A shocking thing happened to me last night. D and a friend of ours, Kevin, were in the dark watching the new TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s brilliant and timely The Handmaiden’s Tale – the first episode surpassing all my expectations (this is one of the best novels I have ever read by far: I could not breathe properly throughout – I have even referenced it explicitly before on here in relation to Byredo’s Tulipe and the subjugation of women in perfume), a date of release that feels somehow perfect and utterly relevant because what is depicted in the story – women being kidnapped, raped and forced to be the fertility concubines of their masters has already happened with the Nigerian women captured by Boko Haram and in many other places; brainwashed, enslaved; baby machines for blood-lusting thugs in the name of religion. With the Christofascist movement in the U.S also a major force in politics, affecting women’s ability to make their own reproductive choices, and backing the dystopian nightmare of Trump being in power – which still, six months on, feels utterly surreal (I can’t actually accept, still, that this dangerous monster is ‘the leader of the free world’, that his catastrophic policies, both in terms of international politics – pushing and provoking adversaries deliberately closer to war; destabilizing efforts to contain global by petulantly pulling out of the Paris climate accord, a man who genuinely seems to be mentally unstable and who has the true potential to wreak destruction not only on his own beleaguered nation but the rest of the world as well); The Handmaiden’s tale just feels so apposite and so quietly condemning of those that fall under the tyrannical spell of organized ‘religion’, no matter what the origins of that religion might actually be; so very far from any of the realities of their central tenets; how the words are twisted and perverted; how ‘Christians’ can be so full of hatred for their fellow man, so lacking in compassion; how ‘Muslims’ can blow themselves up at concerts full of children, or plunge knives into human beings just out and enjoying themselves at Borough Market and London Bridge. While my optimism for humanity ultimately remains undimmed – the reactions and caring shown by people the world over for their fellow human beings is always cheering and wonderful to behold; the fact that the fury against Trump’s deliberately oblivious environmental attack and denial has already resulted in waves of new regulations across US states vowing to adhere to, and even go beyond, the limits set by the Paris accords, shows that the human spirit is very, very strong indeed and refuses to be held hostage by evil and violence, the concert held by Ariana Grande and others in Manchester last night, One Love, being further proof of this, I don’t believe that the world is doomed to disaster. But what is occurring right now certainly is extremely unsettling and desperate. These truly feel like volatile, violent and angry times.
We can say what we want and add to the dialogue, but what can I, personally, do about any of it? I am trapped inside my home. It feels as if the world is marching into madness somewhere on the other side of the rainbow. In one sense, it all has absolutely nothing to do with me.I spend the vast majority of the day on the bed in the kitchen, only hobbling outside, just about, to sit on the chair and read about all of these atrocities and maniacs, powerless to do a single little thing about it (I can’t even vote: neither in my country of origin or the one that I live in: I am truly the dreamy disenfranchised). I am frustrated by my lack of progress, and by not knowing whether it even is a lack of progress. Once you have left the hospital, there is no further contact to ask for advice, there is no physiotherapy. I am not supposed to ring up my former rehabilitation ward (I tried once, and it didn’t go down well; they have other osteotomy patients to deal with now, it’s neverending, they don’t have time). I understand that, but I also feel abandoned in some way, unsure of how to proceed; is the exercise bike I have bought and started using the right thing to be doing? It feels good, but am I overdoing it? Should I be trying to walk outside around the neighbourhood, eleven weeks after the operation? Or should I be resting? Won’t inactivity, though, just lead to the atrophying of my legs? What, exactly, am I supposed to be doing? Several of my kind Japanese neighbours have offered to take me for a walk when Duncan isn’t here, and have done so; I have managed to walk the block, very tentatively, with my cane, about five times now, very nervous about falling over, or tripping, and sometimes it really hurts and I have to grip the wall of someone’s garden before I recommence…….It feels great to be actually doing it, though, to be walking again outside, because I sometimes getquite claustrophobic, always being stuck in one particular room; I feel confined (the neighbour across from us has offered to just take me out in the car twice a week just so I can get a change of scenery, particularly as where I live now is just so beautiful. Perhaps I am doing better than I think. There are plenty of people out there worse off than me, I know: limbs blown off in callous explosions, bodies ripped into with cruel knives by crazed, masked marauders. But still. I am here and they are there….
I really do feel that I want to MOVE. Go out, go to the city. Not just malinger, here, inside. I have done these walks, or finally actually sweated from doing some real exercise on the bike while blasting out music (the endorphins! the clarity of thought and positivity that comes from doing heartbeating exercise, I love it), but then I often find that later on I am as stiff as a board, that my legs contract and won’t move; they ache, they sometimes throb, they buckle under me, and I have no way of knowing if any of it is actually ok (my next appointment at the hospital is June 15th, which will mark about the three month mark since the operations. I will find out then when I am xrayed and examined by the surgeon, and it will be my first exploration of the outside world for an extremely long time. I am nervous, but also strangely excited…)
And Japan, though it is also heading in a very disturbing right wing direction like many other countries – the government under Shinzo Abe seems to be veering defiantly into an increasingly World War II Imperialist agenda- is at least relatively safe. No guns. No terrorists (so far, in any case – we’ll see about the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games). There are large numbers of crazy people lost in their own worlds, yes, and the occasional very psychotic one, but Japan does have the lowest murder rate in the world among the developed nations, you never worry, there is none of that tension and slight, suppressed apprehension of other countries where you have to be aware, and look over your shoulder, and I look forward to just gliding within its super-efficient gleam, and flow.
A person can be engaged with the world, yet still powerless. Interested in it, but divorced. Extricated. Alone. Right now I find myself in a vastly diminished universe that much of the time only revolves around my space, myself, my legs. And the recuperation. The concentrated effort to get stronger and be able to walk again. I immerse myself in documentaries, cinema, reading, writing, music, in sitting outside in the green of the June leaves and the beautiful sunshine. I occasionally have visitors, though contact is far less than I was having when I was a hospital patient. Last night, as I said, Kevin, an American friend of ours, came down to our house from Tokyo to visit me, and we had dinner, and talked, and they danced around the kitchen a little bit (I did so on the bed), and we then settled on The Handmaid’s Tale. I think it is great. Remarkably well done. In fact, I was very leery of seeing it at first, despite many of my friends’ recommendations, because I worry about my mental image of the book being destroyed. Instead, what the makers of the series of done is miraculously preserve the central emotional feeling of the novel, but rather than try to capture the inwardness and singular viewpoint of the central character, June/Offred – the creators have made a convincingly paranomic, widescope version of a story that needs to be told; a world where individuals, and women particularly, are stripped of all power and reduced to second-class citizens, as they are in much of the world in reality: merely housemaids, slaves, and reproductive robots.
I sit, or lounge, on the bed, a rented bed for people in my position, my walking stick hung on a nail on the wall. It is imperative that I don’t fall over. This is crucial. I am not to fall over. I was continually lectured on that point when leaving the hospital. Korobanai yoni; korobanai yoni, don’t fall over, don’t fall over (as if I would try to), emphasised over and over again that I mustn’t fall down and hurt my healing bones which are still in the process of knitting themselves together and vulnerable to breakage or shock; it is this that makes walking anywhere so terrifying and why I must always have somebody with me as I simply can’t risk doing it alone when there is nobody to fall onto or grasp. In the house I am very careful. Yet, sometimes, no matter how much care you take, things really are beyond your control.
I was sat on the bed. So was Duncan. Kevin was on a chair. We had projected The Handmaiden’s Tale onto the wall. Huge. It was a tense, dramatic moment. The music had crescendoed to something sinister and threatening. Our nerves were on edge like taut strings, waiting to see what the sex-prisoner Offred was going to do in a particular, oppressed, situation, breath bated, when suddenly –
‘Oh, Mori’ says Kevin as our cat suddenly ran and lunged into the air from nowhere, released something trapped in her mouth and we were besieged by the beating of wings; flapping, aggressively, throbbing – something, a bird, flittering in the projector light; a hideous, overwhelming fluttering and darting that was petrifying and in that instant, before I knew it, as we all shouted and lurched into reaction and confusion, I found that I had unconsciously, on pure primitive horror and instinct, tried to run from the bed – launched myself towards the floor to escape and my legs had given way and I hit the floor in a contorted position as we realized it wasn’t a bird but a giant moth, vibrating at hideous speed, whirring in the magnifying light, and I was conscious of the fact that oh my god I have fallen, no; no, no no this can’t have happened – kill it, kill it, just kill it! flying around the room dive bombing and me on the floor….I don’t know why it was so foul and unbearable – I don’t usually even hate moths that much – but I was cowering behind Kevin grabbing some clothes on the floor to protect my face and imploring Duncan to get rid of it. Usually we are not the kill the insect type – they have the right to live just as much as we do, and he tried desperately to trap it beneath a mug on the floor as it zigzagged through the air but he was worried about what else might happen to me as I was stuck in the corner on the floor in that twisted position……..there is a rock from the garden we use as a door stopper, and making a swift decision he finally crushed it to death on the floor.
