Category Archives: Flowers

TWO PERFUMES FOR TYPHOON NO 19: ANTONIA by PUREDISTANCE (2010) + NOTE VANILLE by MICALLEF (2008)

 

 

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Typhoons and earthquakes are two natural phenomena you have to accept and get used to if you choose to make this country your borrowed home. Somehow, many of us do: despite the frustrations, at heart, we adore something about the mysteries, the refinement, the deep layers, and sheer beauty of this seething place that addicts the blood and is so hard to move away from once seeped into your soulstream: most other places, in comparison, often just seem  dull: unstimulating, ‘flat’, or dangerous just in different ways (being stabbed in the back by a random hooded teenager in London; shot  in the head while shopping at the supermarket in the US.Is anywhere actually safe?)

 

 

 

 

Although I am not usually particularly nervous about typhoons, as the area we live in is usually relatively unaffected  for some reason compared to other more unfortunate areas of the country such as poor Chiba, just two hours north by regular train, which had its second major storm in one month,cutting off the power supply and running water, and a 5.8 simultaneous earthquake for good measure (I was so restless; dancing basically, that I didn’t even notice, no, couldn’t actually feel the earthquake when Duncan nervously pointed it out to me): on this occasion, as you may have gathered from my previous post, I think I went a little bit nuts. Already on Friday, as the rains started and everyone seemed quite palpably anxious at work, if putting a very brave face on it all, with hearty laughter all round, perhaps for the sake of the children, I had a heavy feeling in my chest; a true sense of fear, and was physically unable to teach. Ditching what I had planned for that day, I thought board games all round were the ticket for us all – my brain had the sophistication of a walnut, and I couldn’t think straight, let alone be educational; I just wanted to get home and get through it. Passing by the late night supermarket, usually loaded with expensive imported food and other sundries, I noticed that many of the shelves were bare, and felt a quiet sense of panic overcoming me (people were talking about being in the dark with no water – my ultimate fear; I had filled up the bathtub and all the plastic bottles we have on the premises just in case; D was busy writing a review of some Japanese short stories when I got in and was wholly focused on doing that; I came in like a hysterical Beetlejuice loaded with bags of available groceries and liquor (“Why aren’t you panicking?”! I shouted at him, disrupting his peace and concentration), the government having warned its citizens to ‘do everything you can to protect your own life’, which you must admit, doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence. I enjoy my life, and if possible am not quite ready to throw in the towel; everyone was acting as though something pretty major was about to occur  – my piano duet friend Yoko sent me a message saying that she hoped we would see each other again with ‘full body integrity intact’, but all you can do, passively, and patiently, is sit there and wait, hope the roof doesn’t get blown off and you along with it, and pray the windows don’t smash; Typhoon No 19 apparently the biggest one this year; for decades, the throbbing sense of foreboding made me slightly haywire.

 

 

 

 

 

Arriving simultaneously, from another direction, as Typhoon Hagibis made its steady, cataclysmical path from the Philippines in our direction, was a jet plane, carrying in its cargo a beautiful package from Amsterdam sent by Pure Distance founder Jan Ewoud Vos, who had read on here that I was running out of Antonia recently and that I was going to ask Duncan to buy me some more for my birthday. Pipping him to the post, he had sent me some luxuriously boxed bottles of pure parfum in the original clear glass flacons – they have now been repackaged in a new green design more fitting to the olfactory personality of the fragrance, though I think the transparent bottles, now not for sale, work just as  well; and these beauties were delivered by the same friendly postman who delivered the first copy of my my book back in February; always smiling (this is not usual), and someone I wave to when I crisscross his route on my morning bike rides. Tearing open the carefully wrapped up box in my kitchen I was like a kid on Christmas morning delighted to have such a sudden supply; as I said recently, this is a perfume I have come to not be able to live without; one I will turn to regularly as a new default scent; a green, flourishing floral with an immediate sense of balance and tactility, with orris and rose accents (and possibly secret tuberose), a gush of fresh galbanum on a brilliant white, centre of soap-like opacity shot through with light – and a soft, vetiver, sandalwood and delicate ending that lingers all day and just somehow feels totally right. This fragrance is perhaps more ‘conservative’ that what I might usually go for in some ways (and maybe it will improve my general behaviour for that reason) but precisely because of this poise and untouchability, it gives me a feeling of peace and serenity that is extraordinarily comforting; one of those few-sprays-on-clean-clothes-and-ah-yes that-will-do-for-the-day scents. As with No 19, which some people compare this to – even if to me the Chanel is so much bitterer, supercilious, austere; more masculine and cannily intuitive; for me there is only a fleeting resemblance between the perfumes, especially in the drydowns; where 19 is all indisputably elegant, if distancing, vetiver, iris root, and leather on me, Antonia has an opalescent aldehyde warmth of attenuated flowers and a suggestion of vanilla that is far more filled with ease.

