Typhoons and earthquakes are two natural phenomena you have to accept and get used to if you choose to make this country your borrowed home. Somehow, many of us do: despite the frustrations, at heart, we adore something about the mysteries, the refinement, the deep layers, and sheer beauty of this seething place that addicts the blood and is so hard to move away from once seeped into your soulstream: most other places, in comparison, often just seem dull: unstimulating, ‘flat’, or dangerous just in different ways (being stabbed in the back by a random hooded teenager in London; shot in the head while shopping at the supermarket in the US.Is anywhere actually safe?)
Although I am not usually particularly nervous about typhoons, as the area we live in is usually relatively unaffected for some reason compared to other more unfortunate areas of the country such as poor Chiba, just two hours north by regular train, which had its second major storm in one month,cutting off the power supply and running water, and a 5.8 simultaneous earthquake for good measure (I was so restless; dancing basically, that I didn’t even notice, no, couldn’t actually feel the earthquake when Duncan nervously pointed it out to me): on this occasion, as you may have gathered from my previous post, I think I went a little bit nuts. Already on Friday, as the rains started and everyone seemed quite palpably anxious at work, if putting a very brave face on it all, with hearty laughter all round, perhaps for the sake of the children, I had a heavy feeling in my chest; a true sense of fear, and was physically unable to teach. Ditching what I had planned for that day, I thought board games all round were the ticket for us all – my brain had the sophistication of a walnut, and I couldn’t think straight, let alone be educational; I just wanted to get home and get through it. Passing by the late night supermarket, usually loaded with expensive imported food and other sundries, I noticed that many of the shelves were bare, and felt a quiet sense of panic overcoming me (people were talking about being in the dark with no water – my ultimate fear; I had filled up the bathtub and all the plastic bottles we have on the premises just in case; D was busy writing a review of some Japanese short stories when I got in and was wholly focused on doing that; I came in like a hysterical Beetlejuice loaded with bags of available groceries and liquor (“Why aren’t you panicking?”! I shouted at him, disrupting his peace and concentration), the government having warned its citizens to ‘do everything you can to protect your own life’, which you must admit, doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence. I enjoy my life, and if possible am not quite ready to throw in the towel; everyone was acting as though something pretty major was about to occur – my piano duet friend Yoko sent me a message saying that she hoped we would see each other again with ‘full body integrity intact’, but all you can do, passively, and patiently, is sit there and wait, hope the roof doesn’t get blown off and you along with it, and pray the windows don’t smash; Typhoon No 19 apparently the biggest one this year; for decades, the throbbing sense of foreboding made me slightly haywire.
Arriving simultaneously, from another direction, as Typhoon Hagibis made its steady, cataclysmical path from the Philippines in our direction, was a jet plane, carrying in its cargo a beautiful package from Amsterdam sent by Pure Distance founder Jan Ewoud Vos, who had read on here that I was running out of Antonia recently and that I was going to ask Duncan to buy me some more for my birthday. Pipping him to the post, he had sent me some luxuriously boxed bottles of pure parfum in the original clear glass flacons – they have now been repackaged in a new green design more fitting to the olfactory personality of the fragrance, though I think the transparent bottles, now not for sale, work just as well; and these beauties were delivered by the same friendly postman who delivered the first copy of my my book back in February; always smiling (this is not usual), and someone I wave to when I crisscross his route on my morning bike rides. Tearing open the carefully wrapped up box in my kitchen I was like a kid on Christmas morning delighted to have such a sudden supply; as I said recently, this is a perfume I have come to not be able to live without; one I will turn to regularly as a new default scent; a green, flourishing floral with an immediate sense of balance and tactility, with orris and rose accents (and possibly secret tuberose), a gush of fresh galbanum on a brilliant white, centre of soap-like opacity shot through with light – and a soft, vetiver, sandalwood and delicate ending that lingers all day and just somehow feels totally right. This fragrance is perhaps more ‘conservative’ that what I might usually go for in some ways (and maybe it will improve my general behaviour for that reason) but precisely because of this poise and untouchability, it gives me a feeling of peace and serenity that is extraordinarily comforting; one of those few-sprays-on-clean-clothes-and-ah-yes that-will-do-for-the-day scents. As with No 19, which some people compare this to – even if to me the Chanel is so much bitterer, supercilious, austere; more masculine and cannily intuitive; for me there is only a fleeting resemblance between the perfumes, especially in the drydowns; where 19 is all indisputably elegant, if distancing, vetiver, iris root, and leather on me, Antonia has an opalescent aldehyde warmth of attenuated flowers and a suggestion of vanilla that is far more filled with ease.
