Je t'ai piqué ton nez!

Before, perfume was a comfort. It engaged and inspired me. Finding it, wearing it, reading and writing about it-- it was the defining interest of my life. it might well have continued to be so, had a force majeure named Sandy not intervened.

In one day's time, a wall of sewage-laced floodwater dismantled all we knew. In the wake of the hurricane, ease and joy disappeared, replaced by wet and dark and cold and fear. Everywhere we looked, we saw thousands of uprooted trees, beached boats, foundation stones where houses used to stand. Our candles burned down; our gas supply disappeared; we spent our days shivering like whipped curs.

And that was before the blizzard arrived. You heard me. The blizzard.

I did not wear perfume during the blackout. Correction: I did not go anywhere near it, not even to steal a reassuring sniff from the top of a bottle. The one time I thought to try it, the house was so cold that the rose and jasmine absolutes I'd taken out of the Scent Cabinet in a moment of need had completely solidified within their vials-- gelatinized, if not frozen. I'd witnessed so much by then, you'd think I'd be inured to something as trivial as this. But no, the sight stripped me of confidence. I simply did not have the heart to seek my heart's ease in these or any other bottles.

What would be the point? I couldn't wear it, because I couldn't bathe. My spouse and I spent the last trickles of hot water in our tank on what we knew would be our last showers for the duration. We began the dark time smelling, at least, of Ivory soap-- and I wasn't about to fuck it up. The idea of spritzing on perfume stirred up an instinctive aversion in me, completely surprising yet possessed of something I suspected might be an unwelcome truth. Things being what they were, really-- how could perfume possibly get my back?

The scents of the post-storm world, then, were those of the rusty, toxic muck that washed the streets, the garbage accumulating head-high in the outdoor disposal bins, growing body odor, the disgusting coffee we improvised in our old French press-- shitty, tarry stuff, practically battery acid, made tolerable only with sugar and dollops of milk from tiny vacuum-packed single-serve cartons. Quaintly enough, that coffee was the only thing we actually looked forward to each day. Along with a stomachache, it gave us caffeinated courage.

The only thing really and truly scented about my storm time was that mini Air Wick jar candle which I drove miles to find when the candle stubs at home threatened to gutter out for good that night. It was the last one on the supermarket shelf, kept company only by a tiny plastic bag of cheap tea lights. I picked them both up and wearily schlepped over to checkout, where a husband-and-wife pair of frantic latecomers spotted my pathetic score and pitched the most unbelievable public tantrum of which I have ever been the subject. The wife actually called a store employee over to demand why I, and not she, had candles. In the hollow, sepulchral tone of an exhausted near-zombie, the employee asked, "What do you want me to do, ma'am? Tackle her and take them away?" Sensing a "YES!" on the horizon, I kept my fucking head down all the way through checkout and out to my car. I half expected that woman to shank me in the parking lot with a nail file.

That was where we were at, in that point in time, down the Shore. The candle, by the way, was Vanilla Indulgence (a.k.a. Plaisir Vanille). It smelled like buttercream hell and threw off just enough light to keep the nighttime demons at bay.

After the electricity came back on and the hot water tank filled back up, I took a long hot shower and scrubbed the ape-stench off my skin with a coarse washcloth saturated in Dr. Bronner's Tea Tree Oil liquid soap. I smelled medicinally, miraculously clean afterward. Yet, did I perfume? No. It would take a few days before I could really bring myself to do it.

I broke my fast with the vintage Bellodgia extrait that Blacknall and I had found in the Red Bank Antique Center. Then followed Helena Rubinstein Wanted, New Jersey by United Scents of America, and the mother of all comforters, Youth Dew. Numerous care packages arrived from various friends, boxes full of scent, and tea, and chocolate. I enjoyed the tea and chocolate, and think that very soon I'll be able to enjoy the perfume too.

Because really, I want to take comfort in scent again. I want to find it, wear it, read and write about it, just like I used to. It's a big risk. The shore seems far away, an awful long way to swim. At times I feel too tired to attempt it, and I end the day as unfragranced as I began-- smelling as clean and characterless and safe as soap.

