Monthly Archives: April 2017


The Black Narcissus


A strange thing has happened to me. I have gone off vanilla. And although I think I can trace the moment this happened (and some of you were there with me), it still kind of shocks me, having spent the most beautiful holiday of my life two summer ago on a vanilla plantation in Java, swooning with vanilla suffocation in the upstairs drying room as the beans gave off their woozy, heady smell, gazing at awe at the vines; and more than half a lifetime of being swathed in vanilla-based, sweet and orientalic perfumes. (me sneaking out at dawn with a shaky iPhone, to take a short video of the exquisite environs of our little cabin (Duncan is curled up asleep inside) : Durian fruit, coffee trees, and papaya – which you can’t see –  but most of all snaking vanilla vines climbing up trees; workers in fields, and me…

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A ROSE IS A ROSE IS A ::::::::.IZIA by SISLEY (2017)


Izia, a recent release, is a nice, fullish, lemonish rose for cool-headed, discerning adults by the pleasingly unprolific house of Sisley. Solidly made and well turned out, I have to say that it nevertheless does not really inspire me ( I have perhaps been spoiled by my recent discovery of Sonoma Scent Studio’s far more sublime fragrance Velvet Rose), merely reminding me essentially of another Sisley rose perfume – Soir De Lune, just without all the shadowy ( and sexier ) aspects of oakmoss and patchouli.

Perhaps Sisley were just playing it safe. Their previous release, the curious Eau D’Ikar, was more daring. A new departure. Odd. Disturbing.

Risk-taking, in perfumery however, as we all know now, does not necessarily bring in the Euros.


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Last of the hospital travel series, but in reality, no travel adventure or holiday has ever come close to our time spent in Indonesia.

It was like magic.

The Black Narcissus

























It has been over five weeks since I wrote anything new on the Black Narcissus, and three since we returned from Java.


This is not intentional. Rather than lassitude, a paucity of ideas, or some kind of general slump leading me to take a break from my usual flow of writing, it’s more a case of the reverse: so flushed, inundated with sensory overload, olfactory and otherwise, that despite the rush of ideas that I was having for this blog the whole time I was in Indonesia, with words rising up in me constantly, they were always instantaneously crushed, almost pleasingly so, by the sheer living vividness of the experience, my brain and senses wanting to just be and imbibe, smell and listen, rather than translate or transcribe each moment in…

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because the view from my window is boring

The Black Narcissus


What perfumes to bring on a holiday in Vietnam?

It is hot.

The first two days we were here were possibly cooler than Tokyo, which can get truly unbearable at the height of August with its shimmering heat islands, glass, and gleaming, roiling synthetic surfaces, but these last two hot and steaming days in Hanoi it has got to that searing, ant-under-a-magnifying-glass hotness that prevents you from walking too long in it directly, yearning for some airconditioning (something I hate intensely usually, when it is misused and overused), but which here seems really like a necessity, especially for short, grateful spells in museums and the entrance of the hotel.


it's hot

D has been dousing his handkerchiefs, and mopping his brow with Agua De Colonia Concentrada by Alverez Gomez, a Spanish cologne (to which I have craftily, typically, added 30ml of extra lemon essential oil to get it how I want it…

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Just humour me today I need to mind travel

The Black Narcissus



monks and plumeria



tropical vegetation






Shangri-La, a fictional, mythological, Asian utopia set in the valleys of the ‘Kunlun’ hills, is the ultimate Orientalist fantasy. In its own, inimitable way, so is Guerlain’s Shalimar. And while the setting of the place, with its Buddhist lamasteries and slow-ageing people who have found a mystical peace may have originated in a novel entitled Lost Horizons from I933, Luang Prabang, the UNESCO World Heritage town in North-central Laos where we have been staying for the last three days (following an ill-fated stay in the capital Vientiane) makes the fiction, almost, a reality.

Widely considered the most perfectly preserved ancient city in South East Asia, Luang Prabang is a tranquil and beautiful place set in a valley at the meeting point of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers that flow slowly, but inexorably on; a backdrop to a city of glittering, gold wats, elegant French colonial architecture, and lush, tropical…

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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.


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