Monday, June 20, 2011

Moon Drops

 I just got back from Florida, where I spent a couple of days with Carol, who writes WAFT. There were brush fires burning all around us, from months of drought. It was too smoky to walk outside, or go to the beach, or much of anything. So we hung out indoors, sniffing perfume, for two days. 
I spotted a green box in her collection that looked familiar. Pulled it out and turned it over. It was vintage Moon Drops.
I’ve recently returned from Memphis, where I was an extra in the forthcoming film "Woman's Picture", which concerns mothers, daughters and perfume. Moon Drops was my mother’s signature scent during a difficult time, the 80’s, when we lived on opposite sides of the U.S., and didn’t get along for long on my visits home. I thought of myself as hot stuff then, rising fast in a wicked and glamorous career, and I think that she, a lifelong wife and mother, might have been a little jealous. She made a point of being unimpressed. 
I didn’t know whether I should try the Moon Drops. I’d always turned my nose up at it. Drugstore stuff. Cheap. Revlon, for God’s sake! I’d been disappointed in her for putting away her Arpege and Moment Supreme and adopting as her signature...this? I was hesitant to smell it, afraid that it might bring back bad memories. But I decided to be brave, and sprayed some on my wrist.
Here was the slightly bitter alcohol and aldehyde blast I remembered. She would apply it generously, just before she’d leave the house, and that smell would linger in her wake. Then, I smelled some sort of white flower, followed by -- surprise! -- the trajectory of a Chypre. Orris. Green. Not sweet. Lily of the valley. Carnation -- probably eugenol, quite a bit of it. And finally, moss. Lots of moss.
The “notes” lists things I don’t smell much of -- ylang-ylang, fruits, honey, cedar. It’s the bitters I smell now. Perhaps the top and midnotes degraded with age, leaving only the structure, the dry bones. Sweetness tends to do that over time.
“The whole fucking world,” says Miriam, of “Woman’s Picture,” to her clueless boss, “is mothers and daughters, Grant.”  I’ve been turning that statement in my mind ever since I heard it. Is it true? 
My father wore Mennen’s Skin Bracer, the after-shave. I wouldn’t have been afraid to sniff that. The bottle of Moon Drops, though, seemed to hold a malevolent spirit, and I held the box for a moment while I considered it.
I appreciate my mother much more now that she’s gone. Hers was a tough life, always moving, raising her kids in the Sixties, that era of generational war, fought across the kitchen table every night; expectations, disappointments. I’m wondering now about her giving up the first-rate French perfume for this drugstore stuff. What was that about?
Practicality. An attempt to conform to small-town life. A bone-deep fear of being thought pretentious. That’s a generational thing, too, far from my era of single-malt Scotch and McMansions with five bathrooms, a time now coming to its own ignominious end. 
Carol loved the Moon Drops. As surprised as I was at its classic quality, she told me that she, too, had turned up her nose. She’d had the box for a while and hadn’t even opened it. Once she smelled it, she couldn’t stop spraying, evaluating, exclaiming.
I didn’t, though. It’s not that I don’t like the fragrance. I do. But when I had a signature scent, it was the lush floral oriental Bal a Versailles -- an attempt, I now know, to carve my own identity into that opposite coast, as far away from home as I could get. 
I came back with a decant of the Moon Drops, and another of Charlie, something else she wore back then. I’ll put them in my “Mom Kit,” I joked to Carol, “along with the Arpege and the Woodhue and the Moment Supreme.”  
Here’s the thing though: I’ll do just that. In a way, it’s the least I can do.
“Notes” for Moon Drops include aldehydes, gardenia, peach, bergamot, lily of the valley, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, carnation, orris, honey, sandalwood, musk, cedar, moss, styrax, amber and benzoin.
Eclipse photo used under license from; © Emiliau |


brian said...

Gosh this was such a good read, Olfacta. I continue to marvel at the personality, erudition, and VOICE that comes out of your writing. There's nothing else like it, and if I could wake up to something as thoughtful and moving as this every morning I probably wouldn't need all these cigarettes. I'm in such admiration of your gifts.

Olfacta said...

Thank you, Brian! Much of this post came out of discussions we had. Inspiring.

waftbyCarol said...

Ahh , we had a sniffin good time didn't we my friend ?
We talked about you Brian and your movie too...
Miss you Pat . The kittens say "meow"...

Tamara*J said...

The whole fucking world IS mothers and daughters! It truly's my world and in my good times I revel in it and in bad times feel like I'm drowning.
My mama never wore perfume.
I have no scent memories of that sort. But I know I am passing along many to my own girls and I hope one day when they inherit all my fragrances that beautiful thoughts and feelings are tied in with them.I hope I do right by my girls every day just like I wear my perfume everyday. Both are so much a part of me I don't know where one stops and the other begins......
Welcome back home.


Olfacta said...

Hi Carol! Miss you too. Kittens too.

Olfacta said...

Thanks, T! The perfumes I found in my mother's things are more precious to me than jewelry, because the memories I get sniffing then are so intense. I'm glad to have them.

Rappleyea said...

What a poignant and beautifully written commentary on the enigmatic relationship of mothers and daughters. I always thought that I had a very good relationship with my mother, but when my father died (I was long grown), I realized that my great relationship was with HIM, and mine with my mother was more passive/aggressive (on her part). Her most devoted mothering was for my younger siblings. But I was her first, born when she was still 18 and I was daddy's little girl, so I'm sure there was some jealousy there.

I'm not sure life is all "mothers and daughters" - I think it's much more complicated than that.

Btw, so many of those drug store perfumes that we turned our noses up at would be the highest quality of niche now days!

Great writing, Pat.

Olfacta said...

Hello Donna -- Thanks! It is difficult to be the first born. You get all the theories, if the parents are given to that, all the baggage handed down from previous generations if not. And I guess we were lucky to get the old drugstore scents, because they were made with much better ingredients than most perfumes are now!