beautiful, provence

cork511

A month ago we went on vacation to Provence, actually to the peninsula of Giens which is close to everything including Grasse.

On the way there we took one of the most beautiful rides ever in the car on a gloriously sunny day through the vineyards of Provence. I kept noticing these strange looking trees that seemed to have their bark cut and exposed. LV explained that what I was looking at were indeed cork trees. Stopping the car because I had to get a better look, I couldn’t believe that what I was looking at was a cork tree. Why am I going on about cork and what does it even have to do with perfume or the olfactory world? Well wine is a really important part of life here in Italy and when I think of celebrations, parties and dinners shared with the people I love a bottle is usually part of the mix. I may or may not have a glass but the aroma always forms a part of the entire experience. From the sound of the cork popping out of the bottle to sniffing the aroma of the end of the cork that gets steeped in the aromatics of the wine to the first smell and first sip of a really nice bottle, each moment of a bottle of wine shared is a moment of connection and communication, a moment when both our cultures can come together, so the smell of cork means something here and it was interesting to see where it actually grows to give me one more visual link for my olfactive memory bank.

this-is-cork1

One of the stops was of course Grasse, once the perfume capital of the world. There I meant to take a tour of all three of the perfume houses but only made it to Fragonard and Molinard.

Fragonard was my favourite because the guide explained a lot, was very engaging and they let you take pictures.

fragonard-train1

I love seeing our perfume materials in their natural state, it inspires a reverence in me…

Check out the GCMS machine in the background! I was simply bursting with pride that I even know what the hell it was!

The best thing was I could understand the tour guide when she spoke of the technical stuff! Yes, I was beaming, there was no other word for it.

The beginning of September is the best time to go to Provence. It’s peaceful, not as hot and the locals have more time and patience to be kinder and nicer.

This is definitely a trip to do from a perfumer’s perspective because this way you can get it out of your system so you don’t feel like you’re missing anything important. For me I feel like I can say “yeah, okay, I’ve seen Grasse. Now let’s get on with exploring all the other places on the planet that are just as important from an olfactive standpoint.”

Just my two scents.

P.S. a quick update on what’s been going on here for me.  A family health opportunity to learn greater love (typically called a problem) had me occupied for the last two weeks and blogging was the last thing on my mind but now there seems to be peace again so back I am today to sniffing, shooting and writing!

Wishing you a wonderful day (afternoon) :).

road trip! Stelvio pass

stelvio-3-languages-peak


Had a fabulous day a couple weeks ago with LV when we headed off to the Stelvio Pass.  At 2,757 m above sea level “… it is the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps, and the second highest in the Alps, just 13 m below France’s Col de l’Iseran” – Wikipedia.

Just to give you an idea of how thrilling a ride it is to drive up to Stelvio Pass take a peak at this YouTube video clip of Car & Driver taking a Ferrari 458 Spider for a test drive on the Stelvio.  Imagine, back in the 60’s those guardrails weren’t even there!

Right, so getting back to perfume stuff…we had to take a few decompression pit stops because the air is rarified up there, so much so that at one point I got dizzy and nearly passed out after raising up from a crouched position to take pictures.

When we got to the top at the Pass we hung out a bit at a café where I gratefully sipped a hot chocolate in the middle of August and felt like I was on top of the world.

Getting up to higher altitudes every once in a while I figure for a perfumer can only be a good thing — clearing out the nasal passages and lungs — I found my sense of smell sharper, more heightened for a short while after.

Here are some visual highlights — the olfactive ones are currently steeping in alcohol :).

Rhododendron in bloom in the Alps
Rhododendron in bloom in the Alps
A view through the Larch pines
A view through the Larch pines
Swiss organisation.  A wall of wooden logs, a sight that never ceases to thrill me!
Swiss organisation.  A wall of wooden logs, a sight that never ceases to thrill me!

beautiful, firenze

florence

In my customary manner I decided to bulldoze my way through this cold and even though I’m still a bit blocked I don’t care I started back evaluating this morning. Enough’s enough.

