I was cooking dinner on New Year's Eve. I was making a risotto, one that I've done countless times before, to the extent that it has become almost automatic to me. The process of gently sweating finely chopped garlic, onion, celery and some herbs in a little olive oil. Then adding the rice and when it is ever so slightly translucent, adding a glass of vermouth to bubble away and reduce. Then I add ladlefuls of chicken stock mixed with the water of reconstituted porcini mushrooms, bit by bit, until the rice is cooked, creamy but still al dente. Finally, I add some fried-off mushrooms and pancetta, and finish with a generous knob of butter and a large handful of grated parmesan cheese.
What struck me most about the preparation of this relatively simple meal was not the wonderful and comforting smells emanating as I went along, but rather the colour of the bottom of my Le Creuset pot. This may seem a little strange, and in a way it felt strange, but after using this pot for about seven years now, I've never stopped to look inside it, at least not in a meaningful way. It's not beautiful by any means. In fact, the enamel has worn away to reveal a stained, brownish cast iron surface that is blemished and scratched. Someone who didn't know better might even look at it and tut tut remorsefully, saying: "Michael, such an expensive pan, and you haven't even looked after it properly." Well, on reflection, this pan bottom to me is like the lined and creased skin of a man or woman that has really lived, and has the tales to tell, full of character and feeling. And indeed, we have cooked countless wonderful meals in this very pot. I can still remember and smell some of these today. I can't forget the aromatic curry, cooked from scratch, from dry-frying the spices whole to frying onions, garlic and chili paste. Or what about the lamb shank stew, cooked with tomatoes, onions and carrots on a low heat in the oven for about four hours, until the meat falls off the chunky bones to meld with the unctuous sauce beneath, served with creamy mashed potatoes? I could go on and on.
So what has this to do with perfume? Well, if I'm being honest, very little, but I wanted to share this relatively banal story because it goes to show that fragrance is so much more than just perfume, wonderful as it is. Just looking at an ordinary and mundane cooking pot brought back a flood of memories of good food, shared with my family and other wonderful people over the years, and all the smells that go with such ordinary day-to-day events.
After thinking about food and its associated fragrance memories, I starting thinking about perfume bottles, and whether looking at them might evoke similar memories and emotions. I have to admit that I don't own a lot of full bottles of perfume, much as I would like to, so bottles haven't featured extensively in my consciousness. I do know of course that there are some very expensive, rare and highly sought after perfume bottles, and that bottle collecting is a major hobby in its own right. I confess to loving looking at pictures of vintage or rare perfume bottles and I do enjoy many of the Guerlain bottles in particular. When I was younger I never kept any of my bottles once the juice was finished. I just used to throw them away. Now however, I am certain I will keep what bottles I have once they are used up.
I can imagine rummaging through a cupboard in a couple of decades time, only to open an old box containing some old bottles. The contents will be long gone, but in a corner of the clear glass, and around the spray nozzle will be some amber, concentrated remnants of the perfume, which when held to my nose, will hopefully whisper some of my perfume tales from yesteryear.