Perfumes for Mourning

By March

Last year Angela from Now Smell This and I visited the Cimetière du Montparnasse near the apartment where we were staying in Paris.  Baudelaire’s one of the famous residents (not Jim Morrison) and we walked around awhile, studying the interesting sculptural markers, including deliriously wack ones done by Niki de St. Phalle.

But the one that sticks in my mind is the one to the left – it’s probably famous but I have no idea who it’s for – the top portion of which is a flat slab of marble, the kind meant to lie on the cold earth, only in this case it’s being pushed skyward by the woman who’s presumably been buried beneath it, a soul ascending to heaven or possibly being dragged to hell by the shrouded figure beside her.  There’s a weeping, naked man standing by.  I found the thing quietly horrifying, a reaction I’m guessing was not the intent of the artist.

Not dead yet.  The leaves are curling and falling, crunching on the stairs, wet and brown on the pavement.  Let it bleed, let it rot, let it all fall down. The roses fade, the seed pods set and scatter as grey clouds scud across the sky.

Fall is a time of loss, a promise of an end without a beginning.  Everyone needs a perfume or two for grieving.  Mitsouko’s good for that.  Mitsouko is every color of fall, even the most melancholy.  There’s no frivolity.  She’s there when you need her, she’s a sword and a shield, maybe even a superpower – although it’s not invisibility, that’s for sure.  She’s an autumnal cloak of peach and rose gold and iridescent poisoned-beetle green.

Or, if you need bucking up, put on some Fendi Theorema, if you have some tucked away.  Okay, it’s not for everyone.   (What fun would it be if it were?)  But I put it on after a long absence I think, how could I have forgotten?  It’s a wool shawl around the shoulders and a glass of some strange elixir pressed into the hand.  Theorema’s a macerated barrel of orange, properly aged, condensed to its most powerful essence.

Lilac seems kind of contrarian for a list of perfumes for mourning, and in the language of flowers they apparently symbolize the “first emotions of love,” but I find them sad.  Mostly in perfume they’re sad in a Glade room-freshener way, in that they suck.  But the lilacs of Malle’s En Passant are not only strikingly real, they’re infused with melancholy – that wet-fence smell, the boulangerie offering solace up the road.  En Passant is lovely, but it’s lovely like a loose bouquet on a damp, freshly dug grave in spring.

My seventeen-year-old daughter Diva has become enamored of the LP, and she wanted to learn how to use our turntable, so she dug my old albums out of the basement and I showed her, amused by the fact that once again I’m so behind the times I’m now ahead of them.  Hilarity ensued.  I plucked some classics from the pile (B-52s, anyone?) and busted a few moves, and then played cuts from various albums, skipping around by carefully picking up the needle arm and putting it down again in the smooth groove between songs as she watched intently.  Then Diva, child of the iPod, asked me: how do you repeat a song?  And I answered, well, you lift the needle and move it back to the beginning.  She gave me the deadpan stare that signifies: mmmooommm.  It took awhile to convince her I was serious.

I put on Simon & Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme, because Diva learned how to play Scarborough Fair on her guitar years ago, and I wanted her to hear how amazing the rest of that album is.  And eventually she put her arms around me and rested her chin on my shoulder while I thought of rain-soaked lilacs and sang along with the boys:

I’m blinded by the light
Of G-d and truth and right
And I wander in the night without direction.

So I’ll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end,
And flowers never bend
With the rainfall.


image: Roman Suzuki, wikimedia commons.  Lyrics, Simon & Garfunkel

  • brigitte says:

    Funny that you mention Mitsouko. Just gave away a full size bottle of it, as neither family nor co-worker (who is extremely finicky about what fragrance I wear :(( ) liked it . My melancholy perfume would have to be L’Heure Bleue. At first I thought it was because I was associating it with an individual but now I realize that it is the actual notes-sniffing it makes me sad.

  • sweetlife says:

    Lovely, lovely, thank you March. Very late to read this, but so glad I scrolled down and found it. My dad still has his amazing LP collection. I used to love reading the liner notes on his old jazz albums. Still miss them when I download an album.

    I love your melancholy perfume picks. Would add L’Eau d’Hiver to the list–a delicate, shivery promise of winter to come.

  • mary says:

    March–positive energy to you and your Dad, and all your family. Today was an Omnia day here _it’s like comfort food. Wishing you comfort—-Mary

  • LindaB says:

    Read your post yesterday and wept. So much pain and grieving for me this week – IT’S SO UNFAIR!!!! There, I feel a bit better. Wore Mitsouko this morning because I needed “a sword and a shield, maybe even a superpower”. I think she may come out for the next few days…

  • Ann says:

    March, I’m very late to the party as I just got in from a busy day at work and then church, but wanted to thank you for a most beautiful, evocative post. And what a wonderful memory to cherish always, with you and your daughter bonding over LPs. Sending hugs and prayers your way for you, your family, and especially your dad. Spritzing a bit of beloved Theorema in your honor.

