Monthly Archives: June 2019





The weekend is upon us.


Above is our ransacked junk and costume cupboard after an afternoon of preparation for what is certain to be an uproarious weekend of filming ; nuns, paparazzi, children and a smorgasboard of weirdos in the D’s grotesqueroona script.


We are on the train up to the Shinagawa Prince Hotel. Tonight is a friend’s birthday karaoke in Shinjuku; early tomorrow morning, sharp, gather the film crew and actors.


For perfume I am wearing what has been a recent weekend fetish ; Kenzo Pour Homme stick deodorant ( gorgeously saline and marine ) as well as the limited edition Kenzo Pour Homme Fresh edt from a few years ago sprayed lightly on my clothes.


On the wrists : vintage Paloma Picasso edp, which I adore for its pantherine, dark, ferality, and fuck you nightclub glamour; and on the chest, a couple of squirts of Montale Aromatic Lime – – deliciously long lasting and  with a saturnine sillage and ribbed, erotic density that protects and projects, the unifying factor being, obviously, patchouli.



Patchouli would be so verboten in the workplace the students would gag: it is therefore my Saturday assertion, my vernacular riposte : the earth, the depth, the display of the id – a release – but concealed under ostensible freshness


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I have very strong instincts.



Recently after work one Friday night, instead of the Japanese restaurant we were planning to go to, out of the blue I remembered a Latin bar I had once gone to and not even particularly liked for its cool, sullen, vibe but suddenly felt like revisiting and walked into a disco of people of all ages letting loose and having an unpretentious good time; to be able to dance to When Doves Cry, from school to club in five minutes, was like a dream come true. Somehow I had sniffed it out.


Thursday night I found myself thinking and wondering about a friend of ours for no particular reason and then I came home saw a letter from him there on the table; last week some ex-students of mine who I had always had a very good relationship with but who I hadn’t had a chance to congratulate on their passing top level universities suddenly appeared after work, when I had been thinking to myself earlier how sad it was I might not see them again – these kind of occurrences do happen to me quite frequently. I even assumed there would be another earthquake yesterday morning and there was, just like last Monday.



Saturday, we were speeding through the winding streets of Nakameguro when I saw, in the distance, an intriguing- looking antiques shop that sparked off something in my chest, even though by the time we had set off in its direction after getting off at the station we were caught in a torrential downpour ( the rain has been extraordinarily heavy recently ), the kind of rain that is so outrageous it makes you laugh: rivulets down your back, umbrellas useless, the only option to stand in a random doorway and wait.



Eventually arriving at the chandelier emporium you can see in the picture above, exorbitantly priced pieces of Europeana handled by morbidly silent dealers who didn’t even look up from their computers ( maybe they just saw us with their third eye ), we finally ended up on the fourth floor of neverending, if beguiling and reflectively hypnotic, crystals and mirrors and ash trays and trinkets; when I suddenly saw framed pictures of old Guerlain and Patou adverts and I knew I had found my floor. Suddenly before me were stunning vintage cabinets full of rare, giant bottles of Chant D’Aromes, Caron French Cancan, Crepe De Chine parfum, things to make your eyes pop out, your tongue loll, your wallet wilt- but the strangely unbecoming and resistant youngish woman there had already forbidden photography so I wasn’t able to paparazzo any more for you than I managed to here. I succeeded in buttering her up a bit with a mention of my book and she prized up her safe full of perfumes; her folders of vintage magazine advertisements for Chanel and Nina Ricci, though I was personally taken with a beautiful Surrealist ad for Schiaparelli’s Sleeping ( what a great name for a perfume : have any of you ever smelled it?).



I bought a tiny bottle of Guerlain’s Nahema perfume









– partly because that box is just something that will give me great visual pleasure for years, because I love that perfume and have not been satisfied with the modern edp I got a couple of birthdays ago, and partly to show I was serious and would be back – not just some random gaijin tourist who had wandered in off the street.



As it turns out, the extrait ( for which I paid too much, and think : 1ml of boxed pure parfum used to be given out as a free sample, such was the luxury and generosity of haute parfumerie back in the day); it has turned, slightly, and does not have that to die for clotted rose peach that brooks no resistance to its hyacinthine, powdered embrace), but adding a little edp to the bottle has brightened it and made it bedtime-wrist- usable; and the shop, a treasure trove of precious old perfume in spectacular, glassed, myriad-faceted surroundings, was worth the trip in itself. With the bubble-wrapped box tucked tightly into my trouser pocket we headed back out into the rain and down random streets, meeting friends for a cult classic Japanese film from the 70’s at a local cinema and dinner, and then the train back home – a fantastic way to spend a Saturday.




