Apropos L’Heure Bleue the perfume not the light-
“What do you think of this?” Ms. Edna asks, jutting her wrist underneath my nose. A new quiz has begun. A pungent blast of fragrance assaults my sinuses. Not necessarily bad, but strong, with a choking flash of alcohol fumes. I nod my head, hoping in vain that this reaction will satisfy her query. “A nod. What does that mean?” she probes. Oh God. I take another whiff, and memories of my grandmother’s bathroom come flooding back to me. Those overpoweringly feminine scents which would thrust my boyhood soul into a state of anti-girl revulsion.
“What does it smell like to you?” This is my friend’s way of trying to be helpful. I want to say “perfume,” but I know that won’t suffice. I use my catch-all description of anything that smells like an old lady’s lavatory.
“It smells powdery.” I reply. Ms. Edna flashes me a disapproving expression. “No, that’s not what powder smells like.” Now I’m confused. I thought the question was interpretive, like ‘how does that piece of music make you feel?’, or ‘what does that cloud look like to you?’ I take another feeble stab. “It smells like soap,” I mutter with a quiver in my voice. The same quiver of uncertainty and shame which accompanied every answer I ever gave to any art teacher in my life.
Predictably, Ms. Edna flashes me the same disapproving expression of every art teacher I ever offered a reply to. “No, it’s orange blossom, with a touch of sandalwood and musk.”
Oh right, that was going to be my next guess.
I always prided myself on having a pretty good sniffer. As a young man, I took a certain joy in identifying an enigmatic ingredient in a dish just by the aroma. I was usually the first one to notice when a pilot light had blown out, or a car’s radiator was about to overheat. And when it came to aftershave, I felt somewhat superior to my friends in that I actually tried different fragrances. Granted, I was still “borrowing” from dad, but I was a discerning borrower. Then I met Ms. Edna, who has one of the best noses I’ve ever encountered. Within months Ms. Edna had me switch to Roger R. Gallet Jean Marie Farina extra vieille, passing it over my face I immediately felt an agreeable sensation of bracing freshness. I realized there was more to selecting cologne besides borrowing from dad.
Speaking of obsession, Ms. Edna has always been one to cultivate consuming passions for certain topics, people, or interests. We each have interests and are always showing support for the other’s compulsive inclinations. This perfume thing has me stumped however. I just don’t smell all the things that are supposed to be going on in these perfumes. Ms. Edna assures me that I could detect these notes if I trained my nose to understand what they smell like. I’m skeptical. I don’t think this nose has the necessary number of scent receptors to discern the myriad notes in a fragrance. Usually, the scents come to me in general categories: floral, soapy, powdery, musky, sweet, etc. If I’m having a good day, I can detect rose or lavender, but that has to be a really good, pollen-free day. I can detect citrus scents, but Ms. Edna usually points out that I’ve guessed the wrong fruit. Suddenly, I’m back to Dr. Zwick’s art class.
Last year Ms. Edna excitedly informed me of a sniff fest going on in New York. I secretly prayed that she would have a friend who would want to go along with her because, otherwise, I would end up the default travel companion. Don’t get me wrong, I love New York, but I couldn’t see myself spending a weekend in the Big Apple trudging through scent stores burning out my olfactory sense. Fortunately, she found Anja who was curious and tagged along. Now Anja is a perfumista-in-training. I guess the affliction can strike anyone…except me.