Production and Picasso

Today is Sunday and in Grasse, it is raining.  Spring has sprung it seems and the recent erratic weather- windy, rainy, winter treessunny- reflects this shift in seasons.  I saw buds appearing on the stubs of a hydrangea yesterday and the days that are sunny feel like early summer by Canadian standards.  The trees are all still bare and stark looking, but it’s only a matter of time until they spring back into life.  The temperatures are abnormally high according to the locals, but that seems to be standard the world over these days. That said, it is still chilly at times, and I look forward to the summer.

at the distilleryThis week included two wonderful adventures.  The first was on Wednesday when we took a class trip to the production facility of a company called Payan Bertrand. ( ) They are located very close to our school (walking distance actually) and they are currently in full swing mimosa oil/concrete/absolute extraction. This is a huge production facility and we saw massive steam distillers in action extracting other botanicals such as ambrette seed and patchouli, as well as concrete extraction stages of osmanthus and black tea.  We were shown all stages of the processes, the distillers and condensers, including the lab with the gas chromatography, refractive idex and other technical equipment that is used to thoroughly test all the finished products produced and imported by the company.  There was a warehouse full of the raw materials; bales of orris root, dried patchouli, and oakmoss as well as crates full of benzoin resin from Indonesia.  Also a huge stack of bales of hay that will be distilled and refined to produce the precious flouve or hay absolute.  I didn’t realize that it was good old fashioned hay that is used! 

the house of the perfumersWe were also given a tour of the house where the in-house perfumers work producing formulas for other companies.  We got to see perfumers in action, at the perfumers organ with the sensitive scales, blending from hundreds and hundreds of available chemicals. (a small roomful actually, with shelves lining the walls from ceiling to floor and endless tiny bottles)   

 I loved the whole experience; the air smelled amazing, botanical and fragrant, and house of perfumersalthough photos inside were forbidden, the images of this place will be burned into my memory forever.  My favourite part of the tour was when I spotted a perfumers organ off to the side in the bottling warehouse; comprised of all naturals, many in old fashioned amber glass bottles with glass stoppers and there again were hundreds of bottles to choose from.  I sat in the chair at the helm of this magnificent control centre and for a few minutes imagined the universes I could pilot it to.  Wow.

Adventure two was yesterday when several of us went to the Musee Magnelli -Museum of Ceramics in a  town called Vallauris near Cannes.  This is the centre of the pottery world and full of little shops run by the artisans.  Picasso came here to study and learn pottery and worked in the building that now houses the gallery. We were there to see the exhibition by the incredible American glass sculptor Dale Chihuly.  After being wowed by that display, we went upstairs in the gorgeous old building to see two more floors of work by Picasso, Magnelli and others.  This was my first time seeing actual Picasso pieces and in particular his pottery, original clay tablet etchings and prints. It was really moving and I felt so incredibly inspired to be exposed to such work. In awe really.  the eyes of PicassoAfterward we made our way through the little inner courtyard to the National Musee de Picasso permanent installation called La Guerre et La Paix (War and Peace).  He created this as a result of fighting in and being deeply impacted by the Korean War.  It is a small cathedral with a simple arched ceiling  and on one side he has painted the horrors of war with blood and dark figures of men fighting and spiky insect looking creatures (symbolizing biological weapons) facing off with a naked man bearing a white shield with a dove and the impression of a woman’s face (Picasso’s wife at the time). Portrayed on the other side of the arch is Picasso’s vision of a world of peace with all white human figures, a winged Pegasus kind of creature in harness with a child holding the reins (his wife had told him that in a true world of peace, absolutely anything would be possible), women dancing and nursing babies, and food being prepared.  The two sides of the arched room are in such stark contrast to each a place of visionother and I was moved to tears by the beauty of Picasso’s vision of a peaceful world and by how he portrayed and loathed the absolute horror and ugliness of war. I had no idea of this side to Picasso and I am now a huge fan.  I feel deeply touched by him.

We then headed back to Cannes to go to an amazing perfume boutique called Taizo (the full Frederique Malle collection as well as many obscure and fine fragrances from Italy and France).  I bought an Italian perfume called Wild Lavender by the perfumer Lorenzo Villoresi from Firenze.  Then, after a bit more browsing through the stores, I found a beautiful traditional cotton bedspread for my soon-to-be new home, and we headed back to Grasse.  Starving, we had a delicious dinner at a new restaurant that just opened a week ago in the old part of the city.  It was divine and I will elaborate later this week when I do a specific culinary postings.  So far I haven’t said much about the food in this country of gourmet, and I’m sure you’re wondering……

 Studying awaits- tomorrow is a whole new week with a whole new set of materials to learn.  My memory and olfactive capabilities are becoming quite tuned, but I mustn’t drop the thread; this is really delicate work!

A bientot!

house hunting update

This afternoon, I met the land lady for the little studio apartment near mine and got the tour.   I found it to be very cute, but far too small, kind of dreary (with the big old windows looking at the side of the building 10 feet across the lane), and lacking a refrigerator.  It would be fine if it had no furniture, but appliances are a must.  This was my third rejection, so potentially the next one will be my new home! 

I am hitting the books now, or rather the tester strips to review and ingrain into my olfactory memory the raw materials we learned today.  Names like Helional, Nonadienol and Aurantiol can begin to sound the same if I’m not careful!  Add to that Amyl cinnamic aldehyde or Allyl amyl glycolate, and the brain begins to rebel….however, I am determined to master this new language!!   I have a new aspiration that I will share with you soon….there will be much preparation first. I am creating the foundation for a dreamy new possibility.   I’ll keep you posted.


