Thursday, 27 August 2015

My bonkers month of extreme Euro-hoppery: Part 3 - the scented bit

A pleasingly wonky hotel in Ulm
For anyone who clocked my two days or so of technical malfunction - whereby I managed to inadvertently corrupt the code behind the site to such spectacularly awful effect that I had to set Bonkers to private for a while! - I can't tell you how pleased and relieved I am to have the blog back up and looking as normal. Or how grateful I am to the friend who managed to resurrect it.

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 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 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:


Salty sea air

Decomposing rubbish

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.

Vero's dog

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
But I am getting over it now, helped in no small measure by the humane attitude of the insurance company, and the kindness of friends and family. For people have generously given me money in various forms, flowers, skincare products, perfume - and replacement soft toys, two of them rats! Only Rocket the rabbit has made the cut as a travel companion, on account of her compact proportions; in fact she has already been 'road tested' in Belgium and Edinburgh. But all the new creatures - along with the other presents - have cheered me up no end, and I would like to sign off this series of travel reports by saying a big thank you to everyone involved.

Above - Elspeth, below - Monster Max Mk II!

Marble the cat cosying up with Olivia the duck.


  1. Oh poor you, I really feel for you. The one time I had a bag stolen, it was just awful. I think theft always feels like assault actually: you know they are just after valuables, and chuck the rest away in the nearest bin, which is the worst part, because the valuables are often the easiest to replace.
    I'm glad you've had friends and family standing by with help and comfort.

    And hey, you liked Myrrh imperiale, (I told you we will end up as scent twins, hehe) I liked that one but it didn't last well in me, and I tested Ambre Eccentrico in Berlin, it's not out here yet, and really liked it, but yes those prices...
    Oh and Paris, I, think they all wear L'Heure Bleue :-)

    1. Hi Asali,

      I say, I am very sorry you have also been through a similar experience, and you have hit the nail on the head when you say that the things they throw away are often the hardest to replace - that is exactly how it is with what I have lost. I find clothes shopping very hit and miss as a rule and many of the garments that are gone fitted - and suited - me, and were real wardrobe staples. Several had sentimental value because they were one off things I had bought on trips abroad - one top was actually from Basel...

      And what fun that we meet over Myrrh Imperiale, even if the lasting power wasn't great on you.

      L'Heure Bleue you reckon? I am sure the residual heliotrope would have bothered me, hehe...

  2. Great post, V (miss you!). Particularly loved "wanting myrrh" "civic sillage" and "not for nothing"

    I still feel your pain re the stolen case. It is much, much more than lost property. It's great that people rallied round and your strict honesty made the insurance claim go smoothly. Who else would not be tempted to put down at least Boujois instead of Poundland for their make of blusher?

    Marble is a great name for Sabine's cat and he/she does look cosy with Olivia. I hope Bidolph is not feeling left out.

    Wow that IS a big cuppa.

    Asali may be right but my guess for the Generalised Guerlainade is the drydown of Shalimar.

    1. Hi Tara,

      Miss you too! People were great at rallying round, you included, and having the insurance company believe my claim even in the absence of 95% of the receipts made a massive difference. You are right that it would be easy to 'upgrade' a lot of the items without anyone being the wiser, but I figured they would be more likely to play fair with me if I did with them, and so it proved.

      Marble and Olivia are getting pally, it's true, though Biddulph has Elspeth on hand in that room, Delhi the elephant and (in a drawer) Mosman the koala. At the moment they appear to be keeping themselves to themselves, however. I am not sure the two rats have even met!

      Shalimar sounds more plausible to me, even if L'Heure Bleue would be a good thematic fit for the rush hour ;) - hey, I like that one, hehe.

  3. I'm still upset for your incident: it's awful to loose irreplaceable things that mean a lot to you and absolutely nothing to the thief. But I'm glad that at least your insurance didn't add you any grief.

    I tried Myrrh Impériale for the first time approximately the same time you did and liked it a lot.

    1. Hi Undina,

      I really appreciated your kindness and generosity at the time of the incident and am touched that it still bothers you too. It is so darn frustrating that many of those items are of far less use/value to the thief.

      Am delighted to hear you were also taken with Myrrh Imp, as I shall henceforth abbreviate it. Maybe I might host a split sometime, if there are one or two more 'notes of interest', as they say in the Scottish property market. ;)

  4. I didn't realize the theft happened practically at home! Such an awful experience. :( Good that you're getting over it and I agree with Asali, it does feel like an assault, on your kind nature most of all.

    1. Hi Ines,

      Yes indeed, the location was a particularly annoying aspect to it! I was so nearly 'home and dry' as they say. In fairness it would have been even more massively inconvenient if it had happened just as I was embarking on this series of trips...And thanks for your kind comment about my kind nature. ;) I certainly am the sort of person who would go to some lengths to return property to its owner, not try to separate the two.

  5. I loved the Guerlinade:Housewine association. And pretty much everything else. I miss you too and Marble is a super name for the kitty. In fact,m it's a lovely name for a real cat, and I hope your circumstances will allow having one soon.

