A WALK THROUGH ROME ~ MIRTO DI PANAREA by Acqua di Parma

For the first time since she had arrived in Rome Helen Rivers felt good enough to get out of bed. Her husband and son had gone off for a day trip to Florence with their Cornell Alumni tour group. She was left on her own to recuperate from the bad cold that had hit her almost as soon as their plane from Seattle touched down on the tarmac at Fiumicino International.

It was an almost warm sunny morning that February 14th 1999, and it was her 70th birthday. She would be spending alone until that evening when Earl and Mark returned. Her first birthday alone. She dressed quickly and while applying her rose petal pink lipstick she tried to think of what to do on her own in Rome. She was at a loss. Maybe just wander?

At the elevator on the 5th floor of the Excelsior Hotel she saw the two burly young men who stood guard to the entrance to the south wing of the hotel. They had been there for two days now standing guard, handsome young men, one blond the other black. They nodded to her for the first time.

“Who is staying on this floor with us? It must be someone very important to have you boys here day and night.”

“Sorry Ma’am, we are not at liberty to say.” The blond said in a buttery British baritone.

“Oh, I see,” she said with a wink in her voice. “If you did tell me you would have to kill me. Just like in a James Bond movie.”

The black guard looked at the carpet before him and tried to suppress a smile.

The elevator door opened, Helen stepped in and turned to face the two men in the little marble and gilt lobby. She smiled. “I bet I can guess by the time I see you again just who it is. Have a nice day.”  The blond man winked at her.

“I bet you can’t.” he said as the elevator doors slid shut.

After a light breakfast of coffee, croissants and a juicy Blood Orange, Helen stepped from the porte-cochère of the hotel onto the once very glamorous Via Veneto.  She turned left to stroll down the curving avenue past the American Embassy into the heart of Rome. She took a deep breath and for the first time in a week realize that she could smell things again. Rome smelled like the most fabulous open air restaurant in the world. A delicious mix of fresh bread, roasting Osso Buco, spices, herbs and roasting coffee beans. It was intoxicating, and for the first time that week she forgot all about her cold.

Helen wandered and simply surrendered to let the city surprise her.  The Quirinale Gardens she found quite by accident and they in turn lead her to the Trevi Fountain. From there she went north along the Via dei due Macelli to the Spanish Steps where she refreshed herself with tea at Babingtons Tea Rooms. She found the windows of Bulgari on the Via dei Condotti and admired the baubles safe behind bullet proof glass. At the Via del Corso she turned south until she reached the Piazza Colonna, she sauntered west through this, the political heart of Rome then south again to the Piazza di Pietra where she was astounded to see encased in a 17th century Papal Palace the facade of the eighteen hundred year old temple of Hadrian. Now instead of a Roman God, it housed an ordinary bank.

She had been walking for quite some time and the cobblestones beneath her marshmallow white tennis shoes were beginning to make their impression on her tender soles. Somehow it didn’t matter. She had to see what was around the next corner.

She stumbled upon the baroque and very theatrical Piazza di Sant’Ignazio. It was magical in the noon light. And along the southern side of the piazza was the glorious Chiesa di Sant’ Ignazio di Loyola with an open door that lead into whispering darkness. Inside she found the amazing trompe l’oeil ceiling that created the illusion of a dome over the center of the church. She sat in a pew looking up in wonder at the near photo realistic illusion in paint and plaster.

After lighting a candle in memory of her mother Helen left the church, she was getting hungry and decided to head west to find a cafe. There was a slight curve to the street and as she walked along it an astonishing sight slid into view. It loomed in epic magnificence brilliant in the sun between the dark walls of the five-story tall canyon that was the Via del Seminario.  When she reached the end of the road the walls of the canyon fell away to reveal the Piazza della Rotunda and there sanding as strong and eternal as it had when the Visigoth Kings Alaric and Genseric both spared its destruction for its beauty stood The Pantheon. The temple to all the Gods built by Marcus Agrippa after the battle of Actium and rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian.

Helen was awestruck by the only completely intact temple standing in Rome. Its sixty-foot-tall columns of red Egyptian granted soared to the pediment they so gracefully and effortlessly supported. The dome, the largest until Saint Peter’s was erected a thousand years later floated above the thick walls of the round building creating the top of the perfect invisible sphere it encased within.  Church bells around the city began to peal. As a bus load of tourists filed past her all looking up just as she was, the sounds of the half full piazza fell way. Time melted around her and she could hear the heart of Rome beating in her ears. Feel it within her body pulsating in time with her own heart.  The spirits of two thousand or more years past though her in the blink of an eye. She knew in that moment the eternal connection to history that was the city of Rome, a connection to life, death, and love.  This was the best birthday present she had ever received. Rome!

