The past couple of weeks for me, like for a seemingly unprecedented number of others, have been about reflection and realization in the midst of global waves of rightful anger at the deaths of George Floyd and too many other Black people before him. Each of us lives in the same “infected tree” of a long flawed system that enables racial injustice, and figuring out our individual roles in the parts of it that are or are not working will take a lot of ongoing learning and commitment.
To be more conscious. In every interaction. A colleague pointed out that a lot of idioms or figures of speech have their origins in cruel historical practices (her example was “crack the whip”); I for one may not have taken stock of an expression before using it casually.
The list goes on—thankfully there are an abundance of resources easily available to help guide people in all levels of education and action.
Recently, I’ve been reading a simplified version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast with my 7-year-old niece (cousin’s daughter) by her choice. I vaguely remember watching the cartoon when I was a child—loved the singing teapot! I have not seen the 2017 live action version, although I have seen Beastly, which is supposed to adapt the plot to modern day but in doing so loses the vintage fantasy charm, replacing it with urban angst.
Stories like Beauty and the Beast carry so much undeniable pathos that it’s hard not to be moved by them. Think The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Cyrano de Bergerac. Even more so when the “ugly” protagonist is not portrayed as such at all on screen or stage. I think there is some catharsis in witnessing the embodiments of the “unlovable” parts of ourselves finally be seen and loved, with the same intensity as their own unrequited love has burned so patiently.
But those are adult emotions.
Beyond the obvious message of judging a person by their character and not their appearance, I hadn’t anticipated so much fodder for lessons from this story. It begins,
Once upon a time, a young prince lived in a giant castle. One cold night, an old beggar arrived and offered him a rose in return for shelter. He sneered at her gift and turned her away.
“Why was she a beggar?” my niece asked.
Pause to explain to a 7-year-old that people lose their money and homes for different reasons.
Suddenly, she transformed into a beautiful enchantress. Then she turned the Prince into a hideous beast!
“Why did she show up as a beggar if she was an enchantress?”
Why do people appear to strangers in disguise, indeed?! To test the prince’s character, of course. That’s enough “whys” for one sentence.
As our lovely Belle walks down the street reading a book (I take the initiative to make a side note to my niece that one shouldn’t do that—pay attention to your surroundings!), someone approaches her.
Soon a hunter named Gaston walked up to her. He grabbed the book from her hands.
“That’s so bad!”
Later the words conceited bully are used to describe Gaston. Another chat about what a bully is… I feel a wave of gratitude that she has not encountered one, but believe this won’t be the last time we’ll ever discuss this topic.
Shortly after Belle has volunteered herself to take her father Maurice’s place as the Beast’s captive, and started to get comfy in her new home thanks to the very hospitable kitchenware, she gets bolder.
After dinner, Belle wandered into the forbidden West Wing.
“Why did she go?”
If someone tells you that you’re not allowed to see something, don’t you want to see it even more?
A sheepish smile and a nod.
It’s because people have curiosity, I explain, hoping that she will always be curious.
But the Beast had been secretly watching her! He was very angry.
“Why was he angry?”
Enter the concept of betrayal when someone does the exact thing you told them not to… and fear of having your secret discovered. But we gloss over this, because the plot is getting tense.
Belle flees the castle and soon finds herself surrounded by a pack of hungry wolves.
Just then, the Beast appeared!
“Why did he come out?”
He realized he shouldn’t have been so angry… I’m trying to hold off on speculating on his deeper feelings until the writer makes it very unsubtle.
The Beast fights off the wolves but is severely wounded. Belle considers her options for a moment, and chooses to help him get back to the castle, where she nurses him back to health.
One night, Belle and the Beast dressed up for a fancy dinner.
“Why did they have a fancy dinner?”
Sometimes people just want to do something special!
“The table looks so long!” she exclaimed, pointing to the illustration.
I try to water some saplings of logical thinking by pointing out that people who live in castles are probably very rich and are able to host fancy dinners with many guests.
“Have you ever eaten at a long table with many guests?”
Yes, before COVID-19……
The Beast is happy, and asks Belle if she is happy, to which she answers that she is, but only wishes she could see her father. He brings her the magic mirror so that she can see Maurice in it.
