I must admit that I am rather struggling at the moment, as I am sure a large majority of us are.  I simply don’t feel safe. And that is because I am not safe. None of us truly are, unless we lock ourselves away in confinement, and that brings troubles of its own. D is safer than I am – he walks to work and back home again in Kamakura – but his classrooms are full of girls whose parents work in Tokyo where the virus is becoming more rampant (or is at least being more revealed through increased testing). Yes, they wear masks, but the required social distancing in Japanese schools just simply isn’t happening.






My own situation is more precarious. Two days a week I can ventilate to my heart’s content and teach in what I would call sensible conditions; students spaced out; windows and doors open. Two days I cannot. Buildings packed with kids. Up close. On Wednesdays, I work in a school in Yokohama which has NO WINDOWS. And I am in a classroom  – just four walls, within that space, an epidemiological matyrushka doll. We have a fan, and an extractor. And we wear masks. But the students are too close to each other  –  it is Russian roulette.





Sometimes I wonder why I can’t just quit, or whether I have become brainwashed into servility;  some kind of samurai ‘valiance’. It literally does feel like that at times, a kind of ‘fuck it – it’s too late, I am working now, there are only eight days left until the summer holidays, just get on with it like everybody else’ mentality, as if I have no choice (and in many ways I don’t: the very last thing I want right now is to be unemployed and out there looking for work)  as the teachers huff and puff behind their masks and look drained and overheated and dehydrated and exhausted just like most of the students – really, none of us, neither the students nor the teachers should be there, but because as yet there have been no cases in our schools, at least not that I am aware of, we ‘soldier on’. Japan is a country of education. It is the national obsession. And naturally, though some of the people I am mingling with will be asymptomatic, many even – there can be no doubt of that – all I can do is keep breathing through my mask and get through the days. It is terrifying. But somehow I am weirdly resigned to my fate, almost as though I have lost agency and the autonomy I always pride myself on having no matter what.





These last two days I have been battling with extreme burn out – which in my case involves furious muttering to myself like a loon and extreme sociophobia – I just want to be left alone as much as possible, even in the classroom just  going through the motions overly aggressively unable to properly connect to anyone. I can barely look at the other staff, and retreat to other rooms as much as is humanly possible. I am courteous, hopefully, even if exquisite manners have never been my forte – that would be Duncan’s domain –   – –  I am just too shot through with intense emotion to ever not let that show in my eyes, which I am sure glower coldly and green above my surgical mask. I wear a beard, obstinately, because no one can see it and that is my real person, though it goes against the rules (something I always feels is like an infringement on human rights) : however,  the last thing I need right now is to be an emasculated eunuch when I already feel like an apoplectic and semi-broken sad sack. But no one would ever say anything to a foreigner in any case. In many ways we are strangely untouchable.





The world is insane right now, it can feel as if you are losing your marbles. Curiously, despite the strains of it all, though, I am finding that just manoeuvring the week to its conclusion – the marvellously mask free weekend at home, where I love, puts on blinkers of selectivism that let me enjoy all the small details, all the other pleasures,  and revel in the more restricted being-aliveness. Yes, I am constantly aware of what is happening in the global news; I never ‘lose touch’ in that regard, but it can get too much, the ‘doom-scrolling’ that is only beneficial to any individual in terms of awareness and cognisance up to a certain point. In the city, out doing my job I feel half alive; a drone. Condemned to a potentially fatal virus that is swimming in the hot air all around me. The same position that we all find ourselves in; dimmed; daunted. At the same time, though, I have always felt blessed in the sense that even when I have a bad day – and I have just had two; I came home last night like a cup full of poison full of hatred and annoyance, I could have punched a hole through a wall –  I have a natural joy of life that rises up like the dawn after sleeping, particularly in summer, which I adore (so boring to hear everyone complain about the sun – no no no no you fool, haven’t you just suffered six weeks of incredible doom and gloom in the longest rainy season ever; it is glorious ; a chorus of insects; a frenzy of birds; a feeling of energy and power and life surging up in spite of (alongside) this tedious microorganism that is self-replicating like a motherfucker but whose time is limited; there WILL be a vaccine, and it had better be soon……) In spite of myself, this morning, as I open the window on the balcony and hear life coming into the room; moreover feeling it coursing through my veins, I feel something bordering on elation. Yes, I return home at night like a sodden washcloth devoid of personality, trying to walk up the hill to save on taxi money (there is no way in hell I am getting the bus), covered in sweat, stuck on thoughts like a broken record, barely sensate;, thinking shower, shower, shower; D is usually already asleep ; futon on the tatami, fan whirring, often next to the cat; but then I take a long shower and feel immediately human again, on a smaller scale, in the house with no mask, listening to the night.






