Monthly Archives: April 2017


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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Grumpy old cripple in Japanese hospital unwillingly attempts to squeeze out a blog post



April 17, 2017 · 7:54 am


Source: JICKY by GUERLAIN (1889)

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The Black Narcissus


(Photo:  Mori, queen of the house, in her younger days….)

N: You surprised me last night by wearing Fleurs D’Ambre. It confused me. At first I wasn’t sure if it was just incense from the house, because I know that despite the utter olfactory horror I feel at the smell of the cat food baking in the landing sun ( is there no way we can find a way to put Mori’s food somewhere else, like the balcony outside for instance or do you think she has just got too used to having it there when she finds her way back at night demanding it like the queen that she is?): despite the fact that I worry the house smells horrendous, often, just from the sheer amount of incense and perfume used over the years, when I meet you in my work clothes – all laundried up and modern clean…

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The Black Narcissus


Nina is an old friend from university who is currently staying with us in Kamakura and has brought along an interesting and very eclectic selection of perfumes. One of them is L’Heure Bleue.

Neil : I have always loved L’Heure Bleue from the first moment I smelled it as a teenager. It is a delicious perfume I think: sweet, dense, moreishly powdery and chewy, yet also elegant and wistful and not easy to dissect. It is enveloping and famously crepuscular – the whole thing of representing the ‘blue hour’; that time at dusk in Paris before the night sets that definitely comes through, but though romantic and quite feminine, I personally don’t find it particularly melancholic (that would be Après l’Ondée). To me it is strangely flamboyant and extravagant, tawdry even. It puts me in a good mood, but I also find it a touch suffocating. What is your own…

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So this is day nineteen. You might think that I would be bored out of my mind being stuck in my bed with the tedious view from my window; that I’d be screaming with boredom and frustration my not being able to move and go somewhere other than here. At the regimen, the dull routine, the lack of colour.

True, I am in quite a lot of pain ( but not as much as I was expecting). And I am certainly envious and frustrated when I see the other osteotomy patients who chose to have one leg done at a time, a year apart: apparently 95% of people go down that path, rather than the crazy, gung-ho 5% who say fuck it! Just do both! Just make me totally crippled and unable to walk and have to start again from zero like a newborn infant! Give me double the pain, twice the agony and total immobility! like me.

I travel around the ward and around the hospital in my wheelchair ( fun: I took to it like a duck to water and feel I could compete in the Paralympics) and see them hobbling along but at least WALKING with their sticks along the shining, brightly lit corridors and feel like the loser. At least though if my treatment is successful, I won’t have to go through it all again. And doing both together ultimately leads to better balance and more uniform healing.

But despite my occasional impatience, if I look back to that terrible time when I had just had the surgery and related the true extent of my claustrophobic ordeal, I am doing rather well. Although it hurts when I do it, I can bend both knees as fully as an unaffected person. I can get in and out of my wheelchair unattended; go to and back from the shower room by myself ( when initially the entire operation required five people), there is no swelling; the scars are clean, and I am doing well in my daily physiotherapy.

As I wrote the other day, I have started to practice walking, holding onto the parallel bars and putting one foot in front of the other in a simulacrum of strolling. Yes I sometimes feel like a tipsy marionette, and I am aware that it is my arms that are doing a lot of the work, but the last couple of days I have been conscious of putting more weight on my legs themselves, which feel more solid.

I changed physios last week. The first one, a Miss Iikura, was sweet gentle and perfect for those early stages, just post-operation when I felt vulnerable, and traumatized. Encouraging. Soft-touched. Diligent.

Her replacement, though, Mr Murase, young but with very natural ability ( you know when a masseur/masseuse just has that knack of intuiting everything in your body?), is far better. Having moved to the rehabilitation ward, I get to work with him weekdays for longer sessions and I really feel that he understands exactly what is going on inside my sore, tortured legs.

We begin with quite a hard and decisive manipulation of tendons, joints, and muscles; progress to stretches and ball exercises ( god how my poor bones ache !), leg lifts (ditto), and then ‘walking’, when I put the training into action. He, like all the staff here, are 100% committed. I never feel that he is bored or thinking about something else, just the development and progress of my legs. It doesn’t hurt, either, that he has extremely beautiful eyes.

