In Xanadu Did Kubla Khan

While visiting with family and friends in the Middle East recently I received a number of terrifically unique early birthday gifts. I want to tell you about two of them and more importantly about my relationship with the people who gave them to me. I don’t usually share personal information about my loved ones, but hell, I’m feeling audacious.

My oldest friend is Vipsania. She has known me since I was a pale and awkward thirteen-year-old. We share one of those strange, mind-melding and time-bending bonds that grow stronger, yet more complex, over the years. We’re like a good wine, she and I, which is an appropriate analogy given the copious amounts of the stuff we imbibe together. We’re both sharp and quick-witted strong women, though we often differ on what that means exactly. And while we don’t always see eye to eye one thing I am certain of is that we challenge and entertain each other, which in our world is like the holy mélange of greatness (after whiskey and coke, that is). We have a whale of a time abseiling down the rabbit hole together, and it always ends in tears and renewed vows of immortality.

Like two characters in a Hardy novel, our fates are intertwined.

A woman of first-rate if often paradoxical sensibilities, I have never known Vip to wear any jewellery. Not a single necklace or a pair of earrings. Her fashion sense can be classed as hippie meets trailer trash couture, and she is the first to admit it. But, my word, that woman has the classiest, most expensive taste in perfume! Her cosmetics, too, are quite literally legendary. Throughout the years I have often admired her shampoos, lotions and potions. She smells like heaven. She also manages to procure the most enviable incense. Where? Devil may bloody know. Like a traveller on the spice trail, from the foothills of Azores to the shimmering reds and golds of the Orient; the woman knows scent. About a year ago, while admiring her fragrances and sneaking a clandestine spritz of Yves Saint Laurent, I spotted the most intriguing new bottle of perfume. Now, I have no intention of divulging its name, but I will tell you that it was a limited edition Hermès. The kind you can’t get in Boots or on the High Street – at least in London, and also Zurich, where I spent a painstaking afternoon hopping from shop to shop on the Bahnhofstrasse last summer in hot pursuit of the elusive bottle. I have also tried the Duty Free and every godforsaken Debenhams in the country. Nope. If you want it you have to go to the Hermès website directly and spend a fortune. I love perfume but spending a triple figure on a bottle of fragrance is not something I am willing to do. Additionally, the perfume only comes in 100 ml – for connoisseurs only, darling – so you can’t get a cheaper smaller bottle even if you wanted to.

Perfume bottle by René Lalique

The scent? Imagine yourself ensconced in a mystifying amber vision, floating astride wispy vapours of rose, powder and ylang-ylang. The perfume is evocative of Venetian masks, 1920s opulence, firewood, and the best sex you have ever had. It isn’t one of those fresh, fruity, sweet modern fragrances. It’s inimitable. I never mentioned my “campaign” to Vip because that would have been rude. And anyway, my frenzied search for the elixir ended on a happy note when I discovered a different kind of perfume that has become my signature scent. But the gods had other plans, it seems. A few days ago, while recovering from a wondrous night of music, wine and song, Vip presented me with an early birthday gift. It was a beautifully wrapped rectangular box. 

The Hermès…! I could not believe my eyes. Carefully, I eased the treasure out of the box and studied it for a good few moments, before excusing myself and going to Vip’s apothecary cabinet to check that it held the same properties as hers! Easily, the best gift she has ever given me, made even more special by the fact that she honestly had no idea how much I wanted it. So thank you, Vipsania Hooteria Apollonia, for an incredible present.

I am wearing it now; a single drop in a secret place…

I met Lady Henriette Wotton (LHW) in 1999. She was a close friend of Vip’s – an artist, model and well-known party girl. I was still a teenager at the time and I remember our first meeting as if it were yesterday. I was lounging in Vip’s legendary student pad and we were listening to music, shooting the breeze, smoking beedies, and waiting for LHW. I think the plan was to finally get us to meet and then go out for a meal. All of a sudden, in breezed this tall, pale, pre-Raphaelite vision with a tower of wild russet curls cascading down her lithe figure. We took to each other instantly. It was magic. Over the years we developed a close friendship in our own right and share a cornucopia of dreams and oddities – more often than not consisting of weird shit that no one else understands. We have a wonderful tradition of creating together; we sit in cafés for long hours drawing (her) and writing (me) while swapping the odd anecdote and observation, or just smiling at each other knowingly. Artists quietly absorbed in their craft while the world melts and darkens around them. Our very own Bloomsbury Set. Actually, these sessions are like spiritual communion for me. I feel inspired by her creativity and she is, hands down, the most talented artist I know.

