Saturday, May 3, 2008

Cabochard in real time or Curiosity got the cat

I knew in advance that it was something akin to swill and nothing like the original when I bought it. But for nine dollars and change, I had to try it. And besides, the plain black package was so elegant it would look nice on a shelf. Sadly, the cheap little bottle inside is a hint right there that I would be disappointed. It this what it used to look like? I should google that. Hold on. Okay: I've seen a couple of versions, all better than what's in that box. Now to the scent (in real time, no less):

I sprayed the tiniest bit on my hand because I assumed that I'd want to wash it off and don't want to roll up my sleeves and do a full surgical scrub.

First thought: "This is acetone. Nail polish remover, right?"

Second thought: "This isn't so bad. . .wait. . .what am I thinking of?"

It's my grandmother. Did she wear this? It's certainly possible. I've no doubt she wore perfume. She had a dressing table with silver brushes and tubes of lipstick. There must have been perfume on the table as well. I just don't remember it.

I keep sniffing my hand. I've laid it on so thinly that it's starting to disappear already (which is fine with me). The acetone smell (if indeed it is that) has receded some, but still lingers. I can get past it.

I can say that there's something good hidden behind the chemical blast. But still, I wouldn't want to wear this. I'd be more depressed than I already am. It does smell like my Grandmother and her memory is not a great one.

I am transported back in time and feel the weight of her. Everything she wore was heavy. I believe this is what made her stooped in old age. She wore a black Russian lamb coat. That thing must have weighed fifty pounds. Yes, I exaggerate, but when you're asked, as a small child, to go hang up Grandma's coat, you don't expect to be lugging something near your own weight (at least not the first time). She wore strange black shoes, a cross between 19th century lace-ups (which would have been lovely) and some orthopedic nightmare. They, too, weighed too much for her own good and probably added to the difficulty of shopping in the little stores on 18th avenue in Brooklyn without coming home with aching feet. Both she and my grandfather soaked their feet daily in some sort of salt solution (probably something ordinary I never learned the name of).

My grandmother carried a valise, not a suitcase, and this too was a terrifically heavy object. Every time she came to visit and spend the night, my mother would chastise her for bringing so much. Later in my mother's life, she took great pride in packing light and was thinking of producing a pre-packed ready-to-go bag with a selection of wrinkle free clothes for vacation travelers (I just now realized this was a good idea).

See what a fragrance does (sometimes)? This is not a great fragrance by any stretch of the imagination and even though it does not offend me, I will wash it off. But it is interesting how thoroughly it makes me think of my grandmother. What perfume she wore I'll never know.

On the other hand, these associations may be this: everything she owned smelled of moth balls. I sniff again and ask "moth balls". No.

In her heavy black purse, my grandmother always carried a packet of gum (though I never saw her chew any) and a small tin of cream, which had a scent I haven't smelled since. It must have been Cabochard, or something very similar. The evocation of her is just too strong.

Now I will wash.

Photo note: You may indeed be wondering what relevance this photograph has to the post. I was trying to find an image that related to memories of my Grandmother. The old ads for Cabochard relate not a whit to her, so I searched for old bags and coats, to no avail. Then I googled, "Bensonhurt, Brooklyn" (where she lived throughout her adult life). This photo is of an Italian bakery window (obviously) right on 18th avenue. My mother had very fond memories of eating Charlotte Russe and when we'd come to Bensonhurt we'd often scurry away to a bakery to find some. I just discovered (via Google, how did I ever live without it?!) that this dessert is actually French, copying something Russian. How did it end up as a children's treat in Italian bakeries in Brooklyn?

Charlotte Russe: Whipped cream with a maraschino cherry on top in a push-up cardboard tube. And yes, they are good. But I like Italian cookies and marzipan even more. Ah, another memory that makes me wonder what I'm doing here in rural Maine where the local stores carry beef jerky, pickled eggs and whoopie pies as treats. I must say, however, that the now defunct Monroe General Store had wonderful freshly baked whoopie pies and spectacular home-cured bacon. Now that store is a fancy realtor. . .As Brooklyn goes, so goes the nation?

Addendum: I find the juxtaposition of the outlandishly lavish Italian desserts and Cabochard wildly amusing. It's totally incongruous. I suppose this is one reason Cabochard smells "old", even if I were to take out the memories of my Grandmother it conjures up; it hasn't anything sweet in it. It is dry and cold. A dry martini from a very bad distiller? Yes indeed. Not the confections pictured above, whose image would go with almost everything in Bath and Body Works plus a zillion other sweeter than hell and gourmand scents out there.

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