A collection of passages 3

I lied to a man by saying I had read Albert Camus. Maybe not his books, but I had heard and read interviews, and perhaps an essay. So, it felt like I had. The first I heard of Camus was in Paris, 1997 – there was a rally commemorating the 1961 massacre of Algerians in Paris. Camus was born in Algeria and moved to Paris at 25 years of age.

As a child born in the Philippines I had always been aware of foreigners: neighbouring Asian countries, and, of course, the Spanish, and American relics of colonialism. The African, Latin American, and other European countries became familiar to me on the Miss Universe contests. To cut a long story short, and simple, that first trip to Europe revealed the racial tensions I had not felt or observed before – a foreigner in a foreign country filled with foreigners. Not much has changed twenty years on.

I digress.

What do foreign relations have to do with lying? So much! When I think about it. I admit I’ve lied before, and I will lie again, but without having done so I wouldn’t have read all of these, nor be able to ask for the truth. A lie lead me to one book, and another, to travel to foreign lands, other lives, minds, ways of being, relating, growing, and smelling.

In this third edition of ‘A collection of passages’ I found smell descriptions from Camus’ ‘The Outsider’ (I am taking a break from ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’), and Armistead Maupin’s ‘The Days of Anna Madrigal’ from his ‘Tales of the City’ series: both novels. The rest of these descriptions are from biographies and memoirs: Raimond Gaita’s father; Helen Garner’s harrowing account of Joe Cinque’s murder: Maryse Wolinski’s tribute to her husband, Georges Wolinski, cartoonist at Charlie Hebdo, who was killed by terrorists in the Hebdo office; David Foenkinos’ homage to German Jewish artist, Charlotte Salomon, who was killed, along with her husband and unborn child by Nazi’s; Lee Stringer’s written account as a homeless man in New York City from the early 1980s; Pablo Neruda’s – one of my favourite poets – vivid, dense, and pulsating stories; And, Esther Perel’s psychology book makes the cut because where would our sense of smell be without the erotic energy in our lives, relationships et al.

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The Outsider, Albert Camus. Translated by Sandra Smith. Penguin Classics, 2012.

“The sun, the smell of leather and dung clinging on to the wheels of the hearse, the smell of polish and incense, the exhaustion from not having slept all night – all these things stung my eyes and blurred my thoughts.”

Walking in the procession of his mother’s funeral, the Outsider’s emotions bubble to the surface. We see a mother and son relationship that is close, and distant, too.

The Days of Anna Madrigal, Armistead Maupin. Doubleday, 2014.

Known for her snooping, Andy (before Anna) feared his mother finding a chiffon dress in his cupboard that he’s worn a few times: “On two occasions Ana had come home from school to find the orange-blossomy sweetness of Mama’s perfume, Je Reviens, inhabiting his room like an overripe tropical garden. It troubled him more than it should have. It didn’t help, of course, that the name meant “I’m coming back.”

And,

“How long have you had that thing?” Jake asked nonagenarian Anna Madrigal. She lifted ‘Richard Halliburton’s Book of Marvels’ “to her nose and inhaled the scent lingering in its cardboard bones: a hint of rosewater and Lysol that instantly genie-summoned the Blue Moon Lodge.” It was the one thing that could take her back to Winnemucca.

Romulus, My Father, Raimond Gaita. Text Publishing, 1998.

Romulus “longed for the generous and soft European foliage, but the eucalypts of Baringhup, scraggy except for the noble red gums on the river bank seemed symbols of deprivation and barrenness … Even the wonderful summer smell of eucalyptus attracted them (immigrants) only because it promised useful oil.”

And,

As Romulus, and lifelong friend, Hora, talk late into the night, the kitchen fills “with cigarette smoke and the smell of slivovitz (damson plum brandy).”

Joe Cinque’s Consolation, Helen Garner. Picador, 2004.

“Whatever the reason, I sided with Joe Cinque. I searched for him in all the documents. But every place where he should have been was blank, without scent or colour: a point where nothing resonated.”

And,

“I couldn’t understand how the summer afternoon could smell so grassy and good, so ordinary: how the world outside the court could continue its benevolent progress.”

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Charlotte, David Foenkinos. Canongate, 2017.

