It is evaluation time for me right now in my company, the students giving us ratings out of 5 and adding comments about our teaching and the quality of our lessons in the locked-up manual (to be taken out of the cupboard only by the most senior staff, and to be read alone in a small room down the corridor). Not being especially good at accepting criticism, I find this period – the crescendo from June to November – rather straining, and as soon as it is over and I know what is what I traditionally enter into my ultra-dreamy pre-hibernation stage where I start to detach from everything and everyone around me and just autopilot it until the second week of December, when I have a whole paid month off to hide away and do what I like.
Yesterday I realized, from the hubbub in the final class of the evening, a group of twenty very high level students who are trying to get into the nation’s top institution, Tokyo University (Todai), that these superficially very overserious young people have definitely now eased a lot around each other and that the infernal stiffness and frostiness of those initial lessons at the height of the coronafear (when I was in mask and plastic visor, shouting out like an intoxicated beekeeper and getting nowhere with them) has thawed out into something almost resembling mutual affection. They can now at least manage normal eye contact. One strategy this year has been to have them keep a notebook for writing their exam essays, which I collect and mark every week, but which I also encourage them to write anything they like in, how they are feeling; a confessional – we write back and forth, I give some written advice; and that way I have come to know some of them better, the barrier between us becoming slightly more invisible.
All the teachers are on edge at this time – it doesn’t help that everything is written in one book all together so you can see everyone else’s scores and comments as well (Japan is nothing if not egalitarian; there is very little privacy in a company setting) – the usual student/teacher power relationship here inverted: rather than doleing out report cards to nervous students worried about their parents’ reactions at home it is you, here, who are being judged instead – so I was happy, yesterday, to just get out of the more than usually pressurized building for my lunchbreak and have an amble round in the beautifully warm November sunshine.
It will not be hard for you to now guess that after fuelling up, I then couldn’t quite resist taking a quick peek in my usual secondhand megahardware store – packed with everything from washing machines to floors of old clothing and records to ornaments and useless odds and ends – even though it is a bit of a walk – to see if any olfactory oddities had washed up onto their unpredictable shores: and sure enough, there, on the perfume shelf, was a bottle of Guerlain Eau De Fleurs De Cedrat (which I love), even if it is probably the most short-lived perfume in history; at 4400 yen and not quite pristine I thought I could live without it for the time being as I would rather have a brand new bottle with the freshest citrus oils. A 15ml extrait of Madame Rochas for 860 yen, though (about £6.40)………………just clasping the box of this gem by Guy Robert (Hermès Calèche, Doblis, Amouage Gold) makes me feel as though I were gallantly riding a horse in a Jane Austen novel.
I love Madame Rochas. Cool, glassy; clear as a bell in its elegant compression of top notes, ylang ylang and muguet and rose over aldehydes and jasmine tuberose and a phalanx of other delicate ingredients ingeniously unfurling over sandalwood and musk; unperturbed, assured – yet effortlessly comforting ; No 5 blowsily coquettish in comparison; Infini oblivious; upright and unemotional confronted with Arpège, Madame Rochas is a beautiful, unshowy monument, the very essence of deceptive simplicity. Women of the day would have added a touch of this scent to finish their ensemble before heading out the door. I myself usually wear it after a bath at night to go to sleep.