The Girl With The Perfect Perfume
It was a trip he had always wanted to take but when he was in London there never appeared to be the opportunity for there was always too much business and too many other things to see and do. But deep in his soul he had etched the desire to sometime visit the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. For here was the original meridian 00 of Longitude and he had read that you can straddle the line and so be simultaneously in the Western Hemisphere and also in the Eastern Hemisphere. The picture in his mind of him standing over this line always made him smile; even though he had never been there.
[ Master Artist Farschchian ]
But now he unexpectedly had the chance. The 16th of June was warm and sunny at 8 am when he got a call from his expected business visitor of the day. Dr Weisskopf’s secretary rang from Vienna to say that her boss had unexpectedly fallen ill and was not up to travelling, let alone have the strength for the anticipated scientific discussion on the properties of the new drug. So that was that. A sunny summer day in London; and all of the possible diversions that this ancient city had swirled before his eyes. Perhaps the Tate Modern or the Tower of London or a visit backstage to the Royal Opera House or he had heard of a rock concert at Wembley. stadium.
Suddenly his unconscious placed a vivid picture in his mind of the romantic story of John Harrison, a young self-educated carpenter and clockmaker from Yorkshire who in 1730 solved the famous longitude problem by inventing the first watch that would keep time on board a boat at sea. That was it; he decided that he must make the boat trip to Greenwich village to see the famous Harrison clocks.
As he approached the riverboat station at Westminster Bridge; with just the slightest hesitation, he voiced the opening lines he had learnt at school some twenty years ago – ‘Earth has not anything to show more fair; - Dull would be he of soul who could pass by – A sight so touching in its majesty. Alex had always loved Wordsworth’s poems; including the famous ‘Upon Westminster Bridge’.
He sat in a sunlit seat on the open deck and prepared himself for the glorious lesson in history and culture that he knew this trip provided. As he floated by Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament he thought of the English Civil War in the 17th century and how the Parliamentary powers had the courage to over-ride the powerful mythology of the divine right of Kings and had put Charles the First on trial and then executed him in 1649. He thought to himself that it was possible to think of the beginnings of modern democratic governments from that moment; even though there had been earlier parliaments in Iceland and other countries.
Soon he passed the South Bank Centre whose theatres and concert halls always delighted him on his London visits. And then the Savoy hotel where just last year he had discussed the merits of his flavour-some fillet steak with Gordon Ramsey himself when he treated some of his best friends to a meal at the hotel kitchen table.
The perfume; that perfume; the perfect perfume; assaulted his senses just as he could see the great dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. Once again he had floated off on a raft of happy memories. Earlier in the year he had been there for the 40th anniversary concert of the Tallis Scholars. Ever so fittingly the climax to the event was the 40-part motet Spem in alium. And he closed his eyes and tried to remember the superb sound of the eight choirs of five voices each distributed around the great space of the Wren building that was consecrated in 1708. There could hardly be; he mused; a better acoustic setting for the rich and sensuous melody and voices as Thomas Tallis could have imagined when he composed it shortly after the birth of Shakespeare in 1570. He was enjoying a rich sensory memory of the occasion; with all senses on edge; just as his acute nose detected the perfume
He sat up abruptly; as his unconscious sensory mind bade his lungs to fill and so capture the heavenly scent that was wafting along the deck. He blinked and again filled his nose, glancing sideways to locate the source of the delicious smell. He could see no one.
He once again indulged in the rich blend of sensual aromas floating through the air. He instinctively closed his eyes and strained to capture each nuance of the perfume parade. He had read about this kind of thing. What was it ?..yes a scent enchantment. He struggled to remember what he could of the famous novel PERFUME, gave up and just exulted in the divine scent. He became all nose.
He remembered once; a long time ago; in a greenhouse in the gardens at Inverewe in the Scottish Highlands; a friend had taught him to reach up for a drop of nectar. The taste of the nectar was as divine as this scent and no taste ever since has been so heavenly. This perfume was the scent equivalent of nectar and gave him just the same kind of extraordinary sensory ecstasy.
With his skin tensing with pleasure, and his heart beating with excitement; he stood up and moved up wind. The mark of a royal perfume; a real perfume; and not the weak and febrile celeb fragrances that were now all the rage; was that a true perfume left a plume of scent wafting downwind of its origin. Now all that he had to do was to become a sniffer human and move up the perfume gradient.
As he walked abreast of a corner on the deck; he saw immediately the source of that compelling perfume. A young woman; he guessed that she like him was mid-30s or thereabouts; was sitting contentedly by herself; with a London guide book open on the bench. She was taking photograph after photograph with her i-phone and was lost to the grandeur of the ancient building as the boat went by.
