Category Archives: Antidotes to the banality of modern times

THE GUILT AND THE REGRET

 

 

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It has suddenly dawned on me that I only have a week left, not two, before returning back to work. That this is over. That a period of almost six months, a big, unprecedented chunk of time to get over the major knee surgery I had back in March (that feels, in ‘reality’ more like six weeks – it has passed so quickly I can hardly believe it), and which I thought would feel like an endless, half year sabbatical during which I would achieve all kinds of wonders –  but failed to – is coming to a close as the summer ends, and autumn approaches, and the teaching begins, even though I am not remotely ready for it to do so.

I am not even, by any stretch, fully recovered. I had assumed that I would be walking pretty much normally; would be embarrassed by the fact that I was breezing into work all physically and mentally buff without the aid of any walking sticks, making it appear as though I have just been skiving off work without any reason, to the envy of my Japanese co-workers who have been slaving it through the summer and who cannot in a million years even imagine two weeks away from their jobs ( even when sick), let alone half a year, when the arrogant foreigner comes slinking back to his desk as though nothing had happened, with a sigh and a heavy heart nevertheless, because in his heart of hearts he wishes that the convalescence, and the freedom to do absolutely nothing, could have gobe on indefinitely, forever.

At least, then, I will still look like a vaguely pitiful, half-baked cripple. They will have visible evidence in front of them that I have, in fact, been through the wringer. Just from seeing the way that I walk. The pain from my swollen joints. The fact that my knees still ‘give’ on occasion and I stumble. The odd gait. My winces. For although I have undoubtedly made a great deal of progress since my ‘bilateral, closed wedge high tibial osteotomies’, eight hour surgery (for those readers not familiar with all of this) that required the breaking, cutting and rearranging of my legs so that I would have to learn to walk again from zero, or minus more like, because initially, they weren’t even really like legs, when I woke up, just bleeding, bruised, swollen and paralyzed appendages covered in ice packs that I felt no connection to and which I couldn’t move at all and which let me feeling helpless and inconsolable and full of regret that I had even gone through with it (it was only later that I realized in fact what a major undertaking this all has been : it is very rare for people to have both legs operated on at the same time, particularly with the more painful and complicated ‘closed wedge’ procedure that I had to sign up for – most hospitals only consent to perform the surgery on one leg at a time, at yearly intervals ( what was I thinking?!), and if I look back at myself in March, and April, and then see my situation now, able – at home at least – to move around by myself without sticks, I cannot argue with the fact that I have made a great deal of progress indeed, relatively speaking. Undeniable. I went from immobile and paralzyed, to wheel chair, to slow walking frame, to sticks, to being able now to walk around the house; a flamingo with no support at all.

At the same time, by the half year mark, a good percentage of osteotomy patients (according to the ‘internet’, and therein lies the danger), are playing tennis, walking normally, even jogging, supposedly, yet here I am with all this pain in my joints, deteriorated muscles in my thighs, calves and ankles that I am still trying to strengthen with weekly or bi-weekly physio sessions at a nearby hospital, definitely not the slimmed down, fit as a fiddle, legs like tree trunks September teacher that I thought I was going to be, one who would have spent this long, long hot summer fruitfully, maybe one who had even started writing that book, who had really achieved something, the Bionic Man. Instead, the time has just slipped by, like sand through my fingers.

Then again, when I have talked about this to the people I know – it has been a very sociable and friend-driven time, with hospital visits and stays at our house galore, lots of sitting about and talking and drinking and watching films on the projector, or meet ups in Tokyo, most people I have spoken to about this have said that I am actually being way too hard on myself , that the only thing I really have needed to be focusing on, in fact, for the entire duration, is my recovery, and that to even think about trying to ‘achieve’ other things, in my circumstances, is unrealistic, still languishing in my painkiller cocoon and the heaviest heat of July and August. My mother knew that this would be the case all along. That to even be able to walk ( but why isn’t it more painless? and smoother? and less fraught?) is a great achievement in itself. And I suppose it is. I see severely handicapped people walking on the streets, sometimes, twisted and contorted and with great determination in their eyes just to move forwards, and I feel a lot of gratitude that I am not personally in such a situation. It has, I suppose, been a success, and the entire purpose of the six months off from work recommended by my surgeon was simply to recover from what was essentially a very traumatic experience, the only foreigner in a Japanese hospital having my legs snapped and sliced up then stuck in an in the middle of nowhere Yokosuka rehabilitation ward for two months while the wounds healed, my slow and tentative physiotherapy began, and, where like a baby, I literally learned to put one foot hesitantly, and painfully, in front of the other.

