The idea of picking up and moving to a new place has always seemed exciting to me. I was attracted by the idea of meeting new people, learning a new language, and cooking new foods. So, when it became obvious that my husband’s Belgian project is likely to turn into a permanent one, I fully supported his decision to accept it. The first few weeks of our stay in Belgium were a whirlwind romance, when every single quirk seemed charming and every new discovery a minor epiphany.
My vie en rose started to color grey the first moment I set foot inside the city hall that smelled of dust and desperation. It suddenly became obvious to me that I’m not going back to the States at the end of the week and that this is not a vacation. As my list of things to do grew, everything became tougher. I didn’t know the rules. I missed the obvious social cues. A simple shopping trip felt like a nerve wracking oral exam in foreign language. One morning I felt so tired of everything that I just curled up under the blanket with hot tears rolling down my cheeks.
Anyone who has moved to a new place knows how hard these adjustments can be. I desperately missed my mom, my friends and my old way of life. Without having yet figured out the way things were done here, I felt very much out of my element. But I had to pull myself together. If I felt awkward and out of place, then I had to find small pleasures to comfort me while I got my bearings. Someone else might have poured themselves a drink, but I reached for another type of alcoholic substance–perfume.
All of us encounter situations when we feel sad or vulnerable, or when the stress wears us down both physically and emotionally. Seeking solace through simple pleasures can be one of the most effective cures. My mother always said, if you feel sad, go wash your hair. The mere act of lathering up your hair with a deliciously scented shampoo, the gentle warmth of water on your neck and the whir of a blow drier is pleasant. Not only do you take your mind off whatever might have been bothering you–if only momentarily, you look and feel better.
This may sound very trivial, but for me scents have always been the best therapy possible, and I mean scents in all forms, from perfume to food. Beauty, like nothing else, has an ability to electrify and inspire, and scents are the most portable form of it. As Guerlain Shalimar unfolds on my skin in layers of peppery bergamot, velvety amber and smoky vanilla, it feels so startlingly beautiful that my stress becomes less poignant. When I smell the hot sweetness of rosewater and the smoky leather of saffron as I cook my aunt’s rice pilaf with apricots, their vibrancy gives my world a brighter tone. Taking a shower with my favorite rose scented soap from Roger & Gallet turns a routine task into a special ritual. Out of all the senses, the sense of smell is the most neglected, but as I discovered, it plays a crucial role in curing the blues.
My favorite anti-stress fragrances are the perfume equivalents of Tolstoy’s War and Peace–complex and intricate blends that change dramatically throughout the day and keep me guessing about what happens next. I love reaching the part in Chanel No 22 when the pale incense ashes begin to color the white jasmine and rose petals. This happens in the late drydown, and the anticipation of this flourish is exciting. I enjoy waiting for the tendrils of ivy to spill out of the heart of exquisite Jacomo Silences. The unparalleled glamour of Amouage Gold lends me more confidence.
The other comforting fragrances in my collection are the ones that have a warm, enveloping drydown of sandalwood, roasted almonds or smoky vanilla. Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore is deliciously rich, while its hint of roasted cumin gives it a surprising savory edge. Etat Libre d’Orange Like This, a vignette of almonds drenched in absinthe, is another favorite indulgence. Thanks to an earthy layer of vetiver it doesn’t come across as edible, but it’s addictive nevertheless. For many people vanilla is the ultimate comfort in the bottle, and I enjoy its charming simplicity in Prada Candy. For a more adult vanilla, I prefer L’Artisan Vanille Absolument, a leathery vanilla bean cured over incense smoke.
Perfume may not make me instantly adjust to the beautiful and quirky place that is Belgium. It won’t make my French perfect, and alas, it won’t convince the city of Brussels to grant me my residence permit more quickly. But it sure does add a dose of beauty to my daily life and alleviates my anxieties. I wear my beloved by Kilian Sweet Redemption as a smoky orange blossom shield against city hall. Wrapped in Chanel No 19–one of the most elegant and polished fragrances out there–I don’t feel the sting of embarrassment quite the same way when I just pronounced “canard” as “connard”, thus effectively asking my puzzled butcher for a jerk instead of a duck. Simple pleasures can go a long way to smooth out the daily snags. An old French saying reminds us of this–small joys make for the greatest happiness.
Do you have your favorite ways to cure the blues? What perfume is your favorite mood lifter?
Photography by Bois de Jasmin