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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Gardenia in Perfumery
By: Arcadi Boix Camps, Auram Art & Perfume
Posted: March 30, 2009
Contact the author here.
A note from the editor: These writings correspond to Arcadi Boix Camps’ recent monographs “Gardenia in Perfumery” and “Technical and Philosophical Notes on the Perfumery Creative Process.”1,2
In the early 1970s, after having completed my university studies in the south of France and having attended the Roure Bertrand Dupond’s school of perfumers directed by my friend Marcel Carles, I moved to Geneva and joined Firmenich. I worked on the fifth floor of the tower located in Route de l’Aire and had the joy of working with great colleagues I will never forget. Arturo Jordi Pey and Paul Leget worked at the fourth floor; on the fifth floor, my neighbor was Philippe Sauvegrain; Michel Lambert worked nearby, as did Francis Fabron who became my chief; Roger Pellegrino was also there. I rented a lovely apartment at Avenue de Miremont 15 with an internal court fully gardened court that could be seen from a wall of glass that connected my apartment to the garden. Unfortunately, there were no scented flowers there—merely decoration. I purchased an Alfa Romeo 1750 Spider Veloce. I was 20, living with my extremely beautiful US girlfriend, Karen. She was 20 as well and had recently graduated with a degree in philosophy in California. We were very happy living together in a new period of our lives, which promised to be long, creative and fruitful. Geneva was elegant, beautifully developed and clean. We were living in a great time full of hopes, dreams and illusions as I started a promising career at the best company in the world.
I knew little more than love stories, reveries, dreams of poets, a bit of perfumery, but nothing else. To learn from perfumers that were almost at the end of their careers, like Jordi Pey, Leget or Fabron was a dream made true. Some of them became very good friends, but soon I detected something quite distressing and realized that these men—cultured, wise, sensitive, creative, devoted, sincere, honest, technically able and loving perfumery above all—were not happy. I wondered every day was this just the reality of the perfumer’s team in Firmenich or it was a wider social reality?
Our meetings were very often full of melancholy. Jordi Pey told me many times, in Catalan, how much he missed the sunny breezes of his Argentona, a town few kilometres away from where I live now, Cabrils. Fabron, Leget and Pellegrino missed their Mediterranean Grasse in the Latin south of France—its cypresses, roses, jasmine, basil, lavender and so many other treasures (granted by wise nature) that perfumed their land, their memories and their dreams. Lambert was a French Basque, one of the most sensitive and honest people I have met in my life. He had a self respect and dignity not paralleled—an extremely noble person. However, most of these great perfumers were not happy, which was expressed in the bitterness and distress that usually filled their conversations. We were well treated by management, but were disturbed by marketing’s attempts to connect the supreme art of perfume to fashion and design. Perfumery that is a supreme art, an eternal expression of our souls and spirits in the form of olfactory beauty. The fashion and design world is volatile—very distinct from the fine arts. I do not want to write about this subject again because I have already done so in earlier monographs. My convictions are well known by the readers that have followed my books and articles, and I am proud to say that I have had hundreds of messages expressing support for my ideas and outlook. Could I ask for a better blessing?
Loss of Materials Pete Seeger used to sing, “Where have all the flowers gone?” Back then, we perfumers did not suspect that the worst restrictions on our materials and art were about to come. This was predicted by Sicilian writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in his novel “Il Gattopardo” (“The Leopard”), which I have mentioned several times in my writings. This book, which deservedly won a Nobel Prize in literature, is an important cultural reference for my convictions.
Di Lampedusa wrote, defending the old Sicilian aristocracy: “We have been the Leopards—meaning the aristocrats—and after us only jackals and hyenas will come, and all of us, leopards, jackals and hyenas will believe we are the salt of the Earth … Nothing will change at least within 100 or 200 years and then everything will be worse …”
Although the International Fragrance Association and Research Institute for Fragrance Materials were not yet in sight when I began my career, bureaucracy was already ramping up at Firmenich. There was very real animosity between perfumers and the marketing and evaluation departments. I am sure this was not noticed by the top management. This reality was completely hidden. When meeting with members of the management—I used to lunch every day with Mr. Deléamont who, at his age, loved my youth with great nostalgia—we never talked about internal conflicts. Even the perfumers did not discuss this turbulence in our daily meetings. Yet this was the reality. The senior perfumers were not happy in their lives—and I started to feel the same.
