Vanille Insensée Cologne Absolue (Atelier Cologne)

I spent the August of my seventeenth year in a senior retirement village, staving off a breakdown with a paperback copy of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift From the Sea.

Neither locale nor literature were my choice. When our old house sold before the new one was completely built, my family had been forced to relocate in a hot hurry. My great-aunt Floss1 had recently passed away, leaving behind a fully-furnished home in Holiday City2. Dim and sour-smelling, crammed with rotting silk lampshades and dusty furniture, this ranch-style mausoleum became our default emergency headquarters for the season.

Imagine row upon row of tiny houses, identical right down to their window-boxed pink geraniums. Behind every lace curtain lurks a full-time spy spoiling for a sidewalk fight; behind every door a powder keg of neighborly resentment sizzles. Into this surreal and stultifying Peyton Place, drop a restless teenager with no car, depressive tendencies, and only one book to read3. I could not rest serenely within this place, this body, this confounded SELF. I don't exaggerate when I say that my summer sojourn in Holiday City almost cost me my mind.

In the midst of isolation and loneliness, Anne Morrow Lindbergh's calm, reasonable voice seemed a lifeline for the drowning:
The shape of my life is, of course, determined by many other things; my background and childhood, my mind and its education, my conscience and its pressures, my heart and its desires. I want to give and take... to share with friends and community, to carry out my obligations to man and the world, as a woman, as an artist, as a citizen.

But I want first of all -- in fact as an end to these other desires -- to be at peace with myself (pg. 23).
All summer long, I pored over Lindbergh's precious words of wisdom, desperate to isolate the solution, the key, the secret to ending this claustrophobic misery. She overcame it. Couldn't I?

My gift came not from the sea, but from the Board of Education. If my parents didn't want to drive miles to school twice a day, they'd have to farm me out from Seniorville. This they did, and I moved in with a friend's family just in time for the fall semester. Under a gloss of surface normality, I rejoined the flow of student life-- yet my sense of deep dissociation continued. But by then it was no good seeking relief from Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Try as I might, I could not resurrect the meaning her insights had held for me only a month earlier. Each powerful syllable now seemed woefully flimsy, as weightless and formulaic as the paper fortune inside a gumball machine prize. This time, I would have to pull myself from the quicksand and struggle toward answers of my own.

When we moved into the new house, I did not take Gifts from the Sea with me. Why should I? Life awaited me out in the world-- not within the flaking pages of a lousy old paperback.

5STARS Small

I purchased my sample of Vanille Insensée (Foolish Vanilla) in February, just before my appendix blew. Curiosity had prompted me to secure this oft-reviewed fragrance; duress caused me to forget it. I found this perfectly simple to do. I had no prior connection to Vanille Insensée, and therefore no need of it; it was a total stranger, easy and guilt-free for me to abandon.

Towards the end of the summer, when I rescued Vanille Insensée from the depths of the Scent Cabinet, it was almost by accident-- I certainly hadn't gone looking for it. No sense of purpose or urgency drove me to it; nothing within me nagged, "Today I must wear Vanille Insensée, or nothing!" And when I did wear Vanille Insensée, no inner voice demanded an encore. It struck me as bland, featureless, nice-- so nice I forgot I was wearing it while I was wearing it; so nice I forgot to wear it again for a few months more.

Holiday notwithstanding, the last week or so was a pretty bleak stretch marked by the kind of sustained tension that makes time feel as though it has stopped cold. A brainless and comforting scent sounded right up my alley, and since I had a little bit of Vanille Insensée left, I naturally went in for a couple of desultory dabs. But this time, something did nag at me-- a strange, uncomfortable echo of the past.

Was it a familiar sense of inertia, of being paralyzed by circumstance and desperate for a deus ex machina to come and break me free?

Was it the suspicion that comfort is not to be trusted, or that a platitude offers the easiest -- but not most lasting -- refuge from pain?

Or was it simply that Vanille Insensée smells exactly like a yellowed paperback crumbling away to nothing in the suffocating solitude of an old lady's house?

1Her given name was Florence, but younger siblings found this impossible to pronounce. I have always found it supremely ironic that a woman so reminiscent of cold hard steel should have ever borne a name of such gossamer lightness.

2I have requested that my husband forcibly smother me if I ever seriously propose relocating to a 55+ community. For the express purpose of carrying out this wish, he keeps a bed pillow eternally at the ready. Occasionally he says, "Now?" and I reply, "Not just yet, my sweet."

3I'm waiting for Tim Burton to make THAT movie.

Scent Elements: Lime, citron, coriander, jasmine, vetiver, oakmoss, Madagascar vanilla, oakwood, amber