Remember the beginning of Meet Joe Black, when a voice is saying, yes, yes, as if answering William Parrish's unasked question? I have been hearing a voice like that too, only sometimes it whispers, yes, and sometimes, no. My question is probably different from Mr. Parrish's. I want to know if it is true what they say, that you can never go home again. Because it wouldn't be the same home, the same you. Because life should be a forward movement, not retrograde. But what if you are ready to make peace with the changes? And might it not be so that sometimes going back is actually a progress?
How any of that soul-searching relates to perfume, you might justifiably ask. Well, I have been re-visiting a lot of old favorites that I never believed I would be able to love again. The last bastion standing was Sotto Voce, Laura Biagiotti's 1996 gem, now inexcusably discontinued. I used to wear it during most difficult years of my life so far, and it has become associated with so many different kinds of heartbreak that I did not dare to smell it for almost a decade. I remembered it as powdery and soft, an intimate whisper of a fragrance. Apparently it used to smell really good on me, because someone once wrote me a short poem inspired by it (the only love poem I ever got). This year I felt I was ready to meet Sotto Voce and see if it would be bearable for us to be together again.
It never ceases to amaze me just how powerful our olfactory memories are. The first sniff of Sotto Voce in about ten years felt as if "someone hit me in the gut, taking my breath away for a moment". But the flood of associations, which swept over me when I smelled the softly spicy floral top notes of the perfume, passed, miraculously not carrying me away to a tragic end, like some sort of emotional tsunami, and I was...home. The creamy heart of tuberose, ylang ylang and slightly bitter heliotrope was as charmingly warm and downy-soft as I remembered. As before, sandalwood and vanilla were blended with delicate flowers to create an effect that was not quite woody and not quite floral, making Sotto Voce a scent escaping definitions and categorizations...a scent elusive and always, quietly, present, a soft aura of warmth, a tender and sensual skin scent...It was incredibly comforting to wear it again, like coming back to loving arms after long and unnecessary separation.
However, parallels between perfume and life can only be drawn so far. You can come back to a perfume. Can you go home again?
Sotto Voce is sometimes available on eBay, for rather ridiculous sums of money.
The image is by Blaise Reutersward.