Wednesday 26 April 2017

Holly oak nymphs and suntanned satyrs: Papillon Artisan Perfumes Dryad review

Source: Wikipedia
There are many things I like that are not 'me': black leather jackets, Converse trainers, full length low backed Grecian gowns in red or white, and the concept of taking someone a present of muffins in a cloth-lined basket. I am not too sure how I look drinking Vermouth, but I enjoy that too, and persevere. And so without further ado I can announce that as with Salome before it, the next, soon-to-be-released scent from Papillon Artisan Perfumes, a green chypre-oriental called Dryad, is technically not me either. And I like it!

When I sat down to write this post I was fully expecting it to remind me of a magical, Narnia-like forest behind the caravan park outside Killarney where we holidayed every Easter as children...It had mysterious mossy mounds and earthworks at every turn, from which shot up exuberant bushes of curly-tipped ferns. The air was cool and pure and eerily still, save for the occasional call of a hoopoe (the absolute jackpot in I-Spy points!). Dryad might equally have reminded me of some trees much closer to home, namely the 600 sessile oaks in Brocton Coppice, with their distinctive gnarled, skyward-sprawling arms and lichen tattoos. Some are 1000 years old, and there is speculation that they may have inspired Tolkien, who was stationed in a training camp on Cannock Chase during WW1. Or for that matter, Dryad could have taken me back to the sun-dappled forest of tall pines surrounding Liz Moores' house, where Tara of A Bottled Rose (whose own exquisite review of Dryad is up today!) and I were privileged to sniff the first mod of the scent last May.

But a strange thing happened: for when I sprayed Dryad yesterday, my nose headed down a different avenue, and didn't come back. The wood nymphs which inspired Liz's creation were still very much present and corrrect, only they live in a sunnier climate. But before getting into my impressions of the scent proper, a bit of a preamble on the thorny business of dryad nomenclature may be in order.

Brocton Coppice ~ Source: Geograph

A 'potted' dryad digest

My goodness, there are a lot of different kinds of dryad! I haven't managed to find a complete consensus on definitions, but it seems that a 'regular' dryad is a low level goddess aka the entity or spirit of either a specific type of tree (ash, laurel etc) OR a location or area of trees (grove, glen, vale) etc.

"The 'dry-' part of dryad comes from the Greek word for 'oak' and used to refer to only oak tree nymphs, but now it has become the overarching term for all wood nymphs." - Enclave Publishing

Which leads us to a key cohort of tree nymphs called hamadryads - eight in all, the daughters of Oxylus and Hamadryas:

Karya (walnut or hazelnut), Balanos (oak), Kraneia (dogwood), Morea (mulberry), Aigeiros (black poplar), Ptelea (elm), Ampelos (vines), and Syke (fig).

Hamadryad tam ~ Source: Etsy

These hamadryads are born 'bonded to a certain tree', which they inhabit. Some sources have the hamadryads as physically part of their trees. In either case, unlike regular dryads, who are immortal, if a hamadryad's assigned tree dies, they die as well. So poor old Ptelea above must have lived in constant fear of Dutch elm disease, for example. Then I am thinking that it is the Balanos hamadryad that is the particular focus of Dryad the fragrance, for as Liz Moores explains: "the pefume is centred very much around oakmoss".

    Also worthy of mention are the Oreiades, a 'branch' of nymphs associated with mountain conifers, and reputedly 'tougher and tetchier' than your average dryad. Oh, and I was especially taken with another dryad 'offshoot': the Maliades - nymphs of fruit trees, and also - in a surprise twist - the protectors of sheep.

    And while we are on the subject of random links...the mother's name above, Hamadryas, is also a genus of arboreal butterfly, that camouflages itself on trees and and - unusually for butterflies - lives on sap, rotten fruit and animal dung, as well as making a 'cracking' noise with its wings. Well, the males, anyway. How apt for a butterfly-themed perfume house like Papillon! Though the Hamadryas hails from the Americas, while the more soberly patterned Dryad butterfly is native to Southern Europe and further east.

    Dryad butterfly ~ Source: Wikimedia Commons (Zeynel Cebeci)

    And at the opposite end of the scale, Hamadryas is also a baboon described as 'one of the least arboreal monkeys', so they are not much use to us and our tree-dwelling preoccupations. And even more bizarrely, in view of my recent review of Vero Profumo Naja, and Liz Moores' well documented set up for in-home snake husbandry, Hamadryas is another term for a king cobra! I did not see that coming. The exegesis of this perfume is getting deeper and deeper, and I haven't even mentioned how it smells yet...

