My mind and soul have been so eaten up with the election this last week that I almost forgot that my book ‘Profumo: Alla Ricerca Della Tua Fragranza’ comes out in Italy today.

I am excited: Rome runs deep in my blood after having lived there at the age of 21, and the thought of it being in all the Feltrinelli bookstores across the city; in the shop next to the Florence railway station, in its black and gold Italian, to be randomly discovered and perhaps dipped into by people I don’t know browsing in various places that sell books across the country, is exhilarating.

I was as profumatissimo back then as I am now: always scanning the shelves of the profumerie that dot every other street corner and coveting new scents for myself or goading on others to buy them as well; getting through bottle after bottle of Dior Fahrenheit, my signature of the time ( I can’t remember if I wore anything else, initially, except later, Kenzo Pour Homme – I can see myself on a hot summer’s night in Piazza Navona feeling ultra new; slick, young and cool in its fresh never-beforeness).

In those first few months in Rome, I had been living with some Italian university students who were taking forever to graduate, given that you yourself can decide in Italy when to take the required (oral) examinations (I think it took them about seven years )………so easy to procrastinate instead and just lounge around your apartment smoking and drinking espresso instead – amazing how quickly you make friends there and get invited to be a housemate…….. – I remember beardy, philosophical Federico and his poignantly beautiful bottle of Signoricci – one of the most refined and delicate citruses ever created; I can see it there, placed carefully on his bookshelf.

Following this I was happily living with two friends from university in our apartment next to a flashing Campari sign; the always glamorous Rachel (our diva), who wore Obsession or No 19 ( I always used to berate her for wearing such oppositional fragrances as they would sometimes linger together on clothes and create an unwanted third party); and Adam, more reserved and serious, who usually wore the hard-bodied Cerruti 1881, suiting his nocturnal exploits in the clubs near where we lived in Testaccio. We only had two beds, and had a roster where two of us would share one; one in the other. We were always out in Trastevere with our friends, Maurizio (Krizia Uomo – fantastic), and the ultra-intense Alessandra, who had a precious big bottle of Cartier Must extrait that we would pore over, and I would sniff enviously, in her room,as she told me of her obsessive train trips to see the lover that had given it to her somewhere in Germany.

Emma would come down from Florence every once in a while – a dazzling jewel box of a city that it is nevertheless less exciting than Rome – wearing her exquisite Cristalle, I believe (or had she already discovered Jardins De Bagatelle?) ;when Helen came, and we got locked in the cemetery in Testaccio sitting and dreaming in the sunset next to Keats’ grave, for all I know she may have still been wearing Eternity.

I was there again last year. And it was fascinating for me, standing in the rain in that same graveyard, alone, next to Keats, moved to tears; almost thirty years older, but though conscious of the passage of time, wonderfully alive; feeling, somehow that I was exactly the same. The same but different; evolved. A continuum. That I had not compromised myself: just a more experienced version of that hopelessly romantic young man who would come to that gated, silent place marshalled by cats and just read or write letters; wondering what life was about and what he should do, but palpitating inwardly, always, clear as a bell, with the overwhelming beauty of it all. Standing there, under my umbrella, breathing in the cold, clear air, I realized that I still feel things just as keenly, as intensely; as passionately.


Filed under Flowers

22 responses to “REMINISCENCES OF ROME

  1. This post of your time in Rome brought tears of joy to me. So beautifully written and poignant. Italy will always be in my heart, whether it be Rome, Florence, Venice, the Amalfi Coast, Taormina, Cefalu’, Siracussa, and every other town in Sicily.

    • Thanks Filomena.

      I just wanted to remember the good things, as I have felt I am about to go over the edge.

      And it IS so amazing that I have come full circle in some way, with the book out in the bookshops I myself used to frequent when I was a student.

      • emmawoolf

        it is. I want to see a picture of that bookshop window, with your book in it.

      • Who knows if anyone will buy it, seeing that it is so out of date already? I am hoping that some people will get into the overall passion and immersiveness of it though, get led to the classics etc. Can’t wait to see how it reads in italiano

  2. Nelleke Oepkes aka Booknose

    Thanks for that moment of remembrance. I recall reading that. With those beautiful pictures. Et in Arcadia ego. Is there an
    Incense or a Perfume by that name? If not I will have to dream it …

  3. Z

    I’m so stunned you can elicit so much life and character in so few sentences.. Amazing. I feel like I knew them too.

    I have to wonder if real, freeing, international travel will be a possibility again. Without concern. From my vantage point a lot of people seem to be on a weird, stagnant guard.

    Congrats on the Italia release! Bravo~

  4. It sounds like a wonderful dream. I love that you can still feel connected to it in the present day, no matter how much time has passed.

  5. Tara C

    Quelques mots de finesse dans un monde de brutes. Thank you for this wonderfully evocative piece. It’s good to remember the moments of beauty, especially in these depressing and anxiogenic times. Congratulations on the book release!

  6. Robin

    This gathered more and more momentum as you wrote. The end was gorgeous. All of it was. I felt everything with you. I know those feelings myself.

    It brings to mind a classic. You know: “We must not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.”

    And we’re still exploring.

    • I love that, and totally agree. Some people do stop exploring and become stagnant.

      What was so incredible about that moment next to Keats was that although to some extent I realized that I was self-consciously ‘recreating a moment’, at the same time I was alone (once a couple had left ; I stood by the pyramid there waiting so I could have my time alone (Keats to me represents total passion and earnestness and a refusal to be bogged down by turgid and philistine realities – it was like his heart was on fire), I stood there in that same place and it was as if different times and spheres of consciousnesses were flowing into me and through me simultaneously and I could ‘see’ everything: a real satori moment.

      I could see my family in England and feel the force of my feelings for them and my time there; remember my time Rome, and powerfully be conscious of how beautiful it is and always will be and what an amazing time I had there – yet I realized very clearly that it was the past; that I had no interest whatsoever in living there again – and that Japan was just shimmering in the backdrop through all of this, keenly and beautifully (even though it is not ‘obviously’ beautiful in the way Rome is); I could feel and sense my life with D in Kamakura, and knew that that was exactly where I wanted to be. In my soul it felt right.

  7. emmawoolf

    Sigh, N. My quest to remember the perfume from that year (it was indeed Cristalle I discover, the EdT, not the EdP that had yet to be released…) led me to dig out my diary from that very year and devour it, while I should have been sorting laundry. I felt as if I’d entered a film! (Did all those things truly happen?) Such beauty. I’ll never forget it. Congratulations bravo xx

    • You have diaries from that time? That is wonderful. I think my diaries were the endless letters I wrote to other people, but I have no idea whether they exist any more.

      The Black Narcissus is my diary now !

  8. emmawoolf

    And yes. I still feel them too. Keenly, intensely and passionately. Otherwise, what is the point? We might as well be dead. (I have tears in my eyes typing this!) x

  9. Never been to Rome.
    Wore Laura Biagiatti’s Roma ( what I’d call an Oriental Animalic- all the animals are well behaved & in their cages though!) in ’89 while living in San Francisco though!
    Congratulations on the release of your book in Italy and thank you for your endearing reminiscences.

  10. Sounds like such a magical time, and terribly romantic in its own way. You are so lucky to have had friends that had such wonderful taste in fragrance. Out of everyone I knew, only three of us wore fragrances; I being the only one who had a “collection” of fragrances.
    Hopefully you can get past the whole election news, and celebrate properly your book release in Italia. Break out the prosecco!!

  11. Sounds like you have the most wonderful connection with this city, Neil. Congrats on the Italian translation! Molto bene!

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