Some impressions of a city that impressed us much more than we could have expected.
Important and self-important all at once, fitted out in wall to wall marble punctuated by red velvet ropes and heavy curtains.
A Capitol and Capital of Imperial Proportions, like a vast movie set Rome in elongated letterbox Cinemascope: inflated and stretched almost to the horizon and absurdity.
And yet, and yet at once quite profoundly beautiful, marked out everywhere by memorials for lost souls and past presidents.
And the Art so much of it and all around and so very, very good…
1. The Hotel
The place is vast, as American hotels seem to be.
The lobby long enough to accommodate a golf range if so chose it.
Apparently the Inauguration Ball for newly sworn in Presidents is held here. They must do something right as two have chosen to stay while their own abode was being fixed up.
The fixtures here are something very special, harking back to an age in which gold leaf was elegant rather than merely gauche.
That peculiar rams head motif on each side of the patriarch’s broad face reminds us how much like rutting goats politicians are: so obstinate and unnecessarily aggressive, and with invariably voracious appetites (for food, for fame, for fornication) .
I reflect on the neo-classical surroundings, the pomp, the powerful people who have been here, their presidential or even imperial ambitions and can think of only one perfume…
Van Cleef and Arpels Tsar.
I wonder if anyone wears this egocentric aromatic fougere extraordinaire any more?
Then a thought occurs: if… when a woman occupies The White House, as anything other than a First Lady, will she be allowed to break perfume rules as well as glass ceilings?
Could she where a fougere herself?
Tauer Perfumes 04 Reverie au Jardin?
Its creamy coniferousness, its resinous, iris and lavender could usher in an entirely new type of perfumed executive power.
2. That House
Of course the place is terribly grand.
But not ostentatiously so.
It’s nothing that could outshine the megalomaniac follies of the magnates who made their fortunes on the vast continent in the nineteenth and America’s century, the twentieth.
Just modest enough, in fact, to remind the inhabitant that the Commander in Chief is ultimately meant to be a servant and not master of the people.
So the President may not have anything approaching absolute power, but he is still allowed his toys.
The whirring of helicopters the whole time in Washington bears testament to this.
On this occasion at least, so the policewoman told me, it was The Man.
Creating a whirlwind off to visit the victims of a real storm in Oklahoma.
Helicopters, an infrequent sight in London save for the military and police, are synonymous in my mind with war.
With war in Vietnam in particular.
The cinema that retells that conflict has fixed this association.
Helicopters, ‘Apocalypse’ and Wagner.
Strangely, I begin to ponder whether there was a perfume like Worth’s Je Reviens that sweethearts wore to remember their far away soldiers in the sixties and seventies. Or a scent like Shalimar by Guerlain than men brought back as a gift.
Then I reflect that there were no couture houses in Saigon, no Chanel or Guerlain boutiques in Hanoi.
Perhaps the perfume the women left back home wore depended more on their political persuasion than fashion.
Jane Fonda and protesters in patchouli oil smelling as rough and ready as le labo’s 24.
Marine wives holding it together in Avon, or No.5.
A decade later it would have been easy, Estee Lauder’s White Linen.
3. Angels in Leather
The hum of choppers comes and goes, but the first part of Memorial Weekend is accompanied by the constant roar of engines.
Harleys mainly, but other American motorcycles too.
Men, who when they were considered or were counter cultural, were called Hell’s Angels have descended on the Capital.
From across the Continent they have come on thousand mile sponsored rides to remember the POWs and MIAs as their banners, fluttering along side stars and stripes, proclaim.
The machines all around smell of petrol and polish, of gasoline and grime-defying sheen.
The men, almost invariably men, that drive them smell of gas, and sweat and unusually of sweet fruity sodas they drink all day through straws from the enormous buckets of sugary liquid they carry around with them.
Only one scent comes to mind.
That of the first mechanised war.
The perfume of petrol and peaches that is The Great Fragrance of the end of The Great War.
The war that was supposed to end all wars but didn’t.
The faded photographs and photocopies of lost brothers, friends and perhaps lovers show that.
All attached with sellotape and tender care to mudguards and windshields of shining machines.
The unmistakable smell of Mitsouko is in my nose and on my mind as we turn and walk towards The National Mall and the formal memorials…
The Perfumed Dandy.