    So on at last to my impressions. To my nose Dryad is the scent of woodland - woodland involving oaks indeed - but it instantly transports me 1100 miles from home to the hardy scrubland of the garrigue in the Languedoc Roussillon area of southern France. I am mindful, however, that Your Forest Mileage May Vary.

    The garrigue ~ Source: Wikipedia

    The garrigue

    Wikipedia describes the garrigue as an ecoregion - and even more amusingly as "discontinuous bushy associations of the Mediterranean calcareous plateaus". On closer inspection, these discontinuous bushy associations turn out to be dense thickets of kermes / holm / holly oak. We are clearly in the habitat of a splinter group of Provencal hamadryads...

    "You don’t just visit the garrigue. You absorb it and you feel it with every sense that you possess. You feel the Tramontane or the Mistral winds in your hair, the crunchy gravel and stones of the paths under your feet and the hot, Mediterranean sun on your face. You smell and taste the myriad of sweet and spicy flavours as you brush through the undergrowth: lemon, oak, thyme, pine, rosemary, lavender, aniseed and fennels, peppers and juniper, even wild asparagus and the tree strawberry grow here." - The Good Life France magazine

    Source: Pinterest

    Dryad the perfume

    Notes: narcissus, oakmoss, jonquil, clary sage, galbanum, costus, tarragon, apricot, benzoin, Peru balsam, cedrat, bigaradier Orange, bergamot, deer tongue, lavender, orris, vetiver, thyme, styrax and orange blossom

    On first sniffing Dryad, I got a bracing burst of a citrus-inflected herbal bouquet. There is oakmoss to the fore and it remains pretty pronounced throughout the scent's development. The opening reminded me a lot of Guerlain Sous le Vent, the (relatively short) note list for which has some crossover:

    Notes: lavender, tarragon, bergamot, green notes, jasmine, carnation, iris, woodsy notes

    I think it was that association between the two scents that tipped me immediately into my garrigue scentscape. On my skin Dryad is a warm, but not arid scent, rather than one that speaks of damp forest floors with their more rooty, earthy odours, although I know that oakmoss can also smell of that. I haven't tested Sous le Vent in many years, though I do remember describing its texture as 'granular', which may have been something to do with the particular blend of herbs and the petitgrain of my hazy memory - and quite possibly invention! Dryad is not 'granular' and it does have a deeper green dimension as it wears on - a mix of the resinous grassiness of vetiver and the 'Dolby Surround green' of galbanum. If this forest could sing, it would be a soprano, veering to a mezzo soprano, but never descending into the deepest register of a contralto.

    Echo ~ Source: hexapolis

    Then here and there I catch fleeting hints of recalcitrant flowers, like the dryads themselves (who are noted for their shyness), as they dart in and out of their trees dodging satyrs - and generally darting, as they do. This is where Echo, the mountain nymph, comes into the story, as Liz explains:

    "I included narcissus absolute because Echo was a Dryad who fell in love with Narcissus and I liked the full circle with myth and materials. It felt more complete."

    And even though the narcissus and jonquil are playing hide and seek with me, it is undoubtedly their presence, together with that of the orange notes and iris, that ensure that Dryad never feels masculine, not even in its more markedly herbal opening phase. Nor is it at all dark and ineffably singular like Ormonde Jayne Woman (though I like that one too!), or like some of those retro green chypres, which I find a touch too acerbic for my taste. As she did with Salome and the 'animalic chypre', Liz Moores has come up with a softer, more modern and accessible interpretation of the 'take no prisoners' green divas of yore. Which is not to say that Dryad is a mere slip of a girl of a chypre - not at all - it sits squarely between wispish and waspish, and that's fine by me.

    Holly oak ~ Source: Gerbeaud

    Towards the far drydown, Dryad sometimes come overs a little bit all unnecessary - though not on every wearing. This may be due to the costus getting its furry thing on - but we are talking fairly sedate and demure intimations of intimacy. Overall (and please forgive this crude schema) if you were to compare Dryad the perfume to the structure of an oak tree, the bright, citrus and herbal opening would be its canopy of leaves, its trunk the oakmoss, and its undulating branches the floral and other green and slight animalic facets that weave in and out of the composition.

