Monthly Archives: July 2014

old shower gel














The Black Narcissus is so excited by perfume that he will even buy old discarded shower gels and body creams from flea markets, discarded for a dollar by the owners who found no use for them, even when they have been opened and when most people wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole. I don’t care. They intrigue me. I need to know how they smell, the voyeuristic curiosity of other people’s bathroom cabinets, when you lock the door behind you, look around, and sample their treats and toiletries at your leisure.




Trésor: Surprisingly deep and woody, cedary, taut, shot through with that pungent, spiced, Lancôme rose – the shampoo of a seductress goddess extraordinaire (she sits next to him, almost coyly, and runs her hands through her hair with one hand,, knowing the effect that this is going to have on him as she holds the stem of her martini glass with the other….), but too strong for me to use that way when I tried it on myself the other night. I could hardly sleep.




















Calandre: How old is this? Why do I risk some decades-old bathroom product on this body of mine? How do I even know it’s even safe for human use?





I don’t.






But it smells sublime. Sublime. And Calandre is a scent I often pick out from the back of the perfume wardrobe when summer comes, usually in August for some unknown reason, as it smells lovely down on the beach by the water, combined, on skin, with all those brain-soothing suncreams, sunlight, and daydreams and you drift in and out of yourself and just don’t care about anything. This is rich, silvery, aldehydic rose/ green lather, gorgeous on hair as well as you rinse it out with water and watch that indulgent, washed away foam go swirling, slowly, down the drain like Janet Leigh. I used it yesterday; a lot, all over, before putting it back in the drawer and heading out for my day feeling clean, Paco Rabanne’d and distanced from the mundane. A subtle, dreamy, 1960’s on the surface of my being. My clandestine pleasure.


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The Black Narcissus



When high school boys in Japan gather after school in ‘family restaurants’ such as Gusto and Jonathan’s,  inexpensive eateries with one main attraction – limitless soft-drinks and beverages of all kinds available at the ‘drink bar’ – one familiar pubescent rite is to egg each other on to create the most bizarre and unpalatable mixes possible by chucking, in one big plastic glass, some orange juice, some milk; a healthy dose of tabasco; some coke, some cocoa, some miso soup, some apple and mint tea, some salt and pepper and ketchup for good measure….then of course getting some poor designated sod to try and down it in one…

Interlude, a perfume for women by those seasoned purveyors of Franco-Arabic good taste Amouage, is a similarly baffling experiment in chaos, seemingly a case of bunging everything in the blender, pressing play, and seeing what happens.

This is, in fact, the stated…

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Plagiarism lawsuits don’t seem to occur in the world of perfumery. This is good news for fragrance houses, else writs would be hurled left right and centre. As the exact formulae for perfumes are always very well guarded anyway (Estée Lauder phobically added the final 5% of ingredients herself behind closed doors to ensure secrecy), intellectual theft in the invisible, ephemeral world of scent would just too much for jurors, judges and witnesses to handle –  the stench and olfactory confusion in a closed courthouse is easy to imagine.



Opium was a direct challenge to the insipid sport greens that were taking over the perfume world, and in its criminally erotic complexity, was daring, of the moment; dynamic. So was Cinnabar, which was undoubtedly a copy of Opium. But there are important differences, which I will come to. Opium’s mandarin/jasmine/husking tiger’s breath/amber-cinnamon template was copied and remodelled, redeveloped with varying…

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Plumeria Frangipani Floating On Clear Blue Aqua Lagoon Water Sea Ocean Desktop Background












I must admit that despite all the suave aromatics – the Hermès Poivre Samarcande, the Quince, Mint and Moss, by Union; Eau du Gloire by Parfum D’Empire, the sensual, elegant, gentlemanly lavenders – Sartorial, Jicky, Ungaro, Lavande Velours de Guerlain; the occasional spicier, and dirtier scent such as Czech & Speake Cuba or 4160 Tuesday’s spicebomb Shazam, among others, that, despite the olfactive prowess and style these scents show, and the trails of intrigue that they leave in his presence, I would trade them all in, in an instant, for the scent, on Duncan’s skin, of Coppertone SPF 30 UV Protect.





The boy will steadfastly not consent to a floral, and yet here he is, inadvertently wearing one; all fresh air, frangipani leis, salt-kissed skin, and manly, oceanic florality doused in sweet, delicate memories of waves, of the beach, of the sky, and freedom; a delicately arousing sillage, sun-fused with DNA and the epidermis, better than perfume, riveting; but a perfume nonetheless; I LOVE this smell.






