It was on my honeymoon, which was from hell, that I first came upon a bottle of Calèche perfume, which is from heaven!
It provided unexpected sanctuary during a hellish experience.
A perfume created in 1961, the first for women, by the luxury goods house, Hermès. Dab, dab on the pulse points of my wrists and neck and in the hollows of my Achilles heel.
Here is a perfume of possibilities. Whispering to you. Hovering under your nostrils to invite you away to the air of a fragrant land.
An invitation for you. You who, a moment before, were in a hell of someone’s making.
My taste in perfume is one area in which I am reliably conservative. A recidivist. I have tried other perfumes and have not been tempted away. Despite enticing containers.
The Bacchantes are paying homage to the ingenuity of the French and their myriad perfumes. And to all of these pictured and many more, I prefer Calèche.
Perhaps Hermès would prefer us to detach ourselves from its original masterpiece because it has created many other perfumes in many beautiful containers. Some, fantastically named – Osmanthe Yunnan, Rose Ikebana – are grouped in an affinity cloud called Hermessence.
Below, in no cloud but wonderful nonetheless, the mysterious and redolent Orange Verte (Unripe Orange?), and Blue Narcissus.
Calèche, however, remains my favourite. It has been, this year, a 50-year pleasure.
Time, it seems, heals nothing.
But time and imagination, in this case bottled in a fragrance, sometimes shelter wounds until they become faint tracings under new and knowing skin. The instructive underpinnings of a life.
A perfume sprinkler (qumqum), 11th to mid-13th century, glass, thought to have been made in Syria. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; displayed in an exhibition in the winter of 2016 about Jerusalem. The Museum noted that sprinklers were used in both religious and secular rituals to sprinkle, among other fragrances, rosewater.
I owe to Calèche not just an olfactory escape from my hell of a honeymoon, but intermittent respite in a life, sieved as any, through 50 years of as much anguish as contentment.
I always had a bottle of the Eau de Toilette at work against the long hours and petty injustices and appalling supervision. I have carried it into dental offices and onto whirring airplanes with their sudden turbulence; and in my car to lift away the incomprehension of traffic jams into wonderful daydreams.
I have used it to fend off the cold of winter and mask its flowerlessness. I have used it to spritz away the traces of unhappiness left by unhappy visitors to my house. And use it to restore my peristaltic equilibrium when someone has brought me a gift of blue cheese, one of the very few common-and-garden foods whose aroma and taste I cannot stomach.
The actress La Pradvina, Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, Paris, 1911 at a time when both cars and horse-drawn carriages travelled the roads. Jean-Henry Lartigue, 1894-1986, French. From an exhibition at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia during 2016
Even now, especially now in these dangerous times, I wear it and, raising wrists to nostrils, sigh with pleasure every time someone launches into a diatribe about the current national political fiasco or the antics of a neighbor.
An ad for the Museum of Perfume opened in Paris in December 2016 with a review of the history, manufacture and science of perfume.
Most of all, this perfume stood guard, like a water cannon, at the doors of my heart releasing fragrance into the air at every painful recall of a honeymoon from hell in order to quarantine its memory long enough to allow puissant agencies of the human spirit to distance and diminish its noxious consequences.
A magnificent piece of artisanal work: a canon of iron made in 1750 by a French foundry for the Compagnie Des Indes de France. New Delhi, 2010.
Did so beautiful and shining an object kill people?
A frippery, perhaps, all of this: moments in a life form not visible in our vast, wheeling and multiple universes.
But what a sweet and solicitous companion: constant, and diverting in the literal sense, on a journey of 50 years across landscapes, some very hard, which we all traverse.
I hope that the house of Hermès outwits all its business detractors and lives forever!
And all this, of course, one of the tracks by which the wonders of France slipped in and came to rest between the folds of my Anglo heart.