Monthly Archives: February 2020

A NATION OF CHILDREN UNDER QUARANTINE

 

 

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There was amazement in the staff room in Yokohama on Thursday night when it was suddenly announced by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that all schools across the nation would be closed for a month from Monday. This wouldn’t affect us: we are a preparatory or cram school company – so I had assumed that this would have meant even more lessons, as fretting parents (oh the furrowed brows of all the mothers panicking about their children not getting enough homework!) would push their kids to study study study  – but even the thought of the students being off for such a long time was completely unheard of : this is a truly unprecedented situation.

 

 

 

And yet yesterday when I went into work for a meeting with the vice-principal, I was told that we too have no lessons from next week, and yesterday evening was my impromptu last day of work for the next six weeks. I will leave it to your imagination how I feel about that, but it was also interesting to hear yesterday how my students felt about what is essentially going to be a quarantine. I hadn’t realized this, but they are supposed to stay holed up in their houses or apartment blocks this entire time, not allowed to go out (even though not a single young person has died from the virus – those that have succumbed are the elderly, including, alas, a woman in her seventies who was taken to hospital by ambulance from our local station, Ofuna, I have just heard…..Christ – IT HAS ARRIVED!!!!). At any rate, there weren’t the whoops of delight I was expecting, at least not among the majority.

 

 

 

 

Ironically, it has been a good few weeks of teaching, one of the principle reasons being that this has been a great topic of conversation. All the vocabulary! Where the consensus here is that you are supposed to pretend that nothing is wrong and put on a brave face, I decide to not patronise the children in this way and instead discuss it all honestly (with perhaps a little too much black humour; you sometimes see some kids wincing); the majority, though, seeming to enjoy being able to discuss what is happening around them in English: it gives a little valve to let out some of the pressure.

 

 

 

Just as I would be at that age, a minority of the students were utterly gleeful and besides them with joy at the prospect of finally having a respite from the endless drudgery of the Japanese school life, where you basically have not a moment to yourself apart from Sunday morning, but even then your nagging mother will probably be screeching ‘benkyo shinasai‘ at you ; this is the principle reason I refuse to give them any homework as I will not make their burden any greater. For once, they will actually get a chance to just be. And despite the edict, three quarters of the naughtier ones (who I always prefer – there is nothing worse for me than mindless obedience: I am an anarchic instigator of independent thought) are already planning to meet their friends outside and were saying it’s ok as long as your teacher doesn’t find out you left your house, and they can’t be everywhere checking everyone. The mischievous glint in their eyes made me laugh, even though, as the more earnest and law-abiding type kids were indignantly huffing (quite rightly) –  in that case you are ruining the whole point of the school closures in the first place:  you are supposed to stay at home to contain the virus, you are selfish, you are stupid.

 

 

 

To my surprise (I would have just been luxuriating in the bliss of playing my 12″s at home and reading books, watching films in heaven, at that age; not that I hated school, but I always wanted my time more than anything else. Always), the majority of the kids I was teaching were just shouting ‘hima’: ‘himaaaaaaaaaaaaa’  – we will have nothing to do, it will be so boring : I am going to die of boredom. UGH. Stuck in the house all day! with my brother and annoying sister. I want to go outside, I want to play. I hate it! They will be clambering up the walls. The ENTIRE COUNTRY. Hard to imagine. All that energy. Sequestered. What will happen? I taught them the expression cabin fever: they will be craving for fresh air:  : one student in the baseball club said that the maniacally controlling coach of his club has insisted on the most intricately detailed diary imaginable (baseball clubs here in Japan are UNBELIEVABLE – you can’t imagine the levels of endurance required to survive in one); he is expected to detail practically every minute of his daily activities, including precisely how many grams of rice he has consumed at each meal, his weight before bedtime, how many catches and pitches he has performed (I am sure that  will do wonders for his mother’s knick knackssmash goes the bored-to-death glass figurine as the hormone-infused ball annihilates its porcelain into smithereens in one lightning-quick throw); other students were up in arms when I told them this story – NO WAY! I would never do that – I am going to play games! As long as I have comics and computer games I will be alright! One steely eyed, hilarious girl I enjoy teaching vowed, hidden behind her mask, to find a way to get a computer game system no matter what it takes,  despite the fact that her previous one had been confiscated by her tedious parents in a bid to make her study yet more. NO: I AM GOING TO GET GAME.

