I confess that I am starting to get itchy feet. I am sure almost everybody, except the most agoraphobic is feeling the same, and those that live in tiny one room apartments up in Tokyo or any other big city must be crawling across the ceiling. I feel for them. I never feel hemmed in, as such, or trapped, as there is space all around me – and the hills outside and all the new green of May : when I open the window in the morning here there is a balmy scent of hay-like moisture on the breeze that ignites the senses; I realise that I am alive, after sometimes questioning that fact upon awakening ; I come back into myself again. Nevertheless, you do start to feel somewhat unrealised. Fettered.
It is so strange never going anywhere.The cities I always go to – Yokohama, Tokyo, all within an hour – feel like dreams now, like fast moving celluloid trapped in some interior chamber of my mind. Was I ever really in them? I don’t know. I don’t even know if I miss them, exactly – we have just been discussing this ; you almost get so used to not being among people and traffic and constant movement and noise that even the thought of it is actually quite intimidating. After my major leg surgeries three years ago when I was recovering at home doing rehabilitation for six months, it was terrifying, just on a physical level trying not to crash to the ground, returning to the city (due to the fact that I had had to learn to walk again from scratch: an escalator felt life threateningly difficult to get onto, as did an opening train door, with new legs and a stick; this is nothing in comparison). At least on a basic level of fear. But it was my own private problem. This time, everybody will be venturing out again together, when it finally happens, hiding away for so long and toiling in their own frustrations: it will be a collective coming out from the molehill; blinking and adapting shakily to the new realities.
Now is the busiest holiday of the year in Japan, Golden Week : a time when people traditionally travel across the country to visit relatives or go on trips, or go abroad: but of course none of that is happening right now (doesn’t foreign travel just seem like a weird idea? Can you even imagine it now? I can’t somehow). People are largely confining themselves indoors, or taking private three person walks into local parks. There has been some reduction in people on the streets, even if not what the government has been urging the population to do. Vans with loudspeakers give out warnings. Patrol guards have been appearing, urging people to go home. The local tannoy gives infection advisories every morning urging people to stay in their hosues and statistics on the number of people being hospitalised (it looks like I will be staying here for quite a few weeks). It is better than overexposure, and I am not complaining, even if being constantly in Kitakamakura now for nine weeks without the usual stimulations and distractions is making me feel as though I were in some kind of hibernation, even though winter has emphatically ended here ; you start to retreat inside. Your world becomes so much smaller.
One form of mind travel, obvious though it must sound, is to immerse yourself in other cultures around the world from the computer screen. Of course is not remotely the same as real travel, where all your senses are on fire from the endless new stimuli: these are productions, they are, to a large extent, formulaic; they are covered by a brand. That said, I have to admit, that a bit of foreign travel with Netflix has been quite a crux for me (also, our projector is broken and I can’t bring myself to go into Fujisawa to get it fixed so other than Youtube this is the only form of entertainment right now); to spring myself out of my immediate surroundings and take in different air: drink in all the small differences. I love not just the dramatic developments, plots and twists, the eye candy and the linguistic intrigues, but the physical pleasures of winding down Spanish streets and into Spanish houses; Rome: the cloisters, and the corruption at St Peters; old buildings in Mumbai at night; the dance routines in the so-called ‘Happy Jail’ in the Phillippines; absorbing the architecture; the faces; receiving all the pixels and visual enjoyments at the eye level; imagining and wondering how it all smells.
Whenever I watch anything, always I watch it olfactorily. Always. Throughout. I cannot help it. I cannot detach myself from my sense of smell, EVER. I am always smelling whatever is happening. Sometimes this can be a scented dream, others a mixture of dismay and delight. Yet others, downright paranoia inducing. Watching Ryan Murphy’s revisionist ‘Hollywood’ in almost one seven hour binge the other night with D, just what we needed (that most flagrantly over the top of currently popular TV series creators always creates such tawdry, lurid, technicolored artifices, be they Glee, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, Pose, American Horror Story that you can practically smell all the money in them ; so buffed and sheened and artificial, you just know they smell of lipstick and high end makeup kits; the mousses and gels and hair fixers and skin creams and all the other products of all the best stylists in town; as well as vintage accoutrements such as contemporary perfume to make the actors’ bathrooms feel more authentic.)
(Lady Gaga in ‘Hotel’).
