FUJI : : : FIDJI by GUY LAROCHE (1966)

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.

29 Comments

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29 responses to “FUJI : : : FIDJI by GUY LAROCHE (1966)

  1. Robin

    I really wanted to read something like this from you, to catch up and find out how you and Duncan are doing, what things are like there right now. I see your numbers are going in the right direction again in Japan and I that helped to reassure me. If you were my age you’d be deliriously retired, but young whippersnappers of your vintage still have a while to go. Loved your reflections on Fidji, a fragrance I’ve had myself but for some reason didn’t ever really click for me. I felt it somehow a little claustrophobic, which is odd because the fragrance family is one I love almost unreservedly. Maybe it’s that damn musk you mention.

    I know that phenomenon, of having a great photo op that somehow never results in the thing looking as monumental (or colourful, or extreme, or beautiful) is it looks with the naked eye. And the opposite can be true, too, I find; a seemingly plain view can look stunning under the right photographic conditions, not visible through the lens at the moment the shutter clicks. You’ve had many of those everyday shots coming home from work that are spectacular, haunting or poignant just at the instant you’ve captured them.

    • Thanks Robin: the immediacy of all this is what I love.

      I really want to write more about it all but am wondering a) if I should b)if I can. My arm / shoulder / wrist etc is awful. Still haven’t managed to book an appointment anywhere.

      ( and yes : it’s the musk )

      • Robin

        I am sorry to hear about the state of that side of your upper body. Such a drag for you, and it’s been going on for what must feel like years. And the fact it’s been so difficult to get in for some kind of treatment. Grrrr. I feel for you, dear N.

      • The arm thing is relatively new, actually – a series of mishaps and carrying too much: probably just a frozen shoulder/ tendon issues that I NEED to get sorted out .Fortunately, typing on a computer is far easier than with a pen or on the blackboard, but maybe I should just forget covid fear and get myself to a clinic. Would you, or would you wait a while?

      • Robin

        I would go in, if it were me. Protocols are very strict, I find, in clinical settings. (I was even in for my annual dental checkup. That’s pretty up close and personal!) You’d be safer than a fair number of places you probably already go to with some frequency.

      • Thanks for the push in the right direction! I really do need to.

    • And you are right about the numbers – but that just means they will relax restrictions and infections will go up again.

      A proper six week lockdown here and we would be in clear waters

  2. David

    I like all those fragrances like Fidji and Norell and Youth Dew. I can’t wear them, but I like to think of the glamour and joy they must have brought to millions.
    I want to read your rage diary. It has to be more compelling than the trite covid diaries I have seen since last March. The NY Times was publishing diary entries of people’s covid lives. It was the most mundane content you can imagine: adventures in sour-dough bread making, Zoom trivia quizzes (extra points if you dress up like your favorite Jane Austen character!), one-skillet bean dishes….reminds me of that line from Desperately Seeking Susan when Susan discovers Roberta’s diary; “She must be undercover. Nobody’s life could be this boring….” Wake me up in 2022, when the new Roaring Twenties begins. That’s what keeps me going: a return to decadence and an end to this bullshit.

  3. Fidji is one of my all-time favorite scents! It just feels so comfortable and soothing to me. I don’t know if my Mama ever wore it? Probably not. She liked things a little sweeter, and enjoyed chypres as well, but it still has the familiarity of being worn by someone I loved. The extrait is truly exquisite. I have had extrait from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, and all are wonderful, with slight differences.
    I definitely think you should release your rage-diary, it could be cathartic. I can only imagine the level of stress you are under daily, I would probably be crunched up in the fetal position constantly. Hopefully being by the shore helped to soothe your mind a bit, and talking with D helped as well. These are truly trying times. Times we wish everyone would do the correct thing to keep this disease somewhat controlled, but sadly people rarely do the correct thing, which is infuriating.
    As always, we can only look forward and hope for the best.

    • And having these conversations on the Black Narcissus is also a help. Thanks Brielle. How is the staying inside? How long has it been now? It will truly be like a new dawn when you finally venture on some travels….

      • I’m glad these conversations can help with it all.
        As of the end of the month, it will be a year since I have gone out for more than just a weekend drive with hubby. I have to go out around the end of March to get my first Covid19 vaccine. It is at a drive-through location, so that eases my fears a bit. I will stay completely masked and gloved the whole time.
        I probably won’t venture out into society until sometime next spring, when more people are vaccinated. I am immunocompromised and have severe asthma, so I need to be vigilant. Not to mention, we don’t know when Nate will receive his vaccine, so we need to be cautious for him as well.

      • I admire your caution and the fact that although I know you miss things (sushi etc), you are basically ok at home. I would love to be. Honestly, although it has been nowhere near as bad here, it is still the worst country in this part of the world and they are doing a really half-assed job of containing and protecting everybody.