 

 

 

 

 

Which is what I needed, after a marathon night of cinema viewing in our projector room upstairs as I tried to take my mind off the impending doom on Friday night and prevent myself from  looking at the Internet, getting frothed up into a meteorological frenzy as I imagined our upcoming disarticulation by diabolical winds, waking at 3:30pm on the Day Of The Typhoon (almost unheard of for me); as the rains started picking up with a grin,  and the wind was increasing in kinetic velocity ………as a childhood lover of The Wizard Of Oz, I cannot deny that have always found storms extremely exhilarating- I used to take my little sister running through the local woods when there was a downpour, I always loved the smell ; half expecting the Wicked Witch Of The West to go cycling by in the twister shouting out Dorothy before landing with a thud in the technicolour marvels of the Munchkins, Lionheart and the Tin Man, and the field of delirium poppies,flying monkeys; there is a movement to it all, an indescribable palpitation in the air of spiralling chlorophyll and unstoppable rains that is cleansing and terrifying at the same time. But I have no death wish; obviously, I am talking now only about the beginning, as the typhoon approached; by 6pm I was showered and dressed and spritzed all over ready for it in Antonia (‘the perfume will protect you’, declared Mr Vos in an email, when I told him we had ‘beaten’ the typhoon), and for a while, as the atmosphere started to edge up to danger (Hagibis made landfall around 7:30pm an hour or two south, while I was still dancing next to the wide open kitchen window and marvelling at the energy in the air as D kept wrestling the window shut from only for it to be re-opened again), I was immensely enjoying my own scent lit up further by all the green in the air outside; yes, it may have been fear, but you know when enough is enough though; your instincts tell you – – – oh, this is starting to feel a bit genuinely dangerous now, what shall we do? An ear plugged game of chess?

 

 

 

 

No. Keep dancing, watching movies and drinking wine, munching on snacks in front of the screen praying the lights won’t go out as the room gets gradually more and more buffeted, bashed from outside as the shutters rattle violently, and you start wondering when the tiles are going to start flying off the roof and crashing to the ground like they did in September 2011 when I was huddled in a room under blankets listening to Tori Amos’ Shattering Sea at maximum volume in a much darker frame of mind than this Saturday, when Donald Trump was ranting and raving on the screen in Michael Moore’s overboiled, if still semi-fascinating documentary on the beloved president, and the shouts of the morons at the conventions were gladly drowned out by our little cinema getting pummelled by killer winds and rains and we were both being gung-ho but wondering if it was going to get any worse.

 

 

 

 

 

By the time we had settled into watching Nicolas Cage go apeshit in the stylised 1983 of Mandy, the typhoon outside was torrid and still very noisy, but felt like it was diminishing. We could sit back. As we gratefully sipped Jack Daniels and cokes I reached out in the (deliberately chosen) darkness to see what perfumes were existing unloved and unworn on the tops of the bookshelves next to me; my hand chanced upon an Olivia- decanted bottle of Micallef’s Note Vanille, a rich, dense, sweet and truly gourmand confection of real vanilla beans steeped in brandy and cognac, with sandalwood and mandarin accents – much more embodied and out there than Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille, which I loved, awhile,for its cherry deliciousness, the first time I smelled it in Paris on the Champs Elysees at the time of its release, but which has somehow become disappointing to me; just not quite as heavenly and delectable as I remember it. This

