Irreverent memories: from Musgo Real to Paco Rabanne

It might be odd to suddenly think of your uncle in the shower but, then again, maybe it isn’t. I stopped, smelled the soap, and laughed. Laughed because the new Musgo Real soap I recently bought reminded me of his signature perfume Paco Rabanne Pour Homme.

In the 1980s when he visited my mother from one of his work trips he would give me a hug, and on his brown neck and inside his black leather jacket I could smell Paco. My uncle tells stories with a smile, and laughs at his jokes. He is a veritable dad-joke teller. He makes you smile.

It’s not the first time I’ve laughed at irreverent memories. For a friend’s birthday – the friend who gave me a bottle of Santal Massoïa – we ordered a chocolat fondant each for dessert. The moment that copper-rich manna reached my little foliates glee hit my ribs like a tickle. All I could think of was the spoonfuls of condensed milk I’d had as a child. She wondered why it had made me laugh so much. In a Melbourne café another friend and I ate ricotta hotcakes over breakfast. This time I was struck with both laughter and tears.

If I remember correctly I read in Rachel Herz’s ‘The Scent of Desire: Discovering Our Enigmatic Sense of Smell’ (2007) that breast milk and baby formula are sweetened by vanilla which comforts and nourishes a child. Most adults are sure to be drawn to sweet food and perfumes. Perhaps, the joy I felt in these moments were the memory of sweetness that touched my life as a child. I, personally, prefer a touch of sweetness in perfume rather than lashings of it. In food I find wonderment in dishes, like perfume, created from a list of ingredients that can remind us of something: a most pleasurable thing as condensed milk.

The triggers of these emotional responses often come in the simplest acts, in the moments that brush along in the breeze, in the rush of lunch break, and if it were pleasing memories, such as these mentioned, I would say it is akin to a happiness that belongs to no time.

The Musgo Real Glycerine Classic Oil Soap is meant for the face as a pre-shave beard softener and cleanser but I prefer it as a gentle body soap. Producer of Musgo Real Claus Porto notes that this woody soap contains vetiver, eucalyptus and patchouli. Paco Rabanne Pour Homme’s aromatic fougére consists of, according to Fragrantica, rosemary, clary sage, rosewood, lavender, geranium, coumarin, honey, amber, musk and oakmoss.



Walking to a friend’s place towards the end of Macleay Street, Potts Point the fragrance of sandalwood stops me at my tracks. I know that perfume. I am familiar with it because it is, possibly, my favourite scent. In front of Potts Point Bookshop, I stop to follow my nose. The source is not too far down the street – the furniture shop next to my friend’s apartment. I see ashes on the shop floor, the smoke of incense licking me on the sidewalk.

I visited this shop regularly not just because it is the only place in Sydney that stocks Mysore sandalwood incense, and, once, Balaji Chandan oil, but I was attracted to the man wearing round glasses and a faded Russian blue linen shirt behind the counter. He studied psychology and ended up becoming a furniture designer, and eventual director of his furniture business, which is the second, and smaller, of its Sydney boutiques. We had  dinner once, it didn’t evolve but that wouldn’t stop me from stocking up on his excellent choice in incense.

In the 1990s I bought Aveda’s sandalwood incense, discontinued before the Y2K. When I’m in Newtown I walk at the end of King Street and head to Fiji Market to buy Chandan Supreme Sandalwood Masala incense. A friend gave me a bottle of Hermes Santal Massoïa knowing my passion for this oil, and because she’s just generous. A partner once gave me Le Labo Santal 26 candle on my birthday. The label said he loved me. In Serge Lutens’ Palais Royal boutique I opened the bell-jar bottle of Santal de Mysore and found it. Something.

When sandalwood floats in the streets, my nose lifts and the tips of my nasolabial folds twitches much like a bloodhound. “What sandalwood is that? Which perfume? Where is it going?” I search for sandalwood in perfumes, especially when they are deep, resinous, dark, and warm. I like to blend sandalwood pure oil with rose, but I love blending rose with anything I have on hand in the spirit of experiment – that’s another story. A few of my memorable sandalwood scents are 10 Corso Como, Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore, Diptyque Tam Dao.

Other than sandalwood, some of my favourite notes are: rose, chamomile, honey, almond, eucalyptus, oakmoss, musk, wood smoke, frankincense, and so much more.


Bois d’Ascèse by Naomi Goodsir

Walking inside Sydney’s Botanical Gardens, the sun bright on all those greens surrounded by ocean and sky, I felt grateful for my friend who asked to meet me at the cafe above the pool on the other side of the gardens. The park immediately inspired and energised me as I cut across it. In my earphones, I listened to On Being’s Krista Tippett interview Benedectine monk, David Steindal-Rast on the subject of gratitude. Steindal-Rast said in the interview, “Spirituality is aliveness on all levels. It must start with our bodily aliveness. For many people, say the sense of smell is practically non-existent. If you really are grateful, come alive with your smell. Start smelling, not sight seeing, but smelling smelling.”

As of late, I have been “smelling smelling” like there’s no tomorrow. I’ll smell anything. I’m alive. I have a handkerchief that I spray Naomi Goodsir’s Bois d’Ascèse in. I open it like a book, or my palms, or a chest, and I bury my face in it. Its perfume loads me with images of times crossing the past, present and future.

