Sunday, November 5, 2017

Guy Fawkes Bonfire Night and Penhaligon's Elixir

I was living in Scotland in 1997 in a little village called Banchory just outside of Aberdeen. For an American who loved history, castles, and beautiful scenery it was heaven. My husband and I eagerly embraced village life and tried to introduce our young children to as much of the local lore as possible, knowing this idyllic period couldn't last forever. When we heard there would be a big bonfire in the town square we were all in, having no idea this celebration in the UK every November 5th was based on the foiled attempt by Guy Fawkes and his compatriots to blow up King James I in the Palace of Westminster in 1605 in the continuous struggle between Catholic and Protestants. The anniversary date is celebrated every year with a huge bonfire into which an effigy of Guy Fawkes is thrown.

I went to the town center with my three youngsters expecting to see a modest pile of logs but instead there was a stack of wood, boards, even the odd chair in a pile that reached fifteen feet high and about one hundred feet wide. On top was the stuffed Guy. Someone lit the pile and in an incredibly short time the whole structure was a huge conflagration. I was awed but at the same time a little terrified as no one seemed to be in charge of this potential disaster. I clearly remember watching a shower of sparks fly over a mother wheeling a baby carriage way to close to the fire, oblivious to what was over her head.

Flash forward ten plus years. I was sniffing a new perfume by the very British Penhaligon's called Elixir. With the first whiff I was brought back to the bonfire night. I had smelled smoky scents before but something about this one reminded me of that autumn night in a beautiful little town on the banks of the River Dee. The perfume was introduced in 2008 and the perfumer is Olivia Giacobetti. The listed top notes are eucalyptus, cinnamon, and cardomom but I smell smoke, albeit a very fragrant smoke. The initial smell is all bonfire, then the eucalyptus comes in. This smoky stage lasts quite some time but eventually the floral notes of rose, orange blossom, and jasmine join in but on my skin the rose is the most prevalent.  The base features benzoin, incense, and wood. The overall effect is of a cozy fire in the fireplace with spiced wine and fresh branches of fragrant eucalyptus in a nearby urn.

It is always cool when a fragrance associates with a memory. Elixir is not a scent I can wear anytime if year, but in fall or winter it's grand and the closer it gets to Christmas the better this one smells. Something about it's notes speaks to me of the holiday season.

Photos Google image. Perfume sample my own.


Undina said...

That’s what I call a good story! :) I wouldn’t have probably ever tried Elixir if it wasn’t for this post. Now I’ll associate it with “Remember, remember the 5th of November” - so I won’t forget about it the next time I’m at Penhaligon’s boutique.

Cynthia said...

Thanks, Undina! I thought it was a funny coincidence that I published this the same day you published your post about stories. I hope you have better luck with this than with Savoy Steam. It's unusual, certainly not one that everyone will like.