    The girl

    To return to the theme of something not being me...during my year in the South of France I lived with two other girls, who rejoiced in the names of Dick and Knuckles. Here is the relevant snippet from my 2013 review of Dita Van Teese:

    "They were both extremely body-conscious as it happens, with matching eating disorders. One of the duo existed entirely off Granny Smith apples, which she sat munching while devouring the complete works of Emile Zola, I never did figure out why. I once thought of writing my memoirs from that year and calling it 'The Three Thin Women of Antibes' in a homage to Somerset Maugham.

    Now my villa-mates may have been thin, but they punched above their weight when it came to relationships - I use the word loosely because they were. Yes, the year was punctuated by a steady procession of hot tempered, arm-windmilling Frenchmen coming and going at our villa, while I stood meekly by, occasionally emptying waste paper baskets full of apple cores."

    Source: Chief River Nursery

    Speaking of 'holly oaks', it truly was like living in a soap opera, with suntanned satyrs circling round my housemates. Of the two girls, it is the apple muncher whom I would most closely associate with Dryad. I will call her 'L', though she remains completely ungoogle-able even under her full name. L was tall and willowy, with a sleek, jet black Eton crop, that had a dark green Lois Lane sheen to it whenever her hair caught the light. A raven-haired 'Twiggy', if you will, to stay with our woody theme. She was poised and elegant, shy and fey, with a softly spoken Edinburgh accent and a penetrating stare. L also had a knowing glint in her eye that belied her diffident manner. Dryad would have made a perfect signature scent for her, capturing the aromatic pot pourri of the garrigue and teaming it with L's unique blend of inscrutability, vulnerability, and a soupcon of danger. I would never have met someone like 'L' had we not been thrown together by chance, and I was not her usual kind of friend either, but - you've guessed it - we liked each other too.

    Hmm, now if Liz Moores would just do a scent inspired by the hamadryad of the Granny Smith tree, that would be an even closer fit for L.  Though I can't recall where she stood on sheep.

    A mouton from the garrigue!

    I know where Liz Moores stands on sheep, mind. She is the protector of every creature, and her house a veritable mini-Longleat crossed with Noah's Ark. And so the ethical dimension to her creation of Dryad is entirely in keeping with her nurturing, all-inclusive, and cheerfully chaotic menagerie:

    "For me, there's a moral tale here also because maybe if we looked at everything and everyone as being intrinsically holding its own spirit, we would care for nature (and each other) a little more."

    It's a fine sentiment for these uncertain times. I don't know how we can navigate the creeping approach of another Cold War, if that is what lies ahead, but putting your best foot forward and spritzing the sensuous, warm woodland in a bottle that is Dryad, has got to be a good way to go.

    Liz with her latest rescue owl, Ghost

    Wednesday 19 April 2017

    Dreams are made of this: Annick Goutal Songes review

    Songes having a nice little lie down
    I spent large tracts of the Easter Weekend asleep. There were no family gatherings featuring rack of lamb, Simnel cake, or egg hunts in the garden; no invigorating walks in bluebell woods, pub meals, or even chocolate binges - though I had a full complement of Lindt bunnies in the house, so goodness knows the opportunity was there. I did demolish a tottering heap of ironing, finally read papers from as far back as last Tuesday week, and appeal a parking ticket on behalf of an elderly friend, so the holiday was not wholly without accomplishment. But mostly I slept - and dreamt - and felt a curious yet languorous sense of disconnection from the world, which I sense is an inevitable part of the 'single household condition' (to come over all Camusian for a moment).

    Token Easter concession of hot cross bun, plus mini-tsunduko of Ian McEwans

    In one of the dreams, The Monochrome Set (my recent travels with whom were evidently still fresh in my mind!) were supposed to be playing a late night gig outside a ruined castle on top of a mountain. The craggy topography was positively Transylvanian in appearance, belying the Tewkesbury postcode on the band's itinerary sheet. The 'get in' - or 'get up', rather, in view of the vertiginous terrain - was hard going, on slippery ground and along unlit paths. I am not sure the band ever made it to the summit - I was onto the next dream by then anyway, about a defective glide rail in the cupboard under my cooker.

    Val in the garden of the Grand Hotel Cosmopolis

    I have waited till this post to mention it, but along with Naja, there is one other scent that is inextricably bound up with meeting Val and Chris in Augsburg. For on the Sunday I wore a sample of Songes edt - the conscious creation of happy associations with perfumes being a thing I increasingly do, rather than noticing after the fact that random fragrance X (not to be confused with the online retailer of the same name ;) ) happens to remind you of good time Y. In my book, deliberately orchestrating scent memories is just a logical extension of outfit planning, and it worked like a charm with Songes. So much so that on my return to England I felt I had to own it, notwithstanding the substantial size of my existing perfume collection!