My life in Geneva was great but only because of Karen, who started teaching philosophy in a school in the city. However, although we were two creative people who loved each other greatly, the world around us was pervaded by rationalism. (I realize this was nothing compared to today’s global climate.) At this time, we had singer Georges Brassens; singer/artist/actor Serge Reggiani; singer-songwriter Jacques Brel and his unforgettable “Ne me quitte pas” (“Don’t leave me”). These winds of musical creativity were sad or sarcastic or ingenuous—ideal sentiments for the life of a perfumer and a teacher of philosophy. These musical artists were the social references for the best people of Geneva—especially when coldness and rationalism were looming over the horizon. (The weather did not help either, as I remember once counting 105 days without seeing the sun—gray weather, with fine rain all the time.)
A few years before this, in Los Angeles, California, Karen and I discovered something that was to be a key hallmark in our spiritual life. We attended a concert performed by several Brazilian artists unknown to us—Vinicius de Moraes, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Astrud Gilberto, Joao Gilberto and the great and unforgettable US saxophonist Stan Getz. We were deeply moved by “The Girl from Ipanema” and other classical creations such as “Insensatez” or “Chega de Saudade.” During the concert we felt we were in a paradise—a milk bed with roses in the Platonic “Pink Cloud.” The emotions were so intense that we could not forget them. I am convinced in the immortality of the soul and the fact that great emotions do not die with our bodies. Following this concert Karen and I started learning about the new type of jazz—bossa nova—which was born in Brazil via the creativity, talent and sensitivity of extraordinary artists. The music peaked around 1962—predating my awareness. That period was marked by the collaboration of artists such as de Moraes, Jobim, Joao Gilberto, Astrud Gilberto and Getz. The divorce between the Gilbertos put an effective end to the magical combination. I became aware of the music during its second golden age, when de Moraes joined Toquinho, Tom Jobim, Miusha and Maria Creuza. The music will never again reach those heights. Still today, though, we have great voices like Toquinho, his great and most sincere friend Joao Gilberto, Chico Buarque de Hollanda, his sister Miusha, Maria Betanha, Edu Lobo, Monica Salmaso, Adriana Calcanhotto, Olivia Byington, Yamandu Costa, Zeca Pagondinho, Caetano Veloso, Maria Creuza, Gilberto Gil and many other. We will always see a new dawn, new hopes, new beauty, but something is gone in the soul when old friends are lost. As Apollinaire wrote:
Passent les jours et passent les semaines,
Ni le temps passé ni les amours reviennent,
Sous le pont Mirabeau, coule la Seine.
The music spread far outside the Brazilian borders, especially the United States where all of these artists had a huge success. To Karen and me this was the warmest and most spiritual form of jazz. When listening to the magical sounds and voices of those artists we became paralyzed. This was something absolutely new and strange—new sounds we’d never heard before. This was angelic music, classic poetry that discussed common, popular things. This was a new type of intelligence, a new sensitivity, a new rhythm, a new secret that was spreading the message that love existed and that hope was donated to us freely by this new art. This, we realized at once, was a part of eternity that life, in its generosity, was offering us. Eternity? Well, today I believe that “Garota de Ipanema” is one of the musical creations most universally played. The more I listen it the more I understand that, at nearly 50 years old, it is eternal—a mixture of simplicity, joy, nobility and generosity.
The show we saw in Los Angeles was the first exposure of many of the artists outside of Brazil, where de Moraes was the vice consul due to his status as a poet, composer and diplomat. These artists had a crowd of fanatic followers that were tired of the daily routine. Karen and I were among them and started to look into the roots of this amazing artistic creativity. We learned a lot about those great people who came from a country then little known to us. It changed our lives. We watched the film “Black Orpheus” several times. We found it to be a jewel of delicacy, warmth, feelings, music, sorrows, ecstasies, agonies, sadness and happiness. All the while, the film depicted the sweet but doomed love between Orpheus and Eurydice, two members of the “morros” and “favelas”—very poor areas on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. The story was an updated version of the Greek myth of the semi-god Orpheus who, while playing the lyre, touched the heart of humans and provoked them toward sweetness and appeasement. The film was a show of profound truthfulness, that simultaneously erudite, scholarly and popular. Here, in this film, we again saw two great names—Vinicius de Moraes and Antonio Carlos Jobim—besides that of the director, Marcel Camus.
