Monthly Archives: January 2014

SOPHISTICATED BOOM BOOM: TOM FORD NOIR (2012)

The Black Narcissus

 

 

 

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Any half-decent release in the dire world of commercial men’s fragrance is cause for celebration. And Noir, the latest Tom Ford release from his mainstream collection (his Private Blends are about four times the price), is really rather nice. The louche, airbrushed seductor has come up with a convincing men’s oriental for the twenty first century that will hopefully catch on with modern males and start a new trend for smells that attract rather than repel, bringing some softening and intelligence to the ghastly, weapon-like woody-citruses that usually dominate this market and club you on the head with their heavy-set, meat-head preposterone. I would happily snuggle up to someone wearing this blend and I am sure that there are many others out there who will feel the same.

Tom Ford is a savvy fashion genius who single-handedly resurrected Gucci from the ashes of…

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HAIR: OSCAR by OSCAR DE LA RENTA (1977)

The Black Narcissus

 

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Krystle Carrington, in soft-focus dream time, slowly lifts her hair from her pillow.

 

 

 

Her eyelids snap open.

 

 

 

 

Light furls in through the blinds as she descends the white, spiralling staircase in her ivory colored nightgown; one slipper after the other; her towering, great tent of hair not moving, not an inch.

 

 

She is alert. Primed,  somewhere in her gut, for another ferocious, nocturnal encounter.

 

 

 

 

With Alexis.

 

 

 

 

Sleepily, Krystle fumbles; switches on the chandelier, glancing quickly about her in the opal landing mirror, trying worriedly to make sense of what is going on, as Blake, finally waking up from a dream about oil, and finding his wife absent, intuitively follows traces of her luminous, phantasmic, skin-oozing scent down the ivoried, cascading staircases towards her.

 

 

 

The…

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MY CHERIE AMOUR……LA PETITE ROBE NOIRE de GUERLAIN (2011) + CHERRY IN THE AIR by ESCADA (2013) + WHAT WE DO IN PARIS IS SECRET by A LAB ON FIRE (2012)

 

 

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The only thing really lacking at our party the other night was perfume. Conspicuous in its absence, whenever someone did emanate scent the effect was startling: Chie in some fruity shampoo Japanese concoction that suited her slinky sequinned dress to perfection; Takako all femme fatale in her Songes by Annick Goutal: Aiko smelling beautiful as ever in the perfume she was surely born to wear, the dazzlingly alluring jasmine epic Sarrasins, and Duncan in the slick, gorgeous lavender semi-oriental Sartorial by Penhaligons: a ultra-suave, yet brilliantly measured scent that is quickly becoming his signature.  Aside these notable exceptions, however, and my own overly applied force field of Eau Du Soir, the evening was about as scented as the photographs I put up the day afterwards.  So boring, so bereft of depth, this flat, visual universe.  Where is the perfume?  It astonishes me the extent to which people are oblivious to the joys of three dimensionalizing their presence with a beautifully crafted scent; of their indifference, or their deep and potent fears of smelling ‘too strong’, or even of smelling at all, a profound paranoia of standing out that bores deep into the Japanese psyche, and, seemingly, the westerners living here as well.

 

 

 

 

Boring!

 

 

 

 

What so many people don’t seem to realize is just how much a scent can adorn you, embellish you, become the ultimate finishing touch: make you come more alive on the dance floor or in conversation; how a well-selected scent can draw people in, magnetize, intrigue, even enthrall, with a beckoning sense of layers uncovered, an unmasking of the soul that simultaneously, and perversely, keeps you even more ostentatiously well-hidden. I want more encounters with people clad in interesting perfumes, the mutual intimacy of the internalizing of another person’s molecules; the breathing in, the mental and physical reaction, how we inhale, and exhale, each other in passing.

 

 

 

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The evening after the party, tired and hungover, before going to bed I happened to pick up a sample spray of Guerlain’s Petite Robe Noire that was lying around on the floor long ignored, and thought I would give it another try. And I realized that although I had completely discounted this scent on first try as nothing but cheap Duty Free trash, I would have loved in fact to have smelled something like this on one of the girls, or boys, that came to the event; something sweet, fun, flirty and light-hearted, an ideal scent for the many little black dresses that were indeed dotted about the sparkling scape just begging for a dab or two of scent.

