“....the Holy Grail,” says Paul Theroux in his travel book ‘The Pillars of Hercules," ....is the real thing....carved from greenish agate (chalcedony), as is the base, an inverted cup set with pearls and emeralds, with gold handles, and it is held together by a gold post and jeweled bands....This simple cup might have acquired the gold and jewels since Jesus used it. The authorized Cathedral pamphlet offers all this conjecture as fact.”
“It is venerated,” he continues, quoting Grail expert J.A. Onate. “It ‘receives a continuous growing cult....The cup is very ancient work and nothing can be said against the idea that it was utilized by the Lord during the first eucharistic consecration.’”
Nobody gets all that close to this cup, Theroux also points out. The godless tourists wanting to peer at it are allowed to enter its chapel only when a priest is saying mass. They must then sit or kneel to listen to the sermon, which goes on continuously whenever the chapel is open.
Reading this made me think about Mitsouko.
All the combinations and permutations of Mitsouko-worship separate the perfumista from the masses. Saying you don’t like Mitsouko in this particular culture is as much a heresy as a film student’s denouncing “Citizen Kane.”
How many Mitsouko grails are there, though? There is the modern EDT, one of the first classics to be reformulated. Then there is the modern EDP, grudgingly considered by the cognoscenti to be acceptable, to a point. There is the old EDT, in the big round bottle, and I suppose there is an old EDP, although I’ve never seen it. Finally, there’s the modern extrait, and, ultimately, the agate chalice: vintage Mitsouko perfume.
I started with a sample of the EDT, as most do. I was expecting an epiphany. What I got a sharp, strange and yeasty scent. I kept waiting for it to “develop.” It didn’t. My husband came home and said, “What’s that funny smell?”
I soldiered on. I thought, no, I knew, that the perfume bloggers and forum fans just had to know something I didn’t. After all, no one is born liking Parmesan cheese. I obtained samples of the EDP, and finally the modern perfume. All of these were better, by degree, than the EDT I’d tried at first, but none were the l revelation I’d expected.
The next step was inevitable; find some vintage. First, the expense. How could I justify it, when I wasn’t sure, buying unsniffed, as they say? Then came the time-consuming fleabay search. The checking of the feedback. The comparisons of bottles. Of labels. All the frustration and doubt which comprise authentication. Then, the hair-raising bidding process.
Ultimately, this was a matter of faith. As with the Spanish priests who believe that Christ drank from their agate cup, I finally just had to believe that the vintage quarter ounce of Mitsouko I ordered would be real.
The bottle came, nestled in with a silk scarf, which lined the box. In my haste to open the package and sip from the chalice, I cut a slit in it. Not a good omen; I held my breath.
The perfume was so...smooth. Peaches preserved in Olympian cognac. Somewhere, there was a hint of wood smoke, and there was beer, too, but this time it was monastery beer, made only by the abbot for his favored few. It was deep and rich, but not sweet, and it held together beautifully on my skin.
Here is the question. Had I ordered this bottle a year prior, would I have been able to appreciate it? Or was this a simple agate cup, tarted up with the pearls and emeralds of cognitive dissonance?
I’m not going to go on comparing old to new, note to note; there is plenty of information out there. But I am going to give up a decent sample of my vintage Mitsouko, about three quarters of a ml, and about the same amount of the modern extrait, to one lucky winner. I’d like to hear what you think. Was the vintage version All That for you? Did it make the earth move? Or is the Emperor really just naked?
Leave me a comment by Wednesday, August 12, midnight US EDT, and I’ll pick the winner (at random, of course) of perfume’s agate cup. I’ll throw in a few other samples of my vintage favorites too.
The Holy Grail is said to be held by the St. Mary of Valencia Cathedral in Valencia, Spain.
Quoted passages are excerpts from “The Pillars of Hercules -- A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean” by Paul Theroux, ISBN 0-399-14108-1.
The photo is from Wikimedia.