After what seemed to her a very long time but was in fact less than a few seconds Helen took a step toward the temple. She walked up to the third column that stood directly under the R in AGRIPPA carved deep into the pediment above. She reached out to touch it lightly with tips of her fingers. It was not cool stone but warm to the touch having all that morning absorbed the heat of the Italian Sun. Helen raised both arms and embraced the column in a loving hug. Being that the circumference of the granite columns are 15 feet Helen was more or less plastered arms wide against the side of the column.  She stood there eyes closed listening to the building tell her its story.

“Thank you for being here.” She mouthed the words. “Thank you for….”

“Ma’am are you alright? Do you need to sit down?”

She ignored the voice and pressed her cheek hard against the stone.

“Do you feel faint?”

Helen opened her eyes to see an young Italian tour guide with her group crowded up behind her. All eyes wide upon her.  The young woman looked very concerned.

Helen’s smile was warm and confident and her eyes began to fill with tears.

“No I am fine, thank you. I just need to make it real.”

 ***

The aromatic citrus spring beauty I find in Acqua di Parma’s Mirto di Panarea is simply stunning. Created in 2008 this fragrance is one of my favorite in the Blu Mediterraneo line of the house. A line created to evoke the islands and parts of Italy that are drenched in that very special light that kisses the Mediterranean between Gibraltar and Tel Aviv. Such places at Sicily, Tuscany, and Taormina are represented in the Blu Mediterraneo line. In Mirto di Panarea we are taken to the second smallest of the eight Aeolian Island in the southern Tyrrhenian Sea, and one of the most beautiful in the chain, Panarea. This woody aromatic fragrance is perfect for spring and summer, or in the winter months when you need a bit of sunny warmth it is a perfect spritz-cation that will carry you to the hills and shores of Italy.

It opens in its top notes with the signature of its name, Myrtle, and this marvelous woody note is complemented by, bergamot, bight and sunny. Lemon tangy as a sip of Limoncello from the Amalfi coast. All is topped off with the favorite cooking ingredient in Italian food. Green herbaceous basil. A feast for the nose indeed and all in the bright brilliant opening.

How could it be any better. Hold on for your olfactory vacation is just beginning. The mid notes are of Roses warmed in the late afternoon sun. You know that scent of roses in summer, natures spike of glamour to the season. The rose is gorgeous and this is in turn wrapped in light subtle wafts of jasmine all lifted by a sea breeze accord that whispers come with me to where The Nereids sing their siren song as they have for the ages.

The dry down is a sunset over the waves of what remains of the myrtle, flowers, and citrus. A piney and resin rich Mastic adds depth to a green juniper. These notes combine with a dry cedarwood and add a warm glow to the final touch of golden honey like amber.

It is a Roman tale of the sea gods and mortals meeting on this beautiful island where time is forgotten and something magical could happen on a warm sleepy afternoon. A scent that you can nap in under a bright yellow umbrella. A perfect vacation scent that works extremely well for everyone. I can’t imagine it not being a summertime favorite. Day or night it is the kind of scent that will carry you though the day, it has a depth that defies the usual warm weather fragrances and last about eight hours on my skin. This is one of the fragrances that I find I like to reactivate about half way through wearing just to get that brilliant opening a second act.

Mirto di Panarea is of my favorites from the house of Aqcua di Parma, when you wear it, everything looks brighter, more intense, more real.

My Mother Ellen Bay on her way to Rome February 13, 1999 on whom the story above is based on.

February 14, 1929 – May 25, 2017

love you Mommy dearest.

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A GLITTERING RIBBON OF CELLULOID ~ “You Or Someone Like You” Fragrance Review

When the light hits just right at sunset, Hollywood Boulevard looks like a 70mm strip of celluloid unspooling with memories of the Golden Age of the movies. As dawn breaks in the high bleak valley between the distant eastern peaks of Mt. San Jacinto and San Gorgonio the rays of the Sun race westward toward the Pacific.  About seventeen miles before the sea the morning sun slams into the ivory top of the Deco step pyramid that caps Los Angeles City Hall. In its faded splendor at first light the old building that cradled that famous last shot in Mildred Pierce eclipses the modern Manhattanized towers that surround it. By noon when the summer sun is baking the City from Boyle Heights to Santa Monica beach the City Of Dreams is more alive, more exciting, more dangerous than any femme fatale that every walked the pages of a Raymond Chandler novel. Los Angeles is a city of hidden treasures. A city that only shares its veiled beauty to those who take the time to look past her endless prairie of post war tract houses. The very prairie which at midnight from the top of Mulholland Drive becomes a jewel box of lights more spectacular today than they were when James Mason told Judy Garland that all of the city below was hers when her star was born.