It had happened, though. We had all been drinking red wine. Relaxing. Was this to blame? I don’t think so. We weren’t drunk. I swore, semi-seriously, in my Seventeen Things I Have Realized In Hospital piece that I wouldn’t drink for the foreseeable future as it could endanger my legs too much in case of falling, but in fact, the sheer monotony of always being inside necessitates a change of mental feeling from time to time so at weekends we have indulged a bit (red wine, and you can check for yourself, is actually recommended by the Arthritis foundation for knee pain). When I have had some, I stay on the bed, and am escorted by Duncan, so I wasn’t endangering myself- in fact, it is possible that the relaxed state I was in made my fall softer and protected me. In a totally unalcolized state I might have jumped and fallen even further actually. Everything had flashed by so quickly that I wasn’t even entirely sure what had happened, whether I had actually stood up and my legs had collapsed under me or whether I had somehow just launched myself, flown, if you like, from the bed and somehow landed in the position that I did, which is what Kevin thought happened. Three screaming gay men and a moth: it just seems so pathetic, doesn’t it? I am not even particularly afraid of insects, or birds, but there is just something so primeval and in the human DNA I think about flapping wings near your face – the projector had also made the creature loom much larger, intensifying the experience – we all assumed it was a bat, or a bird – as did the fact that this had happened just at the moment of extreme tension in the drama. We were startled out of our skins and just flew. Fused together it led to this mayhem in the kitchen which we could laugh about later on again in the evening before he went back on the train up to Tokyo, but which actually took me quite a long time to calm down from : my heart was beating quite rapidly not from the moth horror but from the danger it had put my recovery in…..I read somewhere something once about how many people die a year because of their cats than any kind of shootings or terrorist attacks.. (a few years ago at work, something similar happened. I was in the middle of doing a teachers’ English conversation class one morning when I went to the school’s miniscule kitchen, about the size of a large closet, to get a drop of water and wash my hands. Suddenly, and it always seems to happen in these occasions that you simply can’t register what is happening at first – something monstrous; great wings flapping about my head and bouncing and bounding against the window and door and claws…..I was flailing my arms around hysterically shouting (the classroom was at the other end of the school and the teachers had no idea what was taking me so long). A pigeon had somehow got in through the tiny window at the top and I was having a genuine Tippi Hedren moment – Alfred Hitchcock tricking the actress, when making The Birds – incidentally Duncan’s favourite film of all time – into thinking that when she entered the room where one of the pivotal scenes of the drama was to take place, fake birds would be thrown at her by the production crew, when in fact he unleashed real seagulls that thrashed against her face with their wings….she was hospitalized for a week from the shock of it, the trauma; and I can tell you, that even having just one big bird, panicked itself, trying desperately to get out, in hyper reactive survival mode, so close, and both of you trapped in that tiny space, was quite horrific……I eventually managed to get out of there and slam the door shut and went back to the classroom where I couldnt’ speak for a while, and the teachers seemed perturbed at my change of demeanour. When I finally could tell them, we all went down the corridor together, and with various tactics, including broom and mop handles, they managed to guide the poor creature back outside into the air).
Are my legs injured? Has something happened internally? I hope to hell not. Initially I just lay on the floor and they asked me if I had any new or severe pain, and I didn’t. I felt some extra discomfort, perhaps from the way I had landed, but nothing too severe, and they lifted me up onto a chair and then onto the bed where I sat for a while dumbfounded and worried, but slept a long sleep and here I am now, writing this. I think I landed ok and wasn’t hurt. What a shock though.
Today, actually, I find myself clear-headed and happy. Perhaps last night’s real life horror moment was strangely cathartic in some way. I am outside: the birds are singing, the sun is out, I am back to that happily cocooned solitude feeling, happy to write and just bask in the quiet, covered in scent, allaying my senses. I wrote earlier about my immersion in music and the visual to embellish my reality, to make it less stifling and one-dimensional, but I do think that in fact, perfume has an even greater role in many ways, I love it, and I want to ask you: do you ever find your perfume obsession to be trivial in the face of our greater realities? When the world is the way that it is? Are we right to indulge ourselves so much in this way, to be paying so much inward attention to the sense of smell or, as I instinctively feel myself, is this more of a necessity, a vital part of life and happiness for the person for whom this sense is at least as important as the others and which gives so much sensual, cerebral, and physical pleasure? Do the jihadis of the Islamic State deprive themselves of perfume, as they do music, as a frivolous distraction from their god, even though the Islamic, Arab tradition is the finest, most intense and beautiful perfumed culture of all? Do the fundamentalist Christians, like Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale, strip themselves of all frippery and wash their Christ-stricken skin only in pure water, as she does, as she prepares to be sacrificed and fertilized, and cleanses herself in a bath of the unscented ‘purity’ to ready herself for insemination? Is this love of the sheer overwhelming beauty of perfume and smell, in their eyes, a ‘sin’? Or is it a gift: yet another beautiful part of this world of sensorial pleasures that I just can’t get enough of while I am here, even when incapacitated and stuck, for the majority of the time, in one room ?
More dextrous and mobile than before, I can get myself in and out of the shower now. When I have sweated on the exercise bike, how I love to just get in there and soap down – right now the dregs of an old Chanel No 19 soap that has lost much of its greenery but still has a beautifully vetiver lactonic edge to it that is the perfect later skin setting for high quality perfumes, especially Guerlain. Shalimar, Vetiver, Ylang Vanille, Terracotta, all together, but in different places, smelling just prickly with powdered luxuriantness and threedimensional splendour; they smell just glorious on me, I feel like living art. I just sit here alone and radiate. I resonate. And Duncan will come home and say wow, you smell amazing, and I do. Is this shallow, and frivolous? Perhaps it is. I don’t know. But it enhances my spirit, it velvet-cushions my well-being, it is a boon. I love it. It is essential. Out there might be madness and chaos, but in here, where I am trapped, I can at least embroider the air around me and my own skin with the spirit of these inspired elixirs that keep me anchored in a world that still believes in beauty.
Although I am at home alone for most of the day, when D comes back at night he quite often brings me presents. The other day he had gone to Ofuna to a recycle shop called Julien that we sometimes frequent and brought me a perfume I had never even heard of, Ingenue by Kanebo, a scent that must have been from the seventies or eighties but which I can find out no information about but which is fantastic : the Duncan is a truly scent-literate person who knows what smells good and what doesn’t, which means when he comes across things on his thrift shop after work rummages he can come back with not only treasures he knows I will want, but also ones I didn’t even know I wanted until he presented them to me. Ingenue, an exquisitely green, Bulgarian rose chypre in the manner of Armani Pour Femme (1981), it is almost a copy, but with finer ingredients, including a beauteous green seventies top accord – cassis, hyacinth? – sheening with marigold that reminds me of the original Cardin de Cardin and the first perfume by Ralph Lauren, and is possibly the best perfume of this type that I have ever encountered. Not that you will, but if you do, and you love this type of scent, promise me that you will buy it; the powdered rose of the base blooms delicately in the amber of the perfume’s later stages, and I just know that this is something that I will adore to wear out on special occasions when that intricate, baroque rose type of perfume is truly called for. It happens quite a lot to me in winter Check it out on ebay if you can- I guarantee 100% that you won’t be disappointed. Sometimes the Japanese really do imitate things and improve on them, and this is a perfect example.
Friday, though. My god, Friday was a shockingly fantastic windfall of vintage perfume. And I want to share it with you. A couple of days before, as I lay on The Bed with my nose glued to my left arm inhaling the wonders of Ingenue, I lazily asked him as he was going upstairs, ‘so was there anything else there at Julien the other day when you went?’, and he said, ‘no, not really, just the usual crap, Salvatore Ferragamo etc, and some Chant D’Arômes’ …….’some WHAAATTT ? ? ? !I exclaim leaping up into the sitting position, ‘Chant D’AROMES?? ? ? ? ? ?oh my god was it vintage what was the bottle like what the box like was it the gold and black box was it the pink textured packaging of the vintage was it parfum or eau de toilette how much was it when can you go back and get it why didn’t you consider buying it and calling me’ and he said that he couldnt’ remember, but that he would go back and take a look for me some other day this week and send me a picture…..’when, when’ I don’t want anyone else to have it…!
You can see my review for Chant D’Arômes if you just search for it. But trust it to say, I love this delicate and distinctive perfume, one of the far lesser known of the Guerlain classics and would love to have some more, as long as it is not the same version as the one I had after knowing the vintage perfume; a re-issue in Japan that was given free to people who spent enough money at their cosmetics counter, but which had a nasty synthetic smell running through its entire composition and which I wasn’t interested in because I have no time for eviscerated, skeletonized, bullshit.
Friday came. He has been out and about these last few weeks on occasion after work, up in Tokyo ( I sometimes spend morning until night entirely alone), but a man can’t be at home playing carer and shopper the entire time, and he has discovered some fantastic new performance spots and odd, Lynchian dives that we will have to go to as soon as I am better. On this particular occasion he was taking some new friends that he had met recently at the screening of his film, to a place where Tokyo’s diva of rope-tying, kinbaku, the Japanese art of bondage, was holding court. He just about had time, between leaving work and coming home to change to go and check on the Chant d’Arômes before heading out to the silkier universe of Tokyo’s ‘scandalous’, hidden demi-monde.
The picture on the iPhone came. And it looked just like the bottle I had and not liked, as well as being quite expensive for a recycle shop – 6800 yen (about 47 pounds or fifty something dollars), 100ml. I knew I didn’t need another bottle of the cruddy remake but at the same time something about the lettering on the box suggested that this was an older model, still a remake but a decent one, and although I said don’t buy it, a few seconds later I said no I need it, please get it, and thankfully it turned out I was right. YES. This Chant D’Arômes is much closer in spirit to the parfum I tragically spilled – one of my very worst perfume catastrophes and something I don’t want to really dwell on -the gentle, sunny mosses intact, the fruity pear- apple dappling orchard mellowness downing peachily to the beautiful honeysuckle and mirabelles……..DELIGHTFUL, and as I lay there, with the aforementioned ratio of Guerlains already lilting gently, lustfully into their later stages, I found some skin space for the Chant and it blended in perfectly, the warm chypric tenderness of its introverted optimism sidling up perfectly next to some base notes traces of vintage Shalimar eau de toilette. Oh, and he also bought me another, much bigger, bottle of Kanebo Ingenue just for good measure. I might never see it again, it was there, and now I have a stash….
