. Let the vaccines work; let some sensible, decent people take control, and let’s put 2020 behind us. We do not need a repeat. What this mad, bad, dangerous year has also taught me though, is how resilient people are; and how exhilarating life can be on a daily basis, how precious. And, because of my naturally hedonistic tendencies and what might be described as reckless behaviour – as detailed above (and the inherent desire for physical contact: which you don’t even quite recognize in yourself after a while – you know, some of us just couldn’t help giving each other a hug the other week at the talk I gave because we did it even before we had a chance to even realise we were doing it ) – a deeply keen awareness of the vast, messy, contradictory chaos of being human.
Just watched Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Mother!’ again
(which my own mother HATED, possibly with good reason, though I think I kind of like it, as did Duncan and my sister)
Spending a few days in the Atami hot springs for the therapeutic waters.
Can’t say no to a 5 dollar unopened parfum de toilette from a junk shop in the classic crystal flacon. Can’t wait to try it when we get home (I am not taking my chances with this one)
Have a great time whatever you are doing x