Paradise Regained

The Butterfly that Stamped - Rudyard Kipling

When we were studying Paradise Lost for English A Level, I remember Mr Edwards expounding on the nature of the fruit that ruined Eve. The idea of it being an apple was all wrong, he thought. The fatal fruit should have been a luscious peach, a satin-skinned nectarine or a furry-velvet apricot – soft, tactile, fragrant; dropping sweet perfumed nectar, and of a rosy golden colour, blushing at the cosmic shame of the Fall. It’s not just that most of us today have the image of an apple as a hard green waxed ball sat in the supermarket: the early Church fathers suspected the intrinsic perversity of apples and this is why the fruit was stigmatised as the undoing of Eve and Adam. Apples grow harder as they mature, unlike respectable soft fruit; they are indecently slow to decay, defying the Divine Law. To put the tin hat on it, the Latin name for an apple is the same as that for evil. (“Malo I would rather be/ Malo in an apple tree/ Malo is a wicked man/ Malo in adversity” – remember?).

I recalled all this when reading The Song of Solomon, preparing a talk on perfume in the Ancient World. Here is a wonderful meditation of the sensual hypnosis of perfume: let the poetry stupefy you with scent. Once again, the 1907 “Helps To The Study of the Bible” suggests that we might more accurately read “apricot” for apple; the trouble (and joy) of all these ancient texts is that repeated translation may confuse such a precise science as modern botany. What the Old Testament calls a rose may have been what we know as a lily, a crocus or a narcissus. The ‘lilies of the field’ were probably the same scarlet anenomes that I saw one February bursting from the bare and snowy hills above Jericho.

But let each judge for himself as to the odour of his loved one:

” …Thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine; and the smell of thy nose like apples…who is it that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant? A garden enclosed is my sister…thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire* with spikenard. Spikenard and saffron; calamus¤ and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense ; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices…”

And then we read of the skin oozing, dripping with impossibly delicious and expensive perfumes; limbs slathered in precious oils:

“I rose up to open to my Beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock”.

Spikenard is an evocative word; it now usually refers to an extract of a root of the valerian family but, once again, the ancients may have known it as another fragrance entirely. We meet it also in the New Testament brought – “very precious” – in an alabaster box for the anointing of Christ. I have smelled it only once, I think, and it was not at all as I had expected being not creamy, spicy and sweet but dark, earthy rebarbative. In this it reminds me of the pink lotus absolute that Elizabeth Moores uses today in her perfume Anubis; a scent which leads us back into the fragrance world of 4,000 years ago.

For here is a phenonemon that links us directly with our ancestors; the sense of smell and the timeless palette of perfumers’ oils. Whereas air pollution, chemicals, saturation of odours and an increasing remoteness from the natural world may imply that we experience smells differently from our forebears, the traditional natural constituents of perfume remain largely the same. Perfumers of 2014 AD use juniper, hyssop, artemisia, iris, mint, coriander, anise and galbanum just as their predecessors did in 2014 BC. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” and despite the confusion of nomenclature we still enjoy the spices, resins, incense and perfumed woods known to the Israelites, Greeks and Egyptians when Rome was still unknown.

* thought to be an oil of lemon grass

¤ the heady fragrance of henna flowers

How Are Your Roses?

Rossetti-Rosa-Triplex-550

Early summer slips like your fingers like running water: you stretch out your hands to grab all the loveliness, the flowers and the blossom, but Time gallops on remorselessly. The laburnum, the may, iris, lilac, bluebells and lupins wither and perish at a heartbreaking rate beneath his scythed chariot wheels, like a speeded-up David Attenborough feature. May and June really are the months when you must force yourself to stop, stare and smell before Nature devours herself. My blue bearded iris have lasted barely a fortnight but their scent is more delicious than ever in its brevity, seeming to have something of a rich golden dessert wine in its translucent, powdery depths. At dusk, as the bats flit overhead, half dozen plants scent the entire garden.

This year I’ve fought a hard battle with the aphids: I think the long dry spell in March and April encouraged them. Myriads made desperate incursions into my herbaceous border so that I lost precious early flowerings; my tight green rose buds were caked with them. Proprietary bug killer discouraged the creatures but it also scorched plant leaves. Some experts recommend the slow and messy process of scraping the aphids off by hand in a squashed pulp; the trouble is you always miss a colony or two. You can be strictly organic and collect ladybirds and introduce them to their favourite food; but even Our Lady’s Little Beasts (as the Dutch call them ) have limited appetites.

Then a French cousin in Aquitaine sent me a tip which I pass on to you: it seems to work. You mix up a mixture of water, soap and olive oil; add a few cloves of garlic, leave to macerate and then spray onto the infected areas. The oil allows the mixture to adhere to the plants even after rain. The aphids quietly suffocate. The plant is unharmed. The only thing is, do not spray downwind on a breezy day – as I did. You will find yourself pungently and aromatically garlic-scented.

Ironic though that one of the most beautiful roses I’ve seen this year is on a patch of cinders in our local Tesco car park. Obviously a relic of an ancient lost garden, this tough old plant is untended, unloved but blooms in a fumey dusty desert like an Old Testament prophecy. No aphids there. This yellow rose of Tesco smells cool, rich and redolent of the finest tea. I attach a snapshot: judge for yourselves.

ATT60126

How appropriate that the auctioning off a long-forgotten Dante Gabriel Rossetti painting should be scheduled this month. It has a wonderful name: ‘The Triple Rose’ ( good name for a perfume, by the way). Expected to fetch upwards of a million pounds, this is a study of three flame-haired sisters draped in red & entwined before a rose hedge. Their mouths – those unmistakable carved Rosetti lips – are like pouting buds about to burst into full erotic bloom. If I were to choose a perfume to complement this gorgeous panel I’d go for Papillon’s Tobacco Rose to be unveiled exclusively at Les Senteurs this June. The creation of the astonishing Elizabeth Moores, Tobacco Rose has all the sultry overblown quality of a Rosetti, the sultry sensuality and the hypnotic intensity. Beeswax, hay and amber cast a spicy veil over blended rose oils while superb oakmoss works its own arcane dusky magic. Pervasive, bewitching and all-encompassing, Tobacco Rose unfurls its petals to reveal a heart of darkness.

Find Papillon on Twitter @papillonperfum