Monthly Archives: April 2021

A BARGAIN : : :::::VETIVER PAMPLEMOUSSE by JO MALONE for ZARA (2019)

Scrolling down through Fragrantica these days, past all the adverts (so many adverts!), zigzagging charts and graphs and trend flows and intros and statistical mania – to get to the perfume you want to read about – is like reading War and Peace. Exhausting. Looking for a review on Vetiver Pamplemousse – which I had just bought in a shopping mall from Zara on my way to work in North Yokohama – I felt that approximately ten years of my life had passed before I eventually found what I was looking for (on a computer you can whizz down: on a phone it is much more orthopedic).

Scrolling back up again, feeling my hair turn grey as I waited impatiently to get back up to the top, I understood the reason for my exasperation: on the Fragrantica data base there are 641 registered perfumes from Zara (who knew? I am not sure if I have even smelled one of theirs before : perhaps just non-interestedly picked up a ‘Zara Man Night’ or something of the type: like fast fashion, Fast Perfume also steals all the ideas for the Designers or even Niche competitors – and flogs it unmemorably for a much more reasonable price) – but I did remember someone recently here recommending a scent from the brand – was it this, or Bohemian Bluebells? They also had that one, but no tester; ; only the main range had sample bottles – less attractive – and I almost had another L’Eau D’Issey MK II experience in my workwear when a curiously bedraggled individual, who looked a bit like a bandaged up sparrow, all masked up and pigeon toed and sociophobic came decisively towards the fragrance shelf and gave herself at least six full squirts (I think it was actually more like eight but I am wary of exaggerating any further), of the sweetest, most nauseating candy-numb generic gourmand floral that I worried had got all over my suit (Mr Chapman does not do knock offs of Flowerbomb). I fortunately managed to get out of the way just in time: a young couple prior to that, like me, had been hanging around by the Jo MaZara Emotions, but not being able to try them, had eventually gone for an eenie meanie money mo selection process picking one of them randomly, and walking off hand in hand giggling into the sunset.

With a bit of time to spare, my eyes swept past the Fleurs de Patchouli and the Sunset Amalfi, alighting on the Vetiver Grapefruit, and I thought to myself: : : : shall I? Summer is coming. It might be nice. Then again, it might be something I dislike and won’t be able to stand wearing, such as Terre D’Hermès or Pamplemousse Rose (the Ellena grapefruit is sour and chemical unpleasant for me; I don’t like any of that type, Un Jardin Sur Le Nil etc; the full endocrinic citrus) – but looking at the side of the sensibly sized 10ml rollerball and seeing that it was only ¥1,100, or eleven dollars, I thought what’s not to like?

Retiring to a disabled toilet within the ABC Mart shoe shop to take off my mask and tidy up my windswept embarrassment of a hairstyle – I haven’t been to a barber for over a year and don’t want to either – I thought I would have a special maskless preview of the fragrance: just a stroke before heading to the office. The great thing with a roll-on like this is that you can manoeuvre the miniature metal ball just the tiniest fraction on the back of the hand to test the waters (some sprays, as you know, are more like garden sprinklers – they like to give you a full hose down, the only problem being of course if you absolutely hate the thing).

This, I like. Very much. What fantastic value! Neither essential oil – vetiver or grapefruit, is particularly expensive, but if you were to try and make this yourself with undiluted oils, you would have a sulphurous unwearable oil slick that would take days to smell decent. You need a perfumer: dilution; proportion, fixers, maceration, and Jo Malone’s watery, uncluttered style to get a nice balance, and this does the job extremely well ; a very natural vetiver, just how I like it, but destrengthened a little to make it less intense for those around you, and a grapefruit that actually smells like the fresh fruit. Light. Cheering. Perfect for the work space, it is not long lasting nor complicated, but it doesn’t need to be. A great buy.

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MASTER OF CHYPRE: : IMPREVU by COTY (1965)

You know you are in safe hands with Bernard Chant. Master of the complex, but effortless, patchouli powdered chypre, this genius perfumer created the inimitable, emotive, and very distinctive adult sillages of Grès Cabochard, Clinique Aromatics Elixir, and Aramis (as well as the underrated rose patchouli quiet fervour that is Aramis 900) : all scents with his muted animalic signature, an allusion to sweat and the bedroom – particularly in the later, ultra-suggestive stages of Aramis Devin – when the moment is right, much later – after dinner – after drinks – but always with that Trans-Am panache and committed All-American French elegance.