With that I began exploring the Leather family, but since I’ve already evaluated Cedarwood Atlas for the Wood family and as there are only so many hours in a day I decided to explore this family using other notes not part of the school syllabus: Birch Tar rectified, Tobacco Absolute, Rock Hyrax and an Ambergris tincture from Profumo.it.  I’ll have an update on those next week.  This week I’ll continue to share my impressions of the various Families starting with the Aromatic and the Powder.

During the time off I immersed myself in my online Photoshop Mastery course where I’m getting a really good lay of the land and have tried my hand at editing a few of my photos.  I just love Photoshop!  It’s such a behemoth of a program that there will always be something to learn.  Fun things learned is how to turn images into B&Ws, correct the colour and feel confident about taking pics in RAW.  There’s no going back now.

I also took myself and my friend off to Florence for the day for her birthday. We ended up in a very well known leather school in the heart of the city which sits cheek to jowl to the monastery instrumental in its founding.  Entering the quiet atmosphere we breathed deeply that warm, luxurious smell of leather and felt a thrill that any self respecting woman with a healthy shoe and bag fix would understand.  Ahhh, leather!  Our jaws got a lot of exercise as we brought each other up to date on our lives, then went to the most excellent steak restaurant in Florence (imho), I say this because we got some very nice comments on our fine taste in restaurants from the locals who know and prize the place highly.  There we really gave our molars something to sink into with a 1.2kg steak between the two of us!  Yum-mmy!  Left overs were not wasted as they were brought back for Charlie, who I’ve no doubt was very happy.

A city is olfactively alive, this I learned on my week “off”.  Yep, training and learning perfumery shouldn’t stop just because we’re out of the lab.  Now I can add the smell of peppery steaks, wet cobblestones and leather to my own personal olfactive library of Florence.

What does your city smell like?

being there

being-there

Gordes, France. 35° C – sweltering. June, barely summer. Butterflies and bees busy with their day jobs and the smell of lavender that seemed to wrap you in a warm embrace as if to say … welcome! This is the famous Abbaye de Senanque.  This is Provence!

The Abbey, located in the valley just north of Gordes, is a medieval monastery built between 1148-1178 in the Romanesque style set among the famous lavender fields of Provence.  The aura is peaceful to point of lulling even the tourists into a quiet contemplation.

During the 13th and 14th century the Abbey owned four mills and large swathes of land as far as Arles and Marseilles.  The Abbot Francois was known as the “father of the poor” having cared for those afflicted by the plague — no small gesture at the time!  During the French Revolution it was sold to the state and in 1903 laws prohibiting the gathering of religious groups forced the monks to leave.  Six Cistercian monks returned in 1988 to reestablish the monastic life guided by the medieval way of prayer, silence, study and work.  Today, lavender and honey farming, donations, tourism and sales help sustain the monastery.  To this day the Abbey offers residential retreats to anyone interested in a time of quiet mediation.  Asking only a modest $30 a day one can stay for up to eight days.

Every budding perfumer should put in the time to research the plants of their raw materials, discover their ideal growing conditions, identify the various genus species and chemical composition so that when that wondrous moment arrives, when we remove the cap of our latest purchase and inhale deeply the history of, not only our personal experience but also that of the plant itself, these aspects come alive and combine with the scent to add depth, breadth and emotion which help to “fix” the notes more solidly in our minds by giving them context and weight.

Now when I think of composing a cologne based on lavender it will be with the goal of giving the wearer a brief respite, the one I longed for on that day, from such heat by seeming to shower them with a cool, clear, summer downpour.

In the end, in my very limited experience, we can sniff as many sample raw materials as we like, but nothing can ever take the place of being their, where the raw materials grow; the gift of tasting, feeling and smelling what has taken perhaps a season to mature and hundreds of kilos to distill into one 30ml bottle.