I have got quite used to the regimen. Up at 6.30am, doctor’ visit 7.15; breakfast at 8:00: lunch at 12:00, physio at 1, visiting hours from 3; dinner at 6; bedtime at 10.

I am impressed by how the hospital combines carefully thought out nutrition, Chinese herbs, and conventional medicine, round the clock care, and that it iat least three or five ( possibly even ten) times less expensive than it would be in the US, which has the morally reprehensible, capitalistically exploitative ‘healthcare’ system in the world, but I’ll save that roil-blooded rant for some other time ( just that supposed Christians like Paul Ryan and Mike Pence, who piously believe that poor people don’t deserve health coverage because they are ‘lazy’ and it demotivates them, deserve excruciating deaths by crucifixion themselves, a sanctimonious ending they would orgasmically ADORE ) and that I am grateful to be in a position to have access to the treatment I need for this exceedingly challenging experience when those less fortunate than me would just be condemned to a wheelchair for life if they could even afford to buy one.

I am not bored though. I know that I am ‘stuck in hospital’, and people commiserate on how hard it must be to be stuck in bed for most of the day, but the reality is that I am one of the laziest, most sybaritic and disgustingly decadent fucks in the entire world and I actively enjoy it.

Boredom, for me, is everyday life. Housework. Bank details. Trivial, blank conversations. The held-in atmosphere on a bus. Stupidity. Banality. Brainwashing pointless commercialism. The insincere, dead-eyed presenters on television. Received ideas. Unthinking cliches. History books. Economics. Cars. Machinery. Dust. Blind sick adoration of money as the main motivation in life. The mind numbing tedium of people who can’t think for themselves. Chart music. Shopping malls. What is ‘trending.’ Magazines. The ‘news’. The grind of daily life and the joyless toil.

In other words, everything that is going on outside these walls. But not my own company or reading the New York Times; not my friends coming to visit or the view of the flowering trees outside my window, nor the physiotherapy, the films I am watching, the music I am listening to, the words I am writing, the carefully prepared food that is brought by the nurses to my bed.

I am not bored at all! Is that weird? I suppose I have always been one who is good at doing nothing. At just relaxing and dreaming and doing sweet F.A. In a way I feel that this is hard-wired into me genetically in order to help me survive. Like a cat running around joyfully outside I have my maniacal spurts of ecstatic energy, but then also like a cat I am neurotic and nervous and highly oversensitive to everything so I need my time of zoning out and quiet delicious contemplation as a way of regaining equilibrium.

Relaxation and absorbed, joyful indolence, where you can be inside each moment of existence and just enjoy the fact of living and BEING, not obsessing over the future or the past, is for me a form of rebellion ( my whole LIFE is actually a rebellion ). The world can fuck off. We are told we have to keep striving for more, that we must have more economic growth even though we have already raped the planet to the extent that it may soon no longer exist ( I have no words for Trump’s trying to pull out of the Paris climate accords except for plain, unadulterated disgust); that we have to work as much as we can in order to buy more products that we actually don’t need; that we must ‘carpe diem’, seize the day and live each moment as if it were our last: (true, fear and procrastination can lead to failure and disappointment if we don’t take the plunge sometimes but at the same time this anxiety about constant ‘achievement’ and ‘goals’ and ‘being the best person you can be’ on a daily basis leads to a constant sense of underminement and guilt that you are ‘nobody’, rather than ‘somebody’).

I reject this way of thinking outright. Nobody is a ‘nobody’. And everyone is a ‘somebody’. From the second I emerged from my mother’s womb ( and even a long time before that ) I was somebody and so were you. Happiness is the realization of the self; being who you are to the maximum level possible; connecting with others and yourself; love; creativity, laughter, sensual pleasure, knowledge, growth ( not GDP); freedom, pineapple, chocolate, coffee, curry, and flowers in the springtime in the breeze- not portfolios and assets and commodities and shareholdings and greed so fuck you in my perfumed pyjamas as I go and put on another record.