Charlotte Salomon asks her grandparents what her mother was like: “The memory of her presence has faded through the years. It’s been reduced to vague sensations, imprecise emotions. It hurts to have forgotten her voice, her scent.”

And,

“Armed men sometimes storm into the building. And stand there, inhaling the scent of decadence. Modern art must quite be simply eradicated. How dare anyone paint anything other than the blond peasants.”

Charlotte Salomon studied painting for two years at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin, but being Jewish, in her homeland (!), became too dangerous for her during the second world war and left.

Darling, I’m Going to Charlie, A Memoir, Maryse Wolinski. 37INK – Atria, 2016.

At 11:33 am on January 7, 2015, two extremists fired their guns in the Charlie Hebdo office and shot its illustrators and journalists dead.

“The smell of gunpowder fills the room.”

And,

Julien and Nathalie from Comédie Bastille, opposite the Hebdo office, hosts the victims, and the so-called “involved” in the theatre. Julien “is listening to people who have a passionate need to speak, to tell their stories, to describe their shock, the shooting, the smell of gunpowder, and the black legs of the killers they saw from the places where they had hidden.”

Grand Central Winter – Stories from the Street, Lee Stringer. Seven Stories Press, 1998.

In the dorm of the Bowery Mission shelter, in 1985, Lee Stringer declines a bologna and cheese on white sandwich sold from a man’s locker: “Thoughts of jockstraps and old Nikes commingling with the food kept insinuating themselves.”

And,

Entering the Street News distribution office (The Big Issue of its time) for the first time – he then becomes editor and contributor: “The place reeked of commerce. Money poured in in its most visible form. In thick, crinkled wads of green. Even the smell of coffee and bacon that greeted you as you opened the door was a matter of enterprise.”

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Memoirs, Pablo Neruda. Farrar, Straus and Grioux, 1974.

Visiting a friend in Valparaiso, Chile, Neruda was sleepless on a wicker armchair. His friends were sound asleep on newspapers and magazines on the floor. He heard silence, a dog’s bark, and ships whistling in the city’s port.

“Suddenly I felt a strange, irresistible force flooding through me. It was a mountain fragrance, a smell of the prairie, of vegetation that had grown up with me during my childhood and which I had forgotten in the noisy hubbub of the city life.” Neruda probed the chair to source the aromas. It had tiny drawers, and “in them I could feel dry, smooth plants, coarse, rounded sheaves, spear-like, soft or metallic leaves.”

His friend, Novoa, who Neruda likens to St. Christopher (patron saint of travellers) gathered wild plants. “He praised the secret ties, known only to him, between bodily health and the natural gifts of the earth.”

Neruda’s mind settled. Knowing what lay beneath him he could finally sleep, “protected by the fragrance of those guardian herbs.”

And,

Pablo Neruda lived in Chile, Asia, and Europe. While in Madrid, during the Siege of Madrid (1936 – 1939), Pablo Neruda’s house was raided:

“My masks were gone … Masks collected in Siam, Bali, Sumatra, the Malay Archipelago, Bandung … Gilded, ashen, tomato-red, with silver eyebrows, blue, demonic eyebrows, lost in thought, my masks had been my sole keepsakes from the Orient I had gone to alone that first time, which had received me with it odor of tea, dung, opium, sweat, the intensest jasmine, frangipani, fruit rotting in the streets … Those masks, a reminder of the purest dances, of the dancing before the temple …”

Mating in Captivity – Sex, Lies, and Domestic Bliss, Esther Perel. Hodder, 2007.

“Female eroticism is diffuse, not localised in the genitals but distributed throughout the body, mind, and senses. It is tactile and auditory, linked to smell, skin, and contact; arousal is often more subjective than physical, and desire arises on a lattice of emotion.”

