November mists

It seems to me that when it’s truly hot, summer is best defined by visuals that are almost abstract. When it swelters, cars can lift off the ground, people’s heads separate from their bodies, their shoulders widening, then wobbling, before returning to true. Trees quiver as though root-rocked by a terrible storm and the air itself seems visible in its languid movement. The world shakes quietly as it melts.

Here, in November, a different kind of mirage occurs that for me captures the transition from autumn to winter, this moment in time. On one or two early mornings, the mist clings so intimately to the ground that a walker appears to be a torso, drifting across a a grey blanket, legs removed. At other times the mist is patchy, a quilted pattern on the landscape. A runner can dart in and out of the milky grey, at once dark shadow and fully formed human. There’s magic to this, and menace. Fog brings an imagined silence, a shrinking of location, and an encroaching isolation. It turns you inwards, and then indoors. I love it.

My favourite experience of mist and fog, as foolhardy as this sounds, is when driving, penetrating those layers that float above you, here, and either side of you, there. The headlights hinder rather than enable vision – this is nothing but water, but it refuses to be seen through, and whilst light illuminates it, it does not clear a passage. Momentary fog-free spots bring relief from concentration, but these are brief respites in the threading journey. Thick fog is no fun – there has to be a pattern for pleasure. Best of all, at night, are those tongues of mist that emerge from the dark, slide forward into the light and lick the car in passing, travelling their wet lengths along the sides or over the bonnet so rapidly you wonder if you saw it. There’s majesty in the monster.

And fog and mist are so often monsters in our imaginations. Mist, at best austere, gets off lightly. Fog is imbued with supernatural horrors and murderous powers, or else it blots out – through metaphor – what was treasured. It appears to remove physical space – I often had that childhood awe of wishing I could wander through the grey into a newly born world, more technicolor than Oz, but grey reality was always still there when the grey clouds lifted. And it’s used to describe real temporal loss – the fog of memory. For some of us, those places we inhabit in our past – the rooms of our memories – will be occluded, one by one, until all we have is this moment now, a moment that always drifts away, never to return.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this ramble, with this misty journey into fog, except it’s getting miserable and melancholy, isn’t it? Sorry about that. Unintentional. I generally don’t plan my writing here for the posse. I just open up in the admin section and get going. I try to make it about perfume, but when there’s nothing pressing on me in a scented sense, I just hope I’ll end up with a fragrance or two somehow. And you thought this was heading to Iris Silver Mist, didn’t you? Me too…

In all the writing I’ve been doing recently (none online folks – secret stuff), memory unavoidably starts beating its drum the loudest. It’s my main theme I guess. Like many of us, I’ve had intimate experience watching someone losing theirs – the journey from befuddlement to anger, resentment, frustration, flashes of violence (‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light’) to the final calm, blank contentment. My grandfather, the kindest man I’ve ever known, saviour of fallen nestlings, shedman extraordinaire, fierce lover of whistlepower – he’d attack my fragile gran when she approached him, before eventually forgetting she was there at all. She became a ghost who had never existed, as he himself had never journeyed, anywhere.

So perhaps that’s one reason memory is there, my obsession, but I imagine there are others. Last night, on TV, I watched ‘Capturing Mary’ a joint BBC / HBO production. I recommend it to you if you love period drama with great costume design, Maggie Smith or (slightly) pretentious British films. And somehow, it fits my current thinking about memory – how we shape who we are through how and what we remember; how who we become is in turn shaped through what we can’t forget. As a drama, it manages to be vacuous and profound, subtle and superficial all at once, and I still can’t decide if it’s anything other than a piece of trickery, a parlour game played on a nodding and chin-stroking audience of self-declared aesthetes. Be warned: I cried (you should also watch the companion drama too, to make more sense of this one).

I’ve run out of my allotted time. I need to go and make some memories, rather than just thinking about them.

