|A pleasingly wonky hotel in Ulm
It now remains to complete this series of travelogues with a round up of the perfume-related aspects of the trips, together with the somewhat deferred explanation of how I came to be parted from Max Rat (and much more).
Cursory airport sniffage leaves me wanting myrrh
Regular readers will have noticed that my interest in keeping up with the latest releases has greatly diminished over the years. Whereas before I used to systematically scope the fixtures in the duty free section of airports for newly launched fragrances - deploying a cunning skin site allocation system that allowed me to test up to ten perfumes at once! - now I am just as likely to walk straight through that area and out the other side, with barely a glance to left and right. That was pretty much the case on all eight occasions when I found myself at airports either on the outward or return legs of my journeys. I was, moreover, trying really hard to avoid the endless displays of Chanel Chance Eau Vive and their associated tester-toting promotional staff, who seemed to be lying in wait for me at every turn.
I stayed strong though, and managed to resist giving that a sniff for four weeks straight, though here and there my curiosity got the better of me and I sprayed a couple of things on skin. L'Occitane's Verveine Agrumes, in its leaf motif-embellished bottle, caught my eye early on - I found it refreshing and tart without being acerbic, and was pleased to note that my hotel in Paris offered toiletries from this very range. Back home, I am eking out my Verveine Agrumes guest soap as we speak. I also tried Jour d'Hermès Gardénia, which Robin liked more than me in her review on NST, though I note with amusement that she describes its latter stages as 'a bland greenish blur'. I found it too heady in a synthetic shampoo-y way from the off, but in fairness I may not have been in the mood.
Another time I chanced upon a couple of Aqua Allegorias that were directly blocking my path on a podium. These were only remarkable for their disconcerting shades of pink and blue, and I remained steadfastly immune to their alleged allure, despite being informed by the hovering SA that they were 'travel exclusives' (Flora Rose and Teazzura, if your own love of the Allegoria range is more inclusive). I also reacquainted myself with Diorella (bracing but ultimately too herbal) and Dune (unexpectedly sweet, and slightly too offbeat to be lovable), and homed in on several of the Armani Privés that were new to me - such as Ambra Eccentrica and Myrrh Impériale. In all of this (admittedly extremely selective and minimal) testing, it was the Myrrh Impériale - that in my jaded state I have mistakenly been calling 'Orientale' up to about a minute ago - that really 'spoke to me'. I applied it again on skin in Harvey Nichols in Edinburgh during a lightning visit to buy replacement Shu Uemura eyelash curlers(!) (see below), and liked it just as much.
Having since caught up with the notes in Patty's review on Perfume Posse - myrrh, benzoin, vanilla, pink pepper, amber and saffron - I can easily see why it would appeal to me, not least because I have been on a bit of a myrrh kick lately. Myrrh Impériale is not too medicinal, or too cold, dank and churchy; it's not too screechy, or too aldehydic - or distracted by other oddball notes - here the myrrh is beautifully blended with such oriental bellwethers as vanilla and amber. I am not going to drop £190 on a bottle any time soon, but I shall be scanning the Fragrance UK Sale/Swap site in case anyone is hosting a split.
A 'scents of place' challenge
At the start of July, before setting off on my travels, my poet friend Lizzie - she of the perfume bottle-shaped earrings and exquisitely vintage dressing table (on which she stores her perfume collection) - suggested I keep my wits and nose about me wherever I went and systematically record the ambient scents of the places I visited. Well, me being me, I promptly forgot about this mission, though suddenly remembered during my stay in Paris, where my nostrils were instantly assailed - and occasionally assaulted - by a cornucopia (veering to a cacophony) of smells.
I jotted down the ones I could remember as soon as I got back to base, and the aggregate list is as follows, split by Paris and Le Havre, not for nothing the celebrated setting for Sartre's 'Nausea'. ;)
'Generalised civic Guerlainade' - many times I smelt a powdery, woody, broadly oriental sillage trailing in the wake of passing women in the Metro and above ground - pretty much everywhere I went in fact. It was the ambient Parisian fragrance equivalent of 'house wine' - a sort of 'civic sillage' worn by more women than not. In vain did I crane my nostrils for a whiff of some cheap fruity floral...it was never forthcoming. The default scent of Parisian women - though I could never put a name to its many yet similar incarnations - is clearly a classy cut above.
Vaping liquid - one hot sunny evening, as I sipped a beer in the 5e arrondissement near my hotel, I was conscious of a fine mist descending on my head. After a moment's double take, during which I speculated as to whether some automatic window box plant watering system might have sprung a leak, it dawned on me that I was being vaped on. Yes, I was enveloped in a soft and cooling drizzle of droplets, pleasantly scented with tobacco and chocolate and/or cherry liqueur?