Although the school term has ended, and there are plenty of people in beachwear headed for the coast wherever you look, fanning themselves in the summer heat as they wait to board the trains and buses, where I work, it is just the beginning; the ‘summer courses’ at the prep schools that practically all students in Japan are expected to attend if they are to stand a chance in hell of getting into the most prestigious schools, that they spend the entire summer attending. Think, for a moment of my colleagues (no, no westerner would ever be expected to work in such conditions, so fret not for the Narcissus and, also, please do not be writing comments commiserating on my poor existence or the supposed ‘banality’ of my work, something that education could rarely be accused of, I am fine).





No, I am lucky. I have more days off in any given year than on (how many people can say that?) and the fantastic number of holidays that I have was the very reason I took the job in the first place, and the reason that my writing for The Black Narcissus can exist at all.  The other teachers, though – Jesus. Briefly I will describe the work situation, because I have woken up in such a fantastic, if ridiculously adrenalized, mood today, now that this horrendous eight day stretch of lessons is almost at a close ( I still have two weeks left in total of quite intensive teaching, and only seventeen days until the Lady Gaga concert – enough reason for my doolally feeling of excitement this morning in itself, there is a light!!) that I don’t want to wreck it : the sun is shining outside, I am blasting pop music in the kitchen and dreaming of freedom and the ocean and diving to the bottom of the sea floor from my favourite rocks in Hayama, even as I have to get ready, quite soon, iron my shirt and select a tie, for another day at bloody work in Hiratsuka.






No, I am a spoiled brat and I know it  ( and no need to tell me that either, I know I am childish and self-indulgent, but I am Sagittarius to my core and always have one eye on the door. I just want to be free. Always. I loathe all restraints, a bucking colt, screaming for liberation and I would be the same in any workplace, whatever the job, I know it.  Don’t you also feel as though you were about to explode sat in that bloody same chair before that same stupid computer? Don’t you just want to explode like Mt Fuji and just start dancing? Sometimes my spirit is just so……..wild and alive, so damn tempestuous and full of energy,  that I am sure I am destined to return as a ghost. There will be no keeping me down).






Yes, I am highly conscious that I have a very easy life, grateful that I even have a job and can live the life that I do, so no need to tell me, Undina I know; I know that I can’t complain, yes I know I know know know (though have you tried teaching?! God it can be draining!). I do read the papers: I have been very upset by the Malaysian plane crash, the situation in Israel/Palestine, at the mess of the world. It affects us all. And yet……







As I have written several times before, because sometimes I have to just write what is happening in my life rather than blathering lyrical and waxing my muse about perfumes – I just have to, on impulse, I need this conduit, even if you don’t – compared to the relative bedazzling splendour of my life, the Japanese teachers have a schedule that should by rights be illegal and probably is.  It is sick.  Most of them in my school have nine 50 minute lessons a day for six days in a row, then one day off (on which all they can do is sleep like the dead or frantically try and prepare lessons for the next stretch),  for a full SIX WEEKS;  then a week off, then another three weeks of it until the regular term begins again after a desperately deserved eight or nine day holiday that they have been looking forward to all year because it is, in reality, the only time in the year that they can go anywhere.





They have ten minute ‘breaks’ in between the lessons, when students are usually asking them questions and they scramble to gather their materials for the next lesson, and no time for lunch, just grabbing a mouthful here and there. And, worse: the Japanese martryr-like self-sacrificing mentality is so strong that even when they DO have that holiday in the middle that I have just described, the manager has often seen fit, then,  to make the teachers go on a ‘gashuku’ in the mountains during that precise week off. Yes, dear friends, this is an ‘intensive course’ (er, what was the nine lesson day, then?) where the teachers get no sleep, and teach ALL NIGHT, giving up the one holiday they do have; up at six, teach all day and all night, get no sleep, repeat. Repeat, rep…..








