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A Stench By Any Other Stench Stinks The Same

By LC Van Savage

Mongo and I watched a strange, terrible film recently called ďPerfume.Ē It was horrifying, and yet so bizarre and well done we couldnít stop watching. Costumes, sets, language, it was lavish, gritty, squalid, terrifying, unforgettable, gruesome and appalling. We rented it twice.

That film made me start to think about perfume, the scents I love when theyíre faint and far away. But alas, there are those folks who love to saturate themselves in scent so thoroughly you can tell theyíre coming down a long hall well before theyíve turned the corner. I guess those people think itís cool to be identified with some sort of perfumie stench, thinking theyíll never be forgotten and that every time someone smells that smell, theyíll think of the wearer. Happens this is true. Smells bring back memories better than any other sense. These same over-odored people also must think itís cool that when they walk out of a room they leave behind a great thick nebula of their personal redolence floating about in the air like a bloated sea creature that just wonít go away.

This whole perfume thing gives me horrific headaches. I get one when I walk into or even just past a store that sells candles. I get a thumping headache when Iím in an elevator and some woman or man has poured some Eau de Crapola onto their clothes and hands and hair to ďgive pleasure to my fellow humansĒ apparently not noticing that when the elevator stops, many of the riders burst out of the doors and rush, gagging, to the nearest restrooms.

Why was perfume invented? Perhaps because long ago deodorants didnít exist, bathing was considered unhealthy and filth was revered, so having a jug of perfume somewhere around to splash onto oneís self for special occasions, like sacrifices, weddings, funerals, burnings and carnivals perhaps helped the human race to progenerate. Letís face it; olfactory nerves can only be deadened to a point.

Perfume was first used by priests back around 6K BC in either the Middle or the Far East. It was originally incense. Guess how they used to get the scent of the incense to the worshippers? Yep, you got it; it was carried on the smoke of a sacrificial animalís burning carcass. Euw.

Then later on ancient manís animal carcasses had to be offered to the gods, so perfumes were sprinkled on it to sort of keep the odor down while they prepared to burn it. They also prayed it would mask the stench that only the burning of a very large, dead animal can create. (They figured the gods would far more like perfume rising than a large dead animal rising.) And then, as Iíll bet you figured out already, the odors of myrrh, frankincense, cassia and spikenard themselves became the sacrifice, leaving countless animals greatly relieved. Then people became kind of sick of those odors too, got creative and began to invent lighter and greater smelling concoctions made of fruits and flowers, until after some more time Egyptians and Sumerians were bathing themselves daily in honeysuckle, jasmine and iris. And those were the men.

The women put a different scent on each part of their bodies but my research doesnít say which parts so use your imagination. But there are some records still extant telling us that Ms. Cleopatra drenched her feet with a lotion made out of oil, honey, cinnamon, orange blossoms and tinting henna, and her hands with oil of roses, violets and crocus. Now that lady knew how to make an entrance. The asp must have loved his job.

And then the cosmetics. Iíve read that Greek men didnít want to put stuff on their faces preferring to look completely natural, but they swam in perfumes, one for soaking their hair, another for their skin, more for their clothing and a final one, they liked to scent their wine. Why did they do that? Doesnít wine kind of always come with a scent? Maybe not.

Nero. Remember Nero? He dropped a huge wad of cash on scents, mostly rose water, but he also loved rose oil, and he kept rose petals for himself and to give away to special guests. He even doused his mules with rose water, which when you think about it probably wasnít such a bad idea.

Eventually the Catholic church stepped in and tried to stop all this good smelling stuff because they decided perfumes were all connected to, or perhaps invented by the devil, decadent and sinful, inspiring acts of wild debauchery. Eventually they even condemned the use of personal perfumes amongst Christians. Talk about your killjoys.

And then things began to really move along smartly in the world of perfumes. Ladies and gents, want to know where many of your favorite scents begin? You probably donít, so get ready. From animal secretions! Bet you didnít see that one coming. One was and still is called musk which came from a certain tiny deer appropriately called the Musk Deer, from western China. How did they get the musk you ask? After killing the poor little critter, the sac in the front of his belly is cut out or off or whatever, dried out and hauled off to perfumers. Now thatís just plain wrong.

But wait. Thereís more. Ambergris! When I was a kid, we called it ďwhale pukeĒ and in fact thatís sort of what it is. Itís a waxy gunk the sperm whale casts off and I have no idea how and really donít care to. I guess it ends up on beaches somewhere. Itís pretty valuable, so if you find yourself with a few nuggets of whale barf, donít be too hasty. Itíll fetch a good price, that is if you can find a place that buys sperm whale spew. Google it.

Want another? Civet goo. Yes the lovely civet cat from Africa, India and other sunny climes, secretes yet another kind of waxy glop that has one horrendously terrible stench to it, probably like todayís tom-cats, and is taken from captive cats twice a week. Now letís think about this. I mean how much do these guys get paid to do that nasty job? I think between the stink and the vicious slashing delivered from reluctant civets has to make it not one of the more popular ways to make a buck, so I suspect the pay must be very good. Or it should be.

And another; castor. Yes, just as you suspected, this is harvested from Russian and Canadian beavers. Who knew? But it seems that someone somewhere in the way-back mists of time took all these substances and combined them (minutely I reckon) with beautiful perfumey scents and it all worked somehow. Tons and tons and tons of flowers mixed with miniscule drops of these nasty goos stolen from innocent animals will only make about an ounce of perfume.

Perfumeís OK to make us smell good, but a daily shower is probably a lot easier and cheaper for sure. And best of all, you donít have to clip any sacs of grossness from an innocent animal not in the least interested in being a perfume base donor.

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