Monthly Archives: January 2015
The other day I came home with two small bottles of very good ylang ylang and bergamot essential oils, and, as you do, I decided to terrorize my perfume collection .
The tampering/contaminating/ disrespecting of a perfumer’s formula is something that that probably fills most real perfume lovers with horror. And, ultimately, when I look at my own triumphs and misdemeanours and weigh the whole thing up, I would have to agree. The formulae are the way that they are for a reason, the creation of a perfumer who has tinkered, and weighed up, and mulled over the details until he or she has liked what she sees and gives the green light.
This I know.
What if you disagree, though?
Or if you have perfumes lying around that you never really use and probably never will, because there just is something about them that gets on your wick, that is never quite right, or enough, or they have gone off?
In such cases, why not give a bit of perfume terrorism a whirl? See what happens? A bit of instinctive alchemy.
You have got nothing to lose, really, and it is certainly a whole lot better than the real thing.
The majority of the creations in my collection I would obviously never even dream of touching (all the usual suspects that you hear me going on about, particularly when they are in prime and pristine condition). And yet. I can sometimes find myself lifting up certain sacred holy cows and thinking, fuck it, why not. This old Mitsouko parfum is bugging me with its fustiness. I way preferred that nice eau de toilette that I had with all that bergamot.
……. .. . . . .
Here we go then, some lovely bergamot……..yes, that will do nicely; one drop of ylang ylang and some lemon and we will wait until tomorrow……
(verdict: yes, quite good, I will actually wear it now – I am loving the velvety sharpness of the citruses versus the moss, though in absolute truth I have altered the base a bit too much and she resents me).
What other perfumes?
There have been quite a lot over the years, I must confess (has anyone else done such a thing, incidentally? Am I alone in my crazed audacity? Am I some kind of parfumeur manqué, who instead of wrecking other people’s work should concentrate on his own? have you also, behind closed doors and wrapped shut curtains, also performed midnight raids on portions of your perfume collections?)
From time to time, I must admit though, when the mood strikes me, I do have to say that I bit of ‘personal remixing’ can be kind of fun.
The nervous anticipation of it all, to see if the experiment has gone awry, or if you are delighted when you wake up and smell it in the morning and it has worked….
Here then: a list of some of the ones I can remember off the top of my head (there are way more, I know there are, and I am sure that they will come up in conversation).
The ones that worked, and the ones that really didn’t.
SERGE LUTENS BORNEO I840 : This I have written about extensively before, my adding fine quality patchouli to the scent to deepen that note. In total I have probably had about four bottles of this perfume and it is the only way that I can wear it. If I get another one at any point (it is no longer sold in Tokyo) then I will do the same. Without that extra patchouli it was just a tad too soft. With it, it becomes mine.
SLIGHTLY DEGRADED CARON INFINI : Two or so drops of great quality ylang ylang oil and BOOM she has turned into Madame Rochas. Initially I get a real brrmrmrmrmththgfhghg of perfume pleasure as the aldehydes and wood all spring into the action from the presence of the new floral invader and the whole thing smells gorgeous (it has just lost its identity, which to the holder of that identity is something of a problem).
Great to have by the bedside, though, and it does smell better than how it did before (just a faded old sad little aldehyde). I think you probably do hear the slight tones of regret though, lingering in my voice.
SERGE LUTENS GRIS CLAIR
Now this is a weird one. My mum was given a whole tester bottle free of this when she bought two other Lutens for me one Christmas, and though I quite liked it, and like it, kind of, on Duncan, I always wanted way more lavender in the top and less of that slightly irritating synthetic incense note that roars carbonically through the whole and dominates the composition.
Thus, over time: a whole plethora of lavender oils, Mexican high altitude, Bulgarian, French (for some reason, Lutens perfumes dissolve the essential oils you might put into them perfectly, not going cloudy or off coloured like some perfumes do), and I have to say I way prefer it.
What we have now is a very natural lavender perfume that heals the senses, is fresh and exciting, yet maintains just enough of that original base note once the essential oils have evaporated to make it still an actual perfume. Christopher Sheldrake and his impresario would surely be shaking in their immaculately tailored boots, but they don’t have to smell it. This one is also on my bedside table.
