(This courtyard at the Riad Dar Saad in Marrakech, is no doubt similar to Yasmin’s and Walad’s)
Twenty-seven of the orientals, almost half of the 65 I have, contain the classic accord: bergamot, jasmine, amber, musk, vanilla. All but three also contain woods. Instead of starting there, I want to jump to the magnificent powerhouse orientals — ones that contain not only woods and the classic accord, but other florals, other resins, spice. These grand symphonic perfumes are so redolent, they could properly be called narcotic. I’ve actually daydreamed of finding the time to slowly compare them.
Walad has dreamed, too. He will use these perfumes in what may well become the most important task of his life — creating an heir. For days he has prepared. Now he wakes next to Yasmin and lies gazing at her until she opens her eyes. She smiles and says good morning. He replies, “Good morning, My Darling. I have planned wonderful days for you, today and tomorrow.” Her maid, Diba enters the room and Yasmin looks surprised. Diba doesn’t usually attend her in the morning anymore, because she is six months’ pregnant with Fizur’s child. Fizur is Walad’s faithful guard. He proposed to Diba, and she accepted, when they all returned from Cyprus almost seven months ago. Apparently, Fizur had only to glance at Diba and she was with child. Walad and Yasmin haven’t been so lucky. Diba sets down a tray of perfumes. Behind her, a servant enters with pomegranates.
“These are glorious perfumes,” Walad says. “He rises from bed. I will leave you until the clock strikes tomorrow. Will you wait for my signal to try them? Will you eat only the fruit Diba supplies, drink only water?” Yasmin sits up, looking uncertain. “But why, Walad?” He touches her cheek then beckons for Diba to come attend her mistress. Yasmin feels chastened by Diba’s pregnant stomach. Walad dons his robes. “I wish to take you on a journey. The destination is assured if you will but follow with your whole heart.” Yasmin frowns. “Trust me, Yasmin,” he says then adds uncertainly, “Do you trust me?” Her doubt vanishes before the man who offered her marriage or freedom, as she chose. “Yes, Walad, with my life.”
He nods and leaves the room. Yasmin bathes in her courtyard pool and soon learns she is to have no visitors when Diba leaves her, read no books, hear no music. She is to spend the day in solitude and prayer, fasting but for the sweet pomegranates left for her, drinking no wine. Fizur has placed a guard at the door to keep others away, even Yasmin’s parents. They live at the palace, now, in their own apartment. Walad ordered it to ensure his bride’s happiness. Daily she sees them, but not today or tomorrow she is told.
By midnight she has grown accustomed to her sweet solitude. In it she hears not just the birds but the thrum of insects, the lapping of the river beyond her courtyard wall, the animals that swim there or come to drink. In the throbbing silence she sleeps, wakes, sleeps, faint hunger making her feel light as the wind in the palm trees.
Suddenly beyond her gauzy curtains, she senses movement in the courtyard. Lanterns light. Now Walad is beside her, holding a bottle of perfume. He sits with her and in the courtyard she sees the silhouettes of men and women begin a silent, shadowy dance.Calvin Klein
Top Notes: Basil, Bergamot, Green notes, Mandarin, Peach, Vanilla
Heart Notes: Exotic spices, Jasmine, Coriander, Orange blossom, Rose, Sandalwood, Cedar
Base Notes: Amber, Oakmoss, Musk, Vanilla, Vetiver, Frankincense, Civet
Yasmin sniffs. “Everything is in this.” Walad replies, “Yes, and you are everything to me. You are my obsession, Yasmin.” They hold hands and watch the dancers whose fluid movements mesmerize. “Amazing that I can smell each of these notes, just like I can see each dancer, yet they create a single powerful performance.” Yasmin wonders why Walad doesn’t try to make love to her. “There is something in this perfume that holds back, Walad, is there not?” He smiles. “Wait.” She does and soon is rewarded. “I don’t have words for this scent, now. The separate notes are gone, as if … as if..” Walad helps her, “As if they made love until they joined?” She nods shyly.Cartier
Panthère de Cartier
Top Notes: Grapefruit, Ginger, Labdanum, Mandarin, Orange blossom, Pepper
Heart Notes: Freesia, Gardenia, Carnation, Heliotrope, Iris, Jasmine, Karo-Karounde, Nutmeg, Narcissus, Tuberose, Vetiver, Ylang-ylang
Base Notes: Amber, Oakmoss, Musk, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Tonka bean, Vanilla, Frankincense, Cedar, Civet
“Oh, Walad,” she cries. “This has even more notes, but I can’t smell them each so easily.” They combine to create a perfume chord, not a single note. The orange blossom is strong and the cistus labdanum, the woods. I smell civet and the musk, yet only if I concentrate. They take me prisoner together. Can there be a more entrancing fragrance? It’s a citrus grove, a flower garden, a forest, all planted together. It is womanhood itself. I do love this one so much, especially the vintage.” Out in the courtyard, thrilling music accompanies the dance.
