Peach is not a note I often reach for. Though there are peach notes in the obvious classics: Femme De Rochas, Mitsouko, those are chypre peaches. I do like the powdery rose peaches such as Guerlain Nahéma and Unum Rosa Nigra; tight, pressed-peach rose pressing powders perhaps because they remind me of a hilarious incident as a university student when I was horsing around one lazy afternoon with my friend George when we should have been studying but instead were messing around in my room and in the process wrestled with each other and somehow the lid suddenly flew off a huge brand new tin of Marks & Spencers Peach Talc – a smell I adored and which I would smother myself in nightly after bathing – which blasted off a whole swathe of cloying peachy talcum – the entire contents – into our hair and mouths as we laughed our powdered heads off while at that very same moment, as we choked and declogged our eyes and throats, a prim friend of mine called Chloe walked in unexpectedly to ask me a question about some matter academic : blinking non-comprehendingly at us, the sight and smell that met her eyes.
Peach. I had peach pot pourri also in that room I remember as I suppose I was going through something of a peachy phase generally, even if I have always hated ‘peach’ as a colour (I remember when we nearly got to see Prince for his Sign O The Times tour in 1987 – he cancelled for some reason I can’t remember – and I was so excited, but was also dreading the sight of everyone wearing peach and black which his Highness had decreed that his funking acolytes shouldwear….I would rather have died ); but I have never really worn a peach peach perfume I don’t think until a couple of weeks ago when I just couldn’t resist buying a cheap bottle of The Different Company’s White Zagara which I found in a shop in Isezakicho and which in truth is not a solifruit pȇche number really, but more a mood enhancing, very well blended and carefree white springtime floral of orange blossom and honeyed tuberose with delicious citrus overtones – citron and bergamot – with also a very pronounced and lovely orange note that melds perfectly with a delightfully charming peach blossom note that is somewhat irresistible: even if in truth at this stage of my life and manhood I am not 100% persuaded that I can convincingly pull such an exuberant and girlishly giddy scent off.
Right now, in the bathroom, however, I do in fact have a conditioner by the always very strong smelling Herbal Essences called White Grapefruit and Mosa Mint that, when it has been rinsed out smells just like peaches, and I can imagine after drying my hair on a nice day in April a few spritzes of this lovely little perfume would be quite a mood lifter (not that I need that, necessarily; the world has gone bananas, and I am coming to that – sorry, it can’t be avoided – ) but we are still very much, the two of use, in Gloriously Uplifted Oblivious Spring Holiday mode, cycling about as though on a summer picnic, enjoying the sun, the blue sky, and Mount Fuji, which looked so spectacular when we turned round the corner yesterday at Zushi Marina that I intook my breath very sharply: staggered just by how beautiful it looked against the surrealist blue waves; like a dream of Magritte; hyperreal, knowing full well it would not come out on an iPhone lens so feasting my eyes on the scene and drinking it in as we sped along in hyperkinetic action mode, past the throngs of people out and enjoying their day (social distancing?! ) Ha! Don’t make me laugh…..yesterday was like a national celebration and I asked Duncan to confirm it last night as I tried to take stock of the day we had had (I sometimes need corroboration that my wilder instincts and natural hyperbole are not off target). ‘When I write about this tomorrow, could I not describe today as almost celebratory? Do you think I could even say that it was rapturous’?
He did not disagree. We had cycled into Kamakura, past groups of giggling happy girls in white blouses, whose hair, as I rode past them, gave off a perfume quite similar to the one I am describing here today; unimpeachable (sorry!), clean and fresh, sensual enough to get married but not improper – usually the case here: young woman often do smell extremely nice with all their shampoos and hair treatments and lightly scented skin care, and White Zagara would – if more widely promoted – probably become a monster seller here in Japan if it were slightly less expensive as it is so balanced and seamless in its blending that it immediately brings a smile to the face: and smiles were in great abundance yesterday, I am telling you: you would never, in a million years, have suspected that a worldwide pandemic was happening simultaneously all over the world (and probably here as well). All were out and about, no one was self-isolating (and neither were we: so it would be hypocritical to criticise others): it was such a beautiful day, about 20 degrees, breezy so the waves were white capped and frothed and the air was filled with a rigorous and consolidating energy; surfers and windsurfers and sailing boats were bobbing along delightedly on the wind-whipped waves; children ate ice creams, mothers and fathers were laughing, and everyone was smiling like there was no tomorrow. We sat on a hillside gazing, like many other couples as though it were Woodstock, or the Solstice, as the shades and the colours of Magnificent Mount Fuji changed slowly with the sunset; we sat with the sun shining full on our faces to the point of sunburn, drinking up the vitamin D and the exultingly pleasant air, with other families, and little dogs, and old couples who had climbed up to sample the view, and I wondered, and we discussed openly, whether this all was some form of madness that we were warped up in, or was it just the rest of the world – huddling frightenedly inside their houses, that was booby-trapped with disinformation and was this in fact the reality (seriously, I am carried away here, I know, but I know that if you had been with me yesterday you would have seen the same thing: it was undeniable; wedding parties out laughing, restaurants and cafes in full swing, hundreds on the beaches, everyone out enjoying the sunny Friday: I would not have entirely been surprised to find myself waking up, plugged in the back of the head like Keanu Reeves into the Matrix to find that all this eye-popping colour and beauty was just a simulation to keep my mind occupied while my body was pumped with a ventilator to keep my lungs going ), except I am not actually mad and yesterday was real.