Bubble gum - half way up a steep hill in Gentilly - yet not a pink plug of the stuff in sight!
Acetone - on an escalator at the Gare du Nord
Freshly squeezed orange juice - ye orange pressé is alive and well, and has not yet been supplanted by artisanal smoothies featuring flavours of mind bending novelty!
Mona di Orio Tubéreuse - because that was the sample I wore all week...now sadly gone the way of Max Rat
Urine / Sweat / Rotten eggs - sorry, no large metropolis would be complete without a bit of an insalubrious olfactory underbelly.
|Le Havre ~ Source: avidcruiser.com
Salty sea air
That is all.
Meeting Vero Kern and my old Basenotes friend, Potiron
In Part 2 I banged on at length about the infernal heat in mainland Europe while I was out there. I think I stopped short of saying that as well as walking around in ambient temperatures of 35C, I was occasionally obliged to jog in them. Yes indeedy, a proper jog job, all the while weighed down by an 8kg briefcase in one hand, which also accounted for my lopsided gait. This was because I had bought a number of train tickets in advance for up to 50% savings on the normal price, but with the caveat that they could only be used on a specific train. And sometimes my meetings overran to the point where the prospects of catching said specific train greatly receded, and I would surely have missed at least two long distance services were it not for my mad and inelegant jogging spurts.
|Swiss trains give good view, when you do finally catch them!
One of these trains was from Lausanne to Zurich, where I had agreed to meet Vero Kern. Had I missed it, I would have had to cry off, with all the disappointment, embarrassment and sense of failure that would have entailed. But my ungainly jogging saved the day, and I duly met up with Vero in a rather elegant bistro at Zurich station. We had tea and coffee - Vero seemed singularly unfazed by my breathlessness, gleaming patina and advanced state of crumplitude - while I did my best not to kick her little dog, Isi, who placidly sat in his basket most of the time, apart from occasional sorties to slurp water from a travelling bowl under the seat. We chatted about the people we had met in Perfume Land (notably her No 1 Fan and 'Fragrance Ambassador', Val the Cookie Queen), about her own work and career path, and our thoughts on trends - we even lapsed into German at one point, talking about certain aspects of 'the biz'. Which suited me just fine, as I have vocabulary for 'market segment' and 'packaging' and 'sales', but nary a word for things like 'hem' or 'chaffinch' or 'fondue trivet'. And all too soon it was time for Vero to meet her sister, while I headed south to my hotel in Adliswil. It was a conversation I would very much like to continue some time, as I was very drawn to Vero's free spirit, easygoing manner and nonchalantly maverick style. She is a quintessential example of a perfumer who paddles her own canoe, and the market is a better place for her being in it.
Then the next day, I had had an appointment cancelled in Basel, and as luck would have it, the same thing had happened to my old Basenotes chum Potiron, who lives and works there. It is going back a bit now, but our previous meet ups - on our own, or in a four-handed gaggle with Lisa Wordbird and Alicka61 - all feature in past posts in Bonkers, typically entitled 'Meeting the Swiss perfumistas' or involving some combination of 'sniffathon', 'Zurich', 'Basel' or 'Switzerland'. On this occasion I met Potiron's girlfriend C for the first time, and we spent an enjoyable - if rather hot! - afternoon outside the Roter Engel (our default cafe of yore) maintaining our fluid intakes with a mix of tea, beer and cola. I still can't get the average size of tea cups down to anything approaching normality, but the peaceful courtyard has an enduring appeal, five years on from our first meeting.
|Look at that cup diameter!
A salutary tale of my stolen case, and a ratnapped Max
So although the project went well in the course of all these trips abroad, there was an unexpected sting in the tail - on London Midland rail! - when my case was nicked on a train back from Birmingham airport at the end of Trip 3, just 30 miles from home and with only one more day left in the job. Moreover, the thief whipped it from right behind my seat (the only place I could have put it without blocking the aisle or taking up another seat). So at a stroke I lost an entire capsule wardrobe of favourite work clothes, make up, perfume, jewellery, a netbook, sundry travel accessories - and Max. It upsets me to think where he is now, and to be honest it upsets me to wonder what happened to any of my belongings. I had safely dragged that case behind me for three weeks straight, on umpteen trains and buses and trams, and it had become like a mobile home, almost a companion - or another limb. So the whole incident felt much more like a burglary or an assault rather than a simple 'case' of lost property.
|Rocket configures my new netbook
Above - Elspeth, below - Monster Max Mk II!
Marble the cat cosying up with Olivia the duck.