I used to go to church every Sunday as a child, and on high holidays like Christmas or Easter I went for up to five days in a row. (Easter sure is a busy time for Catholics.)
There were times when I protested, but mostly I just went to avoid strife and because, later on, I found ways to enjoy myself like playing the violin in the church orchestra or singing in the choir. Making music in church was great. Also, I was a Girl Guide and we all had parents who sent us to church regularly, so we teamed up and together it was almost a party, albeit a quiet one of whispered conversations an hushed giggling in the back rows.
Catholicism played a huge role in my childhood and the scent of incense is closely bound with those memories. But many incense fragrances I like evoke the outdoors (like Tauer Incense Extreme or Armani Privè Bois d’Encens), are calmly meditative (like CdG Kyoto or Heeley Cardinal) or combined with other interesting materials and thus deflecting my associations away from incense that was used in the church of my youth.
Not so Avignon.
Avignon is the incense of Sundays past, the direct path into my memories, one spray of Avignon and I see our beloved, old, now passed away, priest standing there and swinging the censer. All the smells, bells and costumes are instantly back with a whiff of Avignon.
Created by none other than Bertrand Duchaufour in 2002, Avignon includes notes of Roman chamomile, cistus oil, elemi, incense, vanilla, patchouli, palisander and ambrette seeds.
Avignon opens with incense and myrrh, deep, somber, holy. It widens into a dark resinous heart, rich and smoky, later it calms considerably drying down to a woody incense with a hint of vanilla on the edges.
Avignon is cool, deep and dignified. It is not something you apply without second thought, at least I can’t, when I wear it, it is an occasion to be marked.
Avignon is an outstanding fragrance, long-lasting, well-made, the reference incense, a necessary part of any Perfumista’s collection. But that is just my opinion.
For me it is all there: the old wooden pews, the cool, slightly stale air, the incense of course, the burning candles, the flowers on the altar and the many, many people in their Sunday best avidly listening, thinking of entirely wordly matters or some even silently asleep.
What I liked best during a service, when I was still a small child and had not yet grown into my other in-mass occupations, was looking at people. It was very interesting to watch their behavior, watch their faces and imagine their stories.
There was “Bear-Man”, a huge older man, with the stature of a boxer and the nose to match, who was very fascinating in that he managed to irritate many a pious woman in his vicinity with his incessant and completely unapologetic snoring. He was fast asleep during most of the early eighties, as far as I could see.
Then there was a woman I called “Die schöne Helena” in my head, because I thought she was exactly like Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in history.
I had read about her and was fascinated with her beauty and power over men. The Helena in my church was standing out of the crowd. When she entered the church, a hush fell over the congregation, men and women alike, although for entirely different reasons, stared at her and followed her down the aisle with their gazes. So did I.
One time she sat in the row before me and my family. She was wearing a red coat and a black fur shawl. Her long blonde hair was open and flowed down her back. My mother looked slightly scandalized whenever Helena swung back her mane of golden hair. I remember wanting to touch it and sitting in an undecided agony of tension for the entire service. Every time she swung her hair over her shoulders, I got a whiff of the most delicate scent, soft and flowery. I decided then and there that I wanted to grow my hair long, which ended up to be a point of endless, vicious discussions with my mother.
As soon as I was old enough for her not to be able to object anymore, I grew my hair long, and wear it long still. From time to time I swish it.
I wish I could see Helena now, I bet she grew old in style.