Back in the summer, I was lucky enough to be working in Austria and met Olfactoria (aka Birgit) for the first time, in her home town of Vienna. We spent a very enjoyable afternoon in several high end perfumeries, sniffing the latest releases and generally chewing the cud about matters scent-related. Fast forward four months and I found myself back in the area, this time not far from the country bolthole where Olfactoria and her family spend most weekends.
And so it was that we arranged to meet again on the Saturday before Christmas in Sankt Pölten, which turned out to be Mr O's home town, and was fairly close to their cottage. The contrast between the weather this time and in August could not have been more stark: 35C plays -2C. In the summer I had been concerned about my sticky, creased skirt and glistening forehead, whereas the main priority on this occasion was to retain a full complement of fingers by the end of the morning.
I had had the foresight to bring along my good coat - which is lightweight, but as warm as one of those high tech sleeping bags favoured by bivouacing climbers. The Olfactorias were all similarly swaddled in down coats: Birgit's was a very stylish fitted design in matt black (photo is approximate), cinched in at the waist by an integral belt, while the children had anoraks with fur trimmed hoods. There should be a collective noun really for a gathering of quilted outerwear on this scale - a "wadding" perhaps? A "padding"? Or a "puffa"?
So having rendez-vous'ed at the train station, our puffa party set off in search of a cafe for elevenses. Olfactoria's younger son, Niki, who has just turned two I believe!, had a push chair at his disposal but preferred to toddle on ahead, pausing every few yards to hurl himself on the ground, much like a rock star stage-diving or a stuntman perfecting his "freshly-shot-in-the-chest" manoeuvre. Even though we attracted a few concerned glances from members of the public, Olfactoria and her husband remained calm and unfazed, for they knew that Niki would get up from his prone position moments later, only to start his toddle and deck-hitting routine all over again a few yards further on.
We had some difficulty finding a tea room with enough space to accommodate our party, but following a tip off from a passing relative of Mr O, finally secured a large table in a basement cafe in Sankt Pölten's main shopping plaza. Once we were all sitting down, I presented the boys with some chocolate money and a couple of soft toys (a German-speaking chicken and a teddy in a skiing outfit from Utah). I explained that both toys were unhappy in England, and had heard that there were two nice little boys in Austria who might consider giving them a home. I am not sure that Pauli, the elder son, bought this anthropomorphic emigration line I was spinning for one minute, but he graciously accepted the bear, while Niki took custody of the chicken - or he may do in a year or so when he has outgrown the potential hazards of the bird's beady eyes. : - )
Once all our drinks had arrived, Olfactoria and I discreetly exchanged perfume swap parcels, the focal point of which was a small decant of the discontinued Guerlain Plus Que Jamais (for B) in return for a large one(!) of Après l'Ondée for me. Additionally, I received a "starter kit" of Mono di Orio scents, while I introduced Birgit to Roja Dove Scandal and Damien Bash Lucifer #3, as well as rehoming a dirty amber. I also sniffed Olfactoria wearing her new love of Angélique Noir, which Lady Jane Grey had given her when they met up earlier that week. Now, I tried Angélique Noir in 2008 or so and remember it as being a hot, treacly mess on me, while it was spectacular on Birgit. At this point, Mr O leaned in and announced portentously: "Ah, but of course Birgit has 'magic skin'".
Now if Birgit has magic skin, young Niki would appear to have a magic gullet, for in addition to pavement-diving, he showed us his special party trick of finishing not just his own drink (like the well behaved little boy that he is), but also everyone else's. With such a prodigious capacity for fluid consumption, I could see him downing a yard of ale in one well before he is of school age.
After our pitstop in the shopping plaza, Mr O kindly took the children off to look round the Christmas market, giving Olfactoria and me an hour to ourselves. We spent it notionally sniffing in the Sankt Pölten branch of the beauty salon and perfumery chain, Nägele & Strubell. To be truthful, the store's name is the best thing about it, for the selection of niche brands there was quite limited; though I am sure they were more, I can only actually recall Annick Goutal and Ligne St Barth. Birgit introduced me to the Annick Goutal room spray range, notably the seasonal scent Noël, and I enjoyed walking into a generous ambient spritz of that.
Notes: lemon, bitter orange, mandarin and Siberian pine
You know, it truly didn't matter that Olfactoria and I spent as long as we did standing in front of the fixture without spotting anything worthy of our attention. Speaking for myself, we could have stood at a shelf of hosiery, hardware or baby food, and I feel sure the conversation would still have flowed. Perfume was never far from our minds, and yet it seemed less of a lynchpin in our budding acquaintance than at our first meeting.
Soon it was time to rejoin the rest of the family, and head over to a Japanese restaurant for a buffet lunch, to which the Olfactorias kindly insisted on treating me. For one so young, I was impressed at Pauli's adventurous taste in food: he cheerfully despatched dim sum and sushi with equal gusto. Niki slept through lunch in his buggy, flaked out after his earlier exertions, and thereby missing the opportunity to minesweep the last few mouthfuls of his mother's Diet Coke and my own "Apfelsaft, gespritzt", as I learnt to call the Austrian version of sparkling apple juice.
Lunch over, it was the parting of the ways, as the Olfactorias went off in search of a live Christmas tree to serve as a festive backdrop to their al fresco barbecue that night. "Very fresco", I hear you say. They'll be needing their padded coats, that's for sure...!
I wandered meanwhile round the shops a bit more, before ambling back to my hotel. Well, I say "ambling" - it was more of a limp actually, for five minutes after the Olfactorias had gone, I was suddenly aware of a pricking sensation in one of my feet, and discovered a nail protruding inside the lining of one shoe - it was the first time I had worn them since having them resoled. There was a splodge of blood in the shoe and another one staining my sock.
So there you have it - the ultimate sign of a good time with a fellow perfumista is immunity from pain....in one foot at least. Had I been bleeding from both feet I might just have noticed, however much fun we were having... : - )
Photos of Sankt Pölten from pbase.com (Tibor Pospisil), photo of coat from moncler-jackets-uk-sale.co.uk, pefume shop logo from the company's website, other photos my own