So our quarantine from the world comes to an end. D goes back to work in just a couple of days. I return on Thursday. Just as the cases in Tokyo are escalating. Sometimes doubling by the day. And the always prevaricating government, desperately trying to avoid an economic crisis at all costs, only commits to puny, measly, half measures. Avoid restaurants and large gatherings. ‘Telecommute’ from home (try telling that to the majority of Japanese salarymen, for whom being seen to be sat at the desk is the point, no matter the productivity). No karaoke. Don’t go to nightclubs. But pin ball machine parlours (where the powerful get a lot of their income, and where hundreds of smoking, gambling addicts sit cheek by jowl fingertips smearing screens, breathing the worst air you can ever find in this country ) – absolutely fine. ‘No viral clusters have been found at pachinko!’ proclaims yet another bureaucrat blinking in a suit.
Our little bubble – where we have been protected, and very happy, is now being encroached upon by the outside. It is unavoidable. I know that. We have to work. It’s just the timing. Everybody knows that the Japanese government has been alarmingly, exasperatingly inactive; underplaying everything. In denial. Cases are on the rise in Tokyo – just twenty minutes from Yokohama on a packed train, where I am supposed to be going to next week (the irrationality: ‘avoid crowded spaces! Stand six feet apart!, when it is literally impossible in such a crowded conurbation and I have no other way of getting there), when the worldwide mortality rate is now, according to the WHO, approximately 3.4% I feel more fearful. It is getting closer.
A friend of ours who lives in Fujisawa – where the headquarters of my work is based – is currently in hospital fighting the coronavirus on ventilators. Sealed off from other people. He was something of a sensation, actually, featured on the national NHK news, returning from England – though he maintains that he probably caught it before leaving Japan as he didn’t really go anywhere in the UK – he is seen as a typical example of infection coming from the gaikoku : abroad. It comes from outside. The foreigners are the carriers. Which is just very laughable. Abe has finally decided to close all borders – at this stage – to countries in Europe and all areas of China (only now?! how about during the first weeks of January you dumb fuck when it might have actually made a difference?) Like most people in this current situation we veer from feeling alarmed and very angry : if this turns into a ‘foreigner thing’ I will not be able to control myself, to resignation and black humour or else just retreat into our lovely little world in here which I could very happily continue for the rest of the year and beyond. But THERE HAS BEEN NO SHUTDOWN. PEOPLE ARE HAVING HANAMI CHERRY BLOSSOM PARTIES. THE GOVERNMENT HAS BEEN DOING NOTHING. PEOPLE ARE SPREADING IT IN TOKYO. Japanese people. They are all in close contact: it has nothing to do with people from outside. Yes, it is possible that those returning from other countries may bring the virus in as well, so the immigration precautions are obviously necessary. However, anyone who is not a complete imbecile knows that the virus is already in the country : god, there seem to be so many of those around at the moment,in power around the globe – Jair Bolsonaro, the brainless president of Brazil proclaiming bizarrely the other day that ‘”Brazilians are uniquely suited to weather the pandemic because they can be dunked in raw sewage and don’t catch a thing. God is Brazilian”, something that made me scream out loud laughing when I read it in the morning newspaper (D was almost in tears laughing at Duterte’s command that people in the Philippines who venture outside during the quarantine be ‘shot dead on the spot’ WTF! FFS! being the only reasonable reactions. They all make Donald Trump look positively sensible in comparison. And Bolsonaro has apparently since come down with the virus himself…..
No, the magic of isolation couldn’t last forever, I realise that (unless…………unless there really is a pandemic coming our way and the Japanese authorities finally relent). But I wonder if they ever really will. It would be seen like giving in to defeat. As weak. Like other countries: a stubborn resistance to ever letting people ever have the more comfortable option, which of course goes against the grain of graft and endurance, of samurai stamina no matter how difficult the circumstances, which can be impressive at times, but which at others it can be gut-twistingly irritating.. How many times have we been let out of work before an approaching typhoon just after the trains have stopped? When there was no way back? When I had to stand in a taxi queue being buffeted by bone breaking gale force winds and lashing rains as my umbrella blew up like Mary Poppins and I stood desperately trying to root myself firmly to the ground with the top of my strength and not get blown into a concrete bollard until finally, after what felt like an eternity, waiting, drenched to the pores, getting into a freezing air conditioned taxi and paying an absolute fortune to get home? When they could have just let us go home thirty minutes earlier…….But No. You have to gamman. Put up with things as much as you can.
I much prefer it in here. It feels like paradise. We realized yesterday that we have been happily eating home-cooked food for a full five weeks. And how much we have enjoyed it. It has been so cosy. I can see all the cherry blossom trees in the surrounding hills – I don’t need to go out and have some regimented picnic coohing and aaahing underneath them sucking up virus. It has been reinvigorating, and perfumed. Samantha at I scent you a day put up a very interesting post about the pleasures of perfume the other day during isolation, the essence of it being ; that you might as well ; just go for it : spray yourself silly, to distraction – because if not now, when?
