Fidji is Fidji: immediately recognisable. An airy, green aldehydic ultra-feminine floral musk created in 1966 by perfumer Josephine Catapano (Cinnabar, Youth Dew, Norell, the original Shiseido Zen), its familiar, gossamer-insistent base note of sandalwood-touched, ambrous-touched musk, is unmistakeable – a perfume of its time, no doubt – yet still available and worn by many devotees today. With its atmospheric similarities to Nina Ricci’s L’Air Du Temps, a ‘veil’ of classic perfume that encircles a person’s aura like an angelic breeze, the scent of Fidji takes me back to my childhood, when our babysitter, my cousin Sue, who wore this perfume for years, would come round on a Saturday night with her friend Linda, fluff up our pillows, and tell us hilarious stories before making us go to bed much later than we should have. Her mum – my auntie Valerie – also still wears L’Air Du Temps to this day.
D picked me up a boxed, sealed vintage parfum of this classic for three dollars recently, at his regular bric a brac hideout in Zushi, and I really wanted to present it to Sue in person unopened- we sometimes have family get-togethers when I go back home, as all the cousins live nearby – but who knows when that will be? I don’t see it happening for another year, realistically. I can’t send perfume out any more, either- the post office has become so stringent about sending anything from this country, infuriatingly draconian – so it will just have to be a gift to her at some point, because none of us know when we are going to be going anywhere again anytime soon. In the meantime, I couldn’t resist de-tying the ribbons on the bottle.
Reading up on the perfume (an ultra detailed article by Viktoria Wlasova on Fragrantica which beautifully charts her obsession with this scent from adolescence to now, including all the reformulated iterations) in order to experience the top notes which I couldn’t resist trying at least once for my own perfume geek brain – I am always drawn to any galbanum, violet, and hyacinth accord, and love green perfumes generally – in this particular vintage extrait the opening prelude of floral foliage is delectable, mind-clearing and fresh, even if for me, the ever present (but brilliantly rendered) diaphanous musk at the soul of the scent – to me representing a woman on a beach after swimming, at sunset, draped in white shawl – would never smell right on my own skin. Still, when I smell the perfume from inside the box and inhale, on a grey cold winter’s day, reaching out from under my bedclothes, it is incredible how Josephine Catapano managed the technical feat of capturing such a dreamy, tropical exotic air lensed through a classical French prism of traditional perfumery. It is immediate mind travel.
On Sunday we decided to go down to Zushi to check out Kurukuru again for any other vestiges of perfumes that may have been washed in (I was watching an Italian video review of my book the other day; those on the thread fantasising about one day maybe going to Japan, where they imagine that there are vintage Guerlains and Carons and Diors staring out from every other shelf, and I realized that a game of Japanese whispers has occurred, through the fault of the collective accumulation of posts on The Black Narcissus, and the introduction to Perfume, where I give the impression of incessant bounty, when the reality is that there is noticeably less and less vintage perfume available here now; I was horrified to see recently, for example, that my two mainstays seem to be shutting up shop; there are no flea markets, now; probably if you walk around long enough around some town or other you might find some recycle shop or antiques place with a dusty old box in it somewhere, but it is no way near the cornucopia people seem to be imagining). Still, on Sunday, I did I find a degraded no 19 parfum for 300 yen which I have used to bolster another blend, and we bought a lamp, a bottle opener, and a strange old box with a copper coloured clasp like a Russian Orthodox flower I can put samples in – and in any case the main reason I wanted to go really was just to sit and watch the sunset.
Mount Fuji is very elusive with a smartphone camera. It’s strange: while you are looking at the sacred mountain rise majestically above the waves in its perfect symmetry, it looms large and mystically beautiful (we could see along the coast from here in Kotsubo; tiny dots: hundreds of people sat apart from each other on the sand in their coats and scarves with their phones, capturing the last rays), but it always looks far smaller in any picture I have taken; diminished. As if it doesn’t want to be photographed.
This is always a lovely place to go and park yourself for a couple of hours, though, as the light slowly fades. To unwind, and take in the view. But in case you are imagining that I am just peachily, obliviously, floating happily about to Japanese sunsets, in truth, on Sunday it was more a case of desperation. A need to vent my spleen (poor Duncan – who has encased himself in his own dreamworld more and more recently, and doesn’t want to hear my constant blistering anger related to the abysmally stressful last few weeks I have had that have caused serious anxiety attacks; his work situation is better and he can walk to his school from where we live.) In fact, as we were walking back – my bike naturally had to get a puncture – all I could think about as we walked along the coast and the night set in was the piece I am slowly collating – a kind of diary of rage – which I may or may not put up on here ; I haven’t decided yet – I actually thought I was going to do it yesterday hence the ‘stench of narcissus’ piece on Sunday night – you would be getting more of me than you bargained for, but I am still debating the wisdom of putting it up publicly. To be clear, I don’t, for a moment, think that I am in a hard position compared to millions and millions of other people – I know this. People are dying, people are very weary from it all. This is, in many ways, simply a time of suffering. For a huge number of people around the world. I have a friend in America who is working flat out right now at a crematorium and is beyond depletion and exhaustion, crying on the job as she stacks up dead bodies, worrying herself sick about her crew. The situation for health workers must be absolutely intolerable. But I also don’t think we have to totally relativize ourselves out of existence either. The suicide rate here is rocketing from all the stress that people are going through, pretending everything is normal in their masks as they go to and from their workplaces in the metropolis but are actually consistently stressed by the threat around them. Suppressed. And I am also sick with fright at the thought of getting the virus, hearing all the stories or intubators and the long haul, sometimes impossible recovery. Suffocated and stressed out of my mind every day having to take crowded trains and buses and be in schools where people have had it, but where the lack of ventilation and physical proximity to everyone is sickening my soul. Where others are taking our lives so cavalierly. Coming out in full body hives. Palpitating. Night sweats and nightmares. All I want is to be at home. And if this were financially viable for me I would do it. In a heartbeat. We both would. But it is currently not an option; so like everyone else I have to keep ploughing through the invisible corona seas, hoping for the best each day. And then when I am free, smell perfumes; escape: sit by the ocean. Breathe.