I was happy. Who wouldn’t be. I did of course wish that I could have been out finding out all these new intriguing corners of Tokyo, but I was at home contentedly watching some Netflix drama or other, when suddenly the familiar ringtone of Facetime came on, Duncan saying, ‘I got to Ebisu quite early and… guess what…….THE SHOP is open again!’
Now THE SHOP, is, for perfumistas who have an appreciation of the superiority of classic vintage perfumes, an absolute treasure trove and Aladdin’s Cave of perfume that makes your eyeballs pop out, your throat stop in terror and bewilderment and engender semi-cardiac arrest (if we were all there together, you readers and I, as the cardboard boxes are wearily opened by the strange man that owns the place and NEVER OPENS IT, EVER, there would be shirts ripped off, hair, and wigs, flying, as we tore at each other and grabbed and clawed at this or that vintage Calèche or No 5 selling for the equivalent of a chocolate bar….this is, after all, the place where I found Nombre Noir for next to nothing and all manners of things that are crazily underpriced, sometimes over; it is all a very haphazard arrangement; you grab what you can, as he always says ‘we are closing now’ and looks at you suspiciously, god knows why, and you take it to the counter wondering how much he is going to charge you on this occasion; if the perfumes are current ones, say a Gucci, or something that seems ‘fashionable’ he will charge much more, but I have had beloved vintage parfums of, say, Caron Infini, or No 19 for ten dollars apiece, an old Givenchy Gentleman for virtually nothing – he sometimes seems to just toss things in for free, but as I said, he is NEVER BLOODY OPEN. I have gone there on my days off and it has been shut; I have gone there on the way to engagements in other places in Tokyo hoping he would be open, I have tried several times recently and it was always, always, always shut, so I have given up, essentially. And yet here is Duncan, as I am already losing myself in the pleasures of the perfumes I have received just an hour and a half before, telling me, completely unexpectedly, that it is open. And there is the camera, blurred and swishing from side to side as he surveys the shelves and I say hold on, slow down, what is that, focus in, please get this, can you get that, can you ask him if he has any unopened boxes (where the hell does this loot come from, I wonder, for it to just be loaded into receptacles as though it were trash: who is giving away this stuff, why doesn’t he pay more attention to it? Answer: probably because his main line of business, like most recycle shops in Tokyo, is second hand Louis Vuitton handbags and other designer crap that people are still obsessed with here after all these years and the perfume is just a touch of flotsam in the corner….)
BUT NOT FOR ME.
‘The man’ was in a characteristically even worse mood than ever: apparently, he ‘was closing’, there was a very limited window of opportunity, and he also charged more than he might have usually. 7200 yen. In total. Still, only just over fifty quid, or around 60 dollars, and it was pay day, after all (I am supposed to be trying to be very careful with money seeing as I am not getting paid from now until the end of September you see and have to eke out my money to some extent), but when this place is open, trust me, you just have to.
Slung unceremoniously into a big plastic grocery bag, much later in the evening, around 1am, when he finally got home from some very hilarious shindigs, at a bar in Roppongi, were these, handed out to me like Santa around the Christmas tree, serenaded on The Bed with yet more perfumed treasures:
: Two big 100ml bottles of vintage unopened Lancome Sikkim eau de toilette: a very stylish, delicate and suave green leather chypre that the D took to immediately and which we will definitely enjoy (any comments and further info on this perfume, please do, if there are any Sikkim lovers out there)
: a classic Patou Joy parfum in the black bottle and red cap (it was unopened, but I have a thing where I just can’t resist twisting the hymen of the wax that seals the mouth lid and discovering the true identity of the contents). I am wearing this today. Although the initial smell was like mothballs, the classic rose jasmine of the vintage original, once the perfume was released from its endless imprisonment, is entirely intact. Persolaise, when you and Linda come over to stay in July, I will give you this as I know how much you love it.
: a Courrèges Empreinte pristine parfum. I have reviewed this one before, but it is a curious, peach-leather chypre from the seventies that I find inestimably chic and aloof. I had used up much of my previous bottle so I am very pleased to have it again. Once in a blue moon, in a particular, offbeat mood, only Empreinte will do.
: a beautiful original Nina by Nina Ricci eau de toilette, a perfume I love and which I often keep by the bed as a night scent as I consider it to be one of the best green floral aldehydics of the eighties and a scent that really soothes my spirits- there is something forever pure and happy about this scent, and this was in perfect olfactory condition in the gorgeous original Lalique (is it?) crystal flacon
: a vintage sixties or seventies eau de cologne by Shiseido – More, that I had never properly known before and which is completely and unexpectedly BEAUTIFUL. What initially might just seem like a typical ‘old lady’ Chanel No 5 rip-off – very, very powdery; very, very aldehydic turns out to be extremely cultivated, almost peerless; both fresher and more lively in the top with a gorgeously uplifting fruit note that lasts into the drydown, which in itself is more delicate than a meringue with a note of vanilla that keeps it from the usual musky boredom that I easily tire of. D might find this one unacceptable on me, and I can see why – I probably just smell like an octogenarian transvestite ballerina in it, but there is something in this scent, some real sense of soul, real intelligence and emotion, that I can imagine having a day here just by myself, the doors bolted and locked, and post shower, just dousing myself in the stuff and spending the rest of the day just floating on the tulles of a cloud, happy as Larry, cut off from the horrors of the world like a cut in cotton wool.
: a full bottle of L’Artisan Parfumeur’s parfum d’ambiance,Mimosa Marin, which is the interior equivalent of the original Mimosa Pour Moi, whose reformulated bottle I have never been happy with ( I used to love the original). This is perfect, and has the drifty baby chick pollen of the first formulation from the nineties – I adore the scent of mimosa – with a slightly oceanic note (but not really….it is delightfully aerated though) and this was the first thing I was saying yes that, definitely, definitely, get the mimosa, get the mimosa, in those closing moments in the shop when the D was desperately trying to hoover everything up into his arms and reach the cashier. I am also wearing it today, and it smells pleasingly airy and light.
Oh yes, a vintage bottle of Diane Von Furstenburg’s Tatiana, a lovely green, beachy white floral in the manner of Alfred Sung’s Sung and Rochas’ Lumière, a seventies/eighties style that I still really admire; all hyacinths and galbanum and gardenia, gorgeous, even if I don’t think I can really get away with it; still, sprayed on a t-shirt on a summer’s day it could be really rather enjoyable, as could something, another perfume that D grabbed for the sake of it called Rêve Voilé by Avon, which smells incredibly good for such a cheap perfume house, beachy and made for Californian sunsets as well.
Oh yes, some Fendi by Fendi, that glorious spiced Italianate classic, which I like on a winter’s day when I am in that more ferocious and uppity state of mind and last, but certainly not least, a very exciting,vintage parfum bottle of
SHOCKING by Elsa Schiaparelli, darling of the surrealists, friend of Dali, and author, or at least originator, of the iconoclastically titled Shocking. Although the top notes have long gone in this bottle, a full 7ml vintage extrait, the body and soul of the perfume remains (unlike a miniature parfum I also once had that had resorted to nothing but mushrooms). This juice, in this bottle, does smell equally fusty, musty and old, but also undeniably erotic. It is still so dark, rich and potent. I don’t know what this says about me, but there is something about say, the unapologetically carnal trio of Dana’s Tabu, Lavin’s My Sin, and Schiaparelli’s Shocking that is just so almost damningly femme fatale and filthy that I feel slightly endangered in some way, as if they are breathing down my neck and coming in for the kill; thrilled, at the thought of long and beautiful fur coats tinged with these perfumes, filled with their nitromusks and civet and the furry anthers of moths and satin underdresses and the newfound freedom of these times when some women said no to dainty white flowers and bathed themselves in the thick, oilpaint tinctures of opulent, dense, unguent-ridden spiced perfumes with balls. I have only just found out, while looking up information about Shocking, that the legendary perfumer Jean Carles, was also the author of Tabu, but that definitely does make sense. Both perfumes have similarities, in the same way that Cabochard, Aromatics Elixir and Aramis do. The perfumer’s signature style underlining them all. In these perfumes’ case, a thick lasciviousness. I do find Tabu unbearable, I will admit. I also, contradictorily,think it is brilliant, with its marron glacés, plum pudding relativity to Caron’s Nuit De Noël – just tripled in strength, and depth, and laden with animalics and a truly fantastic Mysore sandalwood – once, after we had found a bottle of vintage Tabu down the Isezakicho shopping mall, I got Duncan to wear a bit for me as a dare, because it was so utterly out of character and wrong for his self image, and although he did, as expected, absolutely hate it, he loathed it, and couldn’t wait to get it off, the trail of tawdry but beautiful sandalwood that he was giving off behind him as he walked in front of me down the street was so good that I wished I could trick him into wearing again – not that that is ever going to happen. Tabu is so thick and buttery and suggestive to the point of obscenity- it really is the quintessential hooker scent – which I have no objections to whatsover except for the fact that it is so creamily blocked together I find it ashyxiating both physically and mentally, I can’t stand it, really, even though I kind of love it, and it is hard to imagine many people being able to get away with wearing it convincingly now (but if you do beg to differ on this point, please tell me). The Schiaparelli, however, the earlier template, is less filled-in, and less lipidly seamless and splayed out stark naked, there,on the bed. This number is still her in her black, made to measure negligee. Musky, full of patchouli, amber, white honey, sandalwood, civet; a lick of tarragon to twist up the floral absolutes, this is a perfume full of nightime, cigarettes and seduction. You can imagine a woman, beautiful in her way, lying on her bed before going out, touching her inner thighs and intimate places with the stopper from the bottle, laughing to herself at the thought of what might be to come later, the somewhat androgynous but unequivocal sex of it all. A woman in control of herself, between the wars, in that decadent stage just before the fascists took over for a second time, when the balance of decadence and good time debauchery shifted once again, as it is now, towards damning conservatism; the negation of woman as free, public entity; and murderous intolerance.
