I had this dream last night that I was in one of my favorite used bookstores and the proprietor said to me that a woman browsing the shelves was Karen Volkman and that I should ask her to read something for us. My heart bucked in my chest the way it always does right before I do something that I know is the wrong thing to do. Karen Volkman, in my dream, was not into “read[ing] something for us,” as I knew she would not be, but she was friendly enough that I was encouraged to tell her about my paperback copy of her book of prose poems, Spar, a book swollen to about three times its normal size by years of being carried around in various purses, thumbed through, propped open by something heavier, and cried all over. It meant less to her than it did to me to tell her that even in my dream, but when I woke up, something small had been resolved.
I can never decide where the fine line is between sincere fandom and something tinged a bit darker with the erotomaniacal and creepy. It was difficult, even in a dream, to come up with something disingenuously lighthearted to say to this woman who wrote a book that knows all about me. Even, “Nice book! You go, girl!” would sound all wrong when my purest impulse would be to start spouting quotes from it like a secret language, because she’s already written about all of it and therefore should know exactly what it means. So it would go something like, “Oh my God. Oh my God. It’s you. I know this line. It’s–it’s– ‘As I was saying, nice hat, nice head–a riot heart. A gamine dracula and so much to swindle–the parched, anemic stars, the moon’s liquidations.'” But there is not a line in this book that I have not cannibalized; having given up caring about her intent years ago and using her words instead to help me define my own. I think the crazy line is drawn at the point where I might convince myself that this would be personally flattering to her.
On the other hand, I think that Spar is actually about this exact type of human mess, the struggle to aggrandize oneself through personal relationships in a world that one so often has the nagging suspicion is entirely subjective. The book tries to stick pins in things, fails, takes it from a different angle and fails again, rearranges the entire organic structure of the way things are to make it accessible to pins, fails some more, looks for a bit of comfort in all the wrong places, and seems to decide that acceptance is not only the path of least resistance, but valid for its own exhilarating and complex reasons. She’s talking about the banged-up relationship that she couldn’t put to bed because its failure blew the causal realities of space and time and environment wide open into the state of “whole howl” anarchy that anyone who has ever been through this understands intimately. These poems do not tell the story that anyone over 25 can tell, though. Instead, they give briefings about the turmoil directly from the center of the turmoil. “The first greeting on a bright sift, yes. And the less falls, a loss does. You will not be absent in the day’s convocation, as a trickle wakes to find itself in the rift’s mind,” Volkman writes, not only drawing a parallel between the weather and a personal event that has become the only reliable structure despite being inherently unreliable, but speaking as though the two are organically interchangeable. One of our more touching aspects as human beings is the way that in times of crisis we perpetually seek to understand above everything else, and Volkman’s poems seem to dignify this stubborn optimism while highlighting the dread that it might all be for nothing. And always, in these poems, while we’re being stubbornly optimistic, is the brave certainty that human emotions deserve the same sort of maps and barometers as the rest of our barely-understood environmental phenomena.
It almost goes without saying that when I found Volkman, I was in the middle of my own crisis of matter. I found incredible solace in these poems and their insistence that understanding the inexplicable is an important job for the very reason that it will never be finished. Often, reading these poems, understanding what Volkman is even talking about becomes its own exercise in understanding something not meant to be understood. The title of this blog, for example, comes from one of the poems in Spar that I felt to be most difficult, which is to say that I still don’t understand it. From one of the few titled poems in this collection, Kiss Me Deadly, came this:
“Though intentions erode like the moon,
they are still as ghostly, as noble.
Someday to sing it with champagne and sherry,
in a gauze gown, tonic,
stippled with perfume.
An opera of Edens. A synaptic how-come.
In this boomtown boudoir, baby,
you always wrong.”
My interpretation of this is that a) she’s speaking directly to the man that all of this has to do with, and b) she’s speaking as a writer, telling him that whatever happened between them is her material now and she’s going to make it as grandiose and ridiculous as she wants. It also seems a bit mocking in a sarcastic way, as though she’s making fun of what he thinks she will write. But as I said earlier, I’ve cannibalized this entire book and that’s only what I would mean were I to write something like that. As for the blog, I didn’t think about it very hard when I named it. It was just her poem that contained the word “perfume” and some neat alliteration. But now that I am thinking about it, yes, my boomtown boudoir is also a bit of a “synaptic how-come,” rife with all the hysterical trappings of the kind of glamour that is always a bit of a spoof of itself. I like that. I’ll take it.