Bal à Versailles
Top Notes: Bergamot, Jasmine, Cassia, Mandarin, Neroli, Orange blossom, Rose, Rosemary, Lemon
Heart Notes: Lilac, Orris root, Lily-of-the-valley, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Vetiver, Ylang-ylang
Base Notes: Amber, Benzoin, Resins, Musk, Tolu balsam, Vanilla, Cedarwood, Civet
“Can this be even more wonderful? I see why you brought them together, Walad. They are alike in their power and beauty. They contain similar notes. The first reminds me of us when… when we lie as man and wife. The second is sensual, but bright. This one is rapture itself. It has the woods I adore, the resins and musks. I can’t move my nose from my hand. They are all glories, but this one may be the greatest.”
The door opens and a table is laid in the room, covered with fine cloth, lit with candles. A feast arrives, the portions small, but their smell and appearance are as enticing as any banquet at the palace. Yasmin realizes she’s famished. Walad claps his hands and sends the attendants away. He rises, washes his hands in a bowl of orange blossom water. He brings a dish to Yasmin. Then he reaches into a bowl of turmeric, sumac and saffron soup. Yasmin hesitates for only a moment then drinks the musky liquid from his hand. He feeds her fish and fowl, rice and vegetables from his fingertips, touching no part of her but her lips. Hand to mouth, she feeds him, too. They make a happy mess of their clothes. Salvador Dali
Top Notes: Aldehydes, Basil, Bergamot, Fruits, Green notes, Mandarin
Heart Notes: Orris root, Jasmine, Lily, Lily-of-the-valley, Narcissus, Orange blossom, Rose, Tuberose
Base Notes: Amber, Benzoin, Musk, Myrrh, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Cedar
Servants come and bring clean shifts for them to wear. They take the food away and bring sweets, fill beautiful goblets with a fruity Shiraz wine. Walad gives her another perfume.
“Oh, praise Allah,” she cries. “Can this be as potent, as beautiful as the last? Is that possible? Can it be stronger, as sophisticated? Walad, how will ever pick between these? It’s like asking me to choose between gold and emeralds, between diamonds and pearls?” He says, “We should wait for the drydown, but you are covered in saffron and sumac. Laughing, he takes her hand and leads her to the now-empty courtyard. From beyond the walls, two sitars begin a plaintive harmony beneath the moon.
Walad and Yasmin swim next to each other, not speaking, or even touching hands, just sensing the other’s nearness. They get out and at last he touches her, dries her, dries himself, saying nothing, the only messages the love in their eyes. Inside she dons her gossamer shift and he dons his. On her hands and upper arms he lavishes the opened perfumes, placing each far enough from the others to be distinct. “You smell like heaven,” he says. She sniffs them again, sexy Obsession, rich Panthère, incomparable Bal à Versailles, Dali, less loud now than it was.Van Cleef & Arpels
Top Notes: Aldehydes, Bergamot, Raspberry, Mandarin, Peach, Black currant
Heart Notes: Carnation, Hyacinth, Orris root, Jasmine, Lily-of-the-valley, Narcissus, Orchid, Tuberose, Turkish rose, Ylang-ylang
Base Notes: Amber, Oakmoss, Honey, Musk, Sandalwood, Tonka bean, Vanilla, Vetiver, Civet
“Here, try this one,” Walad says. She sniffs then puts some on. “If you gave me any one of these I’d be impressed, Walad. This has many of the same notes, yet I think the oak moss and vetiver stand out, making it more crisp in its lushness, if that’s possible. It’s an amazing perfume. Like the others it will turn heads, close eyes, but it prefers public rooms to the harem."