 

 

I love cherries, the fruit, the word itself, the connotations, the smell, and though demonized by many in the fragrant community as too ditzy and brainless, I am personally very drawn to cherry perfumes, and also to almond: to Serge Lutens’ Louve and Rahat Loukoum: delicious, simple pleasures with their gustatory allusions to Turkish Delight; L’Artisan Parfumeur’s light, Ottoman adventure La Traversée Du Bosphore –  another chewy gourmand scent I would also consider buying with its cherry almonds and fresh, delicate suede-vanille undertow. Some scents have a direct air of morello, others seem to allude more to cherries in a more pointillist manner, from the haze of their overall impression than the inclusion of actual cherry notes in their formulae; scents such as G by Romeo Gigli, an obscure nineties scent I am very fond of and love to wear in Spring with its very Italianate sense of benevolence, comfort: a breath of fresh air.  But if only I could smell some of these lip-watering scents on other people as well : the cherry-lip gloss calling card of a free and easy, up-for-it party scent.

 

 

La Petite Robe Noire is certainly no classic, but I think when you smell it independently of the great Guerlain classics that it is usually placed alongside at fragrance counters (which can only do it a great disservice in comparison), its good-natured, black-cherry/ almond, well-put-together vibe, with  sharper notes of red berries and bergamot on top over rosy, licoricey, vanilla/iris/patchouli base isn’t half bad with its cheeky glow you know and makes a convincing argument for Guerlain’s ability to stay commercial and relevant for the younger generation in the world of mainstream perfume. I would have danced very happily next to a girl wearing this.

 

 

And then, later, for a slower smoocher, What We Do In Paris Is Secret would also have been nice: sultrier, richer, more warm and powdery nape of neck:  a very pleasant, if perhaps overly unthreatening, floral gourmand by Dominique Ropion that has the heliotropine, honeyish Turkish roses in common with the Guerlain, and the bergamot, but with its doe-eyed, slower conclusions of powdery tonka, tolu, sandalwood and vanilla, you feel that this girl is more emotional – needy, even – that she is just about ready to really drape herself longingly over someone’s shoulders. Secrets indeed; the perfume might not be scintillatingly original, but it does have that elusive aspect of concealment that I like in perfumes. It reminds me in fact a little of Ropion’s similar work for Frederic Malle, Une Fleur De Cassie, but attenuated, less disturbing ( I have a hard time with that perfume for some reason and its feral, musked, renderings of Après L’Ondée). What We Do In Paris Is Secret is a warmer, sensual whisper of a perfume, with a well judged sense of subtlety.

 

 

For party purposes, though, you couldn’t ask for a much better scent that Escada’s Cherry In The Air, a ridiculously named perfume that I couldn’t help buying last year for that reason alone and also because in its initial stages it really is a cherry : synthetic, artificial as hell. When I sniffed the bottle, only semi-expectantly at a discount perfume emporium in Tokyo one evening, to my surprise I got that pleased, immediate, smile-inducing lift that a well composed scent always gives, perhaps because it reminded me so much of the Sour Cherry boiled sweets my grandmother always gave me when we went round to her house: I ADORED them (god I’d love to taste those again: can you still get them in the UK?). Yes, this is more sour cherry flavour than anything related to the fresh, tongue-dyeing juice of the real thing, which I imagine would be very difficult to replicate in a perfume. But the more the merrier: this scent is just intended to be fun I think, and it succeeds. With a hint of marshmallow and an admittedly less pleasing, eventual finale of false sandalwood, it nevertheless would have been divine on one of those laughing party girls. An effervescent, invisible kiss of hoopla and charm; someone who has forgotten the 9 to 5 tonight and is simply sipping on her drink, making jokes, living and laughing in the moment. 

