I wouldn’t normally, but when a friend kindly comes, and gives you some unwanted perfumes to keep on a hospital visit, you at least have to be polite and try to try them ( not Flora by Gucci, though, I’m afraid – I couldn’t even give this faceless chemical dreck away to the subsequent visitors who came, as it elicited nothing more than a quizzical, bored, blank-faced response).

The house of Kenzo, is different. Still airport-friendly dross the majority of the time : unthreateningly user -friendly and mild, there’s still something for me about the name, the design, and the solidly ethereal mellowness of Kenzo scents that still, just occasionally, has a slim vague hold on my attention.

I am at the point now in my recuperation and rehabilitation where there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I am learning gradually to walk with the frame, and with Mr Murase, my brilliant physio, we have now even started to train with a cane ( which strangely I find somewhat easier). Sometimes I suddenly feel my legs buckling under me, and there is the occasional alarming, briefly excruciating sharp pain but essentially it’s definitely onward marching soldiers with a positive uphill trajectory. I should be out of here by Golden Week, they tell me, the national spring holiday when all of Japan is on the move and traveling in spring sunshine, but although I yearn for it in many ways – I need to be touched, and not just by doctors – I can hardly even imagine being home.

There is a soft, passive ease to my institutionalization. I am used to it. The routine. The nothingness.The being waited on. The languorous indolence of The English Patient and the scenes beyond his window. The world outside feels violent and scary ( because it is ), but also alluringly, and disturbingly, vital with an aggression of energy and purpose that quite intimidates me. In here we are the ‘charges’ of the hospital, you can see by our pyjamas. At your mercy. To be cared for. Our bones and joints and brutalized tendons are to be soothed and manipulated, our toilet functions recorded doggedly in charts, our every fluctuation measured. There is even a pastoral counsellor ( a very intelligent and compassionate older woman I greatly enjoy talking with on Tuesdays) who comes to check up on our well-being: all is holistically sewn together in an upbeat and pleasant ( if somewhat suffocating), healingly benevolent atmosphere – and at heart I ultimately have nothing but praise for them all.

I suppose I am now thinking about memories and nostalgia. How will I see this tumultuous experience and major life event a year from now? Or two? With backdated hindsight and dread? With pos think. ( Except for The Trauma, which I know I am still processing). Could it be, just possibly, that I will even miss it, in some strange unprocessed way? Or would that just be too plainly masochistic?

Sometimes I lie here after physiotherapy, all by myself, spaced out and calm thinking oh how lovely and relaxed I am, how – then I suddenly look at a break in the curtains and see the trees out there in the distance and feel the beginnings of claustrophobia clutching at my heart and I think no, you are just making the best of it, you are just suppressing it all- though I have, as you know, emphatically enjoyed the rest time.

I have spent plenty of afternoons and evenings wheeling about the various floors taking pictures; at night I go careening about the hospital in my wheelchair, like Danny at the Overlook hotel – nothing but the regular, speeding sound of my wheels along the quiet shining corridors;
no one about except some medical personnel silhouetted behind doors. In the day I sometimes go out to the tulip garden to sit on the bench with a book and read, pass the time of day with the other patients; just close my eyes, soak up the sun.

This time will be encapsulated in smell. The brain and sense receptors have been recording every second of it, knowingly or otherwise. Doubtlessly certain food aromas will plunge me right back into this time, the smell of the morning soup that I hate- even hand washes, sterilizers, bleach.

Bathtime has become a particular pleasure.Both the hospital hair products ( fresh, orangey, clear, enlivening) and the liquid body soap ( pleasingly creamy and soothing- it reminds me of hot springs ) leave you calmingly scented and happy : there is a towel and pyjama rental service which the majority of patients use, meaning you can change out of your clothes into new ones as much as you like; and emerging from the spacious, steamy tiled bathroom, clean as a whistle after a really good soap down, is definitely the best way for me to start the hospital day.

Kenzo Amour Eau Florale ( a limited release from 2009 )is somehow curiously almost perfectly suited to all of this. This particular moment in my life. ”A journey of love into the scent of Asian flowers’, says the box: ‘On a cloud of white musks….essence of neroli, frangipani blossom, rosebud and gardenia whisper their solar freshness’.