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Transcent

1993 – 1997

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My bleached hair waved above my shoulder. My intention was not the Japanese surfer look I sported but a mixed-cultural androgynous model that my Timberland’s would hopefully heighten. The mall’s glossy ground rose to my moisturised legs, up my white denim skort (shorts that’s half skirt), then to my tight grey top. My blemished face shone making you forget I had eyes. Tucked in my bag, strapped across my body, was the money I saved up from my “do you want fries with that?” job to buy my first perfume.

ck one by Calvin Klein (1994) was the seminal perfume that I finally felt could express my trans ideals as a teen. When the print campaign first appeared: a row of bejeaned, singleted, multi-cultural models, including Jenny Shimizu, I saw myself in them. I wanted to buy into that identity as if it knew me intimately. “A fragrance for a man or a woman” was its catchphrase, but because of what I was going through I felt neither. An in-betweener. What I was buying into was the idea that a unisex perfume – not seen in the market for a long time before ck one – gave me a sense of permission, publicly, to be one and the same with the general population at this time in my life. Perfume marketing says “for men” and “for women,” but beyond the sexes smelling is inclusive. ck one’s current catchphrase is, “We are one. For all for ever.” Good marketing reflecting the age? I don’t know, but buying and wearing ck one cemented the vision I had for myself that, clearly, the powers at Calvin Klein were adept to capitalise on in this young consumer.

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From memory I see photos of my family and me on holidays by a beach, a lake, in a hotel lobby, on a dance floor, in my mother’s home. I was 16, and it was the first year of psychiatric evaluation for my transition. In one of the photos by a lake, I am taller than everyone around me, my wavy, bleached hair is salty, my skin is smooth and tanned in the evening sun, and the boatneck shirt I wear compliments my shoulders. Despite my cheeks being bumpy and lumpy with acne my smile is big. I felt I was maturing into the person I would become.

The perfume I wore at this period in my life was Dune by Christian Dior (1991). I’m pretty sure I convinced my mother to buy it for me for the trip. When I first smelled it on a counter I recognised the warmth of the woman I was desiring for myself. A quiet confidence that the wind could embrace as its own. The images this perfume imparted in my ever-growing imagination were poetic, smooth, lulling, private, peaceful. The desire to be at peace with who I am.

III

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A couple of years pass. My sister and I were walking, she looked at my long, frizzy hair (plain brown) and said I looked like a “druggo”. I shaved it all off, then played with shaving Saturnian rings, horseshoes, and random shapes on my head. I was exploring a new sense of self: reading Buddhism, practicing hatha yoga, meditation, and my introduction into mindfulness. By some gentle transition I sought out Dune’s young brother Dune pour homme by Christian Dior (1997), and Platinum Égoïste by Chanel (1993). The former smelled comforting, especially in the woolen, mustard v-neck jumper I wore to death at the time. And I brought the Chanel on my first trip to France.

I don’t know what happened but when I completed my second year of evaluation, on the eve of my hormones being prescribed, something changed. Convinced of my transition since I was 6-years-old, nothing surprised me more when on the way home from the psychiatrist – our the last meeting – I heard a conversation in my mind: the bus was full, the sun was shining, I sat on the seat facing everyone: what I heard was, “If God wants me to be who and what I want to be, then I can be who and what I want to be like this. As I am.”

 

Featured image contains a portrait by Juan Carlos Ortiz from ‘I Am Only Partly Here’.

City Notes

The instant I smelled the unmistakable notes of Shalimar in the ferry toilet I knew it was going to be my next post. I had to wait, of course. It became my new adventure: smell this city.

Home life often becomes a case of ‘familiarity breeds contempt’, and this adventure of smelling Sydney took my usual routes from home to work, from my travels on foot and on public transport. There was a moment on a train where the all-too familiar smell of sweaty socks, or feet enclosed in shoes too long, made me wonder if I should include it here … I guess I have now. Alas, no photo evidence of that, but I sat there chuckling like I’d discovered something naughty.

The process of this smelling the city adventure is simple: smell, take a photo, and write down the notes. In the first part, the first three I smelled, I recognised manufactured perfumes from three different brands. With parts two and three I recognised – as simple as I can describe it – singular notes. I wondered if an adventure, or exercise, like this transmutes its own journey, without direction, nor premeditation. Does this kind of curiosity create a layered map of one’s own environment? I have no clear answer, but the adventure is enough.

As you may have read from previous posts, I am a fan of smell researcher and artist, Sissel Tolaas’s work. On her last visit to Sydney she said she was in the process of collecting smell molecules of this emerald city. I wonder, and desire, what that smells like.

Sydney, with its hills, eucalypts, harbour, beaches, large clouds skies, tempestuous weather, graces me with its beauty to no end. I’m no molecule collector but this small adventure saw me through moments of despondence. Perhaps your discoveries will see you through your city.