  • Olfacta says:

    No matter how old you are, you don’t want them to leave you, but they do. A beautiful post.

  • minette says:

    ahhh… you’re back to sharing moments. glad to see that. did you tell her you can replay the whole album side if you position the arm to the outside of the record? :0

    for me, fall is a happy time full of wonderful light and rich, warm aromas. maybe because i was born in november i don’t find it sad. have been wearing my femme de rochas quite happily since we finally got a cool snap. but today, it’s absolue pour le soir. kind of miss the femme, actually. if anything suits me, it’s femme.

  • Aparatchick says:

    What a beautiful post, March.

    November is a sad month in my family. Bad things happen in November. I seem to hold my breath the entire month, and when I turn that calendar page to December 1, I breathe a sigh of relief. All the more reason, then to drag out that turntable, turn the volume up HIGH and play “Rock Lobster.”

    On a more amusing note, I used the expression “like a broken record” in conversation with some teenaged co-workers. And then had to explain what it meant. ;-)

  • Tiara says:

    I had to go get a tissue before I could write this (seriously). What a wonderful moment with your daughter. One I’m guessing you’ll both remember for a long while.

    L’Heure Bleue is the most melancholy perfume I’ve ever tried. So much so that I won’t wear it any more as I cannot stand to be that sad all day.

  • Flora says:

    March, I have missed your writing, and this post is exactly why, it’s so beautiful and touching. I hope your Dad recovers well from his ordeal.

  • Musette says:

    I was going to wear Mitsouko today, in honor of this beautiful post but I found myself juuuuuuust on the knife-edge of Crazy (emphasis on ‘knife’) so I decided to take a hot shower with Epic body wash. Calmed me right down. We have 40mph winds right now and spitting snow…..the incensey goodness of Epic is very warming. Mitsouko would’ve tipped me right into the lead story on the noon news! 8-x

    xo >-)

  • Ari says:

    March, this is a wonderful post and I’m so glad to see you writing for the Posse again. I hope that your father recovers soon.

  • Janet says:

    What a beautifully written post! I enjoyed hearing about the LPs…I still have mine! That gravestone is intriguing. I hope your Dad pulls through with flying colors. Today, no scent, but grapefuit & rosemary lotion.

  • Mrs.Honey says:

    Mitsouko is what I wear when I am not feeling happy. It just seems sad to me.

  • Sherri M. says:

    Beautiful post, March, and I’m so sorry there have been complications with your dad’s surgery and hope and pray there will be no more.

    Today I’m wearing my sample of Mon Parfum Cheri par Camille, and it is very mournful. The patchouli has that dusty, musty quality that immediately reminded me of 1) the thin, delicate pages of a Bible edged in gold, 2) an upscale antique store and 3) the catholic church–all at once. Which in turn reminded me of generations passed, the good and the bad, how they loved me and how I loved them. So I would say Camille Goutal, in creating MPC as a memorial to her mother, also successfully gives us the gift of remembering generations past who loved us.

    Hugs and hope all goes well as you support your dad.

  • karin says:

    Tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of losing my most beloved and closest companion. He was gone in a car crash, in an instant. The numbness was unbearable, but it eased with time. It’s shocking to think it’s been 10 years already. I have moved on with my life – relocated, married, and am terrifically happy and content. Yet my heart still aches over the loss, and always will. It seemed so senseless. Yet life on this earth is not forever. We go through heartaches and losses, and eventually, we are also gone. I believe in God and an afterlife – so I have hope. It doesn’t all end here. In the meanwhile, we buck it up, continue on in faith, and stand by one another in encouragement! Sending hugs, March! XOXO

  • Musette says:

    Btw –

    I have had just that response to Ancient Things /:) from The Cub and my godson. I remember describing some Cold War spy novel (a phone booth is elemental to the story) and he just couldn’t understand why the spy didn’t use a fax machine – or a cell phone. We’d not yet gotten to common email yet – imagine how stunned he’d be to remember his own geezerish days! (he’s 26) ;))

    xo >-)

  • March says:

    Hi, everyone, thanks for the love and rockets. My dad had Mohs surgery yesterday for a skin cancer that turned out to be much more extensive than we expected. I’ll be away today and probably tomorrow, back at you soon. Here’s an emoticon. 😡

  • pam says:

    Wow, what writing. And today. I am leaving soon for a funeral at my church. He was a worship leader and wonderful guy. Just worked with him a week ago (I’m the organist). Sat. he went jogging and apparently died en route. His son is still in college. It’s so sad. I will wear the Mitsouko, as everyone mentions, it sounds right. Unfortunately, it has become cloudy and windy, which makes it all the more melancholy.