And I suppose, in a way, they do. Ordinarily, of course, in the real world I am quite certain I would probably never even have bothered to smell this, even from the bottle, let alone try it ( do you think, perhaps, we are too confirmed in our prejudices?), but in the hospital, presented with a full bottle in this clean and sterile environment by a friend I say to myself – why not?

Eau Florale opens up blindingly white, unblemished in the widely accepted, chemico-floral style that is common for women on the go and which screams clean and ‘ethically intact in a world of compassionate capitalism’: a familiar, but peculiar melange of invisible grapefruit, cardamom, rose, gardenia and frangipani that I don’t entirely enjoy, but in all honesty don’t entirely quite hate either: one of those stages in a brand new perfume you have not been properly exposed to properly before that you slightly have to grit your teeth over until it progresss to the more agreeable stage which; strangely, and to my surprise, I do like.

Somehow, when sprayed on my hospitalized, shower-scrubbed soapily pristine skin, Kenzo Amour Eau Florale, after about ten to fifteen minutes on the skin becomes nice: woody -savory; powdery; genderless, atmospheric ( one of the nurses commented very favourably on it as she was passing by), clinging pleasantly and warmly to my person ( and my pyjamas) throughout the entire day.

I will keep this bottle. And then place it in my library of memories – my perfume cabinets, my amygdala of experiences in flacons- when I finally, hopefully by the end of this month, return home. I am even going to wear it today, I think ( alternating it with La Couvent Des Minimes’ lovely Cologne Of Love) after my shower, this morning, at 10am. And who knows what effect it will have when I smell it again in the future; when I warily and gingerly take the perfume from its box to see if it evokes what I think it will, and am caterpulted and thrown straight back into this room, this bed, this ward, this hospital, this strange little sabbatical from life?

I’m not sure.


Filed under Flowers


  1. Hey Handsome,
    Glad to read you’re on the mend. You do go to serious lengths to get some rest.
    Heal well.
    Portia xx

    • Oh Portia come and rescue me and bathe me in amber.

      Then, a huge double cheeseburger of the highest possible calibre with mountains of salad and fries.

      • Be careful what you wish for buddy.
        You know I think McDonalds do the best cheeseburgers in the world? They come with fries and a coke but I’m unsure about salad.
        Amber? Like the L’Artisan L’Eau d’Amber or the one with dinosaur DNA in it?
        Portia xx

  2. Oh My – brilliant!

    Once during a particularly stressful and exhausting period in my life I was waiting naked under a paper sheet on the examination table at the doctor’s office. Just waiting for my annual girl doctor visit. It was cold. I was left waiting a long time. Sounds like it would be dreadful, right? But I was just so happy to get a break! And I had a magazine! And I wasn’t at work! A nurse popped in and apologized profusely. “oh no, no problem!” I answered cheerily! And then it dawned on me “This is what my life has come to!” I could only laugh.

  3. Haha…I can relate to Doreen’s post! I think it is more likely because of the fast pace way of life most of us lead now. Once you are in a doctor’s office or hospital, whether it is for surgery or just a check-up, one tends to take stock of our life and see all the folly in the way we rush around from one thing to another whether it be work duties, family duties or civic duties. Time spent in a hospital or doctor’s office gives us moments to reflect on just how precious life is and to try to learn how to never take even one second for granted. Neil, on another note, your writing is magnificent!

    • I was pleased that I woke up and felt like expressing something, but in all honesty not being able to edit or correct mistakes or the wrong words nor put the right images up is extremely exasperating for me.

      I have realized I am categorically a control freak from hell. Still, if it reads even vaguely well even if it is not as I intend it exactly I am very pleased.

      I agree about the whole ‘taking stock’ thing, even if I am absolutely not the running around to do errands type of person myself. In fact I am the opposite and do much less than even the bare minimum because I simply can’t be arsed.

      Even that is exhausting though, just the workaday work day ( I really wasn’t made for this world ) so to some extent doing nothing has been quite good for me although I am constantly in a process of analyzing and realizing ( sorry if this sounds pompous and pretentious ) so there’s no neee for me to personally ‘take stock’ as such.