One day during our stay in Geneva, Karen noticed that de Moraes, Jobim, Toquinho and Miusha (an extremely sensitive artist and sister of another giant of Brazilian music, Chico Buarque de Hollanda) were performing a live concert in a small club in Italy. Karen got two tickets and we travelled to Italy for the event. The concert was great, performed as usual for a small audience of around 50 people. These artists rarely played in big auditoriums, preferring to share their music, sensitivity and art in small venues for their ardent admirers. They performed in clubs such as la Fusa in Buenos Aires, Argentina, small locales in Uruguay and Rio, and in Bahia, the wonderful and romantic Brazilian city whose famous “Itapoa Beach” sits on the Atlantic. It is here that a statue of de Moraes stands. People throw all kind of flowers upon it, including the fabled Brazilian gardenias.
That night in Italy, we felt a night of total artistic ecstasy. We met Jobim and de Moraes, who was drinking what he called “aqua da vita”—whiskey. He looked tired, more than Jobim. I noticed he smoked too much and drank without end. However, that day we started a personal friendship that lasted until their deaths in 1980 (de Moraes) and 1994 (Jobim).
Meanwhile, the dull routine of our Geneva life was growing, as was the bitterness of the perfumers I worked with. The days without sun were endless. However, we loved the outskirts of the city and its old corners. Quite often we traveled to Zermatt and to other locations and admired the natural beauty of the stately Alps. We found Switzerland extremely beautiful, but my professional life was lacking.
On day 105 without seeing the sun, Karen and I spent a nice evening having a warm dinner in one of the loveliest restaurants in the old city, enjoying the great culinary skill of Switzerland—salads, cheeses, sweet cakes. After a very deep and serious talk, we decided simply to disappear together in search of “purity.” Day 106 of no sun was a day of preparations. On day 107 of no sun, I was not at my laboratory at 8:45AM because at 8:00AM we were on board a plane that was heading for Rio de Janeiro. For us, after having attended the concert in Los Angeles, life changed. Our lives had been split into two clear periods: before the concert and after the concert. That feeling lasts even to this day as I write this article.
Except for a single suitcase, we left everything inside the apartment on Avenue de Miremont: the furniture, the car … all was left in Geneva. We simply quit the country, just as I had quit Firmenich, without a word to anyone—although I admired the company (as I still do). There I left behind friends of many years that I respected very much.
Life in Brazil Although based in Rio de Janeiro, we spent four years traveling all over the world: Tahiti, the Marquise Islands, The Kingdom of Tonga, the Cook Islands, American Samoa, Samoa, Fiji, New Caledonia and Vietnam (despite the war). Nobody knew our whereabouts—not even our families. I was a perfumer by vocation, able to express my feelings through olfactory beauty, although I also loved literature, music, paintings, sculpture and poetry. At this time I realized that all these arts are interlinked and that there is no one without the others.
Rio de Janeiro at that time was not yet polluted. The inhabitants of the city wanted it to be a second Paris. Light pervaded the surrounding world, blinding the eyes. The soft breeze enchanted and bewitched with the scent of gardenias and heliotropes. This fabled capital was extremely new and foreign; the impressive mountains, shores and beaches were part of our new life.
I set up a small laboratory and started selling fragrances on a small scale. I had magnificent views of the Corcovado Mountain, topped by the huge statue of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer); the morro of Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain) on the mouth of the bay of Guanabara; the morro of Babilonia; and the morro of Urca. I was not far from the Botafogo, Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. (For Rio was also the capital town of bossa nova!) Finally, we were close to those artists that had given us a new reason to live with their magical notes. Our goal was to attain the truth sought since the dawn of mankind by so many poets, artists and philosophers. We were happy. We did not need much money, and what money we needed we made.
A Lesson in Striving for Artistic Passion The gardenias here had a special quality due to the region’s humidity. We put the flowers everywhere around our apartment. For me, the smell of gardenia stimulates memories of Rio, Karen, de Moraes, Jobim and all the artists that surrounded us at that time. Perhaps these were not the happiest people in the world, but they were strong and courageous, remaining as pure as the smell of the flower and refusing to betray their spirits. I have a picture of de Moraes wearing a gardenia crown as a humble homage from an old and tired musician, poet and diplomat to a young perfumer eager to discover the truth of the life not far from him.
De Moraes had nine marriages, the last of which, at age 64, was to Gilda Quirós Mattoso in 1978, two years before his death. The poet had previously married women as young as 18 and 23 years old, which many conservative people might be prone to judge as unbalanced. But that is the logic of a dogmatic society of “rational” principles. Such is our contemporary age. Yet his life is more easily understood if one reads the poet’s finest work from among his 400 compositions. One such piece is called “Soneto da Fidelidade” (“Sonnet on Fidelity”), presented below in both the original Portuguese and its English translation by Ashley Brown:3
Antes e com tal zelo e sempre e tanto
Que mesmo em face do maior encanto
Dele se encante mais meu pensamento
Quero vivê-lo em cada vão momento
E em seu louvor hei de espalhar meu canto
E rir meu riso e derramar meu pranto
Ao seu pesar ou seu contentamento
E assim quando mais tarde me procure
Quem sabe a morte, angustia de quem vive
Quem sabe a solidão, fim de quem ama
Eu posso me dizer do amor (que tive):
Que não seja imortal, posto que é chama
Mas que seja infinito enquanto dure.
