Grasse is Always Greener

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I think the real hallmark of a good pun is when you feel secondhand embarrassment for the person making it.

Today I’m taking a trip in the way way back machine to the three day field trip (+bonus weekend) my class took to Grasse back in February.  Since coming back we’ve had many tests and a two week break, which will maybe explain why I’m only getting to the Grasse lowdown now.

For those who don’t know, Grasse is a region of the South of France instrumental to both the development of the perfume industry and the production of many raw materials today.  IFF, which sponsors my training program, has one of its LMR centers there, which coordinates the production of high quality natural raw materials around the world (including in Grasse).  We’ve smelled many of these materials as part of our course.  Granted, because it was February, there was very little in bloom and not much ready to be harvested- except the mountains and mountains of mimosa, which was absolutely spectacular and perhaps the pivotal experience of our visit.  Not to mention that the city was beautiful, we were lucky with weather, and it wasn’t snowing like it was in Paris and Versailles.  Plus meals were included.

On Day One, we took taxis from our school in Versailles to the Orly airport.  There was a little singing on the ride and some playing of Contact, a game I’m pretty fond of.  Of course, because it was snowing, our flight was delayed by maybe an hour, but it wasn’t too late when we got into Nice airport and I slept on the flight anyway.  We then took a hired bus to our hotel in Grasse, Hotel le Patti, and promptly collapsed in our shared rooms.

Breakfast at the hotel was provided and opened at 6, which was excellent for me because I always wake up too early, even if the breakfast wasn’t too exciting (or at all vegan friendly).  That day we visited the LMR facilities and listened to a talk about their purpose and practice.  We split into two groups for a tour of the factory and the smelling of some raw materials.  Lunch was brought in for us.  Though we had been asked about our dietary requirements (and I identified myself as vegan/vegetarian), the choices were fish and chicken.  Which caused me to have a bit of a hunger panic attack.  After more smelling we left LMR and were left with a free evening.  Somehow (everyone accepted my suggestion based on frantic vegan research) we all ended up at a little Vietnamese restaurant, which was great fun.  Then groups of us splintered off for exploring.

The next day was my favorite.  After another early wake up and early breakfast, I took about an hour to wander around the city of Grasse on my own, which was absolutely beautiful.  I love discovering new cities.  When it was time to leave, we departed for the mimosa harvests.  We visited a small shelter that was housing already harvested mimosa and took an hour’s break for a photoshoot, wine, and nuts.  I may have stolen a lot of leftover cashews.  I may not yet have finished them.  The bus then took us on a tour through the mountains and Tanneron, the mimosa city.  the whole place was covered with blooming yellow puff bubbles.  Lunch was a fiasco similar to that the day before.  This restaurant did make me a special vegetarian meal- unfortunately it was fish.  Struggles.  I had a lot of table bread. After lunch we visited the LMR experimental field to see what was growing and being worked on.  It was definitely not the season for it, but I imagine in later spring and summer it must be very interesting.  We returned to the hotel and once again converged on the same place for dinner (once again a place I had suggested- Achiana, a fantastic Indian restaurant that I very much recommend if you’re ever in the area).  But there was a bit of a SNAFU in the form of a very dramatic house fire that almost entirely blocked the path.  It was an amazing and terrible sight.  After dinner we frolicked in the city and got up to mischief.

Friday was our last day, and the most rushed.  I followed my pattern of the day before of an early breakfast followed by a walk around Grasse.  By the time we left I was starting to get familiar with the area- the city center is pretty small, but very varied in elevation.  We visited the Perfume Museum in Grasse, which was pretty cool but very rushed.  Highlights included a mummy hand, a mummy foot, a toilette case that had belonged to Marie Antoinette, many gorgeous old bottles, and a visit to the greenhouse where we were shown labdanum, among other things, which I was later able to identify when I visited my grandparents in Spain over vacation.  We were given free time for lunch and splintered off in smaller groups for the first time.  I was with a group that had a very splapdash meal at Achiana- because we couldn’t leave Grasse without going back!  But of course we didn’t have time to finish. Thankfully I got to carry some food out to eat later.  We visited the museums gardens after lunch, which were somewhere between Grasse and the Nice airport.  Again, February was certainly not their peak season, but there were a few interesting things to see.

