Sadly enough, “Perfumes: The Guide” is so consistently brilliant that I refuse to quote portions of it. There are countless epigrammatic masterpieces in here, and any one paragraph I might omit out of necessity could emerge as history’s paragon of the written word. I can imagine future historians reading this post, puzzling at the barbarian who quoted the “Osmanthus Yunnan” review, seemingly blind to the luminosity of “Bergamote 22.” Indeed, the only way I could bring myself to select two arbitrary perfumes for the construction of the previous sentence was by browsing for the tiny subset of those with tea-related names. You’ll have to browse for excerpts yourself.
The principal splendor of “Perfumes” is its accord between the classical and romantic styles of criticism. “Perfumes” has acknowledged as much. In the introduction, and not under the section titled “The Classical and the Romantic,” Sanchez mentions “breathless purple descriptions by ad writers or poker-faced pseudoscience from aromatherapists.” “Perfumes” talks cogently about the spatial and temporal forms of the art of smell. It makes surprising and profound analogies for perfumes’ structure and behavior as often as it does for their “flavor notes.” It lays out the elements of perfumery as simple as “do-re-mi,” yet the symphonic majesty of the final products is intact.
“Perfumes” creates tremendous sympathy for its authors. They are as emotionally forthright as they are literate. There is adoration without adulation, and derision with concision. If the world of fashion is known for duplicity, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez are its ultimate guides, who would have the knowledge to see behind the facades and still love with naivete. They share these principles and still have unique voices and talents–what a marriage!
Tea enthusiasts–and enthusiasts of anything for that matter–take a lesson. We need to be able to talk about the spatial and temporal structure of the taste of tea this way. We need to connect technical chemical concepts to intuitive flavor sensations so they are more meaningful than dropped names. We need to make the forms of our flavor art this accessible.
Is it that the technical vocabulary of tea is rendered proprietary by the Chinese or Japanese language, intentionally or otherwise? Then tea scholars have to go there en masse, geographically and linguistically. And don’t waste time going via Britain.