S01E02

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Celebrating the Vision of Thierry Mugler and His Universe.

I’ve been taking part in the Chandler Burr Untitled series, in which participants are being asked to consider the artistry of various fragrances, independent of knowing what the fragrances actually are.  Nevertheless, the question of “what something is” echoes in the back of our minds, even as we try to free ourselves from it.  It has even become a sort of secondary game – a side-bet of some kind.

In the case of the second fragrance, S01E02, it was probably a good thing that I figured out what it was – although I can’t claim full credit for doing so (my thanks to fellow Basenoter Burris for figuring out what it was, and fellow fragrance reviewer Mark Behnke of Ca Fleure Bon for confirming it).

You see, in the case of S01E02, I could not see the artistry that Burr was talking about.  The green notes that were critical to his artistic thesis about the fragrance, simply were not apparent.  The “curling vines in space” (Mark’s contraction for Chandler’s metaphor, and later the butt of our jokes) were not visible to our noses in the juice we were given.  But they were clearly seen in the bottle of Mugler Cologne that I bought from the store, thanks to Burris.

And thank G_d I bought that bottle.

The effect of actually being able to see art is profound.  It influences.  It touches.  It changes.  As the olfactory art created by Thierry Mugler, Vera Strübi, and Alberto Morillas sparked across some olfactopsychological gap and changed me in the moment of its recognition, I felt that I simply had to say something.  Some small token of appreciation for those who dare to envision something truly different.  Beyond, that, an idea.  The idea that – even when things are not always appreciated in their own time, you never know about the future.

Perhaps the best futures are the ones that are most thankful for their past.

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S01E02

“Have we met?”

“Maybe.  Where are you going?”

“E-2.  And you?”

“E-2.”

“Really!  Going any further than Saturn?”

“Yes.”

“Well, don’t keep me in suspense.”

“I’m sorry – what’s your name?”

“Reed Presto.  I’m in comm engineering.  I’m working on construction of E-3.  Sorry.  Should have introduced myself.”

“I have to ask this.  You’re not a journalist, are you?”

“Oh, heavens, no!  That sounds like work.  I’m allergic.”

“CE isn’t work?”

“Lord, no!  It’s a gas.  Of course, I can’t talk about any of it, but that’s just part of the job.”

“Do you have a truth implant?”

“Wanna see it?”

“That’s OK.  I believe you.”

“Wow!  You’re sensitive.  Are you police?”

“No.  But I am sensitive.”

“Odd.  What are you doing up here?”

“I’m going to Thiergarten.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Wanna see my implant?”

“Oh.  My.  God.  You’re that woman!  Sorry – I shouldn’t have said it that way.  You’re the ambassador.  Please forgive me – I’m such an idiot.  Now I know where I saw you – in the news this morning.  Good grief – why are you traveling like this?”

“I wanted to enjoy the experience.  You know – riding with the rest of the stiffs.  This may be the last time I ever enjoy the actual company of human strangers.”

“Well, in that case, I hope I’ll do.  Good grief – you certainly deserve somebody better than little old me.”

“Don’t worry.  You’re doing fine.”

“Well, thanks.  Cringe.  Good Lord!  I can’t believe it.  Talk about lucky seating.  Mind if I ask you a billion questions?  Nobody will ever know.  A complete waste of your time.”

“Do you know that the TGs believe that the power of a thought is inversely proportional to how many people hear it?”

“Really.  They are strange.  Is it true that they communicate by smell?  I find that hard to believe.”

“Can we define communication first?”

“OK – now you have me intrigued.  God, this must be exciting.  Can I ask why they picked you?  In the news they said it was because of your nose.”

“That’s only a small part of it.  A critical part, but only a small part.  I think the thing that really impressed them was my video journal of living in a pond for a year.  They knew I was serious when they saw that.”

“They showed some footage!  It was terribly odd.  I really didn’t understand.”

“Culturally, it’s important for me to be part of the community.  That means getting in the water with them.  A lot.  I’ll have an adapter suit, but I need to view the suit as a barrier to Oneness, not some kind of protection from them.  I need to want to be with them.  I have to love the water like they do.”

