We have been convulsed. A ranting playboy demagogue is soon to become the most powerful man in the world at the head of a political party that believes that climate change is a ‘hoax’, and is intent on de-ratifying the historic Paris Accord – possibly the only chance left there is to still make a difference to the planet. Vice President Pence believes in conversion therapies for homosexuals, something akin to psychological torture and which is known to be very damaging spiritually to the individual concerned; entire geopolitical tectonics have been shifted overnight: in Japan, there is a terrified scramble for Prime Minister Abe, himself a nationalist hawk, to try to work out what D.T. is all about and whether the threatened phasing out of America’s military support for Japan and South Korea will leave us at the mercy of the insane nuclear fantasies of another dictator, the ridiculous Kim Jong Un, just across the pond and who could obliterate us in an instant if he so desired, not to mention the renewed aggressiveness of China…….
I could go on, but like the name of this latest perfume by Serge Lutens, it goes without saying that this week has certainly been something of a ‘Baptism Of Fire’. I don’t actually think that I am exaggerating. Yes, I am known to be melodramatic, overemphatic, even way over the top; I do exult in extremes of emotion and the explosive power of language, but that is more to simply try and nail the essence of a feeling than to overembellish it into a lie or a soundbite: this last week, for instance – well I can’t really even say ‘for instance’, can I, because it is all completely unprecedented: there has never been an event like it in my lifetime, and although I expected it deep in my heart and gut (last Tuesday night, when the world still seemed kind of sane, I was talking about the next day’s election with two very bright students of mine and they asked me who I thought was going to win and I honestly told them: my instincts tell me definitely Donald Trump, but the optimist in me is intellectually trying to say Clinton, but I knew (incidentally, I don’t understand why many of you actually didn’t…I do think that the dreamy idealism of many liberal people is intensely problematic…….just because you might have that extra dose of empathy and compassion running naturally in your bloodstream doesn’t mean that half the rest of the world does…..get real)…..anyway, blah, blah,blah it seems to have become impossible to write about anything else whatsoever, let alone try and write on here a new perfume review.
But I shall endeavour to do so nonetheless (and please forgive this rather supercilious tone of mine today – I think I am still trying to contain the fury of my furnace…don’t forget that my stage alter ego is Burning Bush – and never has that name felt more right nor suited to the times).
While many people across America, perhaps understandably, rejoice in the mere fact of tumultuous change (because let’s face it, the prospect of four years or more of Hillary Clinton were rather uninspiring), the rest of us, and most of the world, are full of fear. It has been an extraordinary week, exhausting emotionally and psychically when you are trying to get on with your job and your life and these cataclysmic events are going on all around you. It feels as if life as we know it is coming to an end. And perhaps it is.
At the same time, for mental wellness’ sake, a person cannot let That Man invade his or her consciousness for too many hours of the day (it struck me a couple of days after the election just how much psychological space the Orange One must have been occupying in the Mind of Humanity these last few days (and weeks, and months..)….like a great Satanic scourge coursing through the brain cells and soul systems of much of the planet: it is a face and voice that one cannot abide yet it fills up your brain all the same against your will, like a rapist…when I saw the photos of him gloating in the paper the next day I literally felt my chest compressing in a kind of asphyxiating panic at the prospect of my mind being dominated by such a shallow, opportunistic dick for the next four years, at the thought of what he could do with and to the world, and my absolute rage and disgust towards the crude, foolish suckers who voted for him….god, I could go on and on and on but the whole point of this post was to try and move on to the next stage, to get back to perfume, or something not related to this unholy gaggle.)
(sorry, just vomiting up some fire…..)
In any case. The only reason for my choosing this particular perfume today in order to try and move on (in vain), is obviously because of its name, in keeping with the recent more exclamatory and Biblical sounding perfumes being released from the Serge Lutens range (suited to the haranguingly apocalyptic times we are living in), as if the labels he puts on the bottles will detract our attention from their more lacklustre, attenuated nature. They are still nice, and almost always smell-worthy, but La Religieuse, L’Haleine Des Dieux, Cannibale, Cracheuse de Flammes and their ilk are not the thunderbolt revelations their names might suggest. It is as if, like a certain person we were talking about before, their bark is predictably harsher than their bite (which is what I am really hoping will be the case). Still, Baptême Du Feu is pleasing to the senses, and quite original, in relation to the vast majority of either mainstream or even niche perfumes that very usually smell along quite similar lines. This latest release (part of the middle-tier black labelled line, not the ‘cheapie’ originals nor the recent, extravagantly priced Section D’Or gamut), I would describe as a spiced, balsamic-aromatic, a curious creation that is ostensibly a gingerbread perfume (fresh, taut notes of ginger, cinnamon and mouth-smacking mandarin) over an imaginative contradiction of powdery osmanthus, benzoin, ambrette and castoreum that unexpectedly tilts the perfume, despite its semi-gourmand oriental overtures, into the realm of the eighties’ masculine: a mid-level Lutens that I can’t quite get a handle on myself – though I am very pleased by its uncategorizability in this fervidly labellous times- yet one that I would certainly gladly be sat next to on a person, male or female, for a couple of hours, in order get to know this fragrance more intimately. It does have something that slightly draws me in. Even, vaguely, a touch of mystery.
But though the grand doyen of Parisian perfume is still going strong after all these sleek, luxuriant years (“ My emotions are fluid. Like liquid wax poured into a mould, they determine what seduces me—like this gingerbread heart”), we, the perfume cognoscenti, are perhaps now less likely to take each of his pronouncements as seriously as we did in the days when Serge Lutens first crashed down beautifully onto the perfumed planet like Bowie in the Man Who Fell To Earth over a quarter of a century ago and each (pseudo?) poetic enunciation we took, almost, to be like the words of a saviour. We are wiser now, and can see through the bluster. And I am hoping that this also holds true in other realms of the world right now as well, that grand intonements that can terrify or thrill the soul, just on the surface level, be they aesthetic, or political, can instead turn out, like this pleasing but ultimately somewhat disappointing perfume, to be more gentle, hollow, innocuous banalities.