When I was at college, my university chorus group put on a Madrigal Dinner every year. It was a longstanding tradition that our director would prepare us to sing eight or nine madrigals, and the students would be in charge of everything else.
And I do mean everything else, from arranging to rent the ballroom to organizing costumes, meals, publicity and tickets, from creating an original play to obtaining the services of the medieval-music club for instrumental music and the fencing club for demonstrations, from learning medieval dances and extra pieces of music for serenading guests during the meal to preparing decorations, including fabric wall hangings, fresh evergreen garlands, and clove-orange pomanders, and placing the hangings and garlands in the 14-foot-high ballroom. There are 50 students and twelve weeks in which to get everything done – Ready, Set, GO!
We called it Mad Dinner, and those four evenings were some of the happiest of my life. (They were also some of the most stressful, especially the year I was Costume Co-chair. I think I still have a bald patch on the back of my skull from that experience.) I loved it – every Mad minute of it. Pure joy, from wandering minstrels to cloved oranges to funny hats to candlelight to beautiful music.
For me, Teo Cabanel’s Alahine is Mad Dinner.
Notes for Alahine:
Top: Lavender, bergamot, ylang-ylang
Middle: Jasmine, Bulgarian rose, orange tree, pepper plant
Base: Iris, cistus, patchouli, benzoin, vanilla, sandalwood, musk
I probably wouldn’t have gone after Alahine on my own – I like amber, but if you’ve read my posts about Opium you know how I feel about resiny Orientals (hint: I’d rather slide down razor blades than spend any time cooped up in a room with them). I’d ordered a sample of Oha, a dark spicy rose chypre that I thought I’d adore, and a sample of Alahine arrived with it in that package from The Posh Peasant. Oha I found very beautiful but eclipsed by the stunning L’Arte di Gucci, with which I had already fallen in love; Julia, a soft floral with tangy fruits in the top, is also beautiful in a wistful, innocent way that feels a little naive for me to wear at this stage of my life. I wasn’t expecting to love Alahine, and in fact upon my first test of it, its opening notes skated close enough to “Citrus-aromatic-masculine” that I almost wrote it off then and there. But by the end of an hour, I found it heavenly. Upon second wearing, I knew I wanted a bottle.
If I am paying attention to the notes – to what I actually smell - Alahine opens with a zesty burst of lavender and bergamot, which is highly aromatic and therefore difficult for me. I am coming to expect it, and I know all I have to do is wait ten minutes before a lovely, creamy ylang-ylang will appear and soften the aromatics to a level I enjoy. Shortly after that, the curtain rises to reveal a floral heart so well-blended that I can’t tease out any note except rose, and then only because I’ve become familiar with the deep winey rose in Caron Parfum Sacre’ and Ormonde Jayne Ta’if. Spices swirl around these abstract flowers, spinning down into the ambery labdanum that is weighty and smooth as a heavy gold-colored satin shawl. The scent hovers over this rich amber for hours afterward, caressing it with vanilla and patchouli and benzoin, and wrapping it up with a resiny thread. I don’t actually smell any iris, but there is the effect of something cool there that I think must be due to the iris – it does seem like satin, after all, rather than velvet.
If I don’t pay close attention to what my nose tells me, but lift my head and go through my day only registering my impressions, I smell this: pine branches, curried fruit, flowers, mulled cider, cloved oranges, candle wax, vanilla liqueur, and the very faint mustiness from a costume that has been stored in the basement under Old Cabell Hall for several months. I sense candlelight, and laughter, and the faces of friends, voices raised in song, and the excellent feeling of hard work that has paid off handsomely.
When I wear Alahine, I smell joy.
For a few other reviews of Alahine, click on these links:
First image: Natural Christmas decorating! by LDHumes at flickr. Second image: Medieval Group by tights&costumes at flickr. No, it’s not my group, although we dressed similarly - I haven’t been able to find any photos of the Real Thing, probably because none of us could carry cameras in our costumes!
Madrigal Dinners produced by the University Singers of the University of Virginia are no more. When Dr. Donald “Coach” Loach retired in 1994, they went by the wayside - seen, I think, as being too much work. I raise a glass of mulled cider in honor of Coach, who was pictured recently in the alumni magazine, still looking his natty self in a pink polo shirt.
(I hereby remind myself to someday post about the Kamikaze Tenors.)