Now, LHW has a long history of giving me the loveliest gifts – from adding to my collection of witches, to jewellery and unique items like art nouveau Tarot cards and of course, her own art. This time, however, she outdid herself. We were hanging out with another good friend in one of our favourite haunts, about to meet Vip and go to a bar. She presented me with a beautiful small box wrapped in crêpe and delicate flowers. I opened the box, and my eyes could not believe what I was seeing. It was something that I was intimately familiar with but had never seen out of a book or a film. It was AURYN (above), Atreyu’s mystical talisman in The Neverending Story. I was dumbfounded. LHW hesitantly prompted, “It’s AURYN!” to which I feebly responded, “yeah, wow.” Poor woman, she must have interpreted my shock as disappointment when in fact I was just flabbergasted.

In the novel, AURYN is always spelt in upper case and is a symbol of its mistress, the Childlike Empress, who is also called “The Golden Eyed Commander of Wishes” in reference to her relationship with the talisman. AURYN boasts two mythological serpents that bite at the other’s tail; another sign of ouroboros. The two snakes represent the dual nature of the two worlds, Fantasy and Reality, but also the twin nature and inseparability of their mutual creation and destruction. On the back of AURYN are the German words Tu was du willst (‘do what thou wilt’). It is said that when wearing AURYN, one can imagine more of Fantasia and navigate the worlds with effortless ease, which is why the talisman is particularly suited to shamans, writers, and artists. A perfect gift, especially from LHW.

I hardly ever celebrate my birthday. I think the last time was in 2010. While I like to make a fuss of other people’s birthdays and usually put a lot of thought into what I give them, I don’t enjoy my own and as a result they often go by unnoticed which suits me fine. It doesn’t help that my birthdays usually fall just before academic deadlines or other commitments, and this year will be no different. However, I received so much love and attention from my family and friends over recent weeks that I have never felt more loved or blessed. So when my birthday comes along in a couple of weeks, I will probably spend it watching Man vs. Wild and fancying the socks off Bear Grylls. Just another Sunday morning in my beautiful stately pleasure-dome, where Alph, the sacred river, ran. In the company of Kubla Khan.

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58 comments

  1. Eme

    Isn’t it the most amazing feeling knowing that you have such beautiful close friends in your life? That will go to the end of the earth for you and back? I know that feeling all too well… ❤

  2. Great article, as always: enjoyable and fun, intriguing and informative. And what wonderful friends you have! Takes one to be one, they say.
    By the way, happy birthday, and sorry I’m late: I was out of the blogosphere for a while… xxx

  3. I like the way you write. It’s so rich and sensual and mystifying at the same time. It reminds s me of another time and place. It’s just so otherworldly and I love it! It’s ethereal yet it’s so real.

    • D'arcy

      Thank you so much for your lovely words! I’m so glad your enjoy my prose and hope to see you back here soon. Witching you well… A

  4. This is soooo beautifully written, a wonderful mixture of intellectual, sensual and spiritual which feeds me on all those levels. I love all the referencing to the literary, geographical, commercial, artistic in terms of people, places, works. Hugely impressed by, and warmly grateful for this inspired and inspiring piece of sharing.

    • D'arcy

      Thank you! ❤ Satisfying the intellectual, sensual and the spiritual at once is a feat that I seldom achieve away from the writing desk. This is where holiness lives. To convey that to a reader makes me inordinately happy.

  5. I also love perfume. Scents grant the fastest access to memories and emotions, I think. I am always on the lookout for something unique and “me.” But do you ever find that some perfumes are best confined to a certain place and time, and the rest of the time it’s just not the same? I remember I bought a bottle of “Champagne” (a/k/k Yvresse) by YSL while in Paris in 1997 and I loved it. But having returned back to the US, without Paris, the perfume just… didn’t have the same magic.

