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La Via del Profumo Hindu Kush: My Side of the Mountain
This week I have been wearing a perfume called Hindu Kush from La Via del Profumo and thinking I should try to write a review that has some connection to its name, but as is often the case, that line of thinking has failed me. Hindu Kush refers to the extremely high-altitude mountain range that stretches between central Afghanistan and northern Pakistan—a sub-range of the Himalayas—and fittingly, this all-natural perfume smells of high-alpine air: green, arid and woody, with a spiciness that its perfumer, Abdes Salaam, describes as evocative of the bazaars of that region. I can envision the picture he has painted with his perfume, and writing about it as such would seem easy enough to do: my husband and I still have adventure travel catalogs that date to a time when we dreamed of hiking in places like Bhutan and Nepal. But perfumes often insist on getting personal—and this perfume stirs up memories instead of dreams. Memories of the Catskill Mountains of New York, and the surreal little town I lived in for the first six years that I was out of college and on my own; a town that had more cows than people when I moved there in 1984, but which was also shaped by the fact that it hovered north of New York City by less than a three-hour drive.
“Where city and country meet” was the description on the logo of the agricultural firm where I first worked, and though to look around the town one could only scoff at that remark, a peak around the edges would prove this to be true. If you wanted a little Catskill Mountain high, you didn’t have to look far; pot, cocaine and amphetamines seemed to be everywhere—something that shocked me at first, but which I would eventually shrug off as normal, which is what one does when everyone else is doing it. This meeting of city and country was evident in other ways, too: on weekends, our local watering holes swelled with out-of-towners looking to escape the Metropolis or their suburban lives in New Jersey—to repair to their vacation homes or cabins in this area they referred to as “Upstate,” even though we weren’t technically that far “up.” But when Monday came, the city slickers disappeared and the local population, as one might expect, was of a distinctly different mix. In a rural town without much in the way of jobs, young people didn’t stick around, and the ones that did either accepted low-paying jobs in factories or high-paying ones in construction. To no small degree, the locals were a graying population of folk who liked bingo, bowling and simple pleasures.
In a nutshell, here was a blue-collar town that was in many ways quaintly old-fashioned—where little old ladies baked cakes and served tea—but which also attracted a transient and upwardly mobile group of people who brought with them their love of modern recreations.
It was a town where merely being new to the place and a young woman in your 20s got you every male attention, wanted and unwanted, you could ever imagine. Where men you’d never even talked to and who only observed you in passing would leave love notes with telephone numbers pinned to the antenna of your car. Where a carpenter working for a construction firm that was building a house on a route I liked to walk once left me a trail of Polaroids of himself—none of them of his face, but I knew who had planted them when I looked up from the photos and saw him, naked torso’d and waving at me from behind a gaping window frame on the second story.
Despite its air of desperate male hunger, it was a town where I always felt safe, and I often walked or ran for miles on end on country roads that provided spectacular views from its ridge tops. You could be out in the middle of nowhere and run into someone you knew—usually an elderly couple out for a Sunday drive, who would insist on making you get in their car so they could drive you back to your apartment so you didn’t suffer heat stroke. You could be driving around its reservoirs in winter and spy a pair of bobcats prowling across the road, their hiss and growl an eerie thing to be greeted by when you rolled down your window for a better look.
It was a town that had a small but very good library and where I learned to play a fine game of tennis; a town from which the Glimmerglass Opera and other arty concerns were only a forty-minute drive away.
And it’s the town I imagine when I put on Hindu Kush and get that first rush of what smells like green vetiver spiked with ginger, as cool as the winds that funneled down from the mountaintops on even the sunniest summer day; as brisk as a dip in Launt Pond, where everyone went to sunbathe and swim and wax their cars (who knows why?) on summer Sunday afternoons. Though the perfumer describes the spice notes in Hindu Kush as being warm, there is something about the way they combine with the scent’s green, woody notes that makes me feel like I’m experiencing something invigoratingly cool, as if pine trees are expiring as I mentally lay on that beach at Launt Pond (it is, after all, a beach carved out of a forest clearing). Arid coolness is how I would describe it, which is probably why I love this fragrance so much. It’s got uplift and affects my brain the same way high-altitude weather does, making me feel buoyant and crisp and alive.
In the six years I lived in that small town in the Catskills, I’m pretty sure I made every kind of mistake a young person can make. It was the kind of place where Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no” speech failed to reach me, though my mother’s “Just say no” voice probably kept me from making worse mistakes than I did. It was a town where I dated all the wrong men (and where, surreally, all three of them were named Jim); it was a town where I once almost drove my car off the mountain in a snowstorm on a night when I knew it wasn’t safe to drive. But it was a town where I felt my own heart beating, where I paid my own rent, and where I was not afraid to walk alone. And somehow when I put on Hindu Kush, I am back there, remembering what it was like to ride the thermals and fall from the sky, occasionally, and be forgiven.
Hindu Kush is an all-natural, vegan perfume with has notes of cypress, ginger, cumin, nutmeg and pepper. (It smells like it has vetiver, too.) It can be purchased from the perfumer’s website, which is worth going to if only just to read Salaam’s beautiful and moving description of Hindu Kush (both the land and the perfume). Prices are in Euros; as of this writing a 33-ml bottle is € 71.40 and a 50-ml bottle is € 98.18.
My review is based on a sample I received from the perfumer when I recently made a purchase of one of his other perfumes.
Photo (top of page) by Jake, snapped in the Catskills town where I once lived; bottle photo is from the perfumer's website.
Posted by Suzanne Keller, 1/27/2012.
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