I am going to stop there lest my fury spilleth over and I start writing bile-splattered filth about this side of the Japanese character that makes me want to spit blood. No, I shall not. It is another culture, and as we all know, it is all relative. And anyway, the kids love it, or a lot of the more brainwashable ones do, and so do the teachers in some strange, affectionate way. Giving up their lives and sanity for the sake of educational goals that are bullshit to begin with, if you ask me. But it is all about ‘gambaru’, doing your best in order to achieve your goals, and to become a well trained Japanese for the future, so accustomed to having no free time as a youth, that as an adult, corporate slavery workplace sacrifice will be so second nature that you will never complain. At least, until that day when you dive in front of a train at Shibuya station. No, just ignore me. I have long learned ago, attempted, like Elsa, to try and let it go, to not let it affect me. As you can see, I have done really well in that regard.







My schedule is much, much lighter. And yet. As a European at heart, and in my soul, who grew up with the idea that the summer is all about freedom and having time off – all those wonderful childhood memories of the beach, and dancing around the hosepipe in the garden, just reading in some umbrous, bosky, dark green shade as the sky stretched beyond and life seemed eternal and I sipped on lemonade, I suppose I will just never get used to this idea of the summer being entirely taken up with ‘club activities’ and extra lessons. That this space has to be filled. Concreted in with organized activity, that people must be herded and corralled like sheep, with a timetable, an alarm clock always going off, or the lesson bell of the permeated classroom. No, really. THE ENTIRE SUMMER. The whole, f****ing summer! They have about five days in the middle of it all when the juku, or cram school, actually does close for a few days and the teachers nurse their mental wounds ( I have a month off, so I will be alright, Jack ), but other than that they all ‘return’ in September, psychologically incinerated husks ready to start the new term, whereas I am usually refreshed and ready for it all again as you should be,  for the new term culminating in the ‘winter seminar’ which begins in the middle of December for three weeks (f%*$ you, we’re going to Cuba and Miami ).








And it goes on and on and on (they have a ‘Spring Seminar’ at the end of all this there is never any respite …….. why are they all still alive, why have they not all just committed suicide?









But as for this privileged fat foreigner, well, I myself have a month off to go travelling, a month in April, yes, I agree, it is like some kind of reverse discrimination, so unfair, but the country knows that ‘we’ just wouldn’t put up with it and might even try legal action were we forced to work under such slave-like conditions so they keep the foreigners at bay with cushy contracts – I am not complaining ( – except that I am)).






Yes yes yes you know all this Japanese crap about my life as it sometimes surfaces on here when I just can’t suppress it any longer and must rant, but as you also know I am not so callous and un-empathetic as to not be affected by my colleagues’ ‘plight’ (my company is one of the better ones, actually, quite a positive atmosphere and the compensation is very good) ; but it does affect me, it does, as I am so porous, and prone to osmosis, especially when some of the people in question are my friends that I see outside socially, whose eyes widen in disbelief when I tell them the truth of my own space-filled timetable.







And yet, at this time, when all my friends in universities and high schools are off for six weeks or more (as are all the teachers in the countries you are reading this in, so nothing special or extraordinary there): off at the beach, relaxing, doing their own thing……although rationally I know that this is my job and blahdy blahdy blah, blah-blah, in fact I walk around in a permanent state of teeth gritting infuriation except when I am actually in the classroom, when the gregarious professional that you might suspect does not exist actually does emerge : I am a showman, and give it my all. I do think that I am a real teacher. I care about the students and the quality of the teaching (especially considering how much the poor parents are paying for it: there is nothing more depressing, I can tell you, than a badly taught lesson), but having given it my all I suspect that this is also how Madonna or Lady Gaga or any other artist must feel when they wake up, mentally and physically mangled in the morning after a show and think, oh Christ, not another one tonight, I can’t, I just can’t, I’m going to cancel , exhausted from the effort and the depleting extroversion; the putting yourself out there, the being watched and thought over, the beacon of the lesson: the instructor.







I walk along like a deranged Asperger’s with Tourette’s, dragging my clodhopping feet and my f***ed up knee, muttering to myself with expletives (the language, people, the language this week! My mouth a foul hole of filth, spewing swear words and cursing the very pavement I walk on, just, just not being able to face any more teaching  (the term began on April 3rd, it finishes on August 9th (at least mine does:  for the Japanese teachers, the concept of  ‘end of term’ is an impossibility, a mirage in the deserts of their computer screens)). Is that not too long, though? Are you feeling my blood pumping from the screen upon which you read these deranged, self-indulgent and frazzled words?








As a human being, not just a pawn in the world economy, I yearn for freedom – I am gasping for it – and, as I sit here, and the sun is blowing through the blue-skied plants outside, I can feel it coming.