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1. Shalimar, Guerlain.

I was surprised to smell Shalimar in the ferry toilet because the room spray on the wall there usually spurts its typical rose-scent (along with the pink hand soap on the right), and not Guerlain’s classic perfume of the vanilla-citrus kind. Its contrasting notes of civet, castoreum, birch tar, and musk played to perfection the toilet’s aluminium and ultraviolet radiance.

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2. Gardenia Sotto la Luna, Andy Tauer.

A street in Darlinghurst stops me in its tracks. Andy Tauer’s Gardenia is recognisable for its white floral-vanilla juice. Though I didn’t wear it that day, I know its sandalwood, tonka, vanilla dry-down, without it being too sweet, nor sickly. Its quality is intimate, like those images of Isabella Rossellini in Lancôme’s Trésor ads.

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3. RIEN Intense Incense, Etat Libre d’Orange.

After work people walk up the stairs and find their seats with a view of their phones whilst the night descends on the harbour. The cliffs and headlands become the darkest green, the harbour surface a charcoal with wisps of white spaces, and the rows of seats create a cosy enclosure, especially in winter. Etat’s incense, leather, and musky rose provides a shield in this space of exhaustion as we are ferried to rest. Rien’s cumin note imparts the human element – perhaps coming from those well-worn seats – so common in public, and private, places.

II

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4. Sea grapes, or Caulerpa Lentillifera.

Ensaladang latô in the Phillipines is a salad of sea grapes, vinegar, fish sauce, and maybe slices of small red onions. I smelled this in this garden, and the popping of these grapes in my mouth releases the odour of the sea, both salty and sour. It brought back childhood memories of eating a typical, humble dinner of white rice, fried milkfish, and this salad, on plastic covered tables.

Here in the foreground, the smell of earth, grass, and luscious variations of trees play their part on a bed of harbour, ocean, wind, and sky.

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5. Poppers, or Amyl Nitrite.

Commercial wharves have their businesses lined up, emitting scents from their produce, appliances, electrical goods, lights, etc. The ramp at the centre of the picture is freshly painted with a non-slip paint that gives this whole space a wildly familiar, strong scent: amyl, or poppers. I wonder if the ingredients in the paint – solvents, binders, pigments, and other additives – has anything in common with the vasodilator “lite” drug that relaxes muscles, creating heat, blood flow, and excitement? If so, I can smell.

III

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6. Bergamot.

Leaving this health shop in Darlinghurst with a friend, our cold expirations rise. Bergamot floats, like Casper the Friendly Ghost, where long streets, bars, boutiques, cafes, and traffic commingle.

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7. Vanilla.

At the end of our art excursion, friends – fellow artists, and health nuts – walk through a walkway that leads to St. Mary’s church. To the left is a public pool, to the right is a park filled with bay figs and grassy knolls. I wondered if the smell came from my friends, whom I stepped away from just to go back and take this shot so I can smell what I smell.

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8. Wood fire.

In the same vicinity, and within minutes of each other, the scent of wood fire follows the earlier catch of vanilla. We pass the Archibald Fountain, to the right is the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, on the left is St. James church (not in photo), and on the top left of the photo is the Supreme Court of N.S.W. Another large fig tree becomes a one-sided gateway to Macquarie Street.

Synonymous for its summer fires due to Sydney’s dry climate, combined with the oil-rich eucalypts, this is one of my favourite smells.

Go! Smell your city, and share your notes, please.

A collection of passages 2

January sent me to isolation. In February anxiety boiled over, leading me to an aggressive and charged March. It helped me socialise again. The beginning of April was reflective, and I began to desire a change in my life: relationships, work, location, state of mind, and ways to play. As May nears, I feel these changes consolidate themselves in my ability to be patient, prepared, present, sure, but ready. How exciting to think that the middle of the year is yet to come.

