Return from Battle
My literary research leads me in all sorts of directions, to all sorts of places, perhaps for all sorts of reasons. Perfume, for me, is not just something to wear; it is something to investigate.
Several years ago, I purchased a bottle of Mitsouko by the House of Guerlain. It is a strong sensuous perfume, to be used, like discipline, only at the right times; and to be appreciated, like romance, only during special occasions. The name Mitsouko means both “honeycomb” and “mystery” in Japanese. This fragrance is truly one of sweet but profound allure, and velvety mystery.
Last summer, I purchased L’Heure Bleue, also by Guerlain. L’heure bleue, the blue hour, is, according to Guerlain, the suspended hour. This fragrance is indeed one of anticipation and of waiting, of delicate romance and sweetness, sentiment and soft contemplation.
The French sensibility of l’heure bleue is utilized in my novel, THE DAWN, as the duration of twilight in the evening. The perfume, L’Heure Bleue is mentioned as the favorite scent of the countess-mother of Guillaume de Vallon.
The creation of these perfumes by Jacques Guerlain is symbolic in a sublime way. They comprise a phenomenal history with an unending rapport as the opening and the closing, the beginning and the ending of a romance, and of a battle.
I unknowingly purchased each scent in the reverse order from their intended experiences, but I sometimes do things in that manner. Perhaps the novelist in me must know the Ending of a story before I can start the Beginning, even with a fragrance.
The history of Mitsouko is an epic one. Her creation was inspired by a fictional character, the heroine of the 1909 novel, La bataille, or The Battle, penned by Claude Farrère. The setting of this classic tragedy is Japan, during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. An officer of the Royal Navy and a woman named Mitsouko engage in a secret affair. (Is there any other kind of affair? I silently ask. Pre-Internet, there was not!) Mitsouko was the wife of a noble Japanese fleet admiral.
The British officer-lover and the Japanese Admiral-husband go off to fight the decisive naval Battle of Tsushima. Mitsouko waits, with quiet dignity, at home, for the outcome of this battle, and for the return of the survivor of that battle. Her romance will continue with the man who returns to her.
This novel was begging for a perfume named after the heroine! The House of Guerlain did not disappoint.
L’Heure Bleue was introduced to the world in 1912, Mitsouko in 1919. Each is housed in the same bottle design, to symbolize the beginning and the ending of the Russo-Japanese War.
In terms of fragrance accords, these scents make sense. They are olfactory complements to one another, acting in inverse order. L’Heure Bleue begins with a freshly sensual elegance. It is rich and powdery, a sensation that fades into warm sweetness. Mitsouko is the ending note that begins distant and removed. It then becomes more intense, offering the opposite experience as a quiet floral-oriental that becomes more concentrated, more full, and a bit fruity, as the skin of the wearer provides her own natural essence to the aroma magic.
It’s an evocative matter of waiting with anticipation for love in the twilight of the setting sun vs. experiencing the glorious return of that love after the battle has ceased. While the heart of Mitsouko silently fought her passions and her fears, the Battle of Tsushima raged as the only decisive fleet action in this war between the Russian Empire and the Empire of Japan.
That battle took place in 1904-1905 between two empires seeking to dominate Korea and Manchuria. The Empire of Japan under Emperor Meiji proved victorious over the Russian Empire which was flexing its muscles in the Far East through a policy of expansionism, a policy that would not entirely expire with the end of this war. This victory of imperial Japan in this military conflict with Czarist Russia was the first time that an Asian power defeated a European power in “modern times”. This war was the first “great” war of the 20th century.
At that time, the country of Japan was undergoing modernization and “Westernization” during the Meiji period that constituted the first half of the Empire of Japan. Russia was forced, temporarily, to retreat from its policy of eastern expansion that sought a warm-water port on the Pacific Ocean for its navy and its maritime trade.
Dire deeds and even more dire consequences were in store for imperial Japan and the now-Communized Russia. Those horrors, and dealing with those horrors, would comprise the latter half of the American Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The stage of that historic leadership was set by his distant cousin from the Oyster Bay wing of the family, Theodore Roosevelt Jr. That Roosevelt, or TR, served as the 26th President of the United States from 1901-1909.
In 1905, during his elected full-term as President, TR brokered the end of the Russo-Japanese War. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for his commanding work during those peace “negotiations”, a process that can water down the worst and even the best of intentions.
Theodore Roosevelt believed in strength of many kinds. He believed that the Russian mind only understands strength, often brute strength. His keen understanding of the Russian temperament was accurate and highly superior to that of his distant cousin. FDR is said to have handed to Joe Stalin whatever that sociopath Commie wanted during those talks in the Crimea in 1945.
Franklin Roosevelt was fighting his own internal battles during the Yalta Conference in February 1945. In three months, he would be dead, from whatever illness had plagued him. I’m no fan of that Roosevelt socialist-elite on American soil, but it’s my guess that it was the warrior in FDR that sought a quick end to an infernally long war. Even TR might have been duped by the desire for peace that Stalin manipulated to his own advantage.
According to the House of Guerlain, L’Heure Bleue suggests a time when “the night has not yet found its star.” Mitsouko then richly affirms that star is shining upon its own destiny. In some way, TR was the opening note of a blue hour to the new century, the 20th century. That new century would require a closing note.
That closing note sounded almost a century after the Russo-Japanese War, when the Wall fell, and the Iron Curtain crumbled. That ending note then lingered long, too long. It languished, unfinished in time as the thousand points of light tried to find their destinies. Those lights became focused, at last, in 2016, upon the American destiny.
The closing note to the 20th century was not composed by FDR but by President Ronald Reagan. The end of that battle, of that cold war, was not loud. It was but a whisper that waited tediously, almost interminably to truly be heard. Like the heroine Mitsouko, that palpable whisper of hope waited for the victor of the battle to return, with the concentration of sound that said:
We have won the war.
Rarely do Europeans speak of the ending of the Cold War. Rarely do the British speak fondly of Margaret Thatcher. Rarely do the French mention their Dark Years, or the Occupation, or even recall Charles de Gaulle, the General who saved France, and the President who saved the Republic. How therefore can those Europeans possibly confront the post-Cold-War consequences of 2 Gulf Wars and the War on Terror and the ongoing chaos of the EU?
Rarely do Americans quote Theodore Roosevelt. I shall quote him now:
Life brings sorrows and joys alike. It is what a man does with them — not what they do to him — that is the true test of his mettle.
There is something to be said for government by a great aristocracy which has furnished leaders to the nation in peace and war for generations; even a democrat like myself must admit this. But there is absolutely nothing to be said for government by a plutocracy, for government by men very powerful in certain lines and gifted with the money touch, but with ideals which in their essence are merely those of so many glorified pawnbrokers.
Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.
Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.
Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure . . . than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
Get action. Seize the moment. Man was never intended to become an oyster.
Wars are, of course, as a rule to be avoided; but they are far better than certain kinds of peace.
Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children's children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.