As for dream-Karen-Volkman, the thing I regretted most was that I no longer carry Spar around with me everywhere so I couldn’t show her how physically well-loved my copy of her book is. It really is funny to look at. The edges of the pages have mushed together so that it’s almost impossible to turn them and the cover is half torn off. It is full of greasy fingerprints and cigarette ashes. It is the physical proof of how someone else’s words can turn into something of a worry stone, the kind of superstitious tool to turn to when all of the actually concrete tools have failed, useful almost despite itself. I think my appreciation probably surpasses what anyone could comfortably listen to in a face-to-face encounter. I could barely bring myself to speak even in the dream.
Back in art school, my friend Sara and I had this obsession with the concept of Incognito Chic. Incognito Chic involved sunglasses, a trench coat, a head scarf, a taxi cab, and a good reason for all of the above. It’s not a style so much as a still in the film that we were sure our lives secretly were, or would be someday. Every long friendship has its memes, and this was just one of many. Sara moved to Portland a couple of years ago, but we have been friends for so long that she doesn’t need to live nearby for me to feel close to her, something I accredit to the fact that we both still live in a world full of the accumulated ideas we have shared over the years. When she wrote and asked about Jean Couturier’s Coriandre, the first thing that came to mind was our old Incognito Chic.
I have to smile at our mutual naivete in thinking that disguises were not only useful, but the kind of thing we really wanted an excuse for someday. As if all the drugs and boys and dancing and Truffault films weren’t enough, in and of themselves. This perfume speaks of a similar spirit, Coriandre being the kind of quintessentially wise perfume that makes the most sense (to me, that is–lord knows what Sara thinks) when worn aspirationally.
Were I to go incognito these days, my perfume of choice would surely be a chypre, one of those moody and mysterious compositions of cool dark woods, old-fashioned hothouse-corsage florals, dry bergamot, and the compelling if not entirely pleasant vinegary bite that results from combining the three. I’m not a chypre girl, and as you see, that’s the point. These are the sorts of perfumes reserved for a woman far more private and controlled than I am, a woman who hides because it is her nature and not because she gets a kick out of it, a woman whose life is an endless succession of high stakes and just-in-time taxi cabs cutting through stormy city streets by night.
Coriandre by Jean Couturier is no exception, although I find it somewhat more approachable than the Mitsoukos and Paloma Picassos of the world. Perhaps that is because it is indeed cheap, at maybe $19.99 at your local beauty bodega for a big spray bottle with a fake-malachite plastic cap and spare, clean lines. Perhaps it is because its top notes perform the neat chypre parlor trick of starting off as something unabashedly dreadful before morphing into the fuller, rounder heart notes very quickly, leaving less room for the panic at having sprayed the wrong thing. When I give Coriandre a bit of time to develop past the strange prickling spice-rack top notes, I smell the kind of shameless red roses that a hooker might receive with a roll of her eyes from a smitten john resting on a base of mossy black velvet. It’s dark and spooky while also giving off the impression of bracing and possibly perverse good health. It is the kind of fragrance you can wear many times without ever being able to decide whether or not you like it.
I reach for Coriandre only in the Spring, and only on the right kind of gray, drizzly Sunday that is not too rainy for a solo mission to the museum or a used bookstore. It goes with the trench coat I wear on those occasions; goes with a black umbrella and the yearning to poke around someplace dusty. I would have liked to have known about it in college, the Incognito Chic times, where every day was an excuse for unironic Godard Girl drag and I had more time set aside for flea markets and emotional turmoil. Being slightly used was something I romanticized before it happened to me. Now I need the right gray, drizzly Sunday for it to feel cinematic.
It makes the world seem a very small and cozy place when I think of Sara, somewhere in Portland right now, wearing Coriandre and pearls, riding her bike through the rain in high heels, turning pseudo-famous musicians into her boyfriends, having her picture taken at art gallery openings, and living the kind of life everyone needs to have for awhile before they can settle down into something without quite so many jump-cuts.
The sunglasses were special from the beginning. Lying beneath the cracked glass of a thrift store counter, there were two pairs of them: mottled tortoiseshell plastic old-guy reading glasses, “aviator” being far too cool of a term for their homely 1970s utility. I bought both pairs, one greenish, one brownish, and took them to a lens crafter to turn them into sunglasses. The greenish pair broke promptly. The brownish pair, the ones I’ve been wearing all year, broke yesterday.
