I must admit that I am rather struggling at the moment, as I am sure a large majority of us are. I simply don’t feel safe. And that is because I am not safe. None of us truly are, unless we lock ourselves away in confinement, and that brings troubles of its own. D is safer than I am – he walks to work and back home again in Kamakura – but his classrooms are full of girls whose parents work in Tokyo where the virus is becoming more rampant (or is at least being more revealed through increased testing). Yes, they wear masks, but the required social distancing in Japanese schools just simply isn’t happening.
My own situation is more precarious. Two days a week I can ventilate to my heart’s content and teach in what I would call sensible conditions; students spaced out; windows and doors open. Two days I cannot. Buildings packed with kids. Up close. On Wednesdays, I work in a school in Yokohama which has NO WINDOWS. And I am in a classroom – just four walls, within that space, an epidemiological matyrushka doll. We have a fan, and an extractor. And we wear masks. But the students are too close to each other – it is Russian roulette.
Sometimes I wonder why I can’t just quit, or whether I have become brainwashed into servility; some kind of samurai ‘valiance’. It literally does feel like that at times, a kind of ‘fuck it – it’s too late, I am working now, there are only eight days left until the summer holidays, just get on with it like everybody else’ mentality, as if I have no choice (and in many ways I don’t: the very last thing I want right now is to be unemployed and out there looking for work) as the teachers huff and puff behind their masks and look drained and overheated and dehydrated and exhausted just like most of the students – really, none of us, neither the students nor the teachers should be there, but because as yet there have been no cases in our schools, at least not that I am aware of, we ‘soldier on’. Japan is a country of education. It is the national obsession. And naturally, though some of the people I am mingling with will be asymptomatic, many even – there can be no doubt of that – all I can do is keep breathing through my mask and get through the days. It is terrifying. But somehow I am weirdly resigned to my fate, almost as though I have lost agency and the autonomy I always pride myself on having no matter what.
These last two days I have been battling with extreme burn out – which in my case involves furious muttering to myself like a loon and extreme sociophobia – I just want to be left alone as much as possible, even in the classroom just going through the motions overly aggressively unable to properly connect to anyone. I can barely look at the other staff, and retreat to other rooms as much as is humanly possible. I am courteous, hopefully, even if exquisite manners have never been my forte – that would be Duncan’s domain – – – I am just too shot through with intense emotion to ever not let that show in my eyes, which I am sure glower coldly and green above my surgical mask. I wear a beard, obstinately, because no one can see it and that is my real person, though it goes against the rules (something I always feels is like an infringement on human rights) : however, the last thing I need right now is to be an emasculated eunuch when I already feel like an apoplectic and semi-broken sad sack. But no one would ever say anything to a foreigner in any case. In many ways we are strangely untouchable.
The world is insane right now, it can feel as if you are losing your marbles. Curiously, despite the strains of it all, though, I am finding that just manoeuvring the week to its conclusion – the marvellously mask free weekend at home, where I love, puts on blinkers of selectivism that let me enjoy all the small details, all the other pleasures, and revel in the more restricted being-aliveness. Yes, I am constantly aware of what is happening in the global news; I never ‘lose touch’ in that regard, but it can get too much, the ‘doom-scrolling’ that is only beneficial to any individual in terms of awareness and cognisance up to a certain point. In the city, out doing my job I feel half alive; a drone. Condemned to a potentially fatal virus that is swimming in the hot air all around me. The same position that we all find ourselves in; dimmed; daunted. At the same time, though, I have always felt blessed in the sense that even when I have a bad day – and I have just had two; I came home last night like a cup full of poison full of hatred and annoyance, I could have punched a hole through a wall – I have a natural joy of life that rises up like the dawn after sleeping, particularly in summer, which I adore (so boring to hear everyone complain about the sun – no no no no you fool, haven’t you just suffered six weeks of incredible doom and gloom in the longest rainy season ever; it is glorious ; a chorus of insects; a frenzy of birds; a feeling of energy and power and life surging up in spite of (alongside) this tedious microorganism that is self-replicating like a motherfucker but whose time is limited; there WILL be a vaccine, and it had better be soon……) In spite of myself, this morning, as I open the window on the balcony and hear life coming into the room; moreover feeling it coursing through my veins, I feel something bordering on elation. Yes, I return home at night like a sodden washcloth devoid of personality, trying to walk up the hill to save on taxi money (there is no way in hell I am getting the bus), covered in sweat, stuck on thoughts like a broken record, barely sensate;, thinking shower, shower, shower; D is usually already asleep ; futon on the tatami, fan whirring, often next to the cat; but then I take a long shower and feel immediately human again, on a smaller scale, in the house with no mask, listening to the night.