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HEAT ME UP WITH CINNAMON : Ambre Narguilé by Hermès (2004) + Vanille Cannelle by E. Coudray (1935) + Rousse by Serge Lutens (2007) + Incensi by Lorenzo Villoresi (1997) + Ambre Cannelle by Creed (1945) + Noir Epices by Editions de Parfum (2000) + Cinnamon sherbet by Comme des Garcons (2003) +..

POST-PARTY BLUES

The Black Narcissus

 

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It is  absolutely freezing here in Kamakura today. Grey, icy, miserable, with the possibility of sleet or cold rains tumbling down this afternoon as I have to head out into the sticks to do my evening classes.

 

Ugh. While the temperatures this week, hovering just above or below zero, might seem positively balmy to some of you reading this, especially those suffering under the current deep freeze in North America, the particular problem here is the heating systems, or lack thereof. With a country as hot and humid as Japan is for much of the year, the traditional houses here are not insulated at all, and there is no central heating as Europeans know it, with the hellish result that any heat generated by the detested ‘air conditioners’, those nasty machines that make you sweat yet always seem to have a top layer of…

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EAU DU SOIR

 

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” I couldn’t see you……but I could smell you..” (EAU DU SOIR, SISLEY, 1990)

DEFINITELY the perfume for the party..

crisp; ambiguous; fresh……. Just the ticket for a soldier…

The Black Narcissus

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I left the house a few minutes before Duncan arrived home last night, but I as I turned the street corner, making my way to start walking the hill down to the station, he suddenly came running after me:

 

 

 

 

” I couldn’t see you…but I could smell you…..”

 

 

 

he said, my dark trails floating all the way from the house on the air – vintage Eau Du Soir by Sisley – the first time I have worn it.

 

 

 

I don’t know how he exactly knew it was me (duh you weep en masse) : maybe most other people simply just don’t wear these strong, dramatic scents at such high volume; maybe the spiced, mossy, almost angrily ambered pitchblack rose (peppery, clovey, very arrogant, yet eminently tasteful), is simply not something that anyone else in this neighbourhood…

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what scent? it’s a SEXUAL EMERGENCY

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Periodically, usually twice a year or so, in various locations around Tokyo, Yokohama and Kamakura, the D and I will host an event. In the whirl of work and every day living, of catching the train, getting off the train, getting back on the train, of tapping the same old keys on the computer screen, walking back up the hill and getting into bed;  getting up again, putting on the coffee, washing the coffee pot, getting back in the shower and ironing your shirt, checking your workbag and plugging in your phone, clocking in at the office, months and months can go by living in your own little world without catching up with people. I am a solitary creature in my own way and definitely do need my space ( we both have entirely different work schedules and basically only properly see each other three days a week), but you can get into a pattern of routine and repetition that can start to feel like plaque building up in your mental arteries. It is at this point that I find I just need to say ENOUGH, gather up all my friends with me and dance.

Duncan in fact met each other for the first time at a party, and, being the decadent hedonists that we ultimately are, have been creating fun, immersive, sense-surrounding parties together ever since. Though I also enjoy meeting friends a couple of times a month in restaurants and Japanese izakaya –  the much healthier and more conversation-conducive version of a pub (where you can actually sit down and eat good Japanese food rather than just eating crisps and knocking back the pints standing up); as well as also having the occasional dinner party at home from time to time, ultimately, for me, I think you can’t beat the excitement, energy and liberating dreaminess of a dance party.

And we definitely do know how to throw one. We go all out. When we have hit on a theme, which usually comes spontaneously upon walking into a new venue – we both love strolling and exploring the city, trying this street and that corner and then ooh what’s that place up there… that place with the light in the window, then it’s time to build the soundtrack: think decoration, costume, guests, invitation design. Suddenly the workaday grid recedes; inspirations rise up, and a creative fever is again ignited.  Some parties work; others don’t, but it never stops us from wanting to keep doing them. I can imagine a zimmerframe geriatric rave some day in the future, octogenarian old dears tortoising about the dancefloor with walking sticks and glass eyes ( “Oh, I remember this one……..”) My parents still dance with their friends, my great aunt was a showgirl, so I know I am in good hands.

