I don’t think we even ourselves realize the impact that this year has had on us. Yesterday I met my old friend and music partner Yoko (had it really been more than a year?). It feels like longer but also as though it could have been last week. Time itself has changed.
But in that time, except for Duncan, I realize that excepting perhaps two or three nights of socializing since February I basically haven’t seen anyone. Yes, my students, but that is work : a performance. I often feel isolated and lonely with my colleagues – nice people, busy – which is why it felt almost monumental meeting Yoko yesterday for two hours of piano duet practice on rented grand pianos in Zushi : pounding out Tori Amos songs and classical pieces, the sonoroties bleeding out like prisms of the wooden church-like building flooded with natural light; it was as if all that had been building up over the past few weeks ( when in truth, as will be apparent, I almost lost it ) were finally given an outlet. I hadn’t played for over a year but yesterday we really PLAYED. Sometimes it is like sex, when you forget whose body it is and you dissolve into the universe; when instinct takes over and the music is playing you…… this couldn’t have come at a better time.
Lunch at an old fashioned Chinese turned into five hours. My god the pleasures of in-person conversation: I had almost forgotten it. With a partner you have a symbiosis : often silence in the moment is pleasure; D and I can have long conversations into the night but there is so much unspoken absorbed into our house that we needn’t.
Yesterday Yoko and I spoke in torrents : life, love, family, death, reincarnation ( she lost her mother two years ago and still hasn’t come to terms with it) but has two wonderfully eccentric, ( psychic? ) children who see her through. Suddenly at one point I found myself crying – finally something had pierced through – not a common occurrence for me but in the connection, the shared history ( we have been playing together off and on for about 23 years; done recitals and fully fledged concerts together ), the lack of artifice or polite encasements or having to choose my words carefully the floodgates were opened. And it felt immensely, and purifyingly, cathartic.
The dreadful toilets at the restaurant we stayed in.
My bicycle parked outside Strawberry Fields antique shop in Kamakura earlier today.
This morning I realized I had lost my glasses (a much more common occurrence than public weeping ), but it is a glorious day today – sunny, about nineteen – so I decided to ride down to Zushi via Kamakura to see if they were in the restaurant, meeting the D in his lunch break and having a quick look in Strawberry Fields, a place I haven’t been in a long while.
My mind and soul have been so eaten up with the election this last week that I almost forgot that my book ‘Profumo: Alla Ricerca Della Tua Fragranza’ comes out in Italy today.
I am excited: Rome runs deep in my blood after having lived there at the age of 21, and the thought of it being in all the Feltrinelli bookstores across the city; in the shop next to the Florence railway station, in its black and gold Italian, to be randomly discovered and perhaps dipped into by people I don’t know browsing in various places that sell books across the country, is exhilarating.
I was as profumatissimo back then as I am now: always scanning the shelves of the profumerie that dot every other street corner and coveting new scents for myself or goading on others to buy them as well; getting through bottle after bottle of Dior Fahrenheit, my signature of the time ( I can’t remember if I wore anything else, initially, except later, Kenzo Pour Homme – I can see myself on a hot summer’s night in Piazza Navona feeling ultra new; slick, young and cool in its fresh never-beforeness).
In those first few months in Rome, I had been living with some Italian university students who were taking forever to graduate, given that you yourself can decide in Italy when to take the required (oral) examinations (I think it took them about seven years )………so easy to procrastinate instead and just lounge around your apartment smoking and drinking espresso instead – amazing how quickly you make friends there and get invited to be a housemate…….. – I remember beardy, philosophical Federico and his poignantly beautiful bottle of Signoricci – one of the most refined and delicate citruses ever created; I can see it there, placed carefully on his bookshelf.
