I have a piece of ambergris in my palm. Contrary to the name, it is rather brown, like summer compost. Lightweight and sponge-like the size of a five-ruble coin. Could I have spotted her on the beach, among the woods, leaves of kelp and other marine debris soggy in the water? From the height of his height - no. Yes, if I was a dog, whose frisbee flew into the surf: at a distance of 10 centimeters, my amber smells of the dark, cold, salty interior of the ocean. From this primal smell, all the hair on the hands stands on end.
Biologist Robert Payne described the first time he heard a tape of a whale song for the US Navy in the Atlantic Ocean: vote". Payne later used the same tracks to create the album "Songs of Humpback Whale", which was released in 1970. The disc sold 30 million copies - the most popular recordings of wildlife sounds. But besides the voice, whales give the ocean something else - its most unusual scent.
In 1693, the Dutch East India Company bought a huge piece of ambergris, weighing about 90 kg, from King Tidore, a small island nation in Indonesia. The then Grand Duke of Tuscany immediately bought it for 50 thousand crowns: at that time, this money could buy half of mainland Italy. A 17th-century writer, traveling across Persia, wrote in his diary: "Here they drink sherbet - a drink made from water, lemon juice and ambergris." And Casanova added ambergris to hot chocolate to increase potency. Almost everything that is about ambergris is crazy facts, scattered notes and other stuff from old diaries, outdated scientific reports and textbooks on medicine, published in the 17th century. You might think that amber is something from the past, something that has disappeared forever in the depths of the sea. Or libraries.
Moreover, they do not like to talk about ambergris. At the end of last year, I interviewed Roger Dava, who brought two new fragrances to Moscow, Oligarch and Karenina. I asked a question that every interviewer probably asks Davout: why does he call his fragrances the best in the world (The Finest Fragrances in the World has long been the official slogan of Roja Parfums)? Dove explained, “Because I buy the world's best raw materials. For example, I am the only perfumer who uses a true ambergris tincture. " The answer confused me: I know at least three perfumers who do the same. But as soon as Davout was informed of this, his tanned face immediately "slammed shut" like a walnut secretary with secret correspondence. "Don't you believe the BBC"? - he got angry. “They made a movie about me!”
Nobody - not even the BBC - knows everything about ambergris. Here is what is known for certain: ambergris begins its long journey in the dark, at a depth of hundreds of meters, in the hot and cavernous belly of a sperm whale. The life of these whales is still shrouded in mystery - we have studied the surface of the moon better than the depths of the ocean. To maintain body weight (male weighs 50 tons, female around 20), the sperm whale consumes a ton of food a day, including countless squid. By their undigested beaks in the stomach of a whale, biologists can determine its lifetime movements, as we determine the route of a letter using postage stamps: different mollusks live in different parts of the oceans. And also squid beaks are necessary for the production of ambergris.
Robert Clarke, an important expert on amber, writes in his book The Origin of Ambergris(2006) that several thousand of such beaks accumulate in the stomach of a sperm whale per day. Once every couple of days, a whale regurgitates them, like a cat does a ball of wool. This is normal. But this is not ambergris. Occasionally, their mass, compressed with other undigested food, passes through sections of the stomach - there are four of them in the whale - and enters the intestines. "And now," says Pat Lillis, a professional ambergris farmer in Ireland, "this substance can already become gray ambergris." Here it mixes with the usual contents of the intestines, which explains the not very pleasant, as the miners say, "dung" smell of fresh ambergris. It happens that the whale gets rid of this lump naturally. But sometimes, according to Christopher Kemp, the author of a programmatic, albeit tedious work on the topic, he dies of a ruptured intestine - because of the same lump that caused the obstruction. All these brutal details describe only the first cycle in the life of ambergris. Further - sheer romance.
A piece of amber (or "amber gray") © Christopher Kemp
Once in the open sea, fresh ambergris, slightly less dense than sea water, gradually rises to the surface. Caught up in the waves, it can float in the ocean for decades. Life on the coast, a thousand nautical miles, goes on as usual, and ambergris floats through cyclones, tropics and equatorial calm, where it may linger for several months. Picks up speed again in the slightly more vigorous Horse latitudes. It gets into closed currents, where it rotates along with other marine debris for years. This journey is extremely important: ambergris in the sea, like wine in a bottle, only gets better over time. It interacts with sea water, with air, with sunlight - and maybe one day it will be carried by a wave onto a gray beach in New Zealand or into a small Irish bay under a mackerel-colored sky. There maybePatrick Lillis or one of his colleagues will find her. Or we - if, of course, we identify the treasure in a gray, inconspicuous lump. “Out of inexperience, many ambergris hunters bring home lumps of candle wax, fat from deep fryers, boat lubricant and hardened palm oil,” says Lillis. And, to quote Christopher Kemp, "old dog feces - plenty."
One might think that most of Lillis's clients are perfume brands, but this is not the case: most ambergris (on average from 2000 to 7500 rubles per one milliliter of tincture) cannot afford, at least in the amount in which it is needed for production of a large batch of aromas. “Ambergris are bought by all sorts of people,” says Lillis. “Collectors of unusual gizmos, alternative medicine doctors, distillers and brewers - in Australia and New Zealand, they began to make beer with ambergris.” Is there a lot of competition among earners? When I was writing this column, I read some chilling articles about the "beach mafia" - as Pat is sometimes called on the English-language Internet. In one, for example, they wrote about crazy races on the beach: one earner chased in a car after another who crossed his path, and in the end he crippled him.“Sometimes people are added to my Facebook friends who really want one thing from me - my customer base,” Pat admits. - But in general, ambergris mining is a brotherhood. The Brothers love going out to the beach, whether there is something or not. It's a lifestyle."
The best fragrances with ambergris
1 | Ambra Aurea, Profumum Roma
The gold standard of amber fragrances, which, like a perfect case, shows all its possibilities: warmth, air and three-dimensional sound that it gives to the composition.
2 | Parfum Privé, Aftelier Perfumes
Amanda Aftel is a pioneer of natural perfumery and its main promoter, the author of several important books and countless articles on the topic, and her "Personal Perfume" is ambergris mixed with the most depraved orange blossom.
3 | L'Antimatière, LesNez
The “antimatter” of the Swiss niche brand LesNez smells subtly like a man on the beach: swam in the sea, lay down at the edge of the surf and sweated a little in the sun.>