Right now I am overwhelmed. I haven’t been writing, because I can’t (even now) – this term has been utterly exhausting physically and mentally and I sometimes feel that I am going under. Not wanting to taint my image too much – a man has to care about how he is seen – I haven’t been blurting about all my problems just because I don’t want to be seen as some kind of whining cripple who has gone back to work but is suffering from absolute overload.
I exaggerate. As always. I distill my experiences into potent elixirs that give skewed impressions of reality. In many ways I am fine and happy ( and let’s face it – I only work four days a week ), but at the same time physically , and thus mentally as well, I am overwrought. It seems, or just feels to me, that all have I done recently is worked or been inside hospitals; the sheer exertion of intense teaching and dealing with cultural issues because it’s Japan and just the pure movement and banality of the world (all I want to do is hide away – never have I been more sociophobic) after six months of traumatic surgery and its aftermath, has led to dehydration, kidney stones, stomach problems (I spent all day at the hospital yesterday drinking horrible liquids in preparation for a colonoscopy looking for evidence of what might be causing my stomach pain…)….it’s as though I have just collapsed internally.
I mean I can function – just about. I am teaching with vigor and clarity. But at the same time I am in constant fear that a kidney stone (I have three, waiting in the wings…who knows, perhaps all the painkillers and all the rest of the medications have brought this on, maybe they have given me ulcers) will suddenly and unexpectedly lead me to start doubling up and writhing on the floor and be carted off by men in white coats to an ambulance; yet another mortification, another deep, organ clenching embarrassment.
So I lug my legs around my life at the moment, drenched in Roseberry (the only perfume I am wearing apart from No 19, and they go perfectly together), just trying to hold it together. I have been out to Tokyo a couple of times; to a cabaret pre-Halloween thing that was fantastic and an amateur production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Saturday night that really wasn’t; so awful I couldn’t even watch the stage for the majority of the time because everyone involved looked so uncomfortable and nervous and unprepared and my empathy just couldn’t take it ; and then my bile spewed forth and I said hideous things about it and I realized just how much poison has built up in my evil, vitriolic bloodstream.
There was an article in the New York Times the other day about Amy Tan, a writer I quite like (though I prefer her non fiction). She was saying that she was lured by her editor and best friend, almost against her will, into producing a kind of memoir, or autobiography which delved into her traumatic past and she felt unwilling to expose herself yet found that she was almost unconsciously doing so and that once she started she could hardly begin to stop. The interviewer also stated that Ms Tan is quite unusual in that she is ‘both tortured, and happy’ – an apparently uncommon combination.
I don’t think I am personally tortured, though I am certainly troubled (but then, who isn’t? Even if I didn’t have my own private demons to contend with and this internal hell in reaction to the operation, the world itself at the moment is enough to doom anyone to eternal anxiety), but like Amy Tan, I think I am also simultaneously quite happy, most certainly not depressed, anyway. I am enjoying all the things I always enjoy with no impediment; I am grateful for the things I need to be grateful for; my senses are alive and I am almost hideously sentient (I think this is the problem; I am just so absorbent and hypersensitive: where D is equally sensitive artistically – and mercurially perceptive – in fact – he is also, as he said the other day, in a bubble, and has been since birth; in many ways hermetically sealed from within, so that, although he might quite often, being a Virgo, naturally worry about a lot of things, he doesn’t get affected by everything around him to anyway near the same level as I do. I am porous to the core; I live through osmosis. I notice everything, imbibe everything, I am a vessel of nerves and feelings and sensations and empathic absorption to the point that I just can’t socialize any more and don’t want anyone coming down to the house (we have done way too much hosting this year and I just can’t take any more).
The outside world, Japan, with its organ clenched passive aggression and suppressed and repressed emotions, is doing my head in. Western over emphasis and declamation is equally irritating. I just want to hibernate. Where my other half becomes ever more gregarious and expressive, I just feel done in at the moment: crushed.
And yet alert. As I write this, it is colder and greyer outside. My brain and fingers are working together quite handily. I am ENJOYING this. I have to get ready for work quite soon but just wanted to see if I could write something on here, if I still could ( a couple of weeks without writing something new can feel like an eternity), before I begin ‘the process’; the shaving, soaping, and transformation into The Teacher on his stick and smile and effervesce and try to deal with the world (do any of you ever have feelings like this, as if you just can’t deal with reality and other people and the shit in the news and anything any more just want to hide away and recoup from within until you feel you have your strength back and can dart through the world again, more ready for battle and for exchanges and enjoyable communication, rather that you can hardly bear talking to a single soul? If you are or were a psychotherapist, how would you pathologize or diagnose me, based on these words?) Am I ‘just’ adapting to the world again after the unprocessed horror of the surgery in March? Is this normal? Will I ever be back to my robuster, more exuberant, self?
