In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
- Ezra Pound
When asked to participate in an "imaginative adventure” where I would get a short poem to translate into a fragrant picture, I was utterly enthusiastic because I was in desperate search for inspiration. Thus, I embraced the idea of setting my brain into motion on a few lines. I was told, I "might think of it as a "perfume brief" from a client who only communicates in published poetry." (The phrase in quotation is part of Heather’s introduction, sent to me together with the poem.)
So I got the poem and immediately made a link to a line of thoughts, posted a couple of weeks ago on my blog. There, rather naively, I posted: The next fragrance could be something fitting with Steve Reich’s "City Life, It’s been a honeymoon, can’t take no mo!"… that would cry for a fast beat scent, fully loaded with aldehydes, and the fitting introduction video would be grey masses passing by an observer, in a city, coming up an escalator… something like that.
But after engaging into some thinking on the 20 words poem, title words counted, and after listening to Steve Reich again, I had to realize that the link made is not holding. We may have an "observer, in a city," but the observer in this Metro who wrote the two lines after an act of extreme condensation pilots us into clouds of transcendence.
Ultimately, the poem goes back to an instant Pound describes as follows: "[I] saw suddenly a beautiful face, and then another and another, and then a beautiful child's face, and then another beautiful woman, and I tried all that day to find words for what this had meant to me."
So, what do we do with this poem? What inspiration can we draw from this perfume brief? We start by understanding the title. Lucky us the title gives us a hint where to place ourselves. We are in a Metro. In a station of THE Metro. Therefore: Paris, the capital of exclusive fragrances. Keeping in mind the publication date (published in 1913) Metro might (and here we start interpreting…) translate into a modern, man-made place where urban human beings pass by, on their way from A to B. It is a place where you do not meet, but you just happen to see.
And here we come to the first line: The APPARITION of these faces in the crowd. In a perfume brief this line is hard to interpret. Thus, I decided to approach these words using a canvas and oil color. Complementing my thinking in scents. And working on the picture I realized that we are told about a magic moment. The miracle of the universe manifests itself for an instant, a moment of admiration.
This term "apparation" brings about the transcendence I mentioned before. These faces are almost ghostly appearing, suddenly they are there. Like the beauty of the universe condensed in a moment and a face. Like love changing you for the rest of your life after having seen eternity in blue eyes. Beauty appearing like flowers on a piece of organic matter that seemed dead during winter months.
And here we are already on line two of this poem: The mirror of line one. In a sense a static picture, juxtapositioned to a short-lived impression. And a helpful line when taking the poem as a perfume brief. It is a mirror that explains by drawing a picture. The picture of petals on a wet, black bough. Now, Pound sets the (flower) petals on a black bough that is wet in order to underline the contrast between the delicate and transient beauty of flowers with the black amorphous line of wood. Water on the bough makes it shiny, accentuates its blackness and I think cherry flowers in early spring. (The association with Japan is also supported by the poem’s structure.)
Ultimately, this poem is about beauty, and spring. It describes beauty that shows itself for a moment. It makes us understand spring as an apparition of beauty.
Thus, here is the brief translated, phase 1:
This fragrance, that I am supposed to construct, it is an urban fragrance, fitting with the urban environment of the Metro, and I guess I am supposed to create a scent with a retro touch to it (1913!). It is a French fragrance, not an American clean scent, but a scent with a dirty line in it. There is dust and the smell of human beings after work around the corner, just a touch, but it is there.
The fragrance contains a flower line, a surprise element, and is set on a base that is deep and dark, juxtapositioned to the delicate, temporal beauty appearing.
The flowers are not specified, but must be light and delicate. The flowers should appear and dissappear, a burst of spring, coming forth and back, a movement. They are fresh and clean.
Thus, here is the brief translated, phase 2:
Notes are clean lemon, earthy lemongrass, green rose, powdery lily, musk, dusty cistus, dark woods with, labdanum, vetiver and ambergris.
To say that Andy Tauer is beloved among the perfume blogging world is probably an understatement. This is partly because he has his own excellent blog where you'll find him "musing on profane matters, on perfume creations, on building a business or on daily things that happen around me." But he is also beloved because his open-hearted and exuberant approach to everything he does is completely endearing and completely authentic. It's impossible to read Andy's blog for any length of time without developing a real fondness for him as a person, but to wear his scents is to experience the distilled brilliance of one of the greatest independent perfumers working today. Many of you have come to this project through Andy's fantastic site, and I am privileged to welcome you here.
My own attack of Andymania began this January, shortly after I ordered samples of several Tauer Perfumes from his website. I was primarily interested in trying Lonestar Memories, a rich, smooth leather fragrance which had been recommended to me by many friends, but the real find for me was L'air du Desert Marocain. I hadn't read about it prior to wearing it so I didn't know what to expect, but when I put it on, I was completely swept away.
