Far To Go and Many To Love: People and Places by Lesley Blanch, edited and with an introduction by Georgia de Chamberet (Quartet, 9780704374348, hb illus £25, 1 June 2017)
On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life by Lesley Blanch, edited and with an introduction by Georgia de Chamberet (Virago, 9780349005461, pb illus £10.99, 12 January 2017)
It was the best of perfumes, it was the worst; it was the trademark of the grande cocotte, it was worn by the femme du monde. It was the heaviest of scents, it was the lightest. It was the worst of taste, it was the height of fashion. It drove men mad, it tamed the beasts of the jungle. It was an aphrodisiac, it was an emetic. It came from India — from Haiti. It smelled of newly sharpened pencils; of Victorian boudoirs. It preserved furs from moth; it was something to eat. It was divine; it stank.
These were some of the ways patchouli was described to me when I set out to discover what precisely was the nature and history of this long-forgotten perfume which reached its apogee of popularity about a century ago — and which, suddenly, is in demand once more. Patchouli — pucha-pat to the India of its origin — belongs, in Europe, essentially to the mid-nineteenth century; it is the essence of its age, as frangipani evokes the eighteenth and musk and ambergris belong to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a time of perfumed gloves — and poisoned ones too. Each age has its characteristic expression, found as much in some minor aspect as in a heroic gesture, or great personality. A tune, a colour, a manner of speaking, like a way of moving, or standing, or a particular piece of clothing is as telling as a line of thought or a code of conduct. And nothing is more memorable than a perfume.
Patchouli was the quintessential nineteenth-century perfume, as the shawl was its quintessential garment. The two are indissolubly linked, for patchouli first came out of India because of and with the cashmere shawls which were then the cornerstone of every woman’s wardrobe.
Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | Patchouli
Lesley Blanch was Features Editor of British Vogue 1937-45. During the Second World War, she was on the front line of women journalists covering a wide range of topics. She covered various aspects of Britain at war for the Ministry of Information, and documented the lives of women in the forces with her friend the photographer Lee Miller.
It is an indisputable fact that occupations and professions breed their own particular type. There are occupational faces, as there are occupational diseases, except in the case of the bored, spoiled, overfed idler, now fortunately rarely seen, save at luxurious hotels in ‘safe’ areas, where the face, and its accompanying malaise, might be described as non-occupational.
The ostler cannot be mistaken for the chauffeur, though doctors and lawyers, like poets and scientists, often pair indistinguishably. But the soldier, the sailor, and the airman are each distinct and apart front each other.
Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | W.R.N.S. on the Job, British Vogue, November 1941
The Sabres of Paradise was first published in 1960, a hundred years after the story it recounts had ended, after the Russian conquest of the Caucasus was at last complete. Nikita Khrushchev was in the Kremlin. President Kennedy was running for the White House. Soviet power was at its height. The republics of the Caucasus were just another comer of the vast Soviet empire cowed into conformity by the brutalities of Stalin. The episode of Imam Shamyl’s thirty-year resistance to Russian expansion − perhaps the most dramatic story ever to emerge from the Caucasus (where dramatic stories are hardly in short supply) − had receded to its rightful place in ancient history. The days of small bands of mountain guerrillas raiding, hostage-taking, hiding up in the thick Chechen forests were long gone; whole divisions being tied down by such tactics was unthinkable in an age overshadowed by nuclear weapons.
Forty years on, the story looks a little different and a lot more relevant; now − post-Vietnam, post-Afghanistan, post-Soviet Union and post-September 11. Who, in 1960, would have dared predict that the heirs of the Red Army − that vast force which had done so much to shape the geo-politics of the late twentieth century, already humiliated by the Afghan mujahideen − should in 1996 be defeated, run out of its own territory by a band of lightly-armed Chechens which rarely exceeded a few thousand in number?
Continue reading Guest Review | Philip Marsden | The Sabres of Paradise, Lesley Blanch