Lately I have been rereading a stunning little book, Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style, which inspired me to offer you three different interpretations of the same perfume, the melancholy La Myrrhe.
Serge Lutens La Myrrhe, a fragrance review by Dusan
Created in 1995 by Christopher Sheldrake for Les Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido, La Myrrhe features notes of myrrh, lotus, mandarin, jasmine, spices, pimento berries, honey, bitter almond, sandalwood and musk. As might be expected from the Serge Lutens line, this is yet another fragrance that easily fits into the category of ‘love-it-or-hate-it’ scents.
La Myrrhe starts off slightly sharp and heady with silky aldehydes, iced mandarin peel and a lovely, clean jasmine note that weaves in and out of the composition. This opening has been described variously on different fragrance boards as ‘aldehydic’ and ‘soapy’, inviting comparison with Chanel #5 as the mother of all aldehydes; yet there is nothing distinctly warm or floral about this stage, which serves as a chilly backdrop for the gentle unfolding of all of La Myrrhe’s subtleties.....
The myrrh makes its presence felt almost from the very beginning. This dark, warm, sweet-smelling incense-y resin, named after Myrrha, daughter of the Syrian king Thesis, here however retains only its warm glimmer which, coupled with bitter almond and a chilly undercurrent, creates an accord reminiscent of a cool marble stone heated by the sun. As it develops, La Myrrhe becomes woodier and sweeter, but never cloyingly so, while the anisic quality of the ‘warm marble’ accord calls to mind the incense-laden interior of a cathedral. The drydown is a polished sketch in chiaroscuro, a bittersweet play of light and darkness, ever so slightly tinged with powder.
Although I tend to regard myrrh as feminine and frankincense as masculine, I find La Myrrhe to be genderless as it evokes places rather than people. It is an elegant, meditative scent, one I would heartily recommend to anyone who feels, at least once in a while, an inexplicable urge to wander off to an uninhabited island and contemplate the human soul.
La Myrrhe, sadly, is part of the exclusive line, which means you can only purchase it at Les Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido in Paris unless you are lucky enough, like me, to live in Europe.
The yellow of summer has trickled into gold
And the autumn is garbed in winter-gray.
I hear your soft whisper and feel your gentle nudge
As the snow scrunches under our feet.
But I will not listen.
Yesterday I saw the first silver streak in your hear.
Today you wanted to kiss me with your almond lips;
I turned away.
Tomorrow I will not love you.
Slowly turn the switch off –
and make me black.
For I am weary of false dawns.
“A flippant ray of sunlight meanders through the canopy of an ancient pine tree, caressing its twigs and leaves before finally settling on an unruly lock of his hair. His eyes are sore from a thousand needles and his chin itches from sleeping on the stomach. The ground smells of hundreds of tiny vagrant creatures that wade through wet grass, shamelessly stealing the sweetest moment of his unfinished summer night’s dream. As he is pulling himself up from the warm grassy bedding, rubbing his eyes, he feels the morning chill and quickly steps out of the shade into the sun. Golden freckles glistening on the infinite azure. If there was one thing I could bring with me in the afterlife, this would be it. A torch to keep me warm and guide me to my loved ones. A flutter of wings in the tree interrupts his train of thought. He smiles.
* * *
The bells of a nearby church strike. One. Two. Three. All is still but for the frenzied chirping of the crickets and the rambling of his empty stomach. Snuggled up on a grayed gravestone warmed by the languid sun, he is too busy eavesdropping on the whispers of the spirits. Some of them are settling their old feuds, others are starting new ones, while the more fortunate ones are toasting the weddings of their sons and daughters and the births of their grandsons and granddaughters, whom they will never meet. As the voices rise to a clamor, he is reminded of his last evening on stage. Through his chapped lips he starts murmuring a line he knows all too well. ‘All the world’s a stage’, I said wisely and somewhat bitterly, and added, in a voice loud enough to be heard, ‘of the absurd’. I left the audience shocked by my impertinence, but I knew they would forgive me, some of them smiling at me knowingly, others giving me piercing looks, tight-lipped and eyebrows cocked. I gave an airy bow but in the dressing room I let the tears wash down my makeup while I frowned at the mocker in the mirror… I am a thespian, but so is everyone else. Why then are you so surprised to hear what you already know all too well? Should I instead tread other, darker corridors and weave around me a cobweb that gets thicker each day, just like an untruth that eventually becomes numb in the mouth a liar? Should I trudge along, resigned to the terrible punishment this world has got in store for us? Or rely on it to eventually revoke its sentence? Until that happens, must you brazenly feed on the energy of the unflinching, staunch absurd man? Would you rather I fled into absurdity and admitted that I am scared and hurting? Would you then pull me in closer and erase, as you would a cobweb, the gaping estrangement between us? And would you be willing to face life long enough to admit that you are but matter, like all things earthly, and that you will pass? Yet you are the only beings on this earth that can and must accept the grief that comes with understanding life.
* * *
A thousand and one translucent silverings are scattered along the onyx gossamer. A gust of wind carries the pungent aroma of the dying sea. There is rosemary in the air.
They call him the Castaway, He Who Waits, the Stargazer. They call me the Castaway, He who Waits, the Stargazer. A constellation of stars… consternation and scars… Perhaps one day we will be strong enough to look for mistakes in ourselves; perhaps then we will overcome the absurd. He will always hope –
I will always hope that Penelope will wait for Odysseus and embrace him with hands benumbed with weaving…
This stone is my friend
This earth is my mother
This is my home.
And I cry. With joy. No longer afraid.”
Recommended reading: John Fowles, The Magus
Raymond Queneau, Exercises in Style
Recommended listening: Bjork, Vespertine
Claude Debussy, Clair de Lune
Recommended biography: Irwin Stone, Lust for Life (V. van Gogh)
Photos: La Myrrhe Salons Shiseido, Monet Cathedral, Van Gogh Starry Night, Van Gogh Sunset - Wheat fields