(Patty Lupone and Darren Chris in ‘Hollywood’)
In Hollywood, the smell of expensive clothes – Ms Lupone’s finery in this series is drag queen worthy, very Kiss Of The Spider Woman; the smell of cigarette smoke and whisky and sweat, and leather sofas and Balmain and D’Orsay and of course Coty (“Where have you been all night? She must be rich. You stink of Emeraude!” ), as the protagonists claw their way to the top in the permanent sunshine and blinded offices of lascivious moguls preying on young beautiful people and film sets in the auspices of shimmering Hollywoodland.
Money Heist, which I started watching one night just out of curiosity, knowing nothing about it, turned out to be a heart-gripping thriller set in Madrid that I spent days watching without thinking about anything except it (at least I did for the first two seasons: I was perturbed, when beginning to get hooked on the first series and checking that it had thirteen episodes and four seasons – that these things are commitments : you have to yield yourself to them, and sometimes, like the hostages trapped inside the Royal Spanish Mint, to regain agency you have to extricate yourself from the situation).
Ludicrous, unfeasible, but ridiculously watchable, as the scandalous bank robbery unfolds (a bid to steal, or rather print, 2.4 billion Euros), this is one program – apparently very popular worldwide – perhaps scenes of terrible incarceration make your own limitations seem that more pleasant – for me, smell in this one becomes an almost unbearable corollary of the action ; it is the true horror of the situation for sure. I just can’t imagine how it would be to be so hot, clingy, and sweaty, soiled; never being able to take a shower for days on end and it almost makes me recoil each time that the characters go anywhere near each other. Being trapped inside a bank in the same clothes for 101 hours (and counting – I won’t give any spoilers); horror. I find long haul travel bad enough; feeling so grotty on a twenty four hour journey, so unfresh; in Money Heist, with every interaction between every individual I imagine how the smell of the people must be intensifying, exponentially with every night spent in captivity; the lack of water, the stale sandwiches, the constant cigarettes….when I finally saw that they were at least being given airplane-style toiletry bags to at least brush their teeth I felt a great pang of relief – I felt my stomach unclench a bit and I COULD FINALLY BEAR TO KEEP WATCHING (I kept thinking also: if you knew in advance this was going to happen to you, what scent would you choose to keep you going through this nostril nightmare from hell ? This is the kind of inane crap I have been dithering about in these quarantined times; hypothetical meanderings of pure nonsense, to take up brain time though it did actually bother me; honestly; what would I actually choose to survive this filth-filled nightmarish ordeal? Finally as my number one choice I eventually came up with a fake Pierre Cardin spray deodorant I bought in Jakarta six years ago that smells of rose citronella and aldehyde soap and lasts for days for an illusion of freshness and also some flysprayish mystery; I would enjoy myself in that one; it would keep me buoyant. Other characters, though ; festering gun shot wounds, days of no washing; stress beyond imagining, grime; aggression, violence, dehydrated; sleeping inside airless, boiling bank vaults….yet none of this can stop the characters from falling in love with each other and leaping on top of each other naked as though they had just stepped out of the shower. You sense their animal odour. Sometimes I had to turn away.
She’, another limited series we watched over two evenings, is quite an odd one. Strangely hollow, two dimensional and flat, it is also luminous, hypnotic. It has stayed with me. I like the space in it. The lack of background detail (you don’t always need a full psychological history). The story of a young female police officer who is forced to go undercover, posing as a prostitute in order to trap the leaders of a drug gang in Mumbai in an extremely perilous sting operation, I picked this show simply because I wanted to go to Mumbai. India. A change of scene ( a few weeks ago I went through a homesick British crime drama stage where I got my fix of small town regional accents and green shires and murder mysteries; we have spent a lot of time in America as well; Finland, Sweden, Spain, too : I was now ready for a change of location, another continent).
The characters in She, though undeveloped, are BIG. Big personalities that eat up the screen; powerful gangsters with money pitted against the ingenue police officer/streetwalker who is the curiously compelling centre of the story, despite her never really giving anything away.