While sometimes all of this compressed, pressed-pant-suit-and-teased-out-bouffant style that is quite prevalent in this perfumer’s work (each ingredient minisculed and moleculed into place in a symphonic exactitude that is astonishing) can arguably become a little Florida retirement home – see my piece on Estée Lauder’s Cinnabar, another Chant creation I personally find too stuffy (I am not familiar with Aliage, nor Halston Original : : : : enlighten me), the incredible muted luminosity of his moted creations – the concentrated perfume trailing the wearer like talced dust particles of scent in the air; an incredible presence – is justly revered the world over by perfumers, and perfume lovers alike, so much so that just four years ago Parfums Dusita even directly referenced the wonderfully dry and emotionally arid end notes of Cabochard in its densely chypric Sillage Blanc, a modern reworking of the style that conveys perfectly its continuing relevance. Bernard Chant perfumes are still worn the world over – Beautiful, a creation for Estée Lauder in collaboration with Max Gavarry, whose Dioressence shares some olfactive similarities with this perfumer’s style, and Sophia Grosjman, more overtly feminine and rose-based, is still one of the most successful perfumes in existence.

Although Bernard Chant’s résumé is mainly focused on the dry and aromatic chypre, the perfumer did also work with floral accords, such as Ralph Lauren’s wonderfully wide-eyed debut perfume Lauren, and later, the very unique rosewood freesia modern American classic that is Antonia’s Flowers. However, even when moving into fresher territory, there was also something niggling underneath; a suppressed emotionalism that you could always detect beneath the primmer surface. An awareness. In essence, this perfumer was simply incapable of the simplistic.

While Bernard Chant’s work for Coty – his only contribution to the house – has perhaps less iconic immediacy than some of the other masterworks in his catalogue, this sly, aromatic leather/fougère fragrance occupies a special place : somewhere between the flowers and the earth : the woodland in between. Fitting in with perfumes such as Lentheric’s Tweed from the first part of the twentieth century when society flirted with modes of masculinity in dress and scenting, the notes of the two perfumes are almost identical, with the exception of a prominent lavender note in the latter. Neither are typically ‘feminine’; both strike me as active and on the go. If there is anything unexpected about the perfume (‘imprevu’ means ‘unforeseen’), it is in the way that the standard, slightly dusty – and admittedly, slightly boring – aldehydic opening of bitter orange, bergamot, coriander and neroli and the expected carnation, jasmine/rose and orris heart, gradually morphs into a highly engaging, androgynous warm, oakmossed ambergris woody musk / vetiver / sandalwood dry down that on me is very reminiscent of vintage Paco Rabanne Pour Homme: on skin this perfume just gets better and better. While the Coty is a tad lighter, more ‘elevated’, the end impressions of the two, on me at least, are still virtually indistinguishable. I am enjoying it. Available quite reasonably online – in the past I have had the parfum de toilette and edt but was not moved until now to write anything about it, the parfum D got me the other day for nothing from a flea market is the reason I am writing this review: in its subtle ardor and expansiveness, and its internal sensation of happiness, it has become quite clear to me that this pleasing – and indeed unpredictable – perfume was yet another string in a brilliant perfumer’s bow.

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LE FEU D’ISSEY (1998) + A DROP D’ISSEY by ISSEY MIYAKE (2021)

Spotting a bottle of Le Feu D’Issey last week sat unobtrusively on the shelf at a closing down sale in a shop in Kamakura, I remembered that it has become a cult collector’s item since its discontinuation and now goes for $300-400 on eBay. At $17 dollars I thought it was a steal.

Part of the scent’s legendary status, now of course, is the fact that is has had the stamp of approval by Luca Turin, who has this to say :

“The surprise effect of Le Feu D’Issey is total. Smelling it is like pressing the play button on a frantic video clip of unconnected objects that fly past one’s nose at warp speed: fresh baguette, lime peel, clean wet linen, shower soap, hot stone, salty skin, even a fleeting touch of vitamin B pill, and no doubt a few other UFOS that this reviewer failed to catch the first few times. Whoever did this has that rarest of qualities in perfumery, a sense of humour. Bravo to those who did not recoil in horror at something so original and agreed to bottle it and sell it, but shame also, since they lost their nerve and discontinued it before it caught on. Whether you wear it or not, if you can find it, it should be in your collection as a reminder that perfume is, among other things, the most portable form of intelligence”.