I think the real guilt, if I am truly honest, comes in the lack of guilt I feel in the knowledge of how much I have actually rather enjoyed the whole experience. As readers, you will be the judge of how depressed, or not, I seemed in hospital, as I was expressing myself to you there quite frequently live to you raw and in the flesh, attempting to paint pictures of my time there in sensorial detail, the complexities, and the truth that there is beauty everywhere and anywhere, even in the bland confines of a private hospital room. My mad torrent of impressions that I posted on the last day of my stay, ‘Seventeen things I have realized in hospital’ surprised even me in its sheer length and passion: ironically, or perhaps predictably, I don’t know, the sheer stimulus of, or the reacting against, the institutionalization I was gradually succumbing to brought some muscle and some vigor to my writing that melted away once I flopped into the perfumed, sybaritic environs of our house, where I had no schedule any more to pitch my time against, and where I awoke to the bliss each morning that I had nothing whatsoever to do except get on with my exercises while watching films and documentaries ( heaven !) or playing records ( ditto) or reading the New York Times ( the same ) while drinking coffee ( nectar!); that it was summer, which I love far, far more than the other seasons combined, and most importantly, that I didn’t have to work.

I know when I go back next week (nooooooooo!!!!) that there will be plenty of abnormally workaholic Japanese colleagues who I work with who will be bewildered and uncomprehending if I admit to them shyly that I managed to ‘get through’ six months off from work without getting bored (not one second); that I was able to satisfyingly occupy my time ( absolutely); that I didn’t require outside interference and imposed structure in order to feel stimulated, useful, or worthwhile as a human being (why would I?) True, I do feel quite lazy. Incredibly, unbelievably, shamefully lazy, or indolent, or decadent, or just outrageously, insultingly self indulgent, but my job – though enjoyable, stimulating, and definitely good for me, in the long run, because it keeps me in society where I can do something good for people, for the youth; prevents me from becoming a total Queen of Sheba lying prostate and luxuriating in the moment and the sunbeams while sipping red wine from golden chalices ( we literally have some ) and dangling grapes into my far too active, orally fixated mouth as I smear myself unctuously with unguents and perfumes and sing along to the music –  is just that : a job, work; something to bring home the bacon and keep me alive and not ending up on a park bench, essential: but ultimately, at the end of the day, though theoretically it pains me to admit this,  I have no work ethic. Yes, I care very much about each lesson, how it goes, and how the students are actually doing, my reputation, the school’s success rate, so I try and do my best whenever I am teaching (there are few things more depressing than a bad lesson, trust me) and I really do need the money ( right now I have none – I am living off Duncan, like a parasite ), but as for working for the sake of working, like a rat on a wheel, I truly, at the end of the day, can’t be arsed. Given the choice, I would not.  I have already been teaching for twenty five years, a quarter of a century. Is that not sufficient?

Work have been actually very good to me. Long gone are the Bubble days, when English teachers, ‘foreigners’ were treated like gods and paid like kings for just speaking their own language. I arrived after this time, but even then, conditions were good, and there were plenty of escapees like me just making a living, evading the realities of their home countries by immersing themselves in the incomprehensible exotic, hanging out with each other partying, just having another adolescence, really, because they couldn’t really think of anything better to do and were just living for the moment until they saw a light at the end of the tunnel or a different opportunity. Still, the economy changed, many fled after the earthquake, and attitudes towards them hardened. With the country far more inward looking and less internationally minded now in my opinion (yes, despite the coming Olympics, there is no doubt that the younger generation is more insular and Japanese in many ways); in spite of the need for the country to produce more competent English speakers- really, the general level of spoken English here is really quite embarrassing compared to surrounding Asian countries- the ‘eikaiwa’ teacher now often works in quite appalling work conditions and I am actually extremely lucky to have the position that I do. I certainly don’t take it for granted. When the company that both Duncan and I originally worked for went bankrupt after a scandal, several years ago, there were reports of teachers having to beg for food because they were not getting paid; lesson by lesson, by the hour pay contracts, no benefits, no holidays, quite undignified with no future prospects. And definitely no paid leave of absence ( I was given three months just out of kindness, even though it wasn’t part of my contract) or keeping your job open for you, nor genuine concern for your well being. I am fortunate.

