Last week ended with a cataclysmic electric storm over our village. “Like summer tempests came his tears”. It banged around for two hours or more, with great flashes of sheet lightning and torrential rain like waterfalls. The older inhabitants declared that they had never heard such thunder-claps, never in all their lives. What can it all mean? The great full moon of a few days earlier seemed also full of auguries. Did you see that? Up in the Midlands it was unnaturally vast and golden-orange, like a huge tropical moon hanging over Africa. Like Dorothy Lamour’s moon of Manakoora; or the moon of Tanit that I used to watch, rising nightly over the Mediterranean and illuminating the Tunisian coast as bright as day. What scent does such a moon exude? Maybe that of great glassy fruits; maybe fragrance of frangipani or gardenia? Certainly not green cheese. Write and tell us what you think.
The mad rains unleashed wonderful scents. I went into Leicester on a wet grey morning following the hottest day of the year. Trudging up High Cross I passed through the graveyard of All Saints Church: that’s where Margery Kempe – that connoisseur of the glorious scents of Heaven – was arraigned for heresy in 1417. The church stands in a small green oasis surrounded by a new shopping centre, blocks of flats, old yards, fallen walls and patches of urban desolation that seem to have lifted direct from a Ruth Rendell thriller. The whole setting was bathed in the most overpowering fragrance: something like Swiss black cherry jam and somewhat like powdery sweet heliotrope. It had hints about it of DON’T CRY FOR ME and BACCARAT ROUGE 540. It was powdery and warm; but also damp, heady and languid; so unexpected in this rather desolate setting. And it came from dozens of woody plumey buddleia bushes, those accommodating mauve and purple denizens of scrub-land, rubble and railway embankments. “Absolutely divoine, dorling!’ as an old colleague of mine used to say.
And then, another day, I had lunch in an enchanted garden; the table laid in a grove of Japanese anemones and pink & yellow hollyhocks, all buzzing with huge bumble bees. We ate a Swabian dish of delicately smoked fish – traditionally served to counteract goitre – which was accompanied by a cream dressing of fresh chopped dill, that most delicious and piquant of culinary smells. After lunch, Mine Host said ” I have something here which will amuse you!” Off he scooted and came back downstairs with a large bottle of Chanel’s Egoiste. Now the fragrance was launched in 1990 and this bottle was bought not very long after. (My friend is an expert Curator, as you will readily understand¤).
You’re bound to remember this perfume. It was showcased on TV in a memorable advert that had numerous Carmen-like ladies in a rage, slamming shutters and shrieking at some love-rat of a fella.
Well, I had always loved Egoiste so I sprayed on a smidgeon, and how the past came flooding back – only better. Maybe the fragrance had matured and macerated well over the years; perhaps it was the contrast of its volume compared to the slenderness of so many modern commercial fragrances. I put on more – and more again. I was suffused and enveloped in ells of ivory velvet; a cumulus cloud of cinnamon, ginger, coumarin, vanilla, tonka and other gorgeousness. And I’ll tell you more. Hours later, after I had got home and taken a hot bath, I found that the whole flat was invaded and pervaded by Egoiste; it had taken new wings on the steam.
The other slightly weird olfactory experience of the week took place on the stairs at home, right in the middle of the day. It was one of those moments which everyone who takes an interest in smells knows of. Halfway down, on the bend of the stair, I suddenly snuffed up – quite overwhelmingly and all complete – the aura of a house I have not set foot in for over 50 years. I am assuming that a combination of coincidental factors triggered this manifestation, principally those meteorological. For it was to an old holiday home to which I was transported – set by the sea and all too familiar with the suffocating heats and sudden storms of August. But this redolent perception was so vivid, and so odd. The carpets, floors, curtains, bathroom – even the faded paisley cretonne bedspreads all materialised in a split second. I was electrified: just as on that occasion when the late Duke of Windsor’s nurse laid hands on my head. Another bolt of lightning in a week full of natural electricity!
¤ see “Curating the Curators” blog of 24th August, 2016. And a very charming regular reader writes in from Canada to report an new use of the word “curate”:
“Chef-curated recipes based on seasonal farm fresh ingredients delivered to your doorstep every week.”