The next day I woke up intending to write this – or something like it. ( Recently, I have not been in the mood for ‘latest release ‘ type reports ( not that I ever really was ), or perfume reviews at all for that matter, unless they directly pertain to something in my life or of those around me or, the scent is just too good not to write about, simply because I  so taken up with the summer term, helping D with his film ( he is constantly sewing and stitching,  location hunting and gathering people and meeting up with his co-director), and in any case I have still been in constant post-London dream mode- self absorbed and trying to reconcile myself with reality)).














The day before we discovered the Tokyo Versailles of Vintage Perfumery I had suddenly had a very strong feeling that I should – no, must – finally send an email to my friend Gerry in New Zealand.




You know when you you know you have to do something and it gnaws at you but you ignore it or push it aside because you have other layers of reality and things on your mind that you are prioritizing instead, but then the low grade guilt pulsates dully from within one of your vital organs and your heart sinks for a moment and you think ah yes, I really must do that next – well there has been so much to say – she had her book to do, I had mine, and it took over everything, my mind and my world, from the initial message saying I had got a deal to seeing it in the book shop one year later after a year of ultra pressurized hysteria in between ; I am not sure I had entirely taken in what she was telling me in her emails from last year when I was skimming them – I could barely even think straight.




Thinking about it now, I am not entirely sure whether I sent the email to Gerry on Friday night or on Saturday morning, but in any case, after I had got up and had coffee and took my new old Nahema to the computer in the other room to possibly write something, there was a reply from Gerry’s account in my inbox – except it was from her best friend in New Zealand who was contacting me to say that unfortunately, Gerry had died the day before – peacefully, in her sleep.




Somehow I had felt this, and at the very last moment when it was physically possible for me to do so, sent her a message saying that I was so pleased that her translation of Yuko Tsushima’s Territory Of Light, which she had been talking about for many years and which had been her life’s work, her pride and joy, really, had not only received stunning reviews in everything from The Guardian to The New Yorker, but also won a prestigious literary translation prize. A fierce, proud and very hardworking woman, I know how much this would all have meant to her – I just now wish that she could have heard it from me personally : her friend told me that she had been in a rapid decline for weeks and would already have been unconscious by the time I finally got in contact.













I first met Gerry on a Sunday at a book fair in the grounds of the Great Buddha in Kamakura, fifteen or so years ago I think. I had seen her around: at our local station and other places, and we got chatting, finding that we had several things in common – an interest in Italy ( we both spoke Italian : she had been going up to to the Italian Institute in Tokyo to do a degree in the language and culture as a way of breaking up the solitude that is the bane of a desk-trapped literary person  ; as the assistant English-to-Japanese translator of the entire Harry Potter series , by the time she was contracted to do the enormously long Deathly Hallows she was aching for anything else, and we met on occasion for dinner at a favored local Italian restaurant, and for a few years had a tradition of going to the Italian Film Festival held every year in Ginza during Golden Week; it was after one of these evenings on the train back home together to Kamakura that she told me that she was not well.



Socially awkward – I preferred tetes a tetes or just the three of us – but extremely earnest and intelligent, Gerry had a fascinating life story :  D and I always enjoyed listening to her stories of being immersed in the feminist underground of the Tokyo 70’s, her obsession with opera and her travels in Sicily, at her house overlooking one of the most extravagantly gorgeous cherry blossom trees in Kitakamakura. We liked wine; I sometimes played the piano for her : she liked the fact that we didn’t avoid mentions of her illness, which we knew was terminal, even though she had done incredibly well and for a very long time, but just accepted as a part of her, sometimes even with a certain gallows humour – a shared gay sensibility, if you will.



We didn’t meet that often. The last time I saw her was the summer of two years ago when I was still on the rental bed in the kitchen just after my operation and she came round for dinner. I had been unable to help Duncan pack up her things to be sent to New Zealand, a country she had not lived in for decades, but which everyone felt was the best option for her remaining time. Duncan made lunch, she even had some red, and I was able to make it outside to see her off in her taxi, all of us thinking the same thing, but smiling nevertheless.




