Thursday, October 20, 2011

Clarimonde, Voluptuous Vampires and Perfumed Port with Chocolate

Ritratto di Giovane Donna, Henry Fuseli, 1781

What better way to celebrate the lost souls of Halloween than a darkly romantic vampire story?

Clarimonde, (La Morte Amoureuse) by Theophile Gautier is a rich playing field for the romantic imagination.  Written in 1836, it is not the first exploration of the vampire legend but it is one of the most compelling for its intricate pas de deux between reality and disturbed obsession.  Navigating these ever-mutable planes quickens your pulse and feeds your imagination.

When Lucy Raubertas, at Indieperfumes asked me to join a stellar convocation of perfumers to create perfumes (and in my case a drink) inspired by a voluptuous tale of desperate passion, how could I refuse?  It’s a tale I could not help but be drawn to since I love the idea of vampires and have done since I was a child. Reading this gave me an excuse (as if I need one) to find out a little more about vampires.

I read that the word vampire comes from the Serbian word vampir and that it was not mentioned in the West until the early 18th century when Russian and Eastern European stories and superstitions began to circulate (the word first came up in a 1734 travelogue ––one wonders if the opening of Russia by Peter the Great had something to do with the spreading of the myths??). 

At a certain point in the 18th century there was a veritable plague of imaginary vampire attacks that began in East Prussia and led to graveyards being ripped apart in search of the demons, lots of garlic, strange herbs and staking.

John Polidori (1795-1821)

It is widely acknowledged that the first to tackle the Vampire archetype in western culture was John Polidori (Byron’s handsome physician). Except –– that is not completely true. His may have been the first short story on the subject but the idea had been swirling around Europe for a century or more and many a creative soul had already been attracted to the myth (there were earlier German vampire poems like The Vampire by Ossenfelder in 1748 and Lenore by Bürger in 1773).

Until Bram Stoker’s Dracula  demolished the competition in 1897, Polidori’s The Vampyre enjoyed an enduring popularity, inspiring many later works including Stokers’ and a penny-dreadful called Varney the Vampire  in the 1840’s (that I read many years ago… it was dreadful). All the Twilights and Angels and True Bloods of today have some of the genes of Polidori's work.

Polidori wrote The Vampyre during the now legendary holiday with Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (soon to be Mary Shelley) at the Villa Diodati in Switzerland in June, 1816.

Chichester Canal JMW Turner

1816 was no ordinary year.  It was called “the year without a summer” because of massive volcanic eruptions from Mt. Tambora in Indonesia in 1815.  To a frightened, superstitious world, this would have seemed apocalyptic, with psychedelic skies (that Turner captured so brilliantly), a sulphuric fog (properly called a stratospheric sulfate aerosol veil) and catastrophic crop failures.  No wonder it sent a group of poets over to the darkside that fateful June.

After reading aloud from a new translation (from the German) of one of the current hits of the day called Tales of the Dead, Byron encouraged the company to write their own dark tales…. The most famous of which is of course, Frankenstein.  Polidori based his vampire tale on a fragment of a story by Byron with the vampire named Augustus Darvell. Although Byron had mentioned the phenomenon before, it had not been fully explored.

Byron became interested in the vampire myth after hearing of it on his grand tour in 1809-10 and Lord Byron himself touched on the subject in a note following his poem The Giaour: A Fragment of a Turkish Tale in 1812:

“The Vampire superstition is still general in the Levant. Honest Tournefort tells a long story about these 'Vroucolachas', as he calls them. The Romaic term is 'Vardoulacha'. I recollect a whole family being terrified by the scream of a child, which they imagined must proceed from such a visitation. The Greeks never mention the word without horror. I find that 'Broucolokas' is an old legitimate Hellenic appellation –– at least is so applied to Arsenius, who, according to the Greeks, was after his death animated by the Devil. The moderns, however, use the word I mention. The stories told in Hungary and Greece of these foul feeders are singular, and some of them most incredibly attested.”

Lord Byron

Polidori’s vampire is a man named Lord Ruthven (a name first used by Byron’s ex, Lady Caroline Lamb, for a thinly disguised Byron character in her 1816 Gothic novel Glenarvon).  As Frankenstein was inspired by Mary Wollstoncraft’s vision of her Shelley, so the character of Lord Ruthven was 
again inspired by Byron in Polidori’s tale.

Fact and fiction sometimes share the same bed, do they not??

But what of Clarimonde?  The vampire Clarimonde was born of the mind and heart of Theophile Gautier –– a poet, painter and novelist.  He spoke of the “sovereignty of the beautiful” in his work and perfected a poetic technique for recording his impressions of works of art, seamlessly joining two of his passions.  He loved weaving realism and fantasy together in his stories and believed in the existence of the unexplainable and mysterious.  This belief system is fully displayed in Clarimonde where the visual and sensual are worked masterfully.

