Our final day in DC coincides with the great return to work.
Memorial Weekend over, we decide to see the memorials themselves, hoping that they will have been shorn the attendant crowds that have flowed all holiday from them like curls from the head of abundantly haired child.
Yet at the mouth of the narrow entrance to the Vietnam War Memorial a line has formed even at this early hour of the day.
People wait in relative quiet to file past the shining polished stone with the names of the nearly sixty thousand men, all the dead recorded are men save eight women added after the wall was originally built, inscribed carefully in a sans serif font.
Saddest perhaps are those leafing through the books of names, great telephone directory like lists, looking up the location of inscriptions of people known to them, if not personally then through memory or family connection.
I feel this place deserves a scent, as The Great War Cemeteries of Northern France and Flanders smell of perpetually fresh cut grass and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier carries a feint hint of the gas that keeps the undimmed flame forever alight.
But there is nothing.
Nothing except a sort of anti-smell composed of the cellophane that wraps commemorative flowers too tightly to allow anything of their aroma to escape and the neutral void of over-washed and too neat children dressed in what would in an earlier age be termed their Sunday best.
My memory reshapes around funerals, the interments that many of the deceased remembered here would be denied, and of the flowers that accompany them.
Chrysanthemums coming flooding into my mind.
Like the great wave of these greenest of flowers that is Estee Lauder’s Private Collection.
Originally intended as a perfume solely for the great lady’s own use, like grief it was initially regarded as too personal for mass consumption.
But over time fallen soldiers and fragrances, it would appear, become everybody’s property.
As I am disgorged at the memorial’s end, I begin to walk away when a young woman, an enthusiastic intern in turns out, grasps my arm. She is working for CBS Radio and would like to know my thoughts, no ‘my feelings’ about what I have just seen.
I mumble a few words about being deeply moved and as I am speaking realise how many men and women there are in uniform all around and how America can sometimes feel like a nation still in arms.
As this realisation dawns, I find myself truly moved, understanding the connection that a country with almost one and a half million military personnel must feel towards its lost and missing in action and the many that face the same fate every day.
One thing I have wondered at throughout my time in Washington DC is how few churches there are.
The National Cathedral I learn from a map is set apart in parkland someway off from Downtown.
Instead the city is dominated by great pagan temples, dedicated not to gods but men and in a style borrowed from Imperial not Papal Rome.
The Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials are the greatest of these neo-classical conundrums.
One to remember the man who’s ideas formed the constitution, the other the President who waged a war and lost his life so that the privileges of that constitution could be made available to all men.
These are places meant to inspire awe and assert America’s importance, in this they succeed in the way one imagines The Forum did when it was complete and functioning and not the ramshackle tourist highway it is today.
The sacred elements of both shrines are the words on the walls, the constitutional pronouncements on the ones the great address on the others.
The profanity is the subtle air of idolatry that lingers in the presence of such massively produced statues of men who were merely Presidents.
These are settings fit only for human not holy sacrements, and so Caron’s Parfum Sacre Intense, a mix of mountains of spice and myrrh, seems a suitable scent to accompany whatever theatricals need to be enacted here to keep the myth alive.
Right up next to the Potomac River, across from Arlington Cemetery, the massive marble slab of The Kennedy Centre, is like an enormous and immovable tombstone resting on its side.
Its blank modernity is simply too much, too impersonal to remember a far too personable President by.
This block, an audition piece for an interplanetary parliament if ever one is to be built, says nothing of the man who lived in the White House with his young family, his back pain, his mistresses or of the tragedy of that dark day in Dallas.
As a monument it fails for it can never depose from our minds the images of Kennedy’s assassination or especially his funeral.
Jackie veiled, gloved, immaculate in black.
John John in powder blue, saluting the coffin.
The jasmine and animal smell of his mother’s Joy by Patou floating on the air.
The perfume that was once the most expensive in the world worn by the woman who would find solace in the arms of the one of the world’s richest men.
How distant they seem now, as far away as Guinevere and Arthur and the knights of the first Camelot.
How much closer, if not in time then in temperament, the touchingly low key memorial to FDR seems to today’s world.
Here he is, with his frailty and four legged friend, amongst his words that speak so practically of justice and of real enemies abroad and poverty at home.
Here too is Eleanor, recognised in her own right for her own achievements.
The first First Lady, but not the last, to hold high office of her own.
I can hear her words being spoken so distinctively:
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
And I dream a carpet of lilies of valley, beautiful on the banks of the tidal basin and the sweet, innocent smell of muguet to mind me on my way. Caron’s soap supreme Mugueut to Bonheur to be precise. The perfume that was her favourite.
It is time to go.
A taxi ride across town to a railway station based on the Baths of Diolcetian conflated with the Arch of Constantine into an epic and enduring gesture.
Here between incredible columns and beneath vast vaults, I contemplate….
Why are arrivals always in outrageous technicolor , whilst departing is in invariably merely monochrome?
The Perfumed Dandy.