She didn’t wear perfume because she was extremely sensitive and allergic to so many things, but I remember the look on her face when she tried some Courreges In Blue parfum on the back of her hand and the associations of an era that it brought back for her; G was also one of the first people to encourage me in my writing: she even gave a copy of some of my reviews to a Japanese publishing friend of hers, and we all met for tea at a fancy hotel near the Guerlain boutique in Hibiya. The lady, whose name I have forgotten, gave me a nod of approval and encouraged me to take it further ( this was before I even started The Black Narcissus ), which led to my getting an agent in London. I know she did read this blog on occasion, though she never commented, and it gives me comfort to know that even though we were not in direct contact this last year, probably at times she tuned in to see what was happening with me and D in our indulgent and hedonistic life here in Japan.  I do regret not having contacted her earlier, though, I really do. It is one thing to use your instincts to lead you to pleasure palaces and seek out glorious perfume, it is another to ignore them when it comes to a friend. Having now looked up her final translation work, the aforementioned Territory Of Light, and realized quite what a monumental achievement it was to produce something of such calibre in her situation, I salute you Geraldine Harcourt. I just wish I could have read it earlier, when you were still alive, and then told you my feelings about it in person.






Filed under Flowers

local magnolias

An exquisite, imperial lemon cream.D47F79B6-A7EE-4862-8986-DADC484EC533.jpegC141E863-9CCB-493C-A250-FDBA41938643.jpegA2FF1BBF-F6CF-4380-8611-17F32CBCF980.jpeg967B96AC-4160-4E37-BA2B-D7F78559A8FD.jpeg



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We have a French goth queen diva coming to our house for dinner tonight and I wanted incense and intrigue : the mysterious impenetrability of L’Artisan’s  genius Eau Du Navigateur.


Instead I blindly grabbed and copiously sprayed a perfume in the same bottle : Jour De Fete.



So instead of balsams and coffee and repressed spices and a hierarchical mellow, I smell like blowsy sugared almonds drowning in sad musk.





Have you ever done this?



It is too late to shower and change.




She will soon be approaching the hill..


Filed under Almond, Faux Toxic, postcards from the edge, Powder, Psychodrama


This week I have been smelling very lemony.




L’Occitane Verveine Aux Agrumes body foam ( fresh, tingly, with the texture of shaving cream but the smell of lemon mousse ), and the absurdly named Lemon by Shirley May ( 2017), a most pleasingly simple clean powdery lemon that for some might smell just like furniture polish but for me is calming and soothing ( and so cheap that at Japan prices I could literally buy SIXTY bottles of it for one single flacon of Francis Kurkdijian’s lemon ice pick through the eye, Petit Matin).


The other day I picked up Gres’s new summer release, Cabotine lemon – again, you could polish up your favourite mahogany furniture beautifully with this one : sharp lemons, and sage and vetiver chypric underpinnings as you hide in the cupboard from summer intruders.


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June 13, 2019 · 12:23 am








June 9, 2019 · 1:36 pm

‘Those are pearls that were his eyes: nothing of him that doth fade, but doth suffer a sea-change; into something rich and strange………………’ SALARIUM + V from THE PERFUME LIBRARY by LUSH (2019) + UNDA MARIS from the Extrait De Musique collection by FILIPPO SORCINELLI (2018)

















Last Saturday I attended the opening of the new Lush megastore in Shinjuku, busiest station in the world; a throng of people darting and threading (to be more exact, gliding in various directions – there is a choreography; people rarely collide with each other here); emerging from stairs of stations, crossing en masse,  meeting and parting and entering and leaving the reefs of unknown buildings – the animation of Saturday; thrilling in some ways, that weekend rush,and yet you do have to be in the right state of mind for it – the sheer numbers of people filling up every available space, slipping and pulling you along.





It seemed to me as if half of the people on the streets were crowded into the four story brand new Lush store, opening that morning, in which an extraordinarily potent olfactory cacophony of bath bombs and soaps, perfumes, body sprays, cosmetics  (including a beautifully innovative sushi conveyor belt going round selling freshly made concoctions for face and body) gelled and glowed with neon signage, a hip, cosmopolitan crowd, congratulatory flower bouquets, and a range of fragrances currently exclusive to this retail space  (they are stocked as well at the flagship store in Liverpool, which will be selling my book at the Fragrance Library, with Shinjuku also hopefully to follow).







My companion for the morning was Catherine, a perfume lover like no other (this woman truly lives for perfume – I have never known anyone else quite comparable – she lives and breathes the stuff). We met at the station – or rather I retrieved her from one of the labyrinthine exits – so easy to get untethered and lost in this warren, which can be disorientating if you don’t have your wits about you or get pushed, led along in the wrong direction – and we busily, once doing the tour of the place – an entire floor seemingly devoted to bath bombs and soap; another for sundries, intriguing books and esoteric vinyl (Lush even has its own record label), oceans of face products and shampoos, became firmly ensconced on the perfume floor, where, alongside familiar Lush/Gorilla Perfumes classics such as Lust, Vanillary, Breath Of God, Imogen Rose, and Cardamom Coffee (one of Duncan’s signature perfumes), as well as many, many others – I couldn’t help picking up the Old Delhi station perfume oil, all cinnamon, clove and jasmine, from this section; Catherine fell for the hardcore indole jasmine blast that is Lust  – we found ourselves eventually more intrigued by the Perfume Library and its enticing range of perfumes from past and reworked to edgily brand new – that which perused, and smelled ad nauseam on each other, and on ourselves, and on paper strips until we were through.







