Ah, the beauty of the amide group – that little bit of organic chemical functionality that turns Element 6 with Valence 4 into beautiful things like Carl Sagans, who say BILLIONS AND BILLIONS until we sigh about the beauty of the whole 10-to-the-80th atoms.
And which, in combination with a pair of carboney double-shots straight out of Jack Daniels, turns mere lysergic acid into what the hell is going on with my latest fragrance acquisition?
Allow me to explain.
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You see, I was talking with Starbucks Chick about the coffee berry note in Polo Red – my new, personal, celebrity scent – thank you very much, Ralph Lauren – when I was RUDELY interrupted by my so-called friends, who said go onto Chandler Burr’s Facebook – I mean Cashbook – I mean Spambook – I mean OpenSky web page and grab me some S01E10.
So what the heck is S01E10? Apparently, it’s a MYSTERY. And you have to pay MONEY to figure it out.
Sounds like a racket to me. But it’s a new fragrance, and there could be a babe in the ad, so I’ll take one, and where do I sign?
Well, the bottle didn’t even have a box, much less an expensive designer ad with a supermodel. DARN. But it did come with 4 OpenSky stickers on the cardboard box, and 4 is a good number to my tribe, so party on, Chandler!
Although I had to ponder this. Could OpenSky Blue® be a privately owned color like Tiffany Blue®? The possibility is FREAKY. It’s like Henrietta Lacks’ DNA – yet another claim of ownership of one more unthinkable thing by THE MAN.
But I digress.
SO – according to Chandler, S01E10 is supposed to be some kind of new, uber-hot, indie scent from the Romantic period, which means it came from DEAD ARTISTS and not THESE GUYS.
Yeah. The hair. And to think – they’re not even a hair band. The mind boggles.
So – the sniff. SO important in figuring out what to say about a fragrance.
I’m like – yeah – this is some good stuff. Something weird about it, though.
I could smell Spain. I kid you not. Now – part of that was because I thought that maybe I was smelling an impression of olive oil, which wouldn’t be much of a surprise if S01E10 was actually Pear+Olive, the scent that got everybody in Fragtown raving about Slumberhouse Josh.
And it smelled sunny. Look – don’t ask me. If you can’t smell sunny, you’re not a sniffa. Just sayin’. But between the olive oil thing and the sunny thing, it pretty much smelled like Spain.
So I’m diggin’ this frag for about a half-hour, when I get this weird feeling – which was somewhere between marine obvious and vetiver subconscious – that I had seriously smelled this stuff before.
And then it hit me. O.M.G. S01E10 was SdV. Otherwise known as Sel de Vétiver, by The Different Company. The amazing, brilliant, captivating work of Céline Ellena, otherwise known as the daughter of Jean-Claude Ellena.
The trouble is, my nose it too damn good. I mean it. Fragrances never smell exactly the same to me. I have SdV in three forms (sample, travel bottle, big bottle), plus the shampoo, and NONE of them smell identical. It’s kinda like when I smelled S01E01 and could tell it wasn’t the same as Prada Infusion d’Iris, which it happened to be, and which I happen to own. To me, scents may be equal, but if they’re not connected by surface tension, they’re not connected by the identity operator. In my world, every scent, every day, is another Creed batch variation.
SO – the problem here is that I can never be sure, ’cause no two scents ever fingerprint the same. BUT – in getting from S01E01 to S01E10, I had done some serious bit-shifting in my head. Call it fuzzy logic if you will, but I have now gotten to the point of being able to tell a pointless flanker from a pointless reformulation. Yessirree, Eight and Bob. And this cowboy was calling the fuzzy identity operator on S01E10 and SdV.
Which looks like this on the left of the symbol:
And like this on the right – complete with Devo hat:
I know there are people who complain about things aging, but Sel de Vétiver is a bit like whiskey and women. It just gets better and better. My bottle is rich, golden, and smells like Aphrodite herself handed Aesculapius the bottle while walking out of my HMO, saying “Physician. Heal thyself.” And it is going to make one hell of a vintage frag someday. Guerlanistas – take note.
But, of course, I had to screw things up.