NOTE: "Je t'ai piqué ton nez!" is what French children say when they play what we call "Got your nose!" I seem to have played that game with a hurricane. I would like her to give me my nose back, please.

InekeFest, the rest: Chemical Bonding and Derring-Do.

Have you ever feared that you might be on the verge of a seizure? For me, it's not only the sight of strobe lights that bring on the panic, but a very particular noise-- the high-pitched ping-ping-ping of metal tapping metal. Silver bells, wind chimes, a swaying windowblind chain that keeps striking the metal casement over and over in the breeze-- something about the combination of high-hertz frequency and repetitive rhythm causes my brain to ripple out of control.

Synesthetically speaking, Chemical Bonding and Derring-Do achieve the same results on behalf of the world of scent. One's a bright blackberry-laced peony, and other's a zingy citrus-cedar; both are stridently "fresh", singing from my skin in a glass-shattering treble register. I'm not saying they're bad; not at all. But if I were a suspension bridge, they would be Nikola Tesla's ball peen hammer and stethoscope... and the police would be called upon to interfere.

Scent Elements: Citrus, tea, blackberry, peony, amber, musk (Chemical Bonding); hesperides, cyclamen, rain and fougère notes, cardamom, magnolia, pepper, musk, guaiacwood, Virginia cedar (Derring-Do)

InekeFest, the rest: Gilded Lily.

In classic cinema, there are two types of blondes: the ice queens (Grace Kelly, Tippi Hedren, Kim Novak) and the sex goddesses (Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield). I doubt it's a coincidence that the latter are more suited to comedy. Comedic acting requires a willingness to let oneself go -- to be seen with one's pants down, so to speak -- without fear of appearing foolish. The ice queen holds herself aloof; the sex goddess lets it all hang out.

Arguably the greatest sex goddess of all time (mostly because she taught 'em all how it's done), Mae West turned the bawdy-broad-with-a-heart-of-gold into a cultural phenomenon. Whether named Diamond Lil, Lady Lou, the Frisco Doll, or Flower Belle Lee, her zaftig dames smoke, joke, drink, wink, and wisecrack their way across America, rolling their eyes at any uptight stick-in-the-mud out to spoil a gal's good time. In West's universe, a woman could be both 'easy' and easygoing without being a pushover. And with those hips, who could knock her down? Majestic, swaying, as fluid as a river but as immovable as a mountain, Mae West's impressive center of gravity inspired at least two perfume bottles (Schiaparelli Shocking; Rochas Femme) and schooled Marilyn Monroe in the art of the walking wiggle.

Hips and heart: what better description for Gilded Lily? The sensuality it broadcasts is unmistakable; one can't help but imagine it adorning the next heir to the sex-goddess throne. Yet there's such a lovely sense of yield to this perfume, a feeling of openness and generosity, that one feels welcomed into its arms. Its soft, embracing nature demonstrates that there's nothing to fear-- no shame or hangups here.

The first notes out of the sprayer are sweet with a decided touch of acid. Pineapple, grapefruit, and rhubarb all share a mouth-stinging tart quality, yet otherwise have distinct flavors which perfumer Ineke Rühland has balanced so precisely that none hijack the accord as a whole. She saves the spotlight for the goldband lily, a flower with which I admit I'm unfamiliar, but which -- if it's that shimmering-sparkling-honey-dusting-powder accord that I suspect it to be -- is my new best friend. With each spray, I felt a powerful urge to keep spraying, more and more and more, on body parts well outside my usual wrist-nape-throat perfume itinerary. Mae West once said, "Too much of a good thing is wonderful," and truer words were never spoken. (Also, are you sure there's no ambergris in here? Because Gilded Lily amplifies the smell of skin to something that demands to be unleashed on the nearest nude beach. Thank goodness I have some restraint... though, really, goodness has nothing to do with it.)

Wearing Gilded Lily, I am not so much aware of its separate scent elements as of the physical feeling it produces. It seems to hug my body tight like one of Mae West's figure-skimming costumes in She Done Him Wrong, all satin and sequins and beads. I'm convinced my figure becomes more of an hourglass while those sweet notes hold sway. Hips rounder, bosom fuller, movements slower and slinkier...