Walad retrieves the wine. “Before you try the last one, my dearest, take this goblet,” he says. She starts to sip. “Drink it all, my Love. This is our night. Today I had you rest your senses so tonight they could feast—your eyes on the dance and the lanterns, your ears on the music, your nose on these wonderful scents, your tastebuds on delicacies. What remains is touch in its completeness. Praise Allah, you will receive my son or daughter. If not, we must run away from this kingdom of mine and let another have it, for I will never give you up.” Yasmin wonders if he means it, but at the moment she is too much in love to care. She has decided not to share her dream that tragedy will befall them. In their months of marriage, she has never felt like this. Walad’s sweet journey did prepare her. Her heart and body are ready. She prays her womb will not be empty after tonight. Together they down the strong, sweet, spiced wine. Yasmin shakes her head in the sudden dizziness. Swiftly Walad kisses her mouth, taking in her breath, sharing his. With effort he breaks away and brings the final perfume.Yves Saint Laurent
Top Notes: Bergamot, Clove, Jasmine, Coriander, Laurel, Mandarin, Pepper, Plum, Citruses
Heart Notes: Orris root, Lily-of-the-valley, Carnation, Patchouli, Peach, Rose, Sandalwood, Cinnamon
Base Notes: Amber, Benzoin, Coconut, Musk, Myrrh, Opoponax, Sandalwood, Tolu balsam, Vanilla, Vetiver, Frankincense, Cedar, Cistus.
“A spicy beauty is this one,” she murmurs. “Like you,” Walad replies. He takes her to bed, removes her shift, takes the bottle and spreads the scent from her chin to her stomach, makes a line of it down her spine. Then so as not to rush, he cradles her and they lie together, as if they were twins in a womb of rising passion. “This is the spiciest of all, my darling,” he says kissing her back. “You could wear Obsession in our private moments, Panthère during the day when you’re with our parents or your ladies, wear Bal à Versailles to court when emissaries visit, wear Dali when you are alone and there is no one else to smell it because I think it doesn’t project for long, wear First when we are visiting foreign potentates.” He plants another kiss. “And wear Opium when…” Walad stops. To his surprise, Yasmin is snoring. He is oddly sleepy, too, though he expected that neither of them would close their eyes before dawn. Yet, before Walad knows it, he is snoring as well, and does not hear stealthy footsteps or feel Yasmin’s body moving away. We think he was about to say Opium is not only spicier than the rest, but perhaps fruitier and more resinous, but he's asleep.
If he were awake, he would see a stranger in their private quarters, a richly dressed and handsome man, with princely bearing. Walad would see the man lift his sleeping Yasmin and take her to a devan against the wall. From outside, he would hear a familiar voice, that of the Valide Sultan, his mother, whisper through the gauzy curtains,”Remember, Prince Ahmed, your young sister remains with me. To your parents it is an honor. In reality, I give you the chance to fulfill your yearning for Yasmin, but if anyone finds out, if anyone learns you are the father of the child I instruct you to give her, I will feed your sister to the crocodiles with absolute glee!”
Knowing she has done just that before, Prince Ahmed simply nods, unable to take his eyes from Yasmin, whom he has loved since he was a wedding guest at her marriage to Walad. [By the way, this incident helped cement the practice of fully veiling Muslim brides during public portions of their weddings. Unfortunately, Yasmin is Zoroastrian so was free go unveiled.] All Ahmed says is, “They will not wake?” The Valide Sultan replies, “Not tonight or even tomorrow and neither will Fizur, his personal guard. I gave him a goblet, too.” Ahmed removes his jacket (oops, cloak). “If I were a better man, I would not do this, but I am possessed by her. Give me the courtesy of privacy as I take what is not mine.” Prince Ahmed hears the Valide Sultan’s footsteps retiring. Slowly he sits on the devan beside heavenly Yasmin, who must never know what, at long last, he's about to do the rest of the night.