per dictionary.com (and pretty much every dictionary out there)
Musette sez: and if you’re just tootling along, I’ll bet the notion of beach is whatever your most prevalent experiences have been. For me, it’s largely suntan oil, waves crashing along the Lake Michigan shoreline and, in Chicago, the smell of alewives and the weird, super-soft sand at Cal-Sag Harbor, a Calumet River shipping lane along the steel mill hubs that South Siders use as a beach — as my friend Howard says, ‘you haven’t lived until you’ve waterskied at Cal Sag.’
Anyhoo, this whole post is March’s Fault (which is why we’re co-writing this post). Awhile back she wrote a review of the new Ouai Wave Spray thingydoodle stuff and mentioned that it smelled like a beach. I just heard ‘beach’, so I filled in my own blanks and off I went to investigate. Boy, was I surprised!
Apparently it was a particular beach (gorgeous North Bondi, to be precise) and not the Coppertone/baby oil smell I was expecting. It’s heathery and vegetal and probably has some sharks-with-lasers in there, too!
So that got me thinking about the notion of ‘beach’. Is it the sand and water or is it something else associated (like suntan oil and Breck shampoo)? My notion of ‘beach’ is shaped by my childhood freshwater beaches but it has since been kneaded and shaped throughout my adult travels. Lido, Venice’s famous ‘beach’ island, is my literal Purple Haze beach. I remember being on Lido, behind Hotel des Bains, looking at the purple mist across the lagoon, convinced that if only I squinted just a bit harder I could see Constantinople. To be fair, I’d just consumed several mimosas. I’ve only ever visited Venice in Autumn so I have no idea if it smells like suntan lotion. To me, it smells like bergamot, bitter oranges… and mystery.
CA beaches. I’m a West Coast beach girl, having never set foot on an East Coast beach (except for FL, which is a world unto itself). As you head north, the smells of the beaches begin to change – Long Beach is the Cal-Sag of the LA area. Santa Monica has a very tranquil, suntan/sea-lite smell (Now. When I first started going to SM back in the 70s it was a lot different. Most locals kept their shoes on to avoid stepping on drug needles – Hotel California, a funky little travelodge, is on Ocean along SM’s beach and it’s still the epitome of Coty Sand and Sable, imo, pee note and all!) As you head up Ocean the waves change just a bit and it gets a bit more seasalty- wave-crashy. Malibu is both a wild, salty water smell and the smell of wild, salty humans who spend a lot of time in the water. It’s a very weird and magical place and original Breck’s shampoo was the essence of that smell. By the time you get up to San Francisco, pretty much any thought of a swimsuit has flown out the window. I’ve never been to a NoCal beach where I didn’t feel the need for a sweater, even on the hottest days. The water is always freezing and…. it just never feels like it means it, with the heat.
I’ve visited several beaches in Africa (both fresh and salt water). It’s funny how memories can define a place that might not really be like that. Mombasa, on the Indian Ocean, is beautiful but the memory always conjures up the smell of my doctor’s exam room when I got the highly unpleasant cholera vaccine (good thing I got that highly unpleasant vaccine, though, as there was a highly unpleasant cholera outbreak!) – I have no perfume to match that beach, the cholera outbreak nor the doctor’s office. Africa (I’ve only been to a few countries) is breathtakingly gorgeous but every body of water is home to things that can’t wait to kill you, painfully. I think of the gorgeous beaches of Lake Nakuru where bazillions of flamingos roost – and then I remember the puff adders that hang out there. I’m sure there are people who hang out on these beaches – I am not those people. But I do have a scent for them, mostly because I’d just been given a bottle: Patou Joy parfum. I wore it daily. I like to think it kept the leopards and puff adders at bay.
Brittany (in Autumn), North Sea, Shetland – alladat. Romance, in a Heathcliff and Cathy kind of way. The smell of Ambre Grisea (I Profumi di Firenzi), that salty, ambergris/heather scent, always reminds me of the whole Northern End of Europe (talk about Profilin’), with those gorgeous waves and the hint of menace. My first trip to the Delta Project in Holland was the clue that maybe I should always have a fisherman’s sweater and a jacket … and I should probably stay the hell out of the water. The amazingly beautiful Hermes Eau de Merveilles NAILS the salty air smell of a Northern European beach in the shifting light and cooling temps of very late Summer. Try as I might, I cannot replicate that smell – or the light – in a US beach. It’s just… saltier!
Now, over to March for thoughts on the East Coast of the U.S.
March sez: At their core, East Coast beaches are tragedies waiting to happen. They’re suffused with menace– mostly unseen, often quiet, sometimes standing right there in front of you in an I’m With Stoopid tee shirt and holding a beer. Let’s start at the southern end, at Florida.
