how to contact Jessica!

Ok this is a test…..if there is anyone out there besides my Mom reading this blog- I invite you to stop being shy, get off your butts and get involved- write me a note, ask me a question, tell me what you’re up to.  Let’s make this site a bit more interactive.  And, just so you all know, you can write to me (or send care packages) at my home- 4 Rue Marcel Journet, Grasse  06130

I also have a phone number now as well, but I’ll only tell you what it is if you write to me………

doing laundry in the sub-Alps

Yesterday afternoon I made my first visit to a Laverie.  So far, since I’ve been in France (74 days already!), I’ve done all my laundry by hand.  Thankfully there was another customer there who showed me how the system works, otherwise I would have had to haul everything home again, defeated by the puzzle. The method is this- on the wall in the corner of the tiny room is what looks like a typical launderette change machine, only here it is also where you punch in the code of whatever machine you want to activate and put in the money to pay for it. This goes for both washers and dryers. The Laverie is also quite the place for flirting, and after a couple of attempted wooings, I was very happy I hadn’t brought any underwear that could have fallen out of the dryer at the most inopportune moment. Keep in mind this is a very small facility with barely enough elbow room to fold your T-shirts.

Anyway, with a basket full of clean linens, and an unsolicited phone number, I headed out the door into the most dramatic electrical storm I’ve seen here, with a fairly torrential downpour of rain interspersed with slush.  The Alps are very close when the Mistral decides to blow.

Speaking of the Alps, five of us from school went up in to the mountains Friday afternoon.  I had been to Gourdon a few days ago, a tiny stone village perched on the tip of a mountain, but hadn’t been past where the oaks turn to scrubby pine and lentisque and the groundcover is all wild thyme and then further up wild lavandin.  We went all the way to a ski hill where we found snow and had a snowball fight. The landscape up there is very dramatic, rocky and the road is a windy narrow highway. We were high up in the Sub-Alps, and at times, other than the stone farm buildings, it seemed like we could be in Canada. Along the way,  I saw a broken ancient little hamlet that I must go back to for a picnic. (During July, when the lavender is in full bloom).  Perhaps some of you will be able to join me?

olfactory development

Here I sit eating the most robust salad imaginable.  Today is Saturday and with the slow arrival of Spring, the market up in the Place Aux Aires is starting to look more like a market in the south of France should with a number of local small farmers displaying their beautiful produce.  I brought home a huge curly leafed cabbage and a head of lettuce that should really be included in a still-life painting.  This is what I am now munching on, finely sliced and topped with Sicilian lemon juice and organic local olive oil so sweet it barely tastes like olive oil at all. (This I got at the market also, from the farmer, in a one litre wine bottle- price-14 euros)  Top this off with a glass of chilled organic sweet Gewurztraminer from the region of Alsace, and I think my dinner qualifies as gourmet! Actually this is the appetizer, to be followed by lightly blanched baby broccoli and boiled organic eggs, also drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt from Normandy.

And what of the stinky cheeses, you ask?  Well, so far, the most pungent one I’ve had was a ewe pecorino from Corsica which was delicious but challenging in its fragrance.  My favourite so far is still the Manchego from Spain.


I haven’t really spoken much about school lately because every week has essentially been the same since classes began. Three days per week studying the synthetics and two, the naturals. Now however, we are approaching the end of this section, which likely, was the most difficult of the whole year.  We have now studied about 200 raw materials, learned them mostly by heart (the process of memorizing never really ends), and I am feeling quite happy with my memory skills.  Considering I have always struggled to remember place names, people’s names, and the like, I am very relieved that my olfactory memory is good.  That said, I do notice that my memory recall in other areas has improved.  It’s true it seems that the brain is like a muscle that gets stronger with exercise.  My sense of smell has certainly improved greatly.  It is a skill that can be learned, and this is intellectual, but also biological. At the beginning I could barely smell some of the materials that were unfamiliar to me, especially the synthetics that I had never smelled before, but now, I am registering them much more clearly and I am able to pick up more nuances every day. (especially lately, there seems to have been a sudden breakthrough in my olfactory system)  I have to be careful because it’s like having to deal with a whole new set of materials as my sensitivity increases.   I love the feeling of this sense becoming so much more acute.   From what I understand, more receptors in the olfactory system are being activated through use and exposure to new molecules, perhaps ones that I have never tapped into before.

Synthetic musks offer a very interesting example of this phenomenon.  Musks are quite large molecules and can therefore be difficult to smell.  There were two that I was not able to smell at first (musk ketone and musk T- so I took a tiny vial of each home with me to work on and found that by rubbing a bit into the back of my hand, I could begin to smell it.)  Now, when one appears in a test, I can smell it quite clearly and am able to identify which one it is.  Still, day to day, the sense of smell can come and go and be irritatingly fickle.  It can also depend on the order of the materials that we smell.  Materials can vary in their scent according to what you smell just before them.  Complicated and fascinating!   

Another little bit of information that I love because, to me, it is incredibly interesting- is this-  when you smell a fragrant flower, you are smelling its ‘headspace’.  This is composed of the lightest most volatile molecules that the flower contains.  The chemistry of this scent is quite different from the chemistry of the essential oil (water/steam extraction) or absolute (solvent extraction).  Capturing these light diaphanous molecules is almost impossible and often replications are done with synthetic chemicals to copy the chemistry of this so-called headspace. For some flowers, such as lilac and hyacinth, any extraction is impossible and the only way to achieve their perfume is to copy their headspace with chemical formulations.  (there are sensitive machines that can identify main components of the perfume given off by a respective flower placed within it.)  Well, to somewhat copy their perfume, since the volatile chemistry of plants is so complex that science has yet to identify all the components of any given oil or for that matter, headspace.  The more they identify and can successfully replicate, the more naturals will be replaced with synthetics. Because of their incredible complexity, the eradication of pure naturals is not going to happen any time soon, thankfully! Besides, like I mentioned before, with the work being done in Russia and elsewhere, it is now known that there is a life force (or factor x) within natural molecules that cannot be reproduced in a lab.   

The next section of the course will be chemistry followed by formulation.  Discovering science through a medium that I am already enamored with is fantastic! I am definitely falling in love with chemistry.