Still, I feel some worry, if not exactly guilt, or regret, about what it is going to be like when I skulk back into the teachers room at one of the schools I work in next Tuesday, my first day back after all this time. Although the teachers at the university entrance exam section I mainly work in were solicitous and kind to me before the operation, giving me a big good luck card and a portable DVD player for the hospital, and several of the teachers also came to visit me there, the high school entrance exam section, far more basic on every level, were quite vexingly blase to almost an inhuman degree. I was furious with them on my last day for the total lack of interest in what was going to happen to me. I am not narcissistic enough to assume that my tedious health issues should be great cause for other people’s attention, particularly seeing how busy they always are, plus with all the paid holiday I get compared to them (as a yearly contract worker I get the holiday, which is precisely why I took the job and why I can write this blog and actually have a life, unlike them), but not the bonuses, the pension, the health insurance, I suppose they just assumed ah yes, there he is, the hoity toity Englishman, off from work again, the unindustrious bastard, so perhaps there was some kind of resentment towards me I don’t know, but even though everyone knew that I was in a lot of pain and that I was about to have some quite scary sounding surgery, no one, except one very cultured man I get along well with and who came to see me after my operation, said so much as a good luck, a hope you get well soon, or even a grunt of human decency as I tidied my text, took my things, and walked out of the school.

Which is why, when I then got an email saying that the entire office of that very same high school section was going to come and visit me in hospital after the operation a few weeks later, I flipped and said no way, because the idea was completely intolerable to me.This is actually a very big faux pas in Japanese society; things are done a certain way and you have to abide by these rules, but I was so infuriated by the hypocrisy of the situation  – people only doing something out of duty when they don’t even particularly like the person involved even though they had the opportunity to show concern a long time before, that I told my boss that I didn’t want visitors and wouldn’t see anybody. I weighed up the situation; accepting something just to keep the status quo, having a motley bunch of bad smelling worn out slave teachers filling up my hospital room and going through the motions with them, but at that time I was so fragile and neurotic I knew that no matter what happened I couldn’t possibly bear it for even a minute, let alone an hour, and when I get like this I will do anything it takes to prevent something intolerable from happening to me, no matter what the consequences. I become a total nutcase. I don’t regret it, exactly, but even so, it will be quite embarrassing having to face these people; the incident will create yet another level of enamel, or plaque, between us, yet another barrier preventing me from ever getting close. Still, I only have to teach in that place one day a week, and the other schools are far more sophisticated and welcoming. Wednesday should be a totally different situation altogether.

I regret, quite a lot though, that I am going back in such bad shape. Not spic and span, ‘fixed’ with my brand new shining legs. Is it my fault? It’s hard to say. How much responsibility does the patient have for his or her post operative progress and rehabilitation? I did everything that I was told to do. Perhaps I was just too in love with my young physiotherapist to be listening properly to what he was saying I should do at home as my post-operative exercises (this I feel a lot of guilt about, if not regret; it may have hurt Duncan, how much, who can say, he never would  – he has had his own crush in the past, a harmless, unacted upon one, just like this, but still; though I knew that nothing was ever going to come of it, which is why I wrote about it, to kill it in sunlight, and it was probably just some form of Florence Nightingale Syndrome, when sheer dependency and vulnerability can make you feel so emotional, in retrospect I feel that it was mutual; not the deep geological strata that I have with my loved one – and it has been a full on Summer Of Love in recent months – but more like a shallow lake of beautiful clear water shimmering near the surface that I had to wrench myself away from, just because. Still, it may have clouded my judgement about how good exactly he was as a physiotherapist when I think about it now; both of the people that treated me at that original hospital helped to get me back on my feet, so I am intensely grateful to them, of course, but the lack of a clear post-hospital programme once I got back home – I was just given generic exercises that I don’t think were sufficient to strengthen the muscles that needed strengthening – and in full disclosure, was I even doing them all diligently enough in the first place? You know my innate laziness… I don’t know…..)

