So there I was by the end of week two, holed up in a hotel in Wildegg, its foyer steeped in the ambient testosterone of the Serbian U-17 football team. The players may have been young, but they were very tall for their age. And every time I came downstairs, another one would be demanding gluten-free breakfast cereal from the receptionist in an imperious mixture of English and Italian.
Time to break out, I thought, so on Saturday morning I took the train to Zürich, which cost over £20, but it was less stressful than driving (I surely needed one day a week off!), and I managed to persuade myself that the parking would have cost as much.
Zürich has numerous associations for me: hotels on the Limmatquai with geranium-filled window boxes, woozy cheese fondue, banking secrecy, my home and contents insurer - and of course lately the city has become the European capital of voluntary euthanasia.
My first impressions on this occasion were of the North Face of the Eigeresque prices (£1.50 to use a public toilet, £1.50 for a picture postcard, £7.50 for 30 mins' Internet time!) I could tell early on that this was going to be a window shopping kind of a day and resolved to sniff freely, but resist all temptation to purchase anything more than essentials.
My first stop was a branch of Import Parfümerie in the Bahnhofstrasse. A native Swiss perfumista might not give this discount chain a second glance, but for me everything was new and different and interesting. Nothing remotely approaching a bargain, mind you, even in the promotional bins, and after testing a fairly forgettable Issey Miyake (Fleurs de Bois), I headed on to Manor, a mid-market department store, and Marionnaud, the (French?) specialist beauty chain run on similar lines to Douglas.
In Marionnaud I sniffed the new Prada Infusion de Tubéreuse. It really didn't strike me as being much like tuberose at all, but at least it didn't mug me and leave me for dead like its disappointing stablemate, Infusion de Fleurs d'Oranger. I later read Robin of NST's review of this scent, which she dubs "Infusion de Fleur Nonspécifique", which amused me no end - and frankly I couldn't agree more.
Next up was Hermes, where a friendly SA let me have a sample of Voyage d'Hermes - the only sample I scored all day, haha! Sadly it was rather sharp and overly limey - the J-C Ellena equivalent of a "Friday afternoon car", as they say in the motor industry.
I popped into Chanel, and tried to blag a mini of Beige, but no samples were forthcoming. Indeed they didn't even have one of their distinctive square blotters saying "Beige" on it, and I was blowed if I was going to walk out with Beige sprayed on a piece of card saying Coromandel, when I know perfectly well what Beige smells like anyway - I was just on the scrounge.
I also made a detour to the Moroccan-themed book shop - Le Maroc - in the Spiegelgasse, which inspired Andy Tauer to create Le Maroc pour Elle. It was a veritable Aladdin's Cave of books and sumptuous greetings cards featuring arty photos of Marrakesh and the surrounding area. Sadly, they started at 5 SFRS! Just inside the doorway was a homely display of Andy Tauer's scent range - I say "homely", because the tester bottles were tied loosely to the table they stood on with garden twine. Extrapolating from the greetings cards, I didn't even bother asking how much they were, much as I aspire to own L'Air du Désert Marocain some day.
Back in the Bahnhofstrasse, I spent quite a while in a very good branch of Douglas - very good because it had an extensive range of Micallefs, which I had only ever previously come across in an independent perfumery. I sniffed my way through quite a few:
Printemps, Ete, Automne, Black Sea, White Sea and Royal Musk
Printemps and Ete were surprisingly designer-ish to my nose, Automne was spicy but not pleasant, Black Sea was weird in that "push the envelope-loft dwelling-perfumisto" kind of way, White Sea was like a cross between a nice CDG such as White or 3 and one of the dodgier Platinum Life Threads - I am thinking Silver might be the one I mean. Royal Musk smelt of musk and was not the least bit objectionable.
