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SERENE IS A WORD YOU COULD PUT TO BOND NO. 9 BROOKLYN
Late in the afternoon the sun slanted down into the mossy yard belonging to Francie Nolan’s house, and warmed the worn wooden fence. Looking at the shafted sun, Francie had that same fine feeling that came when she recalled the poem they recited in school. This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight, Stand like Druids of eld. The one tree in Francie’s yard was neither a pine nor a hemlock. It had pointed leaves which grew along green switches which radiated from the bough and made a tree which looked like a lot of opened green umbrellas. Some people called it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed fell, it made a tree which struggled to reach the sky. It grew in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps and it was the only tree that grew out of cement. It grew lushly, but only in the tenements districts.
SERENE WAS A WORD YOU COULD PUT TO BROOKLYN, NEW YORK. Especially in the summer of 1912. Somber, as a word, was better. But it did not apply to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Prairie was lovely and Shenandoah had a beautiful sound, but you couldn’t fit those words into Brooklyn. Serene was the only word for it; especially on a Sunday afternoon in summer.
You took a walk on a Sunday afternoon and came to a nice neighborhood, very refined. You saw a small one of these trees through the iron gate leading to someone’s yard and you knew that soon that section of Brooklyn would get to be a tenement district. The tree knew. It came there first. Afterwards, poor foreigners seeped in and the quiet old brownstone houses were hacked up into flats, feather beds were pushed out on the window sills to air and the Tree of Heaven flourished. That was the kind of tree it was. It liked poor people.
That was the kind of tree in Francie’s yard. Its umbrellas curled over, around and under her third-floor fire escape. An eleven-year-old girl sitting on this fire escape could imagine that she was living in a tree. That’s what Francie imagined every Saturday afternoon in summer.
Oh, what a wonderful day was Saturday in Brooklyn. Oh, how wonderful anywhere! People were paid on Saturday and it was a holiday without the rigidness of a Sunday. People had money to go out and buy things. They ate well for once, got drunk, had dates, made love and stayed up until all hours; singing, playing music, fighting and dancing because the morrow was their own free day. They could sleep late—until late mass anyhow.
--from Chapter 1 of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith†
Late in the afternoon the sun slanted down into the mossy yard belonging to Francie Nolan’s house, and warmed the worn wooden fence. Looking at the shafted sun, Francie had that same fine feeling that came when she recalled the poem they recited in school.
This is the forest primeval. The murmuring
pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green,
indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld.
The one tree in Francie’s yard was neither a pine nor a hemlock. It had pointed leaves which grew along green switches which radiated from the bough and made a tree which looked like a lot of opened green umbrellas. Some people called it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed fell, it made a tree which struggled to reach the sky. It grew in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps and it was the only tree that grew out of cement. It grew lushly, but only in the tenements districts.
The tender excerpt, above, from one of my all-time favorite novels—A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, published in 1943—perfectly evokes the scent, the mood, the feeling that I get from Bond No. 9’s new fragrance, Brooklyn. Serene is a word you could put to this scent; in fact, if I were the Bond No. 9 folks, I would have forsaken the bottle design they came up with (“Brooklyn” scribbled graffiti-style in bright primary colors, up and down Bond’s star-shaped bottle) and instead sought permission to adapt the well-known book cover of Betty Smith’s famous novel in creating the bottle for this one. It would have been so much more in keeping with the fragrance. Take a look at Brooklyn’s fragrance notes and see if you don’t agree:
Top: grapefruit, cardamom
Heart: cypress wood, geranium leaves, juniper berries
Base: cedarwood, leather, guaiac wood
Bond No. 9’s Brooklyn, in its initial stages, is the quietly bracing smell of sea air mixing with arborvitae and the moss that grows in the cracks of old brick buildings. It is a cool, moist scent that rather quickly settles close to the skin, becoming less brisk as it begins its dry down, soon reminding one of the dappled shade of Francie Nolan’s tree that covers her fire escape. In the end stages, it is like the worn, wooden fence at the corner of Francie’s yard, after it has been warmed by the afternoon sun: a very gentle cedar-and-leather combo that now carries only a hint of cool sea water—as if the sea water has seeped permanently into its grain, but is now greatly softened by the warm base notes.
I have only been to Brooklyn once. It was in March 2005, and my husband and I were staying in New York with another couple who wanted to show us where they once lived in Brooklyn. We arrived there mid-evening and took a stroll along the Brooklyn Heights esplanade, gazing across the water at the bright lights of Manhattan while the other side of our path was banked by an unending series of stately brownstone buildings. Today’s Brooklyn is a sought-after locale, much different than the poor Brooklyn of Francie Nolan’s day, but one thing, I think, hasn’t changed: of all of New York’s boroughs, it seems like the borough that most embodies the notion of Home, with all of that word’s attendant joys and sorrows. Brooklyn neighborhoods have a quaintness about them that just seems, well, homey to me. And when I consider this, I would have to say that along with the associations I list above, the low-key and rather quaint mood of Bond No. 9’s fragrance really is in keeping of what (admittedly little) I know of Brooklyn. The fragrance smells so very right, even if it is in stark contrast to the bottle that contains it.
Bond No. 9 Brooklyn is being launched in March. (I received a sample of it from a drawing held at Sweet Diva's blog, where you can find her excellent review of the scent.) Prices will be $145 for 50 ml, or $220 for 100 ml.
†Excerpted from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, copyright © 1943, 1947 by Betty Smith (HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., New York, NY, 2001, pp. 5-6)
Posted by Suzanne Keller, 2/16/2009.
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