I rose, unexpectedly, around 5 a.m. on the morning of New Year’s Eve, went to the kitchen and threw out the last several pieces of lasagna from the pan I baked the night before, when one of my husband’s friends from work came to dinner. It was the last of the holiday food; I’d sent half of it home with our guest and intended to cobble a couple of easy meals around the remainder, but then awoke with an intense desire to be rid of it entirely. It’s the same feeling I wake up with every New Year’s Eve: an impatient need to purge myself of the indulgences of Christmas and return to the semi-monastic lifestyle that suits me best. If that description sounds odd coming from someone whose perfume choices seem to reflect a love of all things decadent, well, as I’ve said before, my real-life self is quite the opposite of my perfumed self. For the most part, I crave a steady diet of simple foods, long walks, and quiet, focused work.  Though I enjoy cooking, and titillating forays into the world of rich foods, my sensitive digestive system allows for only the briefest of holiday flings. My tolerance for the other trappings of Christmas is limited, too. I keep my Christmas decorations up for only a week. It’s not that I am immune to their glittering beauty; it’s that they seem to occupy a lot of precious space, so that after a while they lose their shine and I begin to regard them as distracting clutter.

After throwing out the lasagna, making coffee, and watching the morning materialize out of the darkness, I plucked a novel from my bookshelf that I hadn’t read in a long time. Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg. It’s a book I admire, not for its thick and thrilling plot (nor for its ending, which contains more in the way of confusion than resolve), but for its heroine, Smilla, a fiercely intelligent and gutsy woman who has a sixth-sense understanding of the world she was born into—a world of ice and snow. Smilla is the product of an uneasy Greenland-Denmark union (one of many themes explored in the book): her mother was an Inuit woman who died on a hunting expedition when Smilla was still a child; her father is a wealthy Danish physician who went to Greenland on a science experiment, fell in love with Smilla’s mother and sired two children by her without ever really committing himself to them for very long—then forced Smilla to come live with him and be educated in Denmark after her mother’s death. As a result of her Inuit upbringing and her Danish education, 37-year-old Smilla speaks of snow in both intuitive and mathematical terms, with a reverence that is powerful even to a reader like myself, whose bent is opposite that of the scientific.

Snow is about the only thing Smilla has reverence for—she is a loner and a tough little nut in most regards. But it’s precisely because of her deep respect and understanding of the glacial world she comes from—as well as of her equally glacial self—that draws me to this book at the start of the New Year. After the Christmas holiday, what follows is three months of winter here, on top of the winter we’ve already had. In central Pennsylvania, winter arrives well before its appointed date on the calendar; this year, in mid November. And while I enjoy the start of it—the dramatic change of season, the desert-like quiet of it, the beauty of the first snowfall—eventually the gray skies and the brutal temperatures get to me. I want winter to be over and done with in the same way that I want Christmas to be over and done with. However, this year, at the start of the New Year, I’ve decided to take a different tact. I’m going to hunker down deep into winter and try looking at it through the eyes of someone who loves it like a lover.

I feel relatively optimistic about succeeding in this resolution, considering that I share some of Smilla’s sensibilities (“I feel the same way about my spatial freedom as I’ve noticed men feel about their testicles. I cradle it like a baby, and worship it like a goddess,” Smilla notes in one of my favorite passages).

And winter is a rather monastic kind of season. It would seem to suit me in so many ways, yet, in the past it has proven to be too monastic. Too drab and cloistered, too encumbering in terms of movement. I guess what I need to do is learn to move with it. Perhaps it’s time to dig out the cross-country skis I abandoned eons ago, time to dust off the aluminum snow shoes my husband bought me one year.

My fragrance for the New Year was Angéliques sous la Pluie from Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle. With notes of angelica, juniper berries, coriander, musk and cedar, it is a perfumed gin-and-tonic: a distillation of ozone-and-evergreen crispness, but with a sillage as soft as freshly fallen snow. Created by perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena in 2000, the scent is meant to evoke the smell of angelica flowers after a rain shower, and it very much possesses that kind of pure and washed-clean sensibility. Angéliques sous la Pluie is the fragrance of a fresh start—of the clean slate, so to speak. It has an interesting way of cleansing the olfactory palate, and at the same time, offering up the next course: a whiff of primeval forest that has, perhaps, been there on life’s fine smörgåsbord all along, only veiled by the mists of our appetite for other things.

Suzanne's Perfume Journal

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January 3, 2009:

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The New Year, Smilla, A Cleansed Palate for Winter and

Frederic Malle Angeliques sous la Pluie


Angéliques sous la Pluie can be purchased from the Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle website or from Barneys.com, where it is priced at $110 for a 50 ml bottle.


(I must note that I began this post a couple days ago, and, ironically, as I complete it today, there is not a snowflake in sight and the sky is as blue as a bird’s egg.)

Photo: Winter Scene: Nuzzling Muzzles, from Simply Marvelous: The Wonderful World of Horses