The Beast saw the unhappy look on Belle’s face. He decided to let her go—even if it meant he would never be human again.
My own nostrils start to smart, but my niece is perplexed. “Why is he letting her go?”
Love is not selfish, I reply emphatically. When you truly love someone, you will do what’s best for the other person so they won’t hurt, even if it means you lose something yourself. I want her to grow up equipped with a radar to spot selfish intentions a mile away…
We still have a few pages left to read. It’s been intense and we haven’t even gotten to the climax yet! Kind of like this post hasn’t gotten to the perfume yet… until now.
I bought some discovery sets recently, one of which is The (Almost) Complete Collection from Etat Libre d’Orange. I thought it would be fun to pick a perfume for each of the main characters of Beauty and the Beast, because these things are arbitrary, right? The set has 20 samples, and I chose a few contenders based on the names and descriptions in the brochure, then did something I have not done before with perfumes I buy—test them on blotters first. Here goes.
Belle: Like This
Billed as “sweet, citrus, floral,” “a fragrance that feels uniquely yours and embracingly familiar.” This is our Belle, wholesome and beautiful from all dimensions. It’s a powdery-pink, light, soft sweater—never mind if it’s cashmere or acrylic. You feel safe opening up to her, even if you don’t know her very well. The brightness of ginger and orangey notes promises that the conversation will be engaging, regardless of whether or not it’s deep.
Notes listed: Ginger from Indonesia, pumpkin, tangerine, immortal flower, Moroccan neroli, rose, spicy notes, vetiver, woody notes, musk, heliotrope.
Beast: Eau de Protection
With this one, I was heavily biased by the brand story: “…a refuge on the battlefield of love. A breathtaking rose, protected by its thorny stem, is met by a sharp, cold and metallic prick of blood…” The Beast is, in turns: someone to be protected from, a protector, and finally, the protected.
This perfume smells cold, yet disarming (to me, but maybe that’s because I know how the fairy tale ends). You know there’s a beating heart underneath all that fur.
Notes listed: Black pepper, ginger, Bulgarian rose, bergamot, jasmine, benzoin from Laos, blood accord, patchouli, incense, cocoa.
Gaston: Je Suis un Homme
So he would remind you, while prancing around flexing his biceps—”I am a man!”
The perfume opens very fresh with citrus, as you would expect no less from the idealized Napoleon behind the concept. After a couple of hours, though, it becomes the same stale drivel—not a dis on the fragrance, I’m talking about Gaston—to me it smells like shampoo and suds rather than the “charge of saddle leather, boots and belts” described, but I haven’t spent time with it properly yet.
Notes listed: Bergamot from Calabria, lemon, orange, cognac accord, myrrh, cinnamon, clove, animal notes, leather, patchouli.
Maurice: Remarkable People
Belle’s father doesn’t get as much page time, and he seems to spend most of his allotment getting lost in the woods—but he is an indomitable inventor, a genius in his daughter’s eyes!
Remarkable People is a perfume for “a celebratory pop of champagne” when one of his brilliant ideas becomes a marketed product and the townspeople stop calling him crazy. It’s a tempered sandalwood that also feels cool on the surface, perhaps similar to how a workaholic is inevitably distanced from those around.
Notes listed: Grapefruit, champagne accord, cardamom, jasmine, curry JE, black pepper, labdanum, sandalwood, lorenox.
The Enchantress: Archives 69
Remember the woman who caused it all at the beginning? I also considered Jasmin et Cigarette and She Was an Anomaly for her, but landed on Archives 69 because it had something slightly repulsive at the opening—to which the Prince responded reflexively, turning her away. When it settles, it feels dense with several layers of self assurance.
Notes listed: Pink berries, tangerine, pepper leaf, orchid & prune JE, benzoin, camphor, incense, patchouli, musk…
These associations are made on initial impressions, and my smelling strips aren’t the best surface for really testing them, so I may change my mind after I’ve gotten to know these perfumes better. Now, what about the charming enchanted objects in the castle—the candelabra Lumiere, the clock, the teapot, etc…?