Looking back now ( as I sit here knowing I have to get ready for work but feel like writing this first), reminiscing on our shared ‘festography’ of twenty years I see, to my mirth, that the first party we held together, in 1995, was entitled Nervous Exhaustion And General Debilitation; a small, appropriately named house party chez nous to ‘celebrate’ my twenty fifth birthday in London, where I happened to be going  through quite a dark period of post-university what-to-do maelstrom and no idea what to do with my life. In some ways that period was my low point, so there was lots of Jacques Brel and other miserable wintery, Amsterdam canal-side music, and though I enjoyed it myself, I can’t entirely vouch for the other guests. My mood does rather intend to dictate the proceedings.

We have had a couple of other parties in London as well, including the slightly weird Facebook In The Flesh a couple of years ago, for which we invited people from all aspects of our lives from the present and past, people who had never met each other before, except perhaps in the form of electronic social media, and bunged them all together in a theatre bar in North London. For that one, I made the honourable, but unworkable, mistake of surrendering my control-freak tendencies regarding the music and went for a ‘bring your own’ policy that for me personally was quite disastrous: people constantly ejecting and inserting their own cds into the player and never achieving the flow and pull I want from the best party soundtracks (at the next event we are splitting the work with two other DJs for an injection of freshness).  Although some great connections and friendships were forged between people that evening, I found that party a bit of a stress.

I did smell great, though, I must say, as I had planned my scent aura days in advance. Staying at Duncan’s parents’ house in Norwich I had decided on a rose, oudh,  and patchouli theme which I then executed delightedly with militaristic precision. Clothes, washed and perfect smelling in advance. A long, and very languorous bath late morning using Cussons Imperial Leather soap (great as a starting board for any perfume you want to put on later), and then oodles of patchouli essental oil floating and shimmering in the bath water to settle gently on the skin and be ready in perfection, hours later, for the ensuing night’s events. Then: significant amounts of strategically placed Montale Aoud Rose Petals, on body and clothes, with a ‘subtle’ undercoating of Aoud Lime in certain places for added raunch, but never overcoming the glorious smell of Turkish Delight that I managed to evince when the aromas finally coalesced together much later that evening ( I am sure I actually killed people on the train carriage going down, but never mind ). The efforts I put into smelling good for that party created a scent that got me masses of compliments (oh my god what is that perfume ?) and that will now form the olfactory soundtrack, in my mind, of that strange evening forever.

No, the best parties have all, to be honest, been here in Japan. Starting with Tenshi 2000 in 1999 (angels and celestial beings to celebrate the new millennium, an event with way too elaborate costume changes: I can still see me and one of my friends in kimono, long white wigs and Venetian masks drunk, literally caught up in the wires behind the DJ booth unable to move or  come out to our planned performance to the music from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind), the brilliant Voodoo followed, for which Duncan created an unbelievable ‘altar,’ and which featured an actual earthquake in the real world during the party that could have led to a veritable disco inferno with all the candles we were burning; Petrushka, a far more innocent and magical affair that I wrote about recently in my review of Equus Lalique; You’ve Got To Say Yes To Another Excess in honour of Helen and her partner when they came to Japan for the first time; Red, in which I sprayed the whole club and its velvet banquettes with Guerlain’s Habit Rouge and L’Heure Bleue; the Hitchcock homage Birdland (Duncan dressed up as a giant crow); Death Of An Infanta/Strangers In Paradise (dark, funereal classical piano concert by my friend Yoko and I, followed with a light and twinkling after party in a nearby restaurant); Baked Alaska (a big middle finger to Sarah Palin); Bomb The Boudoir; Kirsch (an ode to the cherry and our adventures in Berlin); the sweltering, delirious Delicious Banana (which I described at length in my piece on Gorilla Perfume’s Ladyboy); Crocs Of Gold (hilarious summertime alligator party in Yokohama); The Rite Of Spring, Firecracker, and many may others. What links them all is atmosphere; a slow build up, always a build up; wonderful friends all dressed up and ready to party, and then, eventually, an explosion of booze-soaked pop and fun where reality is left entirely behind and, hopefully, indelible, future memories created. For me, these gatherings work as markers of time passed, and vivid ones, something to share, dance, live.

