The dark slender branches are bent under the weight of the snow, forming an arch over my head. Shielding my face from the large soft snowflakes, I look up at a sky in which the pale disk of the sun drowns in a pearly white haze. My first memory of snow is difficult to trace. I just remember walking to school through snow banks that were twice my height. The snow would sparkle under the street lamps, lighting the early morning darkness, a darkness that would only lift much later in the day. Even now I can wake up in the morning and sense that it is snowing because of the serenity and slumber which seem to take over the world at that particular moment. The only thing one wishes is to make a strong cup of caravan tea, wrap oneself in a blanket and sit next to the cold window watching the snow fall, fall, fall….
The crisp, mineral and slightly ozonic smell of the snow is one of the most important smells that I associate with winter. I have yet to encounter its realistic rendition in fragrance; however, there are a few fragrances that capture the spirit of the winter garden. Frozen branches and soil attain the most unusual scent that folds earthy and woody elements into metallic clarity. Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist is the scent of frozen roots and iced flower petals and has a beautiful chilliness that does not dissipate even after the fragrance dries down. …
Frédéric Malle L’Eau d’Hiver manages to create a cool sensation clinging to the flowers on ice. Lorenzo Villoresi Teint de Neige, on the other hand, is a cloud of powdered sugar and talcum powder, sweet and soft, which is at odds with my associations. Before introducing its soft leathery accord, S-Perfume S-ex is the scent of metal railings covered with snow, wonderfully evocative.
As I enter the living room, the wave of warmth washes over me, its contrast with the coldness still permeating my skin and clothes momentarily depriving me of the ability to notice the smell of fir tree branches and mandarins. The dark orange of Caron En Avion arranged over the amber and incense of its dusky base reminds me of the scents that would pervade our house during the winter holidays. I grew up under a regime that proclaimed its anti-religious stance; therefore, the big holiday of my childhood was not Christmas, but New Year. Most of the traditions practiced in the West during Christmas would apply to New Year in the Soviet Union: the tree, the gift exchanges, the big dinners with family and friends and even a Russian version of Santa Claus, renamed Father Frost, who appeared everywhere with a young Snow Maiden (presumably, his daughter, although other speculations abound). Boxes of oranges and mandarins brought from the market still bore the traces of snow and would become an indelible part of my olfactory winter memories as would the smell of condensed milk heated to make cream filling for various confections and pastries that my grandmother would create. This is all complemented by the aroma of a pork roast stuffed with bay leaf and peppercorns, tiny nut cookies rolled in hot chocolate glaze, boiled potatoes, sweet sparkling wine, dust on the tree ornaments brought in from the attic, starched tablecloths and wood polish.
The gourmand scents have resulted in certain fragrances becoming associated with winter. The first time I smelled Angel, the memories of holiday preparations such as the scents of fir trees and hot chocolate competing with the aroma of sugared fruit preserves rushed on me with intensity. More abstract was Serge Lutens Borneo 1834, hinting at powdered chocolate sprinkled over the Christmas cake. Annick Goutal Quel Amour! brought to life the memory of pink champagne fizzing in a tall slender glass. L’Artisan Tea for Two unraveled a string of recollections as protracted tea drinking is a beloved pastime during the winter months. The unique dryness of Caron Nuit de Noël conjured a vision of roses set in a room heated with a crackling fireplace. Serge Lutens Fumerie Turque revealed a vignette of the same room after the celebrations, with the cognac glasses still bearing traces of liquor forgotten on the mantle. The smell of the traditional Russian holiday dish, Olivie, a medley of boiled potatoes, carrots, eggs and pickled cucumbers is not something I have encountered in perfume yet, but perhaps this could be a new idea for Demeter.
However, even the official banning of religion in the former Soviet Union did not displace the traditional celebration of Christmas completely, and I remember the sweet smell of ladan, frankincense and myrrh mingling with the scents of wine and wheat bread during the church services on January 6th, the Orthodox Christmas Eve. L’Artisan Poivre Piquant possesses the nutty sweetness of poppy seeds soaking in warm milk about to be ground with walnuts for a delectable filling that is folded into the sweet yeast dough of a poppy seed roll, a classical Ukrainian holiday cake predating the Soviet era. Donna Karan Black Cashmere beautifully evokes the sweetness of the Orthodox church ladan clinging to one’s clothes after returning from midnight mass.
Yet, having traveled extensively, I have added other olfactory memories of winter to my collection. The Italian memories include the smells of resinous Catholic church incense, fresh fennel served with balsamic vinegar, Roman prune and walnut cookies, and crema montata, the Venetian winter specialty of whipped cream served with vanilla wafers. Among other recollections are the lactonic and warm scent of cheese shops in France and the fragrance of coffee, cardamom and rose water in Turkey. Keiko Mecheri Gourmandises unfolds like a paper wrap bearing morsels of rose scented rahat lokum, its sweetness complementing the medicinal richness of saffron lacing its voluptuous heart. Antica Farmacista Vaniglia, Bourbon & Mandarino di Sicilia smells like an Italian pastry shop, its citrus scented vanilla embracing the richness of rum soaked cakes. Jean Patou Sublime captures the vivid sunshine that is not made less vibrant by the chill in the air, and its warm orange and amber is between a gold leaf and a silk wrap, radiant and sumptuous. Serge Lutens La Myrrhe manages to awaken memories of exploring churches in Bologna on cold December mornings and being mesmerized by the play of light dripping on the grey stones through stained glass windows.
For a number of years after moving to the United States, I have spent Christmas with my Korean friends, and the pungent smell of kimchi, smoky fish, salty seaweed and the sweet, mushroomy aroma of soy sauce based dishes would become a part of my recollections. Moving away from home I at once longed for big dinner parties and traditions of sorts and abhorred the inevitability and obligation associated with the holidays. Yet, I only need to catch a whiff of Iunx No. 7 Eau Latine, with its tangerine peel, flesh and leaves melding into a crisp and icy fragrance, and I already crave the bustle of the holidays and the madness of last minute dinner preparations.
Photos (top to bottom): Winter Forest from sao.ru. Venice in Winter.