Once upon a time in the mid-90’s, my longest running friend (she hasn’t been running a long time; I’ve known her since I was in 5th grade. Her name is April) and I lived in South Korea for a year as English teachers. We had many fantastic adventures there and I loved it but that’s not what I’m writing about today. It’s just that this story starts in Seoul and ends in a machine shop in the Rockies so here we go:
This one time in South Korea, my friends and I went to dinner-and-a-show at the Buddhist temple restaurant in the art district of Seoul. It’s a neat place to eat – it’s vegan and they serve little pieces of plants you’d never think to stick in your mouth had they not been presented as food. There’s a phenomenal show complete with drum solos and dances and you sit on the floor, knees tucked under a short table. So my friends and I were sitting at our little table and I smelled something gorgeous that wasn’t food. I asked my friends if they smelled it, too. We pinpointed the scent: It was coming from the table next to us. I tapped the woman over there on the shoulder – she was white so I felt safe using English instead of Pantomime – and asked, “Excuse me, but what perfume are you wearing? It smells amazing.” She looked at her husband and he leaned in and said something. She nodded, then looked back at us and said, “Hahn zhelle” So…ok, not all white people in Seoul speak English, apparently. I know, weird, right? But, come on, who else but English people would be in Seoul? As it turns out, lots of different people. This particular couple was French. And you’d think that would have been easy for me; my grandmother is French. I took six years of the language between high school and college. April, also fluent in the language, having even been able to tell the police, once, that a goat had fallen out of a tree and onto her car…in French, was sitting right next to me and we could NOT figure out what this perfumed woman was saying. We kept prompting her until her husband got in on the action. They kept saying, “HAHN ZHELLE! HAAAHNN ZHHHEEELLLE. Eez dee airy mooglay. Eez heez HAHN ZHELLE!” and I was all, “I don’t even know what a ‘hairy mooglay’ is.” Finally the French man said, “Eye theenk een yohr lahngooahje, yoo say ‘AYnjelle’,” making the word sound hideous. The third friend, she hadn’t spoken French in about 20 years, yelled out, like it was a game show, “OH! ANGEL! Right? You’re saying angel?” The man nodded, relieved that we’d finally broken through our stupid American language barrier. His wife had long since turned away, fed up. She did shoot us a look and I think she rolled her eyes at us, but it was in a French way so I can’t be sure because I obviously do not understand that language. Regardless, I caught hints of her perfume wafting by throughout the evening and was determined to buy some for myself because, honestly? The scent truly was heavenly.
When I got my next paycheck, April and I went to hunt for Angel by Thierry Mugler. I’d never heard of the guy but we figured he was some couture dude so started at the upscale perfume stores. We drew pictures and pantomimed and some of the stores had heard of the scent but none of them had it. We were going to give up when we found this tiny perfume shop on our way home and decided to stop and ask because it’s always good to be turned down one more time. And we were turned down, only not because they didn’t carry it. They did, but they only carried a couple of bottles because it was very expensive and they’d sold their last bottle just that week. However, she said, they would get more in and we should check back.
We checked for months. We always missed it except for the one time I stopped in on a whim and there it was, a small blue star bottle. It was beautiful. The only problem was that I didn’t have any money on me; I hadn’t planned to do any shopping that day and it was only coincidence I’d been in the area. By the time I returned several days later, it was gone. Angel was the most elusive perfume in Seoul.
Our time in South Korea came to an end. We were sad to leave and scared to return to America so we decided the best thing to do would be to acclimate to the White Man Ways by going to Australia first. I was excited to hit all the duty free shops in the airports along the way because they would have to have Angel. Only, they didn’t. I knew it existed, I’d seen it with my very own eyes. But I couldn’t find it anywhere. By the time we got to Australia, all the airport shops were closed. I don’t remember the order of events, but at some point, we wound up at the train station in Sydney and there was one little shop open down at the end of a dark hall. It was a perfume shop. I walked in and asked if they had Angel and the women turned around and took a box from the shelf then handed it over. It was light blue and the silver scrawl across the front said, “Thierry Mugler Angel” I FOUND IT! It was over $80 in American money and I had allotted myself only so much spending per day which I had to make last for the full 17 days we’d be in the country. There was a chance we’d be back to the train station before we left but I’d learned a valuable lesson: if you turn your back on this stuff, you may never find it again.
I bought it. I was elated. I kept it safe the entire trip and brought it home with me and it became my Fancy French Perfume because, up until that point, my fanciest scent was Calvin Klein’s Eternity. I still have my Angel. Parfumiers say that perfume can last for up to 5 years if you keep it in a cool, dark place. I’ve had perfume go bad on me before but Angel is not one of those. Now it’s less sweet, there’s less of a light powder scent; it’s muskier and woodsier but it still smells divine. I started wearing it again recently because it’s a wonderful scent for the end of winter; it’s rich and deep and smells good seeping out from under a heavy sweater like the earth smells good seeping up from the thawing ground.
I still had some clinging to me when I went to work at Chris’ machine shop on Friday. I walked in, sat down and got started. He came over to tell me something, stood for a moment, then said, “You smell like bugs.”
I asked, “Bugs? What do bugs smell like?”
He said, “Buggy.”
I asked, “Is it a sour smell?”
He said, “No. And don’t worry, you don’t smell like crickets. They smell horrible.”
I said, “Well, I know what grasshoppers smell like. Do I smell like that?”
He said, “No, you smell like pine seed bugs.”
I said, “What the hell are pine seed bugs?”
He said, “You’d recognize them if you saw them. They look like Maxwell bugs, only brown.”
I had to google Pine Seed Bug. Yup. They’re box elder bugs that are brown. I asked, “What do they smell like?”
He said, “Not good. They smell like you smell. I think it’s your perfume.”
I said, “How do you know I’m wearing perfume?”
He said, “Because you smell like bugs.”
So maybe I was wrong about my 15-year-old perfume not being rotten. Apparently, it smells like bugs.