Yesterday was a day out of time, a never-ending day, a day on which a full lunar eclipse could take place and it would seem entirely appropriate.
It all began with me waking up for the first time in my new apartment, on the floor, with one hip asleep and my head aching and my eyes puffy and dry. Sleeping on my yoga mat did not turn out to be nearly as romantic as I had hoped. A nice hot shower may have been a good remedy for the fairly dark state of mind I was in, but unfortunately, try as I might; I could not make the hot water tank produce anything but cold water.
I dragged myself up through the city to meet the girls at the bus depot with the plan of going to Auchan, a huge ‘hypermart’ where I was to order my fridge, find a hot plate, and hopefully, most importantly, an air mattress, plus get a few other little odds and ends to outfit the place. .(Auchan, by the way, is like Save on Foods meets Walmart meets Home Hardware, meets Future shop, times 10.) Thankfully, Ana, the Brazilian helped organize the fridge situation -(even ordering a fridge and trying to get it delivered, is tooth-grindingly complicated)- and then the three of us, Australia being the third, cruised the aisles picking out some priority items for me. It was so wonderful to have such a supportive team cheering me up and simply being understanding as to the challenges of settling in here. I am eternally grateful! (Tip; a suggestion from yesterday- buy some cheery napkins, they will make you happy every time you look at them! I, with my slightly neurotic concern for recycling and keeping my environmental foot print light, have never bought napkins or serviettes for myself, so it was a real treat to buy some with a photograph fig motif. – thanks Rebeccah!)
After 2 hours and only about 2/3 of the store covered, we knew I had hit my carrying capacity, so we checked out with chocolate brownies from heaven and caught the bus back to Grasse.
I barely had time to blow up my new bed (a built-in motor blows up this single air mattress into a wonderful island of comfort) before heading out to the Palais Congres for the 9th Annual JOURNEE du PARFUM – Concours de Nez. This was a complicated event, somewhat tradeshow-like with representatives from various Grasse raw material companies at booths showing examples of what they offer. Payan & Bertrand was there, showcasing their Australian essential oils, Robertet and Mane were two others. As well, a society called Osmotheque, from Paris which acts as a library of perfumes and their history as well as being a high security bank for the formulas of approximately 400 perfumes that are no longer produced. They had samples of perfumes from 2000 years ago that have been reformulated as well as many from the 18th and 19th centuries. To visit this organization in Paris, an appointment is required, and then a personal tour can be arranged. Of course, this is now on my ‘to do’ list!
Another part of the event was a competition of the nose- identifying raw materials, perfumes and answering industry questions. There were three categories; Adultes, Semi-professionels, and Jeunes de moins de 16 ans…they start young around here! I’ll be more equipped to enter next year, both in language and experience.
Finding representatives of the companies who speak English was difficult, and I found myself feeling very frustrated with the extreme limitation that the language barrier is placing on my experience here. French is not a simple language to learn, but I do have the advantage of coming from Canada and having some background from school. Yesterday I hit a place where I know it is crucial that I surmount this barrier if I am to really access the opportunities that exist here.
At 5pm, the attention of the day turned to the ‘Spectacle olfactif’ de Michel Roudnitska, son of the extraordinary perfumer and philosopher Edmond Roudnitska. Michel is a visual artist and perfumer of sorts who sets film and performance to scent. His film, lasting about an hour was a montage of images, music, scent and morphed design from various cultures around the world- Australia, North America, Africa, Tahiti, Asia, Buddhist culture, etc….. Each section of the film was punctuated by a fairly intense burst of scent being released into the room. Tahiti smelled of fruit and the sea, the African safari images of lions and other creatures smelled animalic and dusty dry with resins of trees. North American First Nation drumming and dancing with desert shots that smelled of cedar and pine with smoke. The music, drumming and chanting soundtrack was interwoven with beautiful images and sound of a woman playing the cello and by the end of the film the audio level was full and loud. Mr Roudnitska’s aim is a full sensory experience, with sound, visuals and smell. He is the only one in the world doing this sort of art and it is really an amazing experience. I caught myself wondering how this would go over in NAmerica, where many people are quite sensitive to perfumes; perhaps being over-sensitized by life in general and who seem to be slowly closing themselves to the sensual world of scent. Here in France, and especially in Grasse, where fragrance and perfume is an integral part of cultural phenomenon, the tolerance and appreciation levels are much higher.. Their love of wine and decadent food is another symptom of this
After the show, everyone made their way upstairs for a cocktail party with cakes and drinks. All of us from GIP were there, as well as the mayor of Grasse, many old family industry people from the Grasse perfumery world community, of course Mr Roudnitska, and to my delight, my inspiration, Jean Claude Ellena. Mr Ellena is the Nose behind the Hermes fragrances as well as many others that he has created for the likes of Bulgari, Frederic Malle, Cartier, and many others. He is self taught, although born and raised in Grasse, and works independently in his lab up in the mountains behind here in a little village named Capris. This man is a true Nez, a master of this art and I, with much nervousness introduced myself to him and had a little chat. This was such an honour and such an amazing opportunity. A few times I looked around the room in amazement that this group of important people, all at various degrees of experience and age, who are the who’s who of Grasse, to note that there were only about 100 people in attendence. There must be thousands of people around the world who are perfume fanatics and who would have given anything to be at this party, and yet, although the event was open to the public, here in Grasse, it is taken entirely for granted by the masses.
Later, buzzing with the afterglow of meeting my hero, four of us including two GIP students from last year departed for Antibes, a small city about 25min drive from Grasse, to have dinner and go out for a drink. We parked at the marina which houses huge yachts and sailboats, and made our way on foot through the gate of the ancient stone wall that surrounds the old part of the city. Our destination was a tiny little Italian pizza joint that serves slices of delicious pizza covered in everything from smoked salmon to chevre. (my favourite)
Afterward, as we walked out to the sea again, we were amazed to begin to see the Moon being eclipsed by the shadow of the Earth. The air was warm and clear and the 4 of us made our way to an outer section of the marina where a massive luxury liner ship was docked. Some young guys walked by and said it was Bill Gate’s boat, but who knows if this is true. Nonetheless, all the boats here are spectacular and this marina is known as the port for absolutely amazing luxury boats and sailboats. (similar to Monaco)
Antibes (pronounced Aun-teeb) itself is very beautiful with its huge stone wall along the water and spotless old streets. There are many young people here and definitely more of a nightlife than in Grasse. Keeping our eye on the slowly shrinking moon, we decided to go to a bar called the Australian. The name seemed so out of place, but we found it to be a bustling large bar with a massive outdoor patio that will be great in the summer. We got a table by the window and as the moon was slowly eclipsed, we had a couple of drinks and raised a toast to a most spectacular day.
When I finally laid my head down at about 1:30 AM, in my new flat, in Grasse, in France, with wonderful new friends just down the road, and an endless variety of opportunities clustered around my imagination; with the moon once again shining from above, I knew without the shadow of a doubt, that all my dreams were possible.