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.
Carriage, oil on canvas, 1881; with light interference.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864-1901, French. Philadelphia Art Museum
A calèche is, of course, a low-wheeled carriage, not big nor heavy, with a removable folding hood. This is probably one.
A perfume created in 1961, its 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. Not a loud perfume. But insistent.
Whispering to you. Hovering under your nostrils to invite you immediately 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.
I am a conservative. A recidivist. But only about perfumes and only about this perfume. For the rest, were this world overturned weekly, I would be most interested in all the overturning.
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.
‘They’ have been lying to us about Time.
Time, it seems, heals nothing.
But time and imagination, in this case bottled in a fragrance, sometimes shelter wounds until they become but faint tracings under new skin.
Protective, knowing, tough(er) skin.
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 many 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 bad tempers 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 ridiculous and dangerous times, I wear it and, raising wrists to nostrils, sigh with pleasure every time someone launches into a diatribe about the political fiascoes everywhere; or the antics of a neighbor.
Most of all, this perfume stood guard, like a water cannon,
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?
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.
Case bottle with a lady with a deer, India, first half of the 18th century, colourless glass, mold-blown, enameled and gilded. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
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, and unexpected: constant, and diverting in the literal sense, on a journey of many years across landscapes, some very hard, which we all traverse.
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.
2 thoughts on “Ode to a French Perfume”
Quel bel article !
Le parfum est un puissant magicien.
Merci! Oui, il y a de la magie partout si on en a besoin et si on reste assez enfant!
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