It is the city where I was born under the shadow of the walls of M.G.M. The city that gave me my first taste of life in the false lush simi tropical green that would be gone in one summer were it not for the water it syphons from the north. The Los Angeles of my infancy the major exports were Airplanes, Oranges, and Movies. As a child, my grandmother would take me to Clifton’s Cafeteria in downtown L.A. and there in a fake redwood forest I would eat strawberry Jell-O with wiped cream wrapped in a day dream of Johnny Weissmuller swinging through the trees. There were trips to the Alligator Farm in Buena Park, to the Huntington Gardens, the L.A. County Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits which have bubbled there for hundreds of thousands of years. Who knows how many Saber Tooth Tigers lay entombed in its sticky goo?  Then most wonderful of all, were the high walled movie studios full of secrets and the old movie palaces that lined Hollywood Boulevard filled with escape.

Every Friday night and Saturday afternoon I would go to the movies. They were my textbook of life. They taught me all about history, religion, and love, Hollywood style. Everything a kid in L.A. needed or wanted to know. To me Andrew Jackson was Charlton Heston, David and Bathsheba were Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward. Marylin Monroe was cotton candy and lipstick glamour yet somehow sad around the edges.  And Elizabeth Taylor? Well, she was not only the Queen of Egypt but Queen of Everything. In the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theater I would wander among the hands and footprints of my personal Gods and Goddesses. At ten my hands fit into Shirley Temple’s hand prints. By twenty they fit perfectly with Clark Gable.

As I grew older and began to explore Los Angeles on my own I began to put my Movie star fueled ideas of the world into perspective without losing the dreams.  This is when I began to realize that the Spanish words and world that Los Angles grew out of were so very important to the fabric of the city. A major part of what made it so magical. Real History.  Then there was the architecture. I began to see the beauty of the unique way in which Los Angles embraces the architecture of the world. The revelation was clear, all of Los Angles is one mega backlot. You can find the walls of Babylon at the old Firestone Tire Company. In Beverly Hills, Italian Villas snuggle up next to Elizabethan country homes. The Japanese gardens in San Marino.  Hong Kong re-imagined in Chinatown butts up next to the glorious Spanish Revival cathedral that is Union Station. All at once in one epic sprawl, all of it is tacky, beautiful, insane, and wonderful. Knit together with freeways and festooned with imported Royal Palms. A city like no other on earth. The city where the past is tomorrow.

I have not lived in Los Angeles for a very long time. I miss it often and sometimes I will pop an old movie into my DVR that will take me back to different times in its history from the 1920’s to today. Some of the images I see of the city tug at my heart and whisper to me “come home. The dream is still here.”  That opening shot in “Strangers When We Meet.” In particular, reminds me of my childhood. But something is always missing in my movie visit to Los Angeles. The smell of the place in summer.  It was the most unlikely mix of smells that could make up a memory, but it is none the less one of the strongest and dearest memories I have of the place. In the summer, the scent covers the city in a loving embrace. The smell of honeysuckle and jasmine, white flowers, and Max Factor red roses caresses by the hint of a Santa Ana wind from the north. Burning Eucalyptus leaves and sharp Italian cedar. Wet freshly mown grass.  And everywhere the smell of entire Orange trees from the blossoms to the waxy leaves.  This is complemented by the slight burning of carbon monoxide and dangles in the smog, and the clear clean nearly antiseptic sent of chlorine from a million swimming pools.

It is the smell that takes me home.

*******

The new fragrance by Etat Libre d’Orange was inspired by a novel by Chandler Burr and in fact shares the name of the book. “You Or Someone Like You.” The fragrance came into being when Etienne de Swardt, founder of Etat Libre d’Orange read the novel and called Chandler Burr to ask if he could make a perfume based on the book he had so loved. He wanted to base the perfume on the setting, Los Angles, and the narrator Anne Rosenbaum wife of a powerful Hollywood film executive. The story revolves around her resulting transformation when she is asked to create a reading list for the head of a studio. That leads to an unexpected interest from screenwriters, agents, and producers around town. A Hollywood book club is formed where Anne blooms in the process. Then when a religious crisis in her husband’s life occurs when their son journeys to Israel , Anne is challenged to save her marriage.

