Yes, you have guessed right. I am reviewing my own perfume.
(Is that narcissistic?)
If you can really call it a perfume, that is. But this juice, made at home with all natural ingredients suspended in a high percentage vodka, has been percolating and blending within itself, now, for almost twelve months since I came from the most magical holiday of my lifetime in Indonesia last year ; kept in the dark, added to, messed with; but now, I think, ready.
Java is my ode to that place, to the vanilla plantation we stayed on: an elixir of memory that seeks to encapsulate some of the experiences we went through there, which, looking through some of the photos from last August just now, sears through my being with a nostalgic intensity I almost find unbearable. In all honesty, I had to stop looking.
The basis of the perfume that I have made is ripe vanilla pods from Villa Domba, (organically grown on the most idyllic of locations in a village about an hour outside of Bandung, alongside coffee, papaya, and durian fruit), a place that we had the fortune to stay at and study as part of a Vanilla Tour we embarked upon in the middle of last August.
It was an incredible experience, deeply memorable, and I somehow wanted to bottle it, impossible though that might be.
To make Java, I simply steeped handfuls of the sliced-open beans, cut length-wise, for many months, adding Mandheling coffee beans in the process (whole), also left to marinate in the blend – coffee being such an integral part of Javan agriculture (and extremely delicious to boot); and Indonesian cacao, which, though texturally wrong for a perfume (giving it a sandy feel that I will have to strain and purify) makes a nice combination with the coffee and the vanilla.
Indonesia is the originator of patchouli (hence Serge Luten’s wonderfully addictive patchouli, Borneo 1840, one of my favourite perfumes ever, and one that this crude concoction of mine bears some vague resemblance to); this also replete with Indonesian patchouli essential oil in the base; earthy, dark, but warmed and surrounded with the other ingredients to make it feel sunkissed, benelovent, and spicily aromatic. Other essences that I added to the formula, just basing it all on instinct, were some ginger, orange and ylang ylang essential oils, in small amounts, for roundedness and ‘lift’, and then, last, but most definitely not least, a massive overdose of fresh, green, and very spicy cardamom essential oil in the top.
Cardamom. I love it. Duncan and I have long been putting ground, piquant, cardamom powder in our Ceylon tea of a morning as I prefer how it tastes (as many people do in South East Asia, apparently) and I even sometimes make cardamom coffee, which is wonderfully invigorating and really gets the tired and somnolent system rolling into action. The essential oil, hard to find, but one of the most revivifying essences I have ever experienced in the bath water, is bright and feisty; clear-eyed and eastern, health-giving, with definite bite (rather too much in this blend, I fear: I have never been one for subtlety, as you will know too well, hence the failure of all perfume blends of mine in the past – yes, lots and lots and lots of precious essential oils have been wasted over the years), but as one of the most fantastic days we had on our stay was a paradisiacal saunter through another vanilla plantation in a neighbouring village connected to the Villa Domba, where lemongrass and cardamom trees were grown alongside the papayas (my favourite fruit! I was in heaven) and vanilla vines (which we studied in a great amount of detail the entire time we were there: surrounded by, our senses plundered by them), cardamom most definitely had to be prominent in the top notes.
Cardamom. Alive, right in front of me: picked, plucked from the ground………
(Now I am editing this for the reblog, and this post is KILLING ME!!!!!!!)
(Honestly, I bloody loved that holiday. Neither of us could even speak properly for about two weeks afterwards it was so gorgeous.)
Men from the plantation showing us the ‘mom.
Right in front of our eyes, on a perfect, hot, sunny day: a village plantation, me with my camera trained on it all, sucking it all in, lying down in the grass (excusing myself as I went off for ten minute reveries just staring at the Javan sun flickering through the papaya leaves and dreamt of eternity – surely the most elegantly shaped umbrella trees you could ever see, they are beautiful: I really don’t think I could have been happier.)
Me and our delightful guide laughing simultaneously….
And unless you have studied these things in advance (which we hadn’t), then it can come as a great surprise to find how certain plants grow, or how the aromatic extracts are obtained from them. I had no idea that cardamom grew in clusters on the ground, for instance, as you can see in these pictures. The plantation owner and our host, the lovely Mr Agus, as well as our fantastic translator, Rizal, took us through the process of cultivation for each spice or plant, as the people who work with each crop demonstrated, by hand, the various techniques necessary for keeping each plant in its optimum state of health.
I was thrilled beyond measure to be picking real cardamom pods in this location, and thus, into my perfume, has gone a whole load of the spice (possibly, as I said, too much, as, when you open the bottle and just smell its initial evaporations there is an almost medicinal, if somewhat exciting blast of this delectable green spice that is, fortunately, nevertheless offset by the coffee beans, a foody embrace I rather enjoy and which then gradually fades into a patchouli aromatic skin scent that is quite sensual). I am fairly pleased with it now, and must resist any temptations to modify it further. One of my worst tendencies is a kind of messy perfectionism, which, coupled with a natural inclination to do everything in dramatic proportion, can lead me to wonder if I should add just a little of this or of that, getting carried away in the process, and then, inevitably, ruining everything. Please tell me to just stop here while the going is good.
No. I think I am going to leave it. There is about 90ml (just one bottle) and most of that is going to be for me to keep as an olfactory souvenir. To return there, through olfaction, by wearing on my own skin, the vanilla beans at Villa Domba: so distinctive, that, having been surrounded by them for five solid days and nights, there is now some kind of Pavlovian response, I think, when I smell them in the base of the perfume.
I am almost , if I close my eyes, halfway back there.
I would quite like, also, though, if possible, to share some of this perfume with friends and maybe also with some Black Narcissus readers if you would be interested in smelling it. Just small vials (if I can get my hands on some), but it would be nice to share the experience with others (although I had problems sending some perfumes that were promised to two people on here, the other day – they came back, most frustratingly, in the Japanese post, two days later labelled dangerous). (Reblog note: sorry, this is now officially impossible, much as I would have loved to).
To finish, as I sit here, here is a picture, just taken, of the very same cardamom cluster you see in the photos on that gorgeous day, now dry; dessicated; almost odourless, but still a precious bio-souvenir I keep in the corner of the kitchen along with some vanilla pods that still hang down from the wall, the remnants left from the great bag full of deliciousness that we hauled back, at the end of last August: from Java.