There are shuddery vibrations to many of the more extreme Lush perfumes; like poisonous odorous flowers that forbid you to be touched. This comes, I think, both from the high percentage of natural essential oils that pervade the blends and give them a sense, almost, of being living entities rather than merely fragrance compositions, but also from perfumer Simon Constantine’s firmly idiosyncratic, almost waywardly fierce approach to making perfumes; perfumes with provocative names and sometimes quasi barbaric aromatic intensity that usually deliver on their promise. Some of the more virulently masculine scents in the range such as Smuggler’s Soul and Lord Of Goathorn are commanding and potentially quite erotically intoxicating on the right individual (but that individual quite obviously isn’t me – I can’t do burnt, smoky, or perfumes that remind me of woodcutters or Nicolas Cage chasing forest demons in the recent horror classic, ‘Mandy’). Still, they demand attention; they do feel alive. And much as I loved the name, Sweet Grandma
























could only remind me of the Mother at the end of Pyscho – both Catherine and I exclaimed aloud how it smelled just utterly like mothballs; truly Gothic and ancient – naphthalene, when someone has taken out their winter clothes from storage and sits next to you on the bus :a becoated sarcophagus facing forward; hollow skull; eyesocketless; with a stroked and carefully brushed bun of  natty, flaxen hair.  Not having tried this one on skin  – which apparently has notes of orange blossom and rosewood as main features – I can’t comment on its progression or structuring, but I will certainly be going back to the store when it has quietened down a notch as I think it is one of the most singularly strange perfumes I have ever encountered in my life.






















The extensive wares in the Perfume Library vary in price, from standard niche cost up to the levels of Tom Ford and the like; Secret Garden, an intensely animalic and earthy perfume composed of osmanthus absolute, myrrh and immortelle was the most expensive of the line at 36,000 yen, while others (Cocktail, Assassin Remix, Two More Hearts) fell in between. Catherine was rather drawn to Death And Decay, which I have reviewed before – a light and slightly perturbing evanescence of lilies and powder, but though we both quite liked the violet cassie party girl vibe of Tuca Tuca, and the spriteliness of Pansy, it was V – a quite mesmerisingly velveteen violet perfume that hovers on the skin in a way I have never experienced before  (for me it was like a retreat from everything in the later afternoon light of lace curtains; sun still emitting warmth onto your cotton sheets but not enough to give you the sense of a complete and utter escape from everyday responsibility, just you and the sense of your body in the bed, and the soft bedclothes, and the violets  – downy, vanillic as a retort to the bitter green oddness of the top accord, which I find difficult, but not enough to prevent us from finding this perfume too singular to ignore – we both got a bottle); a mix of Ghanian ylang ylang, cedar wood, cinnamon, clove, and plush, plush violet flowers with the tang of the greenest violet leaf up top, V is a re-release of one of Lush’s first perfumes from 1995 especially for this event.
















As is Salarium, a reorchestration of another original Lush perfume (though under a different brand name at the time) from 1989 that for some reason I find engrossing and addictive in its sheer saltiness and sexual intensity; although composed of oudh, neroli, oakmoss, and rose, you would swear instead that this is an eighties fougere along the lines of Drakkar Noir, with a dash of Kenzo Pour Homme ; like a cop from Miami Vice who has been brought back from the dead with mouth to mouth resuscitation after falling into the bay …..a scent that lashes and douses you in sea spray, leaving you strangely suspended. As usual, there is something that ambivalently affects me at the chest level in the initial spray, but the magnetism of the perfume is undeniable. I had to have it – and Duncan wore it the next day, leaving rock pools of planed and saline mistscapes in each room that he had been in, he leaving, again for Tokyo, a couple of hours before me.
















