It will be inevitable: The rich smell of peach extract creams, Rose of No Man’s Land perfume and unguents promising eternal youth will pull me back to the time when a pandemic made me look at my real face, without spackle; when the mirror in lockdown was not my friend, but jars of moisturizers with names like Drunk Elephant were soul mates. Given a choice, I would have preferred a trip on the Orient Express, but these are weird times, and the weird turn pro, or so said Hunter Thompson.
In the early days of COVID-19, I decided that when this is all over the scent of perfume and perfumed creams will be my Proustian memory, not the memory of boredom and confusion, the writing for hours sitting on my bed. It will not be the memory of that man on the television lying again as I consumed edibles like bar peanuts. Nor the profound guilt that I was lucky enough that my worst problem was a quarantine.
Beauty in the time of a pandemic is a hard thing. You have to tend to undyed roots, unplucked eyebrows, a terrifying proliferation of facial hair, and unshaven legs that resemble Bigfoot. As your hair grows at lightning speed and your skin feels like parchment, you search for alternatives to soften the blow of isolated deterioration — much like ageing.
This is when you turn pro.
It can be a time for experimentation and fun. After the first month of quarantine, I cut my own hair. I washed it, put it in a ponytail — and, lifting the tail straight in the air, I cut. It was not a total disaster but somewhat different from what Vidal Sassoon, famed British-American hairstylist known for geometric cuts, would call symmetrical. But, it looks great in a ponytail.
The facial hair presented an even easier solution. I shall shave, I thought. I read somewhere that Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe used to shave their face. They got compliments for their skin’s radiance. If it was good enough for Taylor and Monroe, then surely it was good enough for me. It also exfoliates and eliminates dead skin cells and I am going with that.
I use olive oil instead of shaving cream, because it’s just better than any cream, especially if you heat it up a bit. I look at my tweezers, the must-have of every mature Latina woman, and smile. That bloody two-pronged dictator has finally lost its power. I don’t need them anymore as long as I shave once a week with my Gillette Mach3. As of this writing, I can attest that it works and for some reason, I feel stronger. My moustache hair — I love how the magazines call it “peach fuzz” — has not returned coarser and darker. I have yet to turn into Fidel Castro.
Beauty products make you feel good and that goes double when you are in the middle of a pandemic. Putting on makeup to do a Zoom meeting, you can fool yourself that you have some control over the matter. “The Plague,” a 1900 painting by British artist John Maler Collier, featuring a well-dressed, beautiful woman collapsed on the floor of a grand home, looking like she had just fainted (and not died of the bubonic plague) is kinda what I have been going for. It is dark humor, but most therapeutic in these trying times.
I mean, when Greta Garbo said “I vant to be alone” in the movie “Grand Hotel,” she was fully made up and wearing a white tulle tutu adorned with butterflies and designed by Adrian, the Hollywood costume supremo. I want no less.
It is interesting to note that during World War 11, the US government deemed lipstick a wartime necessity. Vibrant lips kept morale at a high. It was like guns and bullets or something — a necessarily good thing. During the Great Depression, it was lipstick again; but by the financial crisis of 2008-9, the love was for nail polish and mascara.
This pandemic has surfaced many home remedies — from hair tutorials on Youtube to a DIY Banana “Botox” video which explains how to use products in your kitchen to tighten your skin. For a short time, it was the top beauty video on Youtube — but I guess the smell of rancid bananas got to be too much. I do not know what will be the big thing as this pandemic refuses to go away (wear your masks, people!) but I bet it will not be anything related to the lips.
Lipsticks will not be the necessity of the pandemic because we are all wearing masks. I think it will be perfume, scented oils, or waters achieved by decantation, maceration, or filtration.
The mask-wearing thing makes perfume a necessity, much like the armaments of WWII, because it masks the smell of last night’s dinner on your breath — no pun intended.
German author Patrick Suskind put it best in his novel “Perfume:’
“The peasant stank, as did the priest, the apprentice as did his master’s wife, the whole of aristocracy stank, even the King himself stank, stank like a rank lion, and the Queen — like an old goat.” You get the picture. But sprinkle a bit of Le Labo’s Santal 33 on the mask and you are a true New Yorker and you will smell divine.
This is why I have become quite fond of beauty boxes with tiny samples of scents bearing such names as Byredo’s Rose of No Man’s Land, Fleur D’Oranger 27, and the Etat Libre D’Orange mixed by Tilda Swinton called Like This.
And that is how we are — just like this because we don’t know what’s going on. So every time I put it on, I count the days until November.