 

 

 

 

These are strange times. I am fortunate, in that when I am at home, I feel relaxed and tranquil, up here on the hill in Kitakamakura. When I look out the window, though it is essentially suburbia, I can see trees and mountains wherever I look, and I know the entire area is a zen Buddhist temple complex reaching back centuries that has been carved into as a residential area. There is something in the air. It is quite a good place to be in quarantine if that should be necessary (we have started stocking up on food just in case this situation gets out of hand). But if you were living in one of those built up apartment buildings near Ofuna or Yokohama, with no green, just the usual unimaginative lay out with the fitted kitchen, the kids’ room, and its bunkbeds and the western style furniture in the living room with the bright lights on and the TV blaring, I can imagine the students scaling the walls and going nuts. And this is just the initial recommendation. What if it does actually become a nationwide, worldwide pandemic, and the Olympic Games are cancelled? (those wet markets in China do have quite a lot of answer for). How long will they be confined? And will it all be effective in any case ? Perhaps. Who knows. Schools are breeding grounds, and then they will just bring it home to the grandmothers. It is better than nothing, and should curtail the spread. But the government has been inept and ineffective so far. Ostrich central. Pretend everything is fine. If you do that, the problem will go away. Just check the temperatures of a few people arriving from Wuhan in the first few weeks but let millions enter the country. Let infected people go home and rest or stay in hotels; malingering, left to their own devices.

 

 

 

 

I, like the majority of the people here, am furious about the useless handling of the Diamond Princess debacle and the lack of isolation units and proper thought that went into it. It is pathetic. When I wrote dramatically a couple of weeks ago about being in Yokohama in the vicinity of the cruise ship, I didn’t actually think that the passengers would literally be let off in their hundreds, even thousands, while I was there, and allowed, unmonitored, to get on public transport, in flimsy masks made of gauze: pronounced negative, but in actually fact, quite possibly walking, commuting, incubators of the virus. Carrying it, already, in their systems. Oblivious. For all know, I already have the damn thing.

 

 

 

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BEE by ZOOLOGIST (2019)

 

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‘The spring day seems still and peaceful. Yet beneath the wildly splattered canvas of a blossom-strewn meadow, thousands engage in a desperate race for survival. Worker bees toil at a frantic pace, ferrying a precious cargo of nectar and pollen to deposit it within cramped honeycomb cells, where it will nurture drones and larvae under the eye of a regal queen. In the claustrophobic hive, a deafening buzz offers evidence of the bees’ devotion to duty, not a single worker pausing to question its role in perpetual grind of life in the queendom.

Like the frantic hustle of the bee through a maze of multi-faceted scents, Zoologist Bee delivers a surreal experience. The rich aroma of honey captivates, while alluring florals, royal jelly, animalic beeswax and regal incense unite to create a buzz, offering excitement, and the sweet rewards of life.’

Perfumer: Cristiano Canali
Size: 60 mL / 2 Fl. Oz.
Perfume Concentration: 18%
Top Notes: Orange, Ginger Syrup, Royal Jelly Accord
Heart Notes: Broom, Heliotrope, Mimosa, Orange Flower
Base Notes: Benzoin, Labdanum, Musks*, Sandalwood, Tonka, Vanilla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Honey is a strange beast. At once soothing and appeasing, it is also sticky and disturbing. I love it (there are times, on the occasions when I am craving sugar, that I just spoon it from the jar or pour it directly into my mouth from a squeezy for the finest natural sucrose rush), but I know there are plenty who don’t  —  the curiously animalic, almost dirty aspect to the smell of viscid syrup and honeycomb, that speaks of other things.

 

 

 

 

In perfumery, while honey notes occasionally find their way into gourmands as lingering base notes: as a genre, honey monothemes are relatively rare – and yet quite bold and individualistic when someone can pull it off. The original Miel De Bois by Serge Lutens (2005)  before it was neutered by reformulation, was amazing: a very divisive, almost mind-altering scent that I found myself uneasily drawn to, once writing an essay length review of it on a piece of paper I then lost, getting carried away with allusions to a novel, whose name I have also forgotten, involving the smell of minotaurs seething within hairy, pungent labyrinths. Kilian’s Back To Black (2009) by Calice Becker was another triumph of the miel: cleaner, cosier, more wearable but still fulsome; Hiram Green’s drowsy Slowdive (2017), a medieval mead of viscous, honeyed orange blossom absolutes drowning in tobacco.