Following this I was happily living with two friends from university in our apartment next to a flashing Campari sign; the always glamorous Rachel (our diva), who wore Obsession or No 19 ( I always used to berate her for wearing such oppositional fragrances as they would sometimes linger together on clothes and create an unwanted third party); and Adam, more reserved and serious, who usually wore the hard-bodied Cerruti 1881, suiting his nocturnal exploits in the clubs near where we lived in Testaccio. We only had two beds, and had a roster where two of us would share one; one in the other. We were always out in Trastevere with our friends, Maurizio (Krizia Uomo – fantastic), and the ultra-intense Alessandra, who had a precious big bottle of Cartier Must extrait that we would pore over, and I would sniff enviously, in her room,as she told me of her obsessive train trips to see the lover that had given it to her somewhere in Germany.
Emma would come down from Florence every once in a while – a dazzling jewel box of a city that it is nevertheless less exciting than Rome – wearing her exquisite Cristalle, I believe (or had she already discovered Jardins De Bagatelle?) ;when Helen came, and we got locked in the cemetery in Testaccio sitting and dreaming in the sunset next to Keats’ grave, for all I know she may have still been wearing Eternity.
I was there again last year. And it was fascinating for me, standing in the rain in that same graveyard, alone, next to Keats, moved to tears; almost thirty years older, but though conscious of the passage of time, wonderfully alive; feeling, somehow that I was exactly the same. The same but different; evolved. A continuum. That I had not compromised myself: just a more experienced version of that hopelessly romantic young man who would come to that gated, silent place marshalled by cats and just read or write letters; wondering what life was about and what he should do, but palpitating inwardly, always, clear as a bell, with the overwhelming beauty of it all. Standing there, under my umbrella, breathing in the cold, clear air, I realized that I still feel things just as keenly, as intensely; as passionately.
We have been oppressed by a crude heathen philistine for the past four years and it is time to celebrate his impending removal, to savour the triumph of sanity over the basest impulses and to revel in this weekend’s victory: I believe that literally billions of people across the planet are big breathing beautiful sighs of relief this weekend just as me and D are: it’s like having your brain stem attached back to the oxygen tank. We know that the enraged tweets will continue ad nauseam, and that there are multiple problems in the world right now that will continue to blight and challenge humanity, but at the very least those twittering insults and impotent, grievance filled furies (the fist pounding of a grotesque and amoral toddler) will be dimmed by the fact that they will be coming from one no longer in power. They will be coming from one dining on McDonald’s alone, sequestered in a fortressed, golden mansion.
For the Orange One, all that ever mattered was his maintaining a grip on his bankrupt self, his failed businesses,and not relinquishing his power. I don’t believe for one moment he has ever actually cared about the people he purports to (the working classes); he just took advantage of their insecurities. He didn’t care about the environment, he didn’t care about whether the coronavirus killed hundreds of thousands of people, it was always just his bottom line: bring in some cash. There was no culture in this White House; no Art. All previous presidencies, Democrat or Republican, have honoured the arts in some way: this regime severed all of that at the jugular on mean-hearted arrival.
I am not naive. I am personally under no illusions that suddenly the world is righted, or that the Biden/ Harris administration will be able to perform miracles without senate control, inheriting a catastrophic economic and pandemic crisis (which could easily have been less serious if sensible precautions had been taken by person with the power to do so); politics worldwide will still continue to be tumultuous in this period we are currently living in. But at the same time, I do feel entirely justified in celebrating this morning, feeling like the citizens of Oz skipping along the yellow brick road singing Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead, because I physically feel something oppressive has been lifted from my neck and shoulders: I feel lighter. To me, this is not political, about left and right: it is about that particular person, a bullying, trivial, nasty little tyrant, who should never have been elected in the first place.
All we want is some quiet. Not the rabid postings, lurching the world into outrage every single morning to the point where no one could think straight anymore. It has been a nightmare.Four more years of it would have been utterly intolerable, untenable – which is why I have felt so ill all week with anxiety and why so many people lined up in the cold in the United States to ensure they could vote him out: why people made sure they sent in their votes: because all people with a conscience are just sick to the back teeth of this fool: all his noise. We need a reprieve; some peace. And no matter what happens next, I feel sure that at the very least, some dignity and decency will be restored to the proceedings; that other countries will finally think they can actually have a dialogue with America again; that we are liberated.
