Monday, January 20, 2020

A Scentimental Journey

I drove to Paris yesterday. It took me only 25 minutes because it was Saturday and traffic wasn’t so bad. The radio announced that a snow storm would start at around 5 pm. It was getting dark and the snow gusts were starting to twirl across the surface of the highway, but my urge to get to Paris overrode my fear of getting stuck.

I didn’t really drive to Paris. How could I? I live in the suburbs of Boston. And I didn’t key in Paris in my GPS, just the name of a boutique in the next town over, that supposedly sells fancy perfumes.

As the road slowly turned white, I had to drive through a section of Watertown where the majority of signs pointed to auto body shops, liquor stores and car washes. ‘Not exactly the exotic French landscape’, I thought.

'You have reached your destination', my GPS told me. I parked in front of a small, brightly colored store with a sign that said ‘Colonial Drug Store’. Ok, I get it. It’s one of those CVS type stores where they sell cheap perfumes for a dime a dozen. I was about to drive back home, but the snow and the cold told me to go in and at least warm my poor frozen feet, buy a candy bar and then drive back home with my tail between my legs.

There were two odd looking, life sized statues guarding the door. They were clad in bright red tailcoats, knee breeches and tricorn hats, colonial era style. A homey sounding bell rang when I opened the door and once inside, the smell of freshly polished wood greeted me.

It felt like I was dropped from the sky in the middle of the Champs Elysée. The shelves were stocked floor to ceiling with an amazing array of perfume bottles, from the most distinguished perfume houses of France. On the other side of the small store were shaving brushes, skin lotions and other expensive looking grooming appliances for their gentlemen clientele. This was no ordinary drug store.

I am a perfume buff. If I had to choose between losing my eye sight or my sense of smell, I don’t know which one I would sacrifice. You see, smells open doors to memories that you thought you never had. Without my sense of smell, I would no longer be me.

And I am not just talking about perfumes. The smell of a Parisian subway, of freshly roasted chestnuts, the smell of French fries and hot mustard.. Smells are too numerous to count. They are the painter’s palette of one’s past. All those memories, sitting there quietly, waiting to be summoned into consciousness by a mere smell!

Smells allow you to escape ordinary life. They offer you the key to a world that never existed, a world of might-have-beens. I could go on for the next 10 paragraphs talking about smells, but I will take pity on you and stop.

As I was getting high on test strips dabbed with Guerlain, Gucci, Givenchy and Dior, I spotted Audrey Hepburn looking over my shoulder. She nodded approvingly or shook her head, depending on the scent I was sampling.

What brought me to this amazing store, was my quest for one of my favorite fragrances, ‘Mitsouko’ by Guerlain. But now that Audrey was whispering in my ear, I really couldn’t make up my mind.

I felt sympathy for Pinocchio. I too was in Candyland and soon my donkey ears would sprout, but what could I do? Everywhere I turned, a bigger temptation was waiting. My old friend Cabochard, which I hadn’t worn since I was in my early twenties winked at me from the third shelf. We had our long awaited reunion on a blotch of paper, but as is sometimes the case with reappearing old friends, Cabochard was a disappointment.

Then, from the corner of my eye, I spotted my all-time favorite, ‘le De Givenchy’. My heart skipped a beat. I had not seen Le De for the past 30 years and here it was, patiently waiting for me to be sampled.

But I secretly knew what had become of my original friend Le De. It was lying in the perfume cemetery next to many other perfumes that died a premature death. Since the days that some genius had breathed life into their original form, they had been ‘reformulated’ beyond recognition. Why mess with a perfect thing, I wondered?

Of course, Le De, even in its new, fancy attire, had lost it original soul. We had a sad reunion, but out of respect I carefully placed the test strip in my bag. I spotted Audrey a few feet away, pretending to be engrossed in the after shaves, but I knew she agreed with me. Givenchy had lost his way. If only Audrey and I could go back in time and cuddle up together on a sofa, reminiscing together.

But not all was lost. Audrey unobtrusively nodded her head in the direction of the second shelf, silently wording ‘l-i-n-t-e-r-d-i-t’ with her gorgeous lips. I asked the lady if I could sample it. (I purposely pronounced it the French way: l’interdee). 'Ah of course, Madame’, she said and came back with a fresh strip and a bottle. Audrey was smiling, her little lacquered handbag dangling from her long beautiful fingers.

Yes, it was superb. But Mitsuko was already waiting for me on the counter, all wrapped and ready to go. L’Interdit would have to wait for another day. A birthday? Mother’s Day? Audrey Hepburn day? After all, l’Interdit was specifically created for her.

I paid and left the charming store. On the drive back, with numerous test strips and my $120 purchase in my bag, I felt like I had just returned from a long trip abroad.

Even now, as I write, I periodically hold my wrists to my nose and wished I had spent more time in this tiny wonder shop, sampling the world’s most exclusive fragrances. A true treasure trove and the next best thing to flying to Paris, all for the bargain price of a twenty minute ride across town. leave comment here