The Fox at Dawn

L’Heure Bleue

On Monday night, close to midnight, I began a new book- The Blue Hour, a biography of Jean Rhys who wrote The Wide Sargasso Sea, a stunning and disturbing book that has haunted me since I first read it last month. In the preface, Lilian Pizzichini describes L’Heure Bleue, a perfume by Guerlain that figures in Rhys’ first novel Quartet and that was her favorite fragrance. “The scent itself is dusky, as though bought from an old-world apothecary on a forgotten street in Paris. Its hints of pastry and almonds make L’Heure Bleue a melancholic fragrance, as though in mourning for a time passed by. The curves of the Art Nouveau bottle, the stopper in the form of a hollowed out heart, allude to the romance of the years leading to the First World War.”

            I put the book down and picked up my tiny research assistant- L’Heure Bleue was created in 1912 (my year!) by master perfumer Jacques Guerlain as a way to capture that magic blue hour in Paris before the sky finds its first star. That’s what I found out. And that you can still buy it. And suddenly I wanted that scent more than anything. I, who never wear perfume, was suddenly certain that this was my fragrance and that it would be mine the rest of my days. I ordered a bottle of eau de parfum from my bed before turning out my light to sleep.

            In the days while I waited for it, I watched a video of someone reviewing the perfume. Nine minutes of a beautiful French man talking about what this perfume means to him, how it smells and how he wears it whether it’s for a man or not. I read up on Guerlain and the inspiration for the perfume. I thought about how much my relationship to my body has changed. How for decades now I have abused it, ignored it, hid it, and felt ashamed of it and how it looked. How with no one to love it, it has gone unloved and uncelebrated. I’ve taken so little care with my appearance- how I dress, what I do with my hair. I’ve stopped wearing jewelry and make up. I slumpf around in overalls, an old farmer. I don’t recognize myself in the mirror and don’t even care.  Sweet, hardworking, talented, strong, resilient old body. I will do better. This perfume I’ve ordered feels like a secret I can keep with myself. I may look like a farmer but if I ever let you come very close, you’ll be reeling with the discovery of the secret garden that is in me.

            Yesterday it came. I took the package along with my library copy of The Blue Hour out to the porch. I took some photos of the two together, the bottle still wrapped in its box. I took my time removing the plastic- when would I be able to smell it? Would it come through the box once the plastic was gone? A little, a very little hint. I opened the box and pulled that beautiful bottle out. Could I smell it now? A little more. I took more photos, delaying the moment I would finally know if I made a mistake or not. Then I did it, I pulled the stopper and breathed it in. Heaven. All I had hoped for. I sprayed my wrists, misted my neck. Oh my. I love the liveliness as it first makes itself known. But then it settles on you, settles in you. Becomes something else. Throughout the day I am called to tenderly smell my own wrists- ah, then the sigh of release. I did not expect to find the smell so comforting. It is achingly lovely, yes melancholic, the vanity table of a long ago lady, evening falling, the tinkling of crystal prisms hanging from my grandmother’s lamp. 

I have been wearing it two days now and no one in my small family has noticed or at least remarked upon it, so that is reassuring. It is not obnoxious. It is my own secret with myself after all. I have fallen for this scent and its remembrance of loving and being loved. It fills my heart with longing and somehow answers that longing too. It tells me my own story of a lifetime of love. It is a reminder to love myself, to cherish this sweet old body, honor its journey and delight in its present. I was right to order this perfume at midnight, I’ll be wearing it the rest of my days.

3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Beautiful. Thank you, Loren. I need to go put my perfume on.

Comment by specialneedsnky

Perfection! L’Heure Bleue is as much a masterpiece of the 20th century as The Wide Sargasso Sea is.

Comment by Old Herbaceous

I agree- that book is stunning. And L’Heure Bleue is such an evocative and comforting scent. I sometimes put it on just before bed to sweeten my dreams.

Comment by Loren Crawford

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