In his story, Aria Marcella he declared, “No one is truly dead until they are no longer loved.”  A perfect sentiment for the immortal vampire (or for their lovers)! Can that not be said for the immortal characters of literature that are re-animated in every new reader’s imagination?

 Gautier’s use of the female vampire as his heroine was inspired by Goethe’s 1797 female vampire story, The Bride of Corinth.  The poem predates both Byron and Polidori (it is not known if they had read Goethe’s poem).

I think the fascination with demon women is in our genes since tales of demonic women date back to the dawn of history.  They were often serpent hybrids, out to suck or squeeze the life out of their mostly male conquests (although children were also mentioned as favorite victims of the creatures).  They were always beautiful and desirable –– with a terrifying aspect (the serpent side of them was often not immediately perceptible –– only hinted at –– like something you see out of the corner of your eye but can’t quite believe). 

Goethe’s veiled bride was no serpent… she was a dead thing that killed her bridegroom by feeding upon him too deeply.  It was said of Goethe’s poem “An awful and undeniable horror breathes throughout it.  In the slow measured rhythm of the verse, and the pathetic simplicity of the diction, there is a solemnity and a stirring spell which chains the feelings like a deep mysterious strain of music.”  No wonder it inspired Gautier!

Topsell History of 4-Footed Beasts, 1607

Although 17th c Edward Topsell paints a nightmarish, “Island of Dr Moreau” portrait of the Lamia or Lilith (ancient vampire cousins), other later interpretations are ravishing beauties.

Lamia, Herbert James Draper 1909

Lilith, John Collier, 1892

I think Gautier was a little in love with his own creation, channeling Keats and Coleridge’s demon women with his words.  What makes his story different is that his vampire is a loving creature, not a monster.  There are no horrors to be found in her declaration to Romuald:

“I loved thee long ere I saw thee, dear Romuald, and sought thee everywhere.  Thou wast my dream…”

You can feel that spirit as lover/priest Romuald draws a portrait of Clarimonde:

“She was rather tall, with a form and bearing of a goddess.  Her hair, of a soft blond hue, was parted over her temples in 2 rivers of rippling gold; she seemed a diademed queen.  Her forehead, bluish-white in its transparency, extended its calm breadth above the arches of her eyebrows, which by a strange singularity were almost black and admirably relieved the effect of see-green eyes of unsustainable vivacity and brilliancy. What eyes!  With a single flash they could have decided a man’s destiny.
… she elevated her head with the undulating grace of a startled serpent or peacock”

Listen to Keats in his poem  Lamia (1819) as he describes his succubus:

 She was a gordian shape of dazzling hue,
Vermilion-spotted, golden, green, and blue;
Striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard,
Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barr’d;
And full of silver moons, that, as she breathed,
Dissolv’d, or brighter shone, or interwreathed
Their lustres with the gloomier tapestries—
So rainbow-sided, touch’d with miseries,
She seem’d, at once, some penanced lady elf,
Some demon’s mistress, or the demon’s self.
Upon her crest she wore a wannish fire
Sprinkled with stars, like Ariadne’s tiar:
Her head was serpent, but ah, bitter-sweet!

… or Coleridge in Cristabel (1797)  writing of his succubus, Geraldine:

There she sees a damsel bright,
Dressed in a silken robe of white,
That shadowy in the moonlight shone :
The neck that made that white robe wan,
Her stately neck, and arms were bare;
Her blue-veined feet unsandal'd were;
And wildly glittered here and there
The gems entangled in her hair.
I guess, 'twas frightful there to see
A lady so richly clad as she--
Beautiful exceedingly!

As a woman, I have always found it interesting that a man’s excuse for being utterly obsessed by a woman is that she is a demon possessing him, not that his obsession comes from his own mind!  Perish the thought!

The Shepherd’s Dream Henry Fusili, 1793

In our hero’s case, Romuald is a young priest whose piety is forever poisoned by his vampire Clarimonde.

“Yes I have loved as none in the world ever loved–– with an insensate and furious passion-so violent that I am astonished it did not cause my heart to burst asunder.  Ah what nights ­– what nights!”

It would be hard to go back to a lonely life of chastity and poverty in the priesthood after such a pronouncement.

Clarimonde is beautiful and desirable beyond imagining and young Romuald is lost from the moment she gazes upon him –– but did she?

Vampire, Edvard Munch,  1893-4

 The great thing about the tale is that we are never sure whether this ever happened or if it is all in his imagination.  Is she in fact a succubus that he has invented –– or a real incarnation of temptation? 