Forgive me. This kind of ‘piece’, where I have virtually no idea in advance of how it is going to come out, is usually regretted by me later when I then realize that I have revealed much more than I intended ever to reveal, and it always leaves me feeling overly exposed and raw and peeled away, like showing the pink and red tissue under the skin and then having to heal it into a scar again. But perhaps it is cathartic. I was also, in an attempt to sew the perfume and the experience together, to try and be a bit clever and combine the ‘pink evidence’ idea of internal medical tests and searching for growths; for nodules or tumours or inflammated pink tissue, and the ridiculous perfume name featured here into one digestible conglomeration but now I can’t really be bothered : it just feels like far too much effort.
Perfume, though;;;; yes: throughout all of this, despite my aches and its woe is mes, it never loses its appeal; its heft; its importance to me. Unlike reading (I haven’t been able to nor wanted to read a single book this year, I just can’t – I basically just read the New York Times), scent, like cinema and music, have been my absolute lifeblood, my pleasures, my joy. Records just flood through me in the kitchen and my eyes fill with pleasurable, grateful tears. Films (I watched Eyes Wide Shut in our projector room the other day and I couldn’t have been more receptive; Kubrick’s Christmas tree-lit visual awareness and sinister surreality just flowed through me as if I were actually a living camera lens. I felt a strange kind of ecstatic serenity. Perfume is the same. At night I crave to smell it on my skin; to just swathe in it: last night it was my precious vintage Guerlain Chamade extrait – so beautiful I almost feel that I didn’t deserve it. Our house is an abominable mess at the moment – the worst it has ever been as we both sink ourselves into our jobs and the creativities of the weekend but somehow I just couldn’t really give a damn- it has atmosphere and is filled with the things that I love; the cat sprawled out furrily and luxuriantly purring in her dreams; perfumes abound in every room, and I love to just smell them, to coat myself in them, even though I know exactly what they are going to be like but I want to smell them anyway; I KNOW YOU KNOW THAT FEELING.
New ones, too. I sometimes worry that I have condemned myself, on The Black Narcissus, to being purely a vintage, ‘poetic’, perfume reviewer. I know that those pieces are almost always the most popular for whatever reason – perhaps they are more passionate and heartfelt, I don’t know, whereas with the contemporary/niche scents I get harder and more objective and more stony and far more critical, and in any case, there are so many niche brands now, constantly coming out, in full collections of ten, twelve, twenty perfumes that no one can possibly keep up with them all in any case. We were long ago burned out, our attention spans severed to the point where it is now quite possible for two intense perfume enthusiasts to rave on about thousands of perfumes and for the other person to never have smelled a single one of them. Sometimes I go to selective department stores and see full ranges by perfume houses I have never heard of and I just can’t be even vaguely bothered to sniff a single one of them; I just don’t know where to even start. All of them, obviously, contain ‘rare, precious essences’ blah blah blah, they all come with a spiel and a tedious purple marketing copy that is usually half illiterate anyway (and means absolutely nothing), and then you end up with this thin, ungenerous, woody, supposedly ‘sensuous’ exotic crap on your arm that you just hate and are immediately determined to scrub right off and just go back upstairs and get some succor from your vintage Shalimar extrait in its lovely, indented purple velvet box.
Herve Gambs, a Parisian florist, interior decorator, and specialist in room fragrances, who I had never even heard of until my friend generously sent virtually the entire collection through the post, fortunately does have a selection of perfumes that do actually remind me a little of the Guerlainish mode of richness and powdered heft while still, on the whole, remaining contemporary. I have had the sample envelopes sprayed and positioned in different places over the house for the past week and even wear some of them to bed sometimes and I must say that I am overall quite impressed by them. Unlike Roja Dove, whose scents always smell ‘quality’ but somehow lack an original personality, these perfumes are characterful, well blended and enjoyable (if rarely actually exquisite).
Still, the perfumes, particularly the pure parfums, which come in full sized bottles and are thus relatively well priced (about 180 sterling, which is a lot, but not bad when these are so potent) are really, as the copy says, properly ‘neo-dandy’, very French, very louche Serge Gainsbourg, particularly Hotel Particulier, which is a reference I get from the fabulous Ballade De Melody Nelson album I so love. This is a proper, dirty labdanum amber patchouli, familiar as old hell, powdery, musky, vanilla based, naughty, and it lasts for ever on the skin – I think I find it too persistent and insistent to wear personally, but if you do like this type of perfume I would definitely recommend trying it.
Of similar nature is Rouge Cardinal, whose base is genuinely Shalimar comparison worthy and a perfume I might actually buy the next time I am in England. Another vanilla patchouli amber, this one is also drenched in a beautiful frankincense and orange blossom top note that is very compelling, if not seamless (the notes, rather than blending all together without you even realizing, are definitely pick-outable, but then it all coalesces and you think mmm, this is absolutely perfect for the cold autumn nights; a whiff of the religious and the unsacred together; warm, furry, delicious).