 

 

 

The way I see it, honey is a note that really does depend on your skin type. I am simply the wrong one to get away with applying the essence of honeycomb to my wrist – it will become sour, sweaty, pissy, and I will have to wash myself free. On other people, those who don’t automatically bring out base notes quite as emphatically as I do, a honey fragrance can really furnish you with all the mellifluous sting of the hive, especially one as convincing and full-on as this latest release to the menagerie, by Canadian indie perfumery Zoologist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The descriptions by the brand at the beginning of this piece just about sum this perfume up to a tee. One sniff of this extrait de parfum strength bee bonanza and I was in a jar of the stuff, pawing up honey like a grizzly bear and snacking on a Mars Crunchie, with its delicious filigree of processed,  fake honeycomb all at once; vanilla at the rear, sandalwood anchoring, a multidimensional honeyfest that I almost would like to own just for the fact that it is such an exciting encapsulation of the deliciousness that our bees, fast disappearing, have been reluctantly feeding humans and other animals with since the beginning of civilisation. With the sweetness and sickliness that is the bane of the honeyed scent tamed to a reasonable level  – the  full, warm, apis mellifera panoramic from top to base – Bee is an interesting and enjoyable perfume, and something of an apiarist’s delight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Honey, OUT OF THE STRONG CAME FORTH SWEETNESS

BUT HE THAT DARE NOT GRASP THE THORN, SHOULD NEVER CRAVE THE ROSE……..EAU CAPITALE by DIPTYQUE (2019)+ ROSE TROCADERO by LE JARDIN RETROUVE (2017) + ROSE PRICK by TOM FORD (2020)

 

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The craving for roses goes unabated. A perennial trend, particularly in Tokyo, where the rose is a dependable fallback, Women love roses here, the word either the same  — ‘rose’ –  enunciated in an inimitable, peculiarly sensual way –  or else as the Japanese original,  ‘bara’.

 

 

 

 

Couple that love with the froufrou Parisiana of Diptyque’s signature designs that light up the corner of any department store –  I was prowling the newest skyscraper destination in Shibuya yesterday, among thousands of other shoppers on the national holiday before seeing Ari Aster’s wild-flower strewn Midsommar: – and both the beautifully packaged candle – Paris En Fleurs – as well as the new eau de parfum, Eau Capitale, are surely destined to become big hits here.

 

 

 

 

The Diptycians have not taken any risks with this rose release : the scent immediately familiar in its full richness of rose and patchouli, the classic, chypric, olfactive pairing that put me in mind swiftly of L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Voleur De Roses, Sisley’s Soir De Lune, and Frederic Malle’s Portrait Of A Lady. It is assuredly done, with the usual pink pepper; quite enveloping – if not entirely tingling to my own senses –  but with its ‘unisex’ labelling and fullfledgedness, I also do look forward to smelling theses roses on boys – as well as girls – as they make their way about the city this spring  (the barazoku, or rose tribe,  the code word in Japanese underground slang for the young homosexual man).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Real roses, fresh dawn roses, are emotionally imploring : cut to the quick. I have always found them innocent, protective : a whole world unto themselves : “Love is a rose, but you’d better not pick it “ sang Linda Rondstadt: “…… it only grows on the vine”. Rose Trocadero, by Le Jardin Retrouvé, is one of those courageously uninhibited soliflores that tries to capture that moment of leaning into an erect stem of tea roses in the early morning dew of May or June; Simple, nostalgic, with its touches of black currant bud over a bed of gentle white musk, perfumer Yuri Gusatzt has successfully shied away from overdecoration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Not so Tom Ford :

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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– –  – where the luxurious provocateur continues his amusing recent pattern of chic, ‘naughtily’ titled perfumes such as Lost Cherry.

