Monica Miller, who is the Perfume Pharmer, has written to me about her interpretation of the story Clarimonde in the form of a letter, on her site, and I have replied to her in the comment section, and will add more now. I found it right that she chose the letter form because the Clarimonde story itself begins when the narrator says “Brother, you ask if I have ever loved…”
Dearest Monica —
I see you have made three fragrant things to interpret the story, two fragranced lip stains, and a perfume called Sangre. I love that the fragranced stains are in a red carmine and deep violet. One is like the blush of life, the other, like the turn of life to stillness, or dare I say the word, death. I must say though the violet is actually the most flattering for me, personally, though both are beautiful and subtle. It is lovely that both are fully natural, with shea butter, using herbs for color and precious essential oils.
Because the predominant fragrance in the violet is an incense and in the carmine red it is myrrh, they bring these sacred fragrances up around the mouth, which relates to the cross between the sacred and the sensual in the story. The fragrances are strong, and they sting a little on application, and then move in to the mouth to fragrance my breath, which as you say is only right when you think about the KISS of the vampire in the legends.
As you know, Clarimonde herself in this story is not a steeped in blood kind of vampire, because she takes only the smallest of drops from the head of a pin and takes great care of her lover so as not to hurt him. I found it telling that she salves the tiny wound with an healing elixir that causes it to disappear overnight without a scar. Clarimonde is so affectionate, gentle, generous and kind, even though she is both a courtesan and a vampire. This contrasts so much with the narrator Romauld’s Father Superior the Abbe Serapion, who is domineering, harsh and punishing.
Monica, you said you went to Catholic school for a little while, as I did. I recall as a very young child the nun’s faces set off by their elaborate black and white starched veils, around faces that were completely bare and unadorned. For me, this was back at a time when women were very much made up, and the great beauties were Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor. I think we both were, as most children are, very impressed by the sacredness of the things they wanted to impart, which made us both want to be either saints or nuns, or as you said, a witch, or even or all those things at once. It all seemed magical yet real and attainable, then. The sacred is so intangible and so are dreams, and Clarimonde herself, and the fragrances we love are also so ethereal yet affect us all deeply in a physical way.
Sangre is deep with with woods but with a flick of sweetness from the fruity top notes. Wearing it with one of the lip stains is the fullest experience because then they both rise up around my face in unison and complement each other. I appreciate the high degree of naturalness (98%) and the modern feel, in that it sinks deep into the skin and becomes part of me, enhancing a persona, rather than standing out away from me by itself, as traditional perfumes most often do. It holds close to my skin and has a pleasantly relaxing, dreamy quality. In dreams are when the most beautiful anima/animus may appear…
Wearing this perfume, Sangre, and these fragrant lip stains together, feel like my head and mind are wreathed in the sacred while the rest of me is within an aura of relaxation and olfactory warmth and subtle sweetness.
I think the fragrant lip stains worn together with the perfume is an unusual and special combination, I know of nothing else like it.
Monica, you tell me that your interpretation of the story of Clarimonde relates in part to The Lovers, a symbol in Tarot. When that card appears it can mean there is a difficult choice to be made. In the story, the narrator believes he must choose between the body and the spirit, or between his reason and consciousness or his dreams and the unconscious. He has a division in himself that is unbridgeable. He is torn between madonna and whore, or choosing between abundance with pleasure or deprivation with virtue. Either/ or, good or evil.
We both know that we all have both in us and dividing them so strictly is like trying to prune the soul, it only makes the other side grow stronger. Betraying one for the other cuts a person off from vitality and the information about yourself that would be gained from listening to both sides.
The narrator is fascinating in that he does something many of us do, which is make a division that puts all beauty, youth, pleasure and love on one side and spirit, mind, morality, loyalty and purity on the other. Then this battles out within him and he must betray one to have the other. Gautier would seem to say he made the wrong choice when he renounces Clarimonde. It is tragic because he regrets it dearly, which shows he still has a big heart.
p.s. Samples and full sizes of these Clarimonde lip stain in red , with the perfume Sangre, are available at the Perfume Pharmer site.