Orange blossom has been one of my refuges. It soothes me. Especially before bed on clean skin – it’s like reinventing yourself. Something sacred and calming; a child-like innocence of refuge in nature. There are a thousand and one takes on the neroli and orange blossom theme, of course, and everyone has their own preferences; some like it sensual, erotic; for me, on the whole, I tend to prefer the note done more simply. Some orange blossoms are green, rasping; Annick Goutal’s Neroli is perfectly lifelike but too exhilarating (and it just reminds D immediately of my traumatic time spent learning to walk again three years ago when I wore that perfume all of the time along with Sana Jardin’s equally uplifting and luminescent neroli scent, Berber Blonde. D doesn’t want to remember that time and so I don’t wear those). Orange blossom can also be too muted; Etat Libre D’Orange’s Divin Enfant for example; I don’t need any marshmallow leather or too much vanilla; I like it subtle in the finish without too much babying or coochy coo;. I like it more refined and preferably delicate; and Penhaligons’ Castile gets it absolutely right.
If you are more of a Serge Lutens Fleurs D’Oranger or a Houbigant Orangers En Fleurs wearer; and I love both of those; they are fantastically yowzer off the shoulder evening exuberance kinds of fragrances, but I am not Halle Berry and cannot carry off such a schmooze myself – you might probably find Castile a little uninspiring- a fresh, but refined neroli and orange blossom scent with just the right amount of bergamot and rose, and a gentle denouement that I think fits the skin in a beautifully understated manner (there was an interesting mention of this perfume on Fragrantica which reimagines Daniel Craig as 007 in Casino Royale coming down to the hotel reception in a perfectly fitted crisp white shirt and hints of post-shower Castile as the hotel reception staff try to concentrate on what he is saying and keep a lid on their inner reactions). Indeed, the perfume is perfectly androgynous and elegant. Last night, I found it beautifully restorative.
Another night time orange blossom of very different stripes is Neroli Negro by Coqui Coqui, a Mexican brand based on the Yucatan peninsula. I love the packaging and design of these perfumes; such things make a great difference to my appreciation of a scent, the whole experience; an appealing aesthetic, and there is something about the Gatsby-ish gold-embossed lettering on the pristine white box that really appeals to all my senses. The perfumes are not complex; Neroli Negro is a husky, honeyed growl of orange blossom, musk, and, unusually, a strongly dominating note of depressurised myrrh, that comes across to me nevertheless as almost liquorice-like and edible. Self-contained, it could also be a real passion ignition key in the right circumstances, peculiarly moreish and sultry. At night, it helps me draw a velvet curtain on the day.
Menli, another perfume in the Coqui Coqui extensive range, is an almost absurdly simple, or simplistic, take on the Mojito – just lime and mint. And yet for a minute or two, it is the best mint smell I have ever smelled; a variety of mint from Mexico that I have never personally encountered in real life but now want to. The mint smell is almost fiery in its coolness; pure as leaves – so minty – and incredibly invigorating, before it cedes to a fainter mint-citrus synergy that while less exciting, is still quite pleasant on a t-shirt and as an all round pick-me-up. D has taken to this one like a duck to water – he is also very fond of a well-made mojito, that delicious and perturbing swirl of ice and lime and mint and sugar and rum, the best one we ever had being down a back street in Barcelona several Augusts ago watching local kids skateboarding by the steps of a beautiful old cathedral.