I don’t personally find the scent intellectual as such, but the beginning (coriander, mahogany, anise, bergamot, sichuan pepper and raw coconut milk) is certainly odd, and D, as my guinea pig, was a little uneased by this top accord when I sprayed it on his arm sitting down in an empty Chinese restaurant (‘what is it supposed to be? a tit?’ he said with uncharacteristic vulgarity when taking the bottle out from the box). However, within minutes we were both quite warming to it, particularly when the restaurant itself became much warmer: we were discussing yet again the other day the issue of windows in the pandemic, and one uninteresting thing for you but completely vital thing for me is the issue of heating and cooling here; as the ultimate service culture, things must always be just one step beyond the call of duty, so that if the temperature drops a little then the heating comes on, and vice versa: it was a lovely spring day with a chill in the shadows that decisively did not merit putting the air conditioning on. I could have cried with despair when we first sat down in the cavernous restaurant down Kamakura’s main boulevard and felt the synthetic cold breeze. Asking the waiter if he could turn it off in our area, he then proceeded, naturally, to switch it from ice to fire (26º on air con is so different to 26º on heat even though they are theoretically the same): with the spicy dishes replete with chilli oil we were soon burning up. On the skin, at this point however, Le Feu was starting to smell quite stunning on the D, the woody guaiac and cedar/rose sandalwood vanilla not a thousand miles from the likes of Féminité Du Bois and Eau de Dolce Vita (by the same perfumer); sweet enough to be considered feminine, but deep, épicé and red enough for anyone.

Mark Behnke at Colognoisseur has written a fascinating piece on why he believes that Le Feu D’Issey was a colossal commercial failure. Namely, that it was ahead of its time, and that like the director Michael Cimino and the Deerhunter being given complete creative freedom for his legendary follow-up flop Heaven’s Gate, perfumer Jacques Cavallier committed the cardinal sin of going too far. Too experimental (should he have given the idea instead to Comme Des Garçons? This would surely have fit perfectly into their edgier oeuvre and with its sulphurous mandarin hot spring aroma would probably still be going strong with the Tokyo crowd and beyond as once it settles into the skin it feels memorably right). A perfume you could almost fall in love to, at the time it nevertheless wasn’t quite what the public were expecting.

What they were expecting was probably something along the lines of the ultra-successful, and phenomenally innovative, L’Eau D’Issey, a perfume I personally detest. Once I was standing in an airport duty free area wasting some time before boarding a London/Tokyo flight. I was suddenly and unexpectedly rinsed in salty citric raw oyster juice when an oblivious passenger started spraying a tester of Issey Bloody Miyake over herself with the nozzle in the wrong place, instead coating me in nauseating tiny droplets of chemical ‘water’. I could have killed her. My flight was subsequently an abomination as the ‘lotus’ and ozone and ‘melon’ had got all over my clothes ( I was standing right next to her), ruining whatever I had chosen carefully beforehand to make the long haul as comfortable as possible. I never liked this scent, even when fully conscious of its total shock of the new: My friend Ally wore L’Eau D’Issey when it first came out and we were all living together in North London post-university, and although it felt razor-fresh and ‘clean’, lacerating all perfumery that had come before it with its lancing florals and artificial zen, I far preferred her in another aquatic she also wore, L’Eau Par Kenzo, which suited her more gently and succinctly (but then again, I am more of a Kenzo boy all round).

The pour Homme version, a potent ozonic ginger/yuzu that came out a few years later, again masterfully original, and also extremely popular, I have a vendetta against for other reasons aside the fact that I feel it has no place being on human skin. I hesitate to mention this but Issey Miyake was the scent that D’s Norwegian lover wore when I first came to Japan in 1996 and 1997 when I was was being all hurtfully ‘let’s play it by ear’ and confused by what I wanted. You don’t piss around with D, and when, understandably, theory became practice, on his part, left alone in London by me suddenly flying off to the other side of the world, here at the top of the hill, I was insanely jealous and was taught a lesson I will never forget.