      • You would think they would be doing a much better job. They usually are so focused on everyone doing what is best to keep society moving smoothly.
        Then again, they have that kamikaze-like work ethic. Literally work until you drop.

      • Precisely. It is a combination of ‘getting on with it’ and ‘too busy to even think about it’ ( or pretending that is the case).

        On the other hand, diligent mask wearing by everyone has made a big difference. Even so, I literally physically can’t avoid proximity to people and ventilation is grossly insufficient ( this is a country that loves air conditioning, not open windows).

        It has always had a Russian Roulette feeling about it since last June, but since there have been two cases in one school and those PARTICULAR teachers are blasé about other people, I have been permanently anxious / semi histrionic.

      • I would be extremely agitated and anxious as well. Their lax attitude will get people killed.

      • Also – the government is definitely more economy focused than virus, much to the despair of a majority of Japanese people. They could totally nip this in the bud with a proper six week lockdown. Instead, you people wearing masks outside only to go into a crowded coffee shop, take it off, and sit cheek by jowl next to strangers while talking eating and drinking. If the government can afford to waste thirteen billion dollars on a failed Olympics, they can surely afford to furlough the cafes for a couple of months. But no : it is always this ‘balancing act’. True, the economy hasn’t totally crashed as a result, but there are still dangerously full to capacity hospitals and you never actually feel safe.

      • That’s absolutely terrible. I just don’t understand the mentality at all.

      • As for me and D, he is in good health, but is prone to viruses more than I am – at least historically, and no one knows how it will affect an individual. My own worry is that seeing that my spindlecrackers – my legs – are pernickety and need regular exercise to preserve the knee muscles, otherwise they deteriorate fast – would just become useless if attacked by Covid and I would be bedridden for an eternity. Which is why I can’t tolerate blithe assholes just playing with my life by not taking proper precautionary measures. It has just been traumatically angering.

      • I don’t understand their cavalier attitude towards it over there. It is truly so serious. I would be just as upset as you are.
        I guess the only thing you can do is keep ventilating your room and wear your mask 😷. Just try to avoid the idiots.

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  5. Bibi Maizoon

    Fidji is an old favorite of mine! Such a classic!
    I don’t know, I see the horrendous death rates in my native USA and wonder. The virus blasted through here in Nepal in October during the Hindu and Buddhist high holidays. The Nepali government basically said we were all on our own as money for testing had run out and the weather was changing. (It’s a common belief here that colds and flu are caused by changing weather, not something like a virus that you can’t even see.) So I was just resigned to catching the damned thing as I knew Nepalis would not let it interfere with propitiating the gods with gatherings and festivities. And sure enough on October 12 I spiked a mild fever, as did everyone else in the household. We had mild aches and pains for 3 days. I lost my sense of smell for 3weeks. And that was it. I don’t know what to say, we have had very few deaths or hospitalizations here in Nepal, the clinics and hospitals have not been overwhelmed despite very few precautions being taken since October. All of South Asia has had a very low mortality rate. I can say that we have had far more suicides (26) in my district due to financial strain caused by Covid shutting down the economy than actual Covid deaths (9) since last March.
    PS: The stench of narcissus reminds me of dirty diapers, indolic the extreme!

    • So are you saying that you have had it, but just got through it? That is great to hear, – it must be very disorientating though trying to make sense of everything in such a thick cultural fog. If it was Covid, do you now feel a different mental outlook having experienced it firsthand ?

  6. AmyD

    I do wear two, and have been even before the recommendation here in the US picked up steam. Usually a cloth mask over a KN95, which both husband and I think/know is a little extreme, but we don’t have an infinite supply of KN95s, so at least the washable cloth mask over it keeps them usable for longer, and keeps the KN95s tight against our faces. We picked up on double-masking from my father, who hasn’t stopped working at the hospital (radiologist, and very well sequestered from COVID patients, but still), and started double-masking way back in March 2020. Tightly-woven cloth mask over a surgical mask on the (very) few times husband and I have been outdoors for exercise. We are in downtown Chicago – just too risky for our comfort to not double-mask. My husband and I are extremely risk-averse, however, so do keep that in mind – we REALLY do not want to come close to contracting COVID.

    • You would DIE in my teaching environment. Die of stress on the spot. I am more like you – if given the chance I would be the same. But if I quit my job, it will be extremely hard to find another of a similar level right now (if ever), so I feel I have no choice.

      • AmyD

        No doubt, my husband and I are incredibly lucky to be able to work from home – privileged and lucky, privilege that so many others do not have. I’m incredibly grateful that we have the luxury to be able to be so isolated (seems so strange to write that). If my husband had been forced to go back to in-person teaching, we’d be dealing with exactly your frustrations, which are completely valid, and at the same time learning how to manage them so we both don’t collapse into heaps of frustration and mental overload. I admire your ability to keep going in the face of such frustrations!

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