Notre-Dame 15.4.2019 (Delire de Voyage Collection) is inspired by the devastating fire of the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, and it revolves around the idea of three main elements: „the triggering event, the water on the stones, and the Essence that remains – forever“.
What is the fragrant essence of a Cathedral? When everything palpable is gone and burned to the ground, what does the invisible imprint it has left in your soul smell like?
“Why was I not made of stone like thee?—Quasimodo (to a gargoyle on the ramparts of Notre Dame as Esmeralda rides off with Gringoire).” – Victor Hugo
I wished that I was made of stone on that early spring afternoon of Anno Domini 15.4.2019. The first information and photos sent by friends from Paris landed in my messenger, hurting my eyes and bruising my soul with images of smoke coming from the roof of the famous cathedral.
What followed later that evening was even more shocking: as we watched the fragile spire collapse, a feeling of utter helplessness prevailed. I was miles away, but I could almost feel the scent of smoke rolling in the air, of a whole forest disappearing in flames: the wooden roof structure was made of more than 1300 trees, each beam cut from an individual oak tree, and dating back to the mid-12th century.
Of all the Gothic variety and magnificence, only the ethereal skeleton of 850 years old Notre-Dame was left standing. As the debris of the burning roof fell to the marble-covered floor below, I could feel my heart sink.
And on the second day, it rained. Tears from heaven, drizzling upon hundreds of Parisians and tourists gathered on the banks of the river Sein to pray, to mourn together, to soothe their own, and her ancient soul. The scent of humanity: unity in sadness.
The first thing that came to my mind was how the Old Lady felt and smelled when I last visited her a couple of years ago: ancient, solemn, and modest in its multilayered beauty, filled with sighs of awe coming from all the visitors that found themselves inside at the moment, with rays of sunshine filtered through magnificent stained-glass rosette-windows floating above our heads, and distant, soft trails of incense and muffled candle-smoke in the shadows.
I took her for granted, I admit, because for 850 years her multi-colored „eyes“ have observed historical events unfold before, and inside of her. Now I’m just happy that my son had a chance to meet her in all her glory, to remember her – as she once was.
Through all these years she was admired, forgotten, denied, and glorified again: whatever the fashion of the time obliged – she gracefully stood her ground, ever since Charlemagne laid down the first stone.
And yet she was always more, so much more than just a tourist attraction, a fine example of Gothic architecture of Middle Ages exhibiting heritage of exquisite craftsmanship from the past, or a national symbol of France and Paris.
Built upon ruins of a Gallo-Roman temple dedicated to Jupiter, Notre-Dame was and is a part of global, human collective memory. It left no one untouched: Notre-Dame was and is „visus cordis“ – an uplift of the heart.
I’ve always felt that entering a cathedral was reciprocal: I would step inside, and it would inhabit me in return. Fine, invisible strings of history were almost immediately attached to my heart each time I passed through its entrance, holding my breath. It left no one untouched: Notre-Dame was and is „visus cordis“ – an uplift of the heart.
Those stones were alive and whispering about hands that carved them, that organ had vocal cords of hundreds of choir singers, and the stained-glass rosettes were a reflection of Garden of Eden that never stopped blooming. A special universe, just as Victor Hugo wrote:
„And the cathedral was not only society for him, but the universe, and all nature beside. He dreamed of no other hedgerows than the painted windows, always in flower; no other shade than that of the foliage of stone which spread out, loaded with birds, in the tufts of the Saxon capitals; of no other mountains than the colossal towers of the church; of no other ocean than Paris, roaring at their bases.“
No, the smell of Notre-Dame 15.4.2019 is NOT incense. It is not the scent of an imaginary Garden of Eden. It never was. The fragrance reveals a “reverse” development: straight from the opening, there is a provoking layer of bitter, tar-tainted smoke. It feels impressive like still soft burnt wires and freshly melted rubber tar, and it hovers above the dark shadows of greenish moss and scattered splinters of charred, centuries-old oak beams.
Yet, through that subtly created layer of density and charred depth, welding-like bright and sharp sparks protrude, and the overall feeling is comforting. Aromatic and addictive, with shaves of the ginger bark mixed with dry basil leaves and coriander seeds, crushed together to fine dust in a beaten-up mortar with a pestle made of gray, ancient stone.
” It is today that moment of smoke that affects history.”
As these first layers, one by one slowly blend into each other and disintegrate, warm hues of a heart made of geranium emerge, feeling as if touched by specks of ashes and slowly dripping, saliva-thick water at the same time: almost salty, slightly mineral-cold, with deep musky-floral undertones.
This muskiness flutters between stone-sharp and wooden-soft edges, between ambery gentleness and just a slight touch of incense sharpness, as if the stones were soaked in it long, long ago – it’s more a distant memory of incense than incense itself.
“It is also water that overflows from the stones, which flows down the sides of the organ.”
It’s only then that the feeling of lightness vividly rises, like a golden cross hovering above burnt material: soft lemony tones, the tender earthiness of iris, and bitter green-herbal intensity of galbanum is what adds a new, brighter dimension.
This is why I said that the whole pyramid seems “upside-down” or reversed: what usually opens a fragrance, here brings light and closure, while some “darker” elements still carry the story. Hope is to be found underneath all the layers of destruction – fluttering, fragile, and tender like new, fresh green spurts. Yet it is there, and it can’t be extinguished!
“It is today the gash of the vaults that brings light from the naked sky. It is the smell of uninterrupted life, of the soul not affected.”
Once again Filippo, who had the privilege of having access to places closed to common visitors as an organist, makes a fragrance that is heart-wrenchingly lyrical in its creative expression, one that will surely be proclaimed controversial by some. Again.
Notre-Dame 15.4.2019 is an exquisite, artistic hommage not necessarily only to the ancient building, but to all the invisible cathedrals in our spirit that uplifts our hearts, and gives us hope.
Notes (as listed by the brand):
Subject: Patchouli, Vetiver, Precious Woods, Tonka Beans, Amber, Sandalwood
Back subject: Lily of the Valley, Geranium, Ambrette
Tail: Neroli, Basil, Coriander, Ginger, Iris, Lemon, Orange, Bergamot, Incense, Galbanum
The Plum Girl