In the intervening years, although I have been to the Issey Miyake Pleats Please store a couple of times in Aoyama, Tokyo, on the way to Prada or CdG, or Kenzo, I have never really had much thought about this house in truth: Le Feu d’Issey is the first scent from Miyake I have ever bought. I am pretty sure it will get used as well: D really likes the middle section – on him it smells benevolently fiery and suitable. Quite smart, if possibly, when all is said and done, a little sweet. In general, though, I have to say am not drawn to the house, while still admiring its founder’s originality and artistry, in textiles and geometry, in resourcing new materials such as suits made of paper: a situation that is not likely to change with the latest fragrance addition to the line, A Drop D’Issey, which continues the sensation of whiteness and purity long associated with Miyake, but with an almost castigating wholesomeness and prettiness that I would definitely appreciate on others, male or female (a beautiful almond milk/ lilac sheer floral with a well-equilibrated internal harmony); but which I know would never work on me personally, not even sprayed on a T-shirt.

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VINTAGE by SHISEIDO (1975)

The pejorative expression ‘old lady smell’, for most perfumistas, is a justifiably hated phrase (so reductive; so un-connoisseur). In Japan, malodorous criticism is aimed much more at men; the supposed stench of the jiji, or man over retirement age. Salarymen of a certain generation tended to pick a product; be it Shiseido Vintage, Kanebo’s Eroica, Mandom, Auslese, or any one of the selection (still readily available on shelves at local pharmacies) that come in every conceivable toiletry – see the triangular Vintage box set above – and wear it for life. Imagine the scented hair tonics and creams and brilliantines plus a freshly shaven face splashed with hopeful aftershave: the result; a real cloud of aldehydic sweet woody herbal aromatics that the young men of today here would rather die than wear, the associations so strong. I have had male students talk quite avidly of how much they physically detest the smell of the overscented comb-over retirees embarking the city trains to meet their old colleagues for a game of golf or mahjong or to just talk about the old days in some cafe or beer hall: an olfactory divide that is quite different from the UK, for example, where all generations slap on their Sauvage or their Boss or Paco Rabanne or Aventus for a night out at the pub with no real cognitive dissonance. Here, a perfume like Vintage, which D picked up for me the other day for about 50 yen (about 33p) from the Zushi recycle shop, immediately confers a real sense of age, denoting wordlessly that you worked through the Bubble in the post-war years like a dog, and that you are now, in your dotage, still clinging to the old ways.

Post-war Japan was a thriving, dynamic period when men were required to sacrifice themselves 24 hours a day for the economic recovery and dignity of the nation: wives stayed at home and reared children (even now, many women don’t go back to work until their children are around ten), cooking and cleaning and socialising with other mama-san, while exhausted but nicotinized and over-adrenalised husbands would be forced to go for compulsory drinks after office hours until the last train or later to cement the bonds with the other workers in their guaranteed-job-for-life companies (the younger generation is learning to say no). Then, you couldn’t. I wonder, then, if a loyalty to a product like Vintage – warm, sad, musty, quite touching in its lingering sensuality -is a way of of just maintaining that time line; a daily men’s ritual that for many of the boom-generation now must be a visceral smell-link to the past, and for them at least, still relevant to their present.

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EDEN ROC by CHRISTIAN DIOR (2021)

The Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc is a storied luxury resort residence in the south of France, a series of extravagant holiday villas set within a chateau by the sea. For those in the know, and with the sufficient funds, it is said to be a kind of paradise: Chagall sketched it, F Scott Fitzgerald wrote about it, Prince wooed Kristen Scott Thomas there in Under The Cherry Moon. Picasso sat drawing the menu in the hotel bar. Marlene Dietrich and Rita Hayworth had affairs there.

Etc. Etc.

While it might seem unusual for Dior to release a pure aquatic, , there has always been an archival freshness to much of the classic fragrance from the house, from the bright luminescent florals and citruses of Diorissimo and Diorella, through to the recent prettifications of the Francois Demachy creations for Maison Dior: Souffle de Soie, Holy Peony, Lucky, Diorissima, and the oceanic pebble fig breezes of Balade Sauvage. The bright morning ablutions of the upper crust blearily flinging open the shutters of their magnificent chambers to the sight, and smell, of the sun on the waves. The tennis courts below. The stories that these long white corridors could tell….