The Japan Times this morning had the headline: ‘WHAT IS BEHIND JAPAN’S FLAT CURVE OF INFECTIONS’? I am also desperate to know. All of my non-Japanese friends here in Japan are lamenting and ranting quite righteously in hypercritical mode at the country they have chosen to live in, up in arms at the complete nonchalance that seems to have taken over the entire country like some sleeping sickness : the majority of people yesterday weren’t even wearing masks, we included – the fact that the trains are packed as usual, and school kids are going back in just a week or two, wondering whether the country has ‘somehow dodged a bullet’ and is just lucky, or whether the fact that we have so little testing compared to other countries means that a mass epidemic is just lurking underneath the peachy keen skin of the current, obliviously happy madness.
You can argue from where you are sitting, locked down in New York or London or San Paolo or wherever you are reading this from that the latter must definitely be the case (and I do suspect as such myself; after all, I am a skeptical, some might say cynical, person by nature, and I know that Abe will do anything not to cancel the Olympics, which was to be the swan song of his legacy); plus I also know from personal experience that Japan is the pretend that nothing is wrong country par excellence – it thrives on maintaining surface appearances which is why everything is always so smooth (interesting that contrary to all assurances otherwise, Greenpeace has found radiation spots along the Olympic Torch route (see my piece on the Earthquake of 2011 for much more on what has turned out to be a similar situation in some ways – Reality vs Reality vs Reality (because it always just depends on how you look at it)). And yet according to the newspaper this morning, which is quite left in its leanings and always very critical of the government, cases of coronavirus in Tokyo ‘make up 0.0008 per cent of the population’ – I checked those three zeros carefully – so no wonder people are not panicking especially at this very moment as this is the very opposite of Northern Italy where people seem to be going down like flies and we read about tragic cases of bodies piling up in morgues that can’t yet be buried like scenes from a Medieval Plague. Surely, if in Tokyo there really were such levels of infections and deaths occurring, it would be impossible for the government to cover them up? A body is a body. If the health services were truly so overwhelmed, I am pretty certain that the TV companies and voracious media here, which are no less vulture-like and sordid than the notorious tabloids back home, would quickly get a whiff of it and – though fearful of reprisals from the government – my Japanese friend says that this country is essentially becoming a Police State – if things were truly cataclysmic, then surely we would know. We would smell it. And right now, it is eerily normal. No, better than normal because of the cherry blossom blooming and the sun.
Speaking of my Japanese friend, I got an email from him yesterday morning in which to be honest I was slightly worried about his mental health as he is truly fuming at what he sees is the docility of the inhabitants of this country and yearning for the executions of certain people in power saying quite openly that ‘it’s actually no different from North Korea’, and both D and I did also note, while cycling along as happy as Larry yesterday afternoon that if the government had, out of the blue, suddenly released an edict saying ‘STAY INSIDE. THERE IS DANGER. WEAR MASKS. A NEW OUTBREAK HAS OCCURRED’ then you can bet your bottom dollar that the streets would be totally EMPTY. People would OBEY. IMMEDIATELY. Which we can laugh at. Ha ha ha the obedient orientals. And yet, now the tables are turned (that piece I wrote a few weeks ago, if you remember, about Penhaligons Heartless Helen, where I was in Yokohama the very day that the infected passengers were being released from the Diamond Princess and I was freaking out, feels like an eternity ago now. You read it from wherever you were and thought, perhaps, oh dear, Neil is in a bit of a weird situation, he sounds like he is starting to losing it a bit), but I imagine that it seemed so distant to you, nothing really to do with you, and yet look at all of us now. All in quarantine. Yet it seems that the more line-towing cultures, the ‘tighter’ ones like Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam and Singapore, are the ones that are actually managing to keep the virus under control, whereas the so called ‘looser’ societies – the term that the New York Times was using yesterday in an analytical piece on the situation, the cultures that value individual freedom, defying the law, doing exactly what you want, are anti big government, like Italy, the UK and America, are how the ones that are currently terrifyingly under siege. So I don’t know. I don’t know what is real. Yesterday’s Day Of Beauty, which was so intense it seared itself into my retina and brain and I had to go to bed early as I felt strange and tired and overwhelmed (from the physical activity- we cycled for quite a long way), but also from the amazement that I could be having such a perfectly lovely day with my D in these circumstances, left me feeling that I genuinely don’t know what information – my own sense included – that I can trust,; that I can’t parse the layers of truth; that there are very different possibilities simultaneously, but also that, like White Zagara, with its dazzling positivity in its flourishingly delicious top notes that could convince you that the world is just a big happy peach; concurrently, a very generic, unthinking white musk in the base lies underneath all of this; undermining those cheerful flowers with its yielding and conformist, gentle passivity : a little bit gullible, and quite a bit dumb.