A few months back we bought a book about perfume for my father-in-law for his birthday. He loves perfumes and colognes (this is an interest of his that I enjoy bonding with him on) and we found the book on the bargain rack. Before sending him the book I perused it a bit and was inspired to write about some of my own experiences with perfume.
The very first perfume I ever had was a gift from a Christmas gift exchange when I was in kindergarten. I remember being a little bit disappointed when I opened my package- the other children where playing with dolls, stuffed animals, and coloring sets while I sat at my desk starring at and questioning the value of a small glass bottle with purple plastic lid. I remember my teacher approaching me and asking me what gift I had received. I silently motioned to the bottle.
“Oohhh, perfume!” she softly exclaimed, trying to hold back her delight as she asked me if she could smell it. I slowly scooted the bottle across my desk. She carefully lifted the bottle, smiled, and unscrewed the round cap. She gracefully raised the open bottle toward her nose, and inhaled deeply. “Aahhh” she smiled differently than I had seen her smile before. It wasn’t her teacher smile. It was a smile of beauty and womanhood and pleasure. “This is a very special gift.” She closed the bottle and placed it softly back on my desk. Before moving on she whispered to me, “you got the best present.”
I took the cool bottle into my pudgy hands and observed the sticker on the front of the square vessle. It was an illustration of a little girl in a pretty purple dress and a straw hat picking flowers from a lilac bush. I tilted the bottle and watched the pale purple liquid move mysteriously. I clumsily unscrewed the purple lid and with two hands brought the perfume to my nose. I smiled; it was beautiful. I inhaled more deeply, it smelled so happy. It reminded me of a real place. I wasn’t sure where or if I’d ever been there, but it smelled like a real place. The scent in that small bottle spoke many things to me- about possibility and hoping and accepting. I had received a very special gift.
I remember showing this gift to some of the women in my life- my mother, an aunt, my grandmother- I loved to watch their reactions. The reactions were all beautifully similar but also unique. The smells in the bottle made each woman’s eyes twinkle as they connected with some special memory. I kept that little bottle long after the perfume was gone. Each time I unscrewed the lid the scent remained and it never failed to bring a smile to my face and to remind me of unexpected wonder waiting to be discovered. I think I finally threw it away before I was married when I was going through old things and consolidating for a cross-country move. I wish I still had that bottle and all the sweetness it contained.
Between this maiden perfume and my current perfume there have been many others: Sunflowers, Ici, Channel Chance, Emporio Armani, Aqua Di’Gio……….. some smelled nice, some didn’t, but none of them meant much until my Eclat d’ Arpege………
I was 21 and on a study abroad in Italy. I was living in Florence, but it was Easter weekend and a friend and I decided to get way off the beaten track. We bought overnight train tickets and traveled to Sicily for our Easter break. Sicily or Sicilia was magnificent and very different than Florence or any of the cities of central and northern Italy. Sicilia was wild and immediate and a bit outside my comfort zone. How I wish my time there had not been so brief.
One of these precious numbered days in this intricate and bold land, Jenny and I spent in a small seaside village called Cefalu. Cefalu was non-pretentious elegance. After an hour attempting to sunbathe on an overcast day we packed up our towels and wandered from the beach and surf into the little town that jutted into the sea creating a mini peninsula of bell towers and terra cotta rooftops. We popped in and out of shops and eateries that afternoon, but one shop remains clear in my mind- it was a little perfume shop.
It had dark wooden floors and dark paneled wood walls. A long heavy wooden apothecary counter ran the entire length of the left hand wall and was densely populated with shiny bottles of sparking liquids and large glass jars of dried herbs. The remaining floor space was scattered by round tables draped in fresh white linens- each table held pyramids, boxes, concoctions of scented wonder- the whole scene was overwhelming. By the time we realized we needed to exit this shop we were lost in a maze of perfume. We maneuvered through the lyric configuration of tables toward the exit where a sales lady had positioned herself. Poised with spray bottle in hand she asked, ”Do you want to try?” Jenny jumped out the door and before I could say no thank you she spritzed me twice. She looked quite satisfied with herself……all I could say was “Grazie” as I descended into the street and the door jingled closed behind me.
“She got me.” I laughed. I pulled my wrist to my nose and inhaled. For the second time in my life I was surprised by a perfume. I lifted my eyes to the shop window, the sales lady was watching me knowingly- she held the small round bottle gently up to her cheek and smiled. As we walked away from the shop I kept looking back over my shoulder I had the feeling I was walking away from an experience I could never again recapture. I lifted my wrist to my nose again, simple passion, and again, childhood, and again, possibility in creativity. I stopped walking, “Jenny, I have to go back and buy this perfume right now.”
“Smell this”, I shoved my wrist to her nose.
“It’s nice, but…….. let’s just go get a bite to eat and catch our train. As we continued walking further from the shop I continued smelling my wrist and looking over my shoulder. I thought of that beautiful and wise scent fading and not knowing what it was and never having the chance to know its secrets and my heart sunk.
“I cant live without that perfume. I’m going back.”
I remember my friend being slightly annoyed as we agreed on a meeting spot, but I didn’t care.
I turned and nearly ran back to that shop! My heart soared with expectation. I reached the door and stepped up through the stone threshold. I scanned the floor for the sales woman. She was waiting for me behind the massive counter. The perfume bottle sat glistening next to her calmly folded hands-she smiled victoriously as I gladly handed her a purse-full of crumpled euros.
I emerged from the shop somehow changed. Somehow my response to that perfume in that moment had made me brave, certain, and sure of infinite possibility. I still wear this perfume today. I listen to it like an old friend. Some days it tells me to take a risk. Some days it tells me to be still, but always it reminds me that each moment is a precious gift.
A little more- I think it is quite interesting that both perfumes that have made an impression on me are the same color- which lavender isn’t really that common of a perfume color. If I were rich I’d hire a private scientist to “disect” each one and make a report of their similarities- I bet there are quite a few- even though they smell quite different.