      Right now I just want to get out: I have had problems with controlling my temper vis a vis an old lady next door who keeps shouting. I have blown my top twice in the last two days and am getting cabin fever ( the lack of good internet connection is also driving me insane ). However I am not there at all with my legs yet so I ‘just’ have to keep persevering.

  4. A

    N so happy to read you, even if I am quiet. Feel that I could completely be happy for someone else to take the driver’s seat for a while so that I could take a breath. Glad you are mending. Axx

  5. MrsDalloway

    Not long now! What are you going to do with the no 19 dressing gown?

  6. Iuno Feronia

    Good to hear that you are doing better. Hope, the Golden week will be yours as well. Very funny that you use the word “dreck”. Has it the same meaning in english as in german?
    I had a perfume from Kenzo when I qas a teenager, I don’t remember the name, it was a blue/lila flakon, very sweet but I liked it then. Best wishes to you!

  7. Lilybelle

    I’m beginning to think your sabbatical sounds appealing, too! But I’m sure it’s just because your writing is so good it carries us away to that safe space where we are left alone but we’ll provided for. I wish! Enlivening citrus toiletries and vaguely pleasant smelling creamy lathers, with fresh towels and pajamas provided daily, and time to sit in a tulip garden – it all sounds spa like and restful. But for the physio and pain of recovery. I do think that one day a couple of years from now, you’ll smell the nozzle of that Kenzo bottle and be brought back precisely to this time and place, and somehow in memory it will be clearer to you than it even is right now. In the meantime I wouldn’t bother thinking about what it all means. ♡

  8. Tara C

    Your story reminds me of a rheumatic episode I had a few years ago that left me bedridden and in pain for 3 weeks. The only scent I could wear was Tom Ford Musk Pure, not at all my usual thing. Not surprisingly I haven’t worn it since, but it was oddly comforting while I was so sick.

    As for the comments above about appreciating a doctor’s visit as a chance to rest, I remember being happy about a long wait in the exam room as the opportunity to have a nap during a stressful work day. Quite dire when you really think about it. Hope things get better soon, especially with the shouter.

    • Poor old lady. I behaved atrociously.,
      Duncan is not pleased, and I feel like a pariah.

      • At the same time, although losing your rag and cursing like a madman is unacceptable, at least the nurses are doing something about it and are not just leaving her in her room shouting constantly for attention. They have her at the nurse’s station with colouring books so she is not alone and we are both happier. The method of getting this result was shameful, but the result is very satisfactory!

        My problem is, which is immediately apparent from everything on The Black Narcissus, is that I am very very sensitive in many ways, particularly to noise. I become completely irrational and lose control if something becomes auditory torture. Something in me snaps, and all I can think about is ways to stop the noise, no matter how extreme they might be.

  9. This is so concise and vivid:

    “Sometimes I lie here after physiotherapy, all by myself, spaced out and calm thinking oh how lovely and relaxed I am, how – then I suddenly look at a break in the curtains and see the trees out there in the distance and feel the beginnings of claustrophobia clutching at my heart and I think no, you are just making the best of it, you are just suppressing it all- though I have, as you know, emphatically enjoyed the rest time.”

    Great piece in general.

    Colouring books at the nurses’ station for the old lady who shouts. I have empathy for her underlying fears, as obnoxious and intolerable as their manifestations and their effect on you. Back to her childhood at the nurses’ station, looked after, engaged in a simple and unthreatening world of familiar, tangible images, task at hand, manageable, controllable. Perhaps we should all have the equivalent in our lives to turn to when things become too much.

    Ric had an older woman across from him in the ward who complained at top volume about EVERYTHING, from the lack of ketchup for her eggs to the temperature of her tea to the loft of her pillows to the lack of immediate response to her Service button, which she kept her thumb on for 55 minutes out of every 60, the ding-ding-ding-ding-ding of it almost as loud and incessant and nerve-grating as she was. Her son came to visit and was the same but worse. They were both removed. I can’t imagine lying in bed across from that, alone, in pain, fluorescent lights at maximum brightness directly above, loaded with morphine, forty stitches and assorted staples joining an 18-inch thigh gash, terrified of a poor prognosis, another stinking, inedible meal on the tray. I am glad that Ric was so doped-up that the whole thing wasn’t as traumatizing as it could have been. One more leg to go . . .

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