Sunday, October 28, 2012

When Your Circumstance is Movie-Sized: The Smell of Air

Six Days with the Primordial Scent Project: Air Set

When I was fourteen, I fell in love with a song by Liz Phair called "Stratford-on-Guy." I discovered it on a late night alternative rock show on MTV called 120 Minutes. I was sitting in my dad's room, watching videos while I waited for him to leave for work, and this video came on. I immediately set about trying to find the album, which back then was a lot harder as it required you to have the artist's name and the name of the song (though album was better), then make a physical pilgrimage to a record store or, in my case, music store full of cassette tapes in the local mall, to try to track it down. I had Exile in Guyville pretty much right as it came out thanks to this single, and I played the cassette over and over.

The song isn't particularly profound. It's about the experience of being on a plane. Not like, "here I am separated from my love or going to war and this plane is a metaphor for my loss," but about the visceral experience of being on an actual plane: the stillness of the people, the way the world looks from above, the loud quietness of the space itself, the sense of being connected and disconnected, or moving and not moving, of doing something menial (sitting and reading a magazine, drinking a coke and eating peanuts) and simultaneously extraordinary (flying). The description of the experience got to the heart of me in some deep and fundamental way, like a poem I keep returning to and finding new colors in the words.

At that point in my life, it would be another two years before I flew on a plane for the first time. When I finally did it, I was terrified. I was entranced. It still seems impossible that you don't fall right out of the sky. Impossible that you become surrounded by clouds so that every window in all directions is filled with nothing but whiteness. Above you, below you, left and right, whiteness. It's as if you've entered a strange kind of otherworld, where childhood images of heaven, or the unknown great hereafter, is nothing but pearly clouds and angelic figures.

Even today, every time I fly, there comes a moment when the earth disappears and space disappears and there is only a small room surrounded by whiteness, all manner of whiteness, and the thrum of the engines is barely noticeable on your skin and in your ears and the space has a strange kind of stale coolness. In that moment, I wonder if this is what those first few moments after dying will be like for me. It won't be a tunnel of light or a large foreboding gate or a set of scales with my soul on one side and a blackbird's feather on the other. It will be me, going somewhere unseen and unknown at an impossible speed, not alone but still profoundly singular in the experience, not quite here or there yet, in progress.

After all, isn't that the space we all really live in? Hurtling toward the future at an impossible speed, yet not quite free of the past behind us? If you died there, in that space, would you even know it? Or would you just ask for more peanuts?

That's a lot to get out of a 120 Minutes video. Twenty years later, and I still listen to the album a couple of times a year. When "Stratford-on-Guy" comes on, I feel that profound sense of being outside and yet somehow in the moment, every time.

The thing that makes me tell you about this experience, dear reader, is that we have reached another week of the Primordial Scent Project. For the next six days our focus is the primordial element of Air. I knew I was getting the Air set before it arrived, and the concept intrigued me. Water? Fire? Those are scents I feel like I have a relationship with. Whenever I thought about how to capture Air as an element in scent, I kept thinking of "Stratford-on-Guy" and the liminal experience of air travel.

It took an hour, maybe a day,
but when I really listened, the noise just went away.

What does it mean to make a fragrance that captures the essence of air? Is it a sort of nothing, an almost absence of scent? Is it a particular scent, a moment captured on the wind? Is it a mishmash of all the things one loves best, a kind of everything scent? Or is it somewhere in between?

That's the question we're going to explore this week with the Primordial Scent Project.

Our first Air scent is Michael Storer's Djin. The Posh Peasant describes the scent as follows:
A powerful djin is what Aladdin brought forth when he rubbed his famous lamp.A spectral and prismatic interplay of olfactory sensations is what you’ll set free with just a few sprays of Djin parfum. Djin’s notes range through all the chakras from the base of the spine with very male Aldrone, leathery castoreum, civet, musk, tonka bean and teakwood, to a middle of sweeter woods tempering the bitterness of grapefruit oil, blackcurrant absolute, clary sage, just a hint of vanilla and iris. This all carries on through the upper spine right to the forehead with an aura of ozonic and marine notes, rose and topped with mind-opening spices including cardamom seed and floral aldehydes. This is all we will reveal. You’ll just have to rub the magic lamp yourself to experience all the full-bodied power of Djin.
The immediate opening is green, sweet, and woody, a fresh light scent that would be easily interpreted as either masculine or feminine. The middle section of Djin is a lovely ozone and marine mixture that reminds of me the prettiest aspects of the smell of the kind of recycled air on a plane, but without the stale unpleasant points. It reminds me what my grandmother used to call "store bought air," with a hefty emphasis on a kind of green dewiness.

I tried Djin a couple of times, and there was always something about the scent I couldn't quite put my finger on. When I couldn't place it easily, couldn't find the right words, I kept going back to that concept of liminal space. An in-between scent for the not quite here or there moment, both in travel and in life. It lives in the quiet beyond the busy-ness of our daily lives, that place where we are forced to sit and wait for our external selves to begin again. In that moment of not-quite-here-or-there-ness, we find a strange kind of peace.

Now what could be more magical than that?

Djin is a light, pretty scent lingers over the skin for hours. The sillage is low but the longevity is good, lasting on me about eight hours.

You can buy Djin for $75 from the Posh Peasant. You can also buy by contacting the perfumer directly.

You can buy the entire Primordial Scent Project: Air Set for $28.00 here.

For more reviews of the Primordial Scent Project: Air Scents, try:  Perfume-Smellin' ThingsThe Perfume Critic;  John Reasinger, writing for Perfume PharmerIndieperfumesDonna Hathaway, writing for Perfumer Pharmer.

The earth looked like it was lit from within
like a poorly assembled electrical ball.
As we moved out of the farmlands into the grid
the plan of a city was all that you saw.
And all of these people sitting totally still
as the ground raced beneath them, thirty-thousand feet down...

~ "Stratford-On-Guy," Liz Phair

Photo of scents taken by me; other photos from Creative Commons: Airplane in sky and Clouds from airplane. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Lyn Ayre said...

This is a fabulous post, Diana. You are an amazing writer, young lady! Wow!!

Mike, congratulations on making a scent so wonderful it moves people to writing like this. Well done, you.

Love Lyn