My two New Year’s Resolutions — write more and do more yoga — were in conflict today. There was a 10 am yoga class that I love, but I also expected the day to get away from me and so I decided to go downstairs, light a fire and pull out the laptop. I am not in the middle of writing anything, but just trying to flex my writerly muscles again, which meant doing a writing prompt, and I think that’s what reminded me of At the Beach 1966, a fragrance by CB I Hate Perfume.
The next thing, I had a bee in my bonnet to go to Williamsburg and see the I Hate Perfume gallery, something I’ve wanted to do ever since Pam Satran gave me a small vial of In the Library for my birthday a few years back. I talked Warren into going with me, even though Julia Cameron says that artist dates should be solitary, and we had a wonderful day in the city, first going to Sebastian Junger’s The Half King, where I had a Sloppy Joe and then to CB I Hate Perfume, where I smelled every “perfume” and settled on Memory of Kindness, and then just as it was starting to flurry, took an impulsive detour to Rice to Riches in Soho, where we both had rice pudding. It was a perfect outing. I had my Hipstamatic iPhone app for photographing hipsta Williamsburg (though I couldn’t whip it out fast enough to get the sign, on a restaurant, which said, “Brunch is for assholes.”)
CB I Hate Perfume’s gallery is a surprisingly spare and modern store where Christopher Brosius displays vials of his perfume blends and accords with names like At the Beach 1966, Burning Leaves and In the Summer Kitchen, all of which seem to have been conjured almost as much as writer’s aids as actual fragrances. It was Warren who pointed out that Brosius is selling words as much as he is selling fragrance. Each “perfume” comes with a story, and the one I picked, Memory of Kindness, I picked as much for its name and its story as for the strong undertones of tomato vines.
What does a child remember?
I recall a moment long ago crawling alone in a vast jungle of vines. I felt the warm sun on my skin and the damp earth under my knees and I remember the fuzzy touch of brilliant green leaves on my face. These made my skin prickle as I ventured deeper into this wild and mysterious place.
Long years later, I clearly recall the smell of those leaves – it shimmered all around me, beating like a cloud of butterflies. And I remember the moment when I discovered that by touching them, their odor became stronger and I was enraptured by it. Time passed but I was unaware. Deep in that shining green jungle, I first discovered the pleasure of Scent.
My aunt called out to me from the edge of the vegetable garden where she stood peering among the tomato vines to see where I’d gotten myself to. Reluctantly I disentangled myself from that brilliant scent and slowly crawled out from my hiding place under the vines to meet her.
I know now that very small children absorb the world around them in the purest way. Their senses are unfiltered by judgment, preference or manner – these we learn later. As ink soaks into paper, the smallest incident will color a child indelibly and can be remembered forever as I remember the smell of those vines and all that went with it…
I remember then I got to my feet and, reaching high, took my aunts hand. I looked up into her face still clouded by concern. I realize only now, I must have frightened her with my disappearance into the wilds. Just for a second I was afraid she was mad at me and I braced myself for a scolding. But there was no anger in the look she gave me, no irritation as there so easily might have been with another grownup. Instead with a slow smile, as warm as the sun had been on my back that distant summer day, she said to me, Come. Lets go have a cookie. I smiled back at her and, hand in hand, we walked back to the house.
What does a child truly remember? A child remembers kindness.
I almost forgot another small detour which we took the Pace Gallery on W. 25th Street, where there was a show called “52 Variables” by the British artist Keith Tyson. The 52 variables to which Tyson refers are each member of a standard set of playing cards. His 52 paintings, however, were of 52 playing card backs, some as familiar as the blue Bicycle deck (or some variation thereof) and exotic and unlikely variations: an early iteration of the Twitter logo, NASA playing cards, and one featuring a woman with sexual ball gag. These recreations were really quite stunning and reminded me a bit of Tarot cards, and as if the theme of the day was writing prompts, the gallery sold a $15 deck of cards featuring each image from the show and some quotation on the back. On the back of a “Player’s Navy Cut” card (featuring a drawing of a sailor) is this quote from Marshall McLuhan: “Ads are the cave art of the twentieth century.”
Of course we were mindful of the tragedy in Tucson that was unfolding, checking our mobile devices between adventures. And as it turns out, Warren has to fly there early tomorrow to cover it. But the strong scent of Memory of Kindness still clings to me, and colors my day.