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As a child, I was always captivated by roses in fairy tales: the stolen white rose leading to Belle’s father’s incarceration by the Beast; the prick of blood on a young maiden’s finger leading to incantations cast by hidden sorceresses ( or later, vampires : Mina, her back arched in ecstasy in the moonlight rose bush gardens of Bram Stoker’s Dracula ) ……… the power of the thorn / flower dichotomy  irresistible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rather than Snow White, or the Nightingale and the Rose, the screen advertisement for Tom Ford’s latest outré product push features music more suited to a horror movie, as knife edges slash through petals, and roses spill their seed, oozing like light, thick pink matte paint (the colour – which I adore – perfectly fitted to the thick, sweet, clinging tonka beaned, coumarinic turmeric base of the gourmand amber/patchouli heart, peppered with Sichuan I admit I find a little airless and suffocating). Once again, Mr Ford has ripped flowers from their natural habitat, twisting them gamely for his own urbanic predilections. The problem is, that despite the sprightly sexual innuendo of the name, and the promise of ‘juiciness’; —— ‘the prick of a rose, the slight pain that yields such sensual pleasure’ ——— the alleged thick profusion of Bulgarian, Turkish and May roses in the blend to me lacks generosity, fullness:; fecundity.  A prick for me has always sounded long, bony ; thin. I much prefer a dick, or a cock.

 

 

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GREEN AND FRESH II : : EAU LIBRE by YVES SAINT LAURENT(1975) + UNEXPECTED MONA by HISTOIRES DE PARFUMS (2019) + VERT ET NOIR by DSH PERFUMES (2016) +TAJ GARDEN + AUGUST PICNIC, 1976 + LE JADE by DAWN SPENCER HURWITZ (2019)

 

 

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It is unexpectedly balmy for February, almost hot: yesterday I was overdressed in Tokyo, too many layers – in Shinjuku, after my last Saturday lessons for this term (so pleased to get my full three day weekend back again), to see D perform as Leon Charmé at Kings Of Tokyo, I had a couple of hours to kill having failed to get cinema tickets to see Bombshell, battling the winds that were so strong at times they could knock you over – but at least not cold – traipsing around looking what was on at other movie houses but nothing : and looking at perfumes that suit this time of year when I feel a certain loopiness in my veins as spring surges forth. Wanting to kill some time by just sitting for a short while in a local park and assessing some of the perfumes I had on me, I found myself instead being stopped by the police. Spot-checked, frisked by three young officers (in face masks: I myself, at least yesterday amid a maelstrom of emotions about the coronavirus, just got to a certain point of fuck it, look at all the surfaces everybody is touching, all the people on the trains, it’s in the air now, it’s really hard to avoid, and I just find the masks so encumbering and muzzling); outraged and indignant, as these three men invaded my space and mortified me, for absolutely no apparent reason, I found myself being very sarcastic and critical (in Japanese) with them: why weren’t also they also patting down and emptying the pockets and the bags of all the other people in the park? This is clearly racism; I am not a criminal, why are you doing this? This is SO ANNOYING   because recently there have been a lot of dangerous people about, we have to do random spot checks – what’s this in your coat pocket? Essential oil infused vaseline. Lemon. And in this pocket? The same. IyokanOrange. And in this pocket. Also perfumed hand balm. YUZU. And this? Grapefruit essential oil. SMELL IT (thrusts bottle under the nose of young officer, who obediently lifts up his face mask and takes a hesitant sniff as though it were going to be a bottle of poppers) And how about in this pocket? PERFUME  (a bottle of tampered-with Bergamote Soleil by Atelier Cologne, to which I had obviously added more bergamot, a blend  I intended to spritz onto my person as soon as I entered the cabaret that was near by; Duncan was there getting ready with all the performers back stage wearing Ungaro Senso). Me, in the vicinity;  searched, bag rummaged through; foreigner card checked (thank god I had it on me, else you know what could have happened – read my piece on The Other from the beginning of January if you want to know further); all humiliating and annoying, but it as I thought about it afterwards, wow, I was so supercilious and dismissive, but the three police officers were actually constantly apologetic, very polite, and looked almost sheepish as they rode off on their bicycles. I can tell you why this is: I had just watched Spike Lee’s excellent BlackKKlansman that morning, and you can be sure that any black Americans caught in a similar situation in the US , incensed, as I was, might not even be alive. All of this speaks volumes.