Some days, I may love another fragrance more than this one. There will be moments when Evening Edged in Gold captures the lion's share of my affection, simply because for that instant, I shall want my beauty backed up by silence rather than a jazz band going full tilt. But the clock will tick, and my mood will change, and I'll swing and sway again... and then, Gilded Lily will be the only girl for me.

Scent Elements: Pineapple, rhubarb, grapefruit, elemi, goldband lily, patchouli, oakmoss, labdanum

InekeFest, the rest: Field Notes from Paris.

That orange blossom top note, so dazzlingly de trop, gives pause. Will this be yet more "freshness" to set the teeth on edge?

In swaggers tobacco, as macho as the Marlboro Man, confident it will soon have everything well in hand. But what's this? Reinforcements? Beeswax, coriander, leather... how many lasso-wielding wranglers does it take to tame this bronco?

Finally (just before all confidence in this rodeo evaporates) orange blossom consents to take the bit. You might experience a momentary sadness to see this wild thing transformed into a well-behaved show pony. But when you see with what vivacity it canters, you recognize with gratitude that its spirit can never be broken.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, coriander seed, orange flower, tobacco flower and leaf, patchouli, cedar, tonka bean, leather, beeswax, vanilla

InekeFest, the rest: Evening Edged in Gold.

Up to this point, all of Ineke's fragrances seem to have been designed for so-called "morning people"-- those aggressive smilers who shout, WAKE UP, SUNSHINE! whenever they catch you in a pensive private moment. Evening Edged in Gold marks a departure from the crisp botanicals that characterize the series thus far.

Like a couturière who makes a mid-career switch from stiff and scratchy taffetas to the yielding flow of satin, Ineke Ruhland dips here into a more exotic olfactionary to produce a fragrance so indolent, so forgiving of all excess, that you wish you could make it your mistress. This gentle admixture of sweet plum, creamy datura, and warm saffron notes joins (and perhaps even outdoes) Gilded Lily in the "night owl" category of perfumes: luxurious, sympathetic, and above all, discreet. Never will it raise its voice when what you need is unbroken quiet. In a sense, it's the perfect scent-- not for the evening cited in its name, but for the morning after, when a whisper is the best remedy for a rather tender head.

Scent Elements: Osmanthus, plum, angel's trumpet (Datura), saffron, cinnamon bark, midnight candy flower (Zaluzianskya capensis or night-blooming phlox), leather, woods

InekeFest, the rest: Hothouse Flower.

You'd think that twelve years of working in a public library would teach me not to judge books by their covers... but with Hothouse Flower, can you blame me? The name and the notes suggest a languid pale blossom nestled in lush green foliage. Ha!

Here's proof that you can indeed get figs from thistles-- for Hothouse Flower is a well-balanced portrait not of a flower, but of that famous fruit, caught here halfway on its journey toward ripeness. The milky green note of its youth is augmented by a lovely, legible note of cornsilk, as fresh and raw as if just shucked from an ear of sweet corn. (This essence, you will allow, is one of summer's purest delights.) Creamy gardenia suggests the dark honey of the mature fig, but a good dose of tea and galbanum keeps the sweetness from turning trite or cloying. There's even a mirage of salty coconut to hold the wearer's interest through the drydown.

My husband calls Hothouse Flower "nice and clean"-- high praise in his book, and therefore in mine, since we DO share. But this book is not short on naughty bits... so perhaps this is one for the bedside table, kept close at hands for evenings when sleep is negotiable.

Scent Elements: Greens, cypress, Earl Grey tea, galbanum, gardenia, fig, frankincense, cornsilk, guaiacwood, musk

InekeFest, the rest: Briar Rose.

At first spritz I thought I might be in for fresh disappointment, as Briar Rose initially presented itself to me as a watery fragrance programmed for instant fade. But about ten minutes later (during which time I slyly checked on the notes), I realized I'd been duped once more by the tricksy and perfidious violet. A blast of ionones had shut down my honker just long enough for Briar Rose to drape shimmery rose and berry notes all around the joint like festive red-and-purple fairy lights-- and when I came to, I found myself in the midst of an olfactory surprise party. Faith restored, I'm positively raring now to check out the Floral Curiosity series whence Briar Rose came. Get me to an Anthropologie!