Coup De Grace is not dissimilar; husky, dark patchouli, but with a huge Damask rose at the centre and at the fore (Tora if you are reading this and don’t know this scent I suggest a sample). I wasn’t sure if the sheer potency of this rose scent was too much, that there might be too much boise happening in the backdrop, but it is definitely quite alluring and mysterious and impressive and worth trying if you are a rose fiend who likes to really project.
The more masculine of the parfums are also quite good. While Ombre Sauvage is just a little bit too old fashioned hunk papa for me personally (a warmer and stronger reworking of the Hermes Equipage type of leather perfume without the delicately turned out citrus and spice elements), Bois Dahman is an unusual sandalwood scent that reminded me immediately of the old Bodyshop sandalwood oil from many years ago. Not the fresh sandalwood essential oil smell I know intimately and can recognize immediately, but a darker, moodier, more astringent smell that is quite erotic and compelling, as is Jardin Prive, which Duncan wore the other night when he was working as the barman at the Rocky Horror Picture Show (tell me, why is that film so popular? give me Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise from two years before that so obviously inspired it any day of the week but anyway); he wore this suave, green tea aromatic that evening; something like a more vetiver/tobacco, heavier and more enveloping Bulgari Eau Parfumee Au The Vert that hung about his person the entire evening and on the morning pillow at the hotel as well. Familiar, but very sexy, as is Infusion Noire, which is like a cross between Guerlain Vetiver and Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male, all nutmeggy musks and vetiver and sage and vanilla.
While the parfums and eau de parfums in this collection are all very dusky and quite convincingly playing for seduction, the colognes intenses are all very French in a more Seurat by the dandelion field, parasol and white dress kind of way that right now as I labour away in my boring problems is fairly appealing to me (though I must say that writing this I do feel uplifted and lighter; perhaps writing is the cure after all, it’s just a lot of the time I just can’t at the moment – I just lie in my bed with hot water bottles pressed to my stomach and back and drink ginger infused Rooibos, which is my favorite herb tea combination but anyway; I think I need to get these miseries off my chest, even though I have no idea of who is going to be reading it (‘who is this cantankerous convalescent?? I thought this was supposed to be a perfume review’). Fuck it – if you can’t express what you are actually feeling then I can’t be bothered to write anything at all, even if it all ends a whole uncrafted hot mess that doesn’t fit into any of the parameters of ‘how to write an article’ (but aren’t those parameters hideously stifling?)
I digress. To get back to the pastoral French, the good life, a fantasy of good food and good wine and beautiful clothes and summery weather by the river, we can try Hotel Riviera, a rather lovely and fresh green orange blossom that vies mint and bergamots and violet leaves against neroli and orange flowers that really is, as the sample card says, like a breath of spring breezes through a field of fleurs d’orangers. Recommended if you like light and floral but not banal or chemical perfumes and something to boost your winter blues.
Domaine Du Cap is extremely anisic (with anise and fennel and thyme and citrus on a lactonic backdrop) and is quite original and light for a cologne, while La Baie Des Anges is the only truly sweet perfume in this wide ranging collection; an unusual grapefruit vanilla perfume with a rhubarb and jasmine twist that is quite a lot to take on but is gleeful and could be very nose catching on the right person. Sometimes we just need a splash of humour and bright colour in a scent to take us away from all the grimness of the world and our lives, and I approve wholeheartedly of such silliness.
Which brings me to Pink Evidence. What a hilarious name. I laughed when I opened the package from England. You see, I haven’t lost my sense of humour. In fact, I am cracking a fair few at the moment, perhaps too many actually, it is probably getting a bit wearying for my students and for D : you’d think I was Tony Hancock. What is going on with my mind then? On the one hand I am as jovial as Larry; on the other I drag myself through the odious city of Fujisawa, which I fucking hate, on rainy cold Wednesdays when I have a twelve hour day, and just want to kill everybody or else just put them, me included, in a giant sleeping bag and for us to just take tablets and sleep for a month or five. I feel my kidney stones pressing against my back, my nausea from whatever is going on in my innards as I pummel through my entrance exam lessons, internalizing my perceived essence of every student in my system and make them laugh continually.. fuck it is exhausting! But also enjoyable. Like this perfume. I love powdery roses and violets, and this is a good one, an Yves Saint Laurent Paris gone nuts, with yuzu and ylang ylang; tart, high pitched, amusing, good humoured. Genuinely mood enhancing. I actually wore some of it yesterday, during my entire, physically draining day spent having enemas and invasive internal stomach cameras at the Ofuna Chuo Byoin hospital.