According to Fragrantica, Magie Noire (Lancôme 1978) is a “figure eight” fragrance that ends where it begins, not conforming to the regular pattern scents make with their respective top, middle and base notes. On my skin, Magie Noire “opens” with a wild, green, sensual, galbanum, bergamot, cedar, sandalwood, spicy, amber, patchouli, musk, incense, oakmoss and civet dance. So, I yes, this is definitely a “figure eight” wonder…. Honestly, other than Rochas Femme, I’ve never smelled something so “naughty” and nice. And, this oriental is almost unreal in the way it plays out on the skin… Linear is certainly not a word that would ever be within a thousand miles of Magie Noire.
Besides being one the most beautiful scents I’ve ever smelled, to my estimation, Magie Noire is a study in the art of the oriental fragrance – the mood it creates – the way it uses skin chemistry to give off just the right sort of zing. If you are ever fortunate enough to find some vintage Magie Noire please sieze the opportunity.
Top notes: Cassia, cassis, galbanum, raspberry, hyacinth, Bulgarian rose, and bergamot. Middle notes: orris root, honey, tuberose, jasmine, ylang ylang, narcissus, lily-of-the-valley, and cedar. Base notes: sandalwood, spices, amber, patchouli, musk, incense, myrrh, vetiver, oakmoss and civet.
Coquette : Part I of IV
I started playing the violin when I was ten years old and I took lessons until I was in college. Sometimes in high school orchestra I fancied becoming a professional violinist. It was a lovely thought and that was about it.
My first roommate in college was a violist. Her name was Samantha. We often confided in each other about life and even though we were both in the college orchestra there wasn’t any competition between us because we were in different sections. It was perfect.
My freshman year I had one other close friend named Delilah, Del for short. She was an English major and she decided we should be best friends during a fire drill one night in early September. All the students in our dorm were supposed to report to the front of the building by the bike path and that’s when Del started a conversation.
Del was a daredevil in a way and not at all at the same time. Sometimes she would say or do things that seemed a little dangerous, like breaking into the library to return a book and avoid getting a late fee, but other times she seemed afraid to let people get too close to her. She stopped short in sentences and held back pieces of personal information so there was always something missing – something to keep people just far enough away.
Del told me she was in love with a guy named Chris who we both knew was dating someone else, but Del and Chris were seeing each other behind his girlfriend’s back. I asked Del why she thought that was a good idea. She told me that they were in love but that he didn’t want to break up with his girlfriend, Lisa, because her grandmother had just died. Then she quickly changed the topic.
“Have you ever had sex?” she asked me.
“No. I haven’t. I’ve never even been kissed,” I admitted. Although at 18 years old it was a little embarrassing to admit to never having been kissed I decided it was more depressing than embarrassing and somehow in that mirth my potential embarrassment seemed dwarfed.
“Haven’t you ever had a boyfriend?”
“You’re a really pretty girl. I mean seriously. You are…” I could tell she was searching me for what was wrong by the combination of her squinted face and big eyes.
“Do you ever think about sex?”
“Yes. I do…”
Her pretty pale face lit up with an expression of sudden insight, as if she had just found “it,” “Wait, so are you straight, bi or a lesbian?”
“I’m straight,” I answered with some irritation, fully knowing where she was headed with her question.
Her face zeroed in on mine and then she said, “You’re one of those crazy Christian chicks aren’t you?! You must be really sexually frustrated.”
“Yeah, I am a Christian. I’m not sure I’m crazy… But…”
I didn’t have the will to really explain without further provocation and she seemingly didn’t have the genuine interest. I was in fact a Christian and I doubted we would ever fully understand each other and I wasn’t in the mood to try.
“I suppose I could teach you how to kiss, but that would just be too ‘Cruel Intentions,'” She said, now appearing to feel awkward. I had been feeling awkward for a while in our conversation. I wondered what finally tipped the scale for her. Then she asked, “So, do you have a crush on anyone?”
“I do actually,” I said. “I have a crush on a guy I met through my friends in the orchestra.”
“Oh, what’s his name?” She smiled brightly.
“Lenny?! Nice!” She looks away, then adds, “You know, I’ve heard some weird crap about the orchestra conductor. Isn’t he, like, really awkward?”
I was perplexed but as a perpetual teacher’s pet it didn’t surprise me one bit. I was often completely blind to the shortcomings of all my teachers and they returned the favor often enough. Thoughts of my orchestra conductor, Dr. Stewart Richely, smiling with a bizarre grin and freakishly big, bulging eyes formed in my mind. This was the best approximation of an awkward Dr. Richely image I could concoct in my head to test her impression against mine.