    Notes: frangipani, tiare, jasmine, incense, vanilla, copahu balm, pepper, ylang-ylang, vetiver, sandalwood, amber, styrax

    I have been wearing Songes a lot in the last two weeks. During a recent visit, my brother asked me what my favourite perfume was, which I obviously batted off as a preposterous question to put to a diehard fumehead. ;)  Yet the more thought I have given it since, the more I have come round to the possibility of only having TWO perfumes, and of Songes being one of them...! For while there is amber and styrax in the base, which one could consider 'winter perfume' notes, the composition overall sits squarely in the 'sultry tropical floral' category, which is not exactly the genre for which one reaches on a dreich and drizzling day in February. That said, I would not restrict Songes to high summer and exotic holiday locations, and I don't say that just because we don't really have a summer here and I don't go anywhere remotely exotic. Okay, not the beachy, Bounty bar kind of exotic, say. Some might say a residential container park in Stuttgart is a bit 'outside the box' as destinations go. Or 'inside the box', even. Sorry, I digress...but yes, I reckon Songes also works nicely in spring: like a cuckoo pint it is buttressed by a curling sheath of greenery - a compelling blend of vetiver and what I can best describe as 'a jasmine note in tuberose's clothing', most notably in the opening. For I detect a dewy, faintly medicinal** otherworldliness that reminds me of Carnal Flower, which I also see as having wider seasonal currency than its name might suggest.

    **(or more exactly, a scent that is somewhere between grass, Germolene, menthol, and bubblegum, and I really do mean that in the best possible way)

    Oops, we are tired again!

    As Songes wears on, the narcotic and sensual bouquet of frangipani, tiare and ylang-ylang starts to bloom on a pneumatic bed of vanilla spiked with just enough pepper and incense to keep things from ever drifting into apocalyptic Loulou territory. Rather, this is a sort of 'sexed - and slightly weirded - up' La Chasse aux Papillons crossed with Ormonde Jayne Frangipani, featuring echoes of Amaranthine's creamily indolic milk pudding. There is an air of innocence about Songes, but if you were to tear away the soft focus veil like a tangle of so much diaphanous clothing, you would eventually uncover its carnal core. You might well have got fed up with the tangle wrangling long before, mind! If Songes were a film it would perhaps be a more grown up version of Bilitis, that stylish and moody 'coming of age' flick, of which my memory, like the cinematography, is hazy, but as a geeky and thoroughly unracy teenager I do remember it as an aspirationally risque cult classic. Even the theme tune is seductively soporific, in a slightly annoying synthesised Vangelis kind of a way! ;)

    The most respectable still I could find! Source: Abe Books

    Actually, park Bilitis with its youthful lesbian overtones - seductively soporific is really where it's at in a nutshell. Songes could be the signature scent of the Lotos-Eaters (aka the gloriously named 'lotophagi' or 'lotophages') as they munched on their lotus fruits and flowers, causing them to 'sleep in peaceful apathy'. Here is an extract from the eponymous poem by Tennyson:

    "Eating the Lotos day by day,
    To watch the crisping ripples on the beach,
    And tender curving lines of creamy spray;
    To lend our hearts and spirits wholly
    To the influence of mild-minded melancholy;
    To muse and brood and live again in memory"

    Source: Wikipedia

    And that brings me back to another aspect of my association with Songes: if Bilitis is its gawky and not quite suitable film equivalent, 'On My Balcony' from the band's Platinum Coils album, would be Songes in a song to a 't' - or an 's'! The track takes as its theme singer Bid's stay in hospital, recovering from surgery following a brain aneurysm:

    "Through the perfume of sweet velvet sleep
    I glide into the afternoon"

    As I mention in this early tour post, when quizzed about the lyric, Bid explained that his choice of the word 'perfume' was quite arbitrary, and he probably just liked the way the word sounded. Even so, the woozy cadence of the lines nicely evokes a state of dreamy torpor, scented or otherwise. There is about a 30 second clip here, which gives you an idea of the track's languid charm - not unlike early Genesis indeed.

    And here are a couple of reviews, which serve to confirm me in my linkage of Songes to song!