Still, there she is, right now, in her room, by herself, bathed and tipsy from a glass or two of champagne, negligently applying her perfume to her person, and this woman is perhaps unaware of any of this, of what is about to happen, or whatever as happened before. She is quite simply enjoying her mood, deciding on what she wants to wear, no matter how risqué, quite simply, just because she wants to. Applying her perfume to her own skin, because she desires to: and she loves how the perfume envelopes her, her louche but cleverly constructed and marketed perfume, a liberating dose of accomplice.
She goes out, unattended, unchaperoned; confident in her own body, emanating confidence and sensuality, the traces of stealthy, animal perfume rising up from her occasionally in heavy breathing wisps of anticipation. A woman in control of her own destiny, far from the clutches of the zealots who wish to quell her and bring her to heel to fit their own unreligious, brainwashed and brainwashing dictats. A woman with autonomy and agency, master and mistress of her own body.
Goodness, what a shocking thought.
Vintage Chanel Nº19 soap
Yes, I do think so. I had been saving this beauty for some unspecified future special occasion, but I think this is now going in with me.
It is in the auxiliary products of this perfume that the differences between the vintage and the gutted, debrained reformulation are even more glaringly obvious and damning: the new soap is a flashy yellow citric vetiver thing with an unpleasant undernote I can’t abide and would never buy again (the same with a body cream I got as well that was quite vile).
The original soap, though, is glorious and really beautifully scented: deep, leathery suds combine with vetiver and iris and a touch of the floral green notes up top, forming the perfect layer for the perfume.
In truth, this will be a bloodied, wounded man on crutches trying desperately to salvage some smell dignity in the confines of the disabled hospital toilet but so be it: the savon is so strongly scented that it will tint its surroundings with Chanel, and that is no bad thing.
My personally remixed vintage Chanel Nº19 eau de toilette
In thinking about what perfumes I should be taking into hospital and should have as ‘my smell’ (aside the foul one I will have from lying in my bed all the time and not showering or bathing), it didn’t take me long to settle on this, one of my top three holy grails. Not because I always feel like wearing it, not by any stretch – I go for sweeter, more tropical scents on the whole – but because the vintage is just so good, and so multi-faceted, that I feel it will give off exactly the sillage I want (it is already drenched all over my dressing gown – that’s bath robe to you North Americans) and all the other clothes I am taking.
I believe that this perfume will confer on me some kind of immunity to embarrassment. And the supercilious, Parisian greenness of it will absorb some of the mortification of what I know in advance is going to happen from being The Foreigner in the hospital.
As for the remix, well it was necessary. I acquired the bottle you see here ( LOVE that thick, oblong bottle): a vintage that had quite nice, rich, base notes, and still enough iris to still merit buying it, but it wasn’t quite good enough to wear. I therefore added some bergamot and galbanum essential oils ( I know!) and then varying amounts of other extraits that I have in my collection to turn it into something like my own private parfum de toilette.
It is pretty much perfect now; very green ; irisian, with all the penetrating and lingering vetiver base notes there as well.
This is my hospital scent.
Chanel Nº19 vintage parfum
Because when certain visitors come, I will still need the thicker paint to dab on the wrists.
My personally remixed Guerlain Vetiver Cologne
I know: the arrogance. But I basically know what I am doing. I have yet to do a full review of vintage Guerlain Vetiver, which I truly think was an extremely beautiful, mellow, smoky perfume that was a vital part of the Guerlain canon; emotional, intelligent, crepuscular. One day I will.
This old bottle of cologne from a flea market was given to me half full, slightly turned, but in dry-down, redolent enough of the original I remember so fondly to merit me adding a third of the current eau de toilette (not so bad, really: just as though the original had had some of its most important memories extracted but were still, basically, the same person).
To body it up, I added specially chosen vetiver essential oil for depth; black pepper (in the original notes) to rev it up and add vitality, plus some bergamot and lemon.
I have possibly made it slightly too citric (but then you see it was a cologne), but I basically do love this new reconstructed version of mine. I also think that it won’t clash too much with the Chanel, but will rather add to the Noel Coward charm I hope to cultivate while hospitalized.
My snake skin case of specially selected essential oils
More important than perfume in fact.
With all those germs flying about and the danger of hospital infections so prevalent these days you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be surrounded by an aura of bactericidal essences that smell nice (lemon, bergamot, lavender), soothe the spirits and senses, kill infections before they get anywhere near my person, or are cicatrising agents.
I don’t intend of course to sabotage the doctors’ work, don’t worry, but I know for a fact that thick, viscous, Biblical essences such as myrrh and benzoin, and particularly frankincense, are great wound healers and will be self-administered.
I will use them if I get a chance to have a bath, or else put them in other places on my body in areas not directly connected to the operated area.
Like Lazarus, I will walk again.
In fact, what I was planning (and this might strike you as quite abnormal, somewhat), was to enter the operation theatre bathed in vetiver essential oil; not so much as to interfere or interact with anything, nor to be overtly there on the skin, interrupting the good surgeons’ work, but to have imbibed and macerated myself in it beforehand, for days, like a Hindu yogi.
About twenty years ago I was in Melaka, Malaysia, one of my very first experiences of Asia – and it is a memory that has stayed with me forever.
I was alone, staying with some friends in a business district of Kuala Lumpur, but had then come to this alluring, ancient town for a couple of nights, entranced just wandering around and breathing it all in.
The highlight though was undoubtedly one street, which seemed to be some kind of microcosm of how the world might be today and always if people weren’t so stupid and so full of hatred of difference, and almost unbearably idealistic in retrospect.
There was a Dutch colonial Christian church on the corner in one part of town, and then, when you went down the road a bit, there was a Hindu temple next door to a mosque next door to a Chinese temple, all the sounds and smells comingling to the extent that you could never fully escape your neighbour……….but to me it was a beautiful cacophony.
I actually spent that afternoon recording the sounds on my tape recorder, interviewing people in some kind of naive ecstacy of exotic excitement, felled by the smells and aromas and atmospheres and musics, but one of the most vivid recollections I still have was when I finally went into the Hindu temple and was assailed with the deepest, coolest, almost minted, earthen vetiver that filled every cavity of that space and my head as the holy man, naked save for a loin cloth, sat there in a meditative pose, silent, covered head to toe in vetiver khus: pasted on his body, I just stood there and savoured it, inhaling the roots, lost in the moment and becoming vetiver. It was exquisite.
Thus, sadly bringing you back round to my current Japanese reality……I wanted to replicate that exact sensation by bathing all this week in vetiver essential oil, to the extent that it would just breathe from my pores while I am being operated on (the plant is naturally anti-februge; prevents fever; is bactericidal as well as mellowing down the heart rate, and calming the nerves)….
It would have been perfect, but me being me I overdid it a bit last week with the citrus oils in the bath ( I should have known better; I know which oils suit me and which don’t; I can bathe in bergamot and never have problems – I find it so re-equilibrating as an essence, and emerge lucid and clear, but should have remembered that I can’t tolerate even very small amounts of orange or grapefruit near my skin as I immediatley hive up and come out in red patches. Lemon I thought was different but uh-oh: I hadn’t dispersed the water properly and, shit! I have come up in a big sensitized burn on my right thigh where the oil had collected in concentration, and this week, on top of a hundred other panics, I am now worrying that this might prevent the surgeons from operating (although it is now, thankfully, beginning to fade) .
They were very clear, however, on the fact that I couldn’t catch a cold, as you will recollect from the post from the other day (in the end, just for your information, I decided to stay at home, as the threat of potential viruses outside just assailed my consciousness way too much and I thought it better to relax here: which I have, when I haven’t been sucked into hysteria, usually in the dark hours of the middle of the night): but anyway: this sensitized patch – why couldn’t it have been on a different part of the body?!!!, such bad luck) – seems to be going down now and I don’t want to risk any more sensitization.
I did have a bath yesterday, actually, using the Tasmanian lavender you see in the box (fantastically relaxing!) and I think it has had a positive effect on the patch, but vetiver I don’t know.
But in tribute to that otherworldly Malaysian Indian man, I will have some oil placed strategically in certain private places, just to emit, silently – while under,; but it will not, sadly but sensibly, be the full Melakan fantasy. I wouldn’t want the surgeons in a state of oneiric hypnosis, in any case. They have their work cut out already.
In the snake case you will also notice some lotion, and some vaseline. The latter is lemon-infused lip balm – divine! – just standard vaseline with lemon essential added to it, but it is so uplifting and cheering and germ killing that it is perfect for when I get a visitor or a nurse comes and I want to evince a sudden burst of lemon peel (the effect is almost holographic). I will also need seriously lubed up lips for the anaesthetic as I know that when you come round (I will be under for five and a half hours, yikes), your lips are as dry as dead leaves: I would prefer to begin the proceedings glistening and citrussy than stoically dried out and desiccated.
For skin – because just I don’t do leather face, and take these things seriously, we see in the photograph my home-adultered Shiseido Lait De Beauté, familiar to all friends who have ever come to stay with me who usually end up stealing my moisturizers and taking them home with them.
This is a very effective, but inexpensive lotion (500 yen, or about five dollars) – unscented, to which I add whichever oils suit my skin (and mood) best at any given time. Over time, they have included palmarosa, patchouli, ylang ylang, geranium, neroli (amazing), galbanum (- a recent addition), myrrh, but perhaps most effectively, frankincense, which just soothes the face so beautifully at night and helps you to sleep as well. The only other skin products I use are pure coconut oil – just lather me up like a Thai banana fritter and eat me: you might think it too greasy and pore-clogging, that you would just wake up the next day like a greased up, zit-tastic teenager, but nothing could be further from the truth.