“He’s not that weird actually” I responded.
She smirked. “Well, I’ve heard rumors that he found his wife while he was vacationing in Venezuela and that she’s, like, oddly pretty.”
“Well, that’s good, I guess…”
“Yeah, I guess. I dunno, he just seems so awkward.”
He was what one might consider a “dorky” sort of man, I suppose, but that very “dorkiness” easily segued into real sophistication and an unflinching intelligence on many occasions. He wasn’t exactly tall, or muscular, or conventionally handsome, but he was very much a man and a sensitive looking one at that. While I didn’t find myself attracted to him, his ability to capture his wife wasn’t a mystery in my estimation. And, in fact, I wondered with suspicion why Del brought Dr. Stewart Richely up in the first place.
Our conversation ended much the way it started – suddenly. We parted ways after exchanging a hug in the hallway to seal our new friendship. But, our talk left me wondering. Why had I never had a boyfriend? The answer, unbeknownst to me at that time, was the same reason I didn’t and wouldn’t have a boyfriend my freshman, sophomore or junior year of college either…
Well, there were two reasons actually. The first was reason was because I had one particular, special sort of man in mind for any potential romance and the second reason being that I didn’t realize I had one, particular, special sort of man in mind. I thought there were likely to be many men who fit the ideal I had. I didn’t even realize it was an ideal. I thought it was just a sort of man and that there were likely to be many of them walking around, living, etc. I set myself up for failure right from the start.
I was the sort of female who fell for deep soulful gazes and the kind of things most guys I knew found utterly boring, annoying, or just missed entirely. However, as I said before, I didn’t know that. So, I waited, and waited for something to happen to no avail except on one occasion when I was angry, bored and a little curious.
We were all sitting around at the dinner table in the dining hall. Sam, Andy, Andy M., Megan, Jack, Emily, Jack’s girlfriend (I could never remember her name), and I were sitting there. Andy M. was sitting across from me.
“I really love dessert the most. I mean the rest of the meal is just leading up to it,” Andy M. mused to the rest of the group. And even though I wasn’t in on the conversation directly I found myself saying coyly, heavy with suggestion, “You must really have a sweet tooth.”
“Yeah, I do actually.” he said looking surprised – his face looked curiously intrigued by my coquettish manner. I was taken aback but, out of intense curiosity I continued flirting in the most stupid, obvious ways I could think of. It felt fake. It felt degrading to his intelligence. It was awful, but strangely he seemed happy. He seemed even at ease. I felt distant but at intervals excited, because for the first time I felt noticed for being a girl. Our flirting continued until he started talking about us like we were an actual couple even though we’d never even been on one date and that’s about the time when I got scared and when he finally made his move.
“So, umm… Since we’re all going to the dance on friday, I was wondering if you would like to go with me?” He stood there brimming with a certain fiery anticipation. His eyes were soft with genuine kindness. I had never felt so wanted by a guy ever but I felt horrible because it was at that moment that I realized what a terrible thing I had done. Even if the sort of flirting I was doing would work well to attract the opposite sex and was perfectly suitable for others, there was no way I would ever fall for someone who liked the sort of absurd subterfuge I had been pulling. Ever. I could never respect someone who couldn’t see it.
“Oh. That’s so thoughtful, but I think I’m not going to go to the dance on Friday anyway. Thanks though. That’s really nice of you. Really. Thank you.” I spoke these words directly, with what I hoped was warmth and a genuine appreciation for his sweetness. And, in that moment of authenticity, even though he seemed somewhat disappointed he also seemed slightly repelled. I was relieved. I didn’t want to hurt him. But it was also incredibly depressing.
After that I made a decision to never be “fake” again despite how effective it had been and there were no dates, although I did have one admirer who tried to convince me to come to his room in the middle of the night to see his teddy bear collection. He was a Norwegian exchange student named Bjorn. He claimed his name meant bear in Norwegian – hence his furry collection. And there was another who tried to get me to come to his fraternity house in the middle of the night to “talk.” But, of course, there was no Lenny. He started dating Jackie.
I liked Jackie enough and after looking at her through an entire hour of cultural anthropology, I spent the rest of the day scheming up ways to change my face with makeup or wear just the right fitting clothes of the right color to attract guys, namely guys like Lenny. I decided if I looked like Jackie I could find someone like Lenny.
