Although most of our physical and emotional energy has recently been sucked up by the demands of the school new term on top of the exhausting (but marvellous) complications of making a sumptuous and ridiculous comedy horror movie up in Tokyo, there are still times when a relaxed and quieter weekend here in Kamakura are what the doctor ordered. The other weekend was just that: a Saturday spent just pottering about at home, and the Sunday a walk down into the small but ancient capital of which we are so fortunate to be residents.
I had noticed a small bottle of scent that I had somehow become oblivious to. I suppose there are so many perfumes just lying around in various nooks and corners of the house that I sometimes just overlook them. This one, though, I didn’t even realize I had: an extrait sample bottle of Hové Parfumeur’s Pirates’ Gold, that I had received, along with Spanish Moss (now where has that one got to?) when I bought the delightful Vetiver and Plage d’été from that glorious shop in New Orleans back on New Years Eve, 2015.
That city still haunts us and we want to return. This time, in summer perhaps, to drench up the heat and the atmosphere even more – I don’t mind how sweltering it gets; it couldn’t be any hotter or more humid than Japan is in August and we can both handle it fine – there was just something about that place; so spirit-filled and weird, that I think we both have ‘Southern Gothic’ now permanently infiltrated as part of our psychic bloodstream.
I had just been reading Daphne DuMaurier’s page turner Jamaica Inn (1936), a surprisingly violent but very exciting thriller set in Cornwall about pirates and all manner of plundering, murdering and generally fiendish devil-doing, and so the sudden sighting of Pirates’ Gold, a small bottle standing on some furniture in the piano room, seemed opportune. Prising open the lid (I don’t think I had ever smelled it, even though it had been there for over a year) I was greeted with a warm, dense, rich and golden smell of aldehydes and spice; of leather and old-fashioned hunk papa and thought to myself yes, this refulgent specimen might make a very nice Sunday afternoon scent for the D – I’ll get him to try it when we go out.
And he did. It was glorious on him, (he now keeps the little bottle tucked inside the change pocket of his wallet, which was scented by me with pure patchouli oil and gets people swooning when it is opened; you can see pupils slightly dilating when he gets his money out to pay), especially when then pared, later, with a dose of vintage Amouage Gold Man, a bottle of which is available at a Kamakura antiques shop I frequent for 20,000 yen (about 200 dollars, but she says that it would have originally cost about 100,000; this is a boxed set with soap in the almost ridicuously adorned gold Arabic bottle) and which she allowed us to spray on Duncan even though I wasn’t planning to actually buy it. I think I have bought enough things from her now that she knows that I can be trusted and that when it comes to perfume, I am the real deal.
We went to a Turkish restaurant. The food in Japan, whatever you eat, is always high quality. Whether you are an aficionado of washoku traditional Japanese cuisine or not ( and I am not, on the whole, I like about half of it), whatever you eat is delicious, fresh and aeons better than anything you can get back home or in the majority of other countries. The French bread is as good as that in Paris, the Chinese food unbelievable, even cheap, basic Japanese eateries incredibly well made and good value, and this is why eating out here in this country is always such a pleasure. The simple fact is that a mediocre establishment just won’t get any customers (as food is basically life here in this culture, to an extent that annoys me if I am truthful), and so to survive, you have to be good and incontrovertibly oishii (delicious).
And so it was. But what was stimulating my senses far more than the delectable beef in yoghurt and tomato sauce that I was eating along with some very fresh and piquant meze was the smell, from across the table, of Duncan’s combined gold. Amouage is an aldehydic, floral, and very animalic sandalwood, resplendent and regal, that wasn’t quite his actual cup of tea for its rosy, almost ruinous sourness, but which I can tell you from my end where I was sitting, smelled very erotic (was it the civet, the rock rose, the glorious dryness of the blend, whose tenacity was getting on his nerves, particularly when mingling with the male repleteness of the Pirate?) I don’t know. But what I do know was that it made me realize quite profoundly how little perfume is consciously and intelligently used these days as a purposeful object of desire: that a well chosen scent selection can be a genuinely seductive swirl of odours that discombulate the senses and scythe effortlessly through the resistance of the rational; that the inhalation of a beautifully made perfume emanating from the body of a human being can root you in a moment of sensory perception that has nothing to do with politics or logic or the everyday and for a few seconds at least can plunge you into something that feels like eternity.
The texture and the heft, the dense thickness of these scents with their varying layers of wood and ambered perception then got me dreaming back to Mexico City. We went there about ten years ago before attending a friend’s wedding down south in Guadalajara, and I still remember the joy, after the endless journey from Japan, of waking up in such an unfamiliar – and for a British person living in Japan – very exotic location, in our hotel room, and the pleasure of unpacking and taking out the new perfumes I had brought with me. All perfume lovers know this feeling. Yes, you have your essential fragrances with you in your suitcase that you know you will wear sooner or later, once you are a few days into your vacation. But what a thrill to arrive in a brand new place and after your first shower of that day to apply something you have never even tried before, a heady collaboration of sense and temporality as the perfume fuses with the sensations you are experiencing as you head out the door and let the new environment just wash over you. I remember on that sun-filled August morning I was wearing Yerabate by Lorenzo Villoresi, a lovely hay-like green aromatic citrus that was perfect with my morning coffee, but then as the evening wore on I took out from my pocket the vial of Habanita parfum that I had got from Les Senteurs on Elizabeth Street, London, and which I had saved until this sunset moment, and wore like a cloak.
The experience of both Golds on Duncan somehow suddenly caterpulted me back to this first wearing of Habanita as we recklessly explored all neighbourhoods of Mexico City, later that evening and night, heedless as to which parts might be more dangerous than others ( if this was even true) my tobacco-fused vetiver vanilla, dark and a little bit dastardly, the perfect accompaniment. And on that Sunday in Kamakura, as we sat in the Turkish restaurant by a window overlooking the main town square, my smell brain had strangely brought it back to life so completely I found that I was craving it (anyone else out there love Habanita?): that elegant fusion of smoky, sinewy richness that was so ripe, and alluring, in that new and thrilling Latin context.
In my view, perfume does not need to be just this tame, thoughtless afterthought that it is for the majority of people who just wear any old cheap commercial rubbish that has no spirit or tangible greatness. It can flood the sky and the air all around you, be the colour that cradles your brain and your day as you three dimensionalize what you are living with sight, and sound, and the memory of smell. With perfumes this sensual and rich, created by knowing perfumers who have perfected their art and filled their languid liquids with intelligence, sensuality and poetry, it can be an anchor.