“Amazing.  But what’s the whole thing about smell?”

“Their sensory array is really, really different from ours.  Because they’re basically amphibious, it has to work in both gas and liquid phases.  Because they’re colonial and radially symmetrical – but pseudospherical – it has to be distributed over almost their entire surface.  Taken together, it means that they’re directionally chemosensitive in water and above water.  They’re sensitive to light, heat, touch sound, taste and smell – over their entire bodies.”

“I’m going to be honest – it’s a bit creepy.  I don’t like the idea that an algae-covered pond is actually smarter than me.”

“It is disconcerting at first.  But once you understand how kind they are, their true beauty is revealed.”

“Now they said that you’re a perfumer.  Does that help you communicate?”

“Not really.  And being an historian only helps to a limited extent.  But both backgrounds help me.  They help me to understand them better than the average human would.  Their ‘smell’ communication – their chemo-sensitivity – is much faster and much more complex than anything we have on our planet.”

“But I simply can’t imagine something like that.”

“OK – try this.  Imagine if we encountered a nearly blind species – one that could just barely detect shades of light or color in non-focusable eyes.  Unable to read, write, or have any significant visual arts.  Perhaps they could surround themselves with pleasant shades of color.  What would you think of them?”

“Simple.  Backwards.  I might even pity them.”

“Bingo.”

“They pity us?”

“In some ways, yes.  Our olfactory arts are primitive.  Very primitive.  But the TGs are also very understanding of less advanced cultures.”

“How about visual arts?  We have them on that score, don’t we?”

“Not really.  They achieved virtual world creation – through a kind of biological internet – far earlier in their civilization than we did in ours.  Their biological information space dwarfs ours.  They can create fantastic information structures that go well beyond our visual arts and sciences.  They actually have to create very simplistic shadows of them for us to understand.”

“Oh my God.  That is so spooky.”

“Yes.  Have you ever seen the original transmissions? Not the news stuff.  I mean the raw stuff.”

“I’m not actually allowed to answer that.”

“No problem.  That means you’ve seen at least some of them.  They weren’t perfectly adapted for humans.  About ten percent of people who watch them become physically ill.”

“But you don’t?”

“Guess what I was watching while I was in the pond?”

“Sister – I am damn glad they found you.  You must have been born to do this.”

“In a way, that’s true.  Like a lot of perfumers, the nose runs in my family.  But my father filled my bedroom with plush TGs when I was a kid.  The first thing he did when they told us, was buy a telescope and build a pool in our back yard.”

“He must have been an interesting guy.”

“He was.  I remember a lot of adults being in shock when everything was revealed.  But not my father.  He said we were the luckiest generation to ever live.”

“Wow.  I guess I never thought about it that way.”

“Yeah.  Most people don’t.  But I did.  And for as long as I can remember, I knew that I would meet them someday.”

“So – if I may ask – what does the ambassador to another planet do when they get there?”

“Well, the first thing you do is present a gift.  That – at least – is a commonality between our species.”

“Expensive?  Rare?”

“No.  Not by intention.  It needs to be personal and suitable.  The physical worth must not enter into it.  That’s a distraction, and could even be taken as an intentional insult, or a deception.”

“Fascinating.  Glad I’m not the one who decides these things.  I’d probably start a war.”

“Not with Thiergarten.  They would destroy themselves before harming another civilization.”

“Amazing.”

“Personally, I don’t think we’re worthy of them.  But I feel that if somebody has to do this job, it should be somebody who realizes that.  And contacting us was their decision, anyway.  I have to, and do, respect it.”

“So what are you going to give them?”

“This.”

“Wow.  It looks old.  Is that glass?”

“Yup.  It was already old when my grandfather acquired it.  It’s from around the millennium.

“I can see that it’s personal.  But why is it suitable?”

