In electric December twilight beneath thousands of Paris’s lamps the lovers’ locks on the Pont des Arts shimmer and gleam.
A hardware hoard of brass and steel is transformed by romance and the season’s illuminations into a sea of gold and silver: a jewelled arc across the river.
A block or two removed from the Seine, just far enough for peace from the avid advent bustle of tourists on the Pont Neuf, upstream of the dock for the bateaux mouches carrying their endless tide of visitors through the City of Lights, the petite maison du the on Rue du Pont de Lodi, nestles in its quiet street.
Behind the imperial purple door, bearing a fresh wreath for Christmas, new owners are fashioning what they fancy is a fragment of the Far East on the fringes of the fifth arrondisment.
They have added orange blossom oolong tea to the carte of regular tisanes.
Its sweet, floral citrus reaches up a welcome upon your entry.
You settle into newly lowered-chairs. Their dusty, musky, furniture polished faux second empire frames strewn with raw silk cushions and lit by reproduction Tiffany lamps and chintz-shaded 40 watt bulbs.
You look up at the once-low counter and peering beyond spot an unknown object: alongside the old steaming urns and a bedsit stove topped with milk pans, there is an oil burner.
A porcelain contraption that gives no heat, and exists solely for scent.
You imagine, for you cannot see, a small slurp of viscous liquid hanging in a china crater above the solitary night light that seeks to slowly diminish it and diffuse the aroma into the air.
A pool of ever-reducing resinous residue.
A slick of fragrance added after fragrance until no note is left distinguishable from the whole warm and comforting confusion.
There is vanilla certainly, and amber, some sandalwood and something, well, distinctly animal.
Though on reflection, that might be the ancient cat adopted by the ancien regime that has outstayed the old owners and sits perched atop the out of tune upright piano.
A bunch of haphazard flowers are squeezed onto the instrument too, and seem to shade our feline friend like a tiny floral palm tree – a few roses amongst carnations and the very odd orchid – on his Parisian indoor desert island.
You come to order and think to try the oolong tea, then, discovering that deserts have similarly gone East, resist and instead hold onto the past with a generous boule of hot chocolate, which serves to warm your hands and heart.
The chocolat chaud goes down easily, especially when the waitress offers to add a Cointreau as a token of their affection for returning customers and to mark the time of year.
With satisfaction you find the only tampering inflicted on the peach flan to make it oriental has been a heavy pinch of cinnamon added to the custard supporting the fruit.
Who can argue with such an addition so close to the Noel?
The cat, Albert, jumps onto the stained piano keys, his paws yielding a major chord as he pauses before making his way over to you and placing himself aloofly in your lap.
His manner says ‘I’m doing you a favour’ a moment later his rough tongue licks the excess spiced crème anglaise from your fingers as his powder puff body quivers with a purr.
The maison du the on the Rue du Pont de Lodi is not quite what it was.
Christmas even here these days comes a little bit made in China.
Even so, dimly lit and quiet, with its slightly narcotic smell it is a haven this hallowed season from which to watch the festive world go by.
The quietest and in some ways most reserved of the balmy orientals of the 1970s and 80s, Must de Cartier is unlikely ever to offend.
It is an exercise in good manners.
Where others scream and seek to shock or pass themselves off as the real Far Eastern deal, Must seems happy with itself, comfortable with the notion that it is an allusion to the orient and not the actual thing.
After a surprisingly bright opening orange and bergamot flourish, aided by aldehydes, the perfume settles down into familiar territory of amber, sandalwood and vanilla, with a distinctly resinous quality to the heart, though the galbanum here is decidedly not green.
Equally, though there is musk, those fearing powder should be calm as it is kept at bay with some fine handbag leather and civet.
Finally, floral notes are distinctly muted in a drydown that sees this become as much a next to the skin scent as something so spicy can become.
Some will undoubtedly find the fragrance too sweet and muddled, but the drydown is so subtle that any over sugaring and note mixing mellow gently into a pleasant ambient perfume.
Must de Cartier is every inch a comfortable, if eccentric, teashop sort of scent.
A subtle choice for a special occasion or spoiling yourself because you can.
As I alluded to yesterday, I find both Musts de Cartier interchangeable and their designations as homme and non-homme quite superfluous.
Who doesn’t like hanging out in slightly off the wall tea houses?
The Perfumed Dandy.