Spring is here and the smell of orange blossoms is everywhere in this part of the planet. This is an amazing text by Amer about the mediterranean flora, the revolution and its perfumes.
IN MEDIA RES
Since the first of May in Greece, we have been experiencing the steady rise of temperature that signifies the end of spring and the advent of summer. Now, the time has come for us to say our goodbyes to the most fragrant season of the year, recount it’s graces and feel gratitude for the gifts it has bestowed upon us.
Spring brings life where there was none: from every empty lot in the city, from every crack in the pavement or in the building facades the green tendrils of life spill forth. Every green patch releases in the air the fragrance of growth.
Spring makes time: so the days are now long and can accommodate a thousand activities and there is still time left for daydreaming. The nights are sweet and there is no need to hurry back inside for shelter.
Spring brings openness: houses have been cleaned to welcome it. They are now open and filled with sweet breezes. Balconies and gardens have been reclaimed. We can eat outside! Clothes and shoes became lighter – our steps as well.
Spring awakes the senses: now our eyes are filled with wonder from the transformations that take place daily; our ears filled with the song of the birds. Strawberries are back! The air and the sun kiss us on the forehead and the back of the neck. Flowers are back too! As I am writing this I am high on the fragrances that rise from a nearby unkempt green patch.
At the peak of spring, we are ready to embark on a sea of sensual pleasures that nature has prepared for us from now on, and as summer takes the lead, memories of the cold, the dark and the silence will be locked away in the back of the dustiest cupboard of memory. We can now afford the luxury of fooling ourselves into believing that winter will never come back, but not so long ago we were thinking it would never end. Yes, not too long ago spring was far from what I described above. It was an uncertainty and a fool’s hope at best.
I used to wonder, why did you bother?
distanced from one, blind to the other.
But sweetness follows.
I was leaving the office late in the evening (not an uncommon thing in my line of work) feeling weary and drained. Eyes were puffy from countless hours at the computer, in front of which I sat 10 years ago and it seems I have forgotten to get up (a line stolen from the film Medianeras (2011), watch it!). I was determined to head straight home but instead I stood there for some crucial seconds trying to figure myself out. Have you ever had that moment when you catch your brain thinking and working things out behind your back, not bothering to ask your conscious part for permission?
I decided to play my card of blackmail; I would not head home before I had my moment of clarity. Brain still seemed uncooperative and standing in the door for an hour seemed like a waste of time so I decided to carry my body around the city till he came to his senses. I knew he had been working hard that day so I was counting on him giving up before I did. I avoided all the coffee places and bars bustling with people because I didn’t want to offer him any distractions. The air was humid and cool. It was as if the rhythm of the earth’s breathing had changed and I felt like I was standing over a sleeping person, watching them stir a bit just before they wake up – have you ever tried to grasp what goes on in the mind of a waking person? Drifting through parks and tree-lined streets I was observing the plant life around me with a feeling of deja-vu. Not a big mystery there one might say. The story of spring, no matter how wondrous, can be summarized into three acts that are repeated with relative precision every year. It opens with the blossoms of the almond tree, it reaches its peak with the abundance of flowers and greenery and it concludes with the orange blossoms and the first signs of dry patches in the fields.
I was about to believe this as well and call it a day… if it wasn’t for the moment of clarity. Brain finally gave in and the mysterious recollection he had been holding from me became crystal clear. The restlessness I was experiencing now I had experienced some years ago under very different circumstances…
It was the result of the uproar caused by thousands of people running in the streets of Athens when the air was perfumed with the “subtle sillage” of tear gas (which has a dominant facet of flint and pepper). A peaceful protest march had turned into a riot (let’s leave the details unspecified) and I was caught in the middle. The protesters set fire to garbage bins to nullify the effect of the gas so base notes of burning plastic and tar became suddenly dominant.