And Duncan, in from a lovely day at the coast, or else from a fun day out in Tokyo, covered, always, in his delectable smelling Coppertone, flowers entwined in olive brown skin, a rush of the foam on the crest of a Kamakura wave, makes me practically hallucinate. The smell, so evocative, makes my mouth water, my mind rush with images so strong that my whole limbic system, so aroused and hyperstimulated that I cannot see the reality in front of me, made me feel, just now, that I already am on holiday. I woke up this morning, leaned over and kissed him, and the smell on his skin was so beautiful that I felt as if I were in heaven.












Floating White Plumeria Frangipani Exotic Tropical Flowers On Swimming Pool Water Desktop Background









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The Black Narcissus



‘Io sono L’ amore’, or ‘I am love’, is the self-consciously, meticulously rapturous film by Italian film director Luca Guadagnino that had the art house cinema crowd in a flutter a few years ago:  the ‘must-see’, gorgeously romantic, ‘exquisitely crafted’ work of the season that had the critics, and some of my friends, swooning, and foaming, at the gills.

The story of an aristocratic Milanese Russian emigrée, played by the redoubtable Tilda Swinton (acted in Italian, with a slight Russian accent; no mean feat), this is the story of a pale and beautiful, yet strangely unpresent woman, the matriarch and bedrock of her family, lost in her own numb, unregimented life, who comes gradually undone, erotically and socially, at the hands of a brilliant young chef.

A friend of her son’s, the handsome man’s independence, artistry, naturalness and almost guileless, masculine simplicity stand in such contrast to the glassed and…

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because I’m craving it

The Black Narcissus


Infini is probably the vintage perfume I have found the most at flea markets in Japan:  I have had bottles and bottles of it. Some of which I have worn myself; many given away as presents, and far, far, too many that I have spilled. 

I grew up being told I was the clumsiest boy in the world and it was/is true (I even, and I can’t quite believe I am writing this), managed to drop and empty out two thirds of the most perfect Je Reviens parfum the other day, the one that was used to write my delirious review of that unearthly creation…….

Tragically, Infini has had a similar fate….the bottle you see in the picture has a stopper that comes off ridiculous easily and    oops..……..see, smell, that gorgeous golden liquid splash down and stain the tatami mats….I have done this so many times now…

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Yes, you have guessed right.   I am reviewing my own perfume.








(Is that narcissistic?)







































If you can really call it a perfume, that is. But this juice, made at home with all natural ingredients suspended in a high percentage vodka, has been percolating and blending within itself, now, for almost twelve months since I came from the most magical holiday of my lifetime in Indonesia last year ; kept in the dark, added to, messed with; but now, I think, ready.






















































Java is my ode to that place, to the vanilla plantation we stayed on:  an elixir of memory that seeks to encapsulate some of the experiences we went through there, which, looking through some of the photos from last August just now, sears through my being with a nostalgic intensity I almost find unbearable. In all honesty, I had to stop looking.
























The basis of the perfume that I have made is ripe vanilla pods from Villa Domba, (organically grown on the most idyllic of locations in a village about an hour outside of Bandung, alongside coffee, papaya, and durian fruit), a place that we had the fortune to stay at and study as part of a Vanilla Tour we embarked upon in the middle of last August.






It was an incredible experience, deeply memorable, and I somehow wanted to bottle it, impossible though that might be.






To make Java, I simply steeped handfuls of the sliced-open beans, cut length-wise, for many months, adding Mandheling coffee beans in the process (whole), also left to marinate in the blend – coffee being such an integral part of Javan agriculture (and extremely delicious to boot); and Indonesian cacao, which, though texturally wrong for a perfume (giving it a sandy feel that I will have to strain and purify) makes a nice combination with the coffee and the vanilla.





Indonesia is the originator of patchouli (hence Serge Luten’s wonderfully addictive patchouli, Borneo 1840, one of my favourite perfumes ever, and one that this crude concoction of mine bears some vague resemblance to); this also replete with Indonesian patchouli essential oil in the base; earthy, dark, but warmed and surrounded with the other ingredients to make it feel sunkissed, benelovent, and spicily aromatic. Other essences that I added to the formula, just basing it all on instinct, were some ginger, orange and ylang ylang essential oils, in small amounts, for roundedness and ‘lift’, and then, last, but most definitely not least, a massive overdose of fresh, green, and very spicy cardamom essential oil in the top.















