Suzanne's Perfume Journal

August 20, 2008:

A week or so ago, after reading my perfume journal post about Passage d’Enfer, my husband asked me, with a slight snicker on his face, “Do you really get all that out of a perfume?”  It was the kind of question I’d half been expecting, that had been lingering at the back of my mind but that, nevertheless, caught me off guard.  “Well, yes…and no,” I was forced to admit, feeling a bit miffed.  I knew it was an absolutely fair question, and I knew that on one level he was right: the subject of that somewhat loquacious post was, after all, just a quiet little perfume, nothing more grandiose than that.  Perhaps I’d written something that stretched a little too far, like a TV drama that tries to make too big a moment of a small scene and falls flat.  I had compared the fragrance to the companionable breath described in a novel—and then made much ado about describing the importance of such a breath.

Still, it occurs to me that the big doors of our lives often swing on very small hinges.  We remember the sly glance, a certain bend of phrase, the jaunty slant of someone’s hat, the accidental or not-so-accidental touching of knees on the train.  A mere handshake might confirm that we want to do business with a new person—or that we don’t.

And it also occurs to me that my life has been made more wondrous by things as small as the teensy pocket of stars, the Pleiades, that I first spied on a nighttime walk many winters ago—and the bigger connections that I am able to make by wondering about the character of a novel, or the “character” of a quiet little perfume.  I am still in that new and covetous stage of learning about perfumes, and my journal entries will probably continue to reflect this.  They will be meandering rambles, often only tangentially related to perfume, even when I’ve given the perfume a great deal of thought.  They will almost certainly make a big ado about something that to someone else seems like nothing.

Maybe someday I’ll write about perfumes more knowledgeably and more often—with descriptions that are concise and elegant.  But for now, I cling tightly to this style because, in ways I can’t fully explain, it serves me.  I do hope, however, that in the midst of these perfumed wanderings I might “meet you in the night”—and that we can covet perfumes and words and stars together.  I’ll let you have the JAR perfumes, sibilant, and all of Cassiopeia, if you let me take the Arabian oudhs, sanguine, and the single blue glow of Spica.


Perhaps due to the oddly cool weather we’ve been having for August, and the awareness that time is slipping by me with ever-increasing speed, lately I’ve been overcome with the feeling that summer is at its end.  For the past couple weeks I’ve been wanting to stay outside for as long as I can, from morning until well past nightfall, and reading books with the same avidity as a bear who is packing on pounds for winter.  It’s as if I am in frenzied need of storing up words and scenes and dialogues that will sustain me through a long hibernation—though, of course, this makes no sense.  There will be plenty enough time for reading once fall and winter arrive, so I can’t explain this mania other than to observe that it seems to be driven from what I surmise is the antiquated, yet-not-extinct, cave-dwelling region of my brain.

It’s not an unpleasant state of mind—in fact, quite the opposite: there is more than a little euphoria mixed in with the frenzy.  I feel like Neko Case must have felt when she wrote the lyrics to Tightly; there is a heightened sense of reality, and I feel somewhat akin to a bright copper coil that has spooled itself around things—mostly intangible things, but a few tangibles as well.  It is a type of coveting that verges on cherishing—passionate and secretive, but also reverent—and it leads me, like Neko, out into the night to walk through my darkened neighborhood.  I have always enjoyed walking at the start and end points of the day, more so than the middle, and in the dark streets I can covet things that are impossible by daylight: the grandfather clock in my neighbor’s dimly-lit dining room, with its rich veneer and stately solidness; the glossy black-and-white tomcat that darts through garden fences and lays nocturnal claim to all the soft lawns adjoining his; the moon and constellations; and even certain words (stealth, thimble, juju, and besotted—in the dark I claim these for myself.  Let the rest of the world have its gobsmacked and chuffed and pellucid, if I can have these.)

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Image: photo of tatoo artist Kat Von D by Lionel Deluy.

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When I’m walking under stars
I covet all the waning hours
All the lonely houses stand like monuments

To thieves

When I’m walking in the dark
I’m free to covet all I want
You’ve made it all so very dangerous
I can’t stay away

When I’m walking under trees
I’m free to covet all I please
New moon’s in the alley
And its madness calls to me

Tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight

When I meet you in the night
You’re free to covet all you like
But don’t you try and stop me
I cling tightly…to this life

 -- Tightly,
© 2002 by Neko Case
    from heralbum