Niki de Saint Phalle Eau de Toilette (Niki de Saint Phalle)

At the tail end of last year's medical leave, I took a quick trip to the Emporium at Waretown-- that lovely curiosity shop where I procured my beloved Fendi. A twinkle of light on cobalt glass caught my eye, followed by a rush of happy recognition at the sight of some friendly serpents. Niki de Saint Phalle! Her eponymous perfume (a prickly but pleasant chypre) reminds me instantly of my '80's youth, when the first photographs of Saint Phalle's nascent Giardino dei Tarocchi began to emerge. The half-full flacon appeared to be in good condition, with the artist's signature still traced in gold on the reverse. Price: $4, a pittance to pay for fine art.

At the cashwrap, the shop owner (an ebullient lady with a generous heart) pointed at the flacon and asked, "Know who that is?"

"Oh, yes, I love her Tarot Garden sculpture--"

To my surprise, she clapped her hands and declared, "Take it! Yours for free, a gift from karma!"

Apparently, sharing a fervent love of art has its rewards! Effervescent with glee, I headed home over the highways-- and let ahead of me every fellow driver who sought access to my lane. Pay it forward!

Fast forward one year. Ten hours. Two galleries. Five display cases. Seventeen artists. Fifty-four frames. Ten thousand footsteps, mostly taken at a full-out run. One little me. It wasn't just an angel of art I needed... it was an angel of protection.

I found my angel in that cobalt bottle marked with a pair of entwined sacred serpents and filled with the spirit of cempasúchil, the holy altar flower of the Aztecs that we know as tagetes or marigold. The marigold flower smells the way that a hive full of angry bees sounds: hot, piercing, insistent, unsettling. I know many who find this scent overpowering and maybe a little morbid. (¡Flores, flores de los muertos!) But I personally associate it with the gardens of my childhood, which burgeoned with every variation and color of tagetes from palest yellow to maroon edged with gold, each flower sought after and fought over by a thousand competing honeybees.

So in cempasúchil I cloaked myself, the way I invite a persistent honeybee it to just get it over with. And of course it never does; it alights for a second and flies off, leaving me breathless but unstung.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, peach, galbanum, rose, carnation, jasmine, iris, ylang-ylang, tagetes, armoise, spearmint, cedar, patchouli, oakmoss, vetiver, sandalwood, olibanum, leather, amber, musk