Marina at Perfume Smellin' Things was inspired to quote Baudelaire's poem "The Scent Bottle" in her review of L'Air du Desert Marocain, and described the scent as "exotic, deep,...comforting...opulent." And I don't think I could do better than those four words. She talks about the warm, rich, and smoky amber drydown, and it is all due to the gorgeous rock rose (labdanum) around which he balances this exceptional fragrance. I later read that noted perfume critic Luca Turin had praised L'Air du Desert Marocain in an article on NZZ Folio, and when I read Luca's review, I felt completely validated in the way that can only happen when someone whose opinion I respect turns out to love a fragrance that I've just fallen in love with. I was also really very happy for Andy, who deserves all this praise and more. Luca wrote in his May 2006 article "Simplexity":
...Just when one is about to give up, proof emerges that chemical poetry has not run out of words. Two wonderful fragrances have come my way, significantly both composed by relative beginners. Both exhibit the telltale shimmer of simplexity, and never smell the same two days in a row. One is Andy Tauer's Air du Désert Marocain. He is a Zurich-based self-taught perfumer. L'Air du Désert is his second fragrance, an austere, woody-balsamic accord sweetened with just enough amber and vanilla to wrap a smile on its noble bone structure. It is probably the best fragrance to come out of amateur hands since Coty quit his day job at Antoine Chiris et Compagnie and composed La Rose Jacqueminot in 1904.
Andy was one of the first to say "yes!" to this "Perfume in a Poem" project, and it was his joyful enthusiasm and embrace of an unusual request from a complete stranger that first began to make the project seem fully real to me. Andy blogged about it on several occasions, and even gave the world its first glimpse of the project in progress when he posted photos of the stages of his painting for this project. His first post on the project, titled "A Little Experiment," gave us a taste of what was running through his mind:
"Thinking about black, wet black, wet black wood. But wait….things are much more complicated than I originally thought. Thinking also dirty corners, many people, stuck together, on their way to the light. Well….we will see and you shall see the result in a couple of weeks, at least as text."
The next day, he posted "Cut" in which he astonished me with this comment about creativity:
"Being creative is a stay in a slaughterhouse. You come up with little shiny bulbs, idea bubbles, that grow on a cosy planet, branch out, form a black forest of flowers after a while, suffocating the earth beneath and get cut to make room for the next little bubble growing into pink flowers.
"Continuing to think about the little experiment (see yesterday's post, too), I see blue eyes. Time to cut deeper."
Then on February 21, he unveiled the painting he had been crafting in "Project Work":
"This project ... basically is a piece of text inspiring me and others to think, I figured out I might first start with a canvas and oil, to clear the mind, and think about the (few) words."
And then, in addition to all the creativity he'd poured into the project, he let me know that he'd actually made a small amount of an "experimental fragrance" to go with the poem, and would be sending me two vials of it as part of his contribution to the "Perfume in a Poem" experiment. I can't tell you how excited I was to receive those two luminous vials of perfume in the mail all the way from Switzerland. And I was even more amazed when I smelled it on my skin over several days. I don't know how he did it, but Andy actually managed to capture the whirlwind of spring in this fragrance without making it light or frivolous. The initial burst is of bright, tangy energy, almost as sharp as grapefruit in the first minutes, but which quickly recedes into the black backdrop of oudh and cistus. It takes a good four to five hours for any of the understated floral notes to appear. And then suddenly they disappear back into the grassy vetiver and smoky oudh, and then reappear, as if haunting the fragrance. After ten hours, I am left with a mesmerizing shadow of dark woods in a sunset of amber. After all the petals have blown away, the black bough remains. Because it so frequently changes tone and yet remains recognizable, It is a fascinating fragrance to wear.
Andy will be appearing in person tomorrow, March 29 at Scent Bar (home of Lucky Scent) in Los Angeles, to unveil his newest fragrance, Incense Rose. If I were anywhere near that location, I would be there. If you have a chance to go, I hope you will meet Andy and find him as charming and brilliant in person as he is in his correspondence. A sample of his luminous, petals-on-a-dark-bough fragrance will go to the lucky winner of our extraordinary March 31 giveaway. Andy does not have plans to put this fragrance into production (as yet) but if he ever does, I will be the first with a bottle of it in my shopping basket. It is uniquely wonderful, just as Andy is.
Metro painting and photo of Andy Tauer provided by the artist and used with his permission.
Comments are encouraged! Please read the initial post in this series for the details on our extraordinary giveaway which will take place on March 31.