par avion / air mail

We make presumptions that things will continue the way they are. Like the postal system. We imagine that there will always be alternatives for sending letters and packages, cheaper and more expensive options, slower and quicker; overland or by air. We rely on this for important transactions (right now my new passport is somewhere in the world making its way back from the UK Authority to Japan by whichever route they can find, no time guarantees possible – but by registered mail, naturally )- now that the entire global service has been disrupted by war.

Japan Postal Services has always been extraordinarily efficient. Sometimes I have sent something – in the past it would often have involved perfume – and it has got to England within three or four days: the British equivalent presumably also very effective the other side. It can, it must be said, also be very stressfully officious and pedantic about the most minor of details in a way that borders on fascistic – I will often leave and wait outside while D takes over because it is not good for my blood pressure – but the reliability of the system itself is absolutely unquestionable. Recent regulations have bordered on the ridiculous and ultra-inconvenient nonetheless, and I never quite understood why so many obstacles were being presented every time you went to post a gift: to send anything abroad,you had to first download a special app with special forms and other pieces of paper, print out an itemized description of every single thing inside the package – once I found myself listing the exact chocolates and sweets and Japanese snacks for my sister’s birthday present with laughable exactitude – it took an eternity – with the result that any birthday or Christmas presents in recent times have, instead, been courtesy of Jeff Bezos and Amazon. Just press and go.

It is not the same, though, as receiving a personalized and lovingly prepared parcel in the post, where you can feel the person who sent it to you; the familiar or unfamiliar scent that is always concealed and sealed in inside, waiting to be opened; the very tactile sense of communication that you can physically breathe. Before the post 9/11 liquids on flights rules, which changed everything dramatically, I used to send friends and family and occasionally my new-perfumista amici a lot of carefully wrapped vintage finds; I would cover everything with magazine collages and art and graffiti like address labels and perfume it all vividly and watch the wide-eyed and wide-nostriled staff at the local post office weigh and process it all; wondering where to adhere the air mail tags and stamps other administrative affixatives……but those days are gone. Now, as we discovered yesterday, between Japan, and most countries in Europe, there is no longer even regular air mail.

Given the great depth of suffering that is taking place in Ukraine and among displaced citizens taking refuge in other countries right now, this inconvenience is obviously a great nothing : but it did bring home just how profoundly disruptive this military aggression has become to the world order as a whole, from grain shortages to rapid inflation, to street protests, to travel, to rising societal instability worldwide because of fuel and commodity prices. One man’s obsolete obsession causing all of this just for a vainglorious void of nothingness and carnage and destruction. All the heinous waste. And of course, though very trivial in comparison, it also does mean that D’s mum’s eightieth birthday present for this coming May, the contents of which he has spent time collecting and assembling over the last few weeks, could apparently now take an unbelievable six months sent by the only available option : snail mail, when before we could have guaranteed it to arrive exactly on, or before, the day. Things have changed so dramatically; there are simply no planes now to take the mail now that the airspace over Russia and Ukraine has been closed. Flights are very few and between, and also quite bizarre to contemplate. If we do, for instance, manage to go back this summer, which is the plan, rather than travelling for eight hours over the serene, vast stretches of Siberia, which I used to love gazing out over, watching the sun glinting on the ice as I nursed my gin and tonic aboard a Dutch KLM flight just watching the snaking blue of pristine rivers and snow before eventually reaching Finland and Sweden and then down to the UK, now we will be going in the opposite direction, an anti-instinctual shift that does something to the brain because human beings are programmed to know when we are going the ‘wrong way’: in this case east rather than west, as has historically always been the case. Over the Pacific to Alaska and northern Canada; over Greenland, Iceland, and then back down to England: all new territory, so part of me is excited; the thought of seeing the new and unfamiliar trajectory on the flight board as we float in the darkness above glacial expanses and ocean. But it all does just goes to show how extremely serious things have become though; geopolitically shifting ,at an alarmingly rapid rate.

I been taken aback by the reality shock of it all. I must admit that I have dipped in and out of the news, unable to take reading about every detail from morning til night when there is nothing I can do about it, though it is always there in my mind as a gnawing backdrop and I have still been reading quite extensively- reportage on Bucha and so on – the besieged people in Mariupol. It is hard to reconcile that it is all really happening (do you have this : are we still in shock? ) From my own selfish, daily life, perspective, I just also could not quite get over the fact that the cancellation of air mail service is such a sad retrogression in this ‘modern age’, a going right back to the age of pre-flight mail delivery, to the time, pre-Caron en Avion (1932), when commercial and private aviation was still a new, exciting discovery and the technology of the future (and which I found myself really craving this morning for its archly gentle, poetic stoicism: there is nothing else like this perfume: an aridly aloof, peppered violet leather; dry as a bone, yet achingly romantic (I have never had a bottle, only sample vials); and, of course, the incomparable Vol De Nuit, which was created by Jacques Guerlain in 1933 , just as the brooding clouds of war were gathering over Europe in the dark years before the beginning of World War II.

We have gone back in time.

10 Comments

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10 responses to “par avion / air mail

  1. Wild Gardener

    How apposite!
    I received a vintage Vol de Nuit as part of a swap yesterday, and yes, it came by airmail (from Belgium to France, which I think is an horrific amount of Co²).
    Many of the same critiques apply to the French post office. They can be maddeningly pedantic; and it is very expensive, 50% more than in Greece.

    • Somehow it is easy to imagine Greek post offices being more laissez- faire: the tolerance of pedantry was never my strongpoint.

      I love the literal coincidence of Vol De Nuit extrait ( how is it ? the batches vary ) arriving by air mail.

  2. Shipping anything out of Nepal is a risky business, expensive too. I fear the 21st century will be an isolationist age, from China’s impossible “Zero Covid” policy to the ongoing atrocities in Ukraine – the implications seem dire. I guess global recession is inevitable?

  3. I believe the heady days of thinking the globe would become a “world village” are now completely off the table. The only thing that is shared without restraint, it seems, is illness. I too remain optomistic, but reality keeps rearing its ugly head.
    En Avion, and Vol de Nuit in extrait are both beyond sublime, and can bring tears to my eyes of joy. I think today I will wear En Avion. It will be perfect.

    • I love the fact that when a scent is mentioned, you can just walk to your perfume collection and wear it, knowing it is there. I envy the vastness and the fact that it includes such a beautiful and irrepeatable gem as Caron En Avion.

      • I feel you have just as large a collection as I have, maybe even larger. I just have a higher concentration of classics than most collectors, just because those are where my passion lies.

      • I have much fewer perfumes that it seems. And I love the idea of this concentration of classics………SUBLIME.

  4. Robin

    Neil, you describe En Avion with characteristic perfection.

    Love the stamps.

    I can’t follow the invasion of Ukraine too closely at all now. I just glance at a horrendous headline, shudder, and go numb. At the beginning, before the atrocities had started piling up, I was on a steady feed of YouTube analysis. Politically, I was fascinated. But then the human toll, the loss and terror and suffering and brutality, the faces and the stories, all caught up with me. I cling to the fact of great international military and humanitarian assistance and the mostly-steady hope that good will overcome evil. I have been practically drowning in fragrance these days to distract myself. There may be people who can absorb the details of all this ugly, despicable — criminal — aggression readily, willingly, without anguish and vicarious trauma, but I can’t fathom it, can’t fathom that ability to let it just roll off their backs.

    • Somehow I knew instinctively that this is how you were feeling, and I am very glad you have articulated it all here, as it reflects myself as well. So terrible this has happened in 2022, and we don’t even know how far it is all going to go..

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