    "The tempo slows in 'On My Balcony', a ballad that feels like drifting down a tributary of oblivion." - From a High Horse

    "One is lifted up to the gentle heights of On My Balcony, where, weightless, surrounded by a golden luminous haze, the concerns of the world float far below." - God is in the TV

    And as it happens, at that eclectic asylum seekers' hostel-cum-hotel that was our base in Augsburg, my room had its own balcony! As did most of them to be fair, haha. Okay, and not strictly my own balcony - more like my own section of a communal balcony that ran the whole width of the building. But the decor of all the rooms - which were individually designed by an assortment of avant-garde artists - was very Lotos-Eaterish, come to think of it, in the sense of minimalist and surreal, and conducive to a state of peaceful apathy! Good job I managed to stir myself in time to meet Val on the Saturday night - you could easily sleep your stay away, which would be rather a waste of a visit to such a picturesque spot, though you would feel jolly rested at the end of it.

    I will close this free association 'spacy review oddity' with some photos of the other rooms I find most Songes-like at the Grand Hotel Cosmopolis, starting with the one I was meant to have, Grande Dame. (All photos sourced from the hotel website.)

    Things start to get more diaphanous with Innen / Aussen:

    My own room, 4 null 5, also gives good gauze:

    Before taking a fluffy turn with Zauberwald (note also fluffy bedknob):

    And here is Maskerade des Lebens - complete with balcony and trippy mural:

    So there you have it - Songes edt, the scent of an asylum seekers hostel / hotel, a fabulous fumehead meet up, a hospital in Tooting, a dodgy 70s film, and those legendary lolling sybarites, the Lotos-Eaters:

    "To muse and brood and live again in memory"

    Are you asleep yet...? ;)

    Wednesday 12 April 2017

    Small pink knitting: a mini-tour with The Monochrome Set, including a meet up with Val the Cookie Queen

    Val the Cookie Queen of APJ, and husband Chris
    Some three and a half months on from their last tour - of which Weikersheim was the most southerly point - The Monochrome Set went back to Germany at the end of March to play two more gigs down south: in Stuttgart and Augsburg, which are in Swabia and Bavaria respectively. I did toy with putting 'a mini-tour of Swavaria' in the title line, but decided against it a) because it might annoy the inhabitants of each province to be conflated in this way, and b) because it would cause consternation among the Google bots, whose only reference point hitherto for Swavaria is a rather sweet YouTube video of an Indian baby smiling beatifically in his fleecy cocoon. Worth ten seconds of anyone's time!

    The journey out: aka 'not doing the Time Warp'

    Thus it was that on Friday 31st I took the train to the airport. By 9am (thanks to a prolonged tea stop at Crewe), my latest scarf project was already off the ground.

    I was flying from Manchester, with a plane full of noisy youths in too tight T-shirts, and orange-faced girls with scowling Scouse brows and jeans so comprehensively ripped as to barely deserve the name of 'garment' ('barely' being the operative word). Since I last flew with Ryanair, they seem to have relaxed both their 'one bag' and their 'no drinking your own booze on the plane' rules, for the girls were knocking back baby bottles of rosé with abandon even as they flashed their boarding cards (and everything else!) at gate staff. Ryanair had also ditched the irritating music, though as happens with monotonous regularity, I was seated directly in front of a small child, who proceeded to thump his tray table in a series of exuberant outbursts throughout the flight, apparently prompted by a winning streak in serial games of Snap.

    It seems it wasn't just me that was a bit cross...these 'Air Fury' hand driers in the ladies' toilets in Terminal 3 had got themselves so hot and bothered that two of them were out of order.

    I met the band at Stuttgart airport - they had flown from Gatwick with a crowd of similarly vocal young people... We all piled onto the S-Bahn, heading for the Hauptbahnhof, and it rapidly became apparent that the majority of passengers on both our flights were headed for an event in Mannheim - my money is on a rave called Time Warp. It was equally apparent that they were assuming Mannheim was a suburb of Stuttgart, and were crestfallen not to see it listed on the S-Bahn map, like expecting Manchester to be the stop before Cockfosters on the Piccadilly line.


    And soon we were facing some navigational challenges of our own, to wit the perennial game of 'spot the venue', the German music scene being noted for its arrestingly novel selection of repurposed buildings, from lost property offices to bakeries, hospitals, Art Nouveau villas, and the occasional punk squat. Though as I note in this post from 2012, most of the venues look like a punk squat.

    A gig in a box

    That night's gig was held in a shipping container - or to be strictly accurate about it, a couple of containers knocked through - on a 'residential container park' in the north of the city. As soon as I saw the abandoned bus I figured we must be getting warm.