SERGE LUTENS DATURA NOIR
NOOOOOOOOOOOO I hear you cry..but yes. As I wrote in my review of this, there is something just too imbalanced and precarious about the weird combination of top notes that I never felt worked. Just three drops of ylang ylang oil into about 40 ml of eau de parfum and wow she has grown at least three cup sizes. I mean Datura Noir was hardly Burt Reynolds to begin with, but now we have some serious cleavage.
And yet I prefer it. The ylang ylang smooths out the composition, makes it work from the very first go, yet dries down to the vanillic coconut Mata Hari that I was hoping she would be from the offset.
VOL DE NUIT VINTAGE EAU DE TOILETTE PLUS NEROLI
I know I know.
No, you stupid boy, you can’t wreck things like this. Just because there is some neroli in the listed notes doesn’t mean it is going to work. And it doesn’t.
I have regretted it ever since (though it was off to begin with so there wasn’t really anything to lose). Even so………
VINTAGE LAGERFELD CHLOE + YLANG YLANG
What smelled old and only slightly Chloë-ish ( I have great memories of this from when I was a teenager and so really cherish having a ‘live’ bottle in the house) has suddenly become CHLOE again.
With just two drops of ylang ylang oil it has been reborn (ylang ylang is famously used to lift all notes in perfumes to begin with, and seriously, it really works here. If you do have an old perfume that is tired and listless, you might want to try it as an experiment. In this one beautiful occasion, CHLOE IS BACK).
CK ONE + DOLCE & GABBANA POUR HOMME ‘COCKTAIL EXPERIMENT’
I know, what the hell was I thinking. MIXING TWO FULLY FLEDGED, AND UTTERLY INCOMPATIBLE PERFUMES TOGETHER. But I had come to hate both, and thought if I mixed them, I might get something new…..
LESSON: EPIC FAIL OF THE HIGHEST ORDER.
AS FOUL SMELLING AND REACTIVE AS AN EMETIC.
PUKE INDUCING, AND POURED DOWN THE DRAIN.
SANTA MARIA NOVELLA VETIVER
All my vetiver experiments have been dismal failures, I don’t know why. They just end up too tarry and viscous. And my beef with this Santa Maria Novella was always that old fashioned musk in the base that I just can’t abide, and even when smothered in roots from the vales of Java it was never going to be anything different. Again, I just threw the whole lot out.
An expensive waste of money, this one.
DIORELLA + LEMON
I am starting to get embarrassed now as I realize how extensive my terrorism has in fact been. My bottles must cower and pray, and beg for my mercy each time I walk in the room.
In truth, vintage Diorella is a perfume that I adore, like everybody else, but what to do with one that has lost its top notes?
A dose of high quality lemon oil, shall we?
The jury is still out on this one. Obviously, you don’t mess with Edmond Roudnitska, and I do have a very intact parfum that I wear once a while on an early summer’s afternoon that I wouldn’t touch in a million years, but I also quite like my Limonella as well. Call me a presumptuous upstart, but I don’t mind this one at all.
THE PERFUMES OF HARRY LEHMANN
I can’t quite believe that I haven’t yet written about Harry Lehmann, because it is the most wonderful perfume house in Charlottenburg, Berlin, that makes ridiculously good valued perfumes that you get from urns, à la Caron, and they are really quite nice.
I bought several bottles of scent there (as would you: the containers are pleasing, and they are almost laughably cheap). Reseda is a delightful green N°I9 alternative, Eau De Berlin is just sexy as hell in a crisp fougère, Geo F Trumper Eucris/ Drakkar Noir kind of way but far more elegant (I would never touch that one); and there were several that I bought but that I can’t quite remember the names of (Duncan and the cat are asleep upstairs so I can’t go and raid the back of the cabinets to check). There was a lovely spiced cologne, though, that I bought a huge, beautiful bottle of, a scent that was a bit like L’Occitane’s exquisite Eau Giroflée/Eau Des Quatre Voleurs and surely enough, though it was nice, I was surreptiously adding nutmeg (one of my favourite smells) and clove in carefully graded amounts (for me anyway) until I got what I wanted.