Many of us had decided to stay in Nice for the weekend and made our way to our respective abodes after being dropped off at the airport.  Because I don’t have any notes or a schedule from the weekend, I’ll just rattle off some memorable moments- walking high up to view the city, seeing a beach for the first time in forever, riding the ferris wheel (it was Luis’s first time!), waking up to see the sunrise over the water, and just generally exploring the city.  I have to admit, Nice isn’t really my cup of tea.  My classmate George says it reminds him of Florida, his home state, and that’s pretty accurate to me.

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Friday Links: 1/26

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I turned 22.5 yesterday and today I have an exam that threatens to destroy all that I hold most dear. I’ve been studying since I woke up at 5:30 am. (Approximately five hours ago). There are about three hours left. It’s panic time.

Here’s what’s happening online:

Friday Links 1/19

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Happy Friday! I have the day off, which is many kinds of wonderful (not least because I get to go out and buy a pastry and check some travel guide out from the library and maybe find a waterproof pair of boots.)
(You know, the real problem is that I just want these ten year old riding boots to be new again, or to find a pair of Chelsea boots that are pretty similar. But the Vogue right now seems to be for combat boots or boots that are combat-adjacent so I’m having some trouble).

Anyway, links!

  • Collider (one of my favorite youtube channels on the film industry, frequently mentioned on the blog) doesn’t usually discuss anime, but Emma’s here to decode some common visual tropes and gags.
  • More things I’ve learned from my amazing and diverse ISIPCA classmates? Dan from Australia taught me about ‘Firehawk’ raptors, which spread bushfires to flush out their prey.
  • There’s a Star Wars-themed Creperie in Paris. The dishes are named after the planets by which they were inspired.  Not at all vegan-friendly, but I’m so amused.
  • I know I hate on GP’s goop, but this is actually a pretty good article about how our negativity is in many ways an adaptive strategy, a self-defense mechanism to protect us from past threats- and so a lot of negativity may no longer really be necessary (and may actually be counterproductive) to leading happy lives.  I know I sound super woo woo so I’ll stop, but it does resonate with a lot of what I’ve observed and thought re: my own negativity and cynicism.
    But yeah, no, I only skimmed the article.
  • What do I really want? Continuing to love Mari Andrew’s illustrations.
  • Also Poorly Drawn Lines’s send up of this classic Lion King scene.
  • Screen Junkies (another favorite youtube channel on the film industry) presents their annual Screens awards for the best and worst in movies and television.
  • Unforgettable movie style moments. Some (Keira Knightley’s green Atonement dress) would definitely be on my own list (which, hey, will maybe happen someday).
  • I hope you made it through Blue Monday (the most depressing day of the year, apparently) okay. If you’re still feeling a bit of residual down-ness, here are some lovely feel-good movie dance scenes. I still always listen to Dancing Queen when I need a boost. I have to say I think Moses Supposes from Singin’ in the Rain is actually more feel good than the title song, but whatever. Again, maybe this is a moment when a personal list is needed.
  • You’ve heard of the KonMari Method. Maybe you’ve even partaken in some Swedish death cleaning (I’m only 22 and I know I have. One needs to be prepared)- now t’s time for the hot decluttering trend of 2018: American Apocalypse Purging.
  • Another anticipated 2018 film (see earlier post): Love, Simon.
  • I watched I, Tonya and thought it was pretty good (Blades of Glory is still the best figure skating film), but you know what I’d love to see? A film about figure skating legend Surya Bonaly. Because a backflip is almost as difficult as the Iron Lotus.
  • The mindset of men and women re: sex and during sex itself, and how this influences the way women write about sex.  A really interesting read.
  • A very cogently written account of the issues with Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water. It’s always brilliant when you find an article that explains your gut feelings. Beautiful film, serious problems.
  • There’s a Colette film coming! Keira Knightley’s going to star! I’m not sure those two go together! But I love both separately!
  • On Aziz Ansari and sexual assault vs sexual coercion: I don’t believe sexual coercion is sexual assault. But it’s not exactly enthusiastic consent either.  I don’t think it’s too much to ask men to interpret mixed signals, particularly when sexual violence against women is so common and fear of the consequences of refusal is so real.
  • If becoming a perfumer doesn’t work out, maybe I can go into gourmet ice cream.

