Monday, April 30, 2012

Perfumes, Plots and Past Lives


I picked up a book the other day in the genre I write, past lives and suspense. I was intrigued when I read the prologue where it noted something that I had found ridiculous when I had originally heard about it in 2007.

In an attempted power grab, China announced that all living Buddhas (Dalai Lama) had to obtain permission before they reincarnated (How ridiculous!) They are attempting to bring an end to the Tibetan mystical/religious system of reincarnating Buddhas that dates back to the 12th century.

That is only one link in the chain of this story.

The Book of Lost Fragrances (by M.J. Rose) is about perfumes, scent masters and the ancient art of perfumery. It’s about love, suspense, memory and past lives. The core of the story starts in Eqypt when Cleopatra had her own perfume master create scents for her alone. In present day, where the bulk of the story takes place, scent is at the heart of the Tibetan issue of identifying the next Buddha.

I was intrigued with the romance of a story based on scent. In my youth I had a very sensitive nose. Scent could bring memories sharply into focus whenever I smelled an odor associated with some memorable experience—good or bad. So I was drawn to read this book, but its influence did not stop at the story’s end.

I thought about perfumes, especially the one I wear now, and began doing some research. Many fragrance ‘notes’ go into making a scent. There are top notes, middle notes and base notes—all different scents that come out at different times in the life of the perfume during the hours of a day.

I thought about the life of a perfume as an analogy/metaphor/simile for writing a novel or reading fiction that pleases us. There’s the top notes—the first impression that grabs our attention. It peaks our interest and draws us in until the middle notes take over. The middle notes are secondary scents—that make us want to keep reading; searching for the next clue in a plot with its twists and turns, hopeful that it will be satisfactorily resolved. Then we spend a little time with the end notes. Knowing the book is almost over, we seek to savor the final moments for as long as we can, finally leaving us reflecting and yearning for more after we close the book.

(Now that’s a book I want to write as well as read.)

Like a book, it is hard to get rid of an old perfume bottle that holds/held a beloved scent that still retains pleasant memories. I perused the perfume bottles I have on my dresser, and wondered what changed that caused me to find a new scent and then another and another during the years. Like the individuality of a perfume, we choose books that fill us up and round out our edges but our tastes can change as we grow. Our “signature scent” needs to be adjusted.

Just as I’ve changed perfumes, I’ve gone through periods of reading mysteries/thrillers, romantic suspense, science fiction, gothic tales, historical fiction, etc.

There may be many of the same “scent notes” in the new perfume, but with different additions or adjustments. I was curious about the ingredients in my present and past perfumes. I learned that scents have been altered by the needs of a changing world. Some ingredients once derived from certain plants or animals, can no longer be used for many reasons, so now they must be chemically manufactured—a noticeable change for one with a sensitive nose. I have changed perfumes when they no longer represented “me.”

How have you changed in your reading or perfume tastes?

Do you have many perfumes or just one, or one at a time? Do you feel it represents you?

Care to share the name? I presently wear 5th Avenue by Elizabeth Arden.




28 comments:

Chris Redding said...

If you want to keep your fragrance fresh, don't let it near sunlight and put it in the fridge. It will last longer
cmr (whose DH is a perfumer)

Julie Farrar said...

Did you ever see the movie "Perfume" with Dustin Hoffman? Not a blockbuster but interesting insight into that world. Loved you analogy of the layers of a story.

Cora said...

Thanks for the hints and for stopping by.

Cora said...

I can't recall seeing that movie, I'll have to look it up. Thanks for words of confidence.

jrlindermuth said...

For some interesting views on the subject of scent read 'Jacobson's Organ, and the Remarkable Nature of Smell' by Lyall Watson.

Laird Sapir said...

I love your take on how perfume and writing/reading are similar! Great post, Cora!

AlvaradoFrazier said...

Great analogy. When I think of my reading preferences (a little heavy) I find that I'm the opposite in perfumes. I like clean, lighter fragrances like Angel by Thierry Mugler.

Margaret Miller said...

Lovely post Cora, and a wonderful analogy. Currently I don't wear perfume very much but when I do it's either Joy or Double LL which was an Australian perfume based on brown boronia and aust'n sandalwood. I still have a little bit of that left but when it's gone that will be that.

Eileen Obser said...

I'm not a perfume person, Cora, but you make me want to reread Diane Ackerman's amazing book, A Natural History of the Senses. I just now browsed through the section on Smell -- the first sense covered in the book. "Nothing is more memorable than a smell," Ackerman writes, and that leads to a long and glorious sentence. There's a section on perfume fragrances and the professional "sniffers" at International Flowers and Fragrances that I'll probably have to read now because of your blog. Thanks!

Barbara Forte Abate said...