In truth, though I really enjoy my teaching job in many ways – the interaction with kids, the imparting of knowledge and helping students to get into their dream colleges, the positive power that giving encouragement can produce; the adrenaline of it all – and enjoy the financial stability in gives me, despite the many accumulative stresses, I know I am a person essentially who is always reaching up to more to touch the beyond; in art, music, perfume, nature wherever: the dreariness of the world and its money-obsessed, zomboid and brainwashed surrogates is simply unacceptable to me after a while. As is the rigidity of the Japanese education system. I get so damn BORED with those textbooks. And the western world. The unthinking materialism. The received ideas. The media-created, Simon Cowell TV hell crassness (thank god we don’t have a television, actually). Duncan is the same. We need poetry. We need beauty. To just escape. Even if it means growing old disgracefully. I don’t care.

The last party we had, in June 2013, was an homage to the Madagascar trip that never was to be , Music For Chameleons: a fine, exotic and rainforest-humid event, foretelling our eventual, and incredible, journey through Java that did manage to achieve something quite oneiric and otherworldly, though I do say so myself. Coconut incense drifting; birdsong everywhere; me (in Vaniglia Del Madagascar and Yves Rocher Noix De Coco), and D wandering about in giant chameleon masks (the man is an absolute whizz at creating whatever props are need from all manner of sources from fleamarkets to 100 yen stores); chameleons on a video projector slithering all over the walls…..it was a lot of colourful, junglish fun: sly and sensual, red: gold and green.

Next up, though, and entirely different, coming this Sunday –  really bad timing actually, considering that is happening right before exam season (  b a d  t e a c h e r  alert  !!!!!   ) is our upcoming winter event to welcome in 2014:  SEXUAL EMERGENCY . This was an idea that I got based on a ridiculous poster I saw in Berlin for some underground sex club two years ago or so: the name really stayed with me as it tickled me (the idea of people getting that het up about a bit of rubber): and so here we go: our first overtly ‘erotic’ dance party, to held in a small place in Ebisu, Tokyo over a period of twelve hours. It’s going to be hot, it’s going to be heaving, we’ve got ourselves some cabaret acts, a sartorial theme: (‘dress…..is less’), and a raffle (some hilarious unmentionable ‘prizes’ to be given away in a prize draw), plus a hot and sizzling soundtrack that I hope will genuinely people in a bit of a tizz. Last week, while still on winter break, we went for a New Year stroll to do some pre-party reconnaissance in the markets of Ueno; old-school, downtown Tokyo, with plenty of kinky shops for lingerie, masks and the like, and came across a bizarre shop (non-sexual, in intention I believe) for military enthusiasts. Now, I am the last person to be interested in guns, and war, and all the fetishistic accoutrements that go with it, in fact I loathe such mindsets, but, perversely, we both did find it intriguing and extremely amusing to be in such an alternative world, a  place surrounded by gun geeks, weirdos and combat specialists, all looking so intently and avowedly at the somewhat disturbing products on offer (the clattering sound of machine gun fire from U.S military documentary videos as a backdrop) that before you could say bob’s your uncle there I was in the changing rooms trying on full military gear and a gas mask. So strange to transform yourself in this way, so anti-intuitive and yet peculiarly……er, stimulating actually, especially when D then also insisted I try on some jack boots….

That was me sorted out anyway. It was all soon taken to the cash register, both of us unable to resist laughing, to the obvious consternation of the assistants and the deadly serious, grenade toting customers. This is certainly a ‘look’ I have never tried before but will undoubtedly relish once I get going, but the far more pressing question right now is to be honest WHAT SCENT?