The Florida coast, the Keys, the Gulf Coast (aka Redneck Riviera) and nearby environs are in their own heavyweight, no-place-else-on-Earth league. Scarface is a fine way to get to know Florida’s ambience near Miami’s beaches. I once spent several days further south with my then-boyfriend, visiting some ne’er-do-well college friend of his who’d opened up his own “charter boat” business on Key Largo, which we figured out shortly after arriving was really for running drugs. (Also see: Key Largo, fine film noir starring Bogie and Bacall and various shady characters.) I spent that vacation trying to find a quiet spot with decent reading light while everyone around me tanked up on cocaine, weed and alcohol from the moment they came to (at noon) until passing out again around dawn (I demurred, explaining things were surreal enough for me already, abstemious little bitch that I was.) There was a parrot, and a constant influx of strangers. There were guns everywhere, big pistols and semiautomatics, which they’d shoot off into the swampy jungle around us, high as kites. We were in the middle of nowhere and I was hugely annoyed to be stuck there, and too young and naive to recognize the danger. Every night I slept in a catboat on the mooring to get away from the carousing, maybe that would have saved me if the wrong people showed up to party. Anyway. When I thought about “perfumes for Florida beaches” I instantly thought of Versace, all Miami-Beach flash and bling… and then instantly remembered Gianni Versace was shot and killed outside his oceanfront mansion, by some nutjob, after returning from a pleasant morning walk on the beach. So… pick any Versace, I guess? Sorry.
At the opposite end of the coast lies Maine, with its rocky shores and idyllic forests serving as the long-time inspiration for horror writer Stephen King. The water off Maine’s coast is cold enough to incapacitate you in approximately ten minutes (thank you, google) if the shock of accidentally falling in doesn’t kill you by knocking you unconscious – it is, quite literally, breathtaking. Maine’s rocky shoreline is not to be trifled with, either. One gorgeous August day many years ago, at the end of a long, solo bike ride, as the late afternoon shadows turned the coastal boulders red-bronze, I climbed down to the water’s edge on a whim just to admire it. After about ten minutes I realized I’d underestimated how quickly the tide was coming in, and how hard it was to see a way back up the rocks to the road thirty feet above me. As I gazed up in terror toward what had apparently become a sheer rock wall, I knew if I didn’t find my way quickly I was going to die, leaving my four young children in the hands of a man who still looked back fondly on that Key Largo vacation with his college buddy. Obviously I made it – I don’t remember the climb, just collapsing afterwards, shaking and jelly-kneed, in the dirt road. Scents: this one was tough for me. I need mineral and aquatic without smelling straight-up synthetic – more petrichor, less petrochemical. I’m not a huge aromatic-fougere fan… Arquiste’s Sydney Rock Pool, maybe? I sat here for awhile trying to remember a particular scent I own and had worn recently that makes me think of the salty-mossy-mineral smell of those massive boulders and, oddly, it’s Chanel 19 Poudree. Woody, aromatic, and slightly green.
Next we have the beaches of New England, best exemplified by Jaws (I spent a few summers on Nantucket, neighbor to Martha’s Vineyard, the movie’s fictive ‘Amity Island.’). Here I recommend Azuree Soleil layered with vintage Azuree, for that ineffable quality of tanning oil, fancy gin and cigarettes.
Finally, we arrive back at the mid-Atlantic, the beach of my youth. My memories revolve around the crushed-glass quality of the beach sand which would leave you with road rash on your face or behind, whichever got pummeled into the sand by that rogue wave you failed to notice. Lots of jellyfish. We’d stay for a few days until I got sun poisoning despite my mother’s best efforts to protect me with zinc oxide and a tee shirt, and then head back home to the Washington, DC suburbs, me lobster-red in the back seat and covered in a fine paste of calamine lotion and baking soda, stoned on Benadryl. I think that’s why I love Sand & Sable so much, to me it is the mid-Atlantic ur-beach, everything from tanning oil to the spot you sat down to pee in the sand.
Well, that was quite the ramble! In case I’ve given you the wrong impression, and I’m almost sure I have — I love the beach, and the ocean beyond. I’m just not under the illusion it loves me back.
So! If any of you made it to the end of this endless post, there is a SURPRISE! tucked away here – I ordered a set of Beach scent samples from Surrender to Chance, including CB I Hate Perfume’s GLORIOUS ‘Mr Hulot’s Holiday’ – if you’ve never seen the film, I highly recommend it (you can read the late Roger Ebert’s lyrical review here). Anyhoo – drop a comment here, give me a beach memory (real or imagined) – you know The Girl is just achin’ to poke a pawnail ! She’ll pull a winner for the lovely sample set!