During one private violin lesson with Dr. Richely I stood in front of the music stand, holding my violin, waiting for Dr. Richely to correct my posture or my grasp of the bow when I felt his eyes on me. Then came the words, slowly, “Ok. I’ve got to stop you for a second, Becky. What I’m about to tell you, well, it’s the most important thing I’ll ever say. If it’s the only thing you remember from all of our lessons then I’ll be content.” I made a mental note to potentially remember this piece of information depending on how truly useful it seemed. Albeit a dramatic opening he didn’t seem theatrical but instead very sincere.
“I dated a lot of women in my day and I could have married a lot of them.” He raises his hand and continues as if he is swearing under oath, “Now, don’t get me wrong, they were all very nice women. They were great people,” he pauses quietly, bending his head down for a second perhaps to reflect on hearts he left broken in his path, possibly with some regret, “But I didn’t really love them.” He lifts his head and with a look of reverence and intensity says, “When you find the real thing there’s nothing like it. My wife is the love of my life and I’m very lucky that I waited for her. Very lucky. You’re a very beautiful girl and I’m sure you’ll have a lot of chances to marry people too, but the moral of the story, the one thing I hope you never forget I’ve said is that it’s always best to wait. Don’t marry someone unless it’s the real thing.”
Given the fact that I had been nodding the entire time he spoke at the end of his words I didn’t have to say very much, so instead I just uttered quietly, “Ok. I will.” I doubted I would have all of these opportunities he spoke of, but the intensity of emotion in his words seemed urgent.
“It’s the most important thing I can tell you. More important than any of this stuff,” he says this as he moves his hand in a gesture towards my violin, my music stand and probably the entirety of music history in general, as if it was all nothing compared to true love – his great love for his wife. And then we continue our violin lesson as usual.
On one Thursday night in January, after winter break, Del came by my room with Chris. They didn’t know where to go because everything was closed around town – it was really late. Chris’ girlfriend was staying in his room for some reason, and Del’s roommate’s sister was staying in her room. And, as it happened, Sam, my roommate was away for the weekend.
“Sure. Ok. You guys can hang out here,” I said as I stood by my door. I paused for a second. “So, you guys aren’t going to like make-out or something while I’m here though. Right?”
“Oh. No.” Del seemed certain so I let them in.
We all sat around and ate microwave popcorn and talked until Del decided she had to go to the bathroom.
“So do you have a boyfriend?” Chris asked, while searching the room as if he might find a man hidden away on a bookshelf or behind a desk or lamp.
“No. I don’t.”
“Why not? You should.”
In a moment of epiphany it came out of me, “No. It really is. See men don’t like me at all if I act like myself. I’m too deep. I ask questions nobody wants answers to. I’m too painful to be around. But if I act like somebody else, men fall all over me. I can get anything I want out of them. Anything. But that’s meaningless and dehumanizing. So basically, I’m just screwed. I suppose literally, if I wanted.”
“You really think you’re that deep?” He looks skeptical.
“Yes. I am. I could devour a lot of guys with my depth if I wanted.”
“But nobody wants to be devoured. That’s just…”
“No. It’s weird.”
“Right. And that’s the problem. I’m not trying to devour anyone. My mind just doesn’t stop wondering things, and often they end up being things people would rather not think about. So when I try to get close to guys they just get scared away because it’s not attractive to think that deeply.” I pause for a second and collect myself. “I mean, I completely understand. I probably wouldn’t like myself either in that way.”
“Ok. So let me get this straight. Let’s see, ok, so if you were a guy you wouldn’t like yourself in that way, and yet you choose to be like that?”
“I’m not trying to be anything. It’s just the way I am and I’m not going to lie to people, guys or not, and pretend to be otherwise if I’m trying to get close to them.” I look at him. His eyes shift to the side, as if he understands, and yet there’s hesitation in his gaze, indicating a reluctance to affirm that I am indeed not abnormal and warranting rejection. Sensing this and quickly attempting to analyze what his qualms could be, I add, “See, I’m not thinking about crazy, weird disturbing things necessarily. Just stuff that’s painful to think about. I ask people questions like, ‘Why did your mom leave your dad when you were twelve,’ or ‘Why do you hate yourself?’ when I get close to them. You, know? Stuff like that. I ask too many painful questions.”
There is silence for a moment while he considers my words. And then looking up he says while nodding thoughtfully, “Ok. I think I get it. Yeah, people probably don’t like that.” His attention fades entirely just as Del returns. Sensing a serious tone in the room she asks brightly, “What have you guys been talking about since I went to the bathroom?”