Whoever is responsible, something isn’t working right; the x-ray displays perfect growth of the new bones, but it doesn’t show the muscles, and the tendons. Maybe I have wrecked my knees with my stupid, grotesque, Burning Bush dancing?

 

 

 

 

 

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I was finally able to attend the most recent screening of Duncan and Yukiro’s comedy horror film Girl Goned on August 11th, having missed the premiere and other showings while I was in the hospital (even if I did watch it on my phone as the events unfurled live on my screen). It was fantastic to be finally out in Tokyo again, with a whole group of friends, most of us dressed up in costumes, me as my character/ alter ego, Burning Bush who is the foulest villain of the movie, and walking through Shinjuku in that get up at 2am in the morning, bathed in neon, stopped and photographed and smiled at by random strangers was surreal and peculiarly liberating after all these times just stuck on the rented kitchen bed at home like some down on his luck geriatric.  Recently, I have just felt so encumbered and ungainly with my walking, like Frankenstein, and though this character also was using sticks, they felt more like props that just quite nicely set off the whole get up to even more amusing effect. In this picture (is that really me? I think I look like a mix of Madonna singing Like A Virgin; a zombie, and a pint size little rag doll, mainly because the drag queen standing next to me was just so very gigantic.)

 

Nevertheless, I shouldn’t have been ‘dancing’ as I was at the film party (but I was just so glad to be back…..); not dancing, exactly, but on sticks, moving about a bit – did I damage the tentative healing of my legs in the process? Should I have been just staying in at home and doing the exercises the entire summer, like a good little ogre, or should I also have been training myself to get out and about? To learn how to get on the escalators in the station, on and off trains and buses (all quite difficult at first), to get myself back into society when I knew that by September I had to be totally ready for it? There has been just so much conflicting advice and opinions from so many different professionals, that at times I have just felt like giving up or chopping them right off – go on the bike, don’t go on the bike, go up stairs, don’t go up stairs, do this exercise, don’t do that exercise, that it is impossible to know how much activity I am actually supposed to have been doing. At times it has all just been overwhelming.

Which leads us to another thing that I definitely do feel guilt and regret about – not losing weight. This, obviously, is a major way to make the burden on the knee joints much lighter, and leading to less pain (and less bullying at work; yes, I am writing this sentence quite seriously: Japan can be quite appalling, really cruel when it comes to such things. People never hesitate to tell you when you have put on weight here). In hospital, on that wan, repulsive rice and fish diet, even supplemented by smuggled in choco, I lost quite a bit of weight, much to everyone’s delight, as I am considered by others (but not by myself) to be this morbidly obese shadow of my former self. But anyway, sadly, greed, gluttony, inactivity and boozing, though, have put it all back on again and more; I bought an exercise bike precisely for this problem and was working hard on sweating away those extra pounds while watching Netflix on hot July mornings and quite enjoying the endorphins but my newest physiotherapist (very good; thorough; rigorous, experienced) doesn’t think this is good for my inflamed and swolled joints right now, so again, heeding yet again the latest advice, I have stopped.

Do I regret all this? I don’t know. I don’t think so. We’ve had such fun. A blurry, and memorable few beautiful months following the initial stress of the surgery and its aftermath, which at the time was exhausting for us both (and for you readers, too, I imagine – I think this is the last time that I am going to talk about any of it for the time being). It’s been so lovely just sitting together on the tropical balcony upstairs having beers and settling into a gorgeous sunset dream state, or sinking into the new Twin Peaks series, stoked on Sicilian red wine. Nice dinners, spent out on the town. A summer of just living in the moment; being oblivious, or trying to, with the world the way that it has been; poised in the membrane somewhere between reality and somewhere else. Content. Happy.

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Filed under Antidotes to the banality of modern times, autobiography, Depressed, Psychodrama

NOMBRE NOIR SLOB MARQUIS

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I haven’t had a shower in three days. Duncan has Type A influenza, and I am feeling weird myself as well. Like a man suffering from rabies, I am hating the thought of water touching my body. Instead, I am dousing myself in cloves; in all the Italian perfumes I was writing about the other day, and, to go to the shops, in my pyjamas and a hoodie (because I can’t be bothered to get dressed), I am steeped in the exquisitely rare parfum of Shiseido’s Nombre Noir.

