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Fete des Violettes

Today is Sunday, and I am sitting at my new pine table that I set up this morning. It is lightly perfumed with the oil that I treated it with- organic local olive oil blended with high altitude lavender (also local and organic), thyme and Italian blood orange oil. I have papers spread out everywhere as I organize the piles of handouts we have been given from the naturals section of the course. I just looked out my window and saw the most wonderful juxtaposition- through the ancient paned windows of the apartment across the street-(remember, about 8’ away) I can see a television screen with a western movie playing- complete with cowboys and horses and other images of the wild wild west! Quite surreal I must say!

Fete des Violettes

Yesterday morning we boarded a bus bound for Tourettes sur Loup- a village in the sub-Alps, where the annual Fete Des Violettes was taking place. It was so incredible to get out of the dirty polluted and populated area of Grasse and head into the mountains. (it’s in my blood, I realized as the rocky craigs loomed overhead) As we curved along the roads, through ancient villages, we could see Gourdon, a hilltop fortified town perched way way up on top of a mountain. Pine trees were common mixed with oak and olive groves as well as olives randomly placed. (the olive is protected inFrance; if one dies on your property, you must replace it and is illegal to cut them down. There’s a saying around here that an olive tree 100 years old is still a baby) Here and there an orange or lemon tree, loaded with fruit. The oaks are still bare and I look forward to seeing the area when all the leaves are out.

We arrived and stepped off the bus into what turned out to be an incredible market with heavily laden tables of sausages, cheeses, wines, breads, honey, flowers galore, cakes and chocolates and yes, violettes everywhere- on pottery, candied, in cakes, in preserves, bouquets and perfumes. The air was clear and warm with the Spring sunshine and the gorgeous little town was packed with locals and a few tourists. We toured the medieval part of the city that perches on the very edges of cliffs that fall away into the valley below and you can see the Mediterranean on the horizon. This is everything that we had hoped Grasse would be. The history of this place is ancient, dating back to the 9th century BC. There is a large hollowed-out stone trough/drinking fountain on the side of the street that is filled by the spring that has provided fresh clean water through the long history of this place. The town is known as the medieval city of art and violets- my kind of place!

Speaking of the violets; we walked a bit out of town to a violet farm. Here the main harvest that day was for bouquets, but harvest lasts from October until May with much of the yield going to the perfume industry. I was surprised how mild the fragrance was compared to our wild violets at home. I wish I could share that sweet heady powdery fragrance with my classmates, so they could smell what true violet really smells like. That said, the synthetic violet notes we have just learned (ionone alpha and beta and methylionone) are pretty impressive. Nothing like the real thing though!

We’ve been discovering all kinds of violet products lately- soap and perfumes of course, but also candied violets, violet liqueur and ice cream and this one takes the cake- violet yogourt! I tried it today and I must say it is revolting! I have always loved violets (though not in yogourt!) and it is wonderful to be in a culture that does too. I’m glad I brought with me the bottle of violet perfume that I found in Florence a few years ago. It is a nice one and this is the perfect time of year to wear it!

In Nelson the violets will appear soon in the sunny aspects of the gardens, and I hope all of you who can, take the time to fully indulge in their exquisite fragrance!

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