These drug barons, with their fancy spacious houses and neon-lit night clubs, smell bold, large and pronounced; definitely perfumed ; strong and impactful. To colour the air in the jail cell when under interrogation. To always leave a lingering, manly, permeating aftertaste. But what kind of scent? Perhaps the recent Testament line by Sweet Arabian, a recent addition to the ever proliferating, and popular, woody, oud musk, ambered and hyper floral perfumes that were made to last (all are extraits de parfum) : I know that these would work very well individually on all the major characters of the drama. A Dubai/ London co-operation, unabashed scent from a perfumer like this is always popular in the Middle East and South East Asia; increasingly around the world as well (but never in Japan : god no. I might wear it anyway). Well-crafted and developing interestingly on the skin after their initial always giddy thrust, perhaps later in the summer when hopefully we are all back out on the streets again in Tokyo when I get out of bed feeling like something more sharp, Montale-ish and aggressive, I might go for one of these suddenly on a whim.
The gender politics of She are intriguing; the whiff of controversy surrounding the series interesting to wonder about and analyse (having mainly only seen a handful of Bollywood style musical films from India, which in truth I am not really fond of as to me they only ever seem to want procreation as the main result of the action, I get bored of all the flirting and courting and happy wedding scenes) this series was more explicit than I was expecting; raunchier. The language often quite crude. The ‘sex’ scenes odd and held back, promising more than they were willing to deliver. Which added somehow to their effectiveness/ suggestiveness. Probably thus touted as ‘progressive’, with a female character as the lead, yet one controlled by men, it is hard to know what to think about this drama, when the main protagonist, Sergeant Bhumika, played by Aaditi Pohankar (pictured left) enters a very precarious situation: a humble, quiet, ‘plain Jane’ bullied at work and permanently trodden down, mocked as being ‘a man’ by her lecherous ex-husband who in fact only has eyes for her sister Rupa (Shivani Rangole, pictured right) – and who is apparently ‘frigid’ (the drama essentially explores the progression of the discovery of her own sexuality; the fact that she is enjoying, despite her outward protestations and indignation, the sensual self-discoveries she is making on her extraordinarily dangerous assignment; this could be seen as problematic by a lot of people). Unprotected, no weapon; always patted down by security wherever she goes, she is each time forced to undergo an Oliva Newton John-in-Grease-like transformation from makeupless drab underling to stiletto wearing sex tart each time she goes undercover, sashaying through the empty night streets of Mumbai, posing as a slinking, gloss-lipped woman in a mini skirt and teased out hair in order to ensnare one of the lethal major bigwigs and get some insider information on him for her police superiors. In reality, I think she would be dead or at the very least sexually assaulted many times over in this series – the team detectives she works for seem to lose her the second she leaves the police station with no way of ever tracing her; beyond useless, despite her having undergone hours of Julia Roberts-in Pretty Woman style beautification by specially employed beauty assistants for this very purpose. And yet – in order to get our antihero’s attention, Sasya (Vijay Varma, the man leaning threateningly over the interrogation table in the picture above), when first sent out in a line of night ladies for the preening male sylph to choose for his evening’s enjoyment, she has been ordered to be rude; sulky; non-compliant. Hard in some way – to make him prick up his ears and take a closer look.
It works. Detective Bhumi is an odd character. At once as transparent and cool as water, and yet as bullishly self-confident and fearless as any of the male characters, at first I thought No Privacy would be a good one for her to wear on this assignation, because she actually does have no privacy ; either stuck at home in a small apartment with her sick mother and pouting, childish sister in permanent arguments; being picked on by her fellow male police officers, or being abducted by drug gangs with nothing so much as a handbag to defend herself with. But then I realized that this scent is too flagrant and dramatic for her, a kind of Arabian Black Orchid with everything (probably too much) thrown into the general pot – oud, rose, carnation, violet, lemon, coriander, costus, ylang ylang – it is a more hard-chested, open hairy shirt and designer sunglasses type perfume probably more suited to Rupa’s film star good-looking, but air headed designer boyfriend. Rupa herself, the ‘shameless’ one of the family, is of course primped each time she sets foot out of the house with the killer white floral No Shame, a gardenia/ tuberose coconut love fest, silkeningly effusive and exotic as though Michael Kors had moved into the oil making back room of a perfumery in the middle of Abu Dhabi, a floral that – in the right doses (too much of this would be shamefully strong and overwhelming; on the wrist it soon softens and becomes more seductive) – would certainly achieve the wolf-whistling this unfulfilled person seems to only ever yearn for.