This worked WONDERS, though I say it myself. The essential nature of the scent was left unchanged, it was just boosted by the ingredients that it was crying out to have added, and I am itching to do exactly the same experiment again.
Spices are precarious though. I love Duncan in nutmeg so much that I even added a whole load of essential to a miniature I had of Cacharel Pour Homme, the most nutmeg-prominent men’s scent to begin with, and although he smelled as though he were ready to dive into a Spanish rice pudding, I kind of liked it on him actually ( but was worried that it might sensitize and burn the skin.)
Likewise, a nice big vintage bottle that I have of Floris Malmaison, now sadly discontinued, I have also, I must confess, had the nerve to spice up (just a bit) as well.
I wanted it a touch spicier. I adore cloves. And so cloves were added, a really nice essential oil, just to get that extra kick, especially now that eugenol has been tightly controlled by the fascist perfumed powers that be and we can never really have a proper spiced carnation again (and this one was thumbs up for sure ,as well). Coming home the other night I also added ylang ylang, because I just though well what the hell, why not?
Result? Gorgeous. The ylang ylang lifts the whole perfume, which now has a really lovely bite, and yet it still softens and dies pleasingly down to a great carnation that lingers like a pillow on the skin .
(The recent edition of Malmaison was nothing like this, incidentally: it was sold down the river, conservatized, made palatable for the dull. A carnation should be fiery and florid and poetic, and unafraid. And, anyway, as you probably know, this was the signature scent of Oscar Wilde all those years ago and I and sure that he would understand.)
He wore it, in its original, audacious incarnation, as the scented accompaniment to all those musings. And he certainly wasn’t at all afraid of a little teasing, and a little rule bending, either.
Ps. Forgot to mention Gianfranco Ferre + jasmine sambac absolute.
I have always loved L’Artisan’s Voleur de Roses, for its smell but also its name, because that’s what I once was – a rose thief.
One time I was even caught and cautioned by the police for pillaging from the neighbours’ bushes, as I came home from some party or other and found myself ripping them out callously from the soil to perfume my bedroom.
My friend Helen and I also tore up whole rose beds as teenagers, at dawn – not for mindless vandalism, but for the flowers and their smell, as we breathlessly collected rose stems from parks and inhaled them, deliriously, back in her car. We were floral delinquents.
This tendency also spread to other flowers. A few years later, at the university library, one bored summer’s day, on an impulse when leaving and in full daylight, I uprooted four magnificent irises from the entrance garden despite the presence of the official library staff and ran for my life. I’m not sure what I was trying to prove ( and I doubt I would do such a thing now), but the adrenaline was potent and they looked, and smelled, gorgeous in my room.
Creed’s Irisia, an unfairly overlooked fragrance (and the signature scent of Sophia Loren) is the only iris that reminds me of the part of the plant above ground. The florid, anthered, waxy scent of my plundered, majestic irises.
The perfume is strongly and bracingly floral (violet, tuberose, iris), woody (sandalwood), and sharp, with a bracing top accord of mandarin and Calabrian bergamot: a tri-coloured flag, like the iris flowers themselves.
There’s orange in the smell; yellow; and of course, intense, indignant purple (the irises were probably happy where they were.)
One of Creed’s most unusual scents, and a real mood booster when skies are grey.
Some niche houses such as Serge Lutens provide the owners of their illustrious perfumes with the option of dab cap or spray, which as every perfume lover knows, alters the dosage and precise proportion of the perfumed composition as it touches the skin and thus its smell. The difference might be subtle, but the true scent freak learns which format of the fragrance he prefers. A dab can be more intimate, a spray more exciting and decadent. It’s just a matter of choice.