“Sonnet on Fidelity” Above all, to my love I’ll be attentive
First, and always with such ardor, so much
That even when confronted by this great
Enchantment my thoughts ascend to more delight.
I want to live through in each vain moment
And in its honor I must spread my song
And laugh with my delight and shed my tears
When she is sad or when she is contented.
And thus, when afterward comes looking for me
Who knows what death, anxiety of the living,
Who knows what loneliness, end of the loving
I could say to myself of the love (I had):
Let it not be immortal, since it is flame
But let it be infinite while it lasts.
Naturally, the original verse in Portuguese is immensely more touching than the English translation. I do not know if the phrase “Let it not be immortal, since it is flame, but let it be infinite while it lasts” is true, but it is certainly quite similar to the line Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa uses in “The Leopard” when the Prince of Salina says that love is “one year of fire and thirty years of ashes.” Both writers had the same idea, but even if not dogmatically true, I understand it is true for many people. Both writers shared the same conviction. De Moraes could not live without this “flame,” this “paixão” (passion), which he desired to be infinite—while it lasted. This philosophy led the poet to nine weddings, as stated, starting with his first wife Beatriz “Tati” Acevedo, through to Gilda Quirós Mattoso. The poet had one son and four daughters, the last being Maria, born just 10 years before his death. I understand that it is very hard for many readers to understand this kind of life. But one day the poet said something to me that made me think: “In this life it is better to live than to be happy.” At the time I could not grasp what de Moraes meant because my American education had always stressed that it is best to live while being happy. At once I realized the differences between our worlds. I want to stress that he was not a womanizer. Instead, the poet was always seeking passion and dreams, sweetness, and a sense of light. I do not believe he was a very happy man. He was too complex and sensitive, and never quite found what he was looking for, which caused him great anguish and distress. De Moraes always said that “being afraid to love does not bring any happiness,” which I believe should be meditated upon in our contemporary society of perfectionism. To understand the scent of gardenias, which I have written about, we must understand de Moraes and his desperate call for us to be in harmony in understanding each other.1 In the end, the poet’s unrest was in the service of keeping lit this “flame” he mentions in his work—an eternal passion that he needed to go on living.
Exploring Brazil During our time Brazil, we were developing our hopes and our senses, far from Europe and its marketing departments, bureaucracy and horrible Voltairesque rationalism. Step by step we visited the favelas around Rio de Janeiro, seeing in person the lovely places depicted in “Black Orpheus.” We were smiling all the time, and I sadly recalled the bitter meetings with my perfumers friends back in Switzerland who would certainly have been happier in the natural greatness of Brazil, smelling gardenias and the thousands of other native flowers. Instead, they were busy enduring external teams of “professionals” selling a false connection between fragrance and fashion/design, which debased the noblest pursuits of the profession.
In Brazil we loved the fragrances more than in Europe because we were happy. Contrary to popular belief, I feel that a fragrance can never bring happiness or love by itself. I was happier than de Morais perhaps because I was less sensitive and kind than he. Still, the poet possessed a deep childlike passion all his life, which was reflected in his writings. Though sad, he believed that happiness existed and desperately sought it. He was a wise, sincere, creative and respected man who described happiness in a superb poem called “Felicidade,” which follows both in the original Portuguese and an English translation (by musician Arto Lindsay):
“A Felicidade” Tristeza não tem fim
A felicidade é como a pluma
Que o vento vai levando pelo ar
Voa tão leve
Mas tem a vida breve
Precisa que haja vento sem parar
A felicidade do pobre parece
A grande ilusão do carnaval
A gente trabalha o ano inteiro
Por um momento de sonho
Pra fazer a fantasia
De rei ou de pirata ou jardineira
Pra tudo se acabar na quarta-feira
Tristeza não tem fim
A felicidade é como a gota
De orvalho numa pétala de flor
Depois de leve oscila
E cai como uma lágrima de amor
A felicidade é uma coisa boa
E tão delicada também
Tem flores e amores
De todas as cores
Tem ninhos de passarinhos
Tudo de bom ela tem
E é por ela ser assim tão delicada
Que eu trato dela sempre muito bem
Tristeza não tem fim
A minha felicidade está sonhando
Nos olhos da minha namorada
É como esta noite, passando, passando
Em busca da madrugada
Falem baixo, por favor
Pra que ela acorde alegre com o dia
Oferecendo beijos de amor
“Happiness” Sadness has no end,
but happiness does.