gorgeous Micallef, though, sprayed on the right sleeve of my hoodie and wrist, even if it is not really the type of smell  go for any more; just too molasses thick and gooey and as sugar-plum-fairied as densely coated Christmas marrons glaces melting on the tongue,  at this moment it felt just right; pure comfort, heady, and a pleasingly contrasting facet to Antonia, which I could smell everywhere else, with its leafy, benevolent diaphanous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We woke up on Sunday. To bright blue skies,  conceited sun: and to the air-filling smell of osmanthus, our tree the biggest in the area, ten days later than usual, the flowers also, just battening down their collective hatches and waiting for the right moment to bloom and release their apricot odour into the atmosphere; at first, so warm and so fragrant outside that I was a little bit disoriented (not entirely dissimilar, in fact, to Judy Garland and the syruped strings announcing her blindly colourful arrival at the yellow brick road). As much of this island lay under water from flooded rivers, and the damage and loss of life caused by the mayhem of the typhoon was calculated by the world’s media, we felt lucky, cycling around the streets assessing the impact, that although some very big trees had been unrooted and were lying there exposed, with loss to their dignity, no houses seemed to have been damaged; our streets unscathed.

 

 

 

 

 

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empty supermarket shelves, as people stock up for the supertyphoon

 

 

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I have never seen this before, and feel quite alarmed.

 

 

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SHE WAS AN ANOMALY by ETAT LIBRE D’ORANGE (2019) + SOME OTHER RECENT IRISES

 

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At school, as a fifteen year old, as one of my exam subjects I chose Art. Although I had very little drawing ability, I simply wanted one class where I could daydream. Although this meant that by the time I had to present my ‘portfolio’, which consisted mainly of very boring, painstakingly copied still lifes  – a log and some cowslips here, a turnip there, some ‘surreal’ paintings covered in random eyes, or typical teenage pastels – in my case often obsessively of Boy George – I somehow, miraculously, succeeded in getting an A grade in the finals, principally I think because I was good at ‘talking up’ all the pictures I had strategically enhanced with what I thought were clever-clever titles in the margins that turned round the perception of what you were actually seeing: like Marcel Duchamp turning his famous urinal into a piece called Fountain and translating reality into a new dimension, I somehow duped the examiners into thinking that what I had produced was far more interesting than what it actually was.

 

 

 

 

