Unpacking my luggage from last week´s trip to New York, I found myself (surprise, surprise) trying to find the source of some unidentifiable, wonderful scent. I´d bought tea and goodies at Takashimaya, and chocolates, and I tend to have random paper blotters tucked into pockets of things I´ve worn, so the source of the loveliness wasn´t immediately clear. Eventually I found it: the candle Patty brought me from her visit to Paris — Annick Goutal´s Le Sac de Ma Mere (my mother’s handbag).
I´d mentioned this scent to Patty. I was wondering, while she was in Paris, if she might smell it at the boutique. I wasn´t sure what format it came in — I thought it was perfume or a room spray.
Patty being Patty, she bought me a candle, which as it turns out is how the scent is packaged. I tried to pay her for it, and she told me I could (insert mild obscenity here.) Patty gets a kick out of giving, and I still can´t believe she humped that candle all the way back from Paris and then to New York to surprise me with it. When I am with Patty, I feel like she brings out my best self. How many people can you say that about? Okay, I´ll shut up now before she tells me to (insert mild obscenity here) and get back to the candle.
From the AG website:
Childhood scents stay engraved in our memories. Camille Goutal has created the magic of memory by recalling the fragrance of her mother’s handbag. It is a scented candle in which the dizzying smell of tanned leather is mixed with powder blush and lipstick. Ingredients: Russian leather, iris, violet, oakmoss.
Coming upon it in my luggage, before I´d applied any other perfume, in my warm, sunlit bedroom, was the best possible way to take it in. It is as simple (and as complex) as it sounds. It’s as if she found my mother´s purse from my childhood and captured the essence of it. There is a rich, warm leather, comforting rather than “exclusive.” It´s a respectable handbag smell. And then there´s the sweetness – makeup, perhaps a small solid perfume or a purse atomizer, a handkerchief, some hard candies or mints. There is tobacco, and a slightly dusty smell, the smell of the mystery a mother´s pocketbook always seems to hold, even if you can´t put your finger literally on its source. It is a scent memory. It is a simple, quiet smell. If you share the memory, it is heartbreakingly perfect, a scent that makes tears spring to your eyes before you realize what´s happened. Like many interesting stories, it is partly about a kind of loss.
Adding to the aura surrounding my mother´s purse was that for years, underneath her car keys and cigarettes and other everyday items, it held a loaded revolver. She was from rural Virginia and guns were as much a part of her life as they were of my father´s, a farm boy from Oklahoma. Nothing was more useless than an unloaded gun. I knew it was in there. I never touched it. She carried it for protection, why (or from whom) I never knew. I don’t think the other neighborhood moms were packing, but what do I know? All their pocketbooks weighed a ton.
As a teenager I asked her once whether she thought she could, you know, really shoot someone with that gun? If somebody was, like, breaking into our house or something? She stared at me, puzzled, trying to understand where the trick part of the question was. The subtleties of my vegetarian, organic-cotton, Rumi-reading mindset were lost on her. My father told me years later she was a crack shot, something he admired.
Le Sac de Ma Mere. Is your mother´s purse a universal smell, with or without the metallic revolver note? Would it smell different inJapan?India? I am curious – is that a female thing? Do any of our male readers have memories of their mother´s purses as being some sort of repository of mystery?
My father thought I hung the moon. He still does. When I was young he was my advocate, my conversational companion, my occasional partner in crime. But my mother was the planet around which I revolved, every aspect of my life influenced by her cosmic pull. I smelled the candle, with its sense (its scents?) of secrecy, sadness, and comfort. I held Le Sac de Ma Mere in my hand and wished I could be, for five minutes, that young girl again, surrounded by my mother’s fierce protection — something I took for granted, like the rising of the sun, until it was gone.
Update: Aedes is rumored to be bringing out this scent in 2009.
photo of woman in red from a recent show inSouthCarolina about the history of handbags (the Anita Davis collection, 2000 objects!) that I would have loved to have seen, www.sc.gov