In the first collection of passages, I mentioned collecting magazines to the point of obsession. It’s hard not to collect. If not something physical, something to keep in the mind. Philosopher, fragrance blogger and curator, Liam Sardea, and I had a conversation recently about conscious experiences as either physical or “something beyond” the physical. It made me wonder of our abilities as alchemists. Or, magical thinking. Survival aspects of our nature. This enquiry brings me to the first passage in this current collection where Ruby Wax, in A Mindfulness Guide for the FRAZZLED, (Penguin Life, 2016), goes into a 6-day mindfulness retreat. On day three she smells a rose “…making sure no one is looking and decide to do my walking up and down near it so that, when the wind is right, I can get smacked in the face by that smell. Every time I pass it, I get a hit. The next day the rose is dead and there’s no smell. I think there’s a lesson in there… I’m not sure what. No, I know: the lesson is that all things die, so don’t depend on them.” She returns to the spot just to “check and smell it.” It lives on in that place beyond.

Here are smell descriptions I’ve collected from some of the books I’ve read this year:

“Whenever you stroll through a eucalyptus grove you are engulfed in a unique smell, acrid and spicy and a little bit soapy too. What you are actually sensing is an airborne chemical that is created and released by the trees, a “volatile organic compound,” or “VOC” for short.” (An antiseptic that keeps the trees healthy if it is wounded to prevent infections).

And,

“I left Atlanta knowing more than I had when I arrived. To this day, I need only close my eyes to summon the smell of a crushed sweet gum leaf, as pungent as if I were holding it in my hand.”- Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (Fleet, 2016).

“His mother used to smell of shampoo and their old house. She used to smell like her bed and her sheets, she used to smell of different cigarettes. She used to smell of beans on toast and bath time. But all he can smell now is Maureen’s air freshener, stronger than the smell of his mum and where they used to live.” – My Name is Leon, Kit de Waal (Penguin Viking, 2016).

“It was foully hot: the rancid sewer air could prompt a smile between two strangers in the street as they passed each other: can you believe we live here? It was like bile, and it was the scent of Mulberry Street that afternoon.” A description by the personal assistant to an international singer after being fired in New York City on her way back to London. – Swing Time, Zadie Smith (Hamish Hamilton, 2016).

“Many people situate themselves by sight; they marvel at scenic vistas, take photos, draw pictures, recall images. In this job I find my brain recording time and place in scent. I remember places by smell.”

And,

Céline and Hervé Ellena, children of famed perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena, questioned their father for scents of Madeleine cookies, clothing, snow, including what the smell of clouds were. He created them. Céline says, “When I was a child, he didn’t tell me about princesses; he told me about scents. We didn’t have Cinderella. We listen to his stories in perfume.” – The Perfect Scent, Chandlerr Burr (Picador, 2007).

“The grass, as she walked in, was just beginning to be wet from the moist night and the moon that earlier had shone so nicely on her elm and her cypress and her pines was curtained and faint in the mist – that mist that the Gulf breathed over Houston almost every night, as if to help the city sleep.”

And,

Flap cuts his hand on his wife, Emma’s (Aurora’s daughter) teeth as he aims for her face. Patsy, Emma’s best friend, knocks on the front door. “She held the door open and Patsy swept in, smelling nice and looking wonderful, cheerful and happy. Their bedroom was also their living room, and the minute Patsy stepped into it she said, “I can smell blood.”

And,

Turning down one of Aurora’s many suitors, Trevor – a veritable sea man, and ladies man, who blended the smells of salt, leather and spices – “…had always smelled better than any man she had known.” In the restaurant she got off her chair and sat on his lap, and “gave him a lavish hug and a nice kiss on the cheek and smelled around a little for good measure enough to last her for approximately six months.” – Terms of Endearment, Larry McMurtry (Simon & Schuster, 1975).

October 5th: While driving home May Sarton wanted to write a poem about silence being the language lover’s know. When she arrived home she shivered in isolation, “and must face again and try to tame the loneliness. The house is no friend when I walk in. A smell of stale tobacco, unopened windows, my life waiting for me somewhere else, asking to be created again.”

And on

October 6th: “Yesterday I weeded out violets from the iris bed. The iris was being choked by thick bunches of roots, so much like fruit under the earth. I found one single very fragrant violet and some small autumn crocuses. Now, after an hour’s work as the light failed and I drank in the damp smell of the earth, it looks orderly again.” – Journal of a Solitude, May Sarton (W.W. Norton & Co. 1973).

As Nicola gets her ozone sauna treatment for cancer, Helen, and her scepticism, remains quiet. “I held my peace. Morning sunshine fell into the room through the high window. The ozone smelled delicious, very subtle and refreshing, like watermelon, or an ocean breeze. I sat on a chair in the corner and pulled the lid off my coffee.” – The Spare Room, Helen Garner (Text, 2008).