Happiness is like a feather
The wind carries through the air
Its flight is light but its life is short
It needs to feel a breeze that never stops
The happiness of a poor man is like
The great illusion of carnival
We work all year long
For one moment in a dream,
to play the part
Of a king, a pirate or a gardener
Then everything is over on Ash Wednesday
Happiness is like a drop of dew
on a petal.
It shines peacefully and swings gently
Then falls like of tear shed for love
My happiness lies dreaming
In the eyes of my girlfriend
It's like a night that passes by
Looking for dawn.
Speak quietly, please
So she’ll wake as happy as the day
And offer me kisses of love
Happiness is a crazy thing
And so delicate, too.
Flowers and love of all colors
It's made of, and bird’s nests
and everything nice
Because she is so very delicate
I always treat her well.
Just as de Moraes did not believe that music would change the world, I too feel (and have said before) that perfumery will not alter history’s course. (The world will only change when humanity evolves gradually toward wisdom.) Music is not always meant to make a political statement. Music is just music in the same way that perfumery is just perfumery. When a bird sings, it doesn’t want to change the world. However, I feel that when we artists humbly labor to create something of real beauty, as de Moraes did, we are doing something wonderful.
Europe is my homeland, but it is troubled. All the citizens of Europe come from the cradle of wisdom developed in Western classicism. Unfortunately, we are not promoting the philosophical strengths, convictions and feelings of this tradition. We sadly do not share all our origins, cardinal mysteries and common roots via a wise education. The Western world is too often driven by useless technocrats and bureaucrats in a sea of intellectual boredom and “rational” laws that are destroying the spiritual truth that lies behind the sacred ideals of Europe first formed in Hellenism. It is a shame to see how the people of Ukraine wish to join the EU and hope for a better future here, when the idea of Europe and the original Greek philosophy is so widely ignored. The true feelings and philosophical truth behind Europe could move mountains, yet stupidity and bureaucracy will destroy the noblest hopes and illusions.
In Brazil, the influence of scents on the country’s great artists was significant, exceeding the impact I’d witnessed on many perfumers. We often discussed flowers, smells, sensations, emotions conveyed by the great olfactory masterpieces from either natural origin (essential oils and absolutes) or artistic compositions (perfumes). This was particularly the case for de Moraes, who trembled when smelling a gardenia flower and often discussed how wonderful nature was in bestowing upon mankind the most coveted mysteries of life. Flowers appear in many of his poems, as we have seen in “Felicidade.” In addition, he composed a great poem called “A Rosa Desfolhada” (“The Leafless Rose”), which I include below in both the original Portuguese and an English translation. It is a great work from this Platolike man who once pondered, “Is sadness a kind of defeat, or it is just a form of feeling the world with realism?”
“A Rosa Desfolhada” Tento compor o nosso amor
Dentro da tua ausência.
Toda a loucura, todo o martírio
De uma paixão imensa.
Teu toca-discos, nosso retrato,
Um tempo descuidado...
Tudo pisado, tudo partido,
Tudo no chão, jogado.
E em cada canto
Teu desencanto, tua melancolia.
Teu triste vulto desesperado
Ante o que eu te dizia.
E logo o espanto e logo o insulto,
O amor dilacerado.
E logo o pranto ante a agonia
Do fato consumado.
Silenciosa ficou a rosa
No chão despetalada.
Que eu com meus dedos, tentei a medo
Reconstituir do nada.
O teu perfume, teus doces pêlos,
A tua pele amada.
Tudo desfeito, tudo perdido,
A rosa desfolhada.
“The Leafless Rose” I try to [re]compose our love
In your absence
All the madness, all the suffering
Of an immense passion
Your record player, our portrait
A careless time.
Everything trampled, everything gone
Everything dashed to the ground.
And in every corner
Your sad, desperate face
In the face of what I said to you
And soon the terror, and then the insult
Love in tatters
And soon the crying in face of the agony
Of the accomplished fact.