Cardamom. I love it. Duncan and I have long been putting ground, piquant, cardamom powder in our Ceylon tea of a morning as I prefer how it tastes (as many people do in South East Asia, apparently) and I even sometimes make cardamom coffee, which is wonderfully invigorating and really gets the tired and somnolent system rolling into action. The essential oil, hard to find, but one of the most revivifying essences I have ever experienced in the bath water, is bright and feisty; clear-eyed and eastern, health-giving, with definite bite (rather too much in this blend, I fear: I have never been one for subtlety, as you will know too well, hence the failure of all perfume blends of mine in the past – yes, lots and lots and lots of precious essential oils have been wasted over the years), but as one of the most fantastic days we had on our stay was a paradisiacal saunter through another vanilla plantation in a neighbouring village connected to the Villa Domba, where lemongrass and cardamom trees were grown alongside the papayas (my favourite fruit! I was in heaven) and vanilla vines (which we studied in a great amount of detail the entire time we were there: surrounded by, our senses plundered by them), cardamom most definitely had to be prominent in the top notes.




















Cardamom. Alive, right in front of me: picked, plucked from the ground………






(Now I am editing this for the reblog, and this post is KILLING ME!!!!!!!)





(Honestly, I bloody loved that holiday. Neither of us could even speak properly for about two weeks afterwards it was so gorgeous.)










Men from the plantation showing us the ‘mom.


















Right in front of our eyes, on a perfect, hot, sunny day: a village plantation, me with my camera trained on it all, sucking it all in, lying down in the grass (excusing myself as I went off for ten minute reveries just staring at the Javan sun flickering through the papaya leaves and dreamt of eternity – surely the most elegantly shaped umbrella trees you could ever see, they are beautiful:  I really don’t think I could have been happier.)





















underthe papayatree_7217















Me and our delightful guide laughing simultaneously….













And unless you have studied these things in advance (which we hadn’t), then it can come as a great surprise to find how certain plants grow, or how the aromatic extracts are obtained from them. I had no idea that cardamom grew in clusters on the ground, for  instance, as you can see in these pictures. The plantation owner and our host, the lovely Mr Agus, as well as our fantastic translator, Rizal, took us through the process of cultivation for each spice or plant, as the people who work with each crop demonstrated, by hand, the various techniques necessary for keeping each plant in its optimum state of health.






I was thrilled beyond measure to be picking real cardamom pods in this location, and thus, into my perfume, has gone a whole load of the spice (possibly, as I said, too much, as, when you open the bottle and just smell its initial evaporations there is an almost medicinal, if somewhat exciting blast of this delectable green spice that is, fortunately, nevertheless offset by the coffee beans, a foody embrace I rather enjoy and which then gradually fades into a patchouli aromatic skin scent that is quite sensual). I am fairly pleased with it now, and must resist any temptations to modify it further. One of my worst tendencies is a kind of messy perfectionism, which, coupled with a natural inclination to do everything in dramatic proportion, can lead me to wonder if I should add just a little of this or of that, getting carried away in the process, and then, inevitably, ruining everything. Please tell me to just stop here while the going is good.







No. I think I am going to leave it. There is about 90ml (just one bottle) and most of that is going to be for me to keep as an olfactory souvenir. To return there, through olfaction, by wearing on my own skin, the vanilla beans at Villa Domba: so distinctive, that, having been surrounded by them for five solid days and nights, there is now some kind of Pavlovian response, I think, when I smell them in the base of the perfume.




I am almost , if I close my eyes, halfway back there.





















I would quite like, also, though, if possible, to share some of this perfume with friends and maybe also with some Black Narcissus readers if you would be interested in smelling it. Just small vials (if I can get my hands on some), but it would be nice to share the experience with others (although I had problems sending some perfumes that were promised to two people on here, the other day – they came back, most frustratingly, in the Japanese post, two days later labelled dangerous). (Reblog note: sorry, this is now officially impossible, much as I would have loved to).






To finish, as I sit here, here is a picture, just taken, of the very same cardamom cluster you see in the photos on that gorgeous day, now dry; dessicated; almost odourless, but still a precious bio-souvenir I keep in the corner of the kitchen along with some vanilla pods that still hang down from the wall, the remnants left from the great bag full of deliciousness that we hauled back, at the end of last August: from Java.













































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