THE CHRISTMAS PARTY

I wasn’t really sure whether I would go. This would be breaking two taboos that have held fast over the last two years: gathering with friends indoors, and going to Tokyo. A Christmas party, at the apartment of Joy. Would I be able to stand it? Would I feel too crowded in?

Going over it in my mind, what got me thinking eventually that it might be feasible was the fleamarket. The Intercity Shinagawa fleamarket, held on Sundays: the site, way back when, of great perfume rapture much documented in the depths of the Black Narcissus files.

Those days are long gone. In recent years we have occasionally gone up there with ever diminishing returns. In fact, though,the excitement itself for me never really diminished at all, even if like a junkie chasing the high of their first fix, nothing could compare to the very first time we walked into that Aladdin’s cave, where in one of the very first stalls there was an foreign woman who was selling off her entire Japanese mother-in-law’s perfume collection – my very first exposure to the vintage, velvet boxed extraits of Guerlain, of Shalimar, Vol De Nuit and Mitsouko, as well as my initiation into the joys of Caron Infini………… I walked around for a few moments of whirl of giddying exhilaration and then bought the lot.

The thought of a social gathering, though, did most definitely fill me with a significant sense of trepidation – of going back to the former life. I felt nervous. At the same time, the mere thought of walking around that central hub in Tokyo in the twinkly winter sunlight – an absolutely beautiful, blue ozone day of pure sunshine – was enough to get me thinking that we could always go to the fleamarket together (as the website said it would be open); I could always dip my toe into socializing briefly at the party, and then if it was all too much, just make my excuses and leave.

The train up from Ofuna was uncomfortably crowded. Packed with people talking – an excited, positive mood. I had to gird myself. And so did D.

But the virus is barely even in the news in Japan at the moment (there were 30 reported cases in Tokyo on Thursday, which is nevertheless seen as a severe uptick), and before the inevitable spread of the O variant when we will probably be back to square one again, I found that it was surprisingly easy to breach our own protocols and find ourselves speeding up past Yokohama and Kawasaki towards Shinagawa, precisely the same as it was before, gleaming and spacious, tall and full of skyscrapers, even if the fleamarket itself and in contradiction to the website information understandably actually wasn’t on. I was just so happy to be there again though I really didn’t care. Seeing the empty spaces as we looked down from an upper floor, I could picture the glories of past scored treasures, of taking friends there, my family, among the now-glowing Christmas trees that stood there in their wake. This was enough; to be redeemed; to have made the move beyond the restrictions and borders, to be away from the dull city of Fujisawa where I work and where the mould of small city suburbia has settled a little too (un)comfortably into the upper crevices of my addled brain matter. The air up in Tokyo was sharp; clear; grand; exciting; fashionable: a capital city. It was just what the doctor ordered.

‘Bravery’ in finally plucking up the ‘courage’ to head into the biggest city in the world notwithstanding, our friend’s place – it is always so hard to find abodes in Japan where there are no street names, impossible without a smartphone – required us to get off at Shibuya, Tokyo’s most famously iconic street crossing that, if you are not in the right state of mind even in normal circumstances, can scramble the mind and the senses, with all the flashing Blade Runner videoscreens, overwhelming competing noise from every direction and seemingly a million people walking around you in various directions – this, neither of us were remotely ready for. Not yet. Instead, we decided to get off at Ebisu, probably the place both of us would choose to live if we could afford a tiny pied-a-terre in the big city, such a pleasing neighbourhood, and to walk up to the party through the streets of Daikanyama.

There was one other perfume destination on the way (another reason I was glad to be going back to the Tokyo); an antiques shop that has a stock of vintage treasure that I am not going to tell you about (one of the reasons I lost out on the Shinagawa Flea Market – blurting too much about it on here), but as I worried it might be, on Sundays it was closed. I will undoubtedly be going back though. Peering through the window I could see vintage Chanel extraits, and beautiful intriguing bottles I couldn’t entirely discern, placed choicely among the pricily assembled collectors’ bric-a-brac; but even the display window had some amusing novelties – who wouldn’t be interested in a charming perfume bottle in the shape of a giraffe?

But we were already very late – intentionally so, to a large extent, as I honestly didn’t know how I was going to react – and would have to get going.