(CHANDLER BURR)

For Chandler Burr who not only wrote the novel but was also the New York Times fragrance critic and author of “The Perfect Scent” and “The Emperor of Scent” this was both a challenge and very exciting. Over the course of the creation of the scent it became tremendous learning experience for him.  The experience was so profound he has noted that he feels that he should have made a fragrance before becoming the critic for the New York Times. For the creation of the scent Chandler as creative director for the Eau de Parfum teamed up with perfumer Caroline Sabas and together they came up with “You Or Someone Like You.”

For me this is an extremely emotional fragrance, moving and nostalgic. Chandler Burr says it is not Los Angeles stuffed in a bottle but to me, it is like coming home to my long-abandoned home town.  It carries all and more that I wrote about above in the memories and feelings this fragrance brought up for me. It inspires me to dream of spring and summer in the city of angles. A spring that comes in February and a summer that ends in November. It is a uni-sex fragrance that carries in it the DNA of classic citrus colognes of the past. Yet like the city of Los Angeles it is layered with facades of modernity over a historical base.  There is in “You Or Someone Like You.” Elements of the sage brush of this Hollywood hills baking in the heat, of tropical flowers and swimming pools, high above the exhaust clouds of the 405 freeway. Peeling eucalyptus bark and dyeing orange blossoms and the wonderful scent of night blooming jasmine. All it comes together in “You Or Someone Like You” in a bright opening. It carries and holds for me this feeling, this L.A. sensation all the way through the fragrance to the end. Yet it does evolve as it goes along from the “morning” of the fragrance all the way through to the “evening” and finally into a “magic hour” drydown. It swirls, rises, and falls in intensity only to rise again on my skin.  I found this aspect of the fragrance to be delightful.

For those to whom such things matter about a fragrance, it projects at about six inches, the sillage is soft. The longevity is substantial, being that is an eau de parfum over an eau de toilette it lasted on my skin nearly to eighteen hours. And even then, the next morning there were faint traces of it.  It wears best for most in spring and summer, but I’m sure that I shall be visiting “You Or Someone Like You” in fall and winter for a brief trip to my past, to the land of the lotus eaters, the place where dreams are manufactured and Hollywood Boulevard at sunset looks like a glittering ribbon of celluloid.

(CHANDLER BURR TALKS ABOUT THE FRAGRANCE)

THE MAN IN THE SILVER BENTLEY ~ Bentley For Men Intense

Ivory white in the moonlight the poplar trees in their winter nakedness seemed to be leaning in over the road that lead away from town.  Reaching their arms overhead to hide the moon from view of anyone under their cover. The effect was that of theatrical branch shadows cast down upon a platinum ribbon of concrete. Edward Henry Porter the forth pressed his foot down hard on the accelerator pushing the British engine into a well-tuned purr. The headlights of the 1959 Silver Bentley Continental S1 reach ahead though the night all the way to the curve looming ahead next to the entrance of the long-abandoned Newport estate known as Wicker Hill.

As the car took the tight curve at 47 and a half miles per hour the tires screamed, the high beams flashed across the old lion gate that blocked the drive up to Wicker Hill.  Edward laughed contemptuously as he pushed the peddle to the floor heading for 80. The leather seat next to him still smelled of Sage Benton of the Newport Benton’s. that smell precisely being of her crushed geranium corsage and spilt rum from the flask in her Mark Cross purse. To Edward, in fact, it reeked of her silly, spoiled, entitled Bryn Mar bitchiness which when pressed she insisted was merely “being cute”.

She was drunk more times than not and only then would she show just how rotten money had made her. Tonight, was the capper. She had mocked a busy boy and called him a dirty Mick to his face from the center of the dance floor where she was doing a sloppy rhumba with Carl Everett. Another example of monied inanity. Incensed by her outburst Edward left the dinner dance with her stumbling and calling after him. In the car, she opened her flask to take another drink.

“What’s the matter Eddie Honey? Aren’t you having a good time?”  Edward snatched the flask away spilling most of the liquor on the leather car seat and the rest on her Ceil Chapman evening gown.

“Eddie my dress! You’ve ruined it. Daddy is going to kill you!”

“Get out of the car.”  He said just loud enough for her to hear.

“What?”

“Get the hell out of my car!”

He was through with her, with the country club, with Harvard Law, and most of all with his parents mansion on Belleview Avenue. He couldn’t stand any of it. Of the privileged life that had always seemed somehow wrong but everyone told him was so right. So them, so him.