Filed under: Uncategorized
Great Pretender wrote: Creed Green Irish Tweed. Is it green or is it purple?
I say: Okay, Great Pretender, I took a sniff, and my first impression is that if this scent is indeed purple, it is the kind of deep, almost black purple you might find inside a dark closet. Green Irish Tweed smells grassy and sweetly floral, but with that unmistakable aftershave tingle that shouts, “what’s wrong with a plain old barber?” It might be shouting a bit too loudly, with a note of hysteria that edges it into shriek territory, but no, no purple here. NO PURPLE HERE!!!
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but a frat house and a gay bar smell pretty much the same, something I would attribute to the dearth of cologne choices for men in general. A lot of men’s cologne overdoes it on either the spike-up-your-nose aquatic notes or the overtly hairy-chested leathery stuff, and Green Irish Tweed walks a fine line between smelling pretty and smelling like a guy. However, even if it were just purely pretty, there would be no need to have a sexual identity crisis over it. Flowers are good, and men have been getting the short end of the personal scent stick ever since the ball-breaking feminazis took over the world and gave everything with any value to their dun-colored, underplumaged sisters. I say, take back that power and wear White Diamonds!
Grace wrote: Do you know any lemon or citrus-based scents that don’t smell like household cleaner? I have this scent-memory I’m trying to track down. When I was in the hospital two summers ago, the sweet nurses would come in once in a while and rub my hand with some kind of cheap lotion that smelled like lemons in a warm, comforting, delicious way. I’d never liked citrus scents much before that, but now I’m a little obsessed.
My money’s on: Jean Nate. It comes in packaging that looks like this. It is extremely cheap and extremely simple and lovely and I love it, especially the body powder. Jean Nate does not actually smell like lemons, although it recreates the bright, uplifting lemon experience with notes like lavender and lily of the valley. I think it would fit the description of warm, comforting, and delicious as well as forensically being something a nurse might actually have lying around her hospital station. Another option could be Razac Hand and Body Lotion. This smells more like soapy, woodsy grapefruits than lemons to me, and it’s more brisk than comforting, but it could certainly find its way to a nurse’s station.
I looked all over for a nice nurse picture to use with this post, but they were all either holding syringes or else they were “nurses,” that is to say, costumed strumpets. Neither seemed like an appropriate image to go along with a memory of someone’s much-appreciated competence and kindness, so I found some flowers instead.
Hope one of these works out for you, Grace!
So, to lay a little bit of casual groundwork: Joy’s claim to fame is that it is (or was) The Costliest Perfume in The World. Created by the French house of Patou to make American women feel luxurious even in the midst of the Great Depression. On one hand, awww, France… thanks! Between Joy and the Statue of Liberty, you guys have historically been grand buddies of the USA. I’m sorry that our leaders tend to get all butthurt every time you disagree with our politics, because you have for the most part been most excellent allies, both politically and culturally. Don’t listen to them. You are appreciated for all you have done and all that you are, France, including Joy de Jean Patou, which remains one of the great perfume big guns of history.
And lawwwd have mercy, what a big gun she is! It was suggested by Jae in the comments section that I try Joy on for size, and try her on I have. To be fair, I already had Joy in my stash before she said anything about it, but I took her out for another spin yesterday, a freezing stay-inside-if-you-can doozy of a cold, cold day. The parfum is amber in color, thicker and more sticky than the average parfum, and packs a stinging eau-de-vie wallop right out of the vial. Give it a few moments and it’s Grasse jasmine singing a dramatic soprano aria, joined a bit later by the earthy, mezzo murmurings of the Rose de Mai. These notes are so strong, distinct, and almost crudely rendered that it smells as though you’ve just put pure essential oils on your skin. Joy goes on like this for about an hour before the other part kicks in, and the other part is this mellow, honeyed, salty warmth that calls to mind nothing more than a clean but slightly sweaty ass crack. In the best possible way. I offered my wrist to a friend and asked him if it didn’t smell like ass crack. He sniffed me for awhile and finally said, “I don’t think ass crack is a bad thing.” That about sums it up. The ass accord is commonly attributed to civet, but since I don’t know anything about all that, it smells more to me like all the flowers in the opening have wilted slightly, sweated into their costumes, gotten very relaxed and sleepy, and are ready for bed after a long night of hard work. It’s lovely, and very human-smelling even if you don’t buy the ass crack line and haven’t personified perfume notes into opera singers. Also, all stages of this perfume are very strong. People will smell you if you wear this. They won’t be sniffing and looking around and wondering loudly who has swamp ass on the subway, but they might pick up on a bit of subliminal sex and start looking at you like you possibly have some for them. So basically, it accomplishes what the D&G Light Blues and Fresh Sugars of the world won’t: actual suggestiveness.
