The almond blossom had already done.
Its psychedelic storm clouds of magenta and ‘just married’ white a park floor’s worth of real confetti before February was even finished.
Here and there a rose, peaking too soon or staying on too late, hung around, pink and out of place. In a month, maybe less, rains willing, Inshallah, they would be a profusion. Just not yet. Not just yet. Inshallah.
In the smartest of the city gardens, the one that closed at sunset, had cyber hotspots for switched on kids to get their wifi fix and was a favourite for courting couples, out beyond the orange trees, towards the pise walls, he walked alone.
Gentle Spring sunshine warmed the millennium old mud ramparts and dust rose from the path to lap at the hems of the coral-hued fortifications. From the other side, the noise and dirt of traffic, the smell of animals, soot and rain-starved storm drains rose. These parapets never kept the air clean and quiet nor one set of citizens safe from the next marauding crowd.
What wall ever did?
She had said ‘Meet me in a garden. Meet me on St David’s Day.’
After an hour, he concluded, it couldn’t be that garden. Not the place where they had shared picnics of dates and orange blossom cakes washed down with hibiscus tea from a tin flask they’d picked up from a bric a brac in the ville nouvelle.
St David’s Day. St David’s Day. Where in this city of jacarandas and figs, of charcoal and dried chameleons, of mint tea and high meat & dried fruit tagines, where were there daffodils?
Of course, there are no narcissus this close to the desert, their form, their shape, their modestly bowed and bonneted heads, all speak of temperance and temperate climes, of sea breezed Mediterranean or frosted European firsts of March, not dust dry Morocco, with its chill nights and winds that promise but never deliver rain.
Never has a flower been so badly defamed by a name. Narcissus. This chaste corolla called after intoxication and vanity.
Yellow. Daffodil yellow. Blue. Majorelle blue.
He hissed a passing p’tit taxi and rode it to the garden that Yves Saint Laurent saved from oblivion. The jardin, once on the edge of town, where one hundred years before the painter Jacques Majorelle had sought a new sort of blue, inspired by the same sunlight that, fifty years afterwards, gave Churchill peace from the dogs of war, and later still his own black dogs. The black dogs that chased Saint Laurent here from Paris, bottle and pen and cutting scissors in hand.
Drunk and delirious he had run through the muddled alleys of the medina at night, howling like an animal.
He remembered. Daffodil yellow pots. Pots full of succulents and cacti.
Beyond the cactus garden, the house of blue good enough to dive into, the fountain and the parterres, he arrives at the square pond.
There on the pontoon, he sees her in silhouette.
She gazes at the water, staring, not at her own reflection, but instead the towering sight of palm trees turned upside down in this aqueous mirror, their fronds free, swimming in cerulean skies and impenetrable golden algae from below.
He approaches.In the heat the scent rises from her, she smells of herself and … the English word eludes him, he’s become so accustomed to French and Arabic after all.. of tagetes… she smells of French marigolds.
He reaches out to touch her right shoulder, then falters, feeling the questions he aches to ask like a tremor in is outstretched arm:
Where has she been? Why has she been away? Why was there never any word?
But he know no answer will come.
He waits a moment, his heart, seconds ago skipping, now slows. His breath slackens, then hers too, he hears it, matches it. Soon they breathe as one.
A gentle prolongation: inhalation and expiration.
Outside, the noise and dirt of traffic, the smell of animals, soot and rain-starved storm drains rises. Here, all is kept at bay, for now, by the drawing in and letting out of air and the scent of French marigolds.
On an unassuming but chic street in the Gueliz of Marrakech is L’Orientaliste, a miscellany of colonial era high class furniture and decorative arts. Outsized coffee tables and deco armchairs, Lalique-style lamps and angular decanters all vie for the eye with full sized posters of 20s cruise lines and train companies.
Just by the door is an even greater treat, for here is to be found the company’s own scented collection. Judging by their prominent position perfumed candles and room sprays must be the biggest sellers and these can be found on line, even occasionally in stores in France.
To the Dandy’s nose, however, it is the numerous eau de parfums, more than twenty in total, that are most intriguing items: providing a tantalizing glimpse, or waft, of what a certain type of Marakchi might be wearing about their person. Those who assume that all middle Eastern perfumery is a muchness of heavy oud and wood attars, will be shocked and perhaps dismayed by this array, more diverse, playful and piccolo than cliche.
Rose, orange blossom, mint, orange, sweet spices, bright flowers and sparing combinations of musk, patchouli, amber and sandalwood in the base are the order of the day – though animalics do shine through rather organically now and then.
The splendidly named ‘Ajar’, is a heavily floral perfume with great presence. It is a dressed up and made up fragrance, an androgynously beautiful woman somewhat incongruously done to the nines but with the cheek bones and slim ankles to take all the gilding.
The opening note is, in all honesty, a rather intentionally mismatched affair, one that I find curiously appealing, but can easily imagine might put many off. There is a faint tang ‘Tizer’ or ‘Vimto’, peculiarly British soft drinks of yesteryear. Somewhat obscure points of reference, ‘mixed fruit beverage’ doesn’t capture the decidedly ‘out of time’ sensation of these aromas – they are not the soul destroying, corn starch laden, tooth collapsing, cesspits one finds in a can of Coca Cola or Dr Pepper, but something more optimistic and innocent. Alone this smell would be nostalgic, momentarily amusing, but, frankly unwearable.
Here, the perfumer, unnamed and French – the project was a collaboration with an old house in Grasse – has married this playful pop with an earthy and green heavyweight punch of floral tagetes, that is scented marigolds. The combination is invigorating, slightly disorientating and, well, plain perfect unusual.
The effect is a couture version of an over enthusiastic shop assistant dressing a confectioners or rahat lokum merchant with contents of a particularly well tended flower garden at the height of its perfume. Eccentric, and one can imagine rather fashionably hectic.
Over time a tense game of two and fro emerges, a state I rather enjoy when in the right frame of mind. At times we drift towards a rose tinted Turkish delight, then the base of light amber and a slightly sweaty musk will reappear with the earthier elements of the florals, rather like the unheralded entrance of an overheated and under-dressed gardener burling in, wheelbarrow and all.
Finally, and quite unexpectedly, the late drydown gets first sweet, a return to the nostalgic sips and slurps of childhood, before a rather more sophisticatedly high musk and gently floral conclusion reigns.
Projection is good and the staying power quite exceptional at around 10-12 hours. I should also mention that the perfume is a delicious burnt honey colour, the kind scent used to be, and one I thoroughly approve of. Whilst talking of how scent used to be, the rather splendid owner of L’Orientaliste has commented on her sadness at having to remove her wares from sale in Europe because of ‘regulations’…
‘Ajar’ is a collision of sweetness and earthiness, propriety and glamour on the one hand, childish indulgence on the other. There is more than a little of Morocco here, the cuisine is based on the cohabitation of sweet and meat, the air is filled with flowers and smoke and excrement, the cities are dusty but punctuated with remarkable, often hidden, walled gardens of incredible profusion.
There is another aesthetic at work too, that of the defiantly eccentric: the placing of ‘ought not too’s together, forgetting that ‘blues and greens should never be seen’ in the case that they ‘might do’.
No one embodies this sentiment more than the actress, model, artist, and muse Tilda Swinton, and though there may already be a perfume that claims she likes it, The Dandy would bet that she would love this.
The Perfumed Dandy