Week two…dreaming in scent

hyacinth budsHello everyone,  No I haven’t disappeared, I’m simply very tired and this being called jessica is feeling a bit saturated.   Today is Monday, the beginning of our second week in school and with it came 10 more synthetic aromas to add to the 31 that we have already covered.  (plus the 20 or so naturals)  There will be ten more tomorrow. I had a very restless sleep last night, tossing and turning because I was dreaming about trying desperately to identify a scent and couldn’t.  This went on all night and the church bells at 7 came way too early.  By the way, someone asked what I mean by smelling in colour and quite simply my mind attaches a colour to a scent when I smell it.  (ie cinnamyl acetate smells steel grey to me and when I smell indole, the colour of dark translucent carnelian comes to mind)

The Nice waterfrontOn Saturday I spent the day exploring Nice, about 1.5hrs away by bus.  It is a beautiful city, with a huge old centre.  The waterfront is gorgeous and the sea itself (being the Mediterranean ) is a milky blue topaz colour.  The temperatures there are about 10 degrees warmer than in Grasse, so that felt good.  We found the huge market, including the flower market, and I purchased 2 bunches of hyacinths and my first plant; a baby palm.                          my first French baby…               

In Nice I  finally found a jacket to give me an alternative to the rain coat style one that I brought with me.  In the morning hiking to school, this feels like I’m wearing a plastic bag!  I found a lovely little 98% wool mini-suit-jacket style with a belt.  Much more comfortable as the Spring slowly creeps in.  There are Magnolias blooming now as well as Rosemary and some Jasmine.  (these are all found in the boulevard gardens as I walk to school.)

Anyway, we didn’t get home from Nice until after 11pm because we missed the last direct bus to Grasse and so had to go via Cannes and from there the train to Grasse.  A bit of an adventure!

Place des Artistes on a Friday eveningOther than that, the only other thing I wanted to share was that I went to the little art show in my square on Friday evening and with a glass of champagne and cassis in hand, bought my first piece of  French art.  Actually, I bought a print because the paintings were about 2500E, but really beautiful, whimsical and fun.  The one I bought is called Chat Virant au Vert- the Cat Turning Green.  Kind of strange, but I have to admit when I saw it, I had the funny thought of ‘hey maybe that’s my future husband’… I’ll keep you posted on that one.Chat Virant au Vert

I am going to look at an apartment one street over tomorrow evening.  It is not furnished which is a bit of a problem, but I am hoping I can figure that out.  It would be great to only move about 50 feet.  Besides that, the school has found 2 possibilities that we will go to see on Wednesday afternoon.  Also on Wednesday, we are going to a Mimosa production facility to see the extraction process.  (it is Mimosa season now)

A bit later: I just got back from Brazil’s house where we had dinner with her, Australia and Japan 1. Her apartment is soooo beautiful and classy compared to mine.  Made me realize the options and that perhaps I may want to set the bar a little higher for what I am looking for. It’s so nice to be making some friends, and with people who are living and breathing the same stuff as me.  We spent a lot of time talking about what our intentions for the future are and what sort of internships we see ourselves pursuing.  We are all so happy to be here having this experience.  Plus we really rely on each other to learn the raw materials.  We spend hours each afternoon testing each other with the blotter strips so we can remember everything.

 Now I am off to bed to hopefully have a peaceful night without any dreams! 

It is crazy windy tonight- it must be Spring.  

Much love to you all…

The first days of school~

view on the walk to schoolIt’s been a few days since my last report.  I have experienced three days of school so far and these have been 3 of the best days of my life!  Day one when I walked into the classroom/lab, and spent time looking at the perfumer’s organ (the station where a perfume is created) and the shelves full of endless little bottles of aroma chemicals (natural and otherwise), I was so overcome with happiness, I felt like melting onto the floor in a puddle of joyful weeping!  Absolute bliss!

 During day one and two,  our professor introduced us to  eleven aroma chemicals.  This is the beginning of a study of 175 in total.   We will learn 10 per day from tomorrow on.  It’s very challenging work, memorizing and then being able to identify chemicals like hexenyl acetate CIS-3,  Phenyl ethyl alcohol, or methyloctine carbonate, by smell,  as well as being able to say what aroma family they belong to (Green, Violet etc) and whether they are a Top, Middle or Base note. bottles of raw materials We are tested by being given random blotter strips and then having to identify what it has been dipped in.   Lots and lots of memory; but memory deeply connected to imagination and descriptive language.  I learned an interestng thing- if we are unable to smell a certain sample, (which happened to me), it means that I have never smelled that particular substance before.   As I worked with it, over the course of an hour or so, I could begin to register it and so developed a new olfactory capability. 

perfumer’s organToday we had a different professor; the one who will teach us the naturals.  He has been working with the natural raw materials for 35+years and is a wealth of information.  He took us through 10 oils- all of the citrus family, including chemical constituents etc.  It’s  surprisingly difficult to identify and distinguish between, by memory, sweet orange, bitter orange, grapefruit or lemon oil, especially when the blotter has dried for 1/2 hour or so.  He instructed us to train constantly, like an athlete, to get to know the materials by heart.  Practise practise practise! our instruction tableIt can be likened to an artist learning and memorizing all the colours; intimately, by name, by scent, by how they develop over time, and by how they interact with each other. 

It’s interesting to note that I smell in colour.

 I am feeling exhausted, but happier than I have been in years.  Perhaps happier than ever before- C’est ma vie!

sunrise with the pigeons

the telling dream

arrivingLast night I dreamed I was telling someone that I was moving to France to study perfumery (as I have been doing for months) and, with a jolt, realized that there was no future tense to the story any longer;  I was already here!  In a millisecond, all the blanks were filled in, what my flat looks and feels like, what the city is like, the surrounding countryside- it was startling. 

I think this means I have really arrived- it has sunk into my cells, it’s not a concept anymore.  I am here.