love smells. And textures, and colors, and tastes, but above all, smells.
Whenever I arrive in Italy, I visit a farmacia or a profumeria or, in Rome, La Rinascente, everyone’s favorite department store. There I survey the vast array of creams, hand lotions, soaps and cosmetics that have seduced women for eons, and eventually, I find the one that begins my trip: a cream I used a few years back whose smell conjures up lovely apricot light falling across a pink and white striped linen sofa inside our wisteria-covered villa . It also reminds me of a truffle outing on which we splurged for an enormous tuber that lasted through fettuccine, risotto, a salad, and scrambled eggs, and perfumed our villa for several weeks after.
I am thrilled when I unwrap my Rome soap, Cologne, from its lovely lemon-yellow paper, and a waft of citrus nudges me off on little mental trips to luxurious baths in various hotels; the lovely old Beau Rivage on Lake Geneva; a contessa’s villa made into a pensione in Siena, even a Jolly Hotel where we were stranded in a downpour on a night when every bed in Florence was filled with designers or fashion convention-goers. I remember that, after a long, exhausting drive in sheets of rain from Milan to Florence, we thanked all gods for the last room in a Jolly and took our stressed selves up to a very acceptable room with a bathtub that could hold four. We soaked away our fatigue, then sat in cozy robes in front of the TV with two cockle-warming scotches watching the Armani show in front row seats. That welcoming Jolly took up a sweet corner in my travel memories forever.
Another of my loves is any terme (hot spring), anywhere, anytime. A particular herbal shampoo I can find only in Europe promises to enhance my chestnut locks with golden streaks (it never does, but I love the smell of this old friend). What it does do is take me back to the falls at Saturnia and a golden day of exploration and picnics with my husband and stepchildren. After the shock at discovering an Eden in the wilds of Tuscany but close to our summer rental, we submerged ourselves in warm, silky falls and soaked until we were leaden with sulfuric, healing waters purported to cure everything from warts to broken hearts. I am all for healing, but if you have had sulfur in your hair for more than 15 minutes, you’ll know why one might choose rosemary and chamomile over rotten eggs as soon as possible after the soak!
I am an adventuresome sort, but not with my perfume. I have worn what first attracted me as my mother bent over to kiss me goodnight on her way to some evening affair. Her fur stole tickled my face and a subtle scent of carnations put me softly to sleep as she tiptoed out of my room. I wear only Bellodgia (provided during the year by a husband who has a sixth sense for when a bottle runs dry), a scent that suits me perfectly and the only one I know of that makes men who are total strangers rub up against me in elevators and evokes comments from everyone from my UPS delivery man to very small children.
And yet … in Europe, in La Rinascente in Rome, or in Galeries Lafayette or Printemps in Paris, or Marks and Spencer in London, I step out of myself and become someone completely different, if only for a squirt or two. Beautiful young women sidle up subtly and spray me with scents calculated to “stick” instead of wearing off gradually as the old perfumes do.
I tolerate these new assaults to my contented Bellodgia-soaked self only because it makes me feel so exotic to smell like someone else. I can walk around imagining the person who might wear these wild and potent fragrances: Am I a teenager getting spritzed for a date? A femme fatale about to seduce someone’s unsuspecting husband? A Bridget Jones longing for a mate?
Eventually, because in my heart I only want to be me, I scrub off my “loan” (not an easy job; these new perfumes are as tenacious as a gossip-monger wearing Giorgio at a Hollywood bash) and dab my beloved Bellodgia and settle back into myself. Still, those tiny gift phials the hopeful salesperson dropped into my bag of purchases will remind me of my voyage into other worlds, other lives. I tuck them away with my empty little jar of cream, my soap wrapper and the empty shampoo bottle for when I want to go wandering again.