I have a strange intuition about when and when not to moisturize: my skin just tells me not tonight, please, or else it just says slather me in coconut. A more immediate wrinkle eradicator I can’t imagine, the stuff is nature’s dream, and it is well known on The Black Narcissus that coconut is probably my favourite note in all of perfumery anyway so I am quite content to just lie there like a sweet Thai dessert and see rich, oleaginous dreams.
Yes….so this case of goodness will be beside me at all times: I shall be self-dispensing; a drop of sweet marjoram on the tongue when it all gets too much, here, some hyssop oil, as well – one I have never tried before but which is good for bone healing and which smells very strange and intriguing and so I bought it at the shop in Tokyo, Tree Of Life in Harajuku, my favourite haunt for such things: (I also think that essential oils are so instinctive and intuitive; some really suit you, and others don’t, and you know immediately: if you were to replace my selections here, for instance, with my migraine- inducing nemeses : basil, aniseed, petitgrain, sandalwood, pine, helichrysum (immortelle- hell in a bottle!); fir, cinnamon leaf, tea tree (brilliant stuff therapeutically, but I just hate the smell of it so much); carrot seed, cumin, citronella (mosquito horror personified!) and lemongrass (so rasping!) the oils would actually have a detrimental effect on me, despite their proven qualities; be head-splitting and rough, but hyssop…. my body just said yes.
Same as it does with eucalyptus. Oh that stuff is good in the bath….
Some new perfumes
Because I will need something to do and I want to review for you.
This new range, to be launched later this year, is very good…
And then some old familiars:
Roger & Gallet Gingembre Cologne
This, I would say, is the perfect remedy for slovenly piss-in-pyjamas modification: the kind of scent you can just spray on when someone is coming to the door and you want to smell fresh as a daisy.
I love ginger anyway (but not really the essential oil, I forgot to add that one), but this gentle creation is not especially gingery; that note is just there somewhere among the classic cologne notes, that are nevertheless not too classic colonia/cologne a la 4711 or Acqua Di Parma (and which I don’t really like).
No, this is a modern interpretation; clear; uplifting, a touch staid and unexciting, perhaps, but clean, loveable, long-lasting, and good.
Vol De Nuit Cologne
There is no point in taking any orientals with me into hospital. In fact, I am very particular about what perfumes work in what circumstances
(…another aside, just for a moment…………one very surprising thing I learned the other day while undergoing a ‘battery’ of hospital tests, was my blood type…
In Japan, blood types are used in the way we used zodiac signs in the West. There is a deep belief in the differences in people’s characters according to what blood type they are here, even direct prejudice (some people won’t marry someone of the ‘wrong’ type, and it is one of the first questions people apparently ask when dating; many people I have met here in Japan have been very surprised that I didn’t know mine…. but do most westerners?
Type B is apparently considered extremely eccentric and selfish, does its own thing only; O is strong, boorish, headstrong, based in reality; A is boring and careful, conservative, finnickety- the majority of Japanese are proudly A – while AB is considered freakish and odd.
Skyping with my parents last night, I asked them what type they were because I couldnt’ remember if they had ever told me (my mother had lost the records that contained my own type and I have often wondered).
Apparently my dad is a very rare B negative, my mother A. My brother is AB, we don’t know about my sister, and I, it turns out, am A. My Japanese friends were extremely surprised, even horrified. You, A??!!! But you are so not Japanese?!
I agree: I assumed that with my big-bodied aggressivess I might be O, or with my obvious weirdness, B or AB (Duncan is B), but never A…..but then a friend pointed out to me quite rightly that my attitude towards writing (careful, pedantic, if violently spontaneous) and perfume (obsessive, comprehensive) is actually very A)..
Of course, all of this is probably utter bullshit, but then so is the Zodiac, except for the fact that it isn’t – simply because through empirical experience I know that a lot of what is said about the signs is literally true, from my friends, family and other loved ones to my colleagues and students. Who knows: perhaps something about blood types might be true for all we know as well…..
My attitude towards which perfumes work in what circumstances, though, in many ways, is ‘very A’..
I am never going to just spray an oriental perfume onto dirty unwashed skin, for example. Some people don’t think about these perfumed points enough. But if you want to get it right, you have to. Some perfumes go great on skin and clothes no matter what their state (that Gingembre I am taking in with me is a good example). Others, emphatically do not. You have to be clean.
Do you think I will be lying there sweating and seeping on my ‘cot’ and ladling on Bal A Versailles to my seeping sores? God no. I hate that beloved perfume unless I have scrupulously bathed first and added talc in the right weather – for me usually the depths of winter – and then, and only then, is it heaven on earth. On unwashed skin? Skanksville. Grubby. Invasive. I would just be desperate to wash it off, as I would Shalimar or any amber or any vanilla or anything cloying or sweet that just will not go at all with my surroundings. No, they would be vile in hospital.
Vol De Nuit cologne, though.
A thing of beauty is a joy forever, and I fear I will be smelling a tad unsugared in all my lemon and vetivered finery – get bored with it, eventually, so I can imagine a time, a quiet evening on the ward, the old men asleep,when I just wash my hands and arms thoroughly, add some Vol De Nuit cologne, and let my spirits ride a bit…..
This is very different from my treasured parfum, which is by far my favourite incarnation of Night Flight, but I do like it much better than the vintage edt, which is darker, a bit too moody and standoffishly daffodilian.
The cologne, on the other hand, has a tingly, bright-burst beginning like the white of afternoon sunlight, the oriental facets kept effectively at bay until the end of its duration on the skin, when the powdered cremeuese of the classic Vol De Nuit base comes to the forelight. I need this. Just for private moments.
As I do my
Puapuakeni and Poison
These two will not really go with my featured hospital smell identity (but who knows; when D brings in my washed garments after a week or two I might switch and go all Bora Bora – at this time of year I always start craving tropical florals anyway); but even if I don’t, and I just sink into foetid vetiver realness, having these lovelies just there on the side will remind me that one day I am coming out and that my perfume collection will be waiting for me.
This is important.
I don’t know about you, but when I am away for any length of time from home, I really crave my perfumes; I want them, I need them, I have to smell them or just have them next to me by my bed.
And a scent craving is a strange and unusual craving indeed. It’s different from a food one (caffeine, meat, sugar, fat, citrus), gut-driven and physical, base; an alcohol one (psychological); a visual one (sometimes I need to see certain films in my collection, but it’s different), or just an intense craving for cosmopolitan stimulation (I know I will really miss the city when I am cooped up in the hospital), but something more.
With perfume it’s all of these things. It’s psychological yes, but it’s also very much stimulation, and I would also say, physical, to be honest – from the gut, the heart and brain – a very three dimensional experience, something you feel and internalise intensely, even spiritually, not just some random evaporating liquid on the surface of the skin.
This time next weekend I will already have been hospitalized and it is virtually all that I can think about.
That’s that, but what about this week? I have finished work, and am at home. The hospital staff told me last week that if I got a cold the operation would be cancelled, or at the very least postponed (and this surgeon is very hard to book).
Naturally, immediately after being told this I get a cold, or at least some discomfort in my chest – which could be psychosomatic, or simply anxiety – and so went to the doctor’s yesterday near my house to get antibiotics just in case.
I actually feel fine; no fever (although the phlegm is not imaginary).
But this morning I read that some surgeons won’t operate if you have even had a cold or sinus problems or anything like that even SIX WEEKS before a procedure, let alone a week.
So do I have to tell the truth? When the anesthesiologist comes to check on me and asks me if I have had any colds, then what should I say?
I HAVE TO GET THIS OPERATION. It has been so hard to set it all up, and the time off has been sorted out with my school, and I just want to get the damned thing over with.
But I also feel trapped, like I shouldn’t leave the house in case I am ‘exposed’ to more bacteria or viruses, this being exactly the season for colds and all the rest as the weather changes, cold and warm, spring trying really hard to drag itself now through the vestiges of winter, but I fear going out into town (we did yesterday, my ‘last day’ if you like ; had a nice meal – but too much wine (stupid! but it helps me to relax and take my mind off the horror, and trust me, last week’s explanations of the procedure in great detail really did sound like horror). I know that this isn’t good though, especially for the immune system,and that I need to be in tip-top shape for next Monday.
The question: if it were you, would you just sequester yourself away at home until the day, to be on the safe side? Or do you think it would be ok for me to go out?
It is my last week before six weeks stuck inside the hospital and then four months of rehabilitation at home. This is my last chance (I can’t walk so well, but with painkillers I can) to get out and feel free: I feel like a ‘last day’ in Yokohama, to just go to the perfume recycle shops because that would give me a boost ; forgive the morbid thinking, I just can’t help it (and any readers out there who feel like just giving me a slap, please do: I know that there are far far far worse situations I could be in – this is ‘just’ my legs) but right now I just feel rather panicked. You should be in my dreams…….
My robe for hospital has been washed and scented heavily with No 19 this morning (because I just had to). My underwear is now being rinsed with lemon and vetiver (because at the very least I am going to do my damnedest not to stink). I have bought and assembled a box of some beautiful essential oils. But should I now just be staying here in the house – Duncan will be free from Friday when his spring break begins – or would it be ok for me to go out? A Japanese person would wear one of those Michael Jackson surgical masks, which about 40% of the population wears here at any given time, and I suppose that I could do, but foreigners look somehow kind of sinister when they do so and in any case I would just feel like a fool. Again, they just make me feel trapped.
Anyone in health care or who has had similar experiences or knows someone who has, I eagerly await your advice. Will I be able to have the operation as scheduled ? Must I stay here in this house like an imprisoned, nervous wreck?
We haven’t had television, now, for about twenty years. And aside the occasional binge watch of certain classic series – Twin Peaks, The Sopranos, The Wire, and, ahem, Dynasty (all on dvd – so twentieth century), all we ever watch, really, when we choose to, are films in our projector room – ‘The Videodrome’: jungle plants, mirrors, and a plain, white wall that at night becomes our cinema screen.
