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.
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.