Do I Have a Signature Scent? (No really, I’m asking)

Despite the best laid plans of mice and men I wasn’t able to post for the past few days (and by wasn’t able I mean I spent too much of my time reading blogs/cutting my own hair/studying for my upcoming tests for which I need to identify over 200 raw materials and some equally outrageous number of fine fragrances by scent). But I’m in France and I can recognize aldehyde chains of 7, 8, 9, and 10 carbons (by smelling, not counting) so really who’s not to say that I’m living my best life?

Maybe the fact that it’s a rainy week and I have no adequately waterproof shoes. But pretty close to my best life.

Switching gears now away from flawed footwear and toward the actual meat of this post which, I apologize, is not in a list form.  More just something i’ve been thinking about.

I remember reading an article sometime between 1 and 7 years ago about the desire for a signature fragrance.  One that really signifies you, reminds you and reassures you of your stable identity in distressing situations and, perhaps most importantly, that other people (significant others, friends, children) will associate with you.

I’m trying to find the article online but am being deluged with all of these guides on how to find your signature scent (I feel like the answer is pretty obvious: smell stuff).
But the article was more than about just desiring a signature fragrance. It was also about the conflict between wanting that one personal element and wanting to appreciate and express yourself with different/multiple fragrances.
Which is why I have kind of thought of signature fragrances for a long time as a perfumista pipe dream/something for the uninitiated and not very into fragrance.  It’s like the person who has one pair of earrings.  Maybe they have reached accessory nirvana but it’s more likely they’re just not that into earrings.

The last time I had a signature scent was early high school and it was some variation of Chanel Chance. I think Eau Tendre, but I also believe I wore the original before after a long and obsessive internal debate over the pros and cons of the original and the Eau Fraiche. Some things (and by some things I mean me) never change.
And then I realized how wide and amazing the world of perfume is, how varied and multifaceted and worth exploring.  The idea of a fragrance kind of went out the window, which I felt a bit regretful about, but also very excited given the way my horizons were expanding. Discovering a new world and removing limitations I had placed on myself.  Deciding to discover more facets of my ‘fragrance personality’- all of the things I loved, appreciated, was fascinated by, and with which I resonated- made more sense than hunting for The One Fragrance that would encapsulate everything that I wanted in a perfume (which would obviously be futile, especially as I became more exposed to all of the things perfume could be and all of the feelings it could give me).

Jump cut to now, maybe seven years later.  I don’t have a signature scent and I don’t have a very well-defined numbers of perfumes that I own (given a low number of full bottles but a pretty impressive number of small decants and samples that I would like to stay in possession of and wear semi-regularly).  The closest I have to a signature scent is Miller Harris’ L’Air de Rien (which I’ve mentioned before, ad infinitum), one of my rare full bottles and the first scent I bought as a perfume enthusiast, following reading reviews and the usage of a sample (the perfumista way (or at least my perfumista way)).  It smells like dust and horses and sweat and leather and cuddle musk and hay and vanilla and patchouli and soft spice.

But I still figured a signature scent was lost to me.  It’s true that in my years of testing literally thousands of fragrances I had reached a hazy understanding of what generally appealed to me and what would not, what I was excited to try and what I could pass on without a second thought.  My buying practices, sampling practices, and ‘wishlist’ practices have reached a kind of contented plateau.  There are a few things I want to own (most of which have been chilling on a want list for years) and want to test, but I feel pretty well sated.  There’s not much new under the sun, as they say.

And I had the feeling until quite recently that my preferences were all over the map.  And I tried not to read that as a sign of mental breakdown/multiple personalities/a not fully integrated personhood.

