I’ve been having nightmares recently — images of haunted, ancient buildings, scary-looking storytellers with harsh words and amazing powers, “gifts” that are full of trickery and cruel irony invade my thoughts throughout the night. To combat this nighttime onslaught, I’ve been forcing myself to have happy daydreams. Some of my best daydreams involve travel: places I’ve visited and been enchanted by. One such place is southern Italy and a wonderful vacation spent in the area stretching from Naples to Paestum. Apart from the fragrant foods of Campania — ripe San Marzano tomatoes “baking” in the sunshine, limoncello, mozzarella di bufala, pizzas cooking in wood-burning ovens, cinnamon-scented sfogliatella — I remember one afternoon spent at Pompeii, where the air was scented with a combination of sweet smoke (from Vesuvius?) and flowers. For once, the flowers outdid the smoke…because the flowers were ginestra (Genista juncea).
Ginestra (also known as broom) is part of a big plant family — the legume (Fabaceae) group. As I was searching online, trying to figure out the type of broom I smelled at Pompeii, I saw the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi was inspired by broom to write his poem The Ginestra, or The Flower of the Wilderness:
Here on the arid ridge of dead Vesuvius,
That by no other tree or flower is cheered,
Thou scatterest thy lonely leaves around,
O fragrant flower,
With desert wastes content. Thy graceful stems
I, in the solitary paths have found....
Now all around, one ruin lies,
Where thou dost dwell, O gentle flower,
And, as in pity of another’s woe,
A perfume sweet thou dost exhale,
To heaven, an offering,
And consolation to the desert bring.*
Santa Maria Novella references Scotland in its description of Ginestra, but I’ve never smelled the broom of Scotland. I was interested to see if Ginestra reproduced the aroma of the broom of southern Italy. Ginestra goes on MOSSY (it’s as if IFRA never existed). This sweet moss lingers and Ginestra, at first, smells like a more intense Eau de Guerlain. As the moss calms a little, I detect some citrus and the beginnings of a floral note. The floral note quickly strengthens and smells almost tropical, with its intensity, sweetness and touch of fruitiness (some days I thought I smelled pineapple, other days coconut). In mid-development, Ginestra comes closest to the broom I enjoyed in Italy: it has an intoxicating honeyed-floral aroma, light moss/muskiness, and a touch of hay (or super-light tobacco). The dry down behaves as if Ginestra's about to turn powdery, but it never does; the perfume ends as a paler version of its "younger" self.
Ginestra is beautiful, but my search for an “Italian” broom perfume continues; Ginestra didn’t transport me to Pompeii (a big order, I admit). Ginestra is a feminine fragrance with an old-fashioned “French perfume” character (check it out, all you vintage perfume lovers). The lasting power of Ginestra is great, and it might be just a bit much for hot-weather wear.
All this broom research and nightmare-fighting activity makes me believe my next vacation should be near summertime Naples. I’d like to find that little hill on the south-east side of Pompeii where my partner and I sat, surrounded by deliciously scented ginestra, and watched the scruffy, busy dogs of Pompeii outmaneuver frantic tourists below us. Even in crazy, crowded Pompeii, there was a quiet spot to sniff flowers, hear birds and feel at peace.
Santa Maria Novella Ginestra is available in 100 ml Eau de Cologne, $125. For buying information, see the listing for Santa Maria Novella under Perfume Houses.
Note: top image via Wikimedia Commons.