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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IDENTIKIT ~ A FRAGRANCE TO DIE FOR! CHANEL No. 19 Parfum

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“It takes one day to die, another to be born…” Elizabeth Taylor reportedly said those words to her director Griffi when she came on the set the day after she left Richard Burton for their first divorce. So with that mindset she went to work on one of her most unusual, daring and controversial films. From the moment “The Diver’s Seat” begins you know you are in a strange place. In Europe the movie was called “Idendikit” so, with two names tagged to it thus making it schizophrenic from the first it easily falls into the realm of the ambiguous art film genre of the late 60’s and early 70’s. It’s star, Elizabeth Taylor, appears here in one of her most remote and dangerous roles. She plays Lise a woman who is consumed by insanity and the desire to find the ultimate lover, the be all and end all of boyfriends you might say.

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As the film opens you are presented with a shattered view of a woman on the edge of something terrible. The camera moves in a disjointed way, past naked mannequins heads covered in tin foil. Is this Lise’s view of others or is it a reflection of her inner life? Or possibly her future.  Upon being told to take a holiday from work after causing a scene in the office the film opens with her preparations to take flight to Rome. The film jump cuts from past to present as the police in Rome try to reconstruct the mystery of her holiday in terrorist gripped Rome. Even Rome comes off as off kilter. This is not the Rome of Audrey Hepburn or Marcello Mastroianni but a city one hardly recognizes from the lack of typical filming locations one associates with “Made In Rome!” movies.

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(Lise meets Andy Warhol at Fiumicino International Airport)

Director Giuseppe Patroni Griffi succeeds in presenting a inimitably Italian cinema verite film of the Muriel Spark novel. This is a unique film and very much of it’s day. Its non-linear, experimental, almost documentary style will be hard to get into for any one not used to movies of this sort. But it is well worth the effort. So strange and challenging a film it is that it left the opening night audience at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival in stunned silence.

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(with Ian Bannan)

The cast is well chosen and gives some oddly memorable performances. Ian Bannan as the macrobiotic sex-nut who tires to pick up Lise on the plane to Rome seems almost as mad as she is. It is a wickedly off kilter wild-eyed performance. The charming and always wonderful Mona Washbourne is sweetly touching as the woman who befriends the mad Lise and in doing so leads her to meet the man of her dreams.

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(with Mona Washborne)

But the glue that holds it all together is provided by Miss Taylor who tops off her short list of insane characters from Susanna Drake (Raintree County) to Catherine Holly (Suddenly Last Summer) with this daring and shocking portrait of Lise. She opens up as an actress that at the time would have been unthinkable to most of her contemporaries from the old M.G.M. days. That’s one of the wonderful things about her film career. She came from an era in old Hollywood where she was trained and groomed to be glossy and perfect. But as times changed so did she and in doing so became much more than an MGM glamour girl, she became an actress with guts. In “The Driver’s Seat” she shows her chops as an actress and her willingness to accept challenges in her roles and in Lise she found a great one. One stunning image of her is when in her loud madwoman dress and raccoon painted eyes she challenges the airport security to frisk her. In that scene she seems totally there, totally gone, and totally in control as an actress.

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***

Even the sweetest perfume has a hint of madness in it. That darkness must exist in a perfume or it has no chance of being complex or perhaps even a classic in time.

Perfume played a huge part in the theater which was Elizabeth Taylor’s life. A life lived before us all which unfolded in a flurry of purple and glittering diamonds in the center of the strobbing glare of paparazzi press for the last half of the twentieth Century. She was famous for wearing Bal a Versailles when she conquered not only Rome in 1962 but but also the denunciation of her by Pope John XXIII. Later in the 1980’s she created Elizabeth Taylor’s Passion and thus launched “Celebrity” Perfumes in to a realm yet untested.  Her perfume “White Diamonds” is still to this day one of the top sellers on the market.

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(Elizabeth Taylor and Andy Warhol
at the 1974 screening of Identikit ~ The Driver’s Seat at Cannes)

It is interesting to ponder what perfume Elizabeth Taylor’s character Lise might have worn in the film “The Driver’s Seat”? Symbolism and nonverbal signals are an important aspect of her character, from her wardrobe, the way she applies her makeup and even the book she carries with her on her travels. Every visual aspect is covered in her quest. So, there must be a fragrance she employed to attract that which she seeks and in the end finds in the darkest part of the Borghese Gardens in the heart of Rome in the dead of night.

This fragrance must be green and full of life and promise and yet carry a dark heart and of the period, the early 1970’s.  For Lise it would be Chanel No. 19 Eau de Parfum (1970).  The last perfume made during Mademoiselle Chanel’s life, named for the date of her birth and a personal favorite of hers.

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It is known and loved as a superlative Green fragrance. It is in fact onion like in its layers upon layers of facets. Like enfiladed rooms opening one upon another leading to an unknown end. In fact, it is the marriage between the fresh crisp smell of grass and the opposing heavy indolic white flowers all wrapped up in a fine supple leather which only hints at its complex schizoid nature.  It is like slipping on a fine pair of white kid gloves be they for horseback riding in a French wood in spring or driving gloves for that mad getaway drive along the Amalfi coast in winter.  Both rides are just on the edge of losing control.

Then the darkness comes. It comes from the interior of that leather where deep under its folds you find nestled a dark dirty vetiver and a deadly serious oak moss. And deeper still below that there is the deeply sensual and frankly fleshy sex of Iris or perhaps full blown oris butter. Slipper smooth and intoxicatingly drenched over a softly sweet and green narcissus. The rose that lies in there near the heart is bleeding and barely alive encased in a coffin of sandalwood. And upon this coffin, is placed a wreath of lily of the valley and ylang-ylang. There under all that green rebirth in its beginning is the solemn promise that it will die.

No. 19  is in fact like Lise very beautiful and hides a complicated inner world of Belle vie et mort inéluctable. As Lise moved ever closer to her rendezvous in the dark gardens of her soul in the center of the eternal city she must have smelled the clean green of the grass and the bereavement in the decaying flowers where she lay down.

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One of the most wonderful aspects of No.19 is that anyone, man or woman can wear it. and at any age. It is timeless, ageless, classic and yet very modern.

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