Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I spy with my little eye

A springtime image by David Peterson of Mouse Guard

+ Some purple hyacinths in an old honey jar, next to the window. Stems reaching, flowers beginning to fold in on themselves, heady scent starting to fade.

+ A boy on the bus, with foot-long eyelashes which are completely incongruous with his thick stubble.

+ Unspeakably scary news from the other side of the world, of trembling earth and colossal waves. Just like that, out of nowhere, for so many people everything is gone.

+ A couple, on the corner, trying to take an arm's length photo. Laughing because instead they took video of themselves posing.

+ Pigeons bathing in the street-side lakes that had formed overnight, as the city temporarily thawed. Whole parties of pigeons gathering at the pool, dipping under the surface before popping up, feathers askew, spray fanning out around them.

+ An office, on a mezzanine, reached by spiral staircase, overlooking the library, inside of a museum, with a window looking out on busy streets and falling snow. A place where one catalogues 16th century dresses and 18th century books. In a word, heaven.

+ A café, done entirely in white. Blinding: stark, bright, white. White wicker, white tables, white walls. Glass cases full of tiny delectables dusted with the green crumble of crushed pistachio. Customers wearing tweed and cashmere, sipping espresso from tiny white cups. A small white dish with two maracons.

+ A chunk of ice, hanging precariously over a doorway. Water dripping continuously. Will it shrink, or will it fall?

+ A suitcase, open on my living room floor. A passport, a pair of strappy shoes with height (I have to practice wearing those...), a sun hat, a book. A trip I would never have planned, but am grateful to be invited on.

+ An accidental glimpse in the mirror beside the coffee maker in the office kitchen. Dressed this morning by going: what is on the top of the pile? Grey cardigan it is. Hair coiffed at desk, after removal of hat + coat, and pulled back into a static-defying ponytail. Make up? Not really. But in that glimpse: rosy cheeks, happy eyes, as-if-on-purpose hair with just the right flyaways. How many times do we look in the mirror and not want to change a thing? Not often enough.

+ A paperback in my purse, for reading on the bus. A great cover. Purple, naturally.

Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions by Neil Gaiman

Monday, March 7, 2011

Smelling of Purple

Photo by Emerson Merrick of An Apple a Day

I am one of those sensitive folks (in a long line of sensitive folks) who hates perfume. I glare openly at abusers who have lost all sense of proportion and wield scent like a weapon. What right do they have to asault my nasal passages like that?

And yet, I confess that I wear it too.

I suppose I should amend my previous statement: I hate most perfume. I hate the majority, but I covet that tiny intoxicating minority. I love a handful of perfumes; the kind with fancy labels, made in small batches, possibly in someone's kitchen, with ingredients described as "locally sourced", "organic" and "all natural". You know the kind of thing. The kind of thing you could practically eat. 

*   *   *

In the language of the perfumer, I am considered gourmand. Ok, ok. In any language I am considered gourmand. I am picky though - far pickier about what scent I wear than what food I eat. Not that I am indiscriminate about my diet, but when it comes to perfume I seem to have a very narrow range of likes. Whereas with food I am open to experimentation.

One of the unfortunate things I've discovered in my aromatic searching is that gourmand often means spun sugar. I am drawn to scents inspired by foodstuffs but I do not want to smell like confection. It's the richness I'm after, the complexities of spice - both sweet and savoury. It's the difference between eating fresh fruit and hard candy. The fullness is lost, simplified to one sticky,  false note; the living story of the fragrance (and flavour), the botanical roots, are lost and replaced with corn syrup and food dye.

*    *    *

My fantasy goes something like this:

Imagine the spice aisle in a small, old fashioned grocery store. Glass jars full of fine powders: crimson, buttery yellow, every earthen shade of brown. Some jars holding the spices in their original form, fragrant and whole. Full-leaf teas lined up all along the top. Rows of vanilla extract with actual vanilla beans, clove buds, slices of ginger and zezty little strips of orange peel floating in the black depths. Small bottles of dark elixir with slender seed pods just visible in the liquid. Wooden shelving, polished smooth with age. Candles made from bee's wax strung up by their wicks. Barrels of fruit at the end of the aisle - ripe purple plums, dark cherries, plump blackberries. Maybe a few stalks of rhubarb bundled up, sitting in my basket. Imagine, also, that there is a bakery next door, and something fresh and dusted with flour is cooling out of view.

Imagine distilling all of this into a small vial and dabbing it on your skin. Imagine tendrils of scent wrapping themselves around you, invisible to all but your most intimate companions. Imagine catching subtle hints of this throughout the day. 

*   *   *

It's hard to shop for your nose online, scratching and sniffing forlornly at the monitor. I keep at it because that is the best way to access all of the alchemical entrepreneurs out there, and because I am relentlessly optimistic that one day a brown paper package will arrive containing aromatic perfection.

Actually, a couple of months ago, it did. Or, close to perfection, anyway.

To me it smells purple. Not only purple, but the exact right shade of purple. Dark and fully ripe. Plum, or blackberry wine, with bunches of green herbs and whole spices stewing within. I kind of want to lick my own wrists.
I didn't fall in love instantly. In the pot (it's in solid form) it smells too fruity, too strong. On my skin however, the spice comes through, the green mingles with the purple and it turns mellow and lovely. 

I don't think it's the one (alas, is there such a thing?) (probably not for this fussbudget). It doesn't boast enough vanilla, and not quite enough spice either, but it is delightful and I enjoy smelling of purple while I keep searching. Just so long as I remember not to wield it like an olfactory dagger. Which, actually, when you love how something smells, is harder than I thought.

(This is the perfume, for those who are interested in such things too)