She was dressed in a long black coat; despite it being a warm London day; and the coat was narrowed at the waist and had a generous and enveloping collar. She wore an extraordinarily colorful scarf; certainly not made by any Western designer; and it had peacocks and exotic butterflies on a background of primrose yellow. He was facing her back and so could glean no further information. But her rich mane of heavy black shoulder-length hair was indeed a clue.
Now as it so happened; he had a refined nose and was a connoisseur of fine wines; cherishing in particular the aroma signature of a good Sauvignon Blanc – a hint (no more) of asparagus; the green freshness of freshly cut grass; the characteristic vigorous aroma from a blackcurrant leaf (not too catty) and above all – the inimitable aroma of a gooseberry – this being the most vital clue since no other grape had this special type of berry note.
He also had a trained whisky nose; being able to find his way around the aromas of the celebrated malts and with a particular penchant for a peaty-smoky note as found in a Laphroaig. Nor was he bad with all the modern gins; and interestingly; preferring above all of them; the highly perfumed Hendricks.
[Portrait of the Sultan Mehmet II
smelling a rose, Istanbul, c.1480, Istanbul,
Topkapi Sarayi Müzesi Library] ]
And when it came to perfumes he was no lazy nose either. He could discern the subtle white flower nuances and new velvety synthetic musks and the light-as-air scent molecules that adorned the contemporary expensive perfumes. But the perfume before him; never lessening in its sensory richness was of a type and design be had never met before. It had a special allure but the word allure was too puny to describe its sheer olfactory sensuality. It was beguiling beyond words.
He became heedless of time; standing downwind and inhaling the magical scent plume. Another picture of sensory richness came into his mind – as he recalled the goblins trying to seduce poor Lizzie with their mouth-watering fruits in Christina Rosetti’s * Goblin Market. This he realized – was love at first sniff.
He was beside himself with a mixture of sensory indulgence and also diffidence about saying something to the attractive young woman. But he would; he declared under his breath; like to know what this perfume was that had this erogenous effect on him.
The young woman disembarked at Greenwich and he followed her at some distance through the village; coming closer as she ascended the hill towards the Observatory. All of this time he was all nose and the enchantment never ceased; but instead quickened his pulse.
He decided that he must act just before the path stopped at the entrance to the Royal Observatory.
He drew abreast and glancing at her said; ‘excuse me for disturbing you; but I am fascinated by your perfume; I don’t recognize it’.
She stopped and looked at him with deep brown laughing eyes..’ah but you could never have guessed at what it is’.
Trying to regain some elementary composure he replied – ‘why is that?’ And as he spoke and gazed at her he realized that there was a sensory exchange of eyes and voices and scents. And she looked; he thought; like an Iranian beauty. Inwardly he said to himself - Love they say; is in the eyes; but this was love with eyes and nose; and it is nose brain that is the most emotional one.
They both stood gazing at each other; mesmerized by eye love and in his case also the primal and unconscious sniff love. Eventually he plucked up courage and said – ‘Are you from Iran by any chance? – I’ve just had a wonderful holiday there’.
She suddenly relaxed and smiled and replied – Oh, where did you go and what did you see; and of course - why did you go to Iran?’
He suggested coffee before exploring longitude and they happily skipped off to the café. She said that she came from Shiraz and he said that in that wonderful and ancient city; he had recited from an English translation of the famous Persian poet Hafez at his tomb in the beautiful Musalla Gardens in the city.
Her eyes welled-up with tears of joy; for all Iranians have the Divan of Hafez in their house and families read from it together. She said that she had never met an Englishman before this who had actually heard of Hafez.
He expressed his enthusiasm for the Persian poet and mystic Rumi who lived a century before Hafez, in the 13th century. And warming to the theme of his love of the ancient Persian poets; he talked at some length about his fascination with Omar Khayyam who was a mathematician; philosopher, polymath; and author of the famous Rubaiyat.
The atmosphere between them was now electric and neither of them could speak for a while.
With a little hesitation he said; ‘tell me about your wonderful perfume; where can I buy it; it’s the most wonderful scent I have ever smelt’.
She smiled and said gently – ‘ you will never ever be able to buy that perfume’.
He looked puzzled but before he could say anything she continued – ‘my perfume, like me; is unique.’
He looked puzzled but could not think of anything to say. She smiled and continued – ‘I work at Imperial College and I am an expert on the human compatibility genes. Using this knowledge I had this perfume created for me in the light of my compatibility genes. Whoever finds it enchanting – he is the ideal husband for me.’
And the mystical knowledge of the ancient Persian poets suffused through his veins as he took one more sniff of that delectable perfume; the perfect perfume for him.