When buying vintage perfume, though, the difference between a vaporisateur and a screw-on bottle can be astronomical. Over my years of bargain vintage collecting I have come to realize that for some reason (and I don’t understand the chemistry behind it), many so called ‘natural sprays’ of vintage classics simply don’t stand the test of time and so I never buy them. I could come across parfums of Calèche, Arpège, Infini, N°I9 or any other such beauties at heart stopping prices, but discovering they are in spray form, leave them coldly on the shelf. There is just no point. I buy them for the perfume, but there is something inside the scent (some kind of preservative?) that turns the smell and makes it unwearable. I can smell the fixative, I can smell the gas inside (for some reason this doesn’t seem to be true of Guerlain, in which case the parfums de toilette of Mitsouko, Chamade and so on are by far the most pristine and beautiful renditions of those perfumes that I own).
In terms of disastrous design, though, nothing beat Monsieur Rochas. Jesus Christ. My first bottle of this scent (a kind of tauter Hermès Equipage, made by the same perfumer) had a spray that well, just kept on spraying. As in, you pressed the nozzle, the metal connecting it got locked down, and you simply could not stop it, as though the scent were throwing some kind of self-destructive tizzy and were determined to not let you use it.
Coming across a dirt cheap, huge full bottle of the same scent the other day on my usual rounds I snapped it up thinking it would make a very refined and elegant scent for my other half. I get home. Press play, and…..WHOAH we are talking tantrum. One bloody press down of the ridiculously delicate vaporisateur and we are talking champagne bottle. I0,9, 8, 7…… lift off.
Fizzing, the nozzle shut down (AGAIN? I couldn’t believe my eyes or nose) as it hissed like a bitch and proceeded to empty out a third of its contents, me on the sidelines helplessly watching and shouting at it and swearing no that’s it: no more of these cruddy old sprays from now on, dear friend, I’m a-dabbin’.
THAT VOODOO, THAT HOODOO……..VOODOO LOVE by PARFUMS FRENCH BOURBON, THE TOMB OF MARIE LAVEAU, + THE STRANGE AND SPECTACULAR SECRET OF NICOLAS CAGE
Since I was a child, I have always found the idea terrifying of dolls that can be pinned, in precision -pointed places, to inflict their effigy’s counterpart with pain. Voodoo doctors with wild staring eyes who can drug you with powdered, poisonous exhalations and inter you while alive; the ‘zombi’ that then awakes and claws itself up from the tomb.
Excruciations transferred by a look, by mere suggestion….
Voodoo also fascinates. Snakes. The incessant, skin-fuelling drum beats that lead up to paroxysms of fevered, eye-whiting ecstacy: rhythm and dance to the point of delirium as the sweat begins to pour in rivers and the defenceless bird’s throat is slit, and spilled, in orgiastic, crimson cascades of ululation and frenzy.
The very point the conjured, awaiting spirit then enters…
Voodoo. That word is hallucinatory, a ferine heat of shivers and relinquishing…..
It intoxicates me.
But what if all the above, all this slathering about over ritualistic mumbo were nothing but hyperbole?
A product of Hollywood’s commercial need to plumb the frightening, the ‘heart of darkness’ and the ‘other’?
Could there, in fact, be more to it?
Or is voodoo nothing but…….hoodoo?
Being in New Orleans, the heart of the Southern Gothic, the place where the confluence of so many contrasting different cultures gave rise to the American version of Black Magic, and its tantalizing peripheries of tarot and fortune telling and voodoo shrines, I had to get a taste of this sensationalist and unfamiliar religion first hand, just a glimpse. To satisfy my fantasies. To have my little ‘Angel Heart’. Yet I was also quite reluctant, I must admit, to let it all touch me. To ‘dabble’.
Perhaps I am more superstitious than I am willing to admit even to myself, but I am really quite wary of séances and ouija boards, withanything even remotely to do with the demonic. I consciously resist such things. I will them away. And while I love a good horror film as much as the next person, the idea of being in the real presence of voodoo artefacts or religious sacraments, made me slightly afraid, even in the day time. I was afraid of what might potentially be unleashed.
We had decided to go on a voodoo and cemetery tour, a historical guiding through the French Quarter and its environs, on the last day of the year. The day before, when we wandered around the streets aimlessly, huddled in our coats and scarves, it had been sheets of cold rain, miserable weather, a day of cafés and bars and restaurants, but on this day, although puddles were congregated around the drains (they almost never dry, our guide told us), the sky was sharp and clear. Icy in the shade, warm in the sun.