Smell, as you might expect, has loomed large here ( and forgive me if all the above is too opinionated and arrogantly expressed – but I HAVE been self-marinating for almost three weeks and have had a lot of time to think, and anyway, it’s my blog so you get MY philosophy whether you like it or not. I lie here reading about what’s going on in the world and I just can’t help fuming about it); a cause of both stress and altercation and intense pleasure.

In essence, Japanese people hate perfume. Especially in a hospital. And then you have the obviously insane Black Narcissus, lurking in his private room, congenitally unable to resist. At first, it was lavender and bergamot essential oil, and some nurses would comment on how lovely and relaxing it smelled when they passed by my room, though being Japanese I took this as an implicity veiled criticism that the smell was too strong, something that led to an actual verbal warning when I didn’t screw the top on properly and had a spillage, the concentrated green citrus wafting out into the corridors and offending the delicate nostrils of the other patients.

The same incident was repeated, but worse, when I moved to the rehabilitation ward and had an accident in the toilet. I don’t know about you, or how prudish or self-conscious you are ( and now I am fully independent in my wheelchair regarding all ablutions), but initially I had to suffer the indignity of being sat in the wheelchair, stark naked, as four or five members of staff had to grapple with how to undress me and move me into the shower. Worse, I wasn’t allowed to go to the toilet unattended. While in the process of answering nature’s call, the door was mercifully closed, but then when I was ‘done’ the staff had to come into the space to shift me from toilet to wheelchair. Mortifying, no? Now, nobody’s shit smells like roses ( except perhaps Ivanka Trump’s), but there was no way I was going to sit there surrounded by my primal shame as three nurses grimaced their way towards me to get me out of there, no; a few flushes with some lemon and bergamot oil and I was like the immaculate conception- not a trace of my emissions to be detected.

Unfortunately, on one evening I had taken a 30ml bottle of bergamot essential room into the powder room with me without a top on, confident it would stand upright in my pyjama pocket until it was needed; however I was oblivious to the fact that it was drip drip dripping upside down the entire time I was in there, soaking my pyjamas to the skin and causing biohazard levels of olfactory and chemical alarm ( some patients on the ward were developing hives and could not eat their dinners).

I am a danger to humanity! So an official representative of the hospital was sent to my room, who politely and respectfully but quite assuredly told me that she understood that there were a lot of cultural differences between the west and Japan regarding perfume, and that she understood that the previous night’s Official Bergamot Disaster had been unintentional and just an accident, but that I was also using too many perfumes and scented things generally, ‘particularly in the morning’, and would I kindly refrain from scenting myself further.

I naturally assented. When some old dear is trying to eat her evening fish and rice but is pricking up red in urticaria because of the reckless deeds of some weird gaijin, you have to tone it down. As you will remember, quite soon after the operation I had a neroli/ orange blossom revelation with Sana Jardin Berber Blonde and Annick Goutal Neroli: somehow the optimistic, natural sunniness of the orange tree suited my mood to perfection, somehow taking me almost outside of my self in their refreshingness: I could therefore not refrain completely from wearing ANY perfume at all as it would just be too depressing and colourless, even if a few motionless J-zombies lay clutching their throats in their beds as I did so. They were sprayed, in subtle amounts ( for me at least ) on my skin and my pyjamas, changed each day, and made me feel vital.

In response to my orange tree obsession, and feeling I was missing out on other nerolis and orange flower based perfumes, expert in structural integration and neuromuscular therapy and regular Black Narcissus reader Tora sent me a delicious and very generous hospital care package containing samples of her two favourite notes in perfumery, orange blossom and rose.

Although none of this will endear me any further to the hospital staff or fellow patients ( mind you, I do have my own room and keep the door shut, though – SHOCK ! HORROR ! sometimes an odour will seep out into the corridor oh gasp our sensitive Nipponesque nostrils ! – whatever, like the state of my room ( ” We’ve got used to it now: you’re not messy, you’re just artistic”) , they have practically just given up on me. Most Japanese patients just lie there like pathetic, big adult babies, passive and obedient with secret nurse fetishes probably- they come into my to them bizarre smelling confines and see me holding court in my play pen with my visitors like some demented guru and realize that there is nothing to be done with me but anyway: how lovely to have such a fine array of gorgeous niche scents to sample like this when I come out of the shower; all smooth, full-bodied, yum-smelling confections that I am really enjoying and that are making my days even less boring than they already weren’t.

