Today is Sunday and in Grasse, it is raining. Spring has sprung it seems and the recent erratic weather- windy, rainy, sunny- 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.
This 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. (www.payan-bertrand.fr ) 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!
We 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 although 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. Afterward 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 other 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!