Going back to Chandler’s fragrant ATM in the Open Sky, due to a post by my fellow Chandlerite Shani, I made the useful mistake of looking at S01E09, thereby seeing THIS:
Clearly, Chandler had hooked up poor, innocent Sel de Vétiver with something that was either the WRONG fragrance, or the most intense version of aged SdV that I had ever seen.
Now, at this point, the right thing to do is to assume things got worse. You just found an odd, fragrant object in a graveyard. Is it an alien head that smells like ambergris, or a tree root? Come on! You know the answer! But what fun is that? What if this was actually, like, not just an alien head, but one of the ORIGINAL bottles of SdV?
Babe or not – where do I sign?
Yes – a fool and his money are soon parted, but a wise guy and his money never leave the friggin’ house. Get a life, Solomon! So what – maybe you lose a little cash if you believe 6 is 9, but you may actually have a little fun getting there.
Eagerly awaiting SdV Pseudo-Intense, I savored the arrival of briney bliss, even though the better half of my brain knew better. And sure enough – when it arrived, a small whiff came from the now-unwrapped bottle, confirming that – whatever it was – it was not SdV.
However, what I did smell was interesting. An odd freshness wafted over a deep, ancient woods. Typically, when I smell such things in the works of self-taught perfumers, as this one was alleged to be, they don’t work. They generally don’t draw you in. Rather, they kick you out – and make you run like hell for the sport fragrance aisle at Macy’s. But this one was different. It was gaining traction. Suddenly, I was reminded of Bleu de Chanel – Jacques Polge’s fragrant seductress – the proximate cause of my broken promise to never have a “signature scent”.
That scent, which had scandalized modern fragrance by burying a forbidden classic under mandatory freshness, showed me a crucial truth of perfumery – that one need not use abusive materials to create interest – one can abuse useful materials just as intelligently. With that new respect in mind, I realized that this odd fragrance before me, might not be coal, but a diamond of a different color.
Putting it away for the weekend, I decided that I would go “all in” for this fragrance. It was time to “get Romantic“.
Returning to Chandler’s description of would-be S1E10, which was presumably the right one for actual S01E09, I knew what to look for.
Windswept moors, cold rough seas, rocky cliffs tempest tossed, the genre’s entire panoply of tropes with no irony in sight, and yet you buy it, not (not for an instant) despite yourself but with a lifting soul, courage renewed, and a sense of adventure. If Robert Louis Stevenson had done a celebrity scent, this would have been it.
But how to find them? Ah, yes – music works. I needed Romantic music to bring out that Romantic mood. But what? Neo-Romantic? For what would clearly be a “neo-Romantic” fragrance? Well, I tried Wolfgang Rihm, but you can see for yourself – it’s appropriately weird, but far too intellectual to have fun with.
And perhaps that’s the whole problem with modern music. It lacks the fun of the old stuff. Hell – everything lacks the fun of the old stuff. It makes you realize why steampunk had to be invented. Good God, people. Somebody fire a fucking cannon! So much more Romantic than a cruise missile.
So – what do we do? Ah, yes – go to Wikipedia and watch grown adults fight over, not just perfume, but whether Beethoven qualifies as Romantic. You see – apparently, learned men were acting like they were on the internet long before the internet existed! But if the consensus of encyclopedic evolution is to be believed – a sort of proof by editorial durability – then Beethoven is actually the bridge to Romanticism. So I decided to let him be MY bridge to Romanticism.
The trouble is, mixing steampunk Polge and bluetooth Beethoven is something like alcohol and drugs. Bad things are likely to happen.
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As I sprayed my arms silly with S01E10, mislabeled as S01E09, under the influence of men who have not taken the Common Core curriculum, and thus are under the influence of outmoded concepts such as God, and have thereby been causing men and women to sing and play furiously in His honor, long after their own deaths, I began to worry that maybe influence by things unknown could be an issue.
That much was right.
However, I soon realized that my fears of melamine and diethylene glycol adulterating my olfactory adultery were misplaced. Like music, the greatest danger of perfume is not something subtle snuck into the brew, but the thing itself. The feds may be worried about LSD-25, which – fortunately – crazy people don’t need – but they mostly forgot about limonene.
As freshness poured off the strip of paper next to me, I found it strangely addictive. It was going somewhere – and I had to go along. Bleu de Chanel? What about Bleu de Channel? As in the English Channel! Or maybe something more exciting – something stormy and mad, like down to the South of Kirchnerland, where Nature herself puts the Mal in Malvinas. Now that’s exciting! How about a little Tierra del Fuego?