    1. Hi Sabine,

      Haha, and I really enjoyed sniffing it at every turn. Marble just came to me in a flash - and as you say might well suit an actual tabby cat when the time comes...;)

  6. Ah and I forgot: The woman with the dark curly hair in the cafe looks totally like my stepmother in law. Were you anywhere near the 11th?

    1. Haha - oh really? I wasn't near the 11th on this occasion, though I have stayed there quite a few times in the past!

      No, that was round the corner from where Undina and I were based in 2013...

  7. "Cursory airport sniffage leaves me wanting myrrh"
    I am so sorry about the loss of Max Rat. He was a characterful little creature and I hope some vile thief's child is giving him some love. Or maybe he has become an International train robber now?

    1. Hi Odiferess,

      Sorry, you know what I am like with my punning urges!

      Yes, I hope Max is being looked after by someone who appreciates him - the thought of his being corralled into a life of crime doesn't bear thinking about...!

  8. So sorry for your stolen case, especially Max. I always travel with my two companions and don't know what I would do if I lose them. :(
    I also tried Myrrh Imperiale and liked it a lot... Not buying FB though, at least yet. I think recording the ambient scents of the places is a great idea. I must get into the habit if my scatter brain can handle it. ;)

    1. Hi Thinkingmagpie,

      Thanks for the commiserations - I am wondering what your two companions are now - presumably also of the small cuddly variety.

      Pleased you also like Myrrh Imperiale - if this keeps up there might be enough interest amongst us all for a split sometime?

      I bet you would sniff some glorious scents living where you do - you should have a go when the mood takes you - or your nostrils are particularly struck by scents of some kind...

  9. I feel rather dim at realizing thieves by definition are not nice people. When thieves broke into my mother's house one winter when she was in hospital what upset me the most was when I saw the place that they kept their boots on and slush residue was everywhere. In Canada someone who keeps their boots in a house is a barbarian.

    It is good, though, to remember that most people are kind (and wipe their feet). --AnnieA

    1. Hi AnnieA,

      So sorry to hear about your mother's burglary - and what an insult a) to do so when she was in hospital and by inference already had a lot to contend with, and b) to not wipe their feet. I can totally understand that treading mud into someone's house would be considered barbaric where you live. Having just been for a muddy walking weekend my friends and I were forever mindful of what we might be bringing into the hotels where we were staying, and typically left our boots at the door, or carefully wrapped in plastic bags.

  10. Oh that's just rotten about your swiped bag. I'm so sorry. It's always hardest when it's personal things--and tried and tested clothes that you know are reliable for travel are tough to replace.

    (I daren't try MI, it sounds lovely. I keep sniffing their incense one, and then walking sadly away. the price is just too painful.)

    1. Hi crikey,

      Thanks for dropping in with your good wishes - it will be tough as you say to replace the tried and tested clothes, but I must make a start soon.

      Ooh, go on, give MI a sniff - from the very same tester I tried second time round, indeed - in your Harvey Nics? ;) I try even expensive things, as there may be ways of acquiring samples and decants via the likes of the UK Fragrance Sale/Swap site.

  11. I am one of those who would surely have tried Teazzura, thinking it maybe is a nice and easy-to-wear scent. Too bad about the suitcase, building a good capsule warderobe for business trips cannot be easy. Ironing isn't always an option when away, is it? Good to hear people have helped you out and tried to cheer you up!

    1. Hi Ingeborg,

      Teazzura probably is an easy to wear scent - I didn't really give it much of a chance to be honest, though I think I sprayed a bit on skin at least.

      Yes, ironing can be very difficult when away, given that a travel iron weighs as much as it does. I usually try to take enough clothes to last without doing any laundry, and especially ones that seem to suffer only an acceptable level of bag-induced creasing. ;)

      I do feel greatly cheered up, thanks!

  12. I play the which perfume did I smell where game? Don't know if you do this, as in: Alien chez Livingston, N J, Chanel and Neil Morris in Southport CT, and Carnal Flower and Spiritueuse Double Vanille on the commuter trains in NYC. Always fun.

    So sorry about Max, I hope you find a suitable travel companion to take his place. :-(

    1. Hi Blacknall,

      Now that is interesting, I have never played the 'perfume spotting by city' game, probably because I rarely smell scents on people that distinctly - as in enough to put a name to. Though I did correctly identify an acquaintance in the pub wearing Paris. Arguably that is pretty easy to do!. You have done very well in your own game. ;)

      I think Rocket Rabbit is going to be the best bet to replace Max for the moment. Maybe it is better to do so with a different species...

  13. That little game i was mentioning is best played in crowded places so that you can get a good whiff of someone. Notice my references are all subways, theaters, and in Southport a crowded book sale. Fun to try on your next annoying plane ride...

    1. Okay, well my access to underground networks is limited, but you are right, proximity is key to the game! The January sales might be another good sniffing ground, albeit I couldn't bear to go along purely for that reason, hehe.