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Soldier of Love: Mona di Orio Les Nombres d’Or Oud
Though I do attempt to read widely, there are certain books that by now have written themselves into my DNA because I’ve read them so many times—not just for the story, but for the beauty of the prose itself, and that certainly is the case for Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier’s novel about the odyssey of a wounded confederate soldier named Inman who, in the last days of the Civil War, deserts the rebel cause and begins a long and treacherous walk to his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the woman he loves. For years it’s been my custom to read Cold Mountain in August or September, the latter being the month that Inman embarks on his journey, but this year our end of summer was so rainy and gray I couldn’t get in the mood to read it. I needed crisp autumn weather, which didn’t arrive until just last week, around the same time I received some perfume samples I ordered from LuckyScent—one of them being a sample of the new oud perfume from Mona di Orio. So last week I found myself raking up endless piles of fall leaves under a sky that was miraculously blue for November, wearing this perfume that unfolds like a narrative—by turns green, spicy, animalic, smoky, woody and gently nectarous—and thinking, This is so sexy … it reminds me of a man in a very rustic setting. But what kind of man? Not a cowboy, not a man I could fit into any kind of category except to say, romantic man in his most stripped-down form—emotionally, bodily, spiritually. A man who would travel a hard road to get to you if he had to, and who would make you want to travel down the same to reach him halfway.
And that’s when I thought of Cold Mountain and knew I would use it as a means of talking about this perfume. I have borrowed from this novel before to talk about a particular perfume, and I don’t feel guilty borrowing from it again because a measure of its greatness is the way it stirs the mind to think of it across a number of contexts—to form connections to the world outside its pages—and because that’s simply the way my bookish mind works: it turns on stories, it returns to stories, it has its hooks deep into them.
Inman is the man I thought of when I smelled Mona di Orio’s Oud, and more specifically, Inman in that specific moment of time when he is at the end of his hard road of traveling and he is finally in sight of his beloved, Ada, who has been on a journey of sorts, too. Ada wasn’t from the mountains originally—she grew up the privileged and only child of a minister in the well-to-do city of Charleston—and she and her father came to Cold Mountain when his failing health led him to accept a parish where the mountain air might prove curative. During the war, however, Ada’s father dies, and she is left alone and penniless with only the gentleman’s farm where they had been living—a farm which has gone fallow and which she has no skills whatsoever at turning around, until an itinerant young woman named Ruby comes along and shows her how it’s done. Ada’s transformation is that of a girl who has spent her days doing watercolor drawings and playing the piano to that of a woman who works the land until there are blisters on her hands and a solid understanding of subsistence-living in her head. She’s been on a hard road, too.
But now we’re at the point in the novel where Iman’s and Ada’s paths converge—a moment which always causes me to gasp, at least internally, when the two of them are finally standing close enough to recognize one another and yet they don’t: they are literally staring across the barrels of their drawn guns, on a snowy forest lane where Ada has just shot down a pair of turkeys, thinking their minds must be playing tricks on them, both of them so changed in the four years since they’ve seen each other. Inman, finally realizing it’s her that is standing before him with a shotgun and in men’s britches, puts down his pistol and calls out something: a declarative, lovestruck plea that only further confuses her: “He seemed to her some madman awander in the storm, knapsack on his back, snow in his beard and on his hat brim, speaking wild and tender words to whatever appeared before him, rock and tree and rill.” She tells him she doesn’t know him and Inman, who knows he is a shell-shocked stranger of his former self, turns to walk away. For a second though, he turns back to her and says that if he knew where to go, he’d go there.
It might have been timbre of voice, angle of profile. Something. Length of bone in his forearm, shape of knucklebones under the skin of his hands. But suddenly Ada knew him, or thought she did. She lowered the shotgun to where it would but cut him off at the knees. She said his name and he said yes.
Then Ada had only to look at his drawn face to see not a madman but human. He was blasted and ravaged, worn ragged and weary and thin, but he was nevertheless Inman. Hunger’s seal on his brow, like a shadow over him. Yearning for food, warmth, kindness. In the hollows of his eyes she could see that the depredations of the long war and the hard road home had left his mind scoured and his heart jailed within the bars of his ribs. Tears started in her eyes, but she blinked once and they were gone. She lowered the muzzles toward the ground and put her hammer to rest.
—You come with me, she said. †
What is it about Mona di Orio’s oud perfume that reminds me of this passage? It might be the green and pine-like top notes that smell ruggedly like a man—like his movement through a forest. Maybe it’s the lean, mentholated smell of the composition in its earliest stage of wear that reminds me of the beautiful angularity of the male body, of the streamlined focus of his mind. And as the scent dramatically twists and turns towards the animalic, is this why it speaks to me of male yearning, of driving male hunger?
There is also within Mona’s oud perfume the smell of smoke and wood—a reminder of the home fires that burn brightly within every soul—that set us on a return path towards home; there is something vaguely cinnamon-like that speaks of quiet passion; and there is a weathered sweetness that suggests comfort and a surrender to love.
And all of these facets of the perfume unfold slowly, deliberately, lending it the sensibility of something that possesses intelligence. No wonder I smell it and can’t think about dissecting it and trying to write a proper review (not that I ever write those anyway). It’s the kind of fragrance that leads me, like Ada, to lower my muzzle, put my hammer to rest and say to it in my softest but firmest voice, You come with me.
Mona di Orio Les Nombres d’Or Oud—eau de parfum intense—has notes of Elemi, Green Mandarin, Petitgrain, Patchouli, Osmanthus, Nagarmotha, Cedarwood, Oudh, Musc and Ambergris. It can be purchased from LuckyScent.com, where a 100-ml bottle is a whopping $520 (and worth it, in my opinion, even if I won’t be buying it anytime soon, but simply enjoying the two samples I purchased. Gorgeous stuff, and a little goes a long way.) †Cold Mountain, copyright © 1997 by Charles Frazier (The Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1997, p. 321)
Images: Bottle image is from LuckyScent.com; book image is from Amazo.com.
Posted by Suzanne Keller, 11/10/2011.
†Cold Mountain, copyright © 1997 by Charles Frazier (The Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1997, p. 321)
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