The new perfume is a pure aquatic sea air creation, with Mediterranean citruses and a solar sea promenade jasmine with hints within of troubling indoles; otherwise, all is saline, sun-bleached, clear and dreamy, except for a note of pine that grounds the proceedings in a slight hint of dry virility. I like it. Although I would personally find a stay at an exclusive place such as the Du Cap somewhat exhausting; all the clothes you would need to pack (or buy in the first place) for each sighting in the bar; at breakfast, at dinner, while relaxing with grenadine cocktails on the oceanside cabana – for me it would necessitate suitcases and suitcases; a valet, a personal shopper and stylist and several bellhops to just select and lay it all out for me each day like Audrey Hepburn and her grand entrance at the beginning of Charade : the scent itself – simple, harmonious ; is pleasing. As a fan, in very hot summer weather, of Il Profumo’s beachwalk Aria Di Mare, to which Eden Roc bears some resemblance, I can imagine this being quite cooling and gentrifying to the senses when the heat gets too much (though for me it hardly ever does); I was teaching the word ‘exhilarating’ yesterday, and instinctively, the first example that came to mind for me of how to use the word from personal experience was one August day last year at Ishiki beach; down from the Emperor’s summer residence in Hayama, where for the first time in several years, I went running along the jetty – and dived straight into the ocean.

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PERFUMED PLUMES 2021 SHORTLISTED FINALISTS





The Perfumed Plume shortlisted finalists have been announced, and I am very pleased to be up for awards in two categories.

a picture of a pigeon I took today




I was almost absurdly prolific last year. It was as if I just couldn’t stop writing. But there was SO MUCH TO WRITE ABOUT. The world went insane, and so did I – so I submitted one piece celebrating The Day After – the very best day of 2020, when we finally knew that A Certain Person would no longer be polluting our every thought – I was delirious, and the OTT-ness of the post, and the perfumes that embodied that great day of victory of common sense and decency, reflected that. As a contrast, I also entered a much quieter, and more dignified reflection on a nice walk into town where we live. Whether they win or not in their respective award categories – there are some very good writers I am in company with – it is nice to be valued and understood.


Thanks also for your support and fascinating companionship during what continues to be a highly tumultuous ride. x


https://www.perfumedplume.com/

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AL SAHRA by THE DIFFERENT COMPANY(2020)



I am flabbergasted to find niche perfume in Fujisawa. While vaunted as an ideal place for middle class families to bring up kids, convenient for transportation, and the location of the upcoming Olympic sailing down at Enoshima Island, the city i am work based in is not exactly Fashion Central.

But here on the ground floor of recently refurbished Odakyu department store, where I sometimes come for lunch, is a shop selling not only The Different Company, Garment and Olfactive Studio, but also Nobile Essenza 1942 and an interesting range of aromatherapy.

What’s good about this for me is that where usually, faced with shelves and shelves of all the latest grandiosity from conceptual independents to select from, when I usually get overwhelmed and don’t get to experience perfumes in full depth,, this limited, spacious new concession is an astonishing apparition ( but WHO is going to fork out the cash for a perfume at this price in this carefully economizing hub of frantic school mothers and their cardigan-shopping grandparents ? Or are these pricey fragrances aimed more at the demi-monde, the tight-trousered night people who emerge from the woodwork and limousines after dark…….?) At any rate, all this takes me back somehow to my teenage years, when my world was smaller, and things of importance loomed larger. After school I would ogle the merchandise in bookstores, record shops, perfumeries with much more of a wishful attention span; consider my future potential pocketmoney purchases very carefully, picturing and dreaming of them went I went to bed at night : saving up for an item of clothing, a 12” or LP, and then later, perfumes, was extraordinarily exciting; a sign of self-assertion, of pushing your own drawing pin into the map. I would linger persistently at Beatties in front of the YSL or Givenchy or Calvin Klein counter, feeling that I was deliriously about to enter a new world; collect samples like a gem dealer, spray the tester bottles liberally on a blotter or blotters and keep re-smelling, smelling, extracting them from my inner pocket, or the inside of a book.

Those days can never return. But I have retained a lot of that very same thirst and curiosity, and I know that I will, now that I can’t go to Tokyo, on rainy lunch breaks enjoy going meticulously through all of these perfumes at my leisure. The warm woody white violet Al Sahra, one of the first scents I have tried on two separate occasions, is, I would say, mid-level alluring, a rich, soft, sawdusty floral labnanum frankincense that is nicely composed with a slightly haunting central refrain of lily and cinnamon, but not something I will necessarily be handing over my hard-earned cash for. Then again, now I have more opportunities to learn these perfumes thoroughly…..,,,..who knows?

