Notes of Dried Basil
written by Gary Michael Dault
By the time John got back to the loft, he was consumed with anxiety about the efficacy of his nose. What a rude, uneducated nose he apparently possessed! "As a fashion designer, how could I still know so little about fragrances?" he thought. "How could I be so unschooled as to not know how they’re made, and how they work, and how they’re positioned and marketed?" And could his desperate new Amber be born, just like that, like magic, out of nowhere? Born fullblown from the sweaty forehead of his temporarily secured perfume engineer, Babaloo Diaz? Anna could tell by the way he opened the door that things were amiss with her couturier. "What’s the matter, Sweets?" she asked. "It’s my nose," John replied. "Got the sniffles?" "I wish it were that simple. No, I’m feeling stupid not knowing anything about perfumes." "But you know what you like, yes?" "Sure, but that’s like being able to pick out a shirt, or deciding to send a fish back if it’s overcooked. What I mean is that after an hour with Babaloo Diaz …" "Who?" "This perfume designer I’ve contracted. An hour with him and I realize I possess a really stupid, ignorant nose!" "But the rest of you is nice," said Anna, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. "I’m serious, Anna. I wish you could take courses somewhere in fragrance studies and end up with a reasonably educated nose. And, by the way, what the hell is vanilla labdarium? "Vanilla labdarium? I don’t know. It sounds delicious, though. Why don’t we google it and find out?" Anna went over to the desk and opened her laptop. A few light touches on the keyboard and she was able to tell John all about it. "Vanilla labdarium is a resinous material obtained from the Mediterranean species of rockrose …" "Rockrose?" "Yes, a pretty name, isn’t it? That’d be a good
name for a perfume, just as it is." "That’s true. Do go on," said John. "…a resinous material which is … a species of rockrose. It smells rich, leathery, smoky and sweet." "A tall order, all at once." "This is like the way professional tasters describe wines," said Anna. She continued reading from the screen, "Its warm incense undertone lends it a dusky somber quality, while the top notes, reminiscent of freshly cut wood, offer an interesting bright counterpoint." "Reminiscent of freshly cut wood?" "Yes, apparently." She continued, "Although a beautiful and complex material, it is heavy and opaque, with a tendency to easily overwhelm other facets of the fragrance." "It’s sort of startling to be able to characterize anything as ephemeral as a fragrance with words like ‘opaque’," said John. "I think it’s exciting," said Anna. "Weirdly lyrical. The flights of language in perfume description are a lot like all those intoxicating, if deranged, images you find in wine description." "It gets pretty goofy sometimes." "I know," said Anna giggling, "but it’s fun, though. Just wait while I go drag out some wine mags. Hold on a minute." She went over to one of the bookshelves and returned with an armload of magazines. "For example," she began, riffling through the pages, "how about this, a description of a Californian Pinot Noir: The highly perfumed bouquet evokes black raspberry, cherry cola …" "Cherry cola?" "Yes. Along with incense, and rose and oakspiced accents." "Huh." "There’s more," said Anna gleefully, "Deeply pitched yet energetic, the wine offers sweet red and dark berry liqueur flavours, with exotic hints of candied flowers and vanilla." "Candied flowers, huh?" Anna nodded. "It’s also described as possessing a long, sappy precise finish!" She glanced over at John. "Funny," she smiled, "that’s the way I think of you!" He scowled. "And here’s another," Anna announced, warming to her task. "This is a Vouvray from 2011. It offers citrus, apple, mineral, mushroom and lanolin aromas." "I don’t want my wine smelling of lanolin." "No? Okay then, here’s a Cuvee Gastronomie Savoie within which, if you pay close attention, you can taste flavours of white cherry…" "But only white cherry, not red?" "Shush, philistine. Yes, flavours of white cherry, quince, mineral, beeswax and hints of tarragon, all of them held together in a smoky essence which runs through it all and carries them into the finish…" "Like a horse race." "…into the finish with notes of dried basil. Are you impressed?" "Exceedingly. Though now I feel even more like
an olfactory and gastronomic cretin." "So I guess you don’t want me to google all the other perfume ingredients and find out about them? How about we do a rundown on patchouli?" "No thanks." "Actually, I love patchouli," said Anna dreamily. "Les fleurs du mal … And," she added with a wink, "it’s also a powerful insect repellent!" John laughed. "Listen, let’s go out to dinner. All these perfume names and terms are making me hungry." "It must be all that stuff about the freshly cut wood and white cherries," said Anna. "That’s probably it." "And afterwards, we can come home and go to bed and work at developing your olfactory sense even further – to a point of your achieving an outlandish discriminatory delicacy!" "And what would constitute ‘ an outlandish discriminatory delicacy’?" John asked. "Oh … well," she said, taking his arm and steering him towards the door, "stuff like being able to tell by fragrance alone, whether, for example, my forearm smells different from my upper arm, or whether my left breast has a different perfume than my right breast, that sort of thing…" "Maybe we should just skip dinner," said John, encircling her waist with his arm. "No, no," Anna replied, "you can’t just leap headlong into matters as subtle as this. You have to work up to them." "Like by dining." "Exactly. And, by the way, the poet who penned the description of the Vouvray suggested that the wine might be enjoyably consumed over a serving of Chicken Vindaloo – which made me hungry for Indian food, so let’s track some down." "But I can’t imagine drinking any wine with Indian food," John told her. "Beer maybe. Or a nice salty Lassi." "Yes, I quite agree with you, my omnidirectional connoisseur." "And this fragrant Indian meal we’re in search of will be preparation for the anatomical fragrance training to come later?" "Yes, sweetheart. Think of it as olfactory foreplay."