One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New York Stories, Part Two

....and not too much later, either, though more on that in a minute.

To my considerable astonishment, and this really isn't something we had planned, we went to see six shows in the five days we were in New York. On Thursday night we saw "Avenue Q" (so much fun), on Friday night the Jane Fonda vehicle "33 Variations" (she was better than the material, although she needs to work on her projection), and on Saturday the matinee for "The 39 Steps" (hilarious) and the evening show of a one-man show, Mike Birbiglia's "Sleepwalk With Me" (not as great as the advertising would have you think, although at least we saw a couple of celebrities). On Sunday we saw "Chicago" (beyond wonderful, and we would have gone to see it a second time if we'd had a chance, it was that good), and on Monday night a performance by Kristin Chenoweth (generally terrific, but she is not an opera singer and should not be tackling the Doll Song from Les Contes D'Hoffmann, and certainly not starting off the show with it, because I was starting to think that she had lost her talent). At some point during this almost comical run of theatre, I began to understand that New York isn't just bigger than Toronto, it's more than Toronto or probably than any other big English-speaking city, because there's just so much to do: if you had the money--an unlikely state of affairs, because it's so expensive to live there--you could quite literally never stop being entertained, because there's always something going on somewhere. Who would have thought that "The City That Never Sleeps" isn't just a figure of speech?

And yet it really is just a big city. As I said over on my other blog, it's Toronto writ large, and a couple of people I suggested this to were horrified, but my own mom--who lived in Toronto and came within a hair's breadth of actually being born in New York--agreed with me. It has some landmarks, of course: every big city does. But when it comes right down to it, it looks like a generic big city, and if this weren't true, how would it be that Toronto so often subs for it in the movies?

Anyway, Saturday started out sort of awful, but it got better, because not more than two blocks from Macy's is a big, or biggish, Sephora, reasonably well appointed, a good mix of niche and mass-market. I smelled a half-dozen or so things, but the one that stuck with me the whole time I was there was Tom Ford's Black Orchid. I had smelled it in Edinburgh a year and a half ago, but it was very expensive at the time, available only in a 50-mL bottle (and a wildly expensive ounce of perfume for the equivalent of $600): Sephora had a 30-mL bottle for $60, and I was sort of a goner at that point, because I could tell even from smelling it on a card that it was exactly the sort of thing I love. And I'm wearing it right now, and it is. I don't know what I was thinking buying two fairly strong, dark, sweet scents just before summer hits, when I won't get much use out of them for a few months, but those are the things I most like to wear, and I couldn't resist.

I never did get into Hermes to buy some Ambre Narguilè; the timing wasn't good, for one thing, and for another, I had already sort of decided that I wasn't going to spend that kind of money on a bottle I would never see the bottom of. (I don't need a 100-mL bottle of Mugler's Pure Malt, either, but that was a third of the price, so I didn't feel nearly so bad about it.) We went to see the Jenny Holzer exhibit (stunning) at the Whitney Museum on Sunday, and on the way back along Madison Avenue I made a point of finding Hermes, which, as it turned out, was closed on Sundays, so it was almost serendipity. The store made the decision for me. (Anyway, if I had to have some, I could order it from The Perfumed Court, so the Internet has made such pilgrimages less than a big deal these days.)

On Sunday, heading back to the hotel for a bit of a rest before the show that afternoon, I noticed that there was a Bergdorf Goodman just a block and a half from where we were staying, and I could not resist. I sent Jim back to the hotel, promised him I wouldn't get lost on the way back (for I have an almost unbelievably bad sense of direction), and charged in. And if Harrods is a temple, then Bergdorf Goodman is a basilica, a huge shrine to the power of really expensive fragrance. It was in the middle of Mother's Day and anybody who needed a late gift wasn't getting it there, so I was practically the only customer in the entire perfume department, woefully underdressed but not caring. It's not as if they were going to turn away my business, should I deign to give them any.

I didn't, but if I had had a bucketful of cash, I would have spent it. Bergdorf Goodman has an immense range of high-end scents, mostly arranged by brand in boutique-ettes, little niches and sub-rooms artfully lit, decorated, and mirrored to show off their goods to maximum effect. I didn't even bother stopping by JAR, even though I would like to smell the carnation-heavy Golconda some day, because there's a whole ritual in the sales presentation (you can read about it at Now Smell This) and I wasn't in the mood. The Guerlain niche is lovely and apparently thorough, with lots of hard-to-find scents such as the Vega reissue cheek by jowl with the starter-scent Aqua Allegorias and the mass-market things like Insolence. There are a huge number of Serge Lutens scents, more than I've ever seen in one place, and a big collection of Carons. Of particular interest to me was the Tom Ford Private Blend line, launched as a dozen scents (recently expanded by one or two) which seem designed as a group to guarantee ensnarement if your tastes run any higher than what's available at the drugstore: there are men's scents and women's, unisex offerings, florals and orientals and chypres and woods and colognes and, in short, practically anything you could ask for in one form or another. There's even a set of twelve 2-mL roll-on vials so you can try them all: a bit pricey at $180, and I didn't, but don't think I wasn't severely tempted. I tried only 2, because by the time I got there my nose was beginning to wear out. The Amber Absolute, unexpectedly, didn't interest me at all, and I'm sure I needed to wear it on my skin for a day, but the Tobacco Vanille was gorgeous, something that might have been engineered to excite me, a thick, gorgeous, tobacco-heavy variant on Ambre Narguilè. It was with considerable regret that I left it behind.

And that is my entire perfume experience in New York. I missed lots of things, like the Caron boutique, Takashimaya, and Bendel's, but there's always next time, right?

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