That’s one of the (relatively minor) things that being in this program has made me reevaluate.  Wannabe-perfumer conversation is obviously a bit different than the conversation of any other group of people. You could say that about any group with a shared and strong passion.  We play games where we pick a raw material to encompass a classmate’s personality.  We talk about our favorite scents. Things that we would like to mix.  We analyze one another’s personal scents.  Victor smells like frankincense and weed (which would have made for a really different but potentially more interesting nativity scene, when you think about it).  We read into each other in some kind of eerie but often quite eye-opening ways.

And so basically when I was told that I’m a vanilla-amber-patchouli-animalic girl it was kind of self-revelatory.  I’ve joked before about the disproportionate real estate amber perfumes hold in my fragrance library.  And I’ve personally avowed before that all I really want is to smell like small furry animals.

When Luis smells Musc Ravageur by Frederic Malle (amber, musk, patchouli, clovey-spice) and tells me it reminds him of me, I smile and say “Yeah, I love that and I wear Meharees by L’Erbolario, which is pretty similar”.

So I guess that takeaway here is that having a signature fragrance doesn’t necessarily have to mean one scent from one brand that you stick to for all the years of your life. Maybe it can be something a bit more fluid- shared patterns, shared notes, shared architecture in the fragrance construction. Maybe some brands do better for you than others.  Maybe some perfumers are your go to guys/girls.
Maybe your perfume collection can be more like a tapestry woven by the shared threads of your favorites.

That said.

The animal-musky-vanillic-amber family is really best suited to the colder months and climes.  I may need a reevaluation come summer.

 

Listen to Why I’m Stressed

It occurred to me that today is a links day but guess what? I don’t have many links and I’m feeling stressed and over-stimulated, and I felt like writing a links post would be not an excellent thing for my brain.

So I want to do what I often do when I’m stressed and make a list of what’s bothering me.  It kind of helps.  Especially because when it comes down to it I’m kind of living my best life.  There’s nothing seriously wrong in any way whatsoever.

There are a few too many focuses and that’s a hard thing for me to handle because of who I am as a person.

So in the order in which they occur to me:

  • We have three tests coming up in the next two weeks. For one I have to memorize approximately 100 synthetic molecules, their names, and the families they’re classified in. And recognize them by scent.  And review the 130 natural materials that will be trickily sprinkled in… For another I need to recognize something like 50 or 60 fine fragrances, with names and brands, and scent families.  I don’t even know what the other one is at this point. Maybe chemistry?
  • There’s a French one coming up. Do I even have to take the French test? (My French is good enough that I’ve been told I don’t have to come to class).
  • I finished my green beans but didn’t eat the broccoli I bought this week and I’m worried it will go bad.
  • I need to go grocery shopping on Sunday and I’m slightly stressed about what recipes to shop for.
  • In three weeks we have a field trip to Grasse for a few days to study the mimosa harvest. And most people (including me) are staying the extra weekend days. But that means I have some trip planning to do, and my last trip planning experience didn’t give me a huge amount of faith in my abilities.
  • Speaking of trip planning, a week later is the start of our two week February break. I have no idea what is happening there.
  • It’s hard to go back to working all day. I hate sitting so much and feeling so exhausted after. Smelling for 8 hours is actually really exhausting. I need more physical activity and stretching.
  • I want to try a financier pastry but I don’t know what kind to buy. It looks like they come in almond, pistachio, and chocolate varieties.
  • Speaking of which, what kind of bread should I get this week?
  • Lol I need to find a summer internship.
  • I discovered that Chipotles exist in Paris and I REALLY miss Mexican food so I’ve asked some friends to go with me tomorrow, which is kind of a worry for me. Just the planning and timing.
  • Speaking of my plans tomorrow, there’s an exhibit at the Petit Palais that I have to get to (it closes Sunday) on the pastel art of Degas and Redon. Must make that happen.
  • I left my favorite necklace and my iPod at home. I miss them.
  • My grocery shopping? I need to get a jam but I’m torn between four types. (Figs or mirabelle or Reines Claudes or fruits rouges?)