Bois d’Ascèse, as stated in Naomi Goodsir Parfums‘ website, encompass notes of tobacco, whiskey, cinnamon, amber, cistus labdanum, oak moss, smoked cade wood, and Somali incense.

Here is the poem inspired by Bois d’Ascèse –


The wind, muted by stones, whistles under the door

Cobwebs tremble


On the cool, dusty floor a chair creaks

The sepia years turns smoke to filigree

Kisses stick to these lips


Remember when our breaths staved off the blues?

Against the horizon’s weight we turned the sky upside down so its beauty could spill on our faces


Long ago those tears sustained us


Naomi Goodsir’s handwriting in blue

Phi by Andy Tauer

Until this perfume was in my nose I knew nothing of the roses grown especially in the eastern province of Nangarhar in Afghanistan. As an alternative to cultivating poppies, Nangarhar farmers have successfully grown roses to the delight of the perfume world, and most importantly to sustain “legal livelihoods” as part of Welt Hunger Hilfe‘s objective called “Roses for Nangarhar”.   Andy Tauer has created in Phi – une rose de Kandahar a complex composition of natural apricot, cinnamon, bitter almond, bergamot, Bulgarian rose, bourbon geranium, tobacco, patchouli, vetiver, vanilla, tonka, musk, and ambergris: all surrounding the Nangarhar rose oil.

 This poem, the last of the Andy Tauer perfumes series, for now, is inspired by Phi – une rose de Kandahar

Pulling at the strings

cotton catching light


Red, white and black

skim a cloudless sky


The wind carries a story

of man and his desire to fly


He cuts paper in to a diamond

turns sticks to a cross

calling it a kite


You can stand on the ground

and fly at the same time


He hands it to her and

tells his only child


“You are higher than me

take it and fly”


Vetiver Dance by Andy Tauer

In Andy Tauer’s Vetiver DanceI feel and smell the comforts of the skin, another’s or one’s own, and be consoled in the nook of one’s being. The perfume is composed of grapefruit, black pepper, clary sage – to me creating a salty skin scent – Bulgarian rose, lily of the valley, vetiver, ambergris, cedar wood, tonka, and cistus.

The fifth work inspired by Vetiver Dance –

I stood against the wall hiding my nerves. The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’ out-beating my heart. I feel the sweat from my palms on my thighs, hidden in these brown pockets. The cream shirt I pressed is thinning, and I am wondering why I am even at this party. I see the drinks table and think about washing it all down. Then, I see her.

On the dance floor, her straight hips move side to side in her canary pleated silk dress, its spaghetti straps held firmly on her glowing shoulders as if it were made especially for her. Maybe it was. She catches my eyes. I look away, briefly. I stir. I want to hold her right there and then, and move away from this wall. I am the wallflower, and she’s plucking me from the dance floor. I want her to hold onto me.

I look back at her dancing. She catches my eyes. We stand there looking at each other. I see the light on her face and the way she is feeling the music. I take my hands out of my pockets.

Le Maroc pour elle by Andy Tauer

Le Maroc pour elle is Andy Tauer’s first perfume. It’s scent of romanticism and warmth contains, according to, mandarins, lavender, Moroccan rose, jasmine, High Atlas cedarwood, and oriental woods (I won’t pretend to know). The moment I looked up into the tall Atlas cedar trees in Lyon’s Parc de la Tête d’Or I thought of two perfumes, Serge Lutens’ Féminité du bois – one of my favourite perfumes – and Andy Tauer’s Le Maroc pour elle. Again, as I am wont to do, I stood under its branches, beside the trunk, and felt them. I looked up through the branches and breathed deeply.

Here is the fourth work inspired by Le Maroc pour elle


 I have to get away from this noise. Men make too many plans.

She walks towards the hills. She slips off her babouche just to feel sand on her feet again. The wind strikes her blue hijab and her eyes squint. The hem of her ochre skirt flap like the kois she saw earlier. She sat by the pond mesmerised by their colour against the black bottomless water. Her heart races as the thought of when to turn back clicks. She shouldn’t be on her own for too long.

She raises her hands to her face and smells them. Looking at the brown lines etched in her palms, she tells herself not to be afraid. She looks around, the city on one side, the desert on the other, and the mountains facing her. The wind is too strong. She walks back.

Zeta by Andy Tauer

In the linden-blossom themed Zeta, Andy Tauer explores the combination of citrus (lemon, bergamot, orange), linden, rose, neroli, sandalwood, and vanilla. Suzanna from called it “the most ebullient summer-sunshine perfumes” in 2012. Zeta brought me to a dusk in June under a tree in Morancé, Lyon.

Here is the third poem inspired by Zeta – a linden blossom theme –


When the heat lays to rest

the welcome breeze enters


I lean on the

course linden trunk – waiting


Blossoms curlicues

falling to the ground


I submit to the scent

obliquely holding me at the

gate of the world


You arrive, in white

I wonder in comfort


Something is in this June evening air


In our embrace we disappear



Photo by Mart Basa, postcard from Andy Tauer, and postcard detail of Kulyu, 2014 by artists Ngamaru Bidu, Jakayu Biljabu, Bowja Patricia Butt, Kumpaya Girgirba, Noelene Girgirba, Karnu Nancy Taylor, Muuki Taylor, Ngalangka Nola Taylor, Wokka Taylor.