I sought refuge along with other people in the subway where an unknown girl put lipstick under my eyes to reduce the burning sensation and showed me how a wet t-shirt can be used as a mask to breathe through, adding the scent of floral-musky fabric softener to the mix. Being from a small town where such events never take place it was the first time I found myself in such a situation. I didn’t know the specifics behind the riot. All I could tell was that this is how a revolution must feel like. A common feeling of discontent culminating in a revolt under the right circumstances and people who would normally have minimal interaction with each other on the street are violently brought together by a rift in the social structure. These people rioting seemed like they had suddenly been awakened from stasis and like madmen who don’t agree with reality, they decide to change it, going against the common feeling of “let it be”. They are those who are usually seen as fools or radicals by the “sane” part of society but throughout history they have been the force of change. It was spring and when the conflict was over and we emerged from the subway, I was greeted with the scent of bitter orange trees in early bloom.
SPRINGOLUTION IN THREE ACTS
“Mad” is an epithet commonly attributed to the almond tree in Greece, because of its haste to bloom against common sense, before the winter is over, sometimes risking that frost will burn all the blossoms away. If you have ever taken the time to notice the delicious scent of almond blossoms you will know they sing of sweet honey dreams and the warmth of the sun, they promise of summer and joy, of abundance and carelessness, even when the land is snow-covered. If the connection I am trying to make here is not clear enough you’ll need to focus on the smell a bit more. You will start to notice a scent of metal hiding inside the honey. Don’t let the innocent pink and white fool you, the almond blossoms are armed with an iron blade to pierce the heart of winter. Take that hint of metal and amplify it. What you get is the scent of blood – perhaps this is why some are pink? Inside the small flower hide the symbols of a true revolution. The first act of spring is the most heroic.
When the tiny petals fall, they cover the ground like a white veil and their scent turns to slightly sour and intensely green. It is a hint of the scent of new growth that is about to follow. From the wound they have managed to inflict on winter, new sprouts appear which soon turn to green lustrous leaves and then you know that the tyrant has been defeated. Soon the hard ground and the naked branches are dressed in green that rustles and sways in the slightest drift. The world becomes mobile and lively. The myriad flowers pick up from where the revolution ended and carry its promise of better times to come. Their silky petals introduce new textures, missing from the natural world – all the soft things lay hidden during winter. Walking through a field one inhales their fragrant message. Their collective scent is the scent of freedom. The second act of spring is the most joyous.
The third olfactory act belongs to the bitter orange tree. When the first buds appear, it creates a transparent fragrant veil that covers everything. It spreads over the city streets, enters the houses. It is in your living room and the bedroom. The diffusive aroma is floral, green and fresh so light and yet so distinct. It is the scent of heavenly glory attributed to heroes. No wonder it has been used by the orthodox church as decoration and in many aromatic preparations. I associate that scent with Easter and its symbolism is the confirmation that life triumphs over death.
As we now approach the end of spring, the scent of the orange blossom also changes. Now the tiny white flowers are in full bloom and their fleshy petals have unfolded. Their scent has become sweeter and more opulent, carnal even. Smell it in the night and be intoxicated by it. The drying wild greens join it with a bass of coumarin. This accord leaves none wanting. The promise of the almond blossom has been fulfilled. Ideas and dreams have now taken physical form. It is time to inhabit our paradise.
I am sure that around the world one can find many versions of this olfactory opera. My version is a result of the Mediterranean flora. I would be very much interested in hearing your take on it. Also, if any part of the narrative recalled any perfume in your mind, please be kind and share the information – I have been searching for a perfect almond blossom with all the honeyed depth or a truly ethereal orange blossom. I gave it some thought before I could find a suitable perfume suggestion for today’s article. An obvious suggestion would be Revolution by Lisa Kirk. More of an art project than a perfume and not really intended to be wearable. I have never tried it; just letting you know of its existence. For those who want to catch the scent of revolutionary spring there is a layering suggestion. Apply Black by Comme des Garcons first and Jour d’Hermès on top of it. The result is not just a literal interpretation of today’s article in scent, it is also utterly wearable and unisex – although the intention was a green/floral tear gas to begin with. Try it and let me know how it works for you.
Until next time,