Japanese suburbs like their houses and front yards largely trimmed, and neat, but we don’t and want it green and overgrown, so have asked our landlords to not cut our garden. The result: the biggest osmanthus tree outside this window where I am writing, stretching right up to the telephone wires – and it has just bloomed.
Right now the scent is like the colour: an ethereal apricot cream. Soon though, as I have written before in my paen to osmanthus and its inimitable glories, the perfume will become thick; and rotten peachy, and unwanted.
Right now though it smells beautiful: fresh, delightful and new, a light haze of florally cottoning apricots. It doth beguile. Interestingly, today, I will also be able to smell again the osmanthus absolute, in its natural state, when I go, once again, up to the ear clinic in Tokyo, a four hour round trip (the reason I have been absent from this blog: a horrendous, and debilitating, ear infection which I have still not recovered from), where I will be able to then, once I have been violated once again with sharp metallic instruments and received the next dose of antibiotics, go to the Seikatsunoki, or Tree Of Life aromatherapy store, just down the road in Omotesando, which has the biggest selection of essential oils you can possibly imagine, from everything you have read about in your guide to aromatherapy, all the lavenders and citruses, patchoulis, oranges and hyssops, to Japan-only available extractions such as hiba, shiso and hakka Japanese mint (among many, many, others), and then to the most exciting: a selection of very expensive, but also very tantalising, floral absolutes,CO2 extractions, and ottos. The jasmine sambac, by far my favourite, I have bought on more than one occasion to make perfume – it smells gorgeous, just as it is, actually – but then the other, distillated, absoluted essences can almost, even to the perfume-familiar, come on like strangely disguised impostors but nevertheless still quite fascinate. Tuberose is stern, and forbiddingly unsweet. Iris has no powder: it is peculiar, green, unadorned. Violet leaf is harsh, and almost unconscionably bitter. Frangipani is….I don’t know. It continues to elude me. Carnation is densely spiced and fruit-carnal, and darkly enigmatic.
But osmanthus? It stinks. Like animals in the barnyard. Shocking, when you know how sweetly innocent the flowers’ perfume begins. True, there is a hint of that apricot breeze I am getting right now from my front garden window which I am breathing in deeply like an early autumnal dose of happiness. Yet that floral fantasma, just distinguishable in the gunk, is drowned out almost completely in a foetid musk-funk of hooves, soiled farmyard hay, and beasts’ furred, slovenly behinds………………..animalic, thick; almost rotten, and very overpowering. Perfumers, when they use this ultra-expensive material, must surely use very, very, little. In infinitesimal doses, I would imagine. Because in the raw, and in concentration, osmanthus absolute really is kind of disgusting. Like the slow, reeking ooze that has been issuing forth from my left ear, a putrid, sweet-smelling custard, it just shows you what we all boil down to: ultimately, in the end.