Remained the rose
Leafless on the ground
That I with my fingers tried in fear
To reconstruct from nothing:
Your scent, your sweet hair
Your skin that I love
All undone, all lost
The leafless rose
I remember with energy, happiness and also sorrow the time I spent in Brazil. After a sad period in Spain, I spent a happier time in Vietnam and Syria. Tragically, I lost Karen, but since then have married and had three children. Contrary to de Moraes’ philosophy, a lovely time of serenity has surrounded my life following the “passion.” Possibly I am now living in the best of all times—this is the most serene and mature sentiment of all my writings here. I remember a great poem by Alexander Pushkin that I would like to dedicate here to the finest people I’ve met in my life, those sensitive, simple, noble and generous people.
“I Remember a Wonderful Moment” I remember a wonderful moment
As before my eyes you appeared,
Like a vision, fleeting, momentary,
Like a spirit of the purest beauty.
In the torture of hopeless melancholy,
In the bustle of the world's noisy hours,
That voice rang out so tenderly,
I dreamed of that lovely face of yours.
The years flew quickly. The storm’s blast
Scattered the dreams of former times,
And I forgot your tender voice,
And the features of your heavenly face.
In remoteness, in gloomy isolation,
My days dragged quietly, nothing was new,
No godlike face, no inspiration,
No tears, no life, no love, no you.
Then to my soul an awakening came,
And there again your face appeared,
Like a vision, fleeting, momentary,
Like a spirit of the purest beauty.
And my heart beat with a rapture new,
And for its sake arose again
A godlike face, an inspiration,
And life, and tears, and love, and you.
Lessons Learned My time in Brazil was an inducement to action—an essential and continuing tension in higher organisms between the establishment and maintenance of environmental constancies and the interruption of achieved equilibrium in the interest of new possibilities of experience. I observed in all the great musicians and poets of that nation—especially de Moraes—this tension in terms of dualities such as intellect and intuition, the conscious and the unconscious, the conventional and the unconventional, and complexity and simplicity.
As both a perfumer and chemist, I was aware that, while the processes of creative thinking in artistic and scientific pursuits have much in common, there are also distinctive differences. The artist places more importance on feeling and individual expression, often going to extremes to divorce himself from environmental constraints. The scientist relies more on disciplined, logical thinking to lead him in new directions. Artistic endeavour is dominantly expressive (although clearly oriented toward a goal), while scientific inventiveness is dominantly disciplined (although flexibly receptive to feelings and to imaginative experiences). My position has always been situated between both worlds. And I am obsessed with finding others who combines such duality—noble artistic creativity and feelings; something closely related (to my thinking) to wisdom and scientific creativity, but less related to wisdom than to “rational knowledge.”
Happiness was paramount during my time in Brazil, where I felt blessed because I had few problems. I was smelling and smelling new essential oils and creating fragrances. At the same time, I would passionately discuss what I called the “cardinal mysteries of our existence” with Karen, de Moraes and many other friends. I was breathing pure, lofty, noble, essential freedom. A strong contrast to the unhappiness of Geneva!
However, I had many doubts, particularly related to de Moraes. I wondered why such a great, sensitive, cultured and creative man was so deeply and so profoundly sad. He was unable to attain his unrelenting need for passion while I was able to live day after day filled with a happy and noble feeling. He expressed this longing in a compelling definition of womanhood, which I present here in its English translation:
...Let the woman be, to begin with, tall, or, being short, have the mental disposition of high summits.
Ah, the woman should always give the impression that, if one close the eyes and open them, she will vanish, her schemes and smiles.
She should not approach, she should appear, leave, not go, and should have a
certain capacity for suddenly growing silent, of making us drink the bile of suspicion.
Oh, and above all she should never lose, no matter the world, no matter
under what circumstances, her talky, birdlike changeability, and when
touched deep within herself become wild, not losing the bird’s grace; and
should exhale always the impossible perfume; and always distill honey that
gets you drunk; and sing always the voiceless song of her tumult; and always
be the eternal dancer of the short-lived day; and in her countless
imperfection become the most beautiful, most perfect thing in all
Joao Gilberto echoed this melancholy in Chega de Saudade, which was sung by his legendary first wife, Astrud. De Moraes further expressed this desperation in the following poem, presented in both its original Portuguese and an English translation:
Vai minha tristeza
E diz a ela que
Sem ela não pode ser
Diz-lhe numa prece
Que ela regresse
Porque eu não posso mais sofrer
Chega de saudade
A realidade é que sem ela
Não há paz não há beleza
É só tristeza e a melancolia
Que não sai de mim
Não sai de mim
Mas se ela volta
Se ela volta
Que coisa linda
Que coisa louca
Pois há menos peixinhos
A nadar no mar
Do que os beijinhos
Que eu darei na sua boca
Dentro dos meus braços os abraços
Hão de ser milhões de abraços
Apertado assim, colado assim, calado assim,
Abraços e beijinhos e carinhos
Sem ter fim
Que é pra acabar com esse negócio
De viver longe de mim
Não quero mais esse negócio
De você viver assim
Vamos deixar desse negócio
De você viver sem mim
Go, my sadness
And tell her that
Without her it cannot be.