“The TGs have studied our history – deeply.  They understand what’s ahead of its time, and what’s merely typical.  Perhaps better than we do.  They have a truly different view of time.  That view – for physical reasons we don’t fully follow – is that the future “draws” the past toward it.  For this reason, they’re intensely interested in people who anticipate things – like the man who envisioned this perfume.  They would never ask us directly for this gift, and they might even hide their whimsical desires as a form of humility, but I’ve been able to figure out that they are fascinated by him.”

“Amazing!”

“Better still, there is no way that we could have communicated this smell to them.  It’s something of a ‘lost work’ – hiding in the shadows of more famous siblings.  Most perfumers of our generation haven’t even heard of it.  But the best part is that it was never encoded.  Neither the exact composition, nor the olfactory profile.”

“Now that’s something I know about, dearie.  I’m not bragging if I say that I’m exceptionally well versed in materials protocols.  And you’re saying this was never even submitted to an older protocol like ChemCode?”

“Exactly.   So it’s a bit like a lost da Vinci.  And even though I could give them the data now, our most advanced protocol is nothing compared to what they’ll get out of it, when I give the actual fragrance to them.  They’ll be able to read this fragrance, and literally see the minds of the man and woman who conceived of it, and the man who made it.”

“I’m just overwhelmed.  I can’t believe I’m actually seeing this bottle.”

“Do you want to take a sniff?”

“I… I… – Oh, good grief.  I feel like I’ll ruin it or something.  But YES!”

“Don’t worry.  You can’t ruin it.  And I think it’s important that you sniff it.  They would, too.  They’ll be very pleased that a stranger got to sniff their gift on the way.  That will actually enhance its beauty for them.”

“Oh my.   They are just so different – they boggle my mind.  OK.  How do we do this?”

“Here – I’ll spray some on paper for us both.  You can save the paper in your book as a bookmark to remember.  Remembering is important.”

“OK – I’m ready.”

“Don’t think about the fragrance as a perfume.   Tell me what you smell.”

“Well – it’s – interesting.  It doesn’t smell that old, actually.”

“That’s your first hint.  It’s the same thing to a perfumer’s nose.  Not typical of its era – more like ours.  What else?”

“OK.  OK – this may sound contradictory, but it’s natural, like a normal natural outdoor smell, but it’s also kind of artificial.  Just a little.  But purposefully.  Not – you know – because it’s cheap.”

“Good.  I see that, too.  How does it make you feel?”

“Sort of – well – sort of right here.  You know?  Like I’m traveling in space.  The way they try to make it feel natural when you’re traveling, but you know it’s not, but it’s OK because it’s kind of exciting.”

“Exactly!  We think that’s what the perfumer and the designers were trying to go for.  Extremely imaginative, and anticipatory of actual space travel.  And clearly why there is so much interest.  So – do you like it?”

“Yes, I do like it.  It’s good.  I could wear this.  I kind of wish they had normal scrubs and make-up that smelled like it.  I’ve never worn perfume, but I would use it for scrubbing or freshening, or in skin products.”

“You’ll be able to, actually.  My old company’s going to re-create a small amount as a commemorative – for the exchange of ambassadors.  There will be a lot of political and historical interest.  It will be very low-key, though.  But if you ask around, you’ll be able to get some products containing it.  They’re even going to make a shower gel, like back when people took perfumed showers.”

“Wow!  Interesting.  Although…. I don’t know.”

“What?”

“It’s just…. Well – I’m just wondering.  What kind of gift will their ambassador bring here?”

“Something personal.  And suitable.  And probably something that we will all find incredibly fascinating.”

“I almost can’t imagine what it might be.  Can you?”

“No.  I have absolutely no idea.  But maybe that’s the whole point of gifts.  Sometimes, it’s just easier to see what we want from the outside.”

“Maybe that’s the whole point of having friends, too.”

“That’s a nice thought.  Do you mind if I share it?”

“Sure.  But not with so many people that it loses its power.”

“You learn fast.”

“For a human.”

“Don’t worry.  I’ll keep it between friends.”

“Speaking of friends….”

“OK.  One more spray.  Here – give me your wrist.”

“See?  What are friends for?”

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