When he reached the New England Turnpike he turned the Bentley south toward New York. By dawn he was driving over the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey. Once he reached New York he realized it was much too close to Newport. Where he was going had to be somewhere far away. Where he could be free, write like he always wanted to. Someplace where people did something with their lives, where there was a different beat. The clip of the tires on the concrete seams of the road seemed to match the beat of his heart. The Beat. The West, The Beat.  The West.

A week later Edward sat in a sunny window of Vesuvio Cafe on Columbus Street. He had found a job as a door man at the Hungry i. As good a place as any in San Francisco to begin an alive life. He was finally going places, the kind of places with the kind of people he belonged to. The Beat was in his soul. The only thing he had left of his past was the 1959 Silver Bentley Continental S1. He would have to sell it soon not that he wanted to. But for the first time in his life, he needed the money.

***      ***     ***

Bentley For Men Intense was created as a flanker to Bentley For Men in 2013 by perfumer Nathalie Lorson for the prestigious British car company Bentley. Lorson is a prolific nose who has a massive number of perfumes in her credits. She has designed for everyone from Lalique, Encre Noire to Yves Saint Laurent, Black Opium.  In fact, she is the nose behind every fragrance in the line for Bentley.

(NATHALIE LORSON)

So, I was intrigued to try a fragrance from this house to see how it stacks up against some of her other fragrances and against other automobile perfumes such as Jaguar, and Ferrari. (Porsche is out of the running as I have not yet tested it.)

I must say I am pleasantly surprised in some ways and not so much in others. First off, the bottle is simply amazing, elegantly heavy glass on a luxurious level. Beautiful silver topping of the top fourth of the glass with the Bentley winged B logo deeply etched and very hefty silver cap. The design echoes the lines and beauty of a Bentley, just as it should. Here the house has trounced its competition in Jaguar, Porsche and Ferrari who’s bottles overall are a disappointment.  The bottle is smart, sleek, and chic. Simply put, the chassis is classy.

What is under the hood? Well this is where it gets interesting. At first sniff I was sold. As well, on initial wearing is was humming along quite nicely. Then on my second outing in my new Bentley For Men Intense there were some potholes in the tarmac. Then on the third through fifth test drives it was much the same thing. I loved it some of the time and I was sometimes put off by it. What can be the problem?  The only thing I can say is that it dances between something brilliant and gorgeous and then slips at other times into a kind of ho hum slump. Dust in the carburetor?  Or maybe it is simply the driver?

1959 BENTLEY CONTINENTAL S1

Let’s concentrate on the good things, on the best test drive, today in fact. Bentley Intense opens with a great peppery African Geranium that is speckled with, black pepper. This makes it sharp and attention grabbing. Which is what fragrance houses want their top notes to be. (the notes that sell a fragrance to the average customer) But that isn’t all, added in is a rich, boldly thick dose of incense.  Intense incense if fact gives it elevated wings. I loved that combo of the incense match with the overdose of pepper and geranium. A stunning opening.

This opening that becomes almost boozy lasts 30 to 40 minutes before it evolves into the cruising speed of mid notes.  The lux interior of the Bentley automobile in perfumed notes. Super fine, highly polished Leather of the highest quality. The kind of leather you can sink into for a nice long ride is enhanced by a leathery aromatic clary sage which adds a sexy depth. Labdanum is brushed over these two notes bringing in a fine combo accord of even more leather steeped in an amber like wash.

The dry-down is an exceptionally fine with noticeable dose of patchouli, and silky sandalwood finishes off the base with cedar shavings giving it a kind of somber aromatic heat.  This ride is indeed smooth and well-appointed, leaving Jaguar and Ferrari in the dust. (Of those I have sampled at least.)

So that is Bentley For Men Intense when it is purring along on my skin on a rainy day like this. So, what is the problem. Why am I of two minds about this EDT? Perhaps is it simply the season in which I am testing this fragrance. Early Spring. On the sunny warm days, Bentley For Men Intense battled with my skin until well in to the late middle notes where it finally ran smooth. But on a rain cool day like today it works beautifully. So, the lesion I have learned thanks to Bentley For Men Intense is this.  Some fragrances really do fall into seasonal boxes. When I love Bentley, I am very much in love, and when I hate it, I am reminded of Rita Hayworth in “Gilda” when she says to Johnny Farrow, “Hate is a very exciting emotion. Haven’t you noticed? Very exciting. I hate you too, Johnny. I hate you so much I think I’m going to die from it.”

Well, lets not get that dramatic, I’m not going to die from this fragrance. But, with Bentley For Men Intense, it’s, what else can I say? A classic love/hate relationship. And at this moment, I love it.

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