Kind of an over-the-top memory, but neat that it involved perfume.
I grew up in an environment where fragrances were rare and considered 'special' and men definitely didn't wear them - well, except for motor oil, moose guts, aviation fuel and fish slime.
I met someone who would later become my husband while dog mushing, but it turned out he was an entirely different type of male than I knew before - dog musher and fisherman, yes, but also author, poet, educator, impassioned equal rights activist. You get the picture. He bought me an entire bottle of L'Heure Bleue perfume, and gave it to me, of all places, in an abandoned cannery where we were holed up during a summer storm while taking his fishing boat upriver to his cabin from Bristol Bay after the close of fishing season.
I was stunned - I was 19 and no one had ever given me fragrance, let alone L'Heure Bleue, let alone perfume. It was the most romantic moment of my life until then (actually it was the first) when he pulled the package out of his duffel, where he'd hidden it for weeks, waiting for the right moment.
Except the storm got worse and we looked outside to see what was the largest porcupine we'd ever laid eyes on (large as a 50 gallon drum), so we ran out in the storm to look at it, and everything started to take a surreal turn. The lightning lit up the tundra and the porcupine, froze the old cannery and boats in vignettes of otherworldliness. Being a literature professor, he took off his shirt and quoted King Lear on the moor in the storm "Blow winds blow, crack your cheeks..." I couldn't believe my eyes and ears. Let's just say my brother, father or anyone I grew up with would never do anything remotely like this. We ran back to the cannery, laughing but freezing wet.
We were wrapped in old wool blankets on spruce boughs we put in the bed frame, cold, wet, waiting for our clothes to dry by the wood stove, when he took the perfume bottle of L'Heure Bleue, and upended the entire bottle over both us, pouring it out over our bodies, hair, the blankets, the spruce branches, the floor - too late for me to do anything about it!
But then the smell! It was mesmerizing, a little hypnotic. It started permeating everything. The lightning made the room intermittently light up in blue flashes - the blue hour. The wood stove glowed orange. The room was small, old, falling down, unpainted, plebeian, filling with one of the most amazing fragrances on the planet. It was (to my mind) a fragrance of salons in Paris, far beyond a life I knew, yet it didn't seem out of place in this little room, becoming a moment outside time - how was that possible? It was like it was consecrated. What a thing perfume could do!
When we continued upriver in the rain next day, the fragrance was still very strong - every movement wafted it around us in our slickers. Thank goodness it took the entire day to get to the village, as we only had one set of clothes, no place to shower. Even then, when we got there people could smell us. They joked about it. They said "What's the matter - trying to cut the smell of fish? You tired of smelling like fish slime? Were you bathing in it? You guys want to take a steambath?"
Men and women took communal steambaths separately. The women were first, and the L'Heure Bleue on me filled the room in the heat - the women wanted to know the real story without the men around, so I told them what I could; there was lots of tee-heeing going on at our expense, but we ended up laughing, and they shared some shockingly bawdy stories! Like a pre-spa spa, only with willow switches. As much as the men joked about how the steambath stunk for a month, they got a good laugh out of it because they said Bill smelled like a whore house. The ironic thing - it was the men who asked him the name of the fragrance, because they were going to buy their wives and girlfriends some.
I've often wondered two things:
if that little room was ever visited again by a fisherman trapped in a storm, or if it sat alone and empty, smelling of L'Heure Bleue for years in its solitude; and
if the women in the village wore their L'Heure Bleue only to steambaths or also to festive occasions (though hopefully not while cutting fish).