 

 

In my initial, stunned review (because I couldn’t believe that I had found it for the equivalent of ten dollars, or whatever it was) I admitted to you that I was overwhelmed and a tad dry-eyed; I suspect at that point I had been reading all the ecstatic reviews with perfume lovers prostrating themselves purple-prosedly before the altar of Serge Lutens and Mr. Turin, and the cynical, devil’s advocate in me could only smell a variant of Knowing, Rose De Nuit, and Jean-Marc Sinan, and had to churlishly beg to differ.

 

 

I still think that Rose De Nuit is probably the closest I have smelled to this delicious, damasceneous perfume (YES, it is all about the damascones, the volatile, neon prune roses) and they leap out from my hoodlum, crumpled clothes and fill up the room, as does all my SPICE from my skin that lies beneath – and also the stench, I suppose, of my lingering, unwashed filth.

 

 

 

And yet as I walk out into the cold cold night surrounded by this dramatic, incandescent, and decadent perfume I feel like the French aristocracy; like an iconic marquis, like the sybaritic, indulgent royal scumbag that I possibly once was, in another life long ago

 

 

 

 

(and yes, the photo above is of me, taken just after that monster got into power…….I wonder…..is all of this deep perfume mania, this pungent incantation, some kind of livid, pointless revenge; some kind of talismanic attempt to frustratedly de-poison him, and it all, from my system? I don’t know; I know that I am still, as many of you are, traumatised……………..)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Antidotes to the banality of modern times, Psychodrama, Rose perfumes

Le refuge: : : APRES L’ONDEE by GUERLAIN ( 1906 )

 

 

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Guerlain’s strange and exquisite Après L’Ondée has a cool, primeval innocence, yet a wise, sage, intuition; as new as a just-blossomed flower, but as ancient as its knowing, tearful DNA. The soft diluvial transparency it breathes makes the perfume by far the most natural and air-kissed of the classical Jacques Guerlains, while the unusual bouquet garni of anise, cassie, rosemary, heliotrope, carnation and hawthorn contrasting emotionally, and perturbingly, with the vanillic-lined silken flower dust beauty of its powdered iris, violet, mimosa and musks make the scent quietly Arcadian: mythological, almost in its shy but steadfastly feminine beauty. A poignancy: rainsoothed; unfathomed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Antidotes to the banality of modern times, Flowers

THIS DIOR COLLECTION PRIVE SET WAS CHEAP IN A RECYCLE SHOP

 

 

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BUT IT SMELLED TOO CRAP TO BUY

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Antidotes to the banality of modern times, Flowers

THE BELOVED VOL II: : CHANEL NºI9 VINTAGE PARFUM (I970)

 

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The perfumes I consider to be my holy grails are quite hard for me to approach in writing. How to do them justice. How to capture their invisible power over me in the right words. I do not want to botch the job, nor drown out their subtleties with my standard, over-enthusiastic, effusions. There is enough hyperbole out there already in perfume; all that hype and purple ‘prose’, most of which becomes so laughable in the face of the actual perfume that it’s an almost constant case of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

 

Before I go any further, I should probably also say that this perfume is probably unique for me in that it is a composition I cannot describe in metaphor or with allusions the way that I might usually do, with the visual, the psychological, the literary or the musical (as I have done with Vol De Nuit, Calèche and Arpège, for instance), the reason being that, unlike many others, this perfume does not actively remind me of anything, nor send me into reverie.

 

No.

 

Nº I9 is not what it evokes, but what it evinces. It is beautifully functional, a smell. A deceptively simple, beautiful, but mysterious composition of such imaginative and (anti)intuitive technical accomplishment that you wonder just how it could work: how the various elements – all essential – could slot together in such an apparently effortless way; how an exquisite vetiver/leather base could meld so fluidly with a pure and plaintive, iris-filled heart;  that orris, which in some batches can be almost heartbreakingly coldly fluid and beautiful  (at one point this was apparently the most expensive perfume in production due to the quality of its ingredients); how that cool, sublimely removed green iris rose could yet then be transfused through a more overtly sensual, brighter floral aperture of vivid neroli and sweet, fervent essence of ylang ylang (sheer genius), but then have its iced heart credentials sealed once again, with that taut, difficult, and spine-tingling, galbanum.