Orange blossom has been one of my refuges. It soothes me. Especially before bed on clean skin – it’s like reinventing yourself. Something sacred and calming; a child-like innocence of refuge in nature. There are a thousand and one takes on the neroli and orange blossom theme, of course, and everyone has their own preferences; some like it sensual, erotic; for me, on the whole,  I tend to prefer the note done more simply. Some orange blossoms are green, rasping; Annick Goutal’s Neroli is perfectly lifelike but too exhilarating (and it just reminds D immediately of my traumatic time spent learning to walk again three years ago when I wore that perfume all of the time along with Sana Jardin’s equally uplifting and luminescent neroli scent, Berber Blonde. D doesn’t want to remember that time and so I don’t wear those). Orange blossom can also be too muted; Etat Libre D’Orange’s Divin Enfant for example; I don’t need any marshmallow leather or too much vanilla; I like it subtle in the finish without too much babying or coochy coo;. I like it more refined and preferably delicate; and Penhaligons’ Castile gets it absolutely right. 




If you are more of a Serge Lutens Fleurs D’Oranger or a Houbigant Orangers En Fleurs wearer;  and I love both of those; they are fantastically yowzer off the shoulder evening exuberance kinds of fragrances, but I am not Halle Berry and cannot carry off such a schmooze myself – you might probably find Castile a little uninspiring- a fresh, but refined neroli and orange blossom scent with just the right amount of bergamot and rose, and a gentle denouement that I think fits the skin in a beautifully understated manner (there was an interesting mention of this perfume on Fragrantica which reimagines Daniel Craig as 007 in Casino Royale coming down to the hotel reception in a perfectly fitted crisp white shirt and hints of post-shower Castile as the hotel reception staff try to concentrate on what he is saying and keep a lid on their inner reactions). Indeed, the perfume is perfectly androgynous and elegant. Last night, I found it beautifully restorative.





Another night time orange blossom of very different stripes is Neroli Negro by Coqui Coqui, a Mexican brand based on the Yucatan peninsula. I love the packaging and design of these perfumes; such things make a great difference to my appreciation of a scent, the whole experience; an appealing aesthetic, and there is something about the Gatsby-ish gold-embossed lettering on the pristine white box that really appeals to all my senses. The perfumes are not complex; Neroli Negro is a husky, honeyed growl of orange blossom, musk, and, unusually, a strongly dominating note of depressurised myrrh, that comes across to me nevertheless as almost liquorice-like and edible. Self-contained, it could also be a real passion ignition key in the right circumstances, peculiarly moreish and sultry. At night, it helps me draw a velvet curtain on the day.




Menli, another perfume in the Coqui Coqui extensive range, is an almost absurdly simple, or simplistic, take on the Mojito –  just lime and mint. And yet for a minute or two, it is the best mint smell I have ever smelled; a variety of mint from Mexico that I have never personally encountered in real life but now want to. The mint smell is almost fiery in its coolness; pure as leaves  – so minty – and incredibly invigorating, before it cedes to a fainter mint-citrus synergy that while less exciting, is still quite pleasant on a t-shirt and as an all round pick-me-up. D has taken to this one like a duck to water  – he is also very fond of a well-made mojito, that delicious and perturbing swirl of ice and lime and mint and sugar and rum, the best one we ever had being down a back street in Barcelona several Augusts ago watching local kids skateboarding by the steps of a beautiful old cathedral.



Good times.







Filed under Flowers, Mint, Mojito, Neroli, Orange Blossom


  1. I can relate to your post. I have gone to work every day since the virus changed the world. I still have some vacation days left and should actually use a few because I need a b break in the action. After work, all I want to do is go home and crash in my living room with a glass of wine, beer or cocktail. Speaking of cocktails, that mojito looks great! I have been wearing orange blossom types of perfumes more this summer than ever. My latest fixation has been Ortigia’s Zagara. Hopefully, we will all get through these surreal times and stay in good health of mind and body even though I doubt if things will ever be the way they were before the virus hit and we probably will be wearing masks for the next couple of years or more. Enjoy your summer break!

    • I can’t W A I T. I also have Ortigia’s Zagara – quite a full on full bodied woody orange blossom number that puts me in a good mood on a Saturday morning, one of those things I just spray on for the hell of it when I see it there (plus I love that ridiculously over the top packaging).

      Working in these conditions is NO FUN (are you masked the whole time). When we get home we absolutely need to kick off and obliterate it all from our consciousness!

      • Yes, I wear a mask everywhere in the general office area, copy room, kitchen area, rest room, etc. I am allowed to take it off when I am in my own office. During the past three weeks I have had bouts of vertigo. Thankfully, it seems to occur mostly when I wake up in the morning and get out of bed, when I get up out of a chair in my living room and when I get in or out of my car. Head movements exacerbate the dizziness due to the crystals in the ears. Too much to get into but not much you can do about it except for a few simple head exercises, which I am doing on my own. It happened out of the blue one morning. I have been to a doctor and it’s fairly common. So even though I have followed all the rules as far as COVID- 19 goes and avoided getting it so far, I am instead dealing with dizziness and vertigo which affects my equilibrium on unexpected moments. So the moral of my story is it’s always something out there to get you down and always personal battles to deal with.

      • God. I hope it gets better. Wearing a mask can’t be helping either. I have tinnitus, actually – things to do with the ears are no joke

  2. Z

    Fire sign sun worshipping in the day, a good shower and choice fragrances to carry you into the sweet night. My style exactly. Neroli Negro sounds amazing. Never given much thought to the existance of Mexican perfume houses, though as one I should know better….!