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VINTAGE YSL CHAMPAGNE PARFUM

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EARL GREY TEA SHAMPOO by MAISON DE THÉ (2021) + THE TROUBLING JAPANESE RACCOON IN OUR GARDEN

Hair is taken very seriously in Japan. The country has the most hair salons per capita in the world. Hair is thick, lustrous, well groomed. Pharmacies and supermarkets stock a vast range of hair products; toiletry megastores have mammoth gamuts of every shampoo, conditioner, hair oil, hair cream imaginable, with little microball filled pomanders for you to sample the fragrance to make sure you make the right choice : for boys there are ultra specific pomades, often scented slightly differently, for every possible style you could ever want just to get that like of hair in perfect position; spiked; curled; slicked back; wavy; straight; shining; matte: slightly bouncy; for me, in fact, I would say that the perfume of Japan is the waft of a carefully groomed young woman or man passing on the street with an alluring fruit musked floral aroma emanating from her carefully treated do. Hair, here, is everything.

Killing a few minutes the other day with nothing to do, I scanned the shelves of a particularly well-stocked product emporium, wondering whether I should try the very expensive apricot jasmine hair care being offered, though remembering the last time I tried The Botanist’s shampoo range – apple and rose I think it was – my hair clung slimily to my scalp like seaweed to a rock. I looked like some old pervert. Or, as my mum would say, a ‘Cedric’. D and I both tend to use a product aimed at men our age : one that’blocks the stinking scalp smells that women hate!’ though I am wary of the man-hating advertising that seeks to demonise the male of the species as being irrevocably smelly, this hair cleanser does do the job and smells quite fresh. Earl Grey Tea though?

Tea is a drink. It is tannic, and smoky, and caffeinated. Lovely. But can it work as something to wash your hair with? To be honest, I couldn’t resist. I felt like buying something. I LOVE Earl Grey, the bergamot infusion, the elegance of the savour and the scent, and have recently been in the mood for tea perfumes as well in warmer weather as I find them ideal. Having just had a long shower and washed myself all over with this shampoo this lovely sunny afternoon (less bergamotty than I was anticipating; more oolong-like; quite an intense tea scent, thick and brown like a medicated Vosene), I have now blowdried my beveraged locks and am now wearing some Bulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert, as well as trying Robin’s suggestion of a touch of rose (the new Cartier Pure Rose; yes, delightful, it works perfectly, green tea and rose; quite elevating,) with some vetiver oil tinged clothing and the lingerings of Sisley’s divine, powdery Eau D’Ikar on a sweatshirt. I smell subtle and elegant. I like this overall olfactory assemblage. Perhaps before work on Tuesday I can even have a bath with bubbles provided by the shampoo, add some bergamot essential oil to the water, and then marinate in the result like a giant human Twinings tea bag.

On the subject of hair, we are currently being terrorized at night by a bald raccoon.

Inflicted with mange, as many tanuki are in Japan, rather than the hirsute fluffed out number you see above, a healthier exemplar of the species, ours looks more like

This is not the actual tanuki in question – ours, which Duncan has christened Mavis, even though he hasn’t laid eyes on it yet (but he has certainly heard its blood-chilling night screeching), has fur and hair on the lower section but a terrible affliction of eczema around its neck and upper body like a vulture; an albatross of red raw skin. Poor thing. I have seen it scuttling along when on bike rides, a few times, but it now seems to have taken a shine to the corner of the garden of the house next door, where early one morning I saw it catching some sleep in what looked like a nest.

The first time we heard it, squealing like a slaughtered piglet in the deep hours of the night, it was truly blood curdling. D assumed that an eagle had come down and was fighting to the death with our cat – we ran outside, imagining we would find her mangled or impaled having plunged from the roof opposite. It is a guttural, high pitched screaming, like a banshee, a strangled cat, and a dash of pterodactyl : last night we were woken up at 4am by it – an unholy sound that makes you start and reminds me of being a child and of feeling my veins run cold thinking one night that a murderous witch was killing babies outside my bedroom window in the moonlight; my heart pounding and adrenalised with terror, I eventually struck up the courage to run wailing into my parent’s room and pounced on their bed crying with fright: it turned out that these were the sounds that foxes make – we have a lot of them in our gardens in England – but petrifying though fox howls can be, I think that this raccoon’s vocals take the biscuit.

