It would not be an overstatement to claim that some of the most stupefying things in my galivanting around the globe were witnessed while in Florida, US. There was perhaps none of the weirdly exotic folklore of other cultures such as that rampant on the Indian peninsula or the Far East, yet some of them have vividly stood out in my mind nuanced with the colours, the sounds and smells of that particular corner of the world.
In my subconscious, aided by the romantic mythology of beatniks and the silver screen, as well as a perpetual On the Road modus vivendi (despite Jack Kerouac never having accomplished the long-route journey of his hero in reality), America was the land of constant shifting; wide, pastel Cadillacs rolling lazily and tall palms delineating the horizon in Technicolor. In many ways these images took shape and form in Florida. No matter pink flamingoes can be found as close as in Cyprus, the sight of them taking flight en masse can only be fittingly placed in pastel-tinted Florida.
Miami in particular seemed like a creature sprawled over on the sea waiting for the ripples to awaken it, its entwined avenues creating a Deadalic complex where mere pedestrians are persona non grata. The shock of exiting the airport doors, from an atmosphere dry as a bone to humid like an Ottoman hammam, wasn't greater than that greeting us in Singapore. There, as in the whole South-East Asia, the ambience is additionally saturated with the yeasty smell of the air and the exotic spices of the Thai cuisine. Florida is without that peculiar sourbread-like note, but its humid kiss promises to stain your starched straw-hued linens very soon! Packing hydrosols and lighter colognes was a smart choice, from the cleaner Tendre Poison to the ever appropriate masculine Rochas Moustache, but I recall how the original Carolina Herrera for Women, its jasmine-tuberose embrace engulfing, was the choice which stood out most for me; its tropical whispering was seductive in the evening breeze which blew over pastel-shaded art deco buildings right out of a 50s film, while passerbys were consuming café cubano at the seaside cafés. The Cuban expatriates are shaking their bon-bon at the beach and on the sidewalk with gusto, upping the beauty quota of the pensioners' population residing in the quitetude of this long-acred shore, and infusing the humid air with their fragrances of coconut-laced suntan oil and white musk body sprays. The air carries the promise of an hedonic evening.
Our field trip took us from watching a cyclone forming in the distance, swiftly approaching our car to our panic contrasted to the relative sang froid of our driver (they're quite used to them, he intimated), to discerning a space-shuttle launch visible all the way from Cape Canaveral in the distance, through the one of the most cataclysmic rains I have ever witnessed in my life and chasing sharks in every seaquarium within driving distance! Nevertheless, rolling on the highway to Orlando, funfair and theme-park capital of the universe most probably, one can't but notice a more commercial aspect: the staggering multitude of outlets for clothes, gadgets and...perfumes. Not merely one, but three major discount perfumeries dot the International Dr (at #1, H and 3A) and several others I bet were hiding behind the gigantic eateries with "Coke size small" served bucket-size. (America the Plenty, we thought and marvelled). It was here that the sales lady assisted our tourist queries with her recommendation to me of Hermès Calèche: "very classy, very old-world" were her words, as she was exclaiming how she always got Italian tourists at her store. If only she knew just how old our weary steps all the way from the Grecian dusty soil had been in this shinning new, almost teflon environment and how much the vast variety and deeply discounted prices had bedazzled us...We left with several gifts, one for every single family member we had seen since our baptismal at the very least.
Visiting the Universal Studios is a natural pilgrimage for anyone who has ever mimicked the Bride of Frankestein's hairdo with shampoo-foam in the shower or noted down Marxist references (or male thighs, I'll give you that) in Spartacus. And amidst the languid atmosphere and the scent of excitement that jeopardising-your safety-at-the-games-but-not-really (like in the Earthquake or Jaws shows) ignites in the human soul, I couldn't help but think how much Hollywood and the big studios have contributed to the lore of perfume wearing: Don't we still marvel at The Women and the racks of perfume flacons lined in the back of the store? Don't we tick off fragrance references in Pacino's recital in Scent of a Woman? (ie. Floris cologne, the fictional Ogilvy Siters soap, Misuki, Bay Rum and Fleurs de Rocaille). Don't we secretly envision ourselves as another Myrna Loy sitting in front of a heaving with expensive crystalware vanity?
But none of the fictional scentathlon can rival the rich, mossy, pungent and all around compelling atmosphere of the swamps; the greatest natural park of them all, the Everglades! Risk-seeking thrill must have been running through our veins at the time: We had not only rented a mini motor-boat cruising through the immense dirty-green and full of scattered leaves & water-lillies bodies of water that hide alligators and venomous turtles, but actually held the former in our hands when visiting the nearby breeding farm. I will never forget the feel of reptilian in my palm; surprisingly soft, oscillating from buttery soft to thick-skinned along the body, yet creepily cool to my mammal touch, like dead tissue. An alien feeling exacerbated by the nearby smell of hatched crocodilian eggs and fresh prey for the mothers.
The ambience of The Everglades is majestic and awe-inspiring, like entering an enchanted forest where everything takes on a twisted and dangerous nuance, only it's all played out in the eternal South, cast under the bright sunlight, as opposed to the more dimly-lighted spells of Ormonde Woman. Godzilla-sized mosquitos fester the area, which accordingly necessitates industrial-strength insect-repellant: Luckily, the little handy store outside the official entrace sells that by the trackload and despite its hair-nose singeing eucalyptus and terpene notes which had me reluctant to put it on myself, it seemed to work like a charm and keep the evil pests at bay for the whole day.
Thankfully, the long route that diverts from the national park to the Southern-most tip of the Florida Peninsula, the Florida Keys, took our mind off the "Off "and into fun escapades à la True Lies. If only we had the endless lean thighs of Jamie Lee Curtis to show, we would have fancied similar acrobatics with the open-top car, but we kept our modesty intact and the air-conditionning on full speed. Key West is a truly tropical paradise with the heat to match it, even in the early throes of autumn, and I can see why Ernest Hemingway chose to live some of his adventurous and short life here writing about mako sharks.
Us, etternally drawn like Ulysses to their kin, magnetically recalibrated found the best Greek-owned restaurant where we died from gustatory hedonic rapture which included the most amazing and iodine-scented seafood, ending our meal with one of the most fragrant of all Americal dishes: the Key West Key Lime Pie. Thanks to the tangier and more aromatic fruit of the Florida limes as opposed to Persian limes, the dish presents itself like a true fragrance, with citrusy and aromatic top notes titillating the palate, progressing into the buttery, egg-yolk smooth sarisfying heart and the condensed milk creaminess of its basenotes. The perfect closing of an unforgettable adventure.
Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Travel Memoirs, Stars & Stripes: 10 Quintessentially American Fragrances
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