The extraordinarily low crime rate in Tokyo means that ‘police boxes’ are just dinky little neighbourhood unmanned stations equipped with a phone in case you should need it – this one nudged neatly next to a little French delicatessen

– the terror of graffiti –

– Such a delight, on this walk, to pass by old haunts, in particular this wonderful retro coffee shop/restaurant where we once held a completely wild, all cherry-themed dance party twelve years ago entitled Kirsch – and to find that they still had the pastel picture D drew for the flyer now actually framed in the window, as though we had left our own imprint on the place –

But now it really was time to finally get to the party.

On the way, in search of booze, and finally coming across a convenience store where could buy some sparkly and red, right across the road, to my vast contentment, there was an undiscovered emporium of delights; a new ‘recycle shop’ to add to our list of beloveds; records? check. Clothes? Check. Cool sunglasses? Check (see above). Perfumes? Oh yes. Like a shark seeking blood I had sniffed them out in the shop within seconds.

But what to buy? Some things I did hesitate over (Clarins Eau Dynamisante? Did I actually want it? Despite the citrus freshness, was there not always something offputting that was lurking somewhere in the heart? I don’t know.) My heart leapt proudly at a Guerlain Orchidee Impériale, a parfum d’interieur in a bee bottle, but in actual fact it didn’t actually smell very pleasant and it would have been dumb of me to buy it if that were the case; similarly a little gift set of the Parfum de Lit and all the other Guerlain pillow spraying luxuriances; I decided against. Amazingly, nestled up front there were two bottles of the Shiseido violet that was the feature of my last review – such a strange coincidence to find a rare perfume like that twice in a row; some N⁰19 and Pour Monsieur locked behind the glass door of a wooden cabinet – on this occasion I decided to desist, but I couldn’t resist a vintage bottle of the eau de toilette of Balmain Vent Vert plus a very appealing bottle of the chyprissimo patchouli aromatic by Carthusia, Caprissimo, to which I am going to add extra patchouli oil, macerate, and use for generations.

– these were some very fine indeed homemade jammy tarts, and cranberry chocolate fudge –

I have always loved house parties – being immersed in another individual’s private space for a few hours is completely fascinating to me, even if in Tokyo, with some of the highest real estate prices in the world, any gatherings are invariably in quite small apartments where everyone is cozily crammed into a couple of rooms animatedly talking and drinking (and not usually dancing – not with all the neighbours above and below, and not where there is virtually no culture of dancing at all to begin with; it’s a different style of interaction ). Though I usually do enjoy myself, to walk into a party, though, particularly after all this time, even if there are only ten people, only two of whom you have met before and don’t actually know that well – is rather daunting.

As we took off our shoes at the entrance, I could feel my heart beating rapidly, a sense of constriction as we entered (there were no introductions) all the people there in groups, concentrating hard in the middle of a party game (so not me: I am such a scrooge in that regard, I have never been able to bear any form of ‘fun activities’, quizzes, nor ‘time-killing pastimes ‘such as jigsaws, and initially I thought I might have to get ready to bolt – this being the first such congregation of maskless, unfamiliar individuals in a very long time.

D, though, is far more effortlessly sociable than I am (a conundrum in a way, as I am ultimately far more of an extrovert ), but although he looks in this picture as though he is proselytizing or giving the sermon on the mount, in actual fact I think he is just immensely enjoying the fact that he is talking freely to other people finally – socializing! – and not just having to listen to yet another of my ‘riveting’ monologues – of which there have probably been recently too many. Ultimately, you realize, in coming into contact with new people again – the moustachioed Brazilian on the left was especially fun to talk to and has already been recruited for a role in D’s film with his Jodorowskian mien – how much you have been hunkered down within yourself in full ‘retreat’ mode and that at end of the day, as much as the social recluse cocoon has a strong and definite magnetic pull, it really isn’t that good for you.

In the end, we found ourselves slowly unfurling almost without even realizing it; relaxing, talking, hearing anecdotes and other people’s stories and having a great time.

I felt so loosened up by it, almost liberated. In fact, in the end, Joy had to throw us out as we were oblivious and it was getting late.