I agree. No point holding back at this stage. Spray it till you taste it. Bathe in it. I indulge to my heart’s content; scent up the cocoon like King Ludwig and his private, castle lagooned Swan’s Lake, slowly drifting on gilded gondola, surrounded by intoxication and oblivion. Some days, like Cleopatra I have gone to extreme, powdered lengths. Long showers in ‘Muse’ soap – a Japanese staple, very creamy and balanced, leaving a perfect surfactant, creamed base ready for your next stages on skin. I have then been availing myself of the almost absurdly baby powder like bagno schiuma, of Erbolario’s Iris – which is wildly infantile and powdered as a puff , as well as small doses of the very same perfume’s body creme, an inexpensive but perfect appropriation of Lorenzo Villoresi’s classic Teint De Neige (but which could also work underneath perfumes like Chanel’s rose violet Misia:) this cooing, sugared baby of a scent has the smooth, long texture of orris root but more talcumed pressed together with swathes of with violet and hawthorn, vanilla and balms – I emerge from the shower and apply some Imperial Leather talc to my gleaming shoulders and trunk just for good measure and then – quite naturally – some Shalimar – because why not….; soon, within a week I will be smelling of nothing more than stress sweat and fabric conditioner, of soy. Just be quiet and let me have my moment of unadulterated indulgence (D laughed out loud when I approached him in the kitchen the other day as he was painting a shelf; what to me was a delicious regression into chalk and parma violets, was to him just a cloy as I moved towards him in my pyjamas with arms outstretched like a Chucky Doll).
Louis Vuittons’ Contre Moi (‘Against Myself?’) strikes me as quite an unusual title for a perfume, although I do recognise that we all do things in life that aren’t always in our best interests, that we self-sabotage (including all the confidential material I expose about myself on this blog; this blog is dangerous for my life). To be honest, I never really liked Louis Vuitton, that grand conglomeration, even as an idea, let alone a perfumery, so I am perhaps not the right person to review their perfumes; to listen without prejudice. Yes, it may be divine to see Audrey Hepburn with her train of valued valises as she suavely enters a hotel in Charade, because no one was more elegant, and so in certain contexts, the logo on those hard, durable, impossibly expensive suitcases as they are loaded up into limousines is iconic. But though this has thankfully died down now, for the first fifteen years or so when I came to Japan it seemed that each time I got on any public transport here every female, no matter how rich or poor, had to have an LV handbag (was this written into the constitution?) with that tedious, tedious logo (so aesthetically unappealing! Such vulgar conspicuous consumption!) – and it became such a ubiquitous visual and ethical/philosophical eyesore ( that people would literally believe, in their sad hearts, that owning such an ugly accoutrement would somehow confer respect on them no matter what else they were wearing, or how it contradicted the overall impression they were giving off, the impulse behind the purpose to just keep up with the Joneses or rather Suzukis; all of this was quite devastating to me: couldn’t they see that LVMH was just geniusly milking it at their unthinking expense?). If Guerlain were to suddenly launch a prȇt a porter or couture range, models stalking the runways in Thierry Wasser’s ‘spectacular’ wedding dress finale, I know there would be a glitch in my brain centre: : : something in the water does not compute. Guerlain just should not be doing clothes. My body’s blood cells are rejecting this. And somehow, I have always felt the same about the clothing collections of Louis Vuitton: they feel………unnatural. Not what the doctor quite ordered. Dior, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent: yes, they always straddled the entire empire: the lipsticks, the extraits, the coats, the shoes and the dresses. But Louis Vuitton’s perfumes, all of which I have smelled cursorily, some of them quite decent, quite deft, still just give me the feeling of being trapped in polystyrene wrapped in polyurethane in a stock cupboard locked as the light go out with a preening store manager’s key : I feel like merchandise, about to be transported by cargo ferry, to a dockland somewhere near Shanghai.
Contre Moi the perfume itself is quite pleasant. Nothing original, but a decent orange blossom vanilla (both Tahitian and Madagascan), ‘fluffed’ and rounded with sharp synthetics, sensual – in an office context – with its herbs, roses, and magnolia petals: I paused for a moment when I sprayed it, and took it in. Mmm. Yes. Efficient. Commercial. Cute, in an adult kind of way. Perfectly acceptable. And yet, for me, slightly dead inside. The chemical miasma of a mass orchestration of ‘notes’ in the air I feel whenever I dare to survey the insides of the gravely respectable boutique in central Shinjuku; taking the long, ceramic swabs from their holes dipped in LV and receiving a tight, pinching feeling at the top of the sinuses or even the mean, dark core of my head. No, these perfumes are not for me. They remind me too much of exactly what I don’t miss. The transactional exchange of ‘designer goods’. The employed, being ferried along by public transportation to their computers. The frenzy of the city, of asymptomatic office ladies in regulation heels leaving virus on the escalator, unknowingly, as they rush to their destinations and appointments. THE HORROR OF OUTSIDE.