I think that’s it! Stay posted for links (and hopefully sanity) tomorrow!

Homesickness in Five Senses

Much as I’m loving living in France, there are some things that just aren’t the same and that give me a little ache when I think about them. This variety of homesickness is a lot less all-encompassing than the kind I had to deal with when I turned up at Yale four years ago (couldn’t tell you why), but for whatever reason this transition has felt much easier.

I do of course have thoughts about why, but that’s a topic for another day.
In the meantime, I’ve been finding it interesting to consider what it is I miss most about home (not necessarily America, but my own life there) and how there are some senses that are missing America more than others. Oddly, I feel like what I’m missing most are specific sounds, more than sights or smells or even tastes (though taste is a close second).

Sights:

  • Autumn color. Take it from an entitled North East girl who has spent all of her autumns surrounded by yellows and golds and oranges and reds. You definitely miss it. Leaves turn yellow and brown here- which is quite pretty- and you get the snow-like leaf shedding in the wind that I love so much, but the wonderland created by the other colors is just missing. Sighing for maples.
  • Giant supermarkets. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll choose France’s small stores and open air markets over a Costco or Stop&Shop any day, but there is something oddly compelling (and reassuring) about that almost inappropriate abundance.

Sounds:

  • Canada geese
  • Sirens. The sirens here sound different and much more musical. I miss our sinister alarms.
  • Blasting reggaeton. There are not enough people blasting reggaeton from car windows here. Though mercifully there are more than none.
  • English. Hearing people speaking your own language as you walk around. You don’t realize how subconsciously comforting it is until everyone around you is speaking French.

Textures:

  • There isn’t anything tactile at home that I can’t as easily palpate in Versailles, except maybe my bed. It’s very easy to miss your bed.

Smells:

  • Not anything really. The thing about perfume school is that your nose gets plenty of exercise and novelty.

Tastes:

  • Good lord home-cooked food. I miss it so much. I am cooking for myself here, but not any of the larger and more time-consuming recipes I would undertake at home. Partly because I’m sharing a kitchen with a host family. Partly because vegan ingredients are harder to find in these parts. Like the French don’t do vegan cheese. Why would they? Their cheese is a national treasure.  But Dad’s pizza? My banana bread? Chickpea cutlets? Cornbread? So many foods.

And of course I didn’t list anything relating to the people and animals I miss. Beings are amalgamations of so many senses. The feeling of a hug or of soft cat fur. Every person and animal’s individual smell and the sound of their voice…

Yesterday in Paris

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I spent yesterday in Paris and I have to say that it was truly one of the best days I have had on four hours of sleep (the other one being that time our flight to Florida was delayed but we still spent the whole next day at MGM/Disney Studios Hollywood/whatever they’re calling it now).

So the agenda was as follows:

  • I went in around 11:30 am, got in a bit after noon and went to the Grand Palais to see the Irving Penn photography exhibit that I missed when it was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  It was really excellent and I’m very glad that I went. I kind of glided over the photography I was less interested in (the close up portraits of cigarette butts, for example) but I was really into the portraits of artists (Colette! Joan Didion! Always DTF Truman Capote!) and the beautiful nudes (which Facebook subsequently made me take down (free the nipple)).
  • After about an hour and a half with Irving Penn, I met Luis (a fellow ISIPCA student) and had a very refreshing Perrier while he had lunch.
  • And then we went to the Le Grand Musee du Parfum, which was super cool and overlapped a lot with things we’re learning in school- particularly the historical aspects. It helps that the professor who went through perfume history with us is on the artistic board/board of directors/I’m not sure what for the museum.
  • The gift shop had some lovely smelling opportunities, which were continued when we visited Jovoy, a niche-oriented perfume shop that wasn’t too far away.  Another student (Oliver) met up with us there. (My favorite thing I tried was Romanza by Masque Milano, but I already new I’m very into it, so no big new discoveries.
  • We went back to Gare St Lazare, stopped at Jo Malone on the way to try to get Luis a sample or Orris & Sandalwood, failed, and then made the trip home to Versailles.