Duncan has a phobia of TV sets: he hates them with a passion, finds them hideously ugly, the way that they eat up a room and dominate all social proceedings and become the locus of any household; on all the time in the background, needlessly like an insidious drone, the ‘news’ on repeat in the same ominous, OMG! or faux-compassionate tones……….
And yet when we go home, back to the UK, it seems unavoidable, watching TV, for a while, just the thing to do, because that’s what people do, and then I start getting immediately drawn, despite myself, into certain programmes anyway (it usually only takes me one episode of something to already start planning my vacation around when I can see the tantalizing next one): all of this always enjoyable, kind of, for a while, as a novelty that we can dip into: the zeitgeist of our homeland (or that’s what I probably tell myself, in any case).
Ultimately, however, TV, for me, is, and always will be, a mindfuck. Which is why it was such a pleasure when the NHK TV man mistakenly cut the wires all those years ago in our old house round the corner from where we live now and we never looked back. Life was immediately much better just without it. The way it slowly, but insidiously, takes over the brain and the soul, plugging up the brain stem with fudge, filling up the pristine waterways with commercialized, if enjoyable, cement that severs intelligence; eats up creativity: leaves you ‘pleasurized’.
I am undoubtedly a hypocrite. Despite my supercilious attitudes to the medium, writing here as though I am above it all, I know that I am in fact very easily addicted. I am prone. I am a person who, for instance, on the twelve hour flight back to the UK from Japan, usually watches five films in a row without pausing for breath, and I love every minute of it. I love long haul flights, and sometimes don’t even want them to end. Just the sensation, which I always enjoy, of being unbounded by time, the feeling that time zones don’t make any sense any more when you are flying high, high above them over Siberia or the north coast of Sweden; that responsibilites have been erased (the best part), and you are strapped into your seat helpless and at the whim of hostesses and hosts you can bring to you whenever you want with drinks and salted snacks at the press of a button; that it takes away the primal fear somewhere below, that you are flying in a heavy ton of metal and plastic through the air.
I have terrible powers of absorption. I get engrossed in what I am watching to the extent that I totally forget about everything else. I don’t regret having this aspect to my character; I know that some people cannot concentrate on anything and have a million and one things at the back of their minds when they are at the cinema, or in conversation, or trying to pretend that they are enjoying a show at the theatre when there is a whole lot of drama going on inside their own heads instead; whereas I, like a child, am quite easily enthralled. I lose myself. Even when we did have a phone that worked in the house, I would often disconnect the thing when I was watching the film, reality be damned. I like this feeling. And I am thrilled, in truth that I have all this new, potential entertainment. To be happily, and mindlessly drugged. I just worry about the dosage.
The reason I am fact writing this is that yesterday was the first time that I have ever used the movie and TV show streaming service Netflix, something that is becoming a way of life for millions and millions of people now: yet another unexamined and unquestioned part of twenty first century life that takes over many people’s lives. A friend of mine was saying the other day that she truly realized the power of doing things and staying fresh and young and spontaneous and offline when away with her husband for her birthday in Hamburg a weekend or two ago, when so many couples our age now she knows just stay in at night at the weekend with a take away or call in pizza and wine and watch Netflix as a matter of course, and, I suppose, when you think about it, why not? It’s cosy, that nesting feeling with your partner, or your cat, or alone, doors locked, programmes on, your life at the end of a remote control. Just so damn easy.
Moreover, again in its defence, having all this potential numbing and absorbing programming at the end of my fingertips will be extremely helpful for me over the next few months when I am hospitalized in a claustrophobic Japanese medical environment, where I will bored out of my mind, and from what I read about the operations themselves, in excruciating pain as well – and where having these benign, amusing, addictive TV shows will be a boon; a cocoon for me to plug into in my native tongue as the grim babble of the wards around me go about their business, but I, in my mind, dimmed in my painkillers, will be drowsily ensconced happily in LA, or Miami, or wherever I happen to find myself instead. An old friend who came to stay with us last week from the UK, very kindly, and generously, put her account, probably illegally, onto my computer (she also said that when going through a very difficult time last Autumn, it was Netflix that saved her: to avoid the rawness and the pain of a difficult breakup, she would just get under the bedclothes at night and watch episode after episode of Narcos), and I must say that I was absolutely delighted in truth to have this option there, even if on closer view the content struck me as somewhat unthrilling. A bit run of the mill and standardized. Of a certain ilk.
Still, yesterday, when waking up alone on my Monday day off, I couldn’t resist.
In fact, I had woken up at 6am after just four hours sleep feeling alert and creative, words streaming through my brain ready to start working on Notes On My Notes Volume III (still so much to say!), a sun-filled, late February morning, plum, and peach blossom budding on the trees, the morning light filled with beautiful possibilites, but ‘just a bit longer in bed’ I then lazily thought to myself as I woke up, overslept and groggy, at the far later time of 10.45 with nothing on my mind but the Cheddar cheese that our friend had brought us in her suitcase, melted on toast, with coffee, and the paper, and lethargy… and then Netflix. There was simply nothing else whatsoever that I wanted to do. I couldn’t have written a word about anything, then, if you had paid me (amazing how the time of day you wake up affects your brain and its powers – in my case it is entirely unpredictable; it could easily have been the other way round. Sometimes I leap out of bed dreaming perfume reviews – the other night I even dreamed about the non existent Chanel No 41 extrait and was dying to tell you about it because I had smelled it; other times that side of my head is completely and utterly switched off as if it had been bashed in with a giant rock).
So access the Netflix I did, with my password, and soon found that the entire day had been spent watching various films, and shows, and ‘browsing through’, right up until bedtime. And I had, yet again, that familiar sensation I get at these times: that I was sated with something that had given me a certain level of pleasure, had let me forget about the day (not that it needed necessarily to be forgotten about), but that had very definitely addicted me : in truth, I am itching to get back to it to find out what happens next in various storylines…..but then before going to bed last night I did write about this, I had to as I felt this peculiar new unease, like a physical feeling in my body, and put the original version of this up ( different words, but the same ideas) , but somehow it got erased, which enraged me, one wrong press of a keyboard button and your endeavours just vanish into ether – along with some people’s comments – my apologies : my panic – well, that is perhaps too strong a word for it – but my dis-ease at the feelings in my brain potent enough for me to want to write about it and get some feedback from those that are reading this now, a fair few of whom I imagine are also subscribers to ‘Netflix’, and know, instinctively, perhaps, just what I am talking about. That potential feeling of willingly losing yourself to it.
It would be unfair to suggest that watching TV is in itself bad in some way, particularly when the quality of so many series now is on par with, or better than, most of what is put on at our cinemas and when so much of it is so well made and genuinely informative. I do realize this. And people need escape, something to focus on (and I definitely will be charge up to this new alternative world of mine probably most of the day, unless I am reading, which I hopefully will be as well, and preferably writing, when I am chained to my hospital bed watching the swellings and the metallic implants and the drips and the syringes and the masked nurses and all the rest of it, and I know that some instant trips to other places will be exactly what the doctor ordered.)
At the same time, though, even from just one full day of it, yesterday, my brain, in all honesty, felt changed.
With TV, or the internet, I really do feel plugged into the Matrix, at the mercy of unseen forces that want to control me. And I know that I can be easily controlled. (Is this paranoia? Discuss: I don’t actually believe so). Proof lies in my current use of my iPhone 6s, which I was forced to get after eighteen months off it (documented in my piece on the subject, The Rosy Trail of Ms Pusy if you are interested in hearing about the virtually unplugged life), a time when I felt unshackled and purer; calmer in my spirit, more contemplatative and easier to sleep (there is no doubt for me that even just having your smart phone in the room with you at night somehow disturbs the quality of your sleep, and dreams….)
Yes, it was a nice time, for a while. I lost the phone, looked for it very halfheartedly, and then enjoyed not having it so much that I literally delayed getting another one for a year and a half. Quite a long time in this age when people panic if they accidentally leave it at home for even one day. It was nice, though. I felt more human, or at least what being a human being used to feel like. More in the physical world of air, trees, and flowers. I was always one to literally stop and smell the roses anyway, but without my phone, even more so. I moved more slowly. I read far more novels and loved it. I was more organic, solid, less fractured, somehow, and in one sense, more connected.
Reality then eventually took hold, however, and it became necessary for me to get a phone to be contactable for work, the hospital, my family (it was, in truth, very selfish of me, in a way, even if the fact of being wilfully incommunicado, as a gesture of defiance against the general brainwashing of humanity, secretly, as an unabashed rebel, did rather please me).
And I can’t pretend, either, that I haven’t enjoyed it. Being back online, being constantly contactable, in the moment, and in the grid, I am feeling sociable: am lucky to have lots of friends and acquaintances the world over, and do like the instantaneous spontaneity of being able to quip a line here with an old friend now living in Turkey on Facebook, of chatting with someone else back home or in Iceland or in India, putting up photos I take whenever I feel like it (this I love: the immediacy of this ‘art’ and the capturing of a moment) of checking (too constantly, in fact) what is going on in the world, of being able to message people and organize meet ups whenever I want to. It has its downsides, undeniably (its addiction, its sheer and absolute compulsiveness, which seems, almost to be built inside the device itself, as though it emits this), but I still know that it will be an absolute godsend when I am taken in and sequestered in for weeks on end in my hospital bed. How else am I going to be able to contact anyone? How else will I regale you with the horrors I am experiencing, live and direct on the Black Narcissus?
Yes. If you gave me the choice of going back to my prior state of Nature Boy, or maintaining my current one, I have to disappoint some readers perhaps in saying that I would definitely go for the latter. With the world the way it is, I don’t want to feel isolated or out of the loop but right in the middle of what feels something like a revolution. We are actually, it would seem, at the beginning of dystopia, of some nightmareish, fascistic, takeover. The scent of the plum blossom (beautiful, incidentally, the quintessence of Kamakura), just somehow isn’t quite enough.
