The Obsidian Butterfly

On a clear evening you nip out to the dustbin or call the cat and gaze up into the night sky at the glittering infinities of space. Worlds within worlds; burned out stars from millions of years ago shining out with a phantom light. The great constellations, abstract memorials of mortals abducted or rescued from Earth, are displayed in the heavens like skeletons of giant insects pinned to the cork board of the firmament. Or as the Egyptians saw it, the arched body of the goddess Nut roofing the world like a gigantic croquet hoop. The Evening Star, the radiant personification of Isis goddess of magic,still looms low in the sky and suddenly the unending vastness of the universe, the oppression and menace of it all (what IS out there? WHO is out there?) is overwhelming and you leg it for the sanctuary of a fugged-up kitchen. Five minutes contemplation of the stars puts everyday cares and worries into a very meagre perspective

I love the kind of stories where science fiction meets fantasy and mythology. Something along the lines of Rider Haggard’s She, with its themes of suspended time and eternal youth. Or Rudyard Kipling’s terrifying little black comedy which begins with the author’s teasing information that this is only one of 355 stories about King Solomon, “..it is not the story of the Glass Pavement, or the Ruby with the Crooked Hole, or the Gold Bars of Balkis. It is the story of the Butterfly that Stamped”. It’s probably banned now, being somewhat misogynistic: Solomon’s 999 nagging wives (and the Butterfly’s shrewish mate) are taught a severe lesson when at a turn of the King’s ring, the whole golden palace and its seraglio are lifted into the outer darkness of space by Djinns and Afrits. Screams and shrieks fill the black void as the world temporarily whirls into nothingness until the ladies, Royal and Insect, learn to behave.

Pierre Guillaume’s bizarre and beautiful Naiviris is an uncanny but unconscious echo of this tale: Kipling lists the plants in Solomon’s gardens with incantatory relish – the tall iris, pink Egyptian lilies, hyssop, camphor trees, spotted bamboos, orange tree and ginger plants. Naiviris picks up this theme of oriental heat revolving around scarlet African iris (“so spikey and unfriendly” remarks Ann Todd in another context) and scented woods; a swoon of glowing red earth, dust and pollen. It is hypnotic and erotic, but at the same time weirdly metallic and withdrawn – a hot garden without earthly heat, torrid yet somehow inhuman with no animal sexuality, all sense of flesh or skin witheld: an alien interplanetary garden of the upper air. Fabulous and fantastic in every sense.

Plunge deeper among the stars, try Guerlain’s superbly named but appropriately hard to track down Vega; or Goutal’s Nuit Etoilee. L’Eau Guerriere evokes the sense of a pressurised cabin, the glittering clear air of the stratosphere, the purity of upper air and the blinding light of the sun. Cold metal, fitments, restricted oxygen levels, the exhilaration of soaring into space. Escape from this world: the smell of a perilous alien liberty

Image from user ADiamondFellFromTheSky on Flickr.

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One thought on “The Obsidian Butterfly

  1. Pingback: ODETTE TOILETTE » What Does Space Smell Like?

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