Sarah Hall was a recommendation. This short story book packed a punch as her writing, and her characters’ sensuality gets under the skin. Her abundant smell descriptions for a small book excited me because of her generosity with them, without skipping on the other senses.

Butcher’s Perfume: As Kathleen’s holiday ends she discovers in her friend’s farm shed the slow butchering of a horse. “A dead horse was lying on the ground between the metal cattle chocks. The ground was slick yellow-brown, like concrete covered in piss and diarrhoea. I stepped closer, in under the gable, and a stink rose.”

The Beautiful Indifference: An ailing writer meets her lover in a hotel room. Hall offers many clues about her life in this story, stringing us to read the lines deeper. “The smell of his wet hair was one of her strongest memories now. Like the feeling of deep humiliation for injuring the junior-school pet rabbit. Like the unsealing gash on her mother’s cheek where the hospital orderlies had caught her with a metal instrument while wheeling her to the morgue. Bracken burning on the moors.”

Bees: A woman breaks up with her partner and moves from the “slow machinery in the black fields, livestock cropping the tufts, your once vernacular scenery” north to the “ornate, sooty, modern” London. In the city, she discovers a legion of dead and dying bees. Perhaps a metaphor for all that has ever existed in her. “You memorise noises, chimes, electrical thrums, the euphonic character of the place. And smells: the stale pavement, body odours, doorstep musk, green ponds.”

And,

Remembering their sex life through the “smell of silage and diesel in the farmyard, the feel of him butting behind you, increasingly minimal in his inquiry, complaining if you weren’t wet enough, pulling out and moving it into a tighter place. A bonny pair: that’s what they called you. Best match of the town.” It makes me think of the grieving process, and all that plays, buzzes, in your mind.

The Nightlong River: Magda, Dolly Carter’s best friend, is dying. Dolly and her friends hunt mink cats one night to sew Magda a cape, to keep her tiny body warm. “And the night welcomed me, gave me senses. I was struck by the ability of the river to ferry odours on its back. It seemed to enhance everything it touched: the mineral stones of its bed, the wet shag of the dogs when they went swimming, the bark of sour thorn trees whose roots sipped at the shallows. Sometimes I imagined I could, like the dogs, detect the waft of mink through the ferns. I knew that binary scent of blood’s soft iron and glands secretion.” How rich is that?! – The Beautiful Indifference, Sarah Hall (Faber & Faber, 2011).

Currently, I am reading Why We Love and Lust, Dr Theresa L. Crenshaw (HarperCollins, 1997). She writes of chemical contact communication, through smell, caused by pheromones, and how that affects us. Nothing new there, but it is one example of how our hormonal system (eg. endocrine) influence behaviour through the sexual stages, and relationships.

One more read –

“I confess that I still have a shirt that belonged to this man I have written about, hidden among sundry ragged shirts from my past. He mailed it to me when I first moved away to graduate school. It held his smell for years.” – An essay by Steven M. Phelps on aeon.co. about the brain and touch

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Night walk entry

The sea was calm. The horizon and the sky’s charcoal gradient were almost one. The beach were dotted with fishermen wearing headlamps over their buckets. I wondered about the state above – Queensland – and the cyclone up there. Tonight, dogs went for their walks, or sat on the grass as their owners looked at the beach, or ran along the white crash on the shore. My nose lifted. As walkers pass I smell the musk in their clothing. Under the Norfolk pines and above the grass the scent of fish and chips in white trays and paper bags slip through like oil on one’s fingers.

Today, I was a hound.

Earlier, Lynda and I hugged. She smelled sandalwood on me. In the afternoon I walked through Hyde Park and wondered if I sprayed Geranium Pour Monsieur from Frederic Malle, a gift from perfumer Daniel Pescio. I looked around, I smelled my jumper. Was it the woman drinking from the fountain? Was it just this part of the park? I circled. I searched for geranium and mint in the park. None were found other than the pines there – Hoop and Cook pines. It was the woman wearing green twenty metres ahead. We stopped at the lights on Park Street. I looked at her. A visitor. Another woman walked past. She wore Chanel No. 5. I walked up the stairs to the other side of the park and smelled mandarins, peeled and eaten. I felt my mouth tingle. Under the naves of the Hills fig trees, a younger woman walked past and she wore Narciso Rodriguez For Her.