You can see where this is leading. Although I quite enjoy some of the perfumes by Etat Libre D’Orange – even if I have truly fallen in love with none – at heart, I do think that the company takes a similar approach to my teenage self – essentially idea over substance. In the majority of their releases, which are often quite pleasant and wearable, well-blended commercial releases like I Am Trash but given an extra dimension with the addition of cheeky Dali-esque tags for a cerebral glitch, ‘She was an anomaly’ (‘for the one you will never understand’) falls into this category of perfumes that are given a peculiar focus almost entirely because of their names (Tom Ford’s Fucking Fabulous was another sweet, woody sawdusty iris scent that you would never have looked at, nor smelled twice had it not had such an attention clamouring name). This new release by Etat Libre D’Orange is yet another iris-led perfume by the talented current doyenne of the iris, perfumer Daniela Roche Andrier, who has authored such orris-based contemporary fragrances as the Prada Infusion d’Iris series as well as their Tainted Love and Purple Rain  – both of which I would happily wear if I found them at a reduced price tag-  not to mention the cosy, if almost suffocatingly comfortable and sofa-loving orange blossom iris that was the comely Gucci Eau De Parfum from 2003. Iris also features heavily in Ms Andrier’s recent Tiffany & Co Intense from 2018, a clear, benzoiny iris ; now the perfumer has created a less effusive, more introverted sandalwood iris musk that held my interest for a few minutes when the initial dry, papery notes tingled my nose but which then went somewhat flat and uninteresting (at least on me). Which definitely makes it not an anomaly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is probably inevitable that iris would eventually veer in new directions away from the cold and poetic desolation of the more shivering, disdainful varieties that are too well known to warrant mentioning here. And rather than the glimmering sugar vats of patchoulified zombie floral that dominate how a lot of the industrialised orris is utilised these days (in the ever popular megabusters such as La Vie Est Belle and Flowerbomb), there is also, it seems, a certain ‘middle way’ with iris in perfumes like the similar Fleur De Peau by Diptyque (2018), with its skinsoft ambrettoloide irisness breathed warmly through rectified sandalwoods; a perfume, again, that I couldn’t get excited about personally but which I can imagine being quite gratifying on certain individual for a certain solidifying , interiorised serenity. While Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s Paper White (2018) – a perfume I received in the post yesterday, is a clever rendition of the eponymous narcissus varietal combined with a cool iris powder over a modern chypre base that is stark, arresting, and somewhat disturbing (this person would definitely pique my interest) – when smelling a wide range of  perfumes at Shinjuku Nose Shop the other day, I came across a more ‘gorgeous’, if typical iris perfume, Poudre Desire by Elisire (2015)  (‘a graceful aura of delicate flowers blooming in the sun right after the rain’ – and yes, it was clearly a homage to Guerlain’s Apres L’Ondee, like so many others, from the high quality iris suffused with heliotrope, cedar and white flowers to the overall scope; just with less melancholia – years of counselling, and serotonin depletion-inhibiting pills having done the trick in bringing this creature back successfully into the folds of society…) – yes, the cold shivers of reality are certainly far away in this plumed bon bon of a scent by in-house perfumer Frank Salzwedel in collaboration with Alberto Morillas, an always feel-good perfumer I often gravitate towards, and who was also responsible for this year’s Tears Of Iris from Gucci’s Alchemist’s Garden series (a remote, watery angelica of an iris that comes in a beautifully Italianate bottle but which somehow does not entirely rise to the occasion – except, perhaps for a pale, and lachrymose, lace-wearing fashionista). Poudre Desire goes completely in the opposite direction to that perfume with a sensual – if immediately familiar –  composition that conjures the post-bath pleasures of the boudoir in convincing fashion, but which unfortunately (sorry, this is the second time I have written this post – the first one was much, much longer and much better and then I accidentally deleted it – hence the somewhat irritating tone; I was in such a good mood!  A furious bike ride for 40 minutes has not diminished my dismay –  and hence the negativity –  but I am putting it up anyway, grouchy or not); yes, unfortunately this very nice smelling perfume comes in a rather unappealing design (to say the least) – a bottle that could be any television or pop star’s 17th celebrity release (pink, with a big diamond on top – I don’t think I could stand such frou frou cheapness in my collection; in fact I know I couldn’t – and I know how pretentious that probably makes me sound ), but at 25,000 yen (about $233) I just need more multifaceted beauty for my money. To win the true perfume lover over completely, you need the full package: an olfactory  concept that feels genuine, which is executed beautifully, and is then contained in a flacon that is labelled and boxed delightfully enough for you to want to hold it, stare at it –  or if that sounds too maniacal (but I literally do stare at my perfumes, sometimes – I find it hypnotic and relaxing)  just enjoy seeing the bottle standing there on your dresser, or housed safely in your chosen closet; a scent that stimulates your imagination, yes, that you enjoy both visually, but of course particularly, when you then apply it to your demanding; skeptical, hard earned skin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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TACTICS by SHISEIDO (1978)

 

 