We emerged into the fresh, icy air; meandering new routes back to the station : really glad to have gone to the Christmas party – feeling renewed; content, and thoroughly refreshed.

24 Comments

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24 responses to “THE CHRISTMAS PARTY

  1. I love the photos and couldn’t agree more with your written words. As much as we all craved to go back to ‘normal”, once we have the chance, it no longer feels normal, except for the initial entry on what we thought was “normal”, but now the “abnormal” seems more normal to me, although in truth I now believe that none of the aforementioned normality ever really existed in the first place, except perhaps in that time and place. We only have the “moment” and it goes by too quickly for most of us to even have time to think if it is normal or not. The bottom line is to enjoy what there is to enjoy when it is offered to us, because in the past two years, no enjoyment was the “normal”. My appologies for my “abnormal” diatribe and I am glad you enjoyed the Christmas party. My wish for all of us is a happy and healthy 2022, whether it be normal or abnormal.

  2. OOOh! A bit of holiday cheer! Been quite a while lacking that sort of festivity.
    House parties are always such a blast. I would never host one though.
    Found new dens of treasures along the way? Bonus!
    Clarins’ fragrances always have this almost sporty citrus freshness with spa-like invigorating herbs & resins that just aren’t my style.
    The Xmas gifts have started arriving in my humble abode. A Japanese-Nepali client of mine owns Fumiko Farm and sent me a large package of gorgeously presented jams and jellied fruits. The delicate flavors of the pineapple, plums, ruby grapefruit, oranges, and cherries all perfectly preserved with just a hint of added sweetness. Absolutely delicious!

    • Japanese fruit jellies are pure genius. I sometimes forget about them and should send them as gifts: intensely flavoured and packed into a deliciously presented item, but not too sweet or overflavoured.

      I am hungover and could eat a whole box of them right now!

  3. Georgia Kossifou

    Such a brilliant piece,loved it!!

    • Oh good. I was thinking of you specifically with the Caprissimo patchouli.

      Once I am done with it, you are going to need some (and I will make either a small bottle or roll on for thee – O Reine De Patchouli).

      Hope things are good with you and you and the family have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

      Christ knows we all need it. x

  4. I love the photos too, very sentimental. I’m glad that you went out for a party. I only dare to go to a bar with a wide open door for happy hours.

  5. Patricia

    Wonderful piece…yes so brilliant…photos capturing the mood….so happy for you with friends and perfumes to covet and purchase.
    Love you’re beautiful engrossing book and refer to it often…so pricey tho the best perfumes as are vintage which I also love.
    Looking forward to 2022 with a hopeful heart.
    Best to you and D….happiness elusive but occasionally a sun shines through
    Merry Christmas
    Patricia

  6. OnWingsofSaffron

    Excellent! Good to enjoy the lull between the two waves! Btw, we had to cancel our trip to La Monnaie Opera in BXL because Germany declared Belgium a high risk region. And now Israel has declared Germany a high risk region, so I wonder what will happen with our trip there in Spring? And yes, there are still plenty of antivaxxers running around (ca. 20%), shouting something about Freedom, Liberté, Freiheit etc., so Covid has the best of chances of hanging out for quite some time. Good Lord—

  7. Robin

    This was the most fabulous escapism. Don’t ever stop writing, Neil. I know you wouldn’t, of course, but I could easily panic at the thought of not being able to have these regular jolts of pleasure and vicarious adventure.

    Congratulations on those vintage bottles. I also would love to relive that high of stumbling across a bunch of exquisite velvetized Guerlains. Happy to hear you’ve acquired more N°19 parfum. Mmm, and that Vent Vert. That is a good iteration. There’s a freshness to it that works so well in conjunction with the more serious, darker mood of the parfum.

    I just about salivate at the idea of a party. And I get sad at the same time. I feel the loss of that past life and sometimes lack certainty I’ll ever have it back. I will, we will, I know objectively, but my soul can’t believe it right now. We were so close, and now the O word, bloody curse.

    Got my booster today and thank you, Canada. Step in the right direction, anyway.

    • Me and D are actually thinking about getting boosters independently as there is a clinic in Yokohama, mainly for the foreign community, that is giving them. For schools, January and February are entrance exam time so they are being very schtum about it as they don’t want anyone calling in sick with side effects the next day (did you have any?)