An actual voodoo practioner who lived in the area, our tour guide was friendly, and as it turned out, hilarious (though she never took off her sunglasses). At least we certainly thought she was funny – for some reason, the rest of the tour group stood round the entire time completely stone faced. For us though, Jill’s raucous, camp and wisecracking humour, as she went through the basics on New Orleans history, was extremely amusing indeed, as we guffawed in the corner, with a well practiced ability to condense historical facts into nicely chewed soundbites that made you laugh, but put things into perspective.
We got to Congo Square, the place where the voodoo practioners of the past would gather to perform their ceremonial rituals under the blind eye of the local Catholic diocese, and were then given, as we sat in a stone semicircle, a rather fascinating insight into what our guide quite emphaticallly called a ‘very beautiful religion and a most misunderstood religion’, with its many links to Christianity, as well as to ancient African tribal traditions (she counts a local voodoo priestess as one of her close friends); its altars, and offerings, its sacrifices and its lua.
(And those dolls: according to Jill, the vast majority of voodoo dolls are in fact used to heal not curse, the pins like acupuncture needles from afar, to help loved ones with specific pains and symptoms. For Jill, the religion of voodoo, is far more benign, communal and lovingly spiritual than most would believe.)
The lua, and she listed the most important ones for us, are the spirits, the intermediaries, or ‘mystères’, to whom you pray for favours and interventions, each with his or her particular humours and specifications; coconut for this one, cash for another; rum for this one, meat for the other.
Perhaps this is why the crowd were so po-faced. Maybe they had come to be scandalized and horrified by evil tales of murder and satanic sacrifice, where instead we were being given the intriguing, and rather sensual, low-down on all the joys and pleasures of voodoo, by a woman actually doused in it on a daily basis, a lady who seemed very nice, and who was really quite cheery and passionate about her subject.
I was thoroughly in my element (quite an unusual way to spend the morning of New Year’s Eve, to say the least) and went with the flow. I was delighted to be hearing all this alluring information from a very different and personally informed perspective, particularly in the very place where believers had congregated, and still do, to listen to the hypnotic incantations and rituals of the specially chosen Voodoo Queen.
The ‘Voodoo Queen’. To me, I have to say, it sounded almost comical, like something from a I950’s B-movie, all Carmen Miranda ebonics , marimbas and mambo. But to her followers, she is revered and very real. Still. And more importantly, the most well known of these priestesses, and a woman that Jill herself seemed to hold in the highest esteem (“I seriously dig this woman”): if not the most famous person of all New Orleans (aside Louis Armstrong, whose statue was also on Congo Square) was the legendary Marie Laveau, entombed in the next stop of our visit – St. Louis Cemetery No. I.
We had actually already visited one cemetery – Lafayette, in the Garden District, a couple of days before. A cold, overcast and brackish day, we had had no guide at that time, but as we entered and I felt around the feeling of the place, I found that I wanted to be alone there. I let the others go off, and slowly meandered through the lanes of crumbling and overgrown tombstones by myself.
I don’t think that I am essentially morbid (though you may of course beg to disagree), and I am certainly not drawn to death – quite the opposite, I would say – but the very dense and eerie atmosphere of that place felt strangely suspended; listless: stock full and-fern coiled – a half light.
Also, I didn’t yet know about the special New Orleans system of burial, how thousands and thousands of dead people are laid to rest in a special system of interring, within family tombs or if they are unfortunate, with strangers, but the tombs I saw in that place above ground; cracked, in disrepair, were still obviously different. I felt as though I could peer inside into the darkness if I wanted, to view the occupant, or rather that, in those dark inner cavities, the inhabitant of each tomb could perhaps sense, and see me, from within.
Suspension is the best word for it. I felt slightly suspended between things, dipped in another realm. Of course, to some extent, I was talking myself into this ; ooh, I’m in New Orleans in the very cemetery where Ann Rice set her Vampire Lestat chronicles, I’m having a spooky moment, but even before the cemetery appeared in the street ( we didn’t know it was going to be there), we were looking at the magnificent ante-bellum houses, the reason we had gone to the area, the ‘Garden District’, but even so I had felt uneasy and detached, as I said – dappled in the uncoloured, redolent in-between. Despite the enviable wealth on display and the spectacularly particular architecture, those very recognizably American houses with their porches and balustraded balconies and locked behind closed, Christmas trees, it all felt quite unexpectedly sinister to me. As I said to Duncan as we walked along, there is no possible way that I could live here.
