So, on a chilly Sunday in January, we hopped in the car along with Argos the WonderPup and went to the beach. Given the fact that we are not the type of family to visit Rehoboth Beach during the peak summer months (how gauche!), a winter trip to the seaside might be called Very Much Our Thing. There was no traffic in either direction, we found great parking a few blocks from the store, and the boardwalk was decidedly empty of pedestrians. Again, the great absence of tourists in a town that is the definition of a tourist trap, made the whole trip surprisingly delightful.
And then there was Penny Lane Perfumes itself, a tiny blue box of a store, thoughtfully organized around a glittering display of perfumes by some of my favorites: Serge Lutens, l'Artisan Parfumeur, and Keiko Mecheri. A really lovely woman named Cassandra spent an hour with us, spraying dozens of scents on small strips of paper, labeling each one to make sure we could tell the fragrances apart. Often when visiting a counter, I feel like I'm an aggravation to the sales associate, if I ask to smell more than two or three perfumes. But Cassandra kept spraying and describing notes and asking us what we smelled.
We were there to sniff the Montales, a brand that intrigues me. Parfum Montale has its showroom in France (and a French perfumer) but is located in Saudia Arabia. The house produces scents inspired by the Middle East, often favoring aoud/agarwood. The projection and longevity of the Montales is legendary amongst perfumistas, which means these are scents that have good bang for the buck, to put it crassly. And the packaging is very smart, with the perfumes coming in little aluminum bottles that remind me of the Swiss water canteens known as SIGG. Fragrances don't tolerate light and heat well; the benefit of aluminum containers is the utter darkness they provide their liquid contents.
I've been looking for vanilla. I love vanilla: simple vanilla, almost vanilla-extract, used-for-baking vanilla. A few months ago, I sniffed Guerlain's Spiriteuse Double Vanille, a deep vanilla eau de parfum that goes for $250 for 2.5 ounces (that $100 per ounce--ouch). So, SDV as the perfumistas call it, would have to wait. Instead, I ordered a few vanillas from Luckyscent and visited a lot of counters.
But I couldn't find a plain, true vanilla until we visited Penny Lane Perfumes and Cassandra sprayed Montale's Vanille Absolu on my wrist. J and I left the shop, both of us having tested three perfumes: one on each wrist and a last at the crook of the arm, opposite an elbow. I carried a huge cloud of fruit and vanilla around me, and my husband brought with him an equally powerful large mist of manly forest scents: something green and cedar and a bit animal. I'm sure Argos found the two of us a little too stinky for his black button nose, which was twitching from the force of so many smells. After an hour, we returned to the store, once the perfume-winners established themselves on our skins.
On me, Vanille Absolu remains a strong, quite sweet vanilla for a very long time, eventually fading into spice and a little smoke. It's not a complex scent, but delicious and lingering.
It was very difficult for me to decide what poem to partner with with Vanille Absolu. The perfume is such a shape-shifter, fitting so easily with so many kinds of moods, layering so well under other fragrances, that I wasn't sure whether to pick a poem expressing quiet or warmth or happiness or something sweet. In the end, I picked "The Girls of Winter" by Jim Harrison, because it expresses some of the fragrance's warmth, its childish sweetness. The poem also calls attention to one of the purposes of perfume: to be noticed, to be desired even when we don't understand what desire means.
The Girls of Winter
by Jim Harrison
Out the window of the bar I’m watching
a circle of girls stretching and yawning
across the street. It’s late January and 74
degrees. They love the heat because
they are a moist heat. Heat loves
heat and today is a tease for what comes
with spring around here when the glorious birds
funnel back up from Mexico. The girls
don’t care about birds because they are birds.
I recall in high school a half dozen
cheerleaders resting on a wrestling mat
in short shorts in the gym, me beside them
with a silly groin ache. What were they?
Living, lovely, warm meat as we all arereaching out of our bodies for someone else.