Friday, 14 September 2012

Life's Little Pleasures (3)

This is my third post on LLPs (Life’s Little Pleasures).  Post (1), Post (2) can be seen by clicking on the links.


“The question that women casually shopping for perfume
ask more than any other is this: 
What scent drives men wild? 
After years of intense research, we know the definitive answer.
 It is bacon.
 Now, on to the far more interesting subject of perfume...”
~ Tania Sanchez, Perfumes:  The Guide

The inherent pleasures of perfume always take me by surprise.  I’m fussy about what perfume I wear; there are not many I like.  I sniff my way round the testers in Duty Free and remain unimpressed until there’s one which brings me up short.  It’s perfect and makes my eyeballs roll over in sheer pleasure.  It’s always the floral scents that get me – not for nothing have I named this blog Lonicera.  Dior’s J’Adore L’eau had this effect on me at an airport once, and John now knows what he can get me for Christmases and birthdays if his imagination runs out. 

When I was little Mum gave me a little cylindrical cardboard container to play with.  It had once contained talcum powder and was covered in light green foil with a picture of an 18th century lady on it, complete with grand ruffled ball gown and periwig.  Madame de Pompadour was scrawled across it. 

There were remnants of the talcum powder at the bottom which emanated a perfume that was both rich and sweet.  I restricted myself to opening it for a wonderful sniff only once a week or so because I was afraid the perfume would dissipate, and I wanted to trap it there forever.  But to my dismay it did eventually begin to fade – so I would stick my nose further inside, trying to reach the bottom...

Years later in England when I was in my twenties I was at a garden centre and buried my nose in a pot of flowering lily-of-the-valley to see what it was like – and abruptly felt the sensation of being pulled out by the scruff of the neck and deposited back in my parents’ bedroom aged 7 with the long-forgotten little light green foil container with the old-fashioned lady drawn on the side.  It had taken all that time to learn that the talcum powder’s perfume was simply a well-known flower.

Happy childhood holidays and a growing awareness of the beauty and wildness of the Argentine countryside are symbolised for me by the sight and pungent aroma of the wildflowers and herbs that grow in the Córdoba countryside, interspersed with rocks and stones glittering with mica.  But if I had just one to keep with me forever on a desert island it would be peperina, the herb which grows wild in mid and northern Argentina, and has more attributed Latin names than you could throw a stick at – clearly botanists are at loggerheads on this issue.  Minthostachys mollis or verticillata, Bystropogon mollis, Mentha piperita, etc. 

I found it, again by chance at a garden centre in Bristol; described as Imperial mint, as soon as I sniffed it I felt a stab of pleasure and nostalgia at the same time.  I purchased it of course, and I kept crushing its leaves to remind myself of the scent.  Some months later a hailstorm destroyed it, to my horror, and the garden centre didn’t know what I was talking about.  Two years went by, and one summer I was potting some plants in my little patio when I saw out of the corner of my eye some familiar little green leaves peeping out from between the flagstones.  My peperina must have dropped its seeds and two years later here they were.  These little shoots kept coming, and I gently removed them and re-potted them, and eventually I got a big container of peperina going.  Crushing those leaves and sniffing the result always had the same pleasurable effect.

Have you ever smelled mimosa?  (Also known as wattle or aromo - Acacia dealbata).  Its bright yellow and sweetly fragrant flowers bloom in winter when the rest of the garden is bare.  It grows well in Argentina and burying my nose in its bright blooms is pure pleasure.  So is looking at jacaranda trees framed against the sky (see the picture in the top left corner of this blog).  I’ve grown the former in my English garden but sadly the latter can’t cope with this climate.

My mimosa, which died a couple of winters ago
 but is still trying to sprout...

And...aftershave.  A whiff of aftershave makes me think of prospective dates in my youth when they arrived to collect me in a cloud of spicy cologne... my partner now, my sister's suitors or my father long ago, all set to go out for the evening looking dapper in their smart suits... even the aftershaves at the cheaper end of the market are imbued with the promise of a bit of male attention and fun, of men young and old having made an effort to look their best.  The frisson of anticipation - like the spot lit curtain just before it goes up in a darkened auditorium...


Photo Finish
- from Lonicera's non-digital archive

Bristol Temple Meads railway station,
on a quiet Sunday afternoon
as the red liveried Royal Mail trucks and carriages
prepare to carry the day's post to London



Joyful said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joyful said...

I enjoyed this post about fragrances. I didn't grow up around many women who wore fragrance or they wore it only for special occasions. These days there are posted signs almost everywhere saying not to wear fragrance because others are allergic to it.

The older I get, the more it seems as if the scent of almost every fragrance is too heavy for me, esp. on a hot day. In my lifetime, I've only ever worn about 5 different fragrances at different stages. I tend to like 1 or 2 and stick with it until I can't find it in stores and reluctantly have to search for another. My favourite fragrance for years has an unattractive name but a fabulous scent (Aromatics Elixir).

I do love the smell of men's aftershave too ;-) Anything that smells fresh and clean.

Lonicera said...

My mother's favourite perfume was Yardleys Bond St, long since discontinued, but eBay had it. I so enjoyed getting it for her, she just couldn't believe it. Have you ever tried looking there for your old favourites? Interesting that you're encouraged not to wear perfume in case others are allergic - never heard of that here.

Matvi. said...

I had a rough, hard-working time when I lived in Santiago. But some things I miss, and one of them is the smell of the aromos at the end of winter. And of course, mother's jazmín del cabo on warm summer nights.
I love J'Adore too, as my wife uses it.

Lonicera said...

I too had jazmín del cabo outside my bedroom window in Buenos Aires - lovely! And I have a ridiculously sentimental attachment to aromos and jacarandás. When my aromo died last winter I actually cried with distress over it. I must get another one going. I suppose Punta Arenas is too far south?

OneStonedCrow said...

Bacon? hahaha ... no way ...

... now you've made me think of it, I'm sometimes captivated by a woman's fragrance ... unfortunately here many woman overdo it and the result is slightly offensive ...

... love the pics.

Sara said...

Lily of the Valley is a magical smell for me as well. A childhood neighbor had a huge bed of them growing next to her house. And she didn't seem to mind finding a little girl sitting in the middle of them. Lovely memories connected to certain smells.

Lonicera said...

Graham - I agree, women who spray themselves from head to foot in perfume show not only bad taste, but a desire to drown out other women's perfume as well. Ugh...
Sara - what a lovely image of a little girl sitting in a bed of lily of the valley!

Joyful said...

Caroline, I've never looked for "my" perfume on ebay but I did find it in Kenya at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in duty free shop. However I was minutes form boarding and the price was quite astronomical (to me) so I didn't purchase. I am quite certain they still sell the fragrance in Europe but not in Canada for some reason.

Joyful said...

For years now both Canada and the US have been dealing with "fragrance" issues in work places and public places. I just saw on line the other day that there is a move afoot to make a scent free work place a human rights issue.

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