Could it be his blood/imagination is the animator of this vampire who only exists in his mind as his eternal torturer?

“The error or a single moment is enough to make one lose eternity. Lose eternity 
the end”

For poor Romuald, this apparition has remained with him as real as memory can be. For the readers of the tale... it is for us to choose what to believe... or not.

Countess de Castiglione photo by Pierre-Louise Pierson, 1860's

Now that we have learned a little about vampires in literature, what dark obsessions can be called up with a scent?

How can you not be inspired to attach perfume and scent to the story as a way of fixing it in our Clarimonde group’s shared experience. Our memory of scent is perhaps our strongest fixative, isn’t it?

Who does not remember a lover with a fragrance… a perfume, a smell of wood fires that brings us back like a wormhole to moments in our history.

When I write about history, the question that always comes to my mind is, how did they eat?  If I can’t find specifics, I imagine what it would be and create it to make the history come alive for me.

I imagine doing the same thing with perfumes.  As artists in this field often do… an inspiration creates a scent or a person requests a special elixir and the perfumer tries to make something that is their perception of the person –– their scented incarnation or manifestation.

In this case it is a fiction, a mood, a melody.  The mention of perfume in Clarimonde is brief yet potent:

“In lieu of the fetid and cadaverous odours which I had been accustomed to breathe during such funereal vigils, a languorous vapour of Oriental perfume––I know not what amorous odour of woman––softly floated through the tepid air….

The air of the alcove intoxicated me, that febrile perfume of half-faded roses penetrated my very brain, and I commenced to pace restlessly up and down the chamber, pausing at each turn before the bier to contemplate the graceful corpse lying beneath the transparency of its shroud.”

For this, I decided food would not be appropriate, since she “… swallowed the blood in little mouthfuls, slowly and carefully like a connoisseur”.  I wanted something darkly perfumed, warm like blood with an air of the ancient. I chose an old port as my base because it has always reminded me of old leather.  Next rose–– to honor the half-faded roses Gautier describes.  For Orient perfumes I used musk, ambergris, oud wood.  I finished the brew with nutmeg and chocolate for their affinity to the port. 

The result?  It is dark and mysterious.  The fragrance lingers in your mouth long after the glass has been emptied.  Like a great vampire story –– or the memory of a great love.

 Liqueur de Clarimonde

1 cup of vintage port
2 t honey (depending on your taste, the port and the chocolate you may want more
2 drops Aftelier Rose essence or 2 t rosewater
pinch of nutmeg
2 T chocolate, chopped fine

1 pea size piece of ambergris from Ambergris Co. NZ, grated (optional)
1 piece of oud (2 “x ½”) crushed (optional)
4 grains of Siberian Musk in alcohol (optional)

* I got my oud and musk from Siti House of Perfumes

Warm the port and honey and add the rest of the ingredients.  Stir till chocolate is dissolved.  Allow it to sit for a few hours or until the following day.

For a simpler version, leave out the ambergris, oud and musk.  This drink was inspired by a port-flavored chocolate truffle that I had long ago in Paris and loved. I added the rare and exotic hippocras flavors to make the drink feel like Clarimonde… but know the ingredients are not easy to find.  You will love the simpler version too!

Re-heat, strain and serve.

Very Old Transylvanian decanter

PS~  As some of you know, I have been on a sabbatical from my day job in the film business as a production designer.  I am doing a little project for a great director that he has written.  Not much money, great cast and a big dinner scene.  I was wondering if any NYC area bloggers would like to  contribute a beautiful dish to the effort for screen credit?   Email me if this interests any of you.  This would happen somewhere between the 8th and the 19th of November.  Details to follow.


From the Kitchen said...

I'm just heading out the door for Virginia. Rest assured that I am looking forward to reading your post upon my return--quite appropriately, it would seem, on Halloween!! It will be my "treat".


Emily said...

I'm constantly amazed by the breadth of your knowledge and reading. Amazing. It's great too to have a slant on vampires without Twilight. Gautier has always fascinated me and I love the paintings you've chosen for this post. That decanter is truly remarkable and I envy your wonderful presentation of food and drink.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Deana:
Gosh what chilling tales you tell here, we were quite ready for a blood warming concoction at the end of the post and you did not disappoint.

We always thought that the packaging of the Dior fragrance 'Poison' was so appropriately done with its blood red flacon and inky black trimmings. But, how clever you are to serve your most deliciously decadent Port from an antique Transylvanian decanter, into the cranberry stained wine glass. A master touch!

