Thursday, February 14, 2008

Scent seekers

According to the NYT, people are buying less perfume nowadays because of fragrance fatigue, which should not surprise to anyone who has ever been either at a Duane Reade, or a Sephora lately.
I am appalled at how many new perfumes there are and how cloying and disgusting, for the most part, they smell: caramel? vanilla? What am I, dessert?
Most new fragrances smell like bubble gum or detergent or both, and some of the pretentious really expensive ones smell like pee from an old, incontinent aristocrat. Americans love to smell clean, which is great when it's achieved with regular hygiene, not when it comes from a bottle.
A few perfumes are nice, yes, but we are not here to discuss those.
I love my nose. I love to smell stuff, even nasty stuff (briefly). I will smell anything. It connects me to the world outside and it is a wonderful source of memories. My mom used to wear a French perfume, Casaque, that is not made anymore. I would love to smell that smell once more. had a boyfriend in high school who wore one of the Halston for men colognes. After he dumped me, I'd go to a department store and smell the bottle, but it didn't quite smell like him. Great for masochism, too! Smell is like Proust's madeleine.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are smells lodged in my mind that I will never ever forget:
the infernal reek of a street bum on a bus in Prague, the smell of rotten feet of a classmate of mine at college -- filed securely in my brain since 1982. At first I thought it was me. I discreetly sniffed my armpits, down there, my feet. It wasn't me. I wondered if there was a dead animal somewhere in the classroom. I couldn't rest until I found out where it was coming from. Sometimes it was more faint, sometimes I felt I could faint. So one day I discreetly threw my pen down on the floor, got on all fours and started sniffing, in the middle of the class, mind you. And sure enough, I discovered the source. The sandaled, bare feet of a classmate, reeking of a combination of faint old vomit and moldy goat cheese and fart and sulphur and decomposed skin.
The smell was more faint when she wore regular shoes, but it was there allright. I wondered if she was unable to smell it on herself. I wondered if I was the only one going crazy. Some friends of mine advised me to tell this poor soul that her feet stank distractingly, offensively, dangerously, which of course I never did (I have trouble telling people they have lipstick on their teeth). I just sat as far away from her as I could while still being technically in the classroom.
But you see, I cherish these olfactory memories. I have memories from sweltering days in the Jerusalem Summer among certain people of questionable bathing habits, who insist on wearing black coats in 98 degree heat. There is the smell of a particularly sweet and nasty deodorant that some Israeli women used to favor that I will forever associate with my time there. But there is also the smell of spices from the souk in the Old City, the heady mix of curries and cardamom and cloves, or of the pungent incense at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, or the smell of eucaliptus trees in the forest near the city. If I want to relive my trip to Prague, all I have to do is think of the smell of wino street bums (even in the dead of winter), or of my fellow passengers on the plane, that collectively reeked of garlicky salami and beer. My trip to China? The latrine from hell in Mt. Taishan, or the metallic, gassy, smell of the air on the streets of Shanghai. The Chinese also tend to eat a lot of garlicky stuff for breakfast and their morning breath is their much very own. It smells like a gas leak with flowering chives.
But: wearing too much perfume is one of those things that should be punished with a stint in jail.
Women and men, please stop pouring half a bottle of 'fume every time you go out. It is disruptive, gives me a headache and it makes you reek.
Perfume well applied is a great pleasure, both for the wearer and for the smeller. Isn't it nice when people tell you you smell nice? I use perfume so that people remember my scent, unconsciously.
I like it when people smell good. I love people who wear a perfume that smells better on them than it smells on anybody else. They have chosen wisely. Never buy perfume because it smells great on your friend, chances are it won't smell the same on you.
I guess this topic is somehow related to Valentine's day. Another holiday I hate.

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