Recently I started re-reading Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. This masterpiece novel had left so many visual impressions on me, that I wanted to visit them to put them back in the right order so to speak. The book seems to be made out of images, one stronger than the next; Behemot the speaking, gun carrying and chandelier swinging cat, Satan himself in the disguise as ‘professor’ Woland, a ‘magician’, the naked broom-riding Margarita as the Master’s mistress, Pontius Pilate and Yeshua a Notsri (as themselves). There’s even a short cameo for the atheist head of the literary circle called Berlioz, which makes me think of the ‘programme’ symphony, Symphonie Fantastique by that composer, which ends with a 5th movement called “Songe d’un Nuit du Sabbath” (Dream of a night at the Sabbath).
I shall not attempt at a summary, (I was personally sold to this book by the thought of a speaking cat), but the main story lines are that of Woland and his gang creating a mayhem in 1930s Moscow, that of Pontius Pilate and the trial of Yeshua a Nostri, and that of Margarita flying off to Walpurgis night and ultimately succeeding in being rejoined with ‘the Master’.
There are a few passages of scent, but to me by far the strongest is the start of the second chapter, when Pontius Pilate is suffering a terrible migraine, and describes the smells around him.
“In a white cloak with a blood-red lining, with the shuffling gait of a cavalryman, early in the morning of the fourteenth day of the spring month of Nisan, there emerged into the covered colonnade between the two wings of the palace of Herod the Great the Procurator of Judaea, Pontius Pilate. More than anything else on earth the Procurator hated the smell of attar of roses, and the omens for the day ahead were bad, for that smell had been haunting the Procurator since dawn. It seemed to the Procurator that the smell of roses was being emitted by the cypresses and palms in the garden, and that mingling with the smell of his escort’s leather accoutrements and sweat was an accursed waft of roses.
From the wings at the rear of the palace that quartered the Twelfth Lightning Legion’s First Cohort, which had come to Yershalaim with the Procurator, a puff of smoke carried across the upper court of the garden into the colonnade, and with this rather acrid smoke, which testified to the fact that the cooks in the centuries had started preparing dinner, was mingling still that same heavy odour of roses.
“O gods, gods, why do you punish me?… No, there’s no doubt, this is it, it again, the invincible, terrible sickness… hemicrania, when half my head is aching… there are no remedies for it, no salvation whatsoever… I’ll try keeping my head still…”
Cypresses, palm leaves, leather, metal, sweat, smoke and above all; roses.
After my many attempt at finding the right rose, I feel that with perhaps exchanging sweat for warm animalics, this could be the foundation for rather a great dark rose.
A link here for the 5th movement of Symfonie Fantastique
pics mine, The Master and Margarita excerpt in the translation of Hugh Aplin.