Wednesday, October 1, 2008

L'air du desert Marocain


As usual, I’m a year or two behind all of you other perfume bloggers out there. For example, Tauer Perfume’s remarkable Vetiver Dance is about to come out, and here I am writing about one of the older ones! But it is early fall here, and I’ve been wearing L’air du desert Marocain. It has made me think about, and want to write about, Cordoba.

For most tourists visiting Spain, Cordoba is a whistle-stop on the bullet train between Madrid and Seville. Almost no one stays there more than a few hours. It’s a dusty provincial town now and besides, Seville has better bars. (That’s true.) But, for a few centuries around the turn of the first Millennium, Cordoba was the center of the cultural and intellectual world and, most notably, it was a place where everyone – Muslims, Christians and Jews – shared their city in tolerance.

Much got done because of that. Commentaries to the Torah and Koran were written by the great sages Maimonides and Averroes, both from Cordoba. Libraries rivaling those of Alexandria were built. Alchemists and mathematicians worked out their formulae while poets sang in the temples and mosques. It must have seemed an enchanted place.

We think of the desert myths, Garden-of-Allah oases, camel caravans and date palms, as characteristic of northern Africa. But Cordoba is as close to Marrakech as it is to Barcelona. The influence of the Moors, which is what the various Saharan tribes were called, can be seen and tasted all over Al-Andalus (now called Andalusia) in the architecture of thick-walled whitewashed houses, in the fountains everywhere and especially in the food, rich with saffron, garlic, almonds and olive oil.

The Moors loved perfumes. Unlike the later Europeans, they bathed frequently. The many fountains existed because one’s hands and feet had to be cleaned before the five-times-daily prayer. They scented their bodies with oils, and their homes and temples with incense. Their cities were fragrant with orange trees, and the hot, dry winds blowing up from the Sahara produced aromatic resins in the mountain shrubs.

L’air du desert Marocain, so much more concept than accessory, is all about these fragrances, essences of a lost world.

The first time I visited Cordoba, Franco was still in power. Spain was dirty, brown and exhausted, and Cordoba’s great mosque was dark and full of stray cats. But the generalissimo was fading fast, and students were out in the streets late at night, shouting and singing.

A friend and I sat on the banks of the Guadalquivir, next to the Roman bridge, beside the ruins of a Moorish water wheel. We picked figs from an ancient tree, and ate them as the sun set. That was when I fell in love with Cordoba.

Spain now, of course, is vibrant and modern. That old water wheel has been restored. But the bats still pour out from underneath the arches of the ancient bridge at twilight, and dart around over the mosque’s roof as they always have. In the restaurants, they serve Andalusian gazpacho, made from ground almonds and grapes, and Jerez de Manzanilla, the pale sherry that has a slight sea-water tang (but must be drunk within a hundred miles of the Mediterranean).

L’air du desert Marocain gets me high. No other perfume I’ve ever tried does what it does. Its existence is a fine reason to return to Cordoba, because I’d love to ramble the streets of the old city again, enchanted by its scent. This perfume seems to lift me out of the mundane, into some other world, full of possibilities I haven’t yet imagined.


Notes for L’air du desert Marocain include coriander, cumin, petitgrain, rock rose, jasmine, cedar and ambers.

5 comments:

waftbyCarol said...

Beautiflly written...I'll go with you when you return to Cordoba...this is one of those fragrances I love to smell , but not on ME...cedar overwhelms , I like to burn the branches like the native Americans do .

Olfacta said...

Thank you for the compliment! Cedar is usually a difficult note on me, too, speaks of hamster-cage, but it's OK in L'air. Once in a while we'll get a cedar log in a load of firewood, and those are wonderful to burn at Christmastime.

leopoldo said...

You write about one of my favourite places - and one of my favourite perfumes!

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