 

 

 

 

On my hand, but also seeped way too much onto my work clothes (which I am about to have to wash, as this perfume very quickly became a classic ‘scrubber’ for me, as in scrub that shit off it is disgusting ) was ‘Unexpected Mona 7753’, a green. exuberant floral that is supposed to somehow capture the enigmatic smile of the most overrated piece of art in the history of the world by Leonardo Da Vinci,  the one that millions gather mindlessly around solely because it is famous, neglecting masterpieces elsewhere in the shadows of the Louvre that are yearning to be gazed at, rather than this dun mystery of dullness that the hordes gather around solely to take selfies. In this regard, the perfume is quite good; it is modern (full, ‘floral’), perhaps with a slight retro twist (the green top accord definitely reminded me of Estée Lauder Private Collection, a perfume my mother was wearing the last time I saw her in Italy, and which smells phenomenal);  a fierce contradiction between an ivy/galbanum/bergamot/ vetiver greenness, with fruit notes of Barbary fig, Ma Khaen berry, and a woozy sandalwood, heliotrope and tuberose centre that on me very quickly became quite nauseating, stuck to my acrylic work coat and pervading my nostrils as I was searched, and delicately manhandled, by Tokyo’s finest (let’s just wash those humiliating memories right out of the clothing fibres, arigato very much- I am still stinging from it). While the Mona Lisa does have some intrigue – and I did really like those curiously beginning top notes –  after a while, on me at least, this smelled vile. 

 

 

 

 

 

Le Jade by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is another perfume that also obliquely references Private Collection, with its chrysanthemum top notes, a ‘nouveau retro’ green chypre that uses a pleasing overdose of the Japanese imperial flower, the kiku, a sharp, piney floral smell I personally really like despite its overabundant usage in pomp and circumstance, funeral and emperor’s ceremonial; (this year the new head of state rose to the Chrysanthemum Throne  as his father abdicated, the first emperor to do so in two hundred years). There is something severe about this floral smell that I like, and it works perfectly in a mossier, shaded context. The same perfumer’s Taj Garden is described as a ‘supremely happy flower garden fragrance’ with notes of waterlilies, marigold, sambac Jasmine subtle Indian spices with leafy green notes, and this also is a pleasant ensemble indeed; a scent to just spray on without too much thought in the morning for a spot of pleasing uplift. How I would love to be just sitting in an Indian garden with peacocks roaming right this moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At a picnic in August, 1976, it is quite possible that one of the kaftan wearing attendees might well have been wearing liberal doses of the lovely Eau Libre by Yves Saint Laurent, one of the first ‘unisex colognes’ that was apparently popular for a while (I had never even heard of it until I saw a bottle in Z’s collection), a very easy, relaxed hedione/ vetiver green citrus oakmoss number that on me dries down to a lovely Chanel Pour Monsieur-like finish. BlackKKlansman, the absurd, but apparently true life story of an African American police officer infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan in the late seventies; impersonating a white supremacist on the telephone and talking to Satan at the head of the Organisation, the Hitler worshipping David Duke (a current Trump supporter), and then having his Jewish colleague penetrate the organisation from within, is also immersed in this period;  The racist, ant-Semitic bile and hatred that spews from the characters’ mouths quite difficult to withstand, and yet Lee somehow melds it all together very skilfully and naturally in an outrageous comedy/ political statement movie that heavily critiques the discrimination that is inherent in the nation’s police force (even to this day); but also contains a love story, ‘hi-jinx’, and plenty of flares, huge Afros and indigenous print tunics along with the mellow and smooth score by Terence Blanchard and classic soul and funk tracks; again, Eau Libre would have probably been doing the rounds on these characters, unthreatening, easy, the CK One of its generation.

 

 

 

 

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Hurwitz’s own confection celebrating a day out with friends in a meadow in 1976 is a delicious rhubarb and strawberry creation, green and tart; a perfect splicing of the two fruit notes with green leaves, galbanum, virginia cedar – a perfume I will be wearing when I feel like something simple, fun and emotionally energising ; I would also love to be able to hand it out to nephews and nieces like sweets for its celebration of summertimes memories and fresh air. As is well known, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is an insatiably prolific perfumer who creates fragrances from every whirl of the spectrum under the sun, literally every angle of the scentosphere; if you want rich and sweet she has it, floral, woody, she has it all covered. While some of the perfumes can feel more like unfinished sketches, experiments in seeing how far she can push certain ingredients or themes, I also like this boldness. Vert et Noir, for instance, is insanely green – breathtakingly so – a ‘vegetal fresh’ eau de cologne of cucumber, sharp chlorophyll green notes, lettuce, ozone and vetiver, black pepper – the dark soil to the foliage. I like the barbedness of green perfumes like this, the piercing sharpness that cuts straight through the bullshit::  mace, sprayed directly into the eye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under FURIOUS PERFUME CRITIC, Green

tuesday, wednesday, thursday

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Filed under Flowers

GREEN AND FRESH : : : : : : TOKYO BLOOM by THE DIFFERENT COMPANY (2012) +PRIMAVERDE by L’ERBOLARIO (2011) +PRIMAVERA TOSCANA by ERBARIO TOSCANO +NERO by LUSH (2019) + FRESH AS F*** by LUSH (2019)