But at the same time, though, when compounded with the easy allure of Netflix and its endless streams of entertainment, after just one day of it I can already feel my brain going. I can imagine, from now, just receiving, not producing; of gradually being subsumed by all the ready made programming and buzzlines and memes and trending news, and ‘fake news’ (already the sinister gaslighting of the administration has started working a little inside my head and I am starting, against my instincts and better judgement, to believe that Bastard about the ‘lying media, the enemy of the people’, even though I know in my heart that The New York Times has some of the very best writers in the world and I can’t live without it on a day to day basis just for the beauty of its language, its humour and humanistic poigancy); a whirl and a maelstrom of noise, unreal, saturated colours, and easy pleasures, like junk food, that will fill me up stodgily and happily for short periods of time but still, under the skin and in my cerebellum, leave me feeling unsatiated and brainless: an unthinking, one-of-the-masses, stupid, media-ized
Z O M B I E
We all have good and bad periods in our lives, times when we feel things are right and we can believe in the present and the future, and others when we feel lost. Much of the beginning of the twenty first century was like that for me.
Coming to Japan in 1996 for no other reason than pure escape, even though I had, in fact, virtually zero interest in the country (it was truly a do or die situation for me at that time, it could have been Timbuktu), I went through a period of deep isolation and desolation before beginning to slowly bloom again when Duncan joined me here (we had briefly split up for a time beforehand, at my instigation, in my post-university London desperation).
Japan – alien, bizarre, yet simultaneously unsurprising – took quite a while for me to settle into, but as its pleasures began to take hold, we made friends, and were soon in a drunken gaijin (foreigner) late-twenties bubble, working at low-reputation language schools and watching Japan from the outside while working and partying within it. This was great for a while, even if, as ‘Cambridge Graduates’ – an albatross of expectation that ultimately just makes a young person feel guilty and horrifically underachieving unless they have scaled the career heights and ‘made their mark on the world’, deep down, we both felt unanchored, vaguely embarrassed, and consistently anxious about the future.
I think that unless you have a solid ambition from a young age – to be a doctor, a journalist, a fashion designer, an entrepreneur- and are a liberal arts graduate – in my case so pragmatically specializing in twentieth centry Italian and French literature, with a special focus on existentialism (meaning that I could see through everything and could not believe in the value of anything whatsoever) – upon graduation from those ivory towers you can be really plunged into what is, essentally, a terrifying and all encompassing black hole.
For me it was like drowning. There was literally not a single job in the world that I actually wanted to do. Nothing appealed to me. Of course I realise that this is one of those ‘first world problems’, ‘white privilege’ and all the rest, when half the world doesn’t even have food to eat, but I was me, in my own situation, and my own milieu, and being aware of all that didn’t detract from the sheer angst my lack of direction engendered in me. I could see no future ahead of me. And that can be devastating for a young person.
I have never had any interest whatsoever in business, in just working for companies that make money for executives and stock holders – and the existence of Donald Trump and everything he stands for just vindicates my instincts in this regard – these soulless, evil fucks. And so all the twenty three year old students rushing to get jobs as investment bankers during the so called ‘milk -round’ in the last year of Cambridge, when you are sucked up by the City Machine and all the Big Companies just left me bewildered and at a loss. I was never going to even try doing anything like that. I would literally rather have died. But what else was there? As a language graduate, you could say that the world of the EU (weep, I am still fuming), and diplomacy, or translation, and interpreting, beckoned, but that was about as likely as me transforming one fine morning into a llama. Fakeness, excruciating politeness, the exchange of small talk and schmoozing among well dressed reptiles with underlying motives and blank-faced foreign counterparts and all that diplomatic goo is as alien to me as tilling the bank vaults and advising clients on their portfolios would be; and even translating, which sounded vaguely impressive in a way, seemed to me to be simply transforming another person’s words like a machine. I am too egotistical and selfish for that. I like my own words.
And so what else was there? The media held no appeal. Mainly because anyone I met from the TV, film, art or music sphere just seemed like such pretentious, insecure assholes that I couldn’t bear to spend even a minute with them. I had so many miserable evenings in London I can’t tell you. Publishing, another option, just seemed the same. I considered counselling and psychology for a while but then realized that realistically, I am just too porous and sensitive (I would have absorbed the clients woes too much, like a sponge). I even considered the idea, for a while, grasping at straws, of becoming an aromatherapist – at least closer to my passions. It was just that I didn’t want to ever touch anyone.
One exciting option seemed to be perfumery. There was a chink of light. Perhaps. And so with dreams of perhaps opening a shop one day and becoming world travellers sourcing ingredients, my best friend Helen and I enrolled in the Plymouth University Perfumery diploma course, a long-distance qualification that involved assessing aromatic materials (which I found I was quite good at), essays (the first one, on the essence of perfume itself got me good points), and then, as you might expect, just reams, and reams, and reams, of chemistry (100% impossible). The whole project, which we had been so frothing about the mouth about initially, was dead in the water before you could say opoponax.
It was just not to be. Although I infinitely prefer to associate with positive people – I have no time for negativity in my life any more, because what’s the point?– at the same time, although I deeply respect idealism and optimism in people – I have never had any truck with the ‘anything is possible’ idea personally, particularly when I know that for me, certain things are truly not. To me, rather than pessimism, it is just enlightened, intelligent, realism.
I know myself. I am not an especially modest person – I know what I am good at. But I also know my limitations and what I can’t do. This extended from studying physics at school – so utterly dull it was hard to even be in the classroom let alone concentrate on what was in front of me (one classic punishment, which I think I have related before, was when my teacher at the time, Mrs Lakhani, who I actually liked, and who liked me as well in a bemused kind of way, just said to her wilting, languorous fourteen year old yawning student, oh for god’s sake Neil, just go and water the flowers at the front of the school or something, will you? – cue an embarrassed school boy with a watering can, caught giving the geraniums at the front of that Orwellian building some water by the head teacher – ‘Chapman, what on earth are you doing?’….Mortified, yes, but at least I was close to the flowers, something I have always, since very early childhood, completely and utterly adored, and which could at least allow escape from that hellish, bunsen burner prison – from history, chemistry, mathematics….I had no interest in any of it.
But perfumery without chemistry is like being a fingerless pianist (yes I know you can use your toes, but I was never that resilient or determined: I am a lazy bastard at heart) and even though I knew it was impossible, I did try for a little while. Helen, fearing the chemistry, wisely saw the light earlier than me and gave up immediately. I, stupidly, vainly, tried to learn a few basics about the fundamental elements of our earth, and nature, with a very patient friend of mine living in Japan called Soraiya, who I taught basic French to in return after work in Yokohama cafes, but she quickly had to let me down gently (when I didn’t even know if the sun went round the earth or vice versa), that this probably wasn’t going to work.
It was the same with Japanese kanji. As a supposed linguist, you might think that by now, after two decades in the country, I would be a fluent speaker, someone who can compose haiku in Japanese or write a Tokyo-based novella in the language of my home country. Nothing could be further from the truth. While I can converse in the language fairly well up to a point (if I said to people I had been here four years, say, they might be mildly impressed, but for an expatriate of twenty years my level is shameful), I cannot write a single sentence. Literally. And I knew I never would…
DEFEATIST ! I hear you cry.
I don’t think so. I know my brain. And I respect it. I was born with what I was born with. In Japan the crushingly prevalent idea is that if you try hard enough, you can do anything. I don’t agree. I actually hate that ‘Impossible is nothing’ bullshit. While mind over matter, endeavour, and the power of sheer will have led to remarkable achievements the world over I am sure, if you have ever sat through a four hour mammoth piano recital, the way I have, with the pupils and protegees of my piano teacher all rattling off pieces – Bach, Chopin, Beethoven – of enviable technical proficiency but with no soul – dry, robotic – you will realise that it doesn’t matter how many hours of practice you put it, if you haven’t got it you haven’t got it. God……..it was like being raped with a hammer, actually, and D and I couldn’t take it any longer and just had to go out and get totally smashed, drunk out of our minds, to get back even a modicum of spiritual equilibrium.
And you can forget about Kanji, or the Chinese characters that form a great part of the Japanese language. That was NEVER going to happen. While I can read a katakana menu (wow how impressive), to this day, I am unable to distinguish the hiragana お (o) from あ (a). Even sitting here looking at these two symbols right now, which I have just copied and pasted, and which most foreigners here can memorize in one look, I am still literally unable to distinguish them. I think, thus, that I despite the obvious fact that I am not illiterate (like, say, the president of the United States), I am possibly a little bit dyslexic. The Roman alphabet – fine. I picked up Italian very quickly and was almost fluent within ten months of living there. Japanese takes me about twenty times longer to remember, and I think that this is partly because of the syntax and grammar, which still makes very little sense, but more the way it is written. If I can’t mentally imbibe even the a b c of the language, there is no way in hell that I was ever going to be able to read, let alone write, words like these with their ultra complex kanji, which just look to me like mangled, intricate insects :
躊躇（ちゅう・ちょ） – hesitation
朦朧（もう・ろう） – dim, hazy
憂鬱（ゆう・うつ） – depression
瀟洒（しょう・しゃ） – elegant; trim
You yourself might have different basic abilities and attributes to me, and thus think ah yes, but if you tried, if you really tried, you could probably do it. Er, No, I couldn’t. And I knew this the very first week I was here. I remember staring out at a building opposite from where I was teaching, with ‘words’ like these on the walls, and my brain just said nah, that is never going to happen: and that was that. I gave up upon arrival, but in a way I think that was sensible, because it saved me unnecessary heartache and hassle. I do occasionally think of how beautiful it would be to be able to read Japanese novels in the original, or enter the bizarre world of anime and manga in the same way the Japanese do, to read newspapers in Japanese, but at the same time, not wanting to enter too deeply into this culture is honestly a conscious decision. I retain the right to live like this, to be in Japan, but to not even vaguely attempt to be Japanese. Both D and I like, and insist on, keeping ye olde Nippon, which doesn’t really want us here, at a distance. We want to preserve the floating neon dream, not to understand every insidiously repressive intricacy of the real thing. We are dreamers, and it took us a while to truly accept that. I like not understanding advertising – something I have detested from the bottom of my heart for decades- it has always just instinctively felt like pollution to me, real brain toxin – and Japanese TV commercials are literally unbearable poison to me from every caricatured, racist, sexist, ageist stereotype imaginable, to the saccharine sheer stupidity of it all………..no, this is not anything I need to understand any more than I do already. Let me edit my experience my way.