Wowsa, beautiful post, Cora. You've really set my thoughts churning with remembered scents. I am forever intrigued by the power of certain scents to trigger reactions, set moods, and recall memory--and all in the span of an immediate heartbeat.

I have three tiny bottles of perfume that are lined-up on my vanity for the sole purpose of coaxing remembrance. Although I've never worn this scent, "Youth Dew," I like to have a quick whiff at those times I'm feeling nostalgic, as this scent instantly transports me back to childhood and the comforting recollection of old ladies in church. (Although, back then, I would've considered anyone over the age of 35 an old lady, LOL)

The Book of Lost Fragrances, sounds intriguing!

Patricia Gligor said...

Great analogy, Cora. I personally don't wear perfumes nor can I be around them - allergies - but the idea of utilizing the sense of smell in writing appeals to me. Using any or all of the five senses enhances a story!

Cora said...

I will check those out. I'm fascinated by the mystery of scent. Thanks.

Cora said...

When I started this post, I wasn't thinking about the similarities. But, it seemed a natural comparison. Thanks Laird.

Cora said...

That's interesting. Now you've got me wanting to analyze why we choose the perfumes we choose--or why we choose dark reading materials while choosing light fragrances. Hmmm. Thanks for your comments. I will have to find Angel and give it a sniff.

Cora said...

Joy is one of my favorites, but I can't wear it very often--the middle notes are a bit strong on my skin. Love to smell it in the bottle though. Never heard of your other one Double LL. Is it obsolete now or is it that you just won't buy more of it?
Thanks for comments.

Cora said...

Yes, the sense of smell is one we don't think too much about (unless we are a perfumer), but smells affect us in a very intrinsic way when it stirs memory. Thanks for commenting.

Cora said...

It sounds like you are strongly affected by scent as am I. Your 'Youth Dew' reminded me of a wedding I went to out of town. I realized I had forgotten my perfume and I really wanted to wear one for some reason so I went for a quick shopping stop. I briefly went around the counter sniffing new perfumes and found one that was fresh smelling, 'baby Grace' by Philosophy. I don't wear it much, but I do like to smell it in the bottle.

Cora said...

In my research I found that one of the reasons they make chemical smells now more than ever is because of the allergens in natural ingredients. I can get literally sick if I'm around someone who has on a heavy, sweet perfume. Smells can do us in, for sure. Thanks for your comments.

Tami Clayton said...

Great post, Cora. Scents are huge memory triggers for me and perfumes are one of the things that can conjure them up in a flash. Outdoor scents are another - blooming lilacs, jasmine, sun-warmed cedar all take me back to specific moments in time.

The book sounds fascinating. I might have to suggest it to my book group for next month.

Cora said...

Yes,it was a good read (I haven't put it up on my Goodreads page yet).

You mentioned blooming lilacs and I was reminded of wisteria which always takes me back to a moment in childhood when I entered the big house of an old elegant woman. There must have been wisteria in bloom because I am there the first moment I smell it in the spring.

Marianne said...

I still love magazines with the perfume samples. I open a new scent a day and rub it all over my wrists. I've fallen in love with a scent called Alien this way.

Sherry Isaac said...

I'm not a believer in past lives, though I find the concept fascinating. Scent, however... with you all the way, Cora. Scent, and its power to evoke memory, plays an important role in my novel, Homecoming.

I've never been a scent-faithful girl, or even much of a scent-wearer. I have scents I like, Tabu has been a favourite since my sister introduced me when I was a teen. Yes, it's been a long time. I really like Jessica Parker's Lovely. Tommy Girl. I've never sniffed a Sung scent I didn't like.

The Book of Lost Fragrances sounds intriguing. I'll have to look for it. Or maybe, sniff it out.

Liv said...

I've read a couple reviews of The Book Of Lost Frangrances. May have to pick up a copy...
Thanks for the post!

Cora said...

I give it a 4-5 star rating. You'll enjoy it--so sumptuous.

Sunny Frazier said...

I wear Mitsouko by Guerlain. Jean Harlow's husband bathed in it before committing suicide. 'Nuff said.

Cora said...

HE was bathed in it? Wow, sounds like a plot for a murder mystery where the wife bathes her husband in her perfume before she kills him, or after, as a statement of final revenge.

eula_w said...

This must be a great book to read. Will be back to read more. :)

pheromones attract women

Sharon Clare said...

I had to come visit after reading your post on Sherry's blog, Cora. I knew you were a kindred spirit! I'm a perfume lover too. For Xmas last year, my hub bought me a sampler perfume package. Ten samples with a coupon to purchase one. Now I see what you mean by the notes. Some smelled lovely at first, but I didn't like them an hour later. I ended up buying Calvin Klein's Shock. It's sitting right beside me here and even though it's bedtime, now I have to wear it!