For the last ten days or so I have been thoroughly absorbed – mesmerized, actually – by a book of interviews with genius German filmmaker, Werner Herzog.
Exasperatingly eccentric and idiosyncratic, opinionated (in extremis), intolerant of mediocrity, steadfast in his philosophical and aesthetic beliefs, impassioned, fascinated with all that is beautiful in the world and in humanity, the visionary director of such masterpieces as Fitzcarraldo, Nosferatu and The Enigma Of Casper Hauser, is quite astonishingly brave, adventurous, and reckless, having made ravishing, death-defying films and documentaries on every continent, in locales and places ( and conditions ) I could barely dream of, infusing his works with a strange purity and mysticism – and, most importantly, beauty – in a way I find very inspiring.
Awe-inspiring, even. Daunting. The man is possibly quite mad, but for fifty years now he has been creating an astonishing body of work (only a fraction which we have seen, but loved) for its intuitive power, humanity, bizarre humour, fearlessness, offbeatness – sometimes, admittedly, certain films TOO odd; too slow, yet always with a sharpness and profundity you rarely encounter elsewhere.
Immersing myself in these cinematic travelogues – his commentaries on the films, and memories associated with them, I realize also how little of the world I have actually seen despite my relatively extensive travels : comfortably, unadventurously; always by plane; in recommended hotels, not shivering with snakebite delirium in the Amazon rainforest, capturing fleeting hallucinatory mirages in the Sahara, walking thousands of miles on foot ( he insists you should always do this to truly live) across Africa, Russia, Antarctica, India; the jungles of South East Asia…..
During the first, dazzling seconds of Van Cleef & Arpels latest addition to the Collection Extraordinaire that I smelled last night: Reve De Ylang, I had a momentary synaesthetic visual plunging into new terrain: a poisonous, elating tropical flower moistened with the pleasure of its own scent in the midst of one of these equatorial hidden places full of secrets and mortal dangers ; intense, enraptured bursts of ylang ylang, cardamom, citruses and saffron that put me immediately in mind of Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant, the kind of undiscovered flora that Herzog would incorporate into his visual and aural design before photographing the creature too close and succumbing, for some short moment, to an unhospitalized toxic reaction. Quickly, the perfume falls into a Venus fly trap of the cheapened neo chypre trope, with a torrid, chocolate patchouli heart and ending that I was personally forced to scrub off from the back of my hand, but still, it was quite an experience: a full spectrum of odours and colours; foliage; and tropical plumage.
Eau Papuagena is much more my kind of travel: arriving at a South American airport full of birds of paradise and other exotic succulents, showering and emerging from my Ecuadorian five star hotel showered and gleaming in a mind-zinging, hyperneroli, green mint citrus grapefruit flower extravaganza that achieves that alchemical magic of encapsulating pure sunshine, and boundless, mindless optimism, in a bottle. Like Neroli Portofino or the original Mugler Cologne, the main melody will probably eventually outstay its welcome, but for the man in the Panama hat and clean linens emerging into the deafening chatter of parakeets in the trees of the colonial town square, this bright extroversion of a citrus cologne floral – flashy, and uplifting – can do no harm.
Werner Herzog was born just after World War Two, and spent his entire isolated childhood of semi-poverty locked in his and his friends’ imaginations in a house hidden away – deliberately, by his mother -in the depths of a Bavarian black forest. It is interesting to me the fact that despite his innate thirst for grand adventure and ceaseless exploits in his poetic quest to capture as much of the unknown as humanly possible in his lifetime, with his fluency in many languages and absolute openness to all cultures ( the descriptions of all the locations he has been to in this book is quite dizzying to me, unhingeing), Herzog ultimately, despite living for the past twenty years in the USA, still has a very deep attachment and longing to his original birthplace, Germany, but particularly, Bavaria, in particular its classical music and literature, his European roots, despite all the wanderlust and conquests, ineradicable.
I sometimes wonder about this myself. Someone once described me as ‘an Englishman lost in Japan’. I am not entirely sure how accurate that description is ( both Duncan and I definitely WANT to live in a dream, I know that much ). It is undeniable, though, that I have never even attempted to ‘become Japanese’, and am probably seen by many as culturally inflexible ( I cannot, to this day, convincingly bow). I have started writing my second book on my experiences here, incidentally, sometimes in torrents;then it comes to a standstill, wondering if there are already too many predictable memoirs by ‘bewildered’ foreigners trying to make sense of what lies around them ( or beneath), and whether there is really any point to it all….
Certain things though, certain Englishnesses, like cream teas, rambling gardens, old houses, the smell of pillows and eiderdowns ( somehow they feel different in your home country) never lose their appeal. And thus my instinctive reaction to a new perfume, To The Fairest Cecile, in name reminiscent of A Room With A View, in scent a delicate porcelained posy of roses, bergamot and clove bud but which to me has the sugared almond eggshell cleanness of heliotrope and dreams of coconut, and a cerebral sigh – I know my limits. While Werner is out there taming wildebeests and risking life and limb over volcanoes or scaling fantastical mountains, I am timidly clean and comforted wearing this; under my duvet somewhere; half asleep; stirring in cotton, dreaming of England.