* * *

There is a point, midway through the novel, where Macon Leary has moved in with Muriel at her place on Singleton Street ( a shabby yet convivial address on the down side of town), and is now mulling over her traits, good and bad, arriving at a point where:

Arquiste Anima Dulcis can be purchased at fine boutiques like Barneys.com (where I purchased my bottle) and is currently priced at $165 for 55-ml.

In a nutshell, that is what I love about perfume (and fiction, which, at its best, is quite real). I love the surprise of it and the surprise of myself when I’m lost in it. In the foreign country that is Anima Dulcis, I am like Macon when he is with Muriel. The opposite of narrowness and chilliness; soft-hearted, in fact; and anything but orderly.

… he knew that what mattered was the pattern of her life; that although he did not love her he loved the surprise of her, and also the surprise of himself when he was with her. In the foreign country that was Singleton Street he was an entirely different person. This person had never been suspected of narrowness, never been accused of chilliness; in fact, was mocked for his soft heart. And was anything but orderly.

Images: film stills of actors William Hurt and Geena Davis from the 1988, film version of The Accidental Tourist can be found at various places on the Internet; bottle image is from Fragrantica.com.

 
The Accidental Tourist, copyright © 1985 by Anne Tyler Modarressi (excerpts are from the Ballantine Book paperback edition, published by The Random House Publishing Group, New York, 2002, pp. 327 and 194-195, respectively).


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July 29, 2014:

Arquiste Anima Dulcis: The Muriel Pritchett Version of Comfort ... Sweet and Intrepid

   “I suppose you realize what your life is going to be like,” she said. She climbed out of bed. She stood next to him in her nightgown, hugging her bare arms. “You’ll be one of those mismatched couples no one invites to parties. No one will know what to make of you. People will wonder whenever they meet you, ‘My God, what does he see in her? Why choose someone so inappropriate? It’s grotesque, how does he put up with her?’ And her friends will no doubt be asking the same about you.”


   “That’s probably true,” Macon said. He felt a mild stirring of interest; he saw now how such couples evolved. They were not, as he’d always supposed, the result of some ludicrous lack of perception, but had come together for reasons that the rest of the world would never guess.

Suzanne's Perfume Journal

The above excerpt is from a conversation that occurs near the end of Anne Tyler’s novel, The Accidental Tourist, just after the novel’s protagonist, Macon Leary, informs his wife Sarah that he is going back to Muriel, the woman he slowly, almost reluctantly fell in love with after Sarah left him (before she changed her mind about their marriage and came back). I had seen the film version of The Accidental Tourist years ago, but only recently read the novel, seeking it out when I was in need of something profoundly comforting – a different kind of reassurance than the fluffy comfort of a generic (non-literary) romance novel, though there is enough romance and quirky humor within Anne Tyler’s works to impart some welcome fluffiness too. In a style that manages to be as absurdly funny as it is poignant, Tyler explores two sides of the same coin: the deep heartbreak and deep strength of family life. Her characters are often involved in walking out on their families, taking a sabbatical from them in a way, because just as often they walk back to them again, changed and strengthened in many ways, and also predestined to return – as if once a family is established it becomes its own solar system, with ties as strong as the magnetic force fields around planets. This dynamic plays out in The Accidental Tourist, too, but not entirely: here the main character eventually manages to break free of his family’s force field, and in his case, thank goodness.

Apropos of his name, Macon Leary is leery of the world at large and has always been so. Unwilling to embrace anything new, he makes his living catering to people who are just like him, writing tour guides for business travelers who don’t want to leave the familiar comforts of home, instructing them in ways that will allow them to travel in a cocoon of sorts. When his only son dies, the victim of a senseless murder, Macon becomes even more entrenched in his desire to hide away from the world, and when his wife Sarah leaves him, he returns to the home he grew up in, where he and his middle-aged siblings take hiding-out to a whole new level. Mind you, they do it in a good and orderly way—so much so, they view themselves as “conventional” and, thus, don't know what to make of the enterprising young woman who is determined to steer Macon onto a new course when he hires her to tame the one thing in his life that is wild and unruly: his dog.