But how to get there? Well, I needed wooden ships. Not the post-apocalyptic CSN&Y kind, either, but whatever in the hell was coming off the back of my hand. Those would do.
Old wood – maybe a little iron – I felt like I was antiquing and got myself into a wee bit of trouble. The wooden beams were rough and old, but still gave up the secrets of their birth. The scent was making me a bit queasy – or was that the ocean? In either case, I had to grab for a rail. I needed to talk to the ship’s perfumer about that one. But maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to feel when you’re at sea. In that case, carry on.
Exciting! Yes – that’s it. Exciting. Kinda like Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9 in D minor.
Speaking of which, we need to talk.
I got to no. 9 via Beethoven’s earlier Missa Solemnis, which I had thought might be Beethoven’s most Romantic work, and which was discussed very thoughtfully by the folks at NPR in this particular segment. Their main point: that Beethoven poses an unresolved spiritual question in the Missa Solemnis, which is resolved in a predictably subtle but typically NPRish way in no. 9. They may SAY that the resolution is that we turn to each other, but if you simply stop and say “wait a minute – I’ve deciphered NPR’s ‘educate the hicks’ propaganda a thousand times before – let’s back up and listen again”, then the whole thing amounts to a fancy version of “God is dead”. Dress it up however you like, but – as usual – they miss an essential symmetry of God, and end up with Gaia at best. Maybe Gaia with people holding hands – which is frankly a relief compared to the people-free Gaia that we get from the usual extreme misinterpretation of American Indian spirituality, but it’s still a Great Mystery-free zone. It’s a bit like admitting that pi is not 3.14, but then proudly calling it 3.1416.
No. Sorry. They’re wrong. And if I go on talking about fragrance, and not where fragrance and music lead, we miss the whole point. The Spirit of Beethoven demands correction, lest he do ONE MORE long-axis rotation in his grave.
Good God. This fragrance is taking me back to before Karl Marx was invented. Joy!
No matter how you cut it, the disproof of NPR’s shiv in the back of the Almighty, and assault on the memory of Beethoven, begins in their own presentation. As they make a point of mentioning but not explaining fully to the listener, Beethoven was apparently obsessed with the same wonderful symmetry that Jews have been marveling over for ages – the idea that existence is fundamentally emergent from itself. Whether this idea was actually Egyptian or Mesopotamian (or both) is immaterial. Presumably, like intelligence itself, the idea emerges no matter what. The beauty of the idea infects everything that flows from it. The greatest beauty of evolution is a sort of second-order byproduct of the Judaic God – the idea that existence justifies itself at a physical level. Who the hell cares about irreducible complexity, when irreducible simplicity beckons?
Frankly, all the really good stuff about God is in the beginning, but once you get that, all sorts of interesting possibilities derive. To me, the marvel of Christ begins with the fact that he was simply a Jew who got three-thousand years worth of stuff, two thousand years ago. Twentieth-century scientists wondered whether our self-important literature or self-serving science got “many worlds” first. Personally, I think it was a rabbinical student who realized the correct answer to the trick question about heaven, which begged the question by asking how seven universes could fit into one. Christ – the man got digital before there WAS digital.
Damn. Where’s my scent strip? That was close. I almost fell overboard.
Here are the three Egyptian inscriptions which Beethoven kept under the glass of his working desk, and which he got by way of Schiller’s essay:
I AM THAT WHICH IS.
I AM ALL, WHAT IS, WHAT WAS, WHAT WILL BE:
NO MORTAL MAN HAS EVER LIFTED MY VEIL.
HE IS ONLY AND SOLELY OF HIMSELF, AND TO THIS ONLY ONE ALL THINGS OWE THEIR EXISTENCE.
Now – for people who want to believe these are just old humanities, take my word for it that you can convert these all into stuff that looks more like math or physics – given that English and German – and Egyptian and Hebrew, for that matter – are all poorly organized but tangentially beautiful computer languages. Which thus makes the sidelining of God more obvious as a universally Western but particularly American form of Lysenkoism, in which some scientific pursuits are forbidden because they violate party orthodoxy.