I turned left towards the city. The grass was cut fresh. Its scent thick. It didn’t smell the green of grass or trees. It was not the smell of a romanticised green in perfume. In fact that volatile smell of freshly mown grass is a distress signal to ward off plant-eating insects. I wondered if the woman on top of her man knew that as they kissed and pressed against one another. Their black clothes on the grass almost made them one, too.

I read Denyse Beaulieu’s top ten spring scents. She included Pierre Bourdon’s Sous Les Magnolias. It isn’t stocked in Sydney, so I was content to smell Carlos Benaïm’s (I love saying that name) Eau de Magnolia, another Frederic Malle, from Mecca Cosmetica. It reminded me of Jean-Claude Ellena’s Jour d’Hermés, which my mum wears. I sprayed it on my left wrist and on top of my grey jumper. It’s still here. This is not a review but one thing is for sure, Eau de Magnolia’s sillage is great.

Sweat intensifies under my jumper, and my legs feel heavy. I am tired and hungry, and decide to have peanut butter on toast when I get home. As my night walk closes two more scents come. On a bench two men sit and talk. They wear CK One. And, as I walk up stairs I smell the trail of cigarette smoke from the woman ahead.

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The Beach.

Kouros Crush

I

At five-, or six-, years-old I had my first crush on a teen called Bax. I sat on the middle of the staircase one night – our single-mother family lived with his single-mother family – when he and his girlfriend ran up to his mother’s room. They rushed back down, as fast as memory would serve me, and I smelled something minty in the air surrounding these joyful teens. I wanted that: whatever it is they had. I walked into his mother’s room – the door was open – and searched for that scent. On the vanity, its mirror as wide as the room, I saw a white, opaque, squarish bottle edged with shiny metal. The words on the bottle read ‘KOUROS‘. I felt the matt, curved skin of the bottle and lifted the nozzle to my nose. I don’t remember spraying it in the air, but the next thing I know is I spray it in my mouth, the nozzle directed at the back of my throat like some primordial act. My face contracts – squishes, even – to an uncomfortable axis. Was it bitter? Was it poison? It was alcohol. It’s not mint I smell – that was from the little green-coloured can of breath freshener spray she carried around, I later observed. What I smell is the burning, pink flesh of my throat. My open mouth, stunned.

Did his mother wear KOUROS? I don’t remember. I do know she wore YSL’s Opium. She was a Gemini, so it wouldn’t surprise me if that bottle was hers. I watched her get ready for work sometimes. She was a singer, like my mother, and I watched her apply makeup – like I watched my mother – in bold colours. I first saw in her the comedy and the tragedy masks of theatre discovering her transformation from a tough single mother holding down the fort to a physically-demanding stage performer. I often caught her sleeping with one leg bent and an arm above her head, just like I had caught him, her son. Only I never looked at her the way I looked at him. I couldn’t comprehend the symbol of this back then but it was the first lesson in creating experiences from the invisibility I felt. Mistaking a bottle of perfume as breath freshener I understood, as a forlorn crushee, pulled me further from ‘them’.

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Kouros. Photo from ancientrome.ru

II

‘Youth’ is the ancient Greek translation of kouros. Its modern translation is of a freestanding sculpture, of a young man standing naked. Inspired by a trip to Greece, Yves Saint Laurent named Pierre Bourdon’s 1981 perfume after the strapping and broad figure.

I rarely smell it on the streets. Only on a few occasions have I smelled it on the commute to and from work, a busy ground floor waiting for an elevator, or a party, but on men over 55-years of age. Or, perhaps something like it – Eucris, Aramis (which I love), Paco Rabanne, Drakkar Noir, Tuscany per Uomo.

For me, nothing has changed in KOUROS. It smells the same as when I first smelled, and tasted it. I savour its layers of camphor/pine, metallised skin (think of licking someone’s chest or armpits that use aerosol deodorants), and fresh piss on sweat pants (no judgment). Its impact, and tenacity, is still special. Breath fresheners are fleeting. KOUROS stands the test of time. There is no substitute.

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Advertisement, 1996.

Featured image of study by Mart Basa.