Yesteryear Apothecary (first excerpt)

Last October I went through an obsessive few weeks of scentophilia. I spent hours perusing the shops of independent artisan perfumiers: Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, For Strange Women, Poison Apple Apothecary, Wiggle, Midnight Gypsy, and The Morbid the Merrier. I ordered samples and, to Erik’s chagrin (he doesn’t like fragrance), tested a new one each day. We both thought I was goofing off, wasting days this way, but it turned out I wasn’t. In fact, I was — as I encourage other artists to do, in The Inspired Way — literally following my nose for inspiration.

As a result of my olfactory explorations, I ended up with a new signature scent that I’m ridiculously crazy about (The Golden Bough, from Arabesque Aromas), and — after a couple of weeks of sampling — a creative idea that was so galvanizing it got me out of bed and scribbling as if my life depended on it. That idea became Yesteryear Apothecary, a collection of 12 imaginary fragrances based on childhood memories. Each of the dozen “scents” follows the more-or-less-standard format of the indie perfumiers: title, image, evocative blurb, list of fragrance notes. In my case, the image is an old photo and the blurb a capsule of creative autobiography (names, details have been changed or combined). Enjoy the sample.


Lisa dressed up, 1988

One Saturday morning you all dress up. Daddy wears a suit and you and your sister put on the fancy dresses Gong-Gong bought you last December: ruffled pink for Sarah, black velvet and turquoise satin for you. In the car Mommy pulls down the mirror and applies lipstick with a little brush.

Daddy parks the car and you file through the courtyard with the little fountain and into Mrs Zabel’s living room. The big tan sofa has been turned around and the coffee table is gone, replaced by rows of folding chairs. Daddy takes a seat in the back and sets up the Camcorder and tripod. Mrs Zabel guides you and Sarah to the sofa: “You girls get front row seats.” When the Chos arrive they bring a sheaf of papers and Su-Wen hands one to each of you: twelve names including yours and hers, with the titles of your pieces and their composers, and a pretty border of piano keys and musical notes, all printed out by a computer.

Soon Mrs Zabel stands in front of the pianos and the room goes quiet. “Welcome to our first recital of the year,” she smiles, and before you know it you are getting up from the squishy sofa, shuffling a few steps across the carpet to stand next to the black Steinway the way Mrs Zabel showed you last Monday. You bend at the waist and everyone claps, and then you turn around and seat yourself on the bench to play.

When you are done you stand up and bow and shuffle back to the sofa, but everyone is still clapping and you look at Mrs Zabel and she gestures to you to go back and bow again. You do, and then sit again, and Mrs Zabel announces the next student.

Now you have to sit through everyone else, from Stephen Marks who plays Beethoven’s “Minuet in G” to that big Bobby Koch who stumbles through “The Entertainer” to Geoff Ng who makes the piano strings pound with a Rachmaninoff concerto he plays with Mrs Zabel at the walnut grand that stands back-to-back, yin/yang style, to the Steinway. Finally Mrs Zabel sits at the Steinway herself and announces she will play an Etude, and her fingers are rippling over the keys, her profile focused, drawing sound and power from the ivory and wood in way that even Geoff couldn’t match.

Afterward everyone goes into the dining room to silver platters of cookies Mrs Zabel has baked herself, stacks of little plates and square paper napkins, and a glass bowl of punch with scoops of ice cream floating in it. Mrs Zabel pours coffee for the grownups. Remembering your manners, you and Sarah take a plate, a napkin, and two cookies each, and retreat to the corner where you can prop the plates up on the windowsill and look out over the yard while you eat.

A dainty scent with strength behind it: berry sherbet, ginger ale, chocolate chips, butter cookies, walnuts, faint perfume and breezy aftershave, ivory keys, fresh brewed coffee, patience, and Chopin.