Scent Elements: Rose, blackberry, bitter almond, spices, violet, patchouli, cacao absolute

InekeFest, the rest: Balmy Days & Sundays.

So where was I?...

Balmy Days & Sundays. Doesn't that name suggest relaxation, leisure, the warmth of summer? The name alone will have to do, for the perfume offers no such thing. Balmy Days is a cadaverously cold floral chypre, a 'wire-mother' of a fragrance whose very manner forbids attachment. Its flowers come from a refrigerated display case lit by a chilly blue fluorescent bulb. Its greens are hardly that, for they lack the intervening touch of sunlight that would have invested them with vital chlorophyll.

Balmy Days sure enough is a pretty thing, if you like your pretty things icy and affectless; come July or August, I may appreciate its ability to instantly induce sangfroid. But the recent experience of shivering in a cold, dark house thanks to Superstorm Sandy may have adversely influenced my opinion. Is it too soon? Yes. Yes, it is.

Scent Elements: Freesia, leafy greens, grass, honeysuckle, rose, mimosa, chypre accent, musk

Seeking solace.

This morning, when I rummaged through my scent collection in search of a fragrance to gird me against the endlessly brimming tears, the strangest volunteer stepped forward. I expected a perennial toughass like Jolie Madame to take the assignment. Instead, Anna Sui Original -- a cuddly lil' nothin' full of red berries and vanilla -- sidled up and tugged my sleeve. It turned out to be just what I needed to make it through another day of careworn chaos.

Now, "dessert-course gourmand" is not the genre for which I instinctively reach on a normal day. Habit, taste, and preference prompt me to choose incense, spices, leather, wood. But none of these are proving helpful right now. Life-after-hurricane is such an emotional minefield, I do not think I could bear to wear anything that isn't 100% gentle and forgiving. By gum, this is the moment for big ol' softie sweetfest fragrances to claim their day in the sun!

"A shocking lot of you swan around smelling like pie," Tania Sanchez remarked about wearers of Jessica Simpson's Fancy-- and right now, I have to confess that I would much rather be on the receiving end of a snootful of Fancy than one of the finest vintage Cabochard.

What does New Jersey smell like?

Well, at this moment, it apparently smells of approaching snow. I know what you're thinking: here we go again. Turn up the heat, turn down the refrigerator, gather up your candles, batteries, and blankets, and grit your teeth, because Nor'easter Athena is on her way.

So what fragrance to wear when the weather won't quit delivering below-the-belt hits?

For me today it's New Jersey by United Scents of America (we'll call it USA/NJ for short). Back in July, NowSmellThis hosted a very nice discussion about USA/NJ wherein number of readers chimed in to say some lovely and supportive things about our state. Seaside Heights being the veritable Ground Zero for all of the scent elements USA/NJ encompasses, I found it very ironic that there wasn't a single stockist within comfortable driving distance of this iconic Shore town. However, I really like the fact that while all of the other fragrances in the first release look nearly identical, USA/NJ alone is distinguished by the amber color of its juice-- which appears very warm and appealing in the bottle, as seen below.

Back on Sniffapalooza Saturday (was it really so short a time ago?) Ari of Scents of Self surprise-gifted me with her review bottle of USA/NJ. What seemed to me then like a purely fun, frivolous, and charmingly cheesy olfactory portrait of every Jersey Shore town I know now takes on a certain strange gravitas after the Superstorm-- parody turned elegy. That magical combination of Boardwalk carmel corn*, vanilla-tinged cotton candy, coconut tanning oil and sea air encapsulates memories and relics that cannot be named lest we start crying all over again.

Before Sandy, I'd have spritzed on New Jersey purely for a lark. Now I wear it proudly, defiantly. It does something for me I never expected it to: it warms me. It cheers me. It steps up and delivers in the tightest of tight spots... just like every other New Jersey soul I know.

*Yep, that's how many of us pronounce it... but I'm not sure where this originates. Is it a Pennsylvania thing, or perhaps the last shreds of my Illinois birth language? Henry Higgins, where are you when we need you?

Scent Elements: "Fresh buttered popcorn" and "cotton candy" accords, caramel, coconut, vanilla, peach, patchouli, musk