Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Perfume Bottle

Winners of the "Teatro Alla Scala" drawing, chosen using random.org, are: Chayaruchama and Weegee! Please get in touch with me at Olfactarama at ATT dot net with your postal information and I’ll get the samples out to you posthaste. Congratulations!

Do you ever wonder about trivial, random things and how they might have shaped your life?

When I was eight, I lived with my family in Japan. We lived near a huge U.S. Air Force base, Tachikawa, about forty miles from Tokyo. On a clear day, as I rode my bicycle to school, I could see a postcard-perfect view of Mt. Fujiyama, so beautifully blue, crowned with white in winter. One day I got off the bike and simply stood and stared at it, transfixed. I understood, in that way that children do, that there was something sacred about it.

Although my father was not actually in the military, we had some military privileges, including the schools, the BX and the Officers’ Club. Our house was just off base, in a little compound of stucco cottages called American Village. (The base is now a park, but the compound is still there. I looked it up on Google Earth. A Japanese student I met at a party years ago told me that it had been maintained as a sort of artists’ colony. I hope it still is.)

In the way of the military, family members were given opportunities to participate in the local culture. We toured silk factories filled with white caterpillars. We learned flower arranging, which I still remember how to do. Making origami cranes, painting with brushes and cakes of ink, how to properly wear a kimono. My mother belonged to the Officers Wives Bowling League, and every year, they had a mother-daughter luncheon. It wasn’t my favorite thing -- I was a rangy kid who loved to roam and disliked dresses -- but I went, all dressed up, wearing patent-leather shoes. They always had a door prize. One year I won. I still remember the thrill of hearing my name called, my mother’s delight, going shyly up to the front to pick up my prize.

It was a perfume bottle. It’s pictured to the left.

Since then, I’ve moved many times, and sometimes it seems as though I’ve had many lives, but I still have the perfume bottle. It’s the oldest object from my own life that I possess. Sometimes it’s been filled with perfume, sometimes not. I tend to break things, but somehow this bottle has remained intact.

My mother is gone now, Tachikawa Air Force Base is gone, and even its site has been swallowed by Tokyo. (I find it fitting that the former headquarters of the big bad US military, occupying a country we’d defeated, is now reserved for Japanese urban dwellers’ relaxation.) But, as in anyone’s life, so much is gone. The bottle, though, is still here.

I’m wondering now if needing perfume to fill it is was part of the reason why I became a perfume fan. That was why when, one day, I heard about buying fragrance online, I googled my favorite one, found the perfume blogs, became fascinated with them and, ultimately, started one of my own, which you are reading.

I know now that it’s better to keep perfume in the dark, but I didn’t want to hide this bottle away, so I emptied it. It now sits in the place of honor atop my perfume cabinet. Every time I look at it, which is often, I remember how, and where, I got it.

“Door prize,” I think, is a good description. For me, this perfume bottle, now a door to the past, was a secret glimpse into the future.

Photo by Olfactarama, all rights reserved.


Bloody Frida said...

lovely post! btw, to you have a photo of your perfume cabinet? I have been looking for something that is pretty but will keep the light away, and haven't come across anything yet.

Olfacta said...

Hi BF -- send me your postal deets at the address mentioned atop the "Perfume Bottle" post and I'll send you a photo.

My cabinet is much too small now! (Looking for a larger one.) It's about two feet high by 14" wide by about 14" deep, with a drawer in which I keep decants. It's rattan, sort of tropical/Chinoiserie in style. I got it at a flea market for $20, and that's where I'm looking for the new one. It takes awhile to find a nice cabinet; most are ugly. Don't give up. Good luck!

Bloody Frida said...

oh I didn't mean for you to send me a photo - I thought perhaps you had uploaded on your blog and I couldn't find it. I apologize for the confusion (I'm confused today, the second day of my cigarette quit and I'm all goofy in my head)!

I have been scouring ebay - right now all my samples are in two adorable little wooden boxed (one is an antique, the other a faux antique), and I have a little white bamboo-ish open shelf that houses my bottles (I'll post a photo on my blog once I get home from work!)

Good idea about flea markets - I'll check the local ones out this weekend

Mals86 said...

"Door prize" indeed.

Thanks for the lovely, thoughtful post.

BitterGrace said...

Wonderful post, beautifully written. It's fascinating to ponder the way small things shape us. I like to tell myself that it's never good to be attached to objects, but I can't deny that the relics I still have from childhood are filled with meaning.

SignatureScent said...

Fascinating to hear how you became interested in perfume. It is intriguing to follow and understand the motivations that shape our lives.

And an amazing description of Japan. I've always wanted to go as it seems such an ornate intricate culture.

The bottle is beautiful. Years ago I worked for an advertising agency and one of the clients was Coty. At the time I read a little bit about Coty himself. Apparently when he was choosing bottles for fragrances he would keep the prototypes for as long as possible and keep looking at them. His theory was that something would appear beautiful over a long period of time if it is truly beautiful. If it isnt really beautiful, then you would get bored with it or the novetly would wear off etc etc. It's an interesting theory. And your bottle looks genuinely beautiful.

Liisa Wennervirta said...

Ah, childhood. I have a different series of memories of people living in wars fought generation or two ago and they include lilac. But that would be another story.

The Left Coast Nose said...

I *love* this story.... It just made me sigh. I'm always fascinated by stories of the things that "stick." It's funny how those moment from childhood stay with us and inform us many years later.

Beauty, pleasure, glamor, feeling special-- I can see how that magnificent bottle could hold all those feelings & memories for you.

Lisa BTB said...

What a great post. Isn't it amazing how things "work out"? You won the door prize. It was meant to be.

Perfumaniac said...

Beautiful bottle, photo and story!