Cape Town - The apocalypse apparently smells like bile and blood – probably not the best fragrance to wear on a first date or to a game reserve.
You wouldn’t want to wear it to your wedding either. The scent would drift towards the pulpit, the priest’s face would grow ashen and he would flee the ceremony halfway (not before grabbing a handful of vol-au-vents).
You can smell the apocalypse in a gallery in London, where two artists are displaying a perfume comprised of all the smells mentioned in the Book of Revelations: blood, rocks, creatures of the sea, burnt flesh, animal horns, a grievous sore, wormwood, incense, fire and brimstone.
In other words, the average smell of a music festival. One reviewer said the bile and blood smell made her feel sick. Funny that. I always imagined the apocalypse would smell of pancakes, gardenias and unicorn tears.
If you really want to smell like a razed slaughter house (or if you’re a pretentious art dealer with a troubling beard), the perfume can be bought for £300 (R6 200) a bottle. At our rate of exchange, you could probably order your own real-life apocalypse for the same price – just add braai lighters.
These smart artists aren’t the first to fashion ludicrous scents.
US perfumery Demeter has been doing it for years, making “reality” scents with names such as Funeral Home, Zombie, Earthworm and Riding Crop.
I have worn Earthworm, with its bouquet of damp leaves, mildew and soil. My husband asked if I was concealing a terminal disease.
Demeter also makes a “Destination” range, which includes only three perfumes: Cuba, New Zealand and Great Barrier Reef. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure New Zealand is a lovely country filled with exciting smells such as wet sheep, drizzle and extreme boredom, but I can’t help feeling that overlooking South Africa is a big mistake.
Right now, our country must have the most thrilling bouquet possible. Besides nature’s autumnal smells – crunchy leaves, warm soil and dewy shrubs – manmade fragrances are also drifting across the land.
As the ruling party grapples with fractures ahead of the local government polls, there is a distinct whiff of discomfort and denial in the air – a mix of black cloud, rhino skin, bog and chicken kraal. Add to that the bouquet of opposition parties – a melange of drawn claws, photocopy ink and theatrical make-up – and the fragrance becomes more complex, with bass notes of contention.
Mix in the Guptas – a bold concoction of leather car seats, jet fuel, coal and not-curry-at-all-because-that-would-be-racist – and the country’s scent becomes a heady fragrance suitable only for those with a strong constitution. Add the drought (dead cattle, dry mud, singed maize) and the economy (sweat, tears, crusts, tangled sheets) and the perfume starts to become heavy and cloying, bordering on Apocalypse, but without the profitable price tag.
But then there are those other notes – the ones that get us up in the morning with their offer of hope; the ones that drift through windows, reminding us we are alive. The citrus whiff of a better day, the laundry scent of a country in a rinse cycle, the soap smell of one another, fresh winds blowing. Coffee shared, books swopped, shoes mended, fruit sold.
I imagine freedom smells like the plateau of a mountain, where the air is so rarefied scents are almost indiscernible, as though one has made them up. There might be a faint herbaceous smell, a trace of hot rock, the warm scent of earth.
It’s not an everyday perfume, but occasionally, it can be detected in our nation’s air: in our Parliament, with its robust debate and overall-wearing MPs; in its media, where the ink of a freshly drawn cartoon can almost be smelt; and in our Constitution, which has recently proven it is firmly nailed to solid ideals.
While some might sniff the air and smell only bile and blood, fearfully pointing at the TV as political manifestoes are delivered and ratings agencies scowl at our economy, South Africa’s personal scent is far more than that.
And I wouldn’t want to be inhaling anything else.
The next few months are going to be heady and overpowering – kind of like the smell of the cologne-doused guy who gets into the lift and makes you feel either seduced or queasy.
Our apocalypse happened decades ago, with its dark notes of tear gas and bullets. We’re now ready for a sensory overload.