“Delicious cool air” wrote the poor Tsarina Alexandra in her diary during her final imprisonment at Ekaterinburg. Over and over again she and the Tsar write about the smells dominating the last months of their lives in the hot Russian spring + summer of 1918.
Cooped up on the first floor of the Ipatiev House with their five children, residual staff of servants and a battery of Bolshevik guards Nicholas and Alexandra were oppressed by claustrophobia as a double palisade was erected to shield the “House of Special Purpose” from the outside world. The final horror was the whitewashing and then sealing of all the windows, to be opened only as a special privilege after much bargaining, pleading and resolutions of the local Soviet.
All the Imperial Family felt the heat dreadfully and the Tsarina was most afflicted by the constant miasma of cooking and food prepared on oil stoves. The Tsar chain- smoked which exacerbated halitosis caused by chronically bad teeth, neglected for twenty years due a phobia of the dentist’s chair, despite the Russian Imperial dental service being the finest in the world. The guards reeked of alcohol, sweat,unwashed hair and clothes, stale tobacco; there was an insufficiency of lavatories;a couple of Imperial dogs romped around; while a group of dusty stuffed bears moulted and shed on the staircase. The days when the window sashes were dropped a few inches were recorded in ecstasy in the prisoners’ diaries
The Tsar writes lyrically of a June thunderstorm which cleared the air, the rain bringing the scent of all the gardens of Ekaterinburg into the rooms. Outside in the garden bloomed lilac and honeysuckle which the Romanovs were allowed to pick during their brief periods of exercise. The Grand Duchesses still had the last of their favourite Coty perfumes, each of the four girls her own flower scent; the Tsarina used her personal white rose perfume. Lights burned in front of the ikons: had Alexandra managed to bring the attar of roses which always scented the holy images at Tsarskoye Selo?
That image of the rain-soaked gardens is so powerful; the desire for this kind of perfume experience is so popular,so instinctive. Matin d’Orage recreates a thicket of gardenia flowers and foliage scenting the air after a storm; the sublime Lys Mediterranee evokes a springtime garden on the Riviera, on a morning spangled with dew and the breath of the sea. Find your own freedom and refreshment – and escape – in scent.
Image from Wikimedia commons