Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It's Beginning to Smell a Lot Like Christmas

One of my friends passed a Chanel No. 5 poster with Brad Pitt on it with something extra added to the “inevitable” slogan. It was too funny, but if there’s anything that will get girls to buy their own Christmas presents, it’s a picture of Brad Pitt. Maybe Johnny Depp would work the same magic. Thanks to Thelma and Louise, the cougar set likes to think of themselves as holding the possibility for a few special moments with a talented young man like Mr. Pitt or Mr. Depp. But of course, the idea here is to sell perfume, especially as a Christmas present.

My friend went on to say, with other friends chiming in, that she felt, in spite of the persuasive Mr. Pitt, the scent in question was … let’s see, she didn’t actually say “motor oil.” Well, you get the idea. It’s not her favorite.

Disclaimer: I happen to love Chanel No. 5 whether Mr. Pitt is pitching it or not but I seldom wear perfume at all because of the number of people who dislike (or worse, become ill due to) any scent other than fresh-out-of-the-shower. Even some shampoos can make you think the underlying base for fragrance is skunk oil. I tend to buy all my shampoos based on scent because, after all, I have to live with me all day.

One of the great benefits of knowing HUBS-1’s great Aunt Ann was that she was the queen of finding good homes for bent-box goodies like Fleur de Rocaille and other exotic treats. I was showered with little bent boxes with otherwise perfectly good expensive French perfumes while still in the good graces of the first in-laws. I got hooked on the whole Caron line and had to pay up or go cold turkey when the divorce happened. My favorite was Infini. Apparently the name didn’t guarantee the longevity of the product because I don’t see it offered any more, reflecting, I suppose, the relationship.

Perfumes have such a sales pitch. Even Fleur de Rocaille is advertised, “Fleur de Rocaille is recommended for romantic use.”

Huh? Well, I wouldn’t put it in a casserole. What exactly, for a perfume, is “romantic use”? There are still a lot of unanswered questions out there to be explored.

I also liked another Chanel product, Chanel No. 19. I’m no expert nose like my husband, John The Only Good One. But if I were pressed to say so, I’d say there were more flowers in Chanel No. 19. My opinion also included that this is a perfume for winter only, that it smells good with wool and snow and other things part of those days when your breath freezes before you like a rack of ice cubes. In the summer, I felt it was more like a floral sledgehammer. Now that I live in the eternal springtime of northern California, there is no wintertime that makes this scent right for me. It is shelved.

Old perfume turns into something bad, too. It browns. It caramelizes. It decocts to something less pleasant than its original intent. Timing is everything. Gather ye rosebuds… and rose scents where ye may and all that. When perfume gets old, it becomes a lot more like rotten leaves preserved in alcohol. I know this. Don’t ask me how.

In the discussion with my friend, some people hated Chanel No. 5 whether it was fresh or fermented, but we all agreed that perfumes are an intensely personal thing. I’m not so sure scents say so much about your personality as they do about your body chemistry.

I was cooing over Chanel No. 19, in winter of my youthful and experimental content, so much that I insisted my friend Sally try it. (You remember Sally from the time travel dream? That Sally). Elegant, I thought. Sophisticated. I had received compliments on it, after all.

Without actually drenching Sally in No. 19, I did convince her to try it. Wives, not all of them old, will say that you should wait a few minutes to let the perfume blend with your own body heat. They omit the body chemistry part, which is most likely the single most important ingredient.

While on me, No. 19 evoked a certain winter cottage in Doctor Zhivago, on Sally the scent was disappointing to say the least.

“Gah,” we both said together in disgust as if we could spit the smell out of our mouths. “It’s like… like… wet newspapers!”

Thank goodness the stuff washes off eventually. I was sorely disappointed. I had always thought and still think of Sally as being more interesting and beautiful than I am with a mane of just the right shade of red hair and dainty hands and feet and a laugh that can light up an entire room. I’d nearly asphyxiated both of us with my experiment. I let Sally pick her own perfume after that.

My perfume mania started to wane about the time that my first marriage struggled. The bloom was off more than one rose by then. It was Christmas time, glorious winter when one can wear silks and wools and boots and gloves and perfume to light up the frosty days. It was midnight mass at St. Kevin’s.

St. Kevin’s was a disappointment as a church to me, frankly. I like my Catholic churches gussied up like winter and this one looked positively Baptist to me with its cement-block walls and stark d├ęcor. Give me a good old Gothic full of pillars and marble and statues and candles. God and all the saints are older than I am and I don’t want to visit them in a place that’s—horrors—about my own age.

But, Kevin’s does pack ‘em in on a Christmas Eve there in snowy Illinois. I was sardined into a pew with my then-laws, feeling faintly panicky and making sure I knew where my nearest exit was in case of spontaneous combustion or whatever.

Cold as it was that winter’s eve, with all the body heat in the place, every drop of perfume had its chance to reach maximum potency. It was if the Ace of Cups had heated the liquid refreshment, recommended for romantic uses, to a rolling boil like the 8 of Wands. There was no turning back.

Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord
 The well-dressed, well-perfumed woman in front of me in the camelhair coat with the fur collar (Fox? Possum? Raccoon?) began to fan herself in distress. All of us were dressed for the cold and gradually steamed in the rising heat. And, because we’re in church and it’s Midnight Mass, for crying out loud, no one can get up and leave because everyone will be certain that you’ve gotten a roaring case of the flu or food-poisoning from your mother-in-law’s cooking or you’ve just remembered you don’t qualify for mass due to a great sin of scandalous proportions. Any reason is likely to get you talked about for years and naturally your goal for the evening is to get God’s grace and get out of there.

And there’s Mrs. Possum-Collar fanning Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew at me while I’m packed so tightly in a pew that if I died I would still be sitting upright. We’ve got an older priest, bless his heart, who wants to go slowly through the entire lovely rite with elaborations and a few trips down memory lane. Well, it’s a wonder the only thing I came out of it with was a strong aversion to Estee Lauder anything, asthma and the sense that perhaps I didn’t fit into the then-laws’ family after all. Somehow, I lived.

But why, when I smell Estee Lauder perfume now, do I always thing of concrete blocks and opossums?

Merry Christmas and best wishes!

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