Tell her in a prayer
To return to me,
For I can’t suffer anymore.
No more longing,
The truth is that without her
There’s no peace, there's no
There’s only sadness and
That doesn't leave me,
Doesn’t leave me,
But if she returns,
If she returns,
What a beautiful thing
What a crazy thing,
For there are fewer fishes
Swimming in the sea
Than the kisses
That I’ll plant on her mouth,
In my arms the
There’ll have to be millions of
Tight like this, stuck like this,
Quiet like this,
Embraces and kisses and caresses
It’s time to end that
Of living away from me,
I no longer want that business
Of your living like this,
Let’s stop this business
Of your living without me
At my young age, just starting his life with a lovely woman, I could not understand such sentiments, though it created shadows in my thinking. At the time, I sensed that all artists used the same emotions to create: poems, music, perfumery, everything. For example, I desperately tried to find the smell of the rose described in de Moraes’ poem “Acalanto da Rosa” (“Lullaby of the Rose”) presented below in the original Portuguese and an English translation by Mirna Rubim:
“Dorme a estrela do céu
Dorme a rosa em seu jardim
Dorme a lua no mar
Dorme o amor dentro de mim
É preciso pisar leve
Ai, é preciso não falar
Meu amor se adormece
Quão suave é o seu perfume
Dorme em paz rosa pura
O teu sono não tem fim”
A star sleeps in the sky,
The rose sleeps in its garden
The moon rests in the sea,
Love sleeps inside of me.
You must tread softly,
Ah, you must not speak.
My love is slumbering,
How sweet is her perfume,
Sleep in peace, pure rose,
Your slumber has no end.”
I’ve realized that perfumery’s purpose is to create the sort of eternal beauty de Moraes sought his whole life with words and sounds. The real truth lies not in a rationalist society such as mine, where I was educated and told what was good and bad. Our society needed and needs a man like de Moraes because we cannot only value pragmatism, achieved goals and material targets. This is best expressed in his poem “Pregão da saudade!” (“Proclamation of longing”) presented here both in the original Portuguese and an English translation by Terry Rooney:
Di quem quer minha tristeza
Di quem quer minha aflição
Se quiser vendo barato
Fiado não, não vendo não
Também tenho uma saudade
Uma saudade de um bem-querer
Todos dois dou até dado
Pois não quero mais sofrer.
To whoever wants my sadness
To whoever wants my misery
If you want it its going cheap
Not on credit though, no!
I also have a longing
A longing for a sweetheart
I’ll throw them both in almost free
For I no longer want the suffering.
I believe de Moraes would have been even more out of place in today’s society, which is based on false values handed to us via the media. I wonder: where is the place described by the poet in his work “Em Algum Lugar” (“Somewhere”), which I provide in both the original Portuguese and an English translation provided by the author and Mirna Rubim:
Deve existir, eu sei que deve existir
Algum lugar onde o amor
Possa viver a sua vida em paz
E esquecido de que existe a dor
Ser feliz, ser feliz, bem feliz.
It must exist, I know it must exist
A place where love
Can live its own life in peace
and to forget that sorrow exists.
Be happy, be happy, very happy.
This small, isolated place, free from external influences and governed by a very strict philosophical thinking reminds me of Plato’s “Pink Cloud” as expressed in “Timaeus.” Somehow I achieved this state of mind, while de Moraes did not. Living in Brazil I felt a sense of plenty, stability, creativity, love and wisdom. During this time I liked to come home from my customer calls and read one of Karen’s favorite de Moraes verses, “Ouve o Silêncio” (“Hear the Silence”), which I present here in its original Portugeuse and an English translation by Terry Rooney:
Cala, ouve o silêncio, ouve o silêncio
Que nos fala tristemente desse amor
Que não podemos ter
Não fala, fala baixinho
Diz bem de leve um segredo
Um verso de esperança em nosso amor
Não ó meu amor!
Canta a beleza de viver!
Saúda o sol e a alegria de amar
Em nossa grande solidão!
Quiet, hear the silence, hear the silence
That speaks to us sadly of this that love
We cannot have
Don’t speak, speak softly
Very quickly tell a secret
A verse of hope for our love
No, my love
Sing the beauty of living
Salute the sun and joy of loving
In the midst of our great solitude.