 

 

 

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Even for the most optimistic person, the 2020’s have not started well. Whole swathes of Australia on fire (and still burning):  apocalyptic scenes that strike fear and dread into the heart. World War III seemingly about to start between the US and Iran (and what is coming next?); right wing quasi or actual dictators in power across the globe stirring up nationalistic fervour in the hearts of the masses; Brexit finally happening (a woeful disaster, but I am not ready to talk about it); and now a potential pandemic of the coronavirus that, whether exaggerated or not, is not very uplifting or reassuring – I woke up to the headline in the always  downbeat and boringly pessimistic Japan Times this morning proclaiming JAPAN SEEKS TO PREVENT PANIC AMID OUTBREAK (…..a nurse was infected in Sagamihara, which is just a couple of train stops along from where I am working today in Atsugi; who knows who has got it; whether the masked populace is careful enough…..you could go crazy.) At any rate,, the ‘world economy’ is certainly going to take a hit; none of it bodes especially well.

 

 

 

 

 

We all exist at the macro and micro level, all of us in different proportions. Some completely shield themselves from the wider realities in computer games and books and binge watching; or by sealing themselves off – if they can bring themselves to do so – from social media and the TV (wise, once in a while I think, for mental respiration). Others, the more politically involved, quite rightly clamour and campaign and demonstrate to try and change things and veer us in a better direction. Without them, what would actually happen? I don’t know. I suppose I am somewhere in between. Engaged, out in the world, but also hiding. I have my limits. I try to inspire my students and instil a sense of self-worth and positivity in them by exposing them to different ways of thinking and from not shrinking away from being themselves. This is the next generation, and I believe in global thinkers. I hope I can help them on a good path.

 

 

 

 

At the same time, I know I am not Gandhi. Like most people, I am selfish. At the macro level, I know that the burning of fossil fuels is what is causing the fires in Australia, and yet I cannot do without my kerosene stoves and Delonghi electric heaters in winter as I am too susceptible to the cold, and this old house – which we both really love living in – is just such a heat loser that there really is no other option. Were I completely committed to the earth, I would move into some modern triple glazed apartment in the centre of suburbia, and be warm (but die a soul death). Hopefully, by hardly using the air conditioners in the summer, unlike everyone else who has them on all the time, I balance my carbon guilt out. But we are all part of this mess altogether. As the newspaper said the other day, there is a strange poetic justice in the fact that because of  global warming, the very industries that have caused that change – the energy companies that keep us heated and pollute the skies – are the ones that are going to lose out in the long run. This has been the warmest winter ever, historically, globally – hence all the flowers that were out when I went for a bicycle ride yesterday.

 

 

Again, at the human level, this is catastrophic. For me personally, it is delightful. Freezing winds and biting temperatures are hell for me – it is like dying inside. I have virtually no defence against them; after the second time I had serious pneumonia I went through some kind of weird metamorphosis where my body became ultra sensitive to the cold; it penetrates deep into my tissues. ‘Brisk’ weather is fine – I have just been for another bike ride this morning and it is beautiful outside – only two degrees, but deliriously sunny and bright, and even with the world in a state of shit, nothing could deter my spirits from enjoying the beauty of nature and the pleasure of being alive in such moments; I was wrapped up, and in any case could feel that spring is approaching; though there will probably be some late, unexpected snow in the middle of March (which I adore – snow, for limited periods only, is a very beautiful and magical thing). Still, the buds are sprouting, the green is burgeoning; sap is flowing through bark; flowers are in a frenzied push within themselves as they can’t wait to prove themselves and burst forth – and neither can I.

