2. Shalimar

She is in her late forties, small complexion, nice athletic body, short hair. Everytime I meet her I am surprised at how petite she is: her energy is such that her presence fills more space than her actual body. As usual her perfume puzzles me: why do I recognize it? Do I possibly remember it from the last time I saw her?

I especially like the way she dresses: very basic and comfortable, yet so elegant. You could not compare her clothes to the polished outfits that Lebanese ladies sport at conferences and vernissages, making us foreigners look like inappropriate cindarellas. She is the one who gives allure to her dresses, not the opposite

Obviously her elegance is not in her clothes, it’s probably in the way she moves, the way she speaks and listens. So focused, like a ballet dancer reharsing.

I check on her while she crosses the parterre to reach her seat. Like a dancer in leotard –  it is clear she’s dressed for working.

And everytime her perfume puzzles me. It unexpectedly strong, deep, sensual. Sweet of an old fashioned sweetness (vanilla maybe? iris? and bergamotte for sure), but with something woody (incense? really?), mediterranean. Lavender?

She must have a private space where she’s not set up for displaying her energy. Where she’s an old fashioned woman with an excellent education, outstanding intelligence and good taste, and she’s allowed to ignore all the rest. The dusty streets of Beirut, the fat very well dressed businessmen, the artists, the smiling politician who is somehow one of her hundreds of cousins, the traffic, the smell of the traffic, the poor begging in the traffic and all of those horrible huge white buildings that call for a massive destruction.

But now she smiles to me with polite complicity and says: “I suggest you try the mini-kebbeh before the journalists discover it…” and leads me to the buffet, and she talks about my projects seeming really interested, encouraging and concerned.

Thus I wonder: maybe now I am the dust, I am the traffic, I am an unwilling bundle of talent that she thinks might be worth her efforts. I hope I decide to trust her.

1. CK One (for a man, or a woman)

There was a time back in the late Nineties, when, at every gathering, at least one of our friends, boy or girl, was wearing the CK One perfume. You were in the car with your mates, singing while driving out of the city for the weekend, and the car smelled CK One, you were outside a club before a concert, and the crowd smelled CK One, you were in the class, at your friends’ house, in a bar for a coffee, at the library, and, somehow, the scent of CK One spread through the air. That fragrance was everywhere, it was so merged with the athmosphere that it passed quite unnoticed. CK One was my then best friend’s perfume, and her boyfriend’s too. At that time I did not really like it that much. But now, if by chance I happen to listen to Chumbawamba, Song number two, Mano Negra, Vento d’Estate, my brain automatically reproduces that fresh lemon-jasmine-musk smell, and I can’t help smiling.

This serves to introduce the fact that I met him, my twenty-years-ago-best-friend’s boyfriend, on Christmas eve, in a crowded shop, in a town were neither one of us lives.

– Hey! is that you? So you live here!

– Hi! How nice to meet you! I don’t live here. Do you?

– Nope! That’s so weird! You look fine! How are you doing?

She was jealous of her exclusive relationship with each one of us, so we never talked much. We used to look at each other from a safe distance while we separately shared her attentions, her secrets, and a great deal of her time.

And now we were standing in the crowd, smiling and chatting: two middle aged nearly strangers, who unexpectedly recognized each other. We hugged and wished merry Christmas, and on his neck and jacket (a dark grey corduroy jacket) I could distinctly smell that CK One fragrance.

Did he still use it?

Or did I made it up?

Anyway, I smelled it. Time stood still for how long? A blink?

For as long as that blink lasted I stood in the neon light of the shop in a parallel dimension of infinite possibilities, where all the choices that had lead us to be those adults with glasses, scarves and corduroy jackets who had casually met in a foreign city, were still to be made. All of the friends, lovers, babies, music, travels, projects that I had lost in the process, and all of those that I would never have in the future, materialised for a moment around us. I smelled the bold innocence of my nineteen years and I thought: thanks goodness I was not aware of how fragile everything is.

Then we said goodbye, moved away and it was over.