Thursday, August 23, 2012

Coming to My Senses

The reason I decided I wanted to write a book about M.F.K. Fisher wasn't because I was obsessed with food and wine. It was because I related on the deepest and most cellular level to how M.F.K. Fisher used food as a metaphor to write about her happiness and loneliness and desire and love.

That piece in Serve it Forth about eating bread and chocolate on a cold hillside? Sure it's about the way a piece of dark, salty chocolate melted into a chunk of crusty baguette and how delicious it is to eat something decadent and unexpected after a long hike. But it's also about getting to the top of that hill. About standing with strangers while your husband (who you don't really get along with anyway) stays at home with his books and his poetry. It's about taking the bread and chocolate from an old man's hand and eating it as the chilled wind whips around your face and you stare off into the distance, alternately happy to be on top of a French hillside taking in the view, and sad because you never wanted to be there without him. It's about realizing that the old Frenchmen standing beside you have been through war and famine in recent years. And yet they are still hiking and laughing and sharing food with you, a young American girl who they can't really talk to and who they have nothing in common with except for this small shared snack.

Those people who think M.F.K. Fisher is just a food writer have it all wrong. 

When Alyssa Harad wrote to me and told me about her book, Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride, and asked me if I'd read it and consider offering a blurb for the back copy it seemed a random request. I don't even wear perfume. 

But that's the point. Alyssa's book isn't about perfume. It isn't about a fancy bottle or the familiar heady smell that hangs in the air at the mall or a celebrity's newest fragrance. It's about scent. It's about familiarity and treading into the new. It's about discovering who you are and pushing the boundaries  of who you want to be. 

Just like M.F.K. Fisher doesn't simply write about food, Alyssa Harad doesn't just write about perfume. She writes about scent and our sense of smell and how those two things are intimately tied to the people that we are and the women we want to become. Her book is beautifully written and evocative and deeply personal.

I loved this book. In the couple of months since reading it I've found myself picking up small vials of scent and ordering little round jars of solid perfume from artisan producers. Some days I wear nothing at all, others I tuck a little bit here and there and observe how the perfume changes over the course of the day, and how I change when I'm wearing something earthy or exotic or intensely floral.

I'm at the very beginning of my scent journey, that's certain. But just like learning more about food and taste is a lifelong quest, so is this scent business. I love the idea that no matter what my favorite perfume is now, it will change. And that someday, when I look back at these foggy, tomato and basil scented days, ripe with peach juice and mid-afternoon sunshine and sweat, it will remind me of this. August. 

Do you have a signature scent? What is it and how did you discover it?


Megan Taylor said...

Signature scent(s): tuberose, red currant, cedar.

nicole said...

I guess if I had a particular scent it would be lavender -- I LOVE lavender, and love how the scent from the flowers wafts up from the plants even when you're standing fairly far away (also love the two harvests/year thing). I also truly love bay leaves; that would also be 'my scent' I suppose. Also piney/redwood smells and eucalyptus. I don't wear perfume really (it tends to give me a headache), but maybe some day I can develop one that encompasses all of my favorites ... I'll call it 'Northern California' :)

Anne Zimmerman said...

Nicole, I love your Northern California perfume idea. I'd totally wear it!

Anne Zimmerman said...

Meg! I want to smell this. I love the brightness of red currant, the earthiness of cedar and the femininity of rose. It totally reminds me of YOU.

Pink of Perfection said...

This is why I love perfume blogs (and MFK Fisher!): they are so evocative. Scent, especially, seems to meld so well with imagination, how we see ourselves, how we want to be seen. I can't wait to read this book.

Oh, and Gardenia Passion by Annick Goutal. And waiting to spring for a bottle of Gardenia by Isabey.

Megan Taylor said...

Anne, that pic of you is so beautiful. Just FYI.