One of the challenges of our La Montaña business, something that exercises us, and has us endlessly poring over the results from focus groups and marketing experts… oh, who am I kidding? One of the most fun things with La Montaña, after coming up with the fragrances themselves, is coming up with the names for them.
Jonathan’s blog, written in June 2014, with Cass’s comments in lady-like pink, and Jonathan’s rebuttals in manly blue.
After First Light, Alfredo’s Café was the second fragrance idea we came up with, We? WE?? Oh, God! Not this again! and it’s one of the key fragrances that defines the whole brand. For a start, Alfredo’s Café is a real place, it’s our village bar, and café, and restaurant, and Alfredo and his wife Maria Carmen, are the owners. Alfredo is the most genial man imaginable – though if he’s on his own, don’t expect snappy service.
But Alfredo’s wife provides a decent giddy-up put it this way, I wouldn’t cross her, and watching the two of them manage the morning rush is like watching week one of Strictly Come Dancing – Maria Carmen the professional, and Alfredo the likeable, but ultimately doomed, character actor standing more or less still and smiling winningly while Maria Carmen seems to do all the work. We will NOT, by the way, be translating this particular blog into Spanish (smiley face, Alfredo and Maria Carmen!).
The square (more a turn in the road than an actual square) is, of course, the centre of the village. There is another bar (right next door, believe it or not) and it could be that right this minute someone, somewhere, is writing a blog describing that one as THE bar. But they’re wrong. Does it serve gin and BLUE tonic like Alfredo? I think not. And certainly not in a goldfish bowl-sized glass! In the square there is also a little supermarket, one of the village’s two bakeries, and the church. Except for during siesta, and in the dead of night, it is always full of noise: old men slamming down their dominoes, the cyclists bellowing for more olives or another beer, it’s where they let off fireworks, and where the bands play during the fiestas, and where kids kick footballs. And it’s full of movement and action: mopeds tear through it, giant trucks full of oranges swing past, perilously close to parked cars, and hundreds of cyclists throng, like migrating, lycra-clad wildebeest.
But even more than our affection for Alfredo and Maria Carmen, it’s the fragrances in the bar, and in the little village square, that spoke to us; the three key notes in Alfredo’s Café (the scented candle) are cornerstones of both Cass’s and my memories of Spain: black tobacco, brandy, and coffee. You could be forgiven for thinking it’s an unholy trinity for a scented candle, but therein lies the genius of the professional perfumer. The candle is nothing short of divine. Confession time: I always thought this might be our ‘marmite’ candle, but it turns out to be a universal favourite!
We’re not talking about being downwind of some filthy old B&H (our lawyers would like us to make it clear that in no way do we think that there aren’t cigarettes even filthier than B&H), we’re talking about something far more exotic, far more evocative. In terms of the strength of the memory… both Cass and I have vivid memories of our dads going through a cigar-smoking phase in the seventies – we both have a particular place in our hearts for that faint hint of black tobacco that reached our bedrooms from the dinner parties from which we’d been excluded. Yes, that, and the low buzz of conversation, the bursts of laughter, and the anticipation of leftovers the next day. That might be just me. Same here. Just not trifle. In fact both of our mums used to make, according to folklore, “the best trifle in the world” – and both of us hate trifle. Made for each other, see?
But the smell of Ducados is not just a strong memory, it is, most particularly, a strong Spanish memory – as Spanish as the giant bull silhouettes on the mountainsides here, or the wail of a flamenco singer not a fan of flamenco yodelling; is not singing. Cass has a very narrow definition of singing: it has to be either David Cassidy (who, I don’t know if you knew, sang all his songs especially for her), or Beyoncé, with whom she is in love. I’m afraid you’re an idiot. And, as a slight aside, I’ve always wondered whether Ducados contributed to that peculiarly strained growl that both Spanish men and women can have in their speaking and singing voices. Discuss.
Coffee, of course, had to be an ingredient, being such a part of Mediterranean life. And although it’s now part of almost everyone’s lives, let’s not forget that when we first started coming to Spain (70’s again), the British idea of coffee was watery, instant, with two and a half (always meaning three) sugars. Bleurgh!
Then there’s brandy. In fact that Spanish bull that I mentioned earlier was originally an advertising campaign for Spanish brandy (Osborne’s veterano brand, to be exact), but as of 1994 the brand name was removed, and the image declared “of cultural significance”, so it is now in the public domain, rather than owned by Osborne. There, see? Scented candles AND handy trivia. Anyway, back to brandy, and I remember clearly seeing Spanish farm workers at the bar at five in the morning (I was waiting for a train, by the way! I’m sure you were, darling. *Pats his head*), wide sashes round their waists (to keep the kidneys warm, apparently), with a shot of coffee, a shot of brandy, a packet of Ducados, and a token glass of water lined up on the bar in front of them. Now that’s what I call breakfast.
And finally, the church. What?! I hear you splutter. Typical Sunday conversation, upon hearing the church bells ringing in the village: “oh no, we’ve missed Mass AGAIN!” Like all good jokes, it gets funnier every time! Well, it was less of a fragrance note, and more an impression that we wanted to create. And not really of the church itself, but of a dark interior, of leather and wooden pews, and of incense. We liked the idea of something smoky, and spicy, and a little mysterious – it reminded us both of the first time we witnessed the processions during Holy Week (Semana Santa – to be properly blogged at some point in the future): those spookily juddering Madonnas on the shoulders (seemingly) of the Ku Klux Klan, marching to a funereal drum beat, and the whole street swirling with spicy incense.