Monday, April 29, 2013

The Comfort of Perfume

The Boston attacks came close to home.  I worked in the Back Bay for many years - it was my daily turf.  The older perp's wife lives in my current town, and the final showdown occured one street over from my grandparent's house, who never would have understood today's world.  We are still in reeling.  Yet I wondered what daily rituals can give us comfort and peace as we carry out our business, as we know we must.

For me, self-care has always helped in times of sorrow:  long soaks, cozy pajamas, time with my knitting needles...and perfume.  Even if my heart isn't into it, as it really hasn't been, I couldn't help but notice the lovely new scent about me one afternoon. The name of the fragrance doesn't matter as much as the way it swarthed me in a delicate warmth as I tried to focus on my job. The watery tuberose sat on the edge of my consciousness as the deeper notes of musky jasmine floated about, reminiscent of a damp greenhouse in winter filled with hot house flowers and the promise of a fresh spring.

As part of my soothing ceremonials, I've been even more liberal with my perfumes, finally trying the generous samples sent to me by a New York boutique.  Those vials gave me a sense of the expectant hope I know will come full-on again soon.  I sprinkled an old favorite on my arms before bed the other night and woke to its fragile remnants - just enough to jumpstart a better mood as I rose for work.  A lily of the valley cologne perked me up on laundry day after I spritzed the linen closet - for just a second I was back in high school, a world far away from terrorist bombs and hate.  Later, when I reached for a clean towel, I went back again and this time the cheery timbre lingered longer.

Perfume's gift is that it takes us on a quick trip to yesterday where happy memories wait to sustain us.  But for real healing, perfume offers us blessed comfort and a prayer for better days ahead.

(Photo Credit: "Maiden in Contemplation," painted by Gaston La Touche)

Friday, April 12, 2013


My daughter and I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art for their wonderful exhibit, "Impressionism, Fashion, & Modernity".  (And by the way, if you visit New York City in early spring, you are nothing without a leopard scarf.) The exhibit is a powerhouse and simply too large to see all at once, so I am contemplating one more trip before it leaves town.

The clothes of course, were lush and beautiful, and the exhibit flowed perfectly between each costume and its accompanying piece of art.  What I especially loved were the quotes I found everywhere about the power and meaning of dress.  One could clearly see that this exhibit was well planned and so inviting that it drew me into the very threads of the dresses.  About half way through, I was convinced I needed a parasol of my own.  That is until I saw the hats, the shoes, the  stiff corsets, and the lingerie.  The co-creator of the exhibit, the Musee d' Orsay, sprinkled its fairy dust everywhere;  in the choice of paintings of Paris boulevards and theaters to the landscapes by favorite French impressionists who focused on the hem and trim of their models' gowns. 

I don't pretend to know art but I gleen more fashion ideas these days from well-done exhibits then I do from any glossy fashion magazine.  I love the way the impressionists loved their women - right down to the buckles on their well-turned heels.  For me, the exhibit made me want to go home and clean my closet and find some poetic touches to add to my everyday wardrobe.  No shopping required.
I had a harrowing day yesterday - and the cacaphony of frustration had me mindlessly keeping a list a negative experiences as a way to reality check that it wasn't me.  I jotted down three in succession:  a co-worker's curt email response to my simple query, a demeaning IT worker who dripped with sarcasm as I described my software problem over the phone, and a friend who misread the tone of my voice and laughed inappropriately. 

Today was different...a dear co-worker hugged me goodbye as she goes off to much greener pastures.  The fact that she is older than I and has found her dream job is immensely inspiring though I will miss her terribly.  And then, at lunch, I was browsing the magazines at the market when I felt a woman at my elbow.  I sensed she wanted to speak, so I let myself smile and turned openly to her. She asked me which magazine I thought her friend, who was in the hospital recovering from a stroke, might like.  "I avoid all the magazines down that end", she said pointing to certain publications with nearly nude celebrities on their covers.  I chuckled and nodded and together we selected a thick and happy shelter magazine with a photograph of a vase of blowsy pink peonies on the cover.  She also picked up the Times and then thanked me.  I wished her friend a speedy recovery and she genially thanked me again.  It was such a sweet civilized moment that come to one's life so infrequently these days.

A co-worker of my daugher's, a pretty young teacher, has been diagnosed with breast cancer.  She will be fine, but this lovely creature is a single mother of two little ones.  The day after her diagnosis she donned her lipstick and new spring coat and attended a teacher's conference just as she had planned.  I find I am asking my daughter about her nearly every day now.  I'm sure she can teach us all something.

So, I've decided to keep a better kind of list.  One of pleasant serendipitous moments with strangers, co-workers I see off to dream nicer dreams, and courageous young mothers named "Joy".

credit: Marguerite Stuber Pearson