 

 

 

It is interesting. The Black Narcissus has never been only about perfume. I think some people would prefer that it were, that I just gathered all the latest releases and blurbed about them like an industry insider, but it has never really been about that for me, in honesty. If I look back, politics, the world, philosophy, life itself, and of course my own experiences and psyche are all woven up into a living tapestry that is ongoing; a diary, really, or a continuing piece of performance art that you can tap into at will. While it sometimes makes me feel vulnerable, as I know I do overexpose myself, simultaneously it is gloriously liberating and I cannot deny that I am proud of it. If the coronavirus were to invade my lungs tomorrow and I were to perish, this, essentially, would be my legacy. It contains so much.

 

 

 

 

Perfume is usually the starting point though. My sense of smell is so alert, scent giving me so much pleasure and ecstacy, like an electrical socket into the life force, that it is often the best portal for me to enter or talk about different experiences within the world of olfaction, yet not be limited by it; the Proustian memory rush has become a cliché, perhaps, but only because it is so true and universal: our sense of smell really is undervalued in ‘developed’ societies, and his In Search Of Lost Time is the perfect example of how much our existences exist eternally within the scented molecule; lodged in our heads somewhere, waiting to be opened again, with all the rush of emotion and experience therein. I feel very lucky, to have this acute sensitivity (which we probably all have, but so many seem to me to be closed off to); the overwhelming, elating profusion of everything.

 

 

 

 

So is it trivial and silly to be trying to talk about the grand and the real; the global and the dreamlike/ luxurious in one probably incoherent passage? I don’t know. Possibly. But then again, if we were only to immerse ourselves in the ‘news’ (which is so sensationalistic and problematic to begin with; I know that the papers here WANT us to feel panic and feel permanently petrified about the coronavirus as that is what sells copies, so in truth, for a few days I haven’t been reading anything about it. I might say to Duncan, what’s the latest?, but I refuse to be dragged out into a quagmire of hysteria about it (at least, not just yet – who knows what I will be writing on here come next week…….)) Can one seriously combine perfume reviewing and talk about what sometimes feel like an encroaching armaggeddon? I don’t know: :  but I am going to do it anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

We are multifaceted creatures. We exist on many different levels, from the dark mysteries and impulses of our secret subconsciouses when we sleep, to our deeper conscious emotions to our social selves and our sense of being part of the human race and possibly even something bigger beyond that. For me, perfume forms a latticework within all of this. It can release tensions, be a refuge, a link to the self, a barrier  – and I mean that in a good way : it can contain the self, bring you back, while also maintaining a distance that ironically also pulls others emotionally closer…….so I will not be wearing a surgical mask today because they have all sold out and we have twenty here at home which we will keep for emergencies only  – but I will be wearing plenty of my home made citrus balms, which smell delightful, I must say; simple classic vaseline with overdoses of bactericidal, viricidal essential oils in varying proportions of yuzu, iyokan orange (the most beautiful orange smell known to mankind); lemon, and bergamot – these are perfumes in that serve intrinsically as literal physical protection, and aesthetic and emotional uplifts.

 

 

 

Citruses pierce through the grime of the larger grimness. They don’t elevate my spirits in the way that more voluptuous perfumes do (for that I will usually need flowers). But sometimes we need simple fragrances that scythe through the mould of overloaded media anguish or the daily hassles of our lives – sharp awakenings that give you that immediate boost as you head out of the door. I also get this feeling from the best green fragrances, the amalgam of leaves and of chlorophyll; there is an immediacy to them, almost an urgency – perfumes such as Jacomo’s Silences, a waxy, hyacinth laden bayonet of hissing green is utterly brilliant in this regard, like the opposite of a lobotomy. St Giles’ The Tycoon, a scent that D sometimes wears, is equally effective in this regard: it manages the feat of staying penetratingly green all day; a masculine, citric fusillade of pomelo greenness that nobilizes the surroundings while also giving a flirtatious wink of come inside. The best green perfumes do this; No 19 is audaciously forbidding in its utter lack of any sweetness of guile; so forthright in its iris and galbanum; at first anyway, before it later reveals that it definitely does indeed have a soul (and a very fine one); I was wearing the original Envy by Gucci also during the colder period at the end of December and the beginning of January,  as a work perfume just lightly  on my coat; the iced lily of the valley underlayed with chic urban green notes like a buffer to the air around me (although there was a musk synthetic, finally, which I think that can also be found in Secretions Magnifiques, that ultimately made me stop wearing it). Musks are the bane of the modern green perfume; they are hard to escape, but this depends on what kind of green scent you are looking for. Not everyone wants to be quite as uncompromising with the notes vertes as I do.

