Occasionally I come across articles mentioning “roses from Syria” as “a precious” ingredient in perfumes. One of the pieces even appeared in a newspaper that runs daily reports on the war in Syria. But real world events don’t enter into the fantasy bubble of beauty writing, with absurd and morbid results. We’re conditioned to think of perfume as something so rarefied and intangible that for all we know angels pick the flowers and blend essences in their celestial realms. The thought that a country, which has been at war for five years, might have difficulty growing roses doesn’t cloud the writers’ imaginations.
Until the war, which started in 2011, Syria produced 80 tonnes of roses, some of which were distilled on site and some exported to be processed in Europe. Syria wasn’t as large a producer as Turkey, Bulgaria or Morocco, but its roses had a delicious raspberry nuance. The last commercial sample I was able to get in 2011 still smells of sun warmed fruit and spicy honey. Damascus and the other rose growing provinces have suffered tremendously during the war, especially the area held by the revolutionary army and targeted in the heavy bombing campaigns by the Syrian regime. People have fled from the fighting, leaving plantation owners with few work hands and resources. As a one-time distiller told a reporter of The Express Tribune, “Today there are barely 250 grams (half a pound) of oil available to buy in the whole market.” What are the chances that it makes its way into a perfume produced by a luxury brand?