The next day at St. Louis it was crisp and cold and blindingly bright.
And with Jill gleefully leading us through the entombment processes with a glib, macabre maner – the open tombs, where the bodies of the deceased are stored in the highest tier of the stone and literally cooked by the Louisana afternoon sun at temperatures that can reach 200 degrees : a kind of natural cremation, there is nothing really left save bones and ashes, with the exception of the few cases that occur when a form of mummification instead takes place instead, the body not quite decomposing, and the graveyard attendants having to then then pick out the twisted ‘human jerky’ as she called it, and transfer it to the simple bag where their mortal remains are destined to be placed along with their other family members in the collective ancestral tomb: or, as she briskly put it, ‘your cosy condo for eternity’.
After hearing about these unusual process and the New Orleans funeral rites, and visiting a desecrated tomb of a supposed voodoo priestess, bricks removed, offerings left: three X’s graffitied all over the stone (an urban legend, she says, but you are supposed to leave the Xs , turn round backwards or something, before your wishes are granted, – occultists from all over the world come to do just that, even, according to Jill, encouraged by more salacious and spooksville guides, to actually break off bone fragments as holy relics).
As we looked around us, and at those creepy little crosses on the stone work, we were told explicitly that leaving the three X’s was forbidden (and obviously illegal). We would be prosecuted, and the fines would be quite high.
I looked at some roses, that were glinting in the searing morning light.
I took some photos of some tombs, and decaying graveyard flowers.
Before we then, turning the corner, sun streaming in our faces, came to the next scheduled stop on our tour of St. Louis.
The quite pristine, pyramid-shaped, imposing tomb of Nicolas Cage.
Yes, your read that correctly. Maybe you knew about this already, but there was a collective exhalation of excitement that ran through the group when this spectacular Hollywood insider info was announced, (with expert dramatic timing, by our tour guide. )
His tomb? He’s dead?
No, he is just ready.
A pyramid for Nicolas Cage. An extravagant and self indulgent act of Las Vegas-style megalomania that was nevertheless, for me as something of a fan of the actor, completely fascinating.
Nicolas Cage apparently adores New Orleans, the city where the brilliantly barmy Bad Lieutenant was filmed ( an off kilter police procedural by genius director Werner Herzog that I love), and it is a place he is said to visit quite regularly. And so, though still very much alive the last time I checked, it seems that the eccentric actor has already elected to spend the rest of eternity in St. Louis Cemetery No I, just round the corner from the queen of all the Voodoo Queens, Marie Laveau.
There was something a little gobsmacking about all of this. Few us face death so head on, not only connecting to a place where our mortal remains will be stored but actually commissioning a design for it, paying for its perpetual unkeep in advance, and being able hang out and have a picnic there if we so desire when we come down to visit with family and friends.
Hey look, that’s the place.
There is for me something so brazenly over the top about all of this that quite appeals to me: so larger-than-life, yet also curiously self-aware. So grandiose, and overbearing (just look at it, as Duncan captured perfectly its solar Nile aspirations in the photograph). So ridiculous. Yet I love it. I think Nicolas Cage is very much a love-him-or-hate him figure, one of those polarizing actors, and I imagine that many of you reading this will fall into the latter category. I know Daphne, Duncan’s mother hates him (“he’s evil“). I suppose, in a way, in that sense, he’s a bit like Angelina Jolie – one of those unconventional looking people, a bit unhinged or oddball (loving Elvis so much you marry his daughter), stars who you probably wouldn’t trust, who are so unspeakably themselves they don’t quite fit into the Hollywood mould, yet manage to become superbly affluent and accoladed megastars nonetheless. Personally I love them both. Angelina Jolie has such a scary, wild untrammeled beauty, I can watch her anytime, and Nicolas Cage is just so out there, virile and at times, really quite recklessly sexy.