    The surreal sanitary ware statuary was another surefire giveaway, along with the sign pointing out that the whole area was designated a cultural protection zone.

    Seemingly of the banana...and why not?

    The backstage area turned out to be another shipping container or several, positioned a stone's throw away. This has to be the first time a green room has ever been larger than the actual venue. The band were greeted by the reassuring sight of the 'satsuma rider', despite Easter being nearly upon us.

    Note the partially pink table...

    I did a bit more knitting during the sound check, determined to knit enough over the course of the weekend to justify all the time I had expended in the run up to the trip, trying to bottom out the security restrictions on needles at each of the airports in question.

    The gig itself was fashionably late - the band didn't play a note till 11.45pm - and the atmosphere took the phrase 'smoke filled room' (or 'smoke filled container', that would be) to a whole new level. Smoke of all kinds, indeed. Personally, I am not averse to a bit of 'passive spliffing' - I just have to walk the length of my own street to get a similar effect - but this was such an intimate venue that the line between passive and active smoking became academic. Notions of personal space also went out the window (and yes, the containers did have windows!). Consequently one woman, whose serpentine dance moves were suggestive of a transcendental state, over the precise cause of which it is perhaps best to draw a veil, persisted in inadvertently slapping my backside with every uninhibited flail of her arms. There was a twist too to the recurring problem at gigs of  'tall man' syndrome, namely 'two tall men bobbing sideways every five seconds' syndrome. I can confirm that despite the metronomic regularity of the manoeuvre, it was as irritating as Chinese water torture, as well as making photos of more than random body parts of the band nigh on impossible. Though I did get a lucky break when the 'bobber twins' went to the bar...or was it the loo?! For as someone who has done a market research project on public lighting in Germany, I was most impressed at the well lit signage to the WC (in another shipping container, obvs).


    After a hearty breakfast the next morning - so filling in fact that I ended up lobbing pellets of leftover bread roll into the path of an opportunistic robin -  we took the train back to the Hauptbahnhof and on to Augsburg, just two hours east. We checked into the wonderfully eclectic Grand Hotel Cosmopolis, where I had time for a bit of a lie down in the afternoon.

    The communal bathroom on Floor 4

    'The Cosmo' (as it has become fondly known, with this being a return visit ;) ) is a ground breaking combo of hotel and asylum seekers' hostel built around the rather nebulous business model of 'pay as you feel'. I resisted the urge at any point to say: 'I feel awfully much will that be?' The room I had booked had been commandeered by the people staying before me, who had extended their stay, and I was accordingly bumped to one called '4Null5' (405). To be fair, you really can't go wrong in this place - all the rooms are quirkily fascinating to a fault. As it happens, I had had a surprise nosebleed the previous night, but the Cosmo had thoughtfully anticipated my health issues and provided an ample provision of ceiling-mounted tissues.

    At about 6pm Val and 'no fear' husband Chris met me at the hotel, where we exchanged presents (see my Naja review) and had a drink in a cosy snug behind the foyer (its space travel theme neatly dovetailing with the band's latest release, 'Cosmonaut'!).

    Then it was time to join the rest of our party for dinner in the bar of the City Club, downstairs from the venue. The three of us shared a giant pizza that had been harmoniously designed by committee, and which kept us going till the similarly late stage time.

    As they had famously done in Ebensee, Val and Chris acted as band taxi again at the end of the night, before heading back to their own (more conventionally appointed!) hotel.

    Photo courtesy of Val

    By 7am the next morning I could feel my hangover kicking in with a vengeance, to the teasing peals of church bells. My pain-killing weapon of choice is soluble Solpadeine, so I decided to nip down to the asylum seekers' floors in search of a kitchen, and a cup. Though clad in my nightie I was confident that I was unlikely to meet anybody at that ungodly - or do I mean godly in view of the bells? - hour, and so it proved. On my wanderings I was touched by the fact that there were several pairs of shoes outside every door along the corridors. After a cursory flurry of cupboard door opening in the one kitchen I wandered into, I felt as though I was trespassing and returned to my room. Where I had the bright idea to break up the tablets and dissolve them in my water bottle. When I recounted my adventure to the band, the bass player suggested that if it didn't already exist, it was time someone invented a collapsible ceramic mug.

