Negative Spaces (Arquiste Anima Dulcis Review)

The Old Stone Church, Cragsmoor, NY

One of the reasons I am so enamoured of fragrance is that it leads the mind down untrodden paths rather easily.  I once read that 99% of our thoughts are habitual, and since then I’ve been trying to keep track of when I have entirely new thoughts.  I suspect the number is far smaller than 1%, but I have noted that since I started this fragrance journey, the instances have increased.  Today, trying out Arquiste Anima Dulcis gave me one such epiphany.

I love my mother dearly and she is a far better person than I, but in many ways we are very different.  She is one of the most literal and practical people I know, while I thrive on metaphor and have my head in the clouds so perpetually that I have bruises from repeatedly bumping into my cubicle at work because my mind was elsewhere.  Until today, I wasn’t able to spot that she also has a bit of dreamer in her.

Anima Dulcis is based on the recipe of a 17th century convent, according to this wonderful review of the scent.  Learning this reminded me of a memory from childhood that is rather unique.  In Ulster County, NY there is a village called Cragsmoor that was a thriving artist colony in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Most of the place is designated on the National Register of Historical Places due to its architecture and its connection to art.  (This connection apparently lives on today, a fact I found out in researching this blog post– XMen illustrator Dave Cockrum was a resident for years.)

When I was a kid, my grandparents had property near Cragsmoor, and we frequently visited there to go look at art and antiques, but sometimes visited there for a more inexplicable reason– to visit houses with realtors. 


This would not be an unusual reason if they actually had any intent of buying them. I suppose on some level they did– a larger, more prestigious house was a dream of my mother’s that has never been realized. But in reality, there was very little chance they were going to move two teenagers and a small child to another state, two hours from their jobs, to a village at the top of the mountain that was barely accessible half the year.
I too have this interest in viewing strangers’ homes on an intimate level. It’s partly my natural curiosity as a writer, and but mostly it’s because I like to envision myself in a different life entirely and see how it fits. My mother has no curiosity about strangers that I can discern, so it is a major revelation to me that she does the latter.
Once we looked at a place in or near Cragsmoor that was a former convent. I am sure my parents were attracted to it because from the outside, it looked like a mansion. I loved it and tried to convince them in earnest to buy it because it was peculiar.
It had more than 20 bedrooms but they were all six feet by four feet. It had long creepy hallways with crumbling religious statues in the corner, and extra staircases, and would have been the best place in the world to play hide and seek. There was a large industrial kitchen, and a dark wooded chapel with stained glass windows and an organ. There was even a small movie theater inside it, at a time when such things were mostly unheard of. The odd mixture of the purely utilitarian and the ornately worshipful, the pure strangeness and unsuitability of it all, sparked my imagination.
It wouldn’t have made a comfortable home for five suburbanites, of course. The price was low for a place that size because the inside would have had to be gutted to create the manor my parents were envisioning. It wasn’t livable unless you were the family in Dodie Smith’s I Capture The Castle, and as fond of horror movies as I am, I probably wouldn’t have been able to sleep a single night there. But it was an interesting enough fantasy that though I spent only one evening there, I remember it more than 20 years later.
Oddly enough, Anima Dulcis has a similar effect on me. When it first goes on, it smells like bourbon fudge, a treat I got once from a friend that was coincidentally made by monks in a monastery. That fudge was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted, as if the monks had somehow used their enforced austerity to make edible art, pouring all the excess they weren’t allowed into the product. If it stayed like that, it would be wonderful. Unfortunately, it quickly turns to a bitter, dusty chocolate without an iota of sweetness in it.
The scent is not unpleasant at all, it’s just very odd. For most of the journey, it is an unpaved country road which, instead of dirt, is covered with bitter cocoa.
I keep waiting for the chili pepper or orange mentioned in the review to show up, and in my head I can almost sense them, but I can’t actually smell them at all. Early on I do get the sweaty, animalistic undertone, but it quickly turns to strong soap on me, and the base is an attractive but somewhat generic-smelling wood. Notes listed are cocoa absolute, Mexican vanilla, cinnamon and chili. A drink made with those ingredients would be heavenly, and Anima Dulcis is supposedly modeled directly on the nuns’ recipe for one. Anima Dulcis can be purchased from the Arquiste website for $165 for 55 ml. It is also available from Aedes and Barneys. Sillage is mild and longevity is excellent.
This is a fragrance that I can admire, and one which intrigues me, but not one which I will want to wear often, leaving me wondering if my body chemistry is that peculiar or if I am anosmic to some of its ingredients. The idea of it intrigues me so much that I want to go layer other fragrances to see if I can experience what I’m supposed to be experiencing, but in the end, like that convent up the mountain, it is not workable for real life.
DISCLAIMER: This review was based on a sample I purchased. I have no material connection to any of the companies mentioned herein.

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6 Responses to Negative Spaces (Arquiste Anima Dulcis Review)

  1. Kafkaesque says:

    Oh dear, it didn’t turn out well for you at all. It sounds spectacularly dull and boring, in fact. 😦 Soap? Gah! You poor thing. I wonder if your skin mutes sweetness or basenotes? Dull, dry woods and bitter, dusty cocoa powder sound like a terrible combination, not to mention boring as hell. I’m truly sorry it didn’t work for you, but, on the plus side, you’re not tempted by an expensive perfume. LOL. 🙂

    • I think you are right and my skin must mute sweet, because a lot of things that are supposed to be are very dry on me. I had the same experience with Wazamba- very dry and dusty. Maybe it’s because I’m so bitter. ;). It wasn’t awful, but I wish I would have experienced something like you did, except of course that my wallet is breathing a sigh of relief. in the meantime I am still in search of a sophisticated chocolate that works for me.

      • Kafkaesque says:

        Bond No. 9 has quite a few chocolate/coffee scents, as does Montale. To me, however, both brands can be painfully synthetic, so I haven’t been inspired to try more of them. Serge Lutens Borneo 1834 is dark chocolate with patchouli. That might be one option. I can’t think of any more, alas, since I generally avoid the gourmand category.

        As for the Elixir des Merveilles, I wonder how that would work as a base upon which to layer other fragrances? I know you hate to layer, but since you know the Elixir and it works for you, that might be an option. Plus, it could extend the life of the samples/perfumes you already have or breath new life into them. 🙂 Let me know if you find your perfect, sophisticated chocolate, my dear. xoxoxo

    • Oh, but of course there is the marvelous Elixir! I haven’t been wearing that because it has been too hot but now it’s cool here so I will take it out tomorrow and enjoy. 🙂

  2. Natalie says:

    I like Anima Dulcis, but don’t love it, either.

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