Dreams usually come to me at night, carrying strange narratives. Barely had I remembered a dream I dreamt. But I did dream in colors. And more importantly, I dreamt in smells.
For these years, I have been obsessed with roses. A rose is a rose is not a rose – they said. A rose is a poem. A melancholy. An ultimate joy. Or sometimes, a pain. A rose slowly lures you into its romance under the breaking-dawn, yet hardly gives up its essential oil when coming to the distillation process. A kilo of Damask rose absolute can cost you thousands of dollars. But the most surprising part? It does not smell the same as the rose petals you used to smell in the open air. Never.
I inherited a love for roses from my mom and my grand grandma. In retrospect, this kind of love can be the most feminine thing I’ve ever expressed. I draw roses in watercolor (painting is not usually my thing!). I wear roses perfumes. I love to see people put dried rose petals in teas and cakes. I wear rose-pattern outfits. And, to some extent, I plant roses in my little garden.
To take care of the roses is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. I mean the emotional attachment, the bonding thing between me and the rose tree. I studied all kinds of fertilizers, bio-pesticides, bugs & worms, weather. The list goes on. I only know it has the same chemistry when I entered perfumery, where slow things and solitude take place. You don’t need to shout out about the things you want to do. You plant a rose from tiny roots, patiently watching them grow. One morning, you saw the first red leaves, then the buds, and then the first flowers.
You feel the pain of seeing yellow leaves under attack by some red spiders. You’re worried when it rains too hard. You jump into different rose groups to see how people plant theirs. You have a list of the rose colors you want in your garden. Every day, you spend your morning routine by watering the plants at around 8 am. And a day sheds its final sun rays just in time for you to spray some nutritions on the leaves. You wish them good night, talking to them as a living creature. A thorny rose tree looks so painful to hug, but a goodbye kiss on a flower is just fine. Perhaps.
They said roses are beautiful in a lover’s eyes. Taking care of a rose tree takes you time and effort. Why? Bugs love roses. So do the worms. It is pretty easy to understand. As should you be put under a magic spell, it is better by a rose. There are thousands of rose species around the world. Damask rose is the most beautiful to me. Rose de Mai is a well-known name of the rose plant in Grasse, France, where locates the heart of modern perfumery.
More than meet the eyes, the beauty of a rose is undercovered under its scent. Have you ever wondered what constitutes a rose aroma? In 1950, they identified 50 molecules to make a rose scent in essential oils. That number goes up to 200 in the 1970s and now is more than 400. I admire the power of science in the fragrance industry. Thanks to its incremental improvement, now I can construct my own rose accord using the most dominant aroma chemicals of a rose. You will need Geraniol, Citronellol, Eugenol, Damascenone, Rose Oxide to build the most basic rose note. Nevertheless, no technology can copy 100% of what is born from nature. That is a challenge, and also a chance for a perfumer to fantasize about their beat. A rose perfume shouldn’t smell like a rose, I believe. It could be a story inspired by the rose. For a rose is most enchanting in smell as its own, it doesn’t need a copy cat in a crystal bottle.
I never forget the perfume of Rose Essentielle by Bvlgari on my mother’s skin. She liked to wear that perfume before going to church on Sundays.
“Mom is gorgeous,” I thought. Her perfume scented my childhood memory and followed me as a dear friend. I don’t usually wear perfume, but I love to trace a rose scent trail by a stranger passing by, guessing their perfume’s names. Have you ever followed someone just to ask about their perfumes?
When you get closer to a rose with eyes closed, you may recognize a forgotten joy. The joy you have neglected for a long time. That is the joy of smelling, pausing, and being present.
Under the rose, I wish you joy and love.
Saigon, February 19, 2021