The highlight of the day was my visit to Osswald's, one of the most high end independent perfumeries in Europe, at a guess. On a par with Hyazinth, or slightly better, owing to its Guerlain corner. It was a highlight, but strangely also a low point, for I felt so poor, both in relation to the prices and the well heeled clientele happily shelling out 180 SFRs and up at a rate of several every five minutes. Now I was wearing my good work trousers, a designer padded jacket and Ecco boots (from an outlet store and T K Maxx respectively, but no matter!), and yet I still managed to feel scuzzy and tramp-like, in a way I hadn't at Hyazinth. Maybe it was having the company of three stalwart perfumistas on that occasion that made the difference. It was certainly nothing the Osswald SAs said to me. They more or less left me to my own devices after one or two initial inquiries. I don't know what didn't click exactly, but I didn't feel at all comfortable, and tested less that I would have liked - though still managed to cross off quite a few things from my "to sniff" list:
L'Eau de Serge Lutens (unremarkable, inoffensive cologne)
Guerlain Les Secrets de Sophie (bit too ylangy-musky - almost trashy, which really took me aback)
Guerlain La Petite Robe Noire (elegant, dry, can't remember much else about it)
Guerlain Tonka Imperiale (overly rich vanilla - to retry!)
L'Artisan Havana Vanille (overly rich tobacco vanilla - to retry!)
Miller & Bertaux Shanti Shanti (too rosey, too much patchouli)
Humiecki & Graef Askew (good masculine, bit sharp?)
Humiecki & Graef Geste (unisex and beautiful in a way I am at a loss to describe)
Van Cleef & Arpels Lys Carmin (very pretty lily with added welly)
Van Cleef & Arpels Cologne Noire (pleasant cologne - not groundbreaking, but nice)
Van Cleef & Arpels Orchidee Vanille (sickly sweet mess on me)
Van Cleef & Arpels Gardenia Petale (too sweetly indolic)
Next stop was the department store, Globus, where I lingered for a good while - I would rank it above Manor in its market positioning - the Neiman Marcus to Manor's Macy's perhaps. Or Selfridges to Manor's Debenhams/John Lewis (for British readers).
In Globus I had a Vol de Nuit edt epiphany - it was soft and powdery, comforting like a mole's fur, but with a slight frisson of static electricity.
I also retried Ninfeo Mio (just as sharp off-fan!), Daim Blond (not as sweaty loafer as I recall, but not especially good on me), Tom Ford Grey Vetiver (why did I do that? I am not a vetiver fan particularly, though if you are, that is a pleasant example of the genre). I sniffed Michael Kors on paper at a distance of several feet from my body, and tried Bond No 9 New Haarlem aka "My Gingerbread Hell" rather too close to it. I also sampled Paris by Balenciaga on skin and found it exactly as expected in terms of scent - low key violets and greenery - but wasn't expecting it to be so powdery. It could have taken a "leaf" out of Patou Vacances' book and been a bit fresher for my money...
After Globus I was wandering pretty aimlessly by this stage and quite by chance stumbled across a department store whose name I cannot even remember, though the logo had a black background and there may have been a "j" in the name. Jelmoli? Jellyroll? More important than what it was called, it stocked the Tom Ford Musk range!!! I eagerly sniffed them all, and was predictably disappointed by Pure Musk, Urban Musk and Jasmine Musk, and re-bonded with White Suede on a prime skin site, my sample of which having long since been exhausted. "How much is the 50ml?" I inquired of the heavily made up SA, as optimistically as I could muster. "240 SFRS" (£160). Jeepers! That is £60 more than in the UK as far as I can recall. I asked if they happened to have a sample, so that I could evaluate White Suede at greater leisure. "Why would you need to do that?" came the blunt reply. "You have got it on your skin already." There was nothing for it but to make a sharp exit.
My energy levels were flagging by now, and my search for a cheap bar of chocolate led me to a branch of the Coop department store. I was feeling pretty jaded and disorientated, as evidenced by an impulsive trial of the new Avril Lavigne - that rocky "fruitchouli" number - Black Star? Not my demographic is putting it mildly. It was clearly time to go home.
So in summary, the three standout scents of the day were: Guerlain Vol de Nuit (bergamot, galbanum, petit grain, jasmine, jonquil, spices, woods, iris, vanilla, amber), Humiecki & Graef Geste (soft amber, musk, soft violet petals, soft fir resin) and Van Cleef & Arpels Lys Carmin (Lily, Pink Peppercorn, Ylang Ylang, Vanilla and Sandalwood). Which is about a 1 in 10 "love" hit rate. But given that they say you have to kiss 125 frogs before you meet your prince, that really wasn't a bad day's work...