(Oh, and Iris Silver Mist is incredible, isn’t it? First of all, you’re rooted in the ground, almost suffocated by that frozen weight. But then, what a release. A dancing wraith that should shudder with cold, but somehow just enjoys it.

Oh, and thanks to vidabo of perfumeoflife for inadvertently introducing me to Jack Spencer, whose photos accompany my ramble. She always chooses the most apposite images to match her scent of the day.

Oh, and the winner of the Cumming draw, and whatever else I was rustling up, is Anne. And, as a bonus for teasing her, I’m sending Divalano some too. Ladies – I’ll be in touch).

  • Lucy says:

    Beautiful writing, Lee, thank you for this post. Love the photos. The ways of nature are indeed mysterious.

  • Patty says:

    I’m also very slow, had to do training all day and had the lovely Kelly in as company tonight for major sniffage.

    Such a beautiful post, Lee. I’m afraid y’all will be offing yourselves and leave me to slog on alone, not very sporting, you know. I’m hanging on to the bitter end because sometimes that’s what’s at the bottom of the cup, and I’ve drank the rest of it that was truly great. But it’s difficult to watch people fade, and you captured that so well.

  • March says:

    Lee, over here very very late :”> to say how much I am enjoying those lovely photos on our own semi-foggy day. I had a plethora of errands (hah!) and taking Hecate and Buckethead to the dentist, but I did manage to squeeze in a quick coffee with Louise. We missed you.

  • Gina says:

    Lee, this post is so lovely. Your writing takes my head all sorts of places in my memories. Thank you.

    • Lee says:

      I do hope most of them are places you’re happy to revisit!

      • Gina says:

        Yeah, mostly. But I’m a freak – I do occasionally get into being morose and delving into the heavier, sad memories. Sometimes it just suits the mood, you know? I would love to see the fog you’re describing, love to take a run through it in the early morning.

  • Lee,
    Thank you for another beautiful post. When I was young, my father told me that fog was a cloud coming to visit. He is charming that way. Now he is 77 and I worry about him more every day–he’s had a stroke and seems to be losing some memory.
    Sending you many hugs and best wishes.

    • Lee says:

      Your dad sounds great; I love fairy tale images like that one. I’ve even got the cloud talking in my head (baritone, but rounded and friendly). I hope for the best – for both of you.

  • Divalano says:

    Lee, thank you for sharing so intimately, poignantly & eloquently. I too love fog (& storms), despite their darkness & danger. I was speaking recently to an artist friend I’ve been collaborating with about the need to engage our shadow side as artists, as humans, as a society in order to keep it right-sized & in it’s proper place in our lives & psyches. Your post reminded me of that, and of driving around SF & down to Point Reyes this past July (which as everyone knows is winter in SF) into thick fog, out into brilliant sun & submerging back into fog again.

    And thank you re the Cummings, that’s awfully terribly sweet.

    • Lee says:

      Oh, but D – sometimes I think I’ve got too much shadow side, quite easily! What a misery guts!

      And notice how I’ve corrected my awful spelling of your name.

    • Lee says:

      And I’ve been to Point reyes twice – impenetrable fog both times; it lifted briefly once. I watched the farmers in the fields there (or watched their shadow forms, should I say) and wondered just how Californian they felt…

  • Marina says:

    Oh, I love the images that you chose! What are they, whose are they?

    • Lee says:

      Marina – . I’m not sure if these images are there (I haven’t been thru them all), but they can be found on

      Spencer seems to specialise in otherworldly stuff – American landscapes made mythic, Americana, American Gothic buildings, and horses, horses, horses. The lost boys of Sudan are also striking photos.

  • Anne says:

    Lee, what an amazing writer you are. Short on time late to work but my day would not be complete without reading this blog and Moving and Shaking.


    Waxing Thanksgiving on your mist and fog so I must add how thankful I am to “know” all of you through this fragrant community. So much has been added to my life from all that is shared.


    • Lee says:

      Thank you Anne. Lou shows rapacious intellect on her blog, doesn’t she? I don’t always agree with her, but I often check in.

