The Nose Knows

I’ve been hunting for the perfect jasmine scent. But, it’s eluding me. The latest one I bought – compulsively, impatiently – wears so horribly with my chemistry that it’s destined for the perfume junk yard along with some stinky Burberry bottles.

I sniff for a lost jasmine odeur among essential oils in head shops, in Whole Foods, in health food stores. I duck around fragrance counters in department stores, walking away with slicks of liquid on skinny shards of thick stock paper. You might think I’m a shareholder in L’Artisan’s parent company, given my collection of geometric bottles lined up at attention on a shelf in my closet. But, still, not the right jasmine. Diptyque!, you came close, I tried a few times, but as it wore its essence became unfavorable, ugly (on me).

I’ve had jasmine plants. Zone 5 sucks the life out of them. Plant in spring, pot in fall, indoors for winter, back out again. Finally, I murdered them by exposing them to frost. Maybe, subconsciously, I’d tired of tending to their precarious nature. Plus, the bloom didn’t smell like what had been manufactured and poured into that glass tube I found at a flea market all those years ago.

The jasmine I’m seeking is one I will never find an exact match for. It’s not the scent that was inside of the tiny vial that my imagination swoons over. Instead, it is the life lived during the moments I wore it that reign supreme. The memory of the oil, pungent, singular – brings vivid, almost hedonistic associations with the recollection.  My brain works to recreate a space in time when discovery, capital D, in all of its forms abounded: New culture, new language, new way to think, lust, first love, all night parties in the discotecas, booze, miles of walking, train rides through time zones to other languages and different cities, trains back to home away from home, dazzling flora, dog breeds I’d never seen, mountain goats standing on sticks on street corners – what?, castles, palaces, dazzling blue sea, more parties, sunshine ’til 10pm, dinner at midnight, warm air, hot air, no screens on the windows, history, art, a homogeneous looking tribe with endless gracious gestures, open, joyful, loving, proud. The Madrileños made me want to convert. I was in love with all of them and all of it. The whole of it perceived as a picaresque moment created specifically for the delight of me and my girls as it unfolded before us. We laughed our way through the days and nights, euphoric, delighted, grateful to be receiving the experience, to be alive, to be…young.

And I did what I had to do. I shed some skin to grow some skin.

Bye-bye crunchy granola girl with hiking boots and long locks fried by chlorine and knotted into a bun with no strand escaping, no product needed. She got left behind. The hair? Bobbed. A black, leather biker jacket with a scarf in the pocket that worked as a thick choker for cool evenings fast became a uniform.

We all wore fuck me red lipstick- by Clinique. I don’t remember its real name, but it was a shade not far from Ruby Woo by Mac, if you need a visual. You know, one of those all-inclusive, magic reds made for every shade of skin. We passed around the silver  tube, reapplying feverishly, feeling more beautiful with each layer. One friend had cold sores that cropped up, about every other week on the corner of her mouth. She didn’t share her tube. I managed to buy my own during a year when I had money to eat mainly baguettes and chocolate. I saved for taxis, a chariot home after nights out where someone else was buying the shots and bottles of ‘jota bey’. So yeah, it mattered to me, that red lipstick.

During an elongated and heartbreaking recovery from my love affair with jasmine, as I was trying wildly to recreate the era that ended with a bang the day I took a plane home to Real Life, I became reckless. Even in trying to replace the smell. I found an odor I liked enough. It was a Givenchy scent called Amarige: department store heaviness in all its glory. I found it chic, Euro. And believed dousing myself – as if I’d accidentally spilled the whole bottle on my leg – was the requisite path backwards in time. I refused to end the chapter.

One afternoon, toiling at my work-study job in a dungeon on Commonwealth Ave in Boston, making photocopies for feminist business deans, I was summoned from up above. As I remember it, one of my superiors demanded “Go home and take a shower, we can smell you from two floors up”.

I was drowning myself in a bottle of perfume, bottles of whiskey, cigarettes, and to add to the mix, I had a yogurt covered pretzel obsession. There was divorce, death, my brother’s hideous accident (he recovered, amen). It was all SO unlike the glowing paradise of the jasmine year in a foreign land with vitamin D keeping me high. Back in the real world, it was winter from October to May. It snowed mercilessly, like a real-life plague. The joints in my fingers expanded arthritically as the damp sea air corroded the city. Life shone bleak on all fronts.  I declared I would get the hell out of there right after graduation. I wanted to return to a memory that my retrospective thinking had morphed into a utopia.

An incredibly sated moment finally arrived with some haphazard planning. I stuffed 400$ into my pocket, boarded a plane with no return ticket and flew back to the sun and the bulls to study a new corner of my adopted country. When the landscape splayed below me through that tiny aeroplane window as the plane descended, my insides screamed with joy.

As I sobered up over the years, I grew up. While epic drama and impulsive decisions have been replaced with more staid living, something new has emerged. My sense of smell has gone dog wild. My body has detoxed. I eat real food now, the healthy variety. This olfactory sense has gone super-hero, letting me eavesdrop into lives of friends and strangers alike. I can sniff people’s intimate details, foods they’ve ingested, places they’ve been. It’s keen alright. Sometimes I have to cover my nose. The years I dampened the sense with hangovers are over.  But, jasmine, something about you broke through all of that and I continue to yearn for that perfect version of you, in a bottle.

Today when I open the door to my office, the layers of scents are intricate, pleasurable. Cinnamon. The antique, oak desk smell, which makes me swoon when I open a drawer. Yup, there’s a jasmine candle over there on a table trying to ring true (and failing). There’s the heat coming out of the vent – faint – almost a burnt-toast-from-afar odor. Mild dust smell.

I stumbled on an amber scent a few weeks ago that’s dynamite with my chemistry. This could be the beginning of something new.

 

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