A small city surrounded by wild countryside and coasts.
Outside the music store Autumn turns to Winter.
In its window the all year around promise of prospective presents massed within.
I am eight, perhaps nine, it is an indeterminate Saturday in the interminably long weeks between a birthday and Christmas, a day about to be made distinct in memory.
I have been brought to peruse the selection at this specialist supplier of stringed instruments.
We have arrived, after an apparently epic journey, on a day as wet and unwanted as a discarded handkerchief, cool but not cold enough for snow. Our old car’s windows are misted by hot breath and my mother’s rose perfume.
We park just across the street so that everything can be seen as we wait for the rain to stop.
With my sleeve I swab away the condensation from the glass pane on the passenger’s side and perceive the name: Polge & Co. and the words that ring excitement out of my slight still-young spine: violins, violas, cellos, double bass.
We make a run for it.
The door rings open with a high melodious chime.
Inside, I am in a rhapsody.
Rails and rails of naked unstrung maple and spruce bodies await my passionate gaze..
Too soon though my open-mouthed awe is disturbed.
The owner: sharp featured despite his age, grey hair down to the shoulders and a black polo neck up to his chin, raises a mug emblazoned with an engraving of Beethoven I recognise from text books.
‘Welcome’ he half sings half shrugs.
I catch a draft of the medical citrus and honey of the hot cold remedy he is sipping, and something else that smells a little like a spirit cabinet.
The doors to this other sense now opened a swathe of scent descends on me.
Everywhere the smell of wood, the spice of bright varnish and most of all the resinous sweetness of treatments for bows: blocks and blocks of near transparent rosin lined up in row upon row grace a glass cabinet.
These semi-precious pre-stones glow in the soft tungsten light but are a barrier between me and the ultimate objects of my fantasy.
A hand upon my shoulder. The shopkeeper is knelt by my side.
‘And what are we looking for today, Sir?‘ I hear the smile in his voice and breathing in partake his prickly dark perfume, that now, in age, I know to have been patchouli.
‘He wants a fiddle!’ my mother laughs, gently mocking my absent grandfather’s turn of phrase and, unintentionally, her own innocence.
The next minutes, maybe ten, maybe twenty, forty an hour even, pass by as if a single moment. A symphony of sincere salesmanship and the faltering first steps of an eager nascent connoisseur.
The deal is done before the negotiations have even begun. I turn around with a flourish and hold the instrument first aloft then tight to my chest.
My mother is at the counter, sipping coffee with the ‘&Co.’ owner who has emerged , from the secrets of the backroom beyond.
Even my child”s eyes see he is young and handsome, all dishevelled in a cloud of incense and what I’ll learn at college is cannabis smoke.
He calls me over, winking above my head at his long haired lover.
He hands me a mug, this one has Mozart on and is filled with milk and honey.
He smiles and reveals from behind his back a conjurer’s clenched fist.
He turns and unravels it to reveal a white chocolate mouse and raises his eyebrows in silent invitation.
I look up and my mother nods happy consent.
I taste the creamed vanilla in the air before the morsel arrives in my mouth.
Then another fist appears.
It unwraps itself and unveils a second sweet rodent.
With aplomb and a tiny splash that sounds ‘plop’ it drops into my drink.
I wait for it to sink and melt before I take a swig.
I sit and drink and smell, small and observant.
Three Magi, first with warm musky felt, then fuchsia tissue and finally waxed brown paper wrap my new musical joy.
A freshly minted case must wait for another winter.
Drawing up ready for our departure I inflate my lungs and fill them with the last breaths of the owners’ and the store’s aromas.
The door opens with the same tuneful peel. My brown paper package in hand I ache anxiously for Christmas morning so that I may open my prize and play this scented song again.
I feel no cold, no rain, though the weather has not changed.
Chanel’s Coromandel is as melodious and soft as sweet music.
A swift and citrus allegro opening of orange and neroli quickly negotiates into a second movement mostly played andante.
Here sweeping string section notes of vanilla, benzoin and incense are prevented from becoming sickly by brief interludes of a pizzicato patchouli, an accord that will eventually form part of a darkly honeyed harmony.
And whilst in dry down this smells more of imaginary bitter white hot chocolate than anything else, the quality of the ingredients, a strong backbone of hardwood and the skill of the their blending ensures that this is more refined music emporium than corner shop or candy store.
Two parts gourmand, three resin, tree and herb this is a nostalgic, near-edible memory made scent.
Yes, something of a white chocolate madeleine moment.
Wearable? Oh yes. On high days and holidays to make up for a warmth the weather lacks and when in the mood to remember.
The Perfumed Dandy.