      And in spite of the gloom I seem to have created here today (sorry, all!), I too am so so thankful for the people I know because of the posse.

  • Louise says:

    Thanks, darling Lee, for a stunning post and pics. It amazes me how a slightly daft Englishman can evoke such a powerful memory of my Oregonian youth. Now, there, we knew from Fog. It was always a pleasant, comfortable mystery for me (think how it enhanced hide-and- seek games), with no sinister overtones. Here in DC we get just a bit, but I welcome it heartedly. Of course, the drivers have no clue about such issues as braking distance, etc.

    My dear late dad had a type of dementia, and was quite aware and angry at his fate. The blessing was his retention of human ties, and his ability to make (mostly dirty) jokes-til the end.

    My 50 year old brain is lately turning to sweet, long-buried highly sensory memories. Yesterday, I remembered, no, felt and smelled the hillside haunts where I played at recess at my kindergarten. I felt incredible immediate joy accompanied by tears of what? Peace, family lost, time passing?

    Today I will spray a little Spririteuse Double over my Messe de Minuit. Sweetened loss, perhaps.

    • Louise says:

      Heartedly isn’t a real word is it? But I like it better than heartily!

      • Lee says:

        It’s normally attached to whole-, so I heartedly think you’ve every right to use it, and get away with it.

    • Lee says:

      I don’t know how I did that… but I’m glad I did. Many people have told me that I’m either daft or intense, and have no middle ground… I guess it’s true. File this one under intense…

      I’m currently doing some work back in the town in which I grew up. It includes visiting where I went to school. All of this – the tracing of routes once taken, the places I lingered, the people long gone from my life – has made me disturbingly memory focused. And like your journeys into the past, it makes me feel both melancholy and content…

  • ReneeM says:

    Beautiful musings, Lee. And frightening. No-one in my family has had Alzheimer’s, but sometimes the opposite is just as bad. My grandmother turned 100 last May, and her mind is as sharp as ever, but her body is broken. She is completely paralyzed and bed-ridden. She can’t feed herself or roll over. She is humiliated when I go to visit and even refused to open her eyes the last time I was there. I ALMOST wish her mind wasn’t so cognizant. She has no dignity left. Ah well…..nicely done post Lee.

    • Lee says:

      Oh, Renee – my gran went through the same and they pumped her full of all the anti-depressants going, which didn’t work. The only thing was, in spite of her fragile form, something in her wouldn’t die, even though she wanted it to. There was a tv documentary a while back about the oldest people in the world. A woman somewhere in the South was wheelchaired on to ‘celebrate’ her 115th birthday with her family. She kept muttering, ‘Leave me alone; Go away; I want to sleep now’… Bloody cruel, old age…

      But life itself – a wonderful thing!


      • tmp00 says:

        On the other hand one can be happy- I have a friend who is 93 and is as sharp as a tack. Her world keeps getting smaller since she can’t drive anymore and needs help to get around outside (she has vertigo) and a day trip to Santa Barbara with me is now too much a strain for her. But she has scads of younger friends she has over to visit, she still makes time to paint and she has had a full, rich life to look back on as well as interests and a general zest for life that keeps her going. I hope I can have half that when I’m 60, much less 90.

        Of course if I start to really give out, I’m off to Switzerland too. But man, am I going to have a send-off party for myself first!

        • Lee says:

          Damn right… I’ll party right along with you..

          There was actually something on the radio a coupla hours ago – only 1 in 10 Brits end up in old people’s homes, only 1 in 6 die in hospital… Kind of makes you hopeful. I just think my first-hand experience has been unnecessarily wonky…

  • Elle says:

    Beautiful post. Adore fog and mist. And what a stunning photo. Just went to his site – brilliant work. I’ve watched people I love fall into Alzheimer’s. Heart crushing. Don’t really fear death, but definitely fear losing my mind. DH knows that if I sense it happening, I shall get my derriere to Switz. post haste and have myself transfered out of this life. Have zero desire to have my body linger on. Don’t advocate that for anyone else and know it’s not the most popular decision, but it works for me. Adore ISM. Might be a good final scent. What a chipper way to start the morning. 🙂

    • ReneeM says:

      I agree with you on fear of losing mind and having no desire for body to linger on.