    Later that morning, as my hangover was lifting, we convened in the hotel garden for a last drink, before Val and Chris ran us all to the station in two car loads, where an elaborate series of farewell permutations ensued. But not before Val had invited the band to smell Galop d'Hermès on her, with its upbeat blend of quince, rose and leather, and given us all a generous stash of Austrian wafer biscuits. I chose the lemon ones, which proved to be a zingy taste sensation!

    The journey back

    At the airport, it took several attempts to progressively - and grudgingly - rationalise my luggage down to one bag. Sadly Easyjet, with whom I was returning, has not relaxed its carry on rules. At this point I took my knitting OFF the needles and entrusted them (along with the perfume Val had given me) to Caryne, who stowed it all in the merchandise case, which was going in the hold. We agreed that I would pick up the perfume in two months' time at the next gig I plan to attend, while Caryne would post the needles back to me sooner.

    On the plane home...

    And there was one last game I played with myself in a bid to prolong this all too mini-tour, namely I tried to see how long I could keep the stamp on the back of my hand from the Augsburg gig before it washed off. I promise I did continue to bathe in the normal way!...I just didn't attempt to actively remove the ink by scrubbing.

    And I am pleased to report that the stamp lasted - or its faint vestiges certainly - till at least Tuesday... or could it even have been Wednesday?

    Tuesday 4 April 2017

    Siblings and sibilants: Vero Profumo Naja review

    So I caught up with Val the Cookie Queen in Germany at the weekend - of which more in my upcoming travel post...! We had a high old time, as it is impossible not to do in her company, and amongst the cornucopia of perfume samples and decants Val kindly gave me, I was thrilled to find a vial of Naja, the latest release from niche perfume house, Vero Profumo. Not to mention a coordinating promotional beer mat**. 

    Without further ado, Val inducted me in the pronunciation of the name. For it is not to be confused with the German compound word 'Naja', which means many subtle variations on 'Well' and 'Okay', and where the 'j' is spoken like a 'y'. Rather it is an amalgam of the deep 'ah' in 'Nah' and the 'dg' in 'badger'. No, wait, it may be the soft 'je' of 'je t'aime'? I may need further tuition...!

    One thing I did learn though was that Naja is a 'genus of venomous elapid snakes known as cobras'. As you can well imagine, I had to look up 'elapid' as well while I was about it, and it elapidly became clear that they are a family of snakes characterised by short fangs fixed in the front of the upper jaw. I commend readers to check out this Wikipedia entry on the many different kinds of fang...who knew there was so much to snake dentition?

    Such was my excitement to try Naja that I managed to squeeze it into my hand luggage, while the rest of my scented swag went back to Gatwick in the checked bag containing the band merchandise - which is not as handy as it might look, as I flew back to Manchester. I figured I could defer my eagerness to try/use those perfumes for a couple of months till I see the gang again, while my curiosity to try Naja could be contained no longer.

    In a (token) reciprocal gesture, I lobbed Val some Cadbury's Mini Eggs and Galaxy chocolate in a few of its surprisingly multifarious guises (focusing in particular on 'no-melt' varieties like Minstrels, in view of the balmy weather that was forecast). And even though I have form for giving Val a purse for this very purpose, I am of the view that the seasoned perfumista can never have too many receptacles for keeping perfume in, so I also gave her a 'snakeskin wallet', a twin nod to the new release and a lyric in one of Val's favourite songs by The Monochrome Set, 'Jet Set Junta', whose gig in Augsburg was the trigger for our meet up:

    'Hiss, hiss goes the snakeskin wallet stuffed with Cruziero bills'

    I did get as far as googling images of Cruziero banknotes, with a view to printing some off and popping them in the purse, but my desire for verisimilitude fell at the first hurdle when I remembered that I only have a black and white printer. Plus I had already gift wrapped the purse. The nod to Naja wasn't exactly spot on either, as the purse is described as 'anaconda'. They were clean out of Najas unfortunately, or I would have got Val a more on-message serpentine material. Then in a curious turn of events, the bass player in the band mentioned that he happens to own a whole python skin - though crucially not why - which he would happily have donated to Vero for promotional purposes at the Milan show, had the new scent been about non-venomous snakes with aglyphous teeth rather than our proteroglyphous fanged friends.

    Source: Now Smell This 

    Before slithering and meandering my way finally to my impressions of the scent itself - I know, I know, I am the oxbow lake of bloggers! - I must firstly say that there very nearly wasn't a post about Naja at all. Oh yes. For the morning after I got home, I could not find my sample, presumed knocked off the chest of drawers by Truffle and batted into oblivion. The most I might have been able to say would have been: "It rolls well." But then to my huge relief I found it nestling in a relatively cat proof tea light holder on my desk.