During those years in Brazil we traveled a lot, flying to Hawaii—a place of my childhood—where we spent a good deal of time in Anahola, Kauai. We also visited the Marquise Islands where, while on Hiva Oa, the most beautiful island in the planet, I came to understand the sadness felt by Jacques Brel when he retired to this paradise on earth. As I mentioned before, we also traveled to French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, American Samoa, Samoa, Fiji, the Kingdom of Tonga and, finally, Vietnam. It was in Vietnam that I discovered the fabled agarwood oil, which is nearly extinct. To this day I use this material in fragrances for a client who is one of the wisest, most distinguished and sensitive dignitaries in the Middle East. He is an extremely simple man who writes poems, just as de Moraes did, and who is one of the richest men in the world—a ruler of a state.
My impressions of Vietnam remain vivid. At the time, it was still a country at war. I recall the beautiful royal city of Hue, nestled in the river of perfumes. Sadly, this place was nearly destroyed in the Tet offensive of January 1968, when the Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army seized the city for a time, committing all manner of atrocities. I can still imagine Hue’s citadel in all its splendour and the royal tombs of the Vietnamese emperors, the top of which was built by Emperor Minh Mang. Agarwood returns me to those hills, which by night were dominated by the Vietcong guerrillas and during the day by the US Army. Those mountains split the Republic of South Vietnam from Laos where there is a similar but not identical agarwood oil. It is amazing and sad to think how places such as Khe Sahn, the scene of such violence, could be surrounded with so much beauty and exoticism.
Unfortunately, my Brazilian period ended unexpectedly in 1974 while visiting my parents in Spain. This unhappy period lasted until 1993 when I departed to Damascus, Syria, where I mixed with the erudite Russian community living there. Again, I had broken with a life that made no sense to me and which was worse than my life in Geneva had been. These experiences helped me to understand my noble friend, de Moreas, and why he suffered so much. Thinking of our profession of perfumery, I wish to quote another of his poems, “Jardim Noturno” (“Night Garden”), presented here both in the original Portuguese and an English translation by Mirna Rubim:
Se meu amor distante
Eu sou como um jardim noturno
O meu silêncio é o seu perfume
A se exalar em vão dentro da noite
Oh, volta minha amada!
A morte ronda em teu jardim
As rosas tremem...
E a lua nem parece mais lembrar de mim.
If my love (is) distant,
I feel as if I were a night garden
My silent is her fragrance
Exhaling in vain in the night
Oh, come back my beloved!
Death prowls around in your garden
The roses tremble...
And the moon seems not remember me anymore.
These simple words have great impact on me when creating exotic fragrances for my appreciative royal customers. It is beautiful to be able to present these scents while drinking Arabic coffee sweetened by the most sophisticated dates. At these moments I can sense a world of humanity and sensitivity that is close to those artists of the past whose noble art was recognized and praised and supported by people that dreamed to see a better, more sensitive world around us. The world needs evolution towards justice and freedom, but if those bearing the responsibilities for this are not sensitive (favoring the kingdom of the fine arts and beauty), how could they achieve any noble goals? We cannot allow the despair produced by rationalism and scientific materialism to trample tenderness and softness.
I will finish this meditiation by including a great poem by de Moraes called “Canto Triste” (“Sad Chant”), which I present solely in the original Portuguese. This work sums up the axis of this great man: to love and to be loved in return, nothing more.
porque sempre foste a primavera em minha vida,
volta para mim!
desponta novamente no meu canto,
eu te amo tanto mais,
te quero tanto mais,
ah! quanto tempo faz partiste,
como a primavera que também te viu partir
sem um adeus sequer
e nada existe mais em minha vida
como um silêncio teu,
como um carinho teu,
lembra um sorriso teu,
ah! luar sem compaixão,
sempre a vagar no céu,
onde se esconde a minha bem amada?
onde a minha namorada?
vai e diz a ela as minhas penas
e que eu peço,
peço apenas que ela lembre
as nossas horas de poesia,
as noites de paixão
e diz-lhe da saudade em que me viste,
que estou sozinho,
que só existe meu canto triste
1. AB Camps, Gardenia in Perfumery. Perfum Flavor, 33(4), 28-32 (2008)
2. AB Camps, Technical and Philosophical Notes on the Perfumery Creative Process. Perfum Flavor, 33(5), 40-44 (2008)
3. An Anthology of Twentieth Century Brazilian Poetry. Edits., E Bishop and E Brasil, Wesleyan, Middletown (1997)