      As for escapism, this delights me. The experience itself of a lovely day out like Sunday is escapism for me; the trying to ‘capture’ it in words and pictures another, and then if another person feels it as something freshly felt that is then another layer of experience that makes me feel fabulously alive. Thanks R x

      • Robin

        I love knowing that.

        Sore arm at first, it’s pretty much gone away this morning, and a couple of waves of feeling a little tired and flu-ish. Moderna.

        Mostly, just some elation. Omicron can go to hell.

      • OnWingsofSaffron

        I got my booster (BioNTech Pfizer): no side effects at all! Not even a real sore arm.
        Get the booster as soon as possible! In Germany the official vaccination board stated today that boosters are recommended after 3 months!

  8. Valentyna

    Loved reading this post, it almost felt like I went there with you two, haha, that photo of your shadows made me think of Pet Shop Boys song divided by zero…
    I wonder what those white flowers were on one of the pictures? Are they camellias? I am so hungry now when winter comes to the UK and there is hardly anything for me to stick my nose into: all jasmines are gone, roses are gone, no irises and not even lavenders.. Only an odd bushes of hardly scented heathers and spiky mahonias. Oh well.
    I feel absolutely drained with all the stress of sanitising, people failing to wear masks and social distance. It’s been a very stressful time. Fortunately I managed to get my booster 3 days ago, Moderna this time, caught one little dizzy spell 30 mins later, a bit of a sore arm, a bit of sore armpit just like after Pfizer, and annoying headache 9 hours after it.. Next morning felt tired and meh, but still decided to drag everyone out for a walk. All gone now. I wish we never had to do these vaccinations again..

    • Me too – but yearning for a booster. And yes : those were camellias

      ( amazing that you should mention Pet Shop Boys :: I am on a full blown re-obsession with them at the moment – playing all my old albums again like Behaviour).

      They are so brilliant – the best concert I have ever been to in my life was the Derek Jarman film backdrop tour of 1989 at the Birmingham NEC.

      What are your most loved PSB songs ?

  9. i am so glad for you, that you had a good time at the party. and i loved the Tokyo photos, reminds me of our holidays there

    • It was fabulous to be up there again. As well you know, though theoretically Tokyo is overwhelming and sometimes often is, it is also remarkably stress free in many ways and easy to manoeuvre: I love it

  10. emmawoolf

    Ah, how wonderful. Great pics. (And the prose isn’t too bad either). So happy that you made it to the capital and…a party! We actually managed a couple of brief Christmas ones here, but we’re back to bracing 1 degree outdoor temperatures, wearing thermals instead of party gear and smelling of nothing else but wood smoke. I am deeply grateful for this, however. In the meantime our Christmas Covid carnage means that just about every teen I know in the UK has the virus, including William. He is due to come out of isolation tomorrow, just in time for Christmas, but there’s the worry as to whether the rest of us have it, and will pass it to my parents and sister, who want a family Christmas. On verra. Miss you xx

    • You too.

      And, indeed, sigh. My sister is just coming out of it and she and my brother are going up to Solihull today. My dad hasn’t been well and I also worry about them passing along Omicron.

      It’s starting here now in Osaka, so I suspect that this was probably our last Tokyo trip and party for a while…

      Have a good Christmas and New Year x

  11. What a delightful piece. Your words have buoyed me this year – thank you for that. I also find myself yearning to strengthen that social muscle again, but I need more time to warm up to people now, more time to thaw after this long winter.

    Happy New Year!
    -Francesca

  12. Oh what a wonderful time this whole day must have been!!! Just being out and about, and going to a Holiday Party on top of that!! How truly smashing!
    I absolutely love all of the photographs of the day, they really tell a story by themselves. Colour me a wee bit jealous.
    I am fairly well settled into our routine of just being in the house all of the time, with the exception of small weekend drives just to be out for a bit (no stopping anywhere though), to get some air and see the world around us. Oh do I just miss being in a big city around the holidas though. Boston is always lovely, but New York is even better. I would love to experience Tokyo for Christmas though, it must be so interesting.
    I guess I do miss going places, but eventually things will normalize further…I hope.

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