    • I didn’t really know much of them either but came across these at a recycle shop. Neroli Negro probably wouldn’t fall into the ‘amazing’ category for me, but it is quite a unique take. There is a discomfiting quality to it ( a slight bitterness?) but it is also kind of magnetising.

  3. bibimaizoon

    I know what you mean. It is not just the virus. It seems EVERYWHERE we have the most incompetent people doing the most important things in this world. This has been building for a long time now and was a big part of the reason I left the West and quit working in healthcare. Nothing to do but hunker down until some sort of normality appears. The only thing certain is that more disasters are in store for 2020 (sounds dire but unfortunately true).
    Fresh is what I’m after in these damp and sweltering Monsoon months so I shall have to try Penhaligon’s Castile. Coqui Coqui looks to have an interesting line, I think I will order their discovery set. Their descriptive sounds interesting – “The ethos of Coqui Coqui Perfumerìa distances itself from the modern fragrance industry. Malleville’s unisex perfumes strive for elegant, raw, timeless fragrances, bold unfussy and refined signature-scents for complex wearers. Each fragrance is inspired directly by the flora and tropical lifestyle of the Yucatan, and created by Malleville and his team using unique combinations of original scents sourced from Mexico’s exotic plant life. Coqui Coqui Perfumeria’s scents are transportive, encouraging the wearer to escape to a simpler, more relaxed way of life, wherever their imagination might take them. “

    • Yes. I don’t think they are ‘great olfactory art’, but I am digging the overall feeling so far.

      Castile is super ‘normal’ and that is precisely what I like about it. Calming and dignifying.

      I hope you are wrong about the rest of this ridiculous year!

  4. Robin

    Heartened to read that you wake up feeling the way you do, and that being home you’re able to connect with the things that bring you peace and a sense of beauty and energy. I relate. Otherwise, this whole global situation is overwhelmingly claustrophobic. I need to mentally open all the windows and inhale fresh, clean air.

    Love the photos, the packaging and design. I’m with you on the AG Neroli Cologne. I find it invariably uplifting, fresh out of the bath or shower on wet skin, hair, right on the face even, enveloping and energizing. In the summer, I often follow it up with l’Artisan Seville a l’Aube, the orange blossom, lavender and beeswax blend one of my favourite perfume writers, Denyse Beaulieu, helped to develop. Sultry, rich, not too sweet, great performance, blooms like crazy in heat and humidity, takes me instantly to the south of Spain, one of my favourite places.

    • I loved her book on the subject, and have always thought she is absolutely brilliant. And committed to her subject.

      I must admit that yesterday I felt incredibly threatened quite a number of times during my journeys; young people without masks (a new trend?) laughing on the train and sitting in gangs; an old man opposite me coughing with mask half down; the restaurant I went to because I had to eat some proper cooked food after work with no windows, if spaced out…..I don’t know. I just came home convinced that I must have the virus.

      This morning: again – I wake up and the summer morning just fills me with bliss. So hot (for most people), but with the breeze, as we live on the hill, just heaven for me. As you say, it is that constant tension between the two things. But I am very grateful that I do have this situation. Imagine coming back from the outside, for example, into a nagging or abusive or aesthetically hideous home life with people screaming at you and nothing to absorb all the tension. It could be truly hellish. As I sit here slowly contemplating some new sandalwood perfumes I feel genuinely happy.

      (Am I insane?)

  5. I can only imagine how stressful it all is. Thank goodness I have the luxury of not having to leave the house for anything, and hubby works from home during all of this, so I thank my stars. I do miss going out to eat in restaurants and going into the nice stores I enjoy going to, but considering how poorly the situation is being handles in the states here, I can wait for a vaccine. I also wake up every day brimming with joy and hope, sadly, the news doesn’t always help me stay that hopeful, but I remain joyous nonetheless.
    I love the sound of Castile and would probably enjoy wearing it very much. Believe it or not, I’ve never owned a Penhaligon’s fragrance. I do have a sample of Tra La La by them that isn’t bad though. The Coqui Coqui scents sound very interesting and worth a try as well.
    Try to enjoy all the balmy sun-sweetened days that are left in this glorious season. Let’s all keep looking forward to brighter days.

    • We must! And I derive pleasure simply from the fact that I know you are at home and not going out. I think I would be going slightly crazy by now, but it is definitely better than being put at risk the way we are.

      Coqui Coqui are too rough for your refined tastes I think, although I can imagine you enjoying Castile if you like crisp neroli/ orange blossoms with no pretensions. It’s a really nice one for when you just want well made simplicity and something head clearing but not too sharp.

      • I have to say I handle being at home better than most people would, not to mention that people where you are all wear masks and relatively few where I am do. Over here it is too politicized.
        I think I will have to purchase a bottle of Castile, seeing that I adore both orange blossom and neroli beyond words.
        I will not endeavor upon procuring samples from Coqui Coqui, I like well polished scents.

      • I think you would enjoy Castile as a day to day morning scent to uplift the spirits. With the right soap it could be divine.

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