Suzanne's Perfume Journal

A Story and Tea for Two

December 17, 2007:

this case, the ritual of afternoon tea.  Taking tea together cements the bonds between the Old Lady and her odd house fellows, making them a family of sorts.  And when Alexander returns home ill, the warming cups of ginger tea and the magical cake that are presented to him in bed evoke the memory of teatime and the loving ties that hold him to this world, to the house on the hill.

I wonder if this perception of rituals being the portals to magic, and shared magical experiences, is what perfumer Olivia Giacobetti had in mind when she created the fragrance, Tea for Two, for L’Artisan Parfumeur.  Tea is often taken in communion with others, and Tea for Two has that feeling of intimacy about it.  The star note of this perfume is Lapsang Souchong tea, a black tea from the Fujian province of China, also known as “Smoke Tea,” because the leaves are withered over cedar or pine fires before

being pan-fried, rolled, oxidized, and fully dried again over pine fires.  The smokiness of this tea note is what lends the fragrance its intimate quality: it is the reminder of sharing a cigarette with someone, of huddling next to a fire in the dark.

Tea for Two snuggles close to the skin and has a softer sillage than one would think, considering its smokiness and its spice notes of ginger, anise and cinnamon.  It is lightly sweetened with honey and vanilla notes in the drydown, but the smoky tea aroma is never diminished.  On a cold or dreary day, Tea for Two has the magical ability to make you feel comforted and less alone in the world.  It is the olfactory evocation of companionship, the kind we seek and find in easy, everyday rituals.

Images are from Alexander and The Magic Mouse, a book by Martha Sanders with illustrations by Philippe Fix, published by American Heritage Press, 1969.

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The illustration above comes from my most cherished childhood book, Alexander and The Magic Mouse, a story by Martha Sanders with illustrations by Philippe Fix.  The book, no longer in print, has become a collector’s item and it’s easy to see why: the illustrations are splendid—absolutely rich in fanciful details—while the story is simple and sweet.  It’s about an old lady who lives in a grand Victorian house that sits high atop a hill, away from town, with a coterie of companions who hail from various parts of the globe.  There is a Brindle London Squatting Cat, a lady Yak from Tibet, an alligator named Alexander from China, and a Magic Mouse, who came with the house, who has the ability to make herself invisible and a tail that forecasts the weather.  One day, in the middle of afternoon tea, the Magic Mouse warns the others of an impending deluge in which it will rain for thirty days and thirty nights.  The Old Lady and her housemates pull together, first to prepare the house for the coming storm and their long internment within, and later, to warn residents of the nearby town across the river about the flood, which will overflow the riverbanks and wash away the town if nothing is done.

All of them (except the very lazy Brindle London Squatting Cat) take turns at trying to get the message down the hill and across the river in the midst of the raging storm.  In the end, it is Alexander who accomplishes the mission and saves the townspeople, but when he returns from his arduous journey, Alexander is quite ill and must be attended to.  Again, they all pull together, this time to save Alexander: the Old Lady makes him cups of ginger tea, the yak produces yak butter to fortify the tea, and even the Brindle London Squatting Cat does his part, lying on the bed to keep the alligator’s tail warm.  Then the Magic Mouse produces a tiny magical cake that makes the alligator dream it is teatime, and the next day Alexander is feeling much better.

Even at the age I am now, I love this book and what it says to me about magic.  Magic is real and alive in my world, as I am guessing it is for other people of my sort: the kind of people who relish fiction books and perfumes, delectable potables and exquisite nibbles, secret nooks and hidden crannies, wide open spaces, far-flung places, and summits offering a broad view.

What I most love about Alexander and the Magic Mouse is the intimation that there is magic in kinship rituals—in