Worse still, the idea that Beethoven – a man who actually got the true fundamentals about God – found his answer in man? Even at our best? Are they serious? Good Lord – where do they write this stuff? Cuba?
Not expecting anybody to really get that in my lifetime. Oh, what the hell. Time to escape into the past again. Where did I put S01E09? Which is really S01E10.
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I was back on my ship, escaping the religious persecution of the future by returning to Europe’s past. But first, a fascinating trip to beautiful places. Under bombardment by the hot cannons of the Argentinian coast, we stopped to take a few celebrity photos of the even hotter enemy.
Romance! As the captain impressed the seal of the good ship H.M.S. Untitled into the hot red wax on the back of the letter, demanding safe passage or a duel with Her Hotness, I could smell both the glistening wax and the extinguished wick. Suspecting that Kansas was neutral in this one, I offered to hold the weapons, but what I really wanted to do was smell the wooden handles of the dueling pistols and see if they had the strange metallic wooden accord that was so fascinating in S01E10.
The reply from Buenos Aires? Smoking cannonballs of S01E10‘s base! Time to make a run for it! Alas, the feeling of velocity was nearly gone from my scent strip. I needed topnotes quickly. Spraying my blotter with a mixture of fragrance and second movement, I rejoiced in the tangy citrus, which meant I would not be getting scurvy anytime soon. But where were the choppy waves of ocean, rushing past the ship?
Olfactory shape-shifting drag! And it could not be happening at a more inconvenient moment.
Thinking quickly, I reached for Sel de Vétiver, which was operating under the code name S01E10. By alternately sniffing alleged S01E09 and faux S01E10, a sense of wind began to fill our sails. But SdV and the third movement had a plan. The light, breezy iris of Sel de Vétiver brought me to a café on the shores, where I implored a lovely Argentinian lady to, as they say, let my people go. Unable to resist the lesser Romantic and greater romantic pleadings of Sel de Vétiver, she relented.
Returning to the ship, I prepared for the fourth movement.
It was rumored that Tierra del Fuego was inhabited by godless heathens, known only as the NPR. Something of a cargo cult, they used devices left by Tesla and Marconi, to try to drag steampunk seafarers and religious refugees, by the sweet melodies of their humanist siren song, into an erroneous future. With the aid of true S01E10, I was able to determine their exact positions by olfactory radar. High above the coastal cliffs, now coming into view with the fourth movement, they threatened our religious sensibilities with misleadingly pleasant discussions, while ominous bass notes of a second Clinton administration emerged from beneath the waters surrounding our ship. We would be lucky to get out of this one without either hanging chads or an IRS audit.
It was time to go for the Big Guns – God Himself. Removing the top from S01E10, and listening to the German chorus of the fourth movement, I went for the deep stuff that underlies it all. Connecting directly to the fragrance, with a minimal surface area, I sought the timeless, fundamental smell of the mixture, and not what evolves through time, space and volatility. With the high pitch of the chorus, and the low spark of this high-heeled fragrance, I emerged into a state of true understanding.
It’s not that Beethoven found resolution of his divine questions in men making peace with each other. That’s all great, but it’s only part of the answer – a poor approximation of a greater truth. It’s an indicator of a symmetry, which functions not by denying the controlling existence of God, but by recognizing that the power of Creation under the symmetry, driven by the vanishing of God upon propagation, infuses all intelligence without prejudice, and that it is only by conforming to that symmetry, that we ourselves propagate without resistance. The glory of God is that He is both the source of everything and the substance of nothing – a thing which vanishes upon creation of whatever derives from it.
To have science without God, is like having mathematics without zero or the empty set. Yes, NPR. God vanishes. But that’s not the same thing as saying – or even implying – that we can live without God – that we can turn only to each other. God is neither necessary nor sufficient to live momentarily on Tierra del Fuego, but He will creep back in as surely as existence exists. Recognition of that mysterious truth will return when lost, by the very definition of the accumulating intelligence of civilization. Just as God vanishes, the Truth of His existence emerges.
Spraying one last spray of S01E10 on the back of my hand, I think I can see the Pacific ocean. Smiling to nobody and everybody at the same time, the morning sun rising in the woods behind my house reminds me that beauty infuses all, real and imaginary, by the same symmetry. To think that a fragrance brought me to this realization.
But I digress.