Again, the train journey to Shinjuku. This time to film a scene for his new film, he with vast and heavy prop-filled suitcase in hand, me bringing up the rear later (the night before we had gone to a Thai karaoke bar in Yokohama to meet Michael, where an entire kickboxing team and their entourage had descended; fascinating, but as I enjoyed crooning Falling, from Twin Peaks, and Do you Really Want To Hurt Me? with a stranger, I was too tired; burnt out, actually; ; work has got progressively better as the term has gone on; more involved, but also more straining on my central nervous system; all the performing). It decentralises me, and the next day I woke up feeling subdued; you might even say subterraneaneousor at the very least just encased in my own self: : : needing solitude and space.













Odd though it may have been, given the gloomy and rainy weather outside, the humidity oppressive through thick clouds, contrasted with the glassy ice gleam of air-conditioned air on the trains – I could feel it, from mouth down to my ventricles, that unnatural way of breathing, like snorkelling, which I could never do (always drowning in salt water immediately; I prefer to just dive down deep as far as I can with my natural lungs before returning to surface); the contradiction of moisture and dryness in the atmosphere complemented by my own choice of fragrance that day as I dreamed alone back up to Shinjuku, that strange hub of government, finance, pleasure, crime, and irrepressible energy; Unda Maris by Filippo Sorcinelli.













While it might be easy to mock such a self proclaimed aesthete and fashionista synaesthesiast such as this Italian renaissance man – organist, perfumer to the pope, artist – I do think that the perfumes from his extensive ranges – Unum, Nebbia, speak for themselves. They are refined; spectral, elegant. They let you dream. The Extraits De Musique, whose bottles are shaped precisely like organ stops, and whose fragrances are based on one particular sound from the church organ – are soft and inspired, variations on benzoin and frankincense and all other kinds of churchly resins just in different proportions to fit the musical note in question – are all very wearable, if not very affordable; in reflective mood I could happily wear several.










Unlike Nebbia Spessa, another marine fragrance from this perfumer, which is an almost sensurround asphyxiation under water, the concept behind the fragrance exactly this – the terror, and awe, of the ocean – Unda Maris is a far more ethereal, gentle, and unearthly experience. Like being bathed in the sound of the organ  – I could say also the celestial chorus of Neptune, easily my favourite part of Holst’s Planet Suite, a piece I would listen to as a child at maximum capacity and be awed, subsumed, abducted by sea people (though that might be taking it too far);, nevertheless, the experience of wearing the perfume definitely bathed me in hush ; as sense of going under. If most perfume is a plus sign, a yang rush, then this is a benevolently minus yin submergence of benzoin and angelic frankincense with a photorealistic vision of a bay; not just the waves but the air and the clouds as well; like being transported to a different physical and mental reality; when D tried this on once I was almost derouted mentally as I kept actually feeling as though I really were on an isolated beach, with no sunshine; too saline and rock-beaten to cast off as merely an afternoon fragrance.













In the almost empty train car of the new Keio line, I found that the perfume, which I had applied quite a lot of (it is an extrait) put me in a state of peculiar tranquillity. In many ways not me – I do like marine fragrances sometimes, but they are more what you might call my perfumes for specialist occasions – this nevertheless is a scent I would consider buying as it seems to bestow a unique experience on me; the train carriage felt like an aquarium, I felt defleshed and cool, as if I were in some underwater kingdom, accessing caverns – my rib cages as coral – drifting slowly down the space inside, and look out at fishes and the undulations of anemones; the fruited notes at the centre of the perfume lifting the sea smells, while beneath, incense and almost dirty balsams played like body smell of the organist’s fingers on the keys; Debussy’s La Cathedrale Engloutie, or The Sunken Cathedral, which I also once played for a piano diploma almost thirty years ago to this day in a huge church hall under a crucifix; the deep resonance of the drenched, submersed chords as the drowned building continues, periodically,  to emanate its ghostly music















































The next day, I woke up to a bad cold; throat and ear infection, dizzy, and have been off work all week, in bed ( I cannot teach when not able to properly hear or speak). Recovering my energy, which all but disappeared after the franticness of the teaching week and overstimulated creative and sensorial shenanigans of the weekend, I have realized that this is something I need to curb, as I need to be more respectful to the limits of my sensitivity and realise that our natural inclinations towards hedonism require temperance.










Sometimes I feel as if I am bleeding out in all directions, and feel unanchored.













Though unwell, however ( I am recovering today, the rest has done me good, my chest is clearing, and I can taste and smell again – at first I had pure anosmia, a further ‘cowering into self’… longer fully sentient, the world around you becomes ever smaller and less important); a little guilty; but not really –  – – – – – – this is the first time in a long while that I have felt fully relaxed; even serene. Cloistered at home. But silent.



































Filed under Incense, Oceanic, Violet

Noh mask and Loulou



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