I started Earlyâ€”Took my Dogâ€”
And visited the Seaâ€”
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at meâ€”
And Frigatesâ€”in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Handsâ€”
Presuming Me to be a Mouseâ€”
Agroundâ€”upon the Sandsâ€”
But no Man moved Meâ€”till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoeâ€”
And past my Apronâ€”and my Belt
And past my Bodiceâ€”tooâ€”
And made as He would eat me upâ€”
As wholly as a Dew
Upon a Dandelion´s Sleeveâ€”
And thenâ€”I startedâ€”tooâ€”
And Heâ€”He followedâ€”close behindâ€”
I felt His Silver Heel
Upon my Ankleâ€”Then my Shoes
Would overflow with Pearlâ€”
Until We met the Solid Townâ€”
No One He seemed to knowâ€”
And bowingâ€”with a Mighty lookâ€”
At meâ€”The Sea withdrewâ€”
You have to love Emily Dickinson. She manages to weave into a literal tale of a visit to the sea the following: substance and lack of substance – with curious reversals; conscious and unconscious; the masculine predator; domesticity and wild abandonment. And death, no doubt. There’s always death. Death the great seducer.
Like Em herself, I’m drawn to the sea. I grew up listening to waves and have to top up my desire for salty tangs and the cries of gulls once a month if I can. I’m lucky – I live an hour or so away from beautiful coastline, and a little further from the pine clad dunes which stood in for the just glimpsed Illyria at the very end of ‘Shakespeare in Love’. Remember Gwyny Paltrow emerging from the waves?
I used to go for activity, rather than to be. Bracing walks that had no viable end as there’d always be a circling back to the car, games, swimming, laughter, the occasional serious talk, chasing the waves and being chased, more successfully, back. Skimming stones and failing to beat that childhood record that becomes more illusory with the march of time.
Now, and only sometimes, I want my visits to be more contemplative.
Where once I used to puzzle at ‘the old’ who drove to the beach, found a good parking spot with views, and then sat in cars eating limp sandwiches, pouring tea from an old Thermos, tipping the dregs just outside the door. They’d sit and stare and I thought them to be the old fools of Philip Larkin’s eponymous poem– a brutally tragic depiction of ageing. They wouldn’t talk. Just look. Were they still thinking they were at home, sitting in their comfy chairs, inattentive and lost within? Were they even aware of the electric atmosphere of the coast, the clash and clang of Nature’s neverending rhythms shaping and buffeting our world? Dear lord, were they even aware they were still alive?
What horrendous youthful arrogance. Now, perhaps, I begin to understand. Now I think, what better way to spend your time than staring at the infinite we all must face. The horizon that so often, at least in Britain, is not sure where it is. A lifetime of noise will leave me with a desire for silence I think, at least sometimes. Or the unceasing white noise of the ocean, that cuts out the incessant jabber of our lives. I’m already half-way to a hermit. Without words, without deliberate thought, at a place that seems to have no end, the ineffable beauty of our lives and loves can be thrown into relief, and their wonder highlighted once more by the fact, that one day, they’ll be gone. And the sea’s the place to do that, to feel once more “The million petalled flower/Of being here”, as Larkin calls it.
We’ve found a place in Scotland for Matt’s birthday, and it couldn’t be more perfect. A tiny farmtrack leads -eventually, after tortuous twists, turns and bumps – to a Hansel and Gretel cottage, in an ancient wood, perched on a cliff, staring out across the sea in one direction, and to the ruins of a castle in the other. Inside, it’s beautiful enough to grace any Architectural Digest. We’ll have each other, the hills, and total peace except for the soothing murmur and restless roar of the sea. I can’t think of a better place.
Because this is a perfume blog – and dear me I should try harder! – it’s time to move away from the sorrowful joy / joyful sorrow of life, and onto smell. Try to spot the segueway. It’s oh so seamless.
I have three perfumes that try to capture some aspect of the smell of the sea:
Sel de Vetiver by The Different Company- salt, grapefruit, citric vetiver and a crumbling of cardamom, this isn’t the sea to me, but feels great when your near the ocean in hot weather. Some days – the best days – it does smell like skin after seaswimming.
Fleurs de Sel by Miller Harris – more salt, clary sage and therpaeutic herbs, my decant of this grows on me more and more. It’s less Scottish beach than austerely chic north Californian spa, perhaps one of those perched just off the Pacific Highway between Carmel and Big Sur, or onto Lucia.
Eau des Merveilles by Hermes – on a wrong day, hairspray meets salt meets synthowood. On a good day, you’ve found whale vomit next to some driftwood and your coiffure stayed in place in spite of the breeze. It’s a long way from rustic.
Tell me your thoughts of the sea, and favourite sea scent. Oh, go on. You know you want to.