Blind Date is far more suitable for Bhumika. She is going on a Blind Date From Hell. One from which she might never come back. She has to smell good. But also a little bit off-limits; Sasya can have everything he wants, whenever he wants it – but he must think that he cannot have her in order to snap him to attention and get him going a little; something a bit jagged and different. This perfume, probably my favourite of the sample box I received from Testament, is a sharp, raspberry cuir in the mould of Tom Ford’s Tuscan Leather that starts out green and fruity with Chinese grapefruit, plum, juniper berries and saffron over a dense woody base ,and makes you feel like being locked inside a dark, mahogany chest – in this respect it has some affinities with Byredo’s Black Saffron – but is less dense and suffocating; as the perfume progresses and the softer, floral/coconut heart begins to appear, Blind Date is quite elegant, the framboise note weaving its way throughout and melding well with the more gourmand wood notes; at the end gently reminiscent of Givenchy’s eau de parfum of Hot Couture, which to me always smelled like scented cigars and only thinly veiled nudity.
Sasya, her antagonist, is definitely wearing Sin Poetry. A perfect balance of red and black pepper and fiery fresh openings (thyme, caraway, lemon zest, cinnamon), this is a classically ambered oudh/musk frankincense that would suit the irresistibly charismatic Sasya quite ideally. In your face, replete, this fresh and tingling oud is an erotic, if quite familiar fragrance ( I was put in mind of the original oudbomb blockbuster, Gucci Pour Homme from the early 2000’s ) that you just would not be able to avoid if someone was wearing it: your brain would be imprinted (I myself had gone to bed the other night and woke up after midnight to feel, for a few seconds, that I had no idea who was lying next to me in the bed; w ho was this person in the blackness of the room ; why was there an oud wearing stranger in the room with me? ( I had asked Duncan to put some Sin Poetry on earlier in the evening for me to assess it from a distance ); on him it smelled too ‘dramatic’ and hard; a hyperDuncan character I couldn’t quite connect to. On Sasya, it would merely amplify his arrogance, snaky intelligence, and slinky male sexuality (I loved this character’s discopimp wardrobe, intensity, and messed up bohemian hair); the hours spent in detention giving him extra olfactory security ( incidentally, I can also imagine the robbers in Money Heist smelling good in this one sprayed on their stinking red jump suits, come to think of it; if you are going to be in it for the long haul, you may as well wear a perfume that lasts for days)
Kayak, the legendary ( even mythical, to the criminal underworld in Mumbai – does he even exist ?) head at the very top of Asia’s biggest heroin and cocaine supply chain is a dangerous, if nobly elegant, man with immense power and yet also a lot of emotional vulnerability when Bhumika gets close (though she is immeasurably more vulnerable physically, despite her growing sexual assertion). You can easily imagine him wearing Longevity , which announces itself less forcefully than some of the other Sweet Arabian perfumes mentioned here. It is quite sexy. A sultry, flamboyant amber with incense and white flowers, this is one of the best renditions of the tobacco/ liquor family of perfumes I have smelled; while the cognac, cigars, whisky and rum of the top accord, with a strange hint of fresh cigarette breath and just brushed teeth, has a briefly metallic tinge, it is done far more subtly than many of the overdone niche speakeasies I have come across before, all settling into an Ambre Sultan of dusky pleasures, almost Guerlain Mouchoir De Monsieur- like, that I can imagine Nayak slipping on with a silk bath robe in his white marbled home when in private.
In public, most assuredly this panther would make his menacing presence felt – just one look from this eyes can mean the death knell – with Sang Noir, Black Blood, a power patchouli mayhem of spices (clove buds, nutmeg, cumin and saffron) over the dry, wooded textures of cedar wood, vetiver, labdanum and of course agarwood; the addition of beeswax and ambergris and a pungent addition of fenugreek making this potion quite the dark seductor. I know that at some point in the hopefully not too distant future I will wear this one on a hot evening in summertime in Tokyo; on the body, under the armpit, perhaps wearing a contrasting fresh perfume on top for olfactory contrast and more obvious freshness. With the manlihood of the old deep complex orchestrations like the baroque Ungaro III Pour Homme, sometimes this kind of perfume is just what you need to embolden yourself; when you wake up with a woody, so to speak. Which is also what Bhumika does, as she gradually comes to realise and assert her power. She is fearless (or else just has nothing to lose). She intrigued me. I have never seen anyone quite so absent in a drama before, as though she were not there at all. Gone. Who is this ‘She?’ It was a peculiar programme; difficult to pin down, and I have seen that the series has (quite understandably) had mixed reviews. I personally would very much like to see another series though. I want to know where they are going.