Dracula's Castle is just a mere step along a tourist route from here but at Halloween we shall be staying in and perhaps warming ourselves with a glass or two of your Liqueur de Clarimonde. Cheers!!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

...and you, HOW DO YOU MANAGE to find the photos, the HISTORY and the recipes to always serve up THE BEST BANQUET of intellectualism and feast? Deana dear, this is scrumptious my dear. THANK YOU for visiting this morning; I am disappointed to hear that my visitors are not able to hear Jim Buckley's chilling song, has to be heard in order to appreciate my mood in writing this piece, but really, LOVE is pain, joy, rejoicing, sorrow, all of these things....thank you for always acknowledging my attempts to write a bit of the "working woman's poetry" in my busy life. Carry on, beautiful and wonderful friend! Anita

mandy said...


You have outdone yourself on this post in the drop dead gorgeous department (which is a very high bar). What a treat!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

There's no skimming over your posts since they're always such a good read, Deana!

Hard to imagine people long ago actually living in fear of vampires but the tales are always so thrilling. No I won't be able to drink a glass of port without thinking of, well...this delicious cocktail of course.

Good luck with your film project. I wish I lived in NYC!

La Table De Nana said...

All I could think of was Hugh Jackman and Anthony Hopkins..their movie I just watched..

Yet it was a warewolf movie!

Interesting post and I too find your treasure trove of knowledge about every post.. priceless.

Monica Skye said...

i wouldn't mind sending something if you can use it. I make herbal tinctures...elixirs...

indieperfumes said...

Gorgeousness, Deana. I love the idea of the port warmed, like blood. Drinking perfume would perfume the breath and the beautiful ingredients would exhale from the skin. Loved the Fuseli paintings which give that perfect touch of nervous beauty.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I loved this post especially as I have always been fascinated with vampires. As a matter of fact, I cooked with blood the other day-it ended up being delicious! :)

Unknown said...

For a long time, I was absolutely obsessed with vampires. It was back when I was in high school and fell in love with the Anne Rice vampire series. These days I am pretty hooked on the TV show True Blood.
Fantastic post as usual :). I thought I knew loads about vampires, but I had never heard about Clarimonde before.
p.s. how romantic does it sound to say that something is "Perfumed with chocolate"-- you could say its to die for ;)

Faith said...

This post is magnificent...your research on the topic is astounding, Deana! Vampires are such a dark, intriguing notion; it's impossible to stop once you start reading a story about them. Also, I very much enjoyed The Shepherd's Dream -- I find it as lovely as it is morose.

And that liqueur is truly a killer concoction. ;)

DavidS said...

First, of course we men can't help but be seduced by you lovely ladies -- we're men, we have no will power!

As lovely as your drink and food always are, I just have to say... that decanter!! Where on earth did you get a Transylvanian decanter?

A wonderful vampire story!

Barbara said...

You are singing to the choir with this post, Deana. :)
Doesn't everyone LOVE a good vampire tale? I know I do. (I even turned my daughter on to True Blood.) But some of these tales are new to me. For one thing, I'm not at all up to date on demon women. (although we think my youngest son may be involved with one; I practically pull a silver cross out when I see her coming)
Anyway, your drink (and this entire post) is brilliant of course. How could it be otherwise?

Linda said...

Oh my you are so amazing. I love anything about Vampires...and I so enjoyed reading your post, as always.
I have missed you!

Sarah said...

So exotic. Truly amazing. Oud and Siberian musk and ambergris all together!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Great history on the vampire. I know nothing about the details of the current vampire craze. For me, it will always be Frank Langella as Dracula - suave, seductive and very deadly. Speaking of seductive, I'm swooning just reading the ingredients in your passionate port brew.

Tasty Trix said...

Ah, this post really speaks to me!! Vampire legend and lore has always been one of my favorite topics; in fact, in graduate school I managed to write several papers on the vampire in literature and film ... and as a young girl I actually had a crush on Christopher Lee! This drink creation is perfection, absolutely embodies a dark Romanticism.

Marjie said...

If I were in the NYC area, I'd help you out (and get to play with Petunia). Sorry!

Your drink sounds good. Alternatively, I could just go with the port and chocolate and be a happy girl!

Laura@Silkroadgourmet said...

Hi Deana:

What a fantastic post! (And what a fantastic Transylvanian decanter - I love it!)

Nice vampire lore. The US had a spike in vampire attacks (pun intended) around the same time as the ones you report on. Some of them turned out to be TB victims - hence the blood round the mouth.

Good luck with your special project - I am very tempted to participate . . .


Hazel said...

For my birthday present to myself I am trying the simple form of the Liqueur de Clarimonde. Thank you for creating this gift to all of us...:0)

RoseOfTransylvania said...

Gorgeous pictures and post. I love Clarimonde!