The Systematic Derangement of the Scent

Posted on by Merridawn

I am going to Europe. I have not been there in years. As I read travel sites—car, cash, language, health—I’m already in a travel mindset, roaming into splendid, useless places. One site listed things there was no need to pack. These included a coat, shoes and soap. I imagined myself strolling through the Prado, barefoot, freezing and stinking. Just an impression. Actually when I went to Europe before I did wonder what impression I’d leave; now I wonder what will impress itself upon me. My own list of what to pack is brief: scent. Because wherever I go and whatever happens to me I will be able to retrieve the memory, more potently and efficiently than via any micro-chip, by opening the bottle and closing my eyes.

I have always loved perfume. This has nothing to do with fussiness. I love human smells too, even those I’m supposed to find repugnant. But perfume caught my attention early in life because I believed owning perfume signified a grown-up woman. My friends were excited to get boobs; I wanted L’Air Du Temp. My youthful ideals of female mystery had been formed by restaurant bathrooms: pinked stripes, buxom boudoir cushions and fake Louis Quatorze gold-swagged mirrors. Basically, drag queens and I had the same concept of the feminine. My older sister tried to scare me off by saying that toilet water came from the toilet.  But as soon as I had money of my own, to spend as I liked (my nowadays concept of what constitutes a grown up woman) I bought books, art and perfume. First only cylinders of patchouli with a roll-top in hippie stores, but I soon branched out into stronger fare. My mother had a single scent—Chanel No. 5—and initially I believed every woman should have her perfume signature. But how was it to possible to choose? I mean except for avoiding Chanel No. 5 at all costs? Perfume isn’t just a smell but a fantastic container, a perplexing, pretentious ad, a house and a name. So a groundbreaking decision of mine was that I would wear, for the moment, the perfume that suited my life, or alchemically, what I hoped my life would become.

Since then I’ve worn every kind of perfume. I’m a fan, not a scholar so I’ll sit and listen with rapt attention to histories of houses and descriptions of arcane notes, the attar and confrett, the flankers and pillars, all the while humming, feeling connected to some primitive Every Women who crushed ginko under an earlobe to disguise the scent of marsupial lion that was throwing cave man off his game. Scent connects us. Once when I was traveling, I got wanded by a security guard (remember when they did that?) who stopped and sniffed me over. “That takes me back” she said excitedly. “That’s just like when I was at the disco!” Our eyes met, and we almost executed a quick Hustle while both getting lost in my Opium.

In Portland I buy almost exclusively from The Perfume House, a hidden, dreamy place far more well-known internationally than locally, tiny and intense as a smudge pot and, yes it is pinked and swagged within an inch of its indolic life. The air is intoxicating and so is the staff, who will take both your hands and look deep into your eyes to guess at what kind of trail you should leave in your wake. Scent changes on each skin, an intimate experience that is also a public declaration. You give it off. Just like travel, it opens you up and also refines your sense of your self, moving through the new and old world and soaking it all in.

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