 

 

 

 

 

Tokyo Bloom is one of those undeniably pleasing compositions:  I would imagine that this is one of The Different Company’s more popular products in the Tokyo department stores where it is sold. The top accord is delightful  – a sparklingly vernal green departure of basil leaves, galbanum, blackcurrant buds, fresh green notes and dandelion (as a child we kept rabbits, and the scent of dandelion leaves -the food they loved the most, more than lettuce, ripped from the garden or anywhere we found them is very nostalgic for me). If the scent could maintain this accord for longer, I would be buying this perfume on a regular basis, as I love this smell, but it later becomes more shampoo generic with a star jasmine, white musk and cyclamen sheer ambered base that smells more girl on the Yamanote line than how I would usually prefer to smell. Still, I will wear it, perhaps a spritz on the hair for freshness – the kind of scent you can imagine giving other people a boost as you walk by them – a momentary shift in perception.

 

 

 

 

 

Florentine perfumers L’Erbolario and Erbario Toscano, both within walking distance from each other in that beautiful living museum of a city, sell a wide range of perfumes that are inexpensive and very nicely executed. Primavera Toscana is a simple, herbal and floral composition crowned with an addition of mint (‘the dewy droplets of a fresh Tuscan Spring morning’) that the D has already taken to and will wear when it gets a bit warmer, while Primaverde is a fruited green floral with notes of papaya and clearly an homage to the lovely Calyx by Prescriptives, which I used to really love on my friends when I was at sixth form college ( high school )  in the eighties. Easy, unthreatening, this is definitely on the right side of serotonin and will be perfect on a shirt cuff – just a drop  (if I actually survive the pandemic through to the beginning of the spring term.)

 

 

 

 

 

To the greenest. When it comes to unbridled and iconoclastic, there are few perfume houses less risk-averse than Gorilla Perfumes / Lush. The company can always be relied upon for inventive weirdness in perfumes that are very girding, individualistic and odd; I don’t think the perfumer Mark Constantine actually gets enough credit for just how original his compositions are  – there is punk rebelliousness to them that is very English; the scent of gardening and bonfires and a mixing and matching a la Vivienne Westwood; Sid Vicious meets David Attenborough meets a black adder, sidling aimfully through the forest foliage. I will admit that I can’t wear the majority of their diverse collection myself (with the exception of a handful) as they are just so jagged , bizarrely self-contradictory and potent. I do like some of these new additions to the firmament though.  What is interesting about this recent collection by new Lush co-perfumer Emma Dick, is the way in which she has taken the DNA of the Constantine signature, yet implanted fresh new roots that clarify the formulae a little, streamline them. I am planning to write more about these perfumes soon, which to my knowledge are a Florence only edition, at the especially Sappho, which I really like, and Confetti a coffee/rose/violet that would be better suited to the weather when it turns into April). For now, though, let’s just briefly take a look at  Nero and Fresh As, which was obviously originally called Fresh As Fuck – because it is – almost blindingly so – a brain-piercing coniferous blast of Siberian pine over dry orris and tagetes that will annihilate any lingering doubts as you leave your abode on a bright, lung-filling morning. If petitgrain can be deemed a green note – because in many ways it is; the bridling oil from the leaves and bark of the bitter orange tree, and a note I sometimes avoid for its migraine potential  – it goes straight to my cortex – the very life force of the citrus aurantiumits fierce citricity goes beautifully in this blend, with a clear, medicinal finish that combines neroli and bergamot almost to the protective, and defensive, point of armour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE SKY IS INFUSED WITH THE STRANGE SMELL OF PLUM BLOSSOM

 

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After the wild drunkenness and Soft Cell hilarity of Saturday night in Roppongi with my friends ( ‘out in clubland having fun..and now I’m hiding from the sun..’), we had a much more conventional, curled up home cooking-with-locally-grown-vegetables,  Netflix-in-the-rain type Sunday yesterday in with the cat.

 

 

 

Today it is warm and the sun is out. Flowers everywhere.

 

 

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The smell of the plum blossoms is palpable, tinting the blue air

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Flowers, JAPAN PHOTOGRAPHY, JOUISSANCE