Feeling sorry for the animal, because it looks such a ragged, wretched, suffering solitary thing, D and I (foolishly) initially left it some food, imagining it must be starving. We then started reading about them in more detail, and discovered that they can actually sometimes be quite dangerous. Although some empathetic people here occasionally attempt to domesticate them and even try to administer medicine to help them clear up their scalp conditions, their behaviour varies considerably as they proliferate globally : they have multiplied in Scandinavia as they have made their way from East Asia through Russia and into Sweden, and even been found in England now terrifying and attacking children and livestock.

https://nypost.com/2019/05/29/absolutely-mad-raccoon-dogs-are-terrorizing-this-small-english-village/

I have just been talking about our tanuki trouble with a neighbour and he told me that they are a nuisance with their reeking defecations and habit of biting, so kind though he is, D has decided not to feed the poor critter any more ; we will instead try to dissuade it from paying us nocturnal calls. Last night I saw it in the dark, but didn’t approach. In Japanese folklore, tanuki are traditionally known as tricksters and con artists, and judging from the frenetic howls it was making last night, I can imagine its teeth packing a nasty bite.

Earlier, it then suddenly struck me: is this perhaps a form of animal kingdom revenge, for my once irreverently taking a stuffed Japanese raccoon out with me as an accessory to an all night party in Tokyo? ; Burning Bush’s long flowing locks, and leopard, and tiger print coats complemented with a taxidermist’s rendition : of the very same animal that is now haunting our garden. …?

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MUGUET DU BONHEUR EXTRAIT by CARON (1952)

Like the cherry blossom, the lily-of-the-valley this year opened early. In fact, it was out just before Easter Sunday: appropriate given that the flowers were said to have sprung from the tears of the Virgin Mary at the Crucifixion.

I have written extensively about these flowers before – particularly in my section on Muguet in my book, which was one of my favourite chapters. The replenished, almost cruel beauty of Diorissimo; the tranquil, transparent ease of Coty’s lovely Muguet Des Bois. . . I have a used up edt of Caron’s crucial addition to the canon, Muguet Du Bonheur, but have never had a chance to smell the vintage extrait until recently when Tora sent me a precious vial, enough to be used at this time of year for several years more to come.

The extrait is gorgeous. Warm, clean, with notes of lilac and neroli as prominent as the calm, private, lily-of-the-valley at the helm ; heliotrope, rose, musk and sandalwood, round out the base like a heavy porcelain basin of quiet, illuminated by afternoon sunlight. The perfume is, as the name suggests, most definitely a happy one. If Diorissimo is nervous;, the more diaphanous and cool Muguet des Bois disappeared into the treetops with the wood nymphs, Bonheur is on a more human plane of spiritual contentment – perfect for mellow Sundays ; just enjoying life.

It is now the beginning of my ultra-busy spring term. I am recovering gradually from the inner ear vertigo disorder, I think, and have fortunately been moved to a different building. I can’t tell you how different it is to have windows. While I have probably bored readers to death on here with my panicked rantings on the subject, in a pandemic situation you need proper ventilation, and in the previous place there were emergency windows only which had to be opened with a crank, sometimes getting stuck, or broken, leaving only a sliver of fresh air in a space with hundreds of students.

Now, I have control over how air is circulating: I can distance the students more and am very relieved by this. It was horrible before. I realized this more clearly on Sunday when going for a walk with a good friend of mine down by the lake. Sometimes you have to talk about these things face to face with a rational, intelligent, empathetic person: to have a person confirm what you know is true, confirm that behaviour that borders on insanity is precisely that, but to try and move on from it. A Buddhist, she chanted for me and for other people (the world) at the top of the ravine in direct sun overlooking the sparkling river beneath – the birdsong surrounding us becoming louder as my focus sharpened (we both became aware of this); the first time I have experienced such a thing in my life. I am open to beliefs, even if they are not necessarily my own, and this was rejuvenating, fascinating. Whatever it was, being together was both stimulating and peaceful, and when we came back, she, D and I had wine, talking for hours in the front garden; some plucked muguet from the forest on the wooden table.

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