  • FragrantWitch says:

    What a fabulously, evocatively, elegiac post, March. Damn, but you can write! Autumn is my favourite season and you have really captured a big part of why I love it so- it is a season to embrace your shades of gray and somehow the brilliant colours all around you bring those grays into sharp relief.
    The sculpture is totally arresting. When I first saw it I just stood there in the rain and stared. The evocation of pain and yearning stayed with me for quite a while.

  • Winifrieda says:

    Talking about Mitsouko just made me go and spray some;;; oh wah no wonder I gave up on everything else for twenty five years… in a league of her own.

  • Louise says:

    So beautiful, March. I’m going to wrap myself in Theo today, I’ve neglected her.

    My first concert was Simon and Garfunkel. My dad insisted on escorting all three of us, and I remember him being so surprised how touched he was by their music. Bittersweet memories, so many of the family gone now.

    Kisses to you.

  • Winifrieda says:

    Hmmmph Mitsouko…nothing else compares…to old Mitsouko

    old LPs!!
    Years ago I chucked all the old cassette tapes away, they mostly wouldn’t play properly anyway (and then chucked the wowie and draggy tapedeck) ( gosh modern kids just don’t know what we went thru); but hung onto boxes of LPs…I actually mastered the art of the endless repeat; depending on the deck, you could sort of set it to drop down on the approximate track HEH no wonder the younguns chortle…
    But I still set the cd stacker to play the favorites over and over… the ADHD style of the offspring cannot relate; mum (muu-uuumm) you already played this…
    And then the daughter says, hang on I’m just downloading some songs a couple of minutes before we go somewhere in the car and we have about 24 hrs of music…
    I wish perfume lasted 24hrs like it used to… waking up to the ghost of Mitsouko reminding you of whatever you had got up to the night before!!

  • Francesca says:

    Lovely to start the day with such poignant reflection. Thank you, March. Love.

  • Austenfan says:

    Mitsouko is one of those perfumes that make you feel it is ok to feel sad, melancholy, or just plain miserable. Life is tough.
    Some French ( or Italian) songs affect me the same way. They seem to embrace life’s darker sides, and make them bearable.

    This was one stunning post; thank you for that.

  • rosarita says:

    Such a poignant and evocative post, March, thank you so much. It’s so important to freeze special moments with your children in your mind, so that you can recall them later and smile.

  • Ronny says:

    March, thank you.

  • bookhouseshell says:

    oh, just lovely, thank you!

  • (Ms.) Christian says:

    My god I love you, woman. That’s some writing.

  • TaffyJ says:

    A lovely moment with your daughter, and a beautiful, poignant reflection. I loved reading this.

  • Madea says:

    That statue reminds me of one of my favorite pieces of music, ‘When David Heard’ by Thomas Thompkins.(Be warned if you decide to Youtube it that one of the first search results has some graphic pictures). It evokes lost and devestation in precisely the same way.

    For me, violet has the effect of being potentially mournful, or elegaic. The smell is sweet but brief, and tends to remind me of the past–I get hints of that smell in old houses and from old books. Memento mori in fragrance form.

    Really nice post, March, by the way.

  • nozknoz says:

    Simon and Garfunkel. Moment of silence.

    Speaking of beetle green, that Chanel LE fall nail polish Péridot is SO beautiful (more gold than green, though).

  • Joanna says:

    Lilacs also make me melancholy as they remind me so much of my grandma along with the smell of garden soil and clean laundry hung out to dry.
    Also, that sculpture is also a favorite of mine. It’s called “La Séparation du couple” (The separation of the couple.)

  • Please indulge me while I geeze. Many years ago, I took my first airplane ride to visit my big brother in college in Baltimore. He took me to a concert in a coffee house, and I felt so grown up. The duo that played had amazing voices. The one with the dark hair, Jerry, sounded straight out of Queens, and the other one, Tom, had an incredible voice. Tom and Jerry sang “Sparrow” with the loveliest harmony I had ever heard. Tom and Jerry was the name Simon and Garfunkel used before they became Simon and Garfunkel, and occasionally when they wanted to try out new songs. I still know the words to every song on every album they did together. OK, I am done geezing now. Resume your life.

    • Naie says:

      What a lovely story. Thank you for sharing with us.

    • rosarita says:

      Oh, I can just picture that coffee house. Not geezing to share special moments in time…thanks :)

    • Flora says:

      Wow, lucky you! I would have loved to see them back then. IAm old enough to have been there but I was not in the right place at the right ime.

      I have been to see Art as a solo act a couple of times and I was blown away by how he BECOMES the music when he is on stage – it inhabits every cell of his body once the show starts.

  • tammy says:

    And I am crying…..