When viewing it all through the filter of Joy de Jean Patou, it’s easy to imagine that French sympathy for Americans during the Great Depression carried with it a wise, understated message: lighten up, take the ass crack with the flowers, and shit, if the stock market crashes, definitely pick up a bottle of the costliest perfume in the world to tide you over until happier days arrive. Joy is your birthright. Don’t let anything take your humanity from you, and don’t believe anyone who tells you they’ve never smelled an ass crack and liked it.
Filed under: Perfume | Tags: Bond Chinatown, Chan Marshall, Jovan Fresh Patchouli, patchouli
So, ever since I wrote this post on Jovan Fresh Patchouli, it has generated far and away the most traffic of anything else on this site, with the occasional exception of this one. It is searched for and viewed many times a day. I have no idea why. My only clue comes from my own comment section, courtesy of one Chan from Toronto:
YES. YES. DITTO! i cant beleive tht someone is able to put WORDS 2th way ths stuff-is!? idunno…and its th 1st time since th 1960s-70s tht i had tht, ‘i’m friends w/tht chick cuz we both luv levijeans’ feeling tht kids get when they really wanna be a part of th club. pre-sex,-drugs,etc. its th patchouli club!!! and every single girl i’ve ever met who wears ths stuff [or wild musk by coty] is th kinda girl tht guys can laugh with but wanna make out with 2 yet other girls dig her! lol thnx 4 th trip! i’ll fav ths and pull it out when i need a high. cheers! ps~btw, i cant find it anywhere anymore! been looking for 3 weeks now. i just took 7 empty bottles, broke off th tops and put it into a weee bottle. i’m in toronto canada. do u have any idea where i can obtain it? [a case?] teeheehee..kinda like a dry spell o’magic mushrooms,eh?!!! LMAO
Well, Chan, I wish I could relate more. As it stands, I am a very infrequent visitor to the Patchouli Club’s fragrant compound. But I was really taken with the idea that the Patchouli Club was some sort of teenybopper precursor to actual sex, drugs, and et cetera. Like if marijuana is a gateway drug, Jovan’s Fresh Patchouli is the gateway to the gateway drug. That sounded absolutely spot-on to me, believing as I do that perfume is an indicator of identity as well as remembering firsthand all the Patchouli Club kids from my own adolescence. On top of that, Jovan Fresh Patchouli is sort of a training-wheels version of patchouli scents in general. It’s nowhere near as raunchy as the hard shit straight out of an essential oil vial. No one’s going to tell you that you smell like an armpit or a heavy session if you wear this. Instead, it uses patchouli to add an appropriate wet, funky note to a grassy meadow, or perhaps even a plain old All-American baseball field. This is exactly what perfume you’d wear if you were screwing up your courage to try a cigarette in the girl’s bathroom someday. I feel you, Chan. Wait, you’re not this Chan, are you?
When I first started messing around with Fresh Patchouli, my friend Heather said that it reminded her of strawberry incense. I was like, you’re crazy, it smells nothing like that. But after she said it, I began to smell what she was talking about in there. This faint, sweet, burnt-fruity note that I suspect is not actually strawberry, but a happy, impressionistic accident. Now the strawberry incense is the whole reason I like the perfume. In fact, I almost wish someone would take that idea and run with it. In my mind’s nose, the perfect Fresh Patchouli variation would smell similar to Bond No. 9’s Chinatown but with strawberry instead of peach. Punk sticks, patchouli, sandalwood soap, hay, that teenage bedroom-rot smell, and just a little bit of that sickly strawberry head shop oil. Fucking yum. Make this for me, someone. Me and all of these Jovan Fresh Patchouli Clubbers that blow my site up daily.
But back to my Patchouli Clubbers, I don’t know what else to tell you about this perfume. I wrote this post to help scratch your seemingly insatiable itch a little further, but the fact of the matter is that this stuff has become very rare. I found mine at a CVS, but it’s not in the other CVSes. This is about all that comes up from an internet search other than my review and a bunch of E-Bay shysters trying to sell this stuff for way too much money:
I know it’s not much to go on, especially when you have a monkey on your back. But I’m trying to be an advocate for y’all here, and who knows, maybe someone is listening.