I, personally, would have little resistance.
I love him in Wild At Heart. In Bringing Out The Dead and Snake Eyes, even in such action schlocker nonsense as Con Air, but particularly in the aforementioned Port Of Call New Orleans, all strung out,bug-eyed and feral – but I do also like him as a loveable, doe-eyed romantic hero in films such as It Could Happen To you, Leaving Las Vegas, and the fantastically feel-good-Cher-co-starring comedy, Moonstruck.
Sunstruck he will be though, one day, sequestered in his Pharoah-like, attention grabbing tomb.
Silent, finally, for eternity.
I was stunned. And as one younger member of the tour group, who had really perked up at this bit of celebrity fodder then said, ‘I can’t believe I have just seen Nicolas Cage’s tomb before he’s even dead’.
More famous still though, according to our guide, and the most visited tomb worldwide after Elvis Presley (really?), was the unprepossessing final resting place (perhaps)of Marie Laveau, rock-star of the Occult, Queen of the Voodoo Queens, and a most mysterious and compelling woman by all accounts. Brought up half Voodoo, half Catholic, hence her unfortunate and unimaginative entombment in a Catholic cemetery, she was taken up as a young girl, as the Creole mistress of a New Orleans gentried man of means (who later disappeared…….), had nine or so children, and lived into her nineties, a priestess who became venerated and celebrated as an oracle, a person of great psychic powers according to some, a phony to others, but who you could turn to, even now when she has been laid to rest, to grant your deepest wish. Duncan’s mother, told this, touched her tomb. I myself did not ( I want nothing to do with her). Still, it was intriguing to be standing in such a place as the sun beat down; cool shadows, and the stories we were hearing taking us fully to another time and place of the old New Orleans, and its salons, and sultry goings on behind closed doors.
There are other voodoo-linked cultural landmarks scattered around New Orleans – the interesting, if underwhelming, Voodoo Museum with its dusty collection of chicken-clawed curiosities, and also a cultural center, Voodoo Autentica, which sells potions and dolls and other practical paraphernalia. I looked, but again, I didn’t touch. It is something I want to know about, but not to let inside. Perhaps I have been brainwashed by Haitian clichés from my intake of bone-faced Hollywoodiana; the New Orleans jazz funeral and witch doctor of Live And Let Die (easily my favourite James Bond film as a kid, because who can resist a skeleton preening in a top hat?) the wall-dripping sensuality of the scenes with Mickey Rourke and Lisa Bonet in Angel Heart) but despite my steaming predilections I will not, you can be sure, be building any voodoo altars in my house any time soon.
Finally to perfume, though.
And returning again to Parfums French Bourbon, to see if the scent in the window display had any real mystery (a scent named Voodoo Love certainly has an appeal, though its scented reality doesn’t quite cut the mustard). Like Kus Kus, the shop’s most famous perfume originally created in the I840’s, this is a powdered, floral old timer, cloyed prettily with musks and flowers along the lines of Caron’s heavily petticoated Pois De Senteur De Chez Moi, any of those Caron classics like French Can Can, steeped in lady-like, not-telling things that are quite syrupy, dusted and laced; real perfumes from a disappeared age that smell a bit antiquated (though perfect in that setting, on Rue Royal in the French Quarter). Which is, of course, one reason to really want to wear them, though I couldn’t quite decide if they were necessarily distinctive enough to make me reach out for my wallet. Kus Kus did smell quite alluring, I must say, if a little amorphous and difficult to get an obvious take on (like Hové Parfumeur I didn’t really have sufficient time to truly get to know all the perfumes).
Voodoo Love, though, I did wear all afternoon, the day after we went to see Madame Laveau, both on the back of my hand, and sprayed on some card, and while nice, and convincingly sultry and chypreish ( a tiny bit Paloma Picasso), it didn’t really leave that much of a mark.
I couldn’t quite get a handle on it. Maybe subconsciously I didn’t really want to, though. As I sit here, people all around me sleeping on a night flight to San Francisco, to be honest, I can’t even remember at all, now, how it smelled.