Sunday, April 16, 2006
Years ago, when I was a kid, I regularly roamed my parents' bookshelves for more input. That was long before the days of Stephen King and co hit our communist bookshops. That kind of stuff was considered Schund-und Schmutzliteratur. Just like comicbooks and the rest, only especially so. So I got my hands on some stuff that is out of print these days, and stuff I would have never touched if having been fed on a light diet. I mean, I love King, don't get me wrong, but he makes it very easy.
Some stuff on my parents' shelves was taboo for me (well, I read it anyway when my folks weren't looking), stuff like "The Vampyre Anthology" with classic stories by Polidori and co. (Funny enough, they permitted me Robert Merle's Malevil, which in its own right is much greater horror than the average witch biting a kid's head off. But I digress.)
Anyway, at some point, one of my folks recommended Perfume by Patrick Süskind, and I was hooked. There is a story behind that, but I will follow up to that later.
It's - like the subtitle says - the story of a murderer. But it's not just an ordinary freak. The book follows the life - from his macabre birth to the moment of his near-death - of a man called Grenoille who is born as a freakish child in stinking medieval Paris. He has the most extraordinary sense of smell, but no scent of his own (which creeps people out without them knowing that it is that that creeps them out, if you get my drift). Grenoille is a living zombie void of emotions and personality, until he smells something that captures and revives him. He lives for scents only, and turns into a perfumist, composing the most amazing scents for the rich and mighty. But in the dark backroom of his mind, there are other scents he aims for, and he stops at nothing to acquire what he wants - the perfect perfume made of macabre ingredients, capturing the essence of the human soul, the scent creating undying love.
The style of the book is as hilarious as it is twisted, one is revolted and in stitches at the same time. Seeing the story mostly through the eyes of Grenoille, it defamiliarises ordinary people to an extent that turns them into ridiculous caricatures. Evil as Grenoille is, one sympathises simply because he seems the most clever person in the story. The writing is gripping and vivid, and one comes out of it like out of a weird, intense semi-nightmare, not sure whether to be amused or shocked. It's one of the few books I could read again and again, because it seriously never gets boring!
But there is another reason why I like that book so much. It's because, in fact, my most prominent sense is smell. It is so strong, my mother used to call me Grenoille every time I pointed out that something smelt funny, which happened a lot, and which was usually the first thing I noticed about a new place or object. Smells get me. It's like I have some sort of photographic memory of smells, if that is possible. I can go somewhere and say, this is exactly what grannie's attic used to smell like, even though I haven't been in there in 20 years.
Most of my memories are linked to smells, triggered by smells. My moods are a playball of smells. Give me a waft of the wrong stuff, and I go from bouncing happy to deeply depressed.
I'm a perfume whore. But not just any stuff. I am uber-particular, because some stuff just causes a mindfuck for me. Anything too citrid, or too heavy... I hate sports style scents or stuff like Obsession, Poison or Opium... it's like gloom in a bottle.
On the other hand, my favourite has to be Escape by Calvin Klein. It's my power perfume. It somehow gives me a sense of strength and confidence. (How is that for a hint, dear fellas??)
Then there is Joop's All about Eve, which is my autumn scent, marvellous sweet apples ... it feels wrong for me to wear it other than from September to November.
Bogner Woman (I know, silly, eh? Dom used to laugh at me, because my favourite perfumes sound to him like they should smell awfully. But he's got a point... I mean, Ming Shu??? For fuck's sake??) is for Christmas, heavier, warm, with a hint of vanilla.
Laura by Laura Biagotti is for January and February, then it's followed by Ming Shu for the spring. Orchidee is for the summer, light colourful flowers. Ah, and don't get me going on coconut.
Smells can put me in the mood for writing, they can make me feel like I turn into another person (and the wrong scent puts the wrong images in my mind which really freaks me out).
There are smells that I love which you can't describe, or which sound bizarre.
My budgie Bubi, when he was warm and dry, smelled of a summer's day on the sandy shore of a small forest lake surrounded by pines. When he was wet after a bath, looking pitiful, ruffled and thin, with his feathers glued to him, he smelled of spicy soy sauce.
I love the attic smell of old books. The smell of fresh strawberry gateau. I hate hate hate the smell of camomile flowers, tomato plants and lemon balm (which has the annoying habit of rubbing off on you when you touch it just lightly. Even more annoying, mother used to love that stuff and put it everywhere. Bleeergh).
And have you noticed how you don't notice the particular smell of your house anymore after a while? Except when you come back from a long vacation? Funny enough, my ex-housemate Laura said that our house doesn't smell anymore like it used to when she lived there.
And that, not to mention, men are a wonderful invention (sometimes), but they are at the most sublime when they smell a certain way. Ah, the old knees go weak.
But what I find most fascinating about all this stuff is that most of the time we're not aware how much smells influence us. I suppose most of us don't want to reduce things like attraction or mood control to simple chemical reactions, but I wonder.