Thursday, April 8, 2010

~ ambergris in the raw

With the kind patience and assistance of the staff at the Moreland annexe of the Melbourne Museum (particularly my dear friend Nurin) I was at last able to have my first certified look feel and smell of ambergris, the waste product of the sperm whale which holds a rarefied place in the perfume industry - and which is central to my current work.

I was expecting something like the warehouse at the end of Raiders of The Lost Ark, and I wasn’t so far off the mark. It’s a large unmarked rectilinear building on an unprepossessing corner in an unexceptional suburb, yet within there are wonders.

So let me tell you about their marvellous sample of ambergris. For a start, unsurprisingly, those tasked with locating it were unimpressed by the appearance and the odour - without question, it had the ‘humid’, ‘earthy’, ‘marine’, ‘animalic’ fragrance I’ve so often read described. It was a huge crumbling bolus, covered with patches of concreted sand and what may have been the roots of long dead seaweed. It was indexed as an amalgam of ambergris and non-descript matter, possibly faeces - but upon inspection the tell-tale squid-beaks were evident throughout - and the hot-needle test I was allowed to perform on a tiny smidgeon came up a strong positive.

I love this kind of thing. It drives me on through life. Polly, who I took along, was a touch bemused by the whole process ... but at least she knows what ambergris is now, and she was more than a little interested in some of the other exhibits we passed along the way.

This pig, we learned, had come from the Austin hospital. It had been genetically modified as part of an effort to make porcine organs compatible with humans needing transplants. (xenotransplantation). From the fact it was preserved in such a way, I can only assume it held - or perhaps still holds - great significance.

(please excuse the unfamiliar formatting - something strange seems to have happened with the Blogger interface)

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