    • Lee says:

      See you in Switzerland, Elle. I’ll know you by your smell.

      There’s something life-affirming about refusing to cling onto it when you know you’re losing ‘you’….

  • rosarita says:

    What lovely pictures you conjure with your words, and the pics that accompany your writing are striking! But as to memory, well, my husband’s mother was taken away from us by Alzheimers a decade ago. In some kind of monstrous irony, the sister who cared for her has been diagnosed herself, in her sixties. I try not to dwell, but I do find myself closely watching my dear, marvelously funny husband for signs; he’s only 10 yrs younger. I watch my parents closely, in their 80s and close by, knowing that our days together are numbered. *sigh* I need more coffee! And I’ve never smelled ISM, though of course it’s on the list.

    • Lee says:

      Sometimes R, it’s important to remember the fragility of what we have. Though it can easily take us down too dark a road, I like to shake away the ‘take it for granted’ rut I all too easily fall into…

      I hope you and your husband have a long and wonderful future ahead of you!

  • Maria says:

    Ah, Lee, how beautifully you describe the fog and mist! We have fog here regularly except from mid-August to mid-November. It’s just starting to creep back in. How I’ve missed it! A friend describes the sensation of fog on the skin as standing in Alka-Seltzer. And watching it rush into one’s backyard is so exciting!

    My mother, who died last year, had severe Alzheimer’s her last couple of years. I’m immensely grateful that, though she forgot many important facts about my life, she always recognized me.

    I’m glad you’re writing. 😡 And you made me rush to put on some Iris Silver Mist. My favorite fragrance to wear in the fog, though, is Nuit de Noel.

    • Lee says:

      That rush of fog on your Pacific coast has given me true pleasure whenever I’ve witnessed it. Enjoy some for me, Maria!

      I’m glad your mum always knew you to the last.

      And as for the writing – we’ll see…

  • tmp00 says:

    Ah fog: we get it here, looking like a John Carpenter film, creeping over any landscape with grass. So the Wilshire Country Club and bits of Hancock Park are cotton on my way to work.

    The journey into Alzheimers is sad and terrifying not only for those ones that are directly involved but for the survivors. The only good part of being of a clan that marry in their 30’s , breed in their 40’s and die in their 50’s is that we avoid scarring the kids.

    Of course, the sad part is that we have no fond memories, or for that amtter any memories at all of grandparents. Ah well.

    Iris Silver Mist is a delight isn’t it? Like dancing in a t-shirt in a cold spring rain

    • Lee says:

      You’ve made me a little melancholy, Tom (and I thought that was my job!). Well, not sure our fog can really compare to the west coast stuff.

      • tmp00 says:

        I’m sorry, didn’t mean to.

        I’m sure out Los Angeles fog has nothing on yours; ours isn’t the pea-soup variety you get in San Francisco (that I love) where you can disappear in it feeling like you are in your own eerie little world. Ours is rather tepid, only able to really cling to the earth and not the pavement. It will slink over the golf course at the Wilshire Country Club but arch over Beverly Boulevard as if sesibly afraid of the morning traffic, or it will be a blanket over the tops of the Santa Monica range; it doesn’t get thick enough to make driving hard and feels wonderful against you skin ass you drive through it. I’ve driven through heavy fog on an American highway and I don’t think that there’s anything quite like it for terror- you slow down, but are never sure if you are going to come up on someone who is going to be going far slower or worse be overtaken by someone doing the speed limit. Not an experience I’d like to repeat soon. However, being all tucked in and hearing the far off sound of the fog horns puts me out faster than Ambien. :d

  • Kelly says:

    You make me crazy with that sexy brain of yours… ahh to wander there for hours… 😉