And so it goes. The beard is shaved off: unwillingly – I don’t recognize myself.

But that’s the rules.

The work clothes are washed; then rewashed (and hung outside in fresh air, for fear of contamination).

The body is soaped down; scrubbed. the hair, panthèned; conditioned.

Scent? A little. The rules say please do not.

But, just before leaving the house I find that I just do anyway; I can’t stop myself: a small spray, on each cuff, of Montale Sunset Flowers: that sheeny, bright lemon leaf, green apple violet wholesomeness I bought the other day on a strange anti-intuitive whim. For this precise purpose.

I iron my suit while staring out the window absently. Drinking coffee, willing myself into the spirit. A suit really shouldn’t be thrown into the washing machine in this way I realise but I am neurotic, aware of my smell at all times, and it simply has to be tip-top clean on this first day back; flawless.

I dress myself. Pick out a tie.

The transformation is now complete.

It is the first day of term. I am spruce: depilated; Delilah’d.

Clean-smelling – clean looking. Nervous. In new September sun.

Gone is the frangipani and the coconut, the thick and lavishing Infini stage; the Nocturnes. The Calandre vintage extrait, that I wore each time that we went to the beach and that remained on my swimming trunks; the towels. The thick Arab sweetness; the undeodorized armpits and late, and lazy sex phase of vintage, Givenchy Gentleman; that day of bare-chested vintage Azzarro and its anisic, manly, mutual affections; days spent loungeing with red wine in front of dark, lurid films in our new mini private cinema : Mulholland Drive, Contagion, My Beautiful Laundrette (how that new projector has been wonderful this summer holiday: how my film collection has been re-born to life with that screen).

The marination of oneself; in odour, in perfume; in love, as the cicadas and crickets sing thrummingly beyond the balcony, approaching their end, and the hot, sultry summer heat that I suspend myself in so naturally starts, too early, to lose its fertility.

The nerves. The out of practice. The how was your summer. But, also, the instantaneous and strangely pleasurable change into that other persona. Not an alter ego, or a Hyde, but another strata. 

Like coming back up for air.






The kids are raucous and sweet. Bright, and full of energy – we are pleased to see each other. And I have dynamism, from being away from them during these precious weeks of necessary recuperation. I find I am quite wired and in tune with them, with an immediacy that inspires me when just a few hours ago there I was all morose, and childish and not wanting to get into the elevator and enter the school. Now it comes to me naturally. They are stimulated; I am stimulated. It’s fun, spontaneous.

I come home. I enter the house: Realize how strongly it does smell of patchouli oil, as my friends always tell me. And incense.  It is my den, though: I am inoculated. Now, however, I enter it with new senses, smell the evidence.

I enter the kitchen. The remnants of some vanilla or other; coffee smells, home smells, and, unexpectedly, a heartrending vetiver that I inexplicably can’t place.

Where is it coming from? It smells familiar. And then I realize: ah yes, come on stupid, it’s your navy blue sweater, slung over the back of that chair, emanating those poetically beautiful final stages of vintage Nº19 parfum that I enjoy so much, daubed in it; snuggled up in it, loving it, that I found for virtually nothing one day at my new secret well, somewhere in Tokyo one day in the holiday when I was just wandering about aimlessly in the big city with nothing much to do except take in the rain and try to deal with the loss of heat and that I wore to death in those final seven days, when I was mourning the end of the summer, and autumn began its inexorable entrance.

Yet, for some moments as I question my senses vaguely, I don’t recognize it.

It is exterior to me, now; hanging in the ether like an other. A ghost, almost, of past remembrance.

I have morphed, for this moment, into this other person.

This teacher; emasculated, perhaps, but enjoying, nevertheless, the spruceness; the end of the slovenliness and indulgence.

The neatly groomed, sweet-apple shampoo shine of flowers. The renewing vigor of work.


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27 responses to “THE TRANSFORMATION

  1. ShaLeah

    Until summer’s eve, at least you’ll have it’s scents at your fingertips. To reminisce in times of longing. Welcome back, Clark Kent, the phone booth will miss you.

  2. tonkabeany

    Such beatiful writing Neil. The poetic, simplicity, clear as a bell. Thank you for stopping me in my tracks with your gorgeous, gorgeous evocations. Again.

    • Really?

      I came in last night after the aforementioned good day, happy, tired, and went to bed.

      Simply NO possibility of sleep. Way too energized and overstimulated.

      I came downstairs and wrote this, which I was thinking about as I was walking up the hill.

      And then I couldn’t sleep again from the stimulation of words, which I wanted to check and change more but there simply wasn’t time.

      And then when I did finally drop off to sleep I had the most unbelievable dreams, more like entire films, really.

      And you know what happened next, on my way to work….