 

 

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Yes.

 

 

So even though I undeniably do have memories and associations – through other people who have worn her, and they have, over the years (my sister, my mother, close friends both male and female) –  I have yet conquered this perfume so many times in my own way, in my own lifetime now, that all other connected memories are almost obliterated. It is a living entity for me, this perfume, rather than some short-lived, tearful flashback, and, providing I can still get my hands on it, I can quite easily imagine wearing it until I die.

 

 

In parfum, the way I wear Nº I9, this androgynous Chanel masterpiece – created the year I was born – is strong, unapologetic, and virile (at times actually verging on too masculine for me in certain moods; ironic (or perhaps not), given that it was supposedly created for the exclusive personal use of Coco herself – that twentieth century ‘exterminating angel’ of mind over matter and art over people , Gabrielle Chanel, who wanted Henri Robert to create a private, inimitably elegant blend that only she could use (it was released to the public after her death). Like the formidable Chanel herself, this perfume in vintage feels self-assured, supercilious, arrogant even, but there is something quite melancholic and regretful in there also. I remember walking into the apartment of a very beautiful and dignified Italian diplomat, Francesca, in an upscale area of Tokyo, one night, and being amazed by her reaction to this scent; she was beside herself – mama mia che buono, che buon’odore –  as she hugged me to her and smelled me up close. I don’t know if her sexuality was relevant, but it did seem that we were both dabbling in unconventional gender conventions, she with her beautiful and expensive dandyish vestments; me in my carefully applied Chanel, and that the poignancy, but seduction, of the perfume I was wearing did seem to transcend some kind of barrier.

 

 

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Cambridge, far in the past now,  was a maelstrom of sensations and exquisitely, indulgently strung out stresses that have been quite stirred up by Nina’s recent visit and our delvings into some of its powerful emotions and recollections during our late night conversations –  something that D and I seem to have avoided for quite a few years.

 

 

It wasn’t just the overwhelming work load – French translation, Italian language, read Flaubert by Monday, write an essay by Wednesday, it was the cultural shift of going from my background of standard comprehensive school education and suburban, lower middle class’normalcy’ and being caterpulted into the rarified private school world of the rich; the ultra-privileged, the literally aristocratic, and being expected, as a green and innocent eighteen year old, to just somehow be able to take it and absorb it; learn to live alone (in impossibly beautiful surroundings; too yearnful for a stripling like me to even function normally, let alone excel academically);  to adapt to this sphere of being I had had no idea existed.

 

Muddling through the passions of a term or two and making some friends on the fringes, though, I did eventually settle into something like a stride and found myself doing quite well in the Italian department, where I had started anew like all the others and so was at less of an obvious disadvantage, and where I also met a Franco-British, velvet-voiced siren by the name of Kira (who my friends from home just hated: “Is the princess of Paaa-ris still there??” they would inquire sarcastically before coming to see me in my room) but I was still intrigued by our differences, by this new world; would listen patiently to her rich-kid melodramas and ignore her invites to just ‘pop on over to Paris to the weekend’ (er, Kira, not everyone has your kind of money you know…..), but would still sit flagrant, and wide-eyed, and receptive, as she doused herself, as she did constantly, in Chanel NºI9 eau de parfum, the old, rectangular bottle in silver grey and the only perfume she had ever worn – and the only scent she ever intended to ever wear in the forseeable future.

 

In that vintage edp form, quite different from my more secretive and wise parfum, my new acquaintance smelled quite resplendently standoffish and exhilarating…. I used to adore the way she smelled and  I can still smell her in my mind’s eye by the river at Trinity; a green, biting, iris-clad nomenclature; callous; dry; acerbic, French, floral and bitchy but also with vivacity – that glorious, dismissive self confidence that came both from her upbringing; a private education; the dreadful and total obliviousness of it all, really, but also from the perfume that, at the heart of its unsweetened and brilliantly constructed fleuri boisé bouquet, was really nothing to be trifled with. And neither, ultimately, was she.