    • D'arcy

      That’s interesting. I haven’t experienced as much with fragrance before as I’ve been rather tempestuous with my olfactory sensibilities over the years; I think it had more to do with growing up than a sense of place and time. But music, certainly. Some things affect us in such a way that our experience of life is distilled through our experience of ‘it’. Sensory footprints can have profound, often life changing expressions. And sometimes, they are best left in Paris. 🙂

  6. Anyone as obsessive about perfume wins my vote! One of my favorite really-hard-to-find scents is Tiempe Passate. If you ever smell it, you’ll probably enjoy it, given the tone of this post.

  7. My congratulations to you on being featured in ‘Freshly Pressed’. It goes to show that true talent will always achieve recognition. You really do give added meaning to the phrase ‘less is more’. Regards to you as always, Pete.

    • D'arcy

      Thank you, Pete. By ‘less is more’ you can’t possibly be referring to my writing style..? Haha! I think I know what you mean… And I also think you are planning to blog about it, if you haven’t put pen to paper already. 😉 x

  8. Initially I could not resist reading this just because you titled it with one of my favorite poems… I used to read this while fancying myself as the wise woman of some arcane tribe of warrior priests… It remains one of the mystic pieces of my puzzle.

    And then – since I was here – I read the whole thing. Marvelously done! Brava! You have a graceful, yet deceptively in-your-face manner about your writing. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    • D'arcy

      Thank you, I enjoyed your description of my prose. Agree about the mystical element in Coleridge’s poem; it tickles the otherworldly echelons in my psyche, too.

  9. I have a feeling that if I ever met you and your friends, it’d be a very memorable experience. By the way, you mentioned at the beginning of the post something about djinn. Maybe it’s the fact that I love fantasy stories, especially the Bartimaeus trilogy, but what did you mean by that?

    • D'arcy

      Hi Rami, I love that you’ve singled out the djinn. Whenever I visit that part of the world I am haunted by visions and memories of the past and the inter-dimensional nature of these creatures reflects the strangely nonlinear and otherworldly experiences I have there. A stitch in time. Additionally, I happen to believe in creatures such as djinn (wights, etc) so the meaning is also quite literal.

      • I believe in spirits too. The other night I saw what paranormal investigators call a full-bodied apparition. It was pretty freaky. Of course I’m also occasionally visited by ghosts of the past, so I guess you could say I believe in ghosts both on a literal and a metaphorical level.

  10. I’m so (selfishly) happy that you have carped the diem, and shared your amazing, and absolutely perfect birthday. You are well loved; I cannot think of a greater Gift.
    And, a double ouroboros… why didn’t I think of that!

    Happy Birthday, beautiful friend. xox

    • D'arcy

      Precious one, I’m still reeling with visions of Etruria and it’s all your fault. It seems that that we are carpe-ing that bloody diem together, yes? Here’s to biscotti, words, pebbles, ancient Italians before they were Romans, and new friendships. xoxo

      • You melt my heart, every time. Yes! Cheers to all of that, and more!
        Almost forgot to tell you how much I love these photos…
        Especially the first, and last one. XXX

    • D'arcy

      Aye, this has been the theme de jour hasn’t it?

      I thought a lot about your blog and the memory of your beloved friend today. May we share many more magical moments of camaraderie with those precious souls who touch our hearts. As you touch mine. xoxo

  11. Vippy

    It was worth reading this post if only for the “hippie meets trailer trash couture”. I nearly laughed my butt off and thank gods I wasn’t sipping my coke at that moment.

    Well, giving a present has never been more rewarding! Here’s to many more presents (giving and receiving), exotic sensual scents, good friends and happy birthdays!

  12. That perfume bottle is magnificent, and the pendant such a unique, and thoughtful gift. You are blessed with great friends, also knowing friends, somehow even better. Advanced birthday wishes to you, from one who celebrates every birthday as if it will be his last. And welcome back, from your exotic travelling. Nice to ‘see’ you again. Regards as always, Pete.

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