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There is a very big generational divide in Japan when it comes to men’s fragrances, known here as ‘kolon’, or cologne – there being no real concept of an ‘aftershave’, particularly when half the Nihonjin males of the nation are heading towards electrolysis and the beardless pretty K-Pop androgyne becomes the culturally favoured norm. While boys in their twenties smell fruity and hair-gelled; of increasingly strong smelling fabric softeners, or of nothing, older men usually stick to their favoured aldehydic woodies like Auslese, Eroica, Bravas, and other, similar musky spiced much of a muchnesses that you sometimes smell lingering in the interior of Tokyo taxis and which younger people generally despise, at the gut level, as the smell of the jiji ; the old git, the antiquated, thin-stranded pate greased just that little bit too much and drenched in the wide range of auxiliary products available at every local Shiseido drug store – shaving cream, facial lotions, stick deodorants, and especially the popular ‘hair tonics’ which men in their sixties and over often wear (sometimes to very pleasing effect, you can feel your heart melting slightly), sometimes not  – (just trying too hard, slightly sad). Whenever men of a certain age gather for reunions and annual get togethers you are guaranteed to smell a whole conglomeration: unlike the UK, where you can pretty much share your dad’s aftershave, whatever that might be, on a Saturday night and get away with it  – I think a young man or adolescent here would rather die than wear his dad’s bygone-be-bygone smell of an earlier era: the Bubble they never experienced and never will, when Japan was in a hysteria of revisionist capitalist mayhem as it boisterously worked and drank its way into a frenzy of world confidence and consumer dominance, and the proud breadwinners reeked of these perfumes; their pomades and brilliantined thick black hair broached by the smell of yakiniku and cigarettes, in neon blinking after-office izakayas, and sultry hostess bars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This last Saturday night I couldn’t quite make up my mind, coming alone from the cinema in Shibuya, whether I wanted to transform myself into another being. As something of a middle-aged salariman myself (I dress pretty much identically to all the other workers here; black suit, shirt and tie, smelling usually of lemon and caucasian); on my way to Uguisudani to meet Duncan at midnight to see him perform on a huge stage in a stairwelled, ruched former cinema now host to all manner of creatures of the night all dressed up for dancing  – he was due on stage at 1:40am – I thought fuck it – I might as well just go for it and freakify myself into another entity (after all, D had provided me with a bag full of robes and accoutrements, including some former orange velvet curtains that he had stitched into a beautiful hooded garment, and which had been used, the week before, strategically, to mop up a tragically spilled, perfect, pristine 29.5ml parfum bottle of Bal A Versailles – I am sure my screams as it hit the kitchen floor disconcerted people in the neighbourhood: it tumbled from its badly designed box and eviscerated itself – but which at least been put to good use (and which, seriously, on this material, soaked and put in a suitcase for a week beforehand for maturation purposes smelled incredible).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wondering where I could whip off my gear, and costume myself up, I was praying that the multi-use disabled toilet in Uguisudani station  – everyone uses them here, there is no social disgrace involved  – would somehow be free, and miraculously, it was. Someone else had also had the same idea just before me – you could feel a certain haste there still in the air; a man I will never know the identity of, who had obviously checked into the same restroom and abandoned all his spruced up little helpers for a night of seduction somewhere out there in the megalopolis; a bottle of mouthwash, a comb, and a full bottle of Shiseido Tactics that I didn’t even hesitate to put into my bag before emerging a few minutes later as an unrecognizable white-faced being drenched in the aforementioned Jean Desprez amber; on the wrists and the neck Antica Casablanca, and on the huge, freshly washed hair, reams of the original Guerlain Metallica, all of which just made me smell so decadent and swoonsome I glided along on a cloud of oblivious, carnation-kissed vanilla spice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is Monday and I am at home trying to tidy, being gratefully subdued;  calming down. I have just found the bottle of Shiseido Tactics left out in the genkan, the Japanese entrance  –  among the other detritus; these weekends of performances and filming require such heavy baggage – clothes for the actors and for D’s stage wear, so many bits and pieces that the way we are going I sometimes feel that I will need another leg operation; we seem to be constantly going between Kamakura and Tokyo weighed down like a travelling circus (I love it); but at this particular moment, to be able to just sit in the silence of this house, and smell this old Shiseido perfume, is precisely what the doctors in white coats ordered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tactics is, it goes without saying, of the Old School. A classical, classic men’s aftershave.  When you look at all the notes, a whole orchestra of them from juniper, pine, galbanum and sage and thyme and mint and citruses through the usual flowers and mosses and tonka bean (and in this new version clearly some quite loveable white musk), you know what you are going to be smelling, but unlike the blousier, more obvious men’s colognes that I mentioned earlier – which sometimes just read as testosteroned Chanel No 5s; such hair, such throw,  this more subtle Japanese variable on a standard French theme is much more forested; seemly; and low key. Slightly reminiscent of other green masculine classics such as Christian Dior’s Jules, or Loewe’s Esencia, but without the bullfighting domination of those pituitary-charged men’s seduction pieces, Tactics also has the limed freshness of Sport De Paco Rabanne, a scent I still wear on occasion when I feel like recreating my own former lithehood; a leaf-freshed, subtle viridity that is actually very pleasing. I am glad that we have it. This Saturday was allegedly the last, or perhaps penultimate weekend of Josephine Baker for 2019;after this we are supposed (he always keeps it quiet until he reveals that er, actually, there is this other thing that we might have to go to next week….) to be calming it down a bit; having some normal weekends at home in the more conventional manner: cooking, reading the newspaper, going for walks, sleeping in. Talking. Tactics will be amenable and snuggedly sexy in this imagined environment (perhaps while he is wearing this, I should go for my ultimate autumnal cardigan fragrance, Hermes Equipage?); behaving, while the leaves turn to brown, as though we are ageing in any way that could be considered, by the majority of the world’s population, as graceful.