Muriel Pritchett, the dog trainer, is not Macon’s type at all. For one thing, she’s too young: “She barely remembered Vietnam and had no idea where she’d been when Kennedy was shot.” She’s also not of his class, living on the poor side of Baltimore and dressing that way, in eccentric and flashy thrift-store ensembles involving skimpy skirts or short shorts paired with “preposterously high-heeled sandals.” She talks non-stop (whereas Macon prefers silence), sings country-western songs, makes her desires clear in audaciously bold requests, and has a timid young son who seems to suffer from every form of allergy under the sun, made worse by the fact that Muriel worries over him excessively. She is one of those women for whom more is more; perhaps because many aspects of her life are hard, she has an interest in cultivating glamour and spends much of her free time poring over lipstick colors, perusing thrift shops and drug stores, reading how-to articles in women’s magazines and filling out contest forms to try and win vacation trips to places she’s never been and can’t afford. She’s also industrious, scrappy and smart. She knows how to show an attack dog who’s boss; she’s not afraid to defend herself when a delinquent teenager tries to rob her of everything in her purse; and she will use every ounce of her resourcefulness to get on a plane to Paris and try to win back the man she not only loves but the man she saved when he was falling apart.

So, that is the book and those are the characters I turned to when I was craving comfort, and for the perfume complement I turned to my bottle of Arquiste Anima Dulcis. In English, Anima Dulcis means “sweet soul,” and it is definitely a gourmand-leaning treat of a perfume, butterscotched and soothing in its overall projection and especially its drydown. However, before its surprisingly soft drydown arrives, Anima Dulcis is pure charisma with an intoxicating kaleidoscope of treats. Like Muriel, the top and middle stage of this perfume is a “more is more” whiff of many things at once: a jolt of orange and pepper, their collision high and sweet and zingily staccato-like, gliding over an amber accord which accommodates a whiff of light leather, an air of unlit pipe tobacco and a draught of honeyed wine that is also reminiscent of the syrup from a stewed fruit compote. These latter elements lead me to believe osmanthus figures into the perfume’s composition, as that nectarous floral with its olfactory facets of honey, apricots and suede leather has a particular scent profile that is highly evocative of everything I smell in Anima Dulcis in the first hour of wear (attended by other accords, too, of course). The Arquiste website provides an artistically sketchy list of notes—cocoa absolute, Mexican vanilla, cinnamon and chili infusion is what they claim—along with a description likening it to the scent of spiced cocoa made by nuns in the closed halls of an ancient convent. To this, all I can say is that Anima Dulcis is an irresistible concoction, equal parts charisma and comfort, but hot cocoa it’s not, and I’m just as glad. To my nose, it smells like a patchouli-amber perfume enhanced by bergamot, black pepper, osmanthus, benzoin and Australian sandalwood. True, there is a cocoa note in it, which might emanate from patchouli, but it’s a sheer accent—like a fine dusting of cocoa powder—rather than a defining element of this perfume.

There is also something a little bit furry about Anima Dulcis. I can’t guess from where this furriness emanates, and it hardly matters. It’s furry and warm and dry, like the hair on a man’s chest, or like the fur of a well-cared-for pet, which is another reason why the perfume seems fitting for the character of Muriel, who works at the Meow Bow animal clinic (dressed in her sexy, eclectic ensembles, and not in veterinarian’s assistant scrubs). Anima Dulcis isn’t a perfume that I think of as perfection – it quiets down on my skin a little too quickly and doesn’t have great sillage, even when I apply it liberally – yet it encompasses so much in terms of its traits. Sweet, fizzy and, at the same time, boozy, like an Orangina poured over a shot of brandy; more spicily brisk as the cinnamon and pepper develops over the first fifteen minutes of wear; then elegant and sexy and richly textured, thanks to the osmanthus-like treats previously mentioned. On top of all this, it’s also fluffy and candied, furry and deep, and then very goldenly vanillic in its drydown. The vanilla here is not custardy—it’s golden and butterscotched and reminds me of raw sugar, which is to say that it’s a more resinous vanilla that smells as if it was achieved with benzoin.