When I was a teenager I loved Salvador Dali. A cliche – the melting clocks, the surrealistic dreamscapes all obvious draws for anyone wanting to escape the restrictions of four walled reality. As an adult I got bored of him, as you do with any artist whose reproductions you have seen a million times, until we went one sunny winter’s day to one of the biggest Dali retrospectives ever held in the world, at the Modern Art Museum in Roppongi, Tokyo, where with all the drawings and sketches and ballet posters and bizarre objets, I had my eyes opened to the sheer rapaciousness of the artist’s eclectic talent and saw a whole new side to his brilliance and imagination. To me, Salvador Dali represents expression, not repression – a flourishing of the mind – not just everything reduced to the toxicity of cheap dollar signs. We loved that exhibition, one of those days, pre-corona, where you could line up for the exhibition in the crowed, and then enjoy lunch in the strange fancy French restaurant up in the sky by the ceiling; wandering through new streets and finding curiosities; just a fun, stimulating usual day out in Tokyo. Life, in other words.
All of this will come back. And celebrants are already in the streets, in America and elsewhere, dancing and singing and delighted, deep in their souls, that the gruesome reality TV dictator will soon be off their backs. To let some colour back in : dress up, put out, wear perfume, celebrate humanity, not just this angry, cultureless, limited and corrosive capitalist redprint for the American Dream. There is so much more to life : joy, for a start. Forget about the resentment, for a moment: hating people because they are different from you. Get a hobby. Find a passion. Stop blaming other people. Spray on some perfume and go out and have a good time, or dance around your house if that’s not possible. Join the celebration.
The perfumes of Salvador Dali (or at least the perfume house that is licensed to produce them in his name now) will do quite nicely on a day like this: Ma Victoire for instance, a sultry, buttery tuberose leather vanilla, sexy and tenacious, that smells very much like vintage Christian Dior Hypnotic Poison and elides from the skin in a poised, and self-confident, seductive fashion: I think, propulsed along in the chanting jubilations if I were to catch this on the air, I would look back and see who was wearing this, and just want to kiss them, whoever they were, out of sheer happiness for this moment. I could happily pass by someone in the throng of revellers on the streets wearing Ma Reine as well, a jasmine sambac/orange blossom perfume that smells happy and gay – just anything, any scent that expresses some positivity, after the poisoned well of negativity that that creature has been trying to suck us all down into for the last half a decade: a whirlpool of hate and strife and provocation that will now, at the very least, once he is removed from the residence, be subdued.
Extrait, if you please. I need something rich, gorgeous and festive for this kitchen disco we are about to have (if things go right……COME ON PHILADELPHIA!) – to have the best scent with me bandying about to Depeche Mode in my long johns.
D : in the background editing his latest film. I will have to get dressed up again later for some kind of bananas art joint he is doing with the latest bunch of vaudevillian characters he met up with the other day – just the ticket after the horror of this week.
It has been a gruelling week and I have had stress tension headaches. I need not elaborate.
On my desk, next to the computer, is my absolute favourite of recent scent bargains : a vintage – the label says 1967 – sealed and unopened, pristine dab bottle of Eau De Cologne Imperiale, created by Pierre Francois Pascal Guerlain in 1853 for the Empress Eugenie as a cure for her migraines.
What is amazing is that despite the fact that this exquisitely designed product has existed longer than I have, its citrus notes – lemon verbena, bergamot, petitgrain – are totally intact, and flow beautifully – smoothly and delicately – into the neroli and rosemary that form the main character.
It is fleeting, of course, but relieves and soothes – and seeing it there in its black gold and green makes me happy. This vintage version has also let me understand this perfume properly for the first time (I find contemporary versions harsher ; this is so graceful in every sense.) Eau De Cologne Imperiale is not a ‘perfume perfume’ : but rather a scent created to relieve the strain. A refinement ; an evanescence.
Many people here are of course interested in what is scarily unfolding ‘over there’, but an equal number are, perhaps understandably – given how alien many of the ideas and behaviours are to Japanese thinking and culture – emphatically not.