Which is what I needed, after a marathon night of cinema viewing in our projector room upstairs as I tried to take my mind off the impending doom on Friday night and prevent myself from looking at the Internet, getting frothed up into a meteorological frenzy as I imagined our upcoming disarticulation by diabolical winds, waking at 3:30pm on the Day Of The Typhoon (almost unheard of for me); as the rains started picking up with a grin, and the wind was increasing in kinetic velocity ………as a childhood lover of The Wizard Of Oz, I cannot deny that have always found storms extremely exhilarating- I used to take my little sister running through the local woods when there was a downpour, I always loved the smell ; half expecting the Wicked Witch Of The West to go cycling by in the twister shouting out Dorothy before landing with a thud in the technicolour marvels of the Munchkins, Lionheart and the Tin Man, and the field of delirium poppies,flying monkeys; there is a movement to it all, an indescribable palpitation in the air of spiralling chlorophyll and unstoppable rains that is cleansing and terrifying at the same time. But I have no death wish; obviously, I am talking now only about the beginning, as the typhoon approached; by 6pm I was showered and dressed and spritzed all over ready for it in Antonia (‘the perfume will protect you’, declared Mr Vos in an email, when I told him we had ‘beaten’ the typhoon), and for a while, as the atmosphere started to edge up to danger (Hagibis made landfall around 7:30pm an hour or two south, while I was still dancing next to the wide open kitchen window and marvelling at the energy in the air as D kept wrestling the window shut from only for it to be re-opened again), I was immensely enjoying my own scent lit up further by all the green in the air outside; yes, it may have been fear, but you know when enough is enough though; your instincts tell you – – – oh, this is starting to feel a bit genuinely dangerous now, what shall we do? An ear plugged game of chess?
No. Keep dancing, watching movies and drinking wine, munching on snacks in front of the screen praying the lights won’t go out as the room gets gradually more and more buffeted, bashed from outside as the shutters rattle violently, and you start wondering when the tiles are going to start flying off the roof and crashing to the ground like they did in September 2011 when I was huddled in a room under blankets listening to Tori Amos’ Shattering Sea at maximum volume in a much darker frame of mind than this Saturday, when Donald Trump was ranting and raving on the screen in Michael Moore’s overboiled, if still semi-fascinating documentary on the beloved president, and the shouts of the morons at the conventions were gladly drowned out by our little cinema getting pummelled by killer winds and rains and we were both being gung-ho but wondering if it was going to get any worse.
By the time we had settled into watching Nicolas Cage go apeshit in the stylised 1983 of Mandy, the typhoon outside was torrid and still very noisy, but felt like it was diminishing. We could sit back. As we gratefully sipped Jack Daniels and cokes I reached out in the (deliberately chosen) darkness to see what perfumes were existing unloved and unworn on the tops of the bookshelves next to me; my hand chanced upon an Olivia- decanted bottle of Micallef’s Note Vanille, a rich, dense, sweet and truly gourmand confection of real vanilla beans steeped in brandy and cognac, with sandalwood and mandarin accents – much more embodied and out there than Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille, which I loved, awhile,for its cherry deliciousness, the first time I smelled it in Paris on the Champs Elysees at the time of its release, but which has somehow become disappointing to me; just not quite as heavenly and delectable as I remember it. This
gorgeous Micallef, though, sprayed on the right sleeve of my hoodie and wrist, even if it is not really the type of smell go for any more; just too molasses thick and gooey and as sugar-plum-fairied as densely coated Christmas marrons glaces melting on the tongue, at this moment it felt just right; pure comfort, heady, and a pleasingly contrasting facet to Antonia, which I could smell everywhere else, with its leafy, benevolent diaphanous.
We woke up on Sunday. To bright blue skies, conceited sun: and to the air-filling smell of osmanthus, our tree the biggest in the area, ten days later than usual, the flowers also, just battening down their collective hatches and waiting for the right moment to bloom and release their apricot odour into the atmosphere; at first, so warm and so fragrant outside that I was a little bit disoriented (not entirely dissimilar, in fact, to Judy Garland and the syruped strings announcing her blindly colourful arrival at the yellow brick road). As much of this island lay under water from flooded rivers, and the damage and loss of life caused by the mayhem of the typhoon was calculated by the world’s media, we felt lucky, cycling around the streets assessing the impact, that although some very big trees had been unrooted and were lying there exposed, with loss to their dignity, no houses seemed to have been damaged; our streets unscathed.