So why don't I think of it as "serious" for perfume?
Here am I, cheering on any yard I see harboring an old-fashioned lilac. Holding all sorts of powerful emotional memories tied to their presence and triggered by their smell. But it took me three years to build the courage...and find the right space...for an old style (full height, loose looking most of the year) lilac. Even with that, I picked one with white flowers. I was, and am, grateful for the Miss Kim, which blooms later than the traditional lilacs, but which holds to a more modest height and looks more like a shrub than scrub the rest of the year.
It seems that I treat the stalwart old-fashioned like the stereotypical well-heeled person would a trusted member of the staff...appreciate it, will sing its praises in the right company, but want it to stay out of sight unless I need it.
Funny, when I see a bottle of perfume marked "lilac," my first reaction is to think of my Nana's scented talc, and move on.
When I see a listing for Patou "Vacances," I get all moony, and linger on the write-up for something I'll never have.
One way or the other, dismissed or beatified, lilac is...beyond reach.
Perhaps this is why one of the few lilac scents I love is En Passant? It is both messed up lilac (I mean, seriously, do you rise your bread dough in your lilac bush?), and fleeting (so I can only "hold" it for a limited time). Like the name says, it is an impression in passing.
But what of this other element that haunts me, this attribute of being..."common"? Does this spell doom for garden flower scents? That is, flowers from MY garden? After all, jasmine and champaca might be outright weedy in other climates...like, say, orange blossom in Arizona or Southern California, or bougainvilla in San Francisco...
Uh-oh, I just complicated my train of thought. Do we have tiers of privilege at work here? Those tropical flowers are "special" (oooh, exotic...), the edgy climate ones "worthy," but the workhorses of the midwest?
Let us review.
Lilac. Iris. (Which is to say iris FLOWER, not root.) Apple blossom. Peony. Lily of the valley. Mock orange. Tartarian honeysuckle.
Rose could be tossed in there, but I think that's a side issue that deserves a discussion unto itself.
Iris, we toss outright. Nobody has done that. Why, I don't know. I'm going to turn that into a separate discussion, too...is it just too darn hard? Did nobody pay attention to the fact that the flowers smell so blasted good they are practically narcotic? Is it because you can only smell them if you chance to catch their "throw" (and can identify what is the source), or if you stick your nose right inside the petals...and let's face it, that's kind of like sticking your schnozz into a Georgia O'Keefe painting?
And we know what *that* means. (And sorry, skanky fans, but that is NOT what the inside of an iris smells like.)
But discussions of iris are moot, because there is no flower based perfume. Harumph. Of course, given the variations I smell in the irises I grow, you'd first have to pick a "baseline" iris. (Just among the beardeds, there is what I would call "traditional" iris smell, a grapey smelling one, a clearly lemon smelling one, and a softened "lemon chiffon" smelling one. Of those that smell. That are bearded.)
Let's pick a trio. Lilac, Apple Blossom, Honeysuckle. What's your first thought? Raise your hand if you thought "good perfume for a girl who wants perfume but is really too young to wear perfume." Hands down. Raise your hand if you thought "something my grandma would be comfortable wearing." Hands down. (And take a moment to think about the conflicting ways grandma gets hit with "unh-uh" reaction when it comes to perfume...too aldehyde-y...too mossy...too garden flower-y...really??) How about a show of hands for anybody who thinks "Avon"? Okay, anybody not raise a hand yet? Please take a moment to comment RIGHT NOW if your first thoughts for any one of those is "serious perfume." Seriously. And, to keep the game challenging, tell me what apple blossom or honeysuckle perfume you find "serious." If you insist on lilac, go anywhere but Vacances or En Passant.
Maybe I'm pursuing a dead end. But seriously...doesn't something smack of privileging the exotic over the backyard here? I don't mean to invoke evil Colonialism, either; I just mean...maybe...the grass is greener over the fence? You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone? Something along those lines.
To be fair, there are some small perfumers who use their backyard. Roxana Villa champions her local oaks in her politics, and features their essence in some of her perfumes, notably "Q." Liz Zorn has teased Facebook followers with images of mock orange blossoms she is currently putting through enfleurage, and will some day end up in one of her bottled creations.
But what is on my mind, right now, is the idea that there's plenty to be found in the realm of tropical white flowers, or the root of a florentine iris. (I'm going with the belief that "florentine" refers to Florence, Italy, not Florence, Alabama. Orris root. There is, incidentally, a Louisiana or swamp iris, but I haven't smelled that one. I digress.) Nothing of the iris I find inside the flowers in my garden. Nothing of the apple tree I fell asleep under as a child. Nothing from the flowers that not only smelled good as you rode past, but also tasted flowery sweet if you plucked them and sucked out their backsides.
I'm going to go outside and find one of the spots where the irises are currently throwing their scent. Happy invisible pockets that stop me in my tracks and make me remember that I am here, right now, this year, inside this moment, which is incredible.
But will pass.
And, if fate allows, will come again.
A mole nose is shaped like a star. Learned that a while back, thanks to some reading or other with the kids. When they were short. And would wander the garden with me, going on a "scent hunt."
ADDENDUM: Sonofagun. Zeitgeist. I leave, go to check some of my favorite blogs...and it seems that granny in the guise of "old lady" was on Helg's mind today. See her discussion of "Old Lady vs. Older Woman."