 

 

 

 

 

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NIGHT CREATURES::::: METALLICA by GUERLAIN

 

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KAREN DISCOVERING JOLIE MADAME

 

 

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She wanted leather.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Ford hadn’t entirely worked.

 

 

 

 

 

Germaine Cellier’s creation sent her into a delirium  (tremens)

 

 

 

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CASABLANCA LE PARFUM by ANTICA FARMACISTA (201*)

 

 

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We decided randomly to go on a ‘river date’ yesterday: packed up some picnic things – a blanket, mosquito incense coils and repellent, as they really love me this year; picked a point on a google map; went there by train ; bought a nice lunch  (quiche, olives, oranges) and a bottle of Sicilian red wine and then just sat there, dreamily, under a huge sky watching the world go by.

 

 

 

 

You can feel that it is Autumn. There is a certain clarity in the air; the clouds wispier, but grandiloquent and God- infused as an Italian Renaissance painting. Casablanca, a scent I had had my eye on for a while at Isetan Shinjuku but was thrilled to find for just at a fifth of the price at a shop in Yokohama on Sunday, was a MOST pleasing wristscape for my senses in the easy heat, as I lay back half-gazing at the huge space above me and slipped into grass-surrounded gentleness.

 

 

 

 

Can a man wear a lily? Yes he can. I wore Guerlain’s Lys Soleia for most of the summer when the salty aquatic freshness went perfectly with the ocean sun and the bliss of the school holidays. That perfume would feel wrong now, out of sync, idealistic : Casablanca is more suited to this season; very clovey , with a piquant citronellic  roseness quite reminiscent of Santa Maria Novella’s brilliant Garofano, a carnation so spicy it got pushed out of production, and which I still sometimes yearn for. Antica Farmacista’s  lily is similarly bright and ylang  ylanged to the max, with a lilian vanilla as a bed when it all comes together later like an actual Casablanca as you snuggle into your hoodie as the evening gets cooler; at other times it almost reminded me of Calvin Klein’s Eternity with its whipstreak of clean Nivea (plunging me into teenage memories of Helen, who wore that Christy Turlington icon of modern Americana  with an inimitably refined and rebellious brilliance : I can still remember her walking into the courtyard that night in Cambridge to see me in my first year  and being seized by its scintillating brandnewness as though someone had snatched and switched the air…)

 

 

Casablanca is far less demanding,  smooth: verging on holographically almost too real at first – I knew it was wrong to spray some on just before boarding a train (where it had an immediate nostril and eye-widening effect on the local populace, clearly wondering how their usual train carriage had suddenly become a florist);  the spiced creaminess of the ending delightfully soothing, as the light eventually gradually disappeared, and we watched the silence of fishermen in the reflected railway tracks and city lights mirrored in the water.

 

 

 

 

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