 

 

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That was probably that, then, for that perfume then, just a memory, a perfume I liked, until one fine day, probably fifteen more or so years later, when I was in Motomachi, Yokohama, here in Japan – hot; sunny; mid summer – a dinkily chichi boutiquey and upscale shopping area near the bayside where the big ships from abroad come in; just moseying about, and walking around, when I came across an expensive-ish but affordable parfum spray of N°I9 in a second hand brand designer clothes shop. Although I would never consider buying the vaporisateur format of the vintage now (don’t do it: there’s some chemical that must have been put into these so-called ‘natural sprays’ that significantly deteriorates the delicate balance within and renders the blend strange, with a white, vegetal note that prevents you experiencing the perfume in full. What you want, ideally, is the parfum in bottle form; wax sealed; box-within-box, in that heavenly, fetishistically matrushka manner; untouched and protected by thick, white, paper ( although I bought one of these recently from somewhere only to find that although unopened, and there had been no trickery; there was nothing inside the expected flacon the contents mysteriously evaporated…).

 

Still….those unappealing top and middle notes notwithstanding, I soon found as I walked along the streets towards the hill overlooking the bay that the scent had melded with my skin in a way I had never before experienced. I remember walking along upwards, up along the confines of the beautiful Yamate Foreigner’s Cemetery, a place of dappling leaves, weeping angels and Russian crosses, and becoming gradually aware that I was smelling something beautiful.

 

This, then, was my first experience of what I would never have found if I had not on a whim bought that parfum: that hauntingly sinuous end accord that I now so cherish. The extract of this perfume, so much more concentrated, but so much less effusive and mischievous than the more girlish, vintage edt, has the most insistently withheld but yet affecting iris/ vetiver / leather dry down that I have ever encountered, grave and sonorous as a cello.  Pinched and held back by a superb note of citrus, while suspended in blanc nimbuli of delicate, Parisian powder, the scent hovers unhesitantly about your person through the day and long into the night, accompanying you but never intrusive, there, but semi-consciously.

 

The perfume isn’t always right; it can go too powdery and clogged if I slap it on overzealously like aftershave as I am prone to do when I come across a big vintage bottle here and think to myself why not. This, though, doesn’t ultimately detract from its beauty. If a perfume is so easy and comfortable that it is always suitable- your Dolce Light Blue, your citrussy Jo Malone, then odds are you are probably dealing with a scent that in itself is just fresh and unthreatening, unobtrusive – bland even, which is probably why it can just fade into the background beyond your daily consciousness and you can wear it, day after day, unthinkingly. With vintage Chanel NºI9, however,  we are talking instead about an intuitively crafted, deep and abstractly stunning piece of olfactory art that is what it is – serious; profoundly aromatic, and best of all, enigmatic, so austere and supremely elegant that it simply will brook not shallow miscalculations on your part. To wear the parfum on a day to day basis like a mere quotidian toiletry would just be too frivolous.

 

This perfume, precious now that the supplies of the vintage will be inevitably dwindling (and they really are – I can feel the difference here in Japan where it used to pop up all the time and now only rarely does), wills you to choose the right moment carefully, or otherwise leave it alone. But then, when that moment is right, as it has been these last few days,  it just lets you sit back and forget, while just subtlely taking over your aura like a twin, lending a grand yet gently dignified atmosphere that yet hints of sex, and shadows.

 

*

 

 

I knew I was onto a winner in those first months those twelve years ago or so when I first fell for this perfume on a night out with Duncan. Standing out there on the street in Shinjuku and having ascertained that the skin and the perfume had fused in exactly the right way, I  then asked him then to lean in close and smell me.

 

A person of great understatement, not given to great effusions of praise nor of compliments, Duncan’s one-word reaction,

 

Swoon

 

made me then realize that my instincts about this scent had certainly not been misguided, and many years and bottles later my love affair continues.

 

I might not wear this perfume all the time, I might go for six months for a time or even a year without putting it on, but Chanel NºI9 vintage parfum, is, in all probability and despite its ‘difficulty’ –  for its sheer olfactive precision, and unparalleled atmosphere, my ultimate holy grail.

 

 

 

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Filed under Antidotes to the banality of modern times, Exquisite Perfumes, Iris perfumes, Leather perfumes, Vetiver perfumes