      Sometimes I just think I am a maelstrom of sensitivities: too ridiculous to live.

  3. nocturnes

    Thank you so very much my friend…..reminding me of why I do what I do as I am also back in the groove of my career and enjoying it….and for re-connecting me/ reminding me of my vintage loves (nocturnes, calandre, givenchy gentleman) that I have put out of my mind and by the wayside for many months now as for the first time ever in my life I have developed this ennui towards perfume and have been living exclusively in oils or nothing at all….

    • nocturnes

      my favorite being VaNeilLa made in honor of you….bergamot, galbanum,orange blossom, loads of tuberose, violet leaf, tonka bean, styrax, coffee, cocoa absolute,double distilled vetiver, oakmoss, amber and a ridiculously hefty dose of bourbon vanilla….I know it sounds like an unholy concoction but I am telling you it is divine and has been selling like hotcakes!

    • I LOVE that you are selling your perfumes: it makes me truly excited just thinking about it. FANTASTIC.

      And was that one really named after me?

      • What is double distilled Vetiver like?!

      • nocturnes

        Of course it was named after you, my younger brother and muse!
        Double distilled vetiver is smoother and rounder…much preferred by me…I get it from Eden…..and technically the ladies of the house are selling it for me…and I am training them to blend…I have zero business sense so they do all the ordering of supplies and beautiful packaging and talking the shop owners into carrying them! They have been very persuasive…..

      • nocturnes

        You are hilarious! Nothing on websites…you would have to visit the stores in person….(perhaps this will be your trip to the States although you would be bored out of your skull in my little town!)

      • I doubt it. I like anywhere new. I was just wondering if there is some deliciously designed website up: you said the packaging was good….

      • nocturnes

        Unless of course you were referring to the double distilled vetiver which can be obtained at

      • nocturnes

        The ladies roll the white cardboard rectangular boxes that house the essential oil perfume bottles (the bottle are gorgeous, by the way, some are roll ons with colored caps sprinkled with diamonds, others are dab ons with filigree designs on the bottle and jewel encrusted gold or silver caps I was told that my brown bottles from Eden were too boring so they researched and found these) in tissue paper of various bright colors and wrap each end with a thin satin ribbon (also varying in colors). The outside is labeled using a label maker with the name of the essential oil perfume (all named after real individuals) It looks a bit like a Chinese firecraker or a very large rectangular bonbon (similar to the Bond No 9 samples). Their ideas, not mine…I have a picture at home from the display at one of the stores (a gourmet tea and coffee shop) but have not a clue as to how to attach it….you know I am a techno-moron!

      • nocturnes

        Which is why I could never sell online….couldn’t figure out how to make a website and all the shipping nonsense, taxes, etc…would completely take the joy out of creating….plus I am really not professional…and in actuality with the high quality of the oils I am using I am probably losing money with what is being charged to the customer! But I think it is a good thing for the girls to flex their entrepreneurial muscles … I am going along with it!

  4. Lilybelle

    Sigh! I loved reading that. The cicadas here are still buzzing, but the cold front is coming, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m always in love with the season that’s just on the horizon. If only Autumn (weather wise) weren’t so short because it really is my favorite; the most romantic, liveliest time of year for me. I hope you have a wonderful new school term, and I hope your students all know how lucky they are to have you for a teacher!! 🙂

  5. Loved reading the whole process of transforming from your vacation self into your instructor self. I also thrilled at the way you express your love of the warm, balmy summer weather. As you may have read when I commented on Olivia’s post, I am more of a cooler weather lover. You helped me to understand the love people feel for the summer.
    Now I have to try and think of some fabulously clean and “detergent-type” scents for you to wear during the school term. Maybe a bit of Eau Gres, which is light and lovely. I will think of others though. Oh, but none can compare to delicious Vetiver or patchouli dry downs .
    Bon courage.

    • You know I adore both patchouli and Vetiver but no no no for work. I got tragic reactions even from wearing the original lime crisp citrus of Armani Pour Homme, and even worse reactions from Chanel Pour Monsieur après rasage which I thought I couldn’t go wrong with. That mossy thing that’s hiding in the dry down of these scents is sheer anathema to the students. It’s better to come across as a giant shampoo bottle.

  6. Just lovely. Welcome back to the real world 🙂

  7. Wonderful description of the first day back. As a teacher, I identify with the Ugh and dragging of feet into school, then the split grin from ear to ear and surge of euphoria when the kids roll in and swap holiday stories with you. Lovely :).

  8. I read this the first time around, but it is just as enjoyable now…and appropriate for the beginning of September.

  9. Bee Wyeth

    Great writing – totally captured those back to work mixed feelings and the magical extra dimension that perfume gives to our lives. Thank you.

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