The first orange blossom I tried was Prada #4 Fleur D’Oranger from their expensive, hidden exclusive collection that you have to ask for if you dare to enter their store. They come in lovely simple bottles in luxurious leather cases and I like all the ones I have tried including their Oeillet and Tubereuse ( and I own and covet the Benjoin ( benzoin) and Opoponax ( which also just happens to be my email : opoponax8@hotmail.con if you want my address so you can send me more perfume samples to review! Although it is supposed to be impossible to send perfumes by post now and it certainly is from my end, Japan being the most strictly efficient nation in the world by far they check everything, perfumes do seem to get to me : this package was labeled home made therapeutic rub or something, my perfume journalist friend Bethan just fabricates the truth with ‘cosmetics samples’).

The Prada Fleur D’Oranger though, not to be confused with the orange blossom variant of their best selling Infusion D’Iris, I immediately took to; a quiet,covert, adult and velvety orange blossom perfume with a pronounced and depthening heart of linden blossom, or tilleul, even though it’s not listed in the notes. This is a rounded, comforting scent that I really like, very soothing and ‘goodness’, textured; dusky and hovering.

Houbigant’s Oranger En Fleurs, which I was previously unfamiliar with, is another very pleasing little creation, very carefree summer night in Barcelona, the way perfume should be when it’s warm and light outside and as Baudelaire I think, once wrote, les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir and fresh from your bath and dressed in your clothes you spritz on some perfume before going out. Though slightly too generic to be considered great perfumery, the bright and fine mood enhancement of its tuberose/ylang/ nutmeg arrangement
make Oranger En Fleurs an ideal holiday scent..

And on the subject of the Mediterranean ( oh all the travelling I yearn to be able to do once these bones in my legs have set!), Hiram Green’s all natural Dilettante tapped nicely into my Crete mountain fantasies ( that was the first foreign place we ever went to as a family and I have retained a certain Greek longing ever since). Like Serge Lutens’ unrelated but for me metaphorically connected Miel De Bois- which reminds me of the Minotaur in the labyrinth- Dilettante is strong and unquivering: I see beehives and goatherds broom bushes and a big yellow sun; a potent, unforgiveless orange bloom with dry, honeycombed facets that is a tad too animalistic for me personally, perhaps, but which I know for that very reason I will dip into again.

There are plenty more perfumes for me to delve into in Victoria’s floral cornucopia of a parcel ( and plenty more days in hospital), so for now ( I have been writing this letter by letter on my cell phone and am flagging) I will finish with Sonoma Scent Studio’s sublime Velvet Rose.

I have liked everything I have ever smelled by this independent perfumery, but this is my favourite so far. A big, cool, Damask rose, all dewy and giving; powdered but green, skin loving and assuaging, I think I might need to buy myself a full bottle of this gem. Like Guerlain’s Nahema and the recent Roja Dove Rose Parfum which I also liked, this is all about that most above it all flowers but more centred – less complicated. Melting down to nothing more than a hay-like benificence, today, after being the first person to get to use the shower room this morning, on my freshly soaped down skin and new pyjamas, this feels a bit like heaven.


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The Black Narcissus


One of the joys of the Tokyo and Yokohama thrift shops is that you just never know. While you can go into them week after week, month after month and there not be anything you really want – just the usual uninteresting suspects – suddenly there can be a windfall of perfumes; not just vintage beauties, but thrown-out niche: the kind of perfumes you might never consider buying at full price, but which presented to you as a cache of vastly reduced bargains in the glass cabinet of a thrift shop you think why not: go on then: they might help me to upgrade my repertoire.

And the other day, at ‘Crystal’, a very hit and miss place, I came across a cabinet of Goutals and Penhaligons and L’Artisans and Maison Kurkdjian (something I have never seen reduced before: all these expensive brands found exclusively in the snazzier Tokyo…

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