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Sometime back in the early ’90s, Masterpiece Theatre aired a four-part mini-series about an English housewife who, in desperate need of a change, decides to rent a romantic villa in Tuscany for her family’s summer holiday. Molly’s husband and daughters have no interest in going, but she somehow manages to get them there—whereas Molly’s father, an outrageously randy and cagey old coot, knows an opportunity when he sees one and can’t be stopped from tagging along. Once ensconced in their beautiful Italian rental, the kids bicker, the husband writes postcards to his mistress back home in London, and Molly’s father suddenly has designs on a wealthy widow who lives nearby. But that’s not all—there are strange and perplexing goings-on in and around this house: the family soon finds their water supply shut off due to the nefarious dealings of the local water board (the “water racket,” as Molly call it); someone in a nearby parked car seems to be keeping tabs on them; and one of the locals turns up dead in an empty swimming pool, soon after which Molly finds an anonymous note indicating he was murdered.
Titled Summer’s Lease (after the novel of the same name, by esteemed British author John Mortimer), the series juxtaposed two elements that seem at odds with each other: the picturesque beauty of Tuscany (as well as of Italian art, which also features prominently in the series) and the quirkiness of the mysteries that Molly gets caught up in (for they are rather diminutive and murky, these mysteries—even that of the murder). It’s exactly this odd juxtaposition that has made Summer’s Lease stick in my mind all these years. Aside from some wonderful bits of dialogue assigned, almost entirely, to the role of the lecherous father, played by John Gielgud, there was nothing else that could have so compellingly grabbed me: the plot was thin to the point of non-existence, and the mysteries seemed to sputter and go nowhere—their ultimate resolution left to the viewer.
The way I feel about Summer’s Lease is similar to the way I feel about Profumum Roma D’Ambrosia: it’s far from perfect; I’m aware that it has only a cultish number of admirers; and yet I love it all the same. A green, woody fig scent, it presents an olfactory picture of the rural Italian landscape more so than of the fruit itself, and it does an equally strange job at juxtaposing certain elements. When I smell it, I can easily imagine being Molly in that gorgeous Italian villa, bowled over by the beauty of being there but also reminded of life’s tricksy side when the water is shut off. Life’s tricksy imperfections are certainly irritating—but enough to make you want to throw it all away and go home? Sometimes, but not when you are knee-deep in beauty.
Pear, almond, grape, fig and sandalwood. These are the notes that Profumum Roma lists for D’Ambrosia, and though the combination might sound overly sweet, it’s not in this composition. D’Ambrosia is the smell of fruits gathered with the sappy green twigs and leaves still on them, fruits that have been laid out on a table beneath the cypress trees. Though not listed, I can smell lots of tangy cardamom in the opening of D’Ambrosia, and it goes nicely with the sparkling and realistic pear note that grabs my attention before it disappears. The pear note gives way to a cherry-almond smell that I believe (though I could be completely wrong, of course) is achieved via heliotrope—which soon melds with a nuanced amount of coconut and the smell of green fig. While many fig scents take on too much coconut and smell like girly, umbrella’d beach drinks, D’Ambrosia never goes there. It seems to be saved from that fate, in part, by the weirdness that happens next.
I have no idea what accounts for it, but for a portion of its drydown, the fruits meet with something that smells like new shoe leather. It is a green-woody-leather smell that too quickly marries itself to the fruits, making for a strange dissonance that seems to last for at least an hour. Sometimes I wonder if it is iris, as I have noticed that iris can smell that way to me in certain fragrances—not the powdery iris familiar to most fragrances, but the more vegetally bitter iris one finds in Hermès Hiris, for instance. At any rate, here is where the drydown in D’Ambrosia becomes jarring.
Luckily, I can wait that part out (and have even come to crave it in some strange way). What I’m left with at the end of this very long-wearing perfume is a creamy, woody scent accentuated by the smell of figs. The scent of a picnic table under a cypress tree, where the green fruit had been lain out to ripen, its scent impregnating the wood boards after the fruit has been carried into the house. An intoxicating awareness that, as Shakespeare said, “Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” And a reminder that perfection is not a requisite of beauty.
D'Ambrosia eau de parfum by Profumum Roma is available from LuckyScent.com, $240 for 100 ml. I got my bottle from Cow Parfymeri in Stockholm, and am offering decants for sale on the perfume catalog page of my website.
Image of Summer's Lease video is from Amazon.com; bottle image is from LuckyScent.com.
Posted by Suzanne Keller, 7/19/2010.
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