Over the last few months I have been wearing nothing but orientals; thick, cosy Bal A Versailles, which I have been basically obsessed with;  Guerlain Tonka Impériale and Spiriteuse Double Vanille; natural perfume Florascent Tonka, and of course that old winter chestnut Shalimar parfum, with just the occasional spritz of Tom Ford Grey Vetiver on my coat for an interesting, fresher, contrast. Like most perfume freaks I feel this is the precisely the time for these scents that act as a kind of furred, second skin; a barrier against the cold (its’ getting freezing here this week, and the Japanese heating systems are entirely inappropriate for it). Somehow, though, I don’t want to be warm and fuzzy, vanillic and cute in my pervy outfit (‘hey there cuddly soldier, you cheeky odalisque!): no, I want a bit of real, manly  raunch. Fierce, macho. But the kind of macho I can take and actually revel in, which doesn’t include many scents, to be honest. All standardized ‘men’s colognes’ are utterly out of the question; the dime a dozen citrus woody acrids – I would be forced to shoot myself with my fake plastic shotgun. Ouds are possible; so is patchouli, vetiver, and especially leather. Should I be raiding my Amouage sample box for some of that hairy Arab bliss? Getting out my vials of Sécretions Magnifiques? Smother myself in a bit of Jovan Musk For Men? I think I have probably narrowed the selections down, in fact ( I want to reek, to spray the uniform in advance ) to either Ungaro Pour Homme with its sweaty, animalic patchouli lavender, Azzaro (ditto), Kouros – an old, rank, sexy favourite – or perhaps more likely, and the main contender right now, vintage Givenchy Gentleman, one of my holy grails of masculine with its prolonged, aromatic patchouli and leather (on me, not the least bit gentlemanly I can tell you; the question is : with, or without, deodorant?) The contrast between my fabric-softened, fresh-shampoo olfactory work persona and the thought of this weekend Tokyo weirdo stomping stench amuses me. I want to delve into something, into unchartered, presposterone territories. I want my scent to rise up on the dance floor mingling with other bodies; my real smell, and a perfectly chosen perfume. I want the chosen scent to throb.

The party theme may be ironic, but I don’t know, when we are all there, boys and girls getting down on the dancefloor, I have a feeling, and a hope, that something will get loosened, that despite the inevitable hilarity of the theme the event should hopefully create, that underneath it all something quite genuinely warm and sexy will transpire. So is the Givenchy the correct choice, in your view, or do you have any other suggestions?

I have only two more days left in which to choose…..

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A bristling citrus: PHILTRE D’AMOUR by GUERLAIN (2000)

It’s freezing and raining today…..ugh, bring on the Springtime

The Black Narcissus

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With so many perfume houses releasing limited editions that are released, fanfared and then disappeared without trace, it becomes easy to equate their brevity on the market with similar levels of imagination. Neverthless, occasionally, the spontaneity and lack of expectation placed on limited editions can produce bursts of creativity that lead to more singular, less market-tested and common-denominator fragrances; scents that pop up unexpectedly like crocus-bulbs in spring and enchant you with  their fresh-breathed joie de vivre.

For a while at the beginning of the 2000’s, Guerlain would release limited perfumes that were not flankers to their main-line-up perfumes, but separate work, released in a prolific spirit of productivity that yielded such well-regarded treasures as Guet Apens and Gentiana.

In a spirit of mercy to these more inspired saplings that were culled before their prime, some of them were given a reprieve, a chance to star again, however briefly…

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and when

 

and when I added ginger, and yuzu, to the chicken, what rose up from the frying pan was issey miyake pour homme

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returning …… JE REVIENS by WORTH (1932)

The Black Narcissus

 

 

 

 

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There is nothing else quite like Je Reviens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is the blue night, the moon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A mysterious, troubling perfume that evades classification.  A scent with a cool, cerebral langour;  a quietness;  yet with compelling sexual undertones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aldehydes – watery, Venusian – take you to unchartered places in the constellations:  a light, aqueous freshness deleting all vulgarity.  Draped, cerulean.  But then, with a narcotic dose of freshly picked wild narcissus and iris, this moon soon swings to a more tranquil violet floating on lakes aldehydic ; an amphibious, and voluptuous, bath-house atmosphere which is sculpturesque,  soothing; familiar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beneath, like glowering stalactites in…

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