Perfume and chemistry were the same. It was just not to be. The chemistry was fully impossible. And it always will be. I picked up Luca Turin’s The Secret Of Scent again the other day, thinking it would make good toilet reading, and I was really enjoying the first section about Nombre Noir and Chamade and all the rest of it and how this perfume love started him off on his path, but I had to give up by about page 10 when he started on all the chemistry (I imagine that some of you had exactly the same response).
Frankly darling, it bores me to death.
So there went the perfume dream, anyway, at least in the traditional lab-coated sense. By this time (why am I telling you all of this?) I had left NOVA, a chain of language schools that sank in an explosion of infamy a few years ago with English teachers left starving with no salaries as the whole thing went under, and had immersed myself in a fully Japanese company of preparatory schools where I am the only full time foreign teacher ( I say ‘full time’, when really it is only four days a week, fulfilling perhaps the only ambition I ever had, to have a three day weekend): a decision that on the professional level was definitely the right way to go – real teachers, pedagogically sound, even if the Japanese teachers themselves are treated like slaves – I could never do what they do in a million years – but emotionally, I can’t deny that it was incredibly difficult for me for a long while; making me experience deep and lasting culture shock four years after arriving in the country and having done nothing but play in the seductive, and immersive, gaijin bubble.
I could write an entire book about my experiences of teaching in this company along with all the other things I have lived in this country, and one day would like to, but being the kind of person I am, and being weighed down in what I found an incredibly oppressive environment, so impersonal and rule-bound I found it demoralizing up to the point of dehumanization, I have to say that the start of the millenium really wasn’t the best time of my life.
Why didn’t you just leave? I hear you ask. Yes, but I had no idea what else to do. I didn’t have an MA, the requirement to work at Japanese universities – which, in truth is said to be quite unfulfilling in any case as students in Japan basically use up all their energies in junior high school and high school in cramming endlessly for entrance exams, university being their moratorium, a four year playground where you are essentially guaranteed to graduate and can just party and chill, explore fashion (killed dead the second you leave and get a job when you become a salaryman drone), and live the four years of freedom that you will spend the rest of your life yearning back to, absolutely the definitive honeymoon period for most Japanese, and not a time that anyone takes studying seriously; teachers I know who have jobs like this say that half of the students present at any lecture are asleep at any given time, the rest on their smart phones, and I am such a control freak I know I would find this quite intolerable. I want my students to fully engage with me. But anyway, aside university positions, there were only school jobs with curricula I didn’t want to be bound by, or gabba gabba language schools where you talk to bored housewives and half-dead businessmen and hardly get paid anything, and in my job I have one hundred per cent creative freedom in what I teach and virtually zero interference. Perfect.
Except that I immediately felt so incredibly isolated and alone. Sitting there in that teacher’s room, paranoid and trapped inside my ‘Englishman’s’ head, I eventually started to slide into depression (went to counsellors too to explore some past and current traumas but was told that I was not clinically depressed, but was perhaps suffering from something called ‘depressed mood’). You don’t say. Then September 11th happened and things got way, way blacker and I could hardly see the wood from the trees. I knew things would never be the same again and I felt even worse, floundering. Lost. The culmination of all this was 2002, when my heart was black as tar, I felt deep inside myself that I was instrinscially unloveable, and after flying back to London, came down with a very serious case of pneumonia that saw me hospitalized for eight days, followed by a lengthy recuperation period at my parents’ house that was my own personal ground zero. This was a strange time for me, when I felt adrift and so very mortal, unfulfilled at the molecular level, anxious, and with very little, in truth, my relationship with Duncan aside, to cling to.
Perhaps this is universal, this cultural alienation having such a profound physical effect on the individual. In fact, upon returning to Japan after my convalescence, I remember coming across a novel, the fascinating Foreign Studies by Shusaku Endo, in which the protagonist had had almost precisely the experience I had, just in reverse. I know I have written about all of this somewhere (but I can’t remember where or when), so forgive me if all this repetition of my quite unremarkable life is dull, but this story, which I remember reading in a Starbucks in some Japanese hicksville town on the way to some school near the mountains where I had to teach roomfuls of eleven year olds I didn’t want to teach, blew my mind with its similarities to what I had experienced myself personally as I sat there still feeling frail from my potential brush with death and read of this neurasthenic ‘aesthete’ with literary and artistic pretensions, fulfilling the bohemian obligations of the day by going to live in Paris and ‘live the life’. Unable to shake off his innate Japaneseness and disappointed by the French realities, the monolithic heaviness of the stone buildings (I myself felt initially profoundly internally disturbed by the opposite flimsiness of Japanese architecture), the writer eventually finds himself so alienated by his adopted culture that he withdraws from society and succumbs to pneumonia just like me (the chest and breathing apparatus is definitely the most vulnerable area for sensitive people, no matter where they are from!)
In any case, I had survived, I was back in Japan, yes, but what was to become of me now? Was I simply going to malinger as an English teacher? Oh, the shame and failure. Yes, I enjoyed certain aspects of it, and it wasn’t as though we weren’t having fun or doing anything creative ( I had the odd piano recital, and we still had our themed parties twice a year or so), but at heart I felt dissatisfied. I know now that this was because I wasn’t expressing anything – not really, I wasn’t creating anything, not writing about perfume, not transcending anything – which I now know I do absolutely do need to do, and which, even just writing the Black Narcissus, has saved me in many ways. I live for beauty and pleasure, for the infinite, the beyond, the essence of what we are,and I can’t just passively consume the banal crap that constantly comes our way and be happy. I need more. I can’t and won’t be brainwashed by this crass, capitalistic, simplistic and moronic world because I know that what we are presented with as the ideal, is a lie.
LA VITA E BELLA.
Does any of this rambling chime with anyone? Have you ever come through a period of malcontent and emerged the wiser? When even the ‘friends’ you were associating with for extended periods of time weren’t even making you happy?
During the beginning of the 2000’s I was, in truth, quite often bored with our weekends, not stimulated by the company we were keeping during these years if I am honest – 2002, say, to 2008 (WHEN I WROTE MY FIRST PERFUME REVIEW! MITSOUKO, I BELIEVE), which totally started things in a whole new direction….
People had sometimes said to me over the years that I should write, and I thought that maybe I should, but I could never think of anything to say. A novel was out of the question, as I could never imagine anything from a perspective other than my own (such a self-absorbed creature!) As soon as I felt perfume flowing through my pen nib, though, it was an entirely different matter. It would only be a slight exaggeration to say that it was akin to being reborn.
Around this time, though, we were living a fairly staid and quite ‘grown up’ (so overrated, as a concept!) way of life. A lot of our social occasions involved frankly dull English teachers, quite a lot of overly conventional gay couples and their female friends, where no one ever really said anything interesting and where the conversation was usually grounded in such dull reality (Jesus, conversations about gas bills, ‘property’, visas, the daily ins and outs of schools, the price of fish, I was bored out of my skull). I like eccentric people, individuals, alive, real, vital; those that might have been hurt but have put it behind them, people who revel in the beauty of life and the world and know instinctively not to talk about the realia of daily and all the tedious rubbish that can bog us down. Those who can see beyond all that. Beyond their bank accounts.
Now, at this time of my life, mid-forties (easily the best, despite some problems – but then who has none of those? – I think we would both quite honestly say that; both professionally fulfilling, but also artistically, socially often quite frankly thrilling), I can hardly imagine being so mired in, as I often was before, in what I superciliously, and quite snobbishly sometimes refer to as the ‘quotidian mould’….
You know, I think I should stop here. This piece was supposed to be about something different entirely – I don’t know where all this retrospection has come from. Perhaps I just needed to say it. I don’t know.
I came across some old notebooks the other day in a drawer – notes I had taken on perfumes while out and about in Paris, London, Berlin and other places (there are so many reviews I have never completed or put up on this blog), and I thought that, for a change, rather than full-fleshed perfume reviews it might be amusing to put some of them up for your casual perusal. Often just one liners or quips for later reviews that never happened, but which sometimes say all I have to say on the matter. Some of them amused me. Some of them were quite pleasingly succinct. And the more perfume reviews, I say, the better. I have written so much on perfume already on The Black Narcissus, some pieces pored over for days, the majority just splurged out and put up immediately, but I want to keep writing more.
I will continue this confessional later.
Burning Bush, a creature from my imagination made flesh by my person ( see above ), an occasional entity I find quite necessary to embody in these dumb, fascistic times (no matter how ‘horrifying’ some of my old friends and family may find it), performed at a Tokyo cabaret this last Saturday night, singing a slowed down semi-acappella piano version of Kate Bush’s yearnful song from 1978, The Man With The Child In His Eyes.
It was an incantation : an exorcism; pure catharsis.
The scent: : Dior Poison Esprit de Parfum Proche; Annick Goutal Gardenia Passion, and Roja Dove Tuberose Parfum.