A Taste for Tobacco

vespucciTabac Blond is a perfume that you need to grow into.

That probably sounds strange.  Perfume is perfume, right?

Wrong. Some is like caviar or truffles, a taste you may acquire, but that you won’t be born with; some perfume is sophisticated and has to be appreciated in retrospect.

When I first encountered Tabac Blond back in the nineties, it was more emphatic than it is today.  It was a dry melange of tobacco and leather. Tabac Blond was not sweet at all, and so very civilized  that you didn’t understand it at first. TB was beautiful, but severe as a parterre,  that was my first take away from the encounter.But then I didn’t understand Paris on first encounter, either.  I went there at fifteen on a school trip with the most beautiful girl in Italy.

This, by the way, is not hyperbole. The girl went on to a short stint in Italian movies, but it was something to walk down the Champs Elysees with Carla and have half the avenue pivot on its heel and stare, because they thought what they’d just seen wasn’t real, and if you want to know what they’d seen, look at any Botticelli you like, make them three shades blonder, and you’ll see it, too. She was this unexpected mixture of darkness and light, many shades of gold walking along wondering innocently when she could eat lunch.

Under those circumstances it was hard to get much of a sense of the city.  The city was trying so hard to get a sense of Carla, that my views were blocked by investigative Frenchmen, so that I came away with no sense of Paris’ long perspectives or romance at all, although of course, it was Romance and nothing but, that preoccupied the French. You’d have thought we traveled in a cloud of putti.  I’m convinced some of these admirers were fascinated for purely aesthetic reasons, not personal ones, and several photographed Carla. (They certainly weren’t photographing me, not with my comedic nose.) I suppose it was the old story, the Italians exporting beauty, almost unconsciously, and the rest of the world over reacting.  Or so I thought at the time.

Of course it was also cold and rainy and I got laryngitis. There were all the adolescent boys on our trip as well, uniformly tiresome in the many ways that adolescent boys are,  working definitions of the verb gener, to Annoy, most of them. One pushed me down the length of the Galerie Des Glaces on my slippery soled shoes to the great horror of our French teacher.  She was entirely correct to scold us, but somehow I ended up with the lion’s share of the telling off and my partner in crime, a boy of great charm, dimpled his way out of it.

For years afterwards, this was what I associated with Paris, gawking men, cold, damp, a sore throat, and being stuck with the blame for outraging French sensibilities at one of their National Monuments, never mind that they’d long since opted for Liberte, Egalite, and Napoleon over Versailles.  The French can abuse their own culture, but woe betide any outsider who tries it.

However in all the time since then I have learned to love old Tabac Blond. Like sticking close to Carla on that trip, it gives a sense of warmth, comfort, and golden charm unshadowed by any sense of its own loveliness. Like Carla then, before Cinecitta, it has an engaging unselfconsciousness that I find irresistible.  I love it now, which makes me wonder, how would I feel about Paris if I went back?



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12 thoughts on “A Taste for Tobacco

  1. Thank you for sharing this lovely story. I say that, although I understand that at the moment you didn’t enjoy it, because I know that you’d love Paris if you went back. Go as soon as you can…

    1. Bet I’d love it now too. Will try to get back there as soon as possible, though not sure when that will be with a twelve yr old who doesn’t like the idea of MUSEUMS!

        1. It would probably do her good to drag her through the Louvre. It’s nice to know that you appreciate those museum trips now.

  2. … (in small voice) My children love museums.

    However, they haven’t been exposed to European-style art museums, which might make a difference. They like the National Gallery in DC, but that is big and airy and a public building that has tolerance for shrieking toddlers.

    Bookworm is going to Europe for ten days this summer, one of those whirlwind school trips where they hit London, Paris, Versailles, and Rome. I’m hoping she’s as thrilled by the Vatican Museum as I was. ALLLL those priceless pieces of art, and our tour kept walking past them so we would have plenty of time in the Sistine Chapel… not that I am knocking the Sistine Chapel in the least; it was astounding and considerably more beautiful than I had expected, which is saying something. Just that I could have spent many more hours than I had available there.

    1. Oh you are so lucky in your kids! But then my sister who used to HATE museums as a child adores them now, so maybe there is hope yet for Miss Skateaway.

      Bookworm ought to have a better time in Paris than I did, and I hope she actually gets to see something of Versailles. When I went it was not yet solid with Chinese tourists, but I understand that Vaux le Vicomte is still fairly quiet and that was Versailles mach I.

  3. Oh, I love the old Tabac Blonde! I only have about 1/2 ml from a girlfriend that I only bring out to inhale on rare occasions when I am waxing nostalgic. This story had me run to my sample drawer, and go to my tobacco container, and place one teeney drop of Tabac on my wrist….just because. I can not even begin to describe to you what assails my nose on first sniff. It is sweet, yet dark, like hidden hallways of long lost love. After a few minutes a leather draped horseman arrives, smoking the best cigar ever. Oh darn, I went and tried to describe it. Which is sheer stupidity on my part, because, this juice is made in heaven and cannot be translated here on earth. The warmth and sophistication and bravery of this perfume makes me wish for a time machine, to go back and buy gallons of this masterpiece and bring it on home, to enjoy, at my leisure. Thank you for taking me there…..

    1. Hi Tora,
      Do I ever know what you mean about Tabac Blond! Your description is a good one, it is a gallant scent.

      When it was reformulated my husband sulked, because it was his favorite, and when I brought home more recent samples he still sulked.

      The version I have now is new extract from the NYC boutique and although it is not the same as old Tabac Blond, it is close enough to make you happy if you remember the old stuff. Personally, I’m stocking up, because the Carons are changeable-sometimes high quality and sometimes not. Currently the Tabac Blond is good, the En Avion a lot better than it was, the Narcisse Blanc still not up to par, and the Poivre really nice. It’s all hit or miss.

      But at least my husband has stopped sulking.

  4. This piece was delightful in every regard, Blacknall. I love how gracefully you tell a story and your playful and wonderful use of language. I have known more than a few charming boys who have gotten out of trouble because they “dimpled (their) way out of it,” as you said. 🙂

    You’re right: it took me a few wearings to fall in love with Caron Tabac Blond, but when I fell, it was quite the spill! Like you, I have the extrait version from the New York boutique, and it is really, really good. I’m on my second large bottle now, both have smelled identical though I ordered them a couple years apart, and when I have sent samples to a couple bloggers in the past, they fell in love, too, and assumed that I had sent them vintage. Nope, the current stuff!

    1. This is high praise coming from you Suzanne, although I think most of the time the stories tell themselves!

      Your experience with Tabac Blond and mine make me think that there is a little too much credence being put in The Guide reviews of Caron (still). No doubt at the time that Tania Sanchez tried the various Caron fragrances they were not at their best, but since then, they have pulled up their socks and I hope people aren’t put off, thinking, “Oh that’s the company that used to be good and is a mess now.” You really have to go and try. Most of the time the Carons are still superior to the majority of what’s on the market-don’t you find?

  5. Yes! (to your question at the end) – I think, too, that they’re superior to much that’s on the market now, or at least that’s how I feel about the extrait versions. And even Caron Aimez Moi in the edt version is pretty darn good. 🙂

    1. And they’re re-done Aimez Moi! Just looked them up on Fragrantica and they have new versions of Aimez and Nocturnes. Hm…

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