The language of perfumery is full of (beautifully) misleading terminology. For instance, a contemporary "amber" perfume doesn't really get its name from the aroma of fossilized tree resin. Now when a perfume is described as amber, this is usually a metaphor for a fragrance that has the warmth and autumnal feeling of the color of a piece of amber. The term amber is a form of synesthesia. We smell the perfume's rich spices and picture the oranges and browns of a chunk of Baltic amber.
Hermes makes a line of fragrances, Hermessence, which can only be found in its boutiques (Hermessence is like a niche line embedded within a larger, more readily available line of perfumes). When I decided that my collection needed its first amber perfume, I did what I always do: research. And Ambre Narguile kept coming up--in perfume site after perfume site--as a favorite example of the genre. While the scent is supposed to contain notes of caramel, honey, vanilla, and cinnamon, many fans say that smells of old-fashioned, American apple pie. Others claim it resembles Chinese plum wine. And, on me, Ambre Narguile is mulled spices and wintertime.
With these Perfumes & Poems blog posts, I often find that I pair lighthearted scents with much darker poems, as if I somehow want the fragrances to "read" as more ominous than they really seem on first sniff. Maybe this is true. Or maybe I just want to insist that a good perfume (like a good poem) needs to contain even a very small shadow of death (Lorca's duende) in order to remain interesting on the skin. So, it seems only right to match the Christmas-essence of Ambre Narguile with this poem by Jeanne Wanger, a text that is full of spices but that is also drunk on its own sad history:
on her tongue,
a daily tipple of amber and gold
to waft her into the sky,
a soluble heat trickling down her throat.
Who could blame her
for starting out each morning
with a swig of something furious
in her belly, for days
when she dressed in flashy lamé
leggings like a starlet,
for wriggling and dancing a little madly,
her crazy reels and her rumbas,
for coming home wobbly
with a flicker of clover’s inflorescence
still clinging to her clothes,
enough to light the darkness
of a pitch-black hive.
because she needed a lavish taste