    Snaky lakes ~ Source: Wikipedia

    And in the spirit of full disclosure I feel I have to mention that I do not care for snakes. I am not quite as frightened of them as spiders, but not far off. Let's just say that I didn't linger in Liz Moores' snake room longer than it took to clock that they were safely tucked away in drawers - and liked a drop of beer. My uneasiness around snakes pales into comparison, however, besides my father's outright phobia, of which I may have inherited a diluted version. He couldn't bear to see any representation of a snake, never mind the real thing. Even the sight of my brother's knitted toy snake - adventurously known as 'Snakey' - would instil 'horror and terror of the first water' (in himself this time). My mother knitted Snakey (who must be knocking on for 55 now?) for my brother, possibly before she knew of Father's phobia - or maybe out of sheer mischief - we may never know...

    Photo by my SIL, Hazel 

    And I mention Snakey specifically because he is a quintessentiial toy from my childhood, even though he was owned by my brother. Asp a toy - ooh, a Freudian typo, I might leave that in! - Snakey is a woolly oxymoron of 'cuddly reptile', and it is very much this vibe which Naja embodies. It is warm and enveloping, thick and faintly fuzzy, like a blanket made of khaki serge. Take the splayed flat head of a cobra and stretch it out further and further till it wraps completely around you, like those automatic toilet doors on the trains that are also a big part of my gig related travels. Coincidentally, in view of the tie in with Val, the teddy on the right in the picture below is actually called 'Austrian' - purchased by my parents in Innsbruck. Of the two, I'd say Snakey has worn better.

    Photo by my SIL, Hazel

    Texturally Naja reminds me of the drydown of Puredistance White, though not its smell. And also of Rozy Voile d'Extrait, to pick a scent analogy closer to home. Or - on account of the peachy/apricot facet - a harmonious SL Daim Blond, say - for Daim Blond sadly leant towards raspy on me until the far drydown, prompting me to liken it to 'suede-scented white noise'.

    Notes: osmanthus absolute, tobacco, linden blossom and melon

    On first application, Naja goes straight to the tobacco-forward basenotes on my skin. At this point it has a lot of heft, and I even wondered if it might be one of those 'contemplative heavy hitters' like Papillon Perfumes' Anubis. I get an intense and pleasantly powdery cloud of tobacco for a while - which brings back a whoosh of memories of defiantly smoky music venues in Germany - boasting every kind of smoke indeed, including the more underground / wacky baccy ilk....;) 

    Then gradually Naja begins its stately backward trajectory, and shafts of fruit poke through the mist, tantalisingly unidentifiable to my nose, but reminiscent of faintly sherbety and sweet confectionery from my youth. Yes, just add newspapers and Naja neatly covers the full spectrum of the CTN on the corner of Belmont Church Road. We could perhaps call it: 'Confectionery Tobacco Naja'. I am thinking Pez sweets maybe, or fruit salad chews*, and I do get a hint of lime - and maybe of melon - at one point, but the wafts come and go like shooting stars, and I never trust my nose at the best of times. Melonphobics have nothing to fear from Naja, I will say that. The inclusion of that note helps to lift the tobacco and create a feeling of airy expansiveness within the composition.

    Heart over our heads courtesy of Val

    Gradually the balance between the heavier tobacco and the lighter, more radiant fruit swings more towards the latter and the drydown is sunny and winsome, while never losing its gravitas and smoky mystique - which is a pretty nifty conjuring trick, to be fair. That said, the tobacco remains the dominant note on my skin all the way through. It is of course also possible that I have tobacco amplifying skin! 

    Now Mito Voile d'Extrait was my favourite up to now from Vero's line, but I can see Naja giving it a run for its money. I like it so much that I even succumbed to the insidious obsidian appeal of its opaque bottle. ;)

    So there you have it - Naja: a cobra to cosy up with in beguiling black livery; a disarming charmer; and most impressively - considering that at this point I had not even sniffed it - the beating scented heart of an 'epic' weekend (as Val might say) with dear friends.

    In a word - atramendous...

    Last drink at the Grand Hotel Cosmopolis

    * Editor's note: See also my exchange with Lady Jane Grey in the comments below

    **Editor's note: Val has just explained that the beer mat is in fact a scent strip for spraying Naja on - so there's another shape to add to my blog post on perfume blotters if I could ever find it again!