Ol’ Man River

paul obeson

Someone was chuntering on in a Radio 3 discussion lately, lamenting that there are so few pieces of music inspired by water. Did he get a wrong number! Starting with Handel we launch a flotilla of family favourites featuring the Blue Danube, Old Father Thames, A Life on the Ocean Wave, Moon River and even Gertie Gitana’s signature tune There’s An Old Mill By The Stream, Nellie Dean. Water is the essence of life; from the seas we all came, and is not our biological makeup only slightly less liquid and aqueous than that of the cucumber family?

Perfumes celebrating seas and pools and rivers tend to brilliance, clarity and freshness. Silver Mountain Water, Au Lac, En Passant and Fath’s late lamented Green River glitter and rush over rocky beds, sparkling with light as they brush aromatic foliage hanging low over the water. Or they sit cool and tranquil, reflecting immense changing skies and the scented gardens on their banks. Angeliques Sous La Pluie irrigates a burgeoning spring plantation with soft refreshing rain, while Erolfa and Sel Marin celebrate sunny breezy beaches, the sea-green glassy tang of ozone and lips kissed with sea salt. Discreet hints of iodine and seaweed, tar and deck varnish enhance these fascinating shell-pictures of marine life.

All these perfumes have spirit, elegance and style: but they tend to soft-pedal sex. Fluid as regards gender, they are romantic rather than voluptuous, ethereal not earthy. Let’s turn to an altogether more complex even sinister composition, Caron’s Yatagan. Officially inspired by a Turkish dagger, it suggests to me something quite different – a vast bottomless forest pool, home of sprites and water nixies. Or a still, brooding flooded slate quarry with sheer shiny sides, the colour of a pigeon’s breast and gilded with chips of mica, hung about with bracken and aromatic pungent herbs; the scent of dark icy green water, peat, woods and the sharp woody bitterness of vetiver. With its dangerous gleams of hidden honed steel, Yatagan arouses memories of those fathomless depths in the South American jungles into which the Inca and the Maya cast maidens adorned with emerald quetzal plumes, loaded with gold and jewels to carry to the next world, hidden beyond the pool. A journey of no return to appease implacable deities who ruled empires of water and rain. Yatagan is a virile fragrance, clean but dusky, metallic yet full of spice and warmth. Slightly hesitant with blonds, it’s perfect on an olive or dark skin, confident yet mysterious. Its disturbing notes ripple with echoes of underground lakes (“The Phantom of the Opera”) and subterranean fountains: linger with it on the banks of the Styx or the shores of the nine lost rivers of London, still invisibly feeding the Thames with the scents of of our heritage.

Image from silentsandtalkies.tumblr.com

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