Singapore, situated at the south end of the Malayan peninsula and really a cluster of islands, is a feast for the eyes as much as for the nose. Like the etymology of its name, and despite its small size, this highly urbanized landscape commands the respect and awe one would reserve upon gazing a lion smack in the eyes. The air is a heavy alloy: laden with moisture from the Sungei Pandan River, laced with driftwood and mysterious rainforest flora, bringing wafts of exotic fruits, the smell of functional products from the ultra-clean public places and the local spices used by coolies on the tongkangs. One is hard pressed to envision the Malayan princes sailing the river in eras past that I had glimpsed in old colonial gravures, when gazing from the top of Bukit Timah Hill; so much have the skyscrapers changed the scenery.
I remember taking Guerlain’s classic Vetiver with me on this trip; its cool, earthy and herbal character spiked with coriander, nutmeg and capsicum complimenting the heat, it resisted the somewhat yeasty air of the city which might turn another fragrance for the sour. Cities have their own scents and some leave an indelible mark on one’s memory. Singapore emits the aroma of freshly baked bread that has been leavened with sourdough starter. The citrusy blast of Vetiver first thing in the morning was akin to putting one’s face in front of an open fridge door with the eager anticipation of finding an unusual snack of green tentacles and savory taste. And usually just that kind of treat did expect us among the many little curiosities hidden inside. The fragrance also managed to keep some semblance of decorum to our glimmering with sweat-beads forehead as we ventured on extended excursions on the nearby islands, the most impressive of which is Sentosa.
Despite its ominous old Malay name of Blakang Mati, which translates as island of the dead, Sentosa is bursting with life in all shapes and forms. Crossing the Harbor Front via air cable cars one is greeted with a vista of the plushest tropical greenery and the most exquisite blossoms. Indeed the brightness of the shade of green is comparable only to the wettest spots of Britain and New Zealand.
There, in the Mandai Garden and in the Botanical Gardens the sight of myriads of colorful orchids interspersed with small lakes holds you in stasis, their scintillating aroma wafting in the moist breeze. A special Orchidarium is devoted to this most erotic-looking bloom with waxy petals. Immersing your nose amidst the stems defies any conceivable expectation. Astonishingly, different kinds of orchids smell of a variety of things. From classic softly vanillic pollen-powdery varieties to the slightly chocolaty Neostylis ‘Sweet Fragrance’, the Cymbidium Ensifolium with its jasmine aroma laced with a twist of lemon and the Maxillaria Tenufolia which possesses a tinge of coconut. That last one allied to complimentary saffron is contributing to the heart accord of Givenchy’s floriental Ange ou Démon, a composition that while not my favorite by any means, highlights the nature of that particular blossom quite well. In fact it was not until I came across the Givenchy fragrance and tested it repeatedly that I realized it reminded me of the tropical odor emanating from an orchid seen long ago yet never identified by name in my mind; until then, that is. But there are also the more displeasing, yet fascinatingly interesting orchid varieties which lure flies instead of bees, such as one which emits the pong of rotten meat and some still which have a peculiar fishy, iodine-like odor.
An evening spent amidst the surprisingly tall orchids, the Tempusu trees and the ginger perennials, (since the Gardens don’t close their doors until midnight) is very close to olfactory intoxication.
To be continued...
Pic via Wikipedia