meeting the others…

looking out toward Cannes- note the pollution…Yesterday I decided to embrace the Riviera and catch the bus to Cannes.  So far, my biggest venture beyond the old city centre has been the 3km walk to find my school.  This process of acclimatizing to a new environment/culture/life has been an interesting and at times a daunting process.  I’ve been watching myself take it in stages, creeping out from my hiding place under the covers and making my orbit from home larger and more encompassing every day.  At first when I would step out my door I felt so exposed and vulnerable.  I felt like everyone was looking at me and saying to themselves, see her, she doesn’t speak French and she has no idea who she is here, what a stranger.  It has all been incredibly unfamiliar, and the unfamiliarity is unfamiliar.  (having spent the last 12 years in the same small town…)  Part of the challenge, I think, is that I am not a traveller here.  I’ve travelled in the past and in that role I am an observer and everyone knows it and I feel comfortable.  This is different.  I’ve moved here.  I’m making this foreign place my home amongst people whose home it is.   They don’t know that unless I tell them,  I’m realizing, and as the days go by, I do tell them.  And they welcome me.

Now, here I was yesterday,  excited that my trepidation was vanishing and I could hop the bus (for 1euro30) and spend the day shopping and rubbing shoulders with a whole other breed of people.   Someone told me that the sister city to Cannes is Beverly Hills.  I’ve never been to California, but the Cannes I saw is all about money and fashion.  Lots of money and very high fashion.  Oh, and lots and lots of little dogs.  This is the French Riviera after all.  That said, there were bargain racks galore and I found a few great things that fit my budget.  (the Zara store is wonderful…)

place de le petit dejeuner…Today, I had the pleasure of meeting five of the other students (they had already connected)  and the six of us drove up the mountain together to an amazing very posh house surrounded by olive trees and gardens with a view out toward the sea .  (I didn’t really get the whole story, but apparently it is owned by the daughter of the landlord of one of the group…)  Anyway, it was just us there, a very mixed group, one each respectively from Japan, Brazil, California, Sardinia (the only male), Australia, and moi- Canada.  The Sardinian cooked us lunch and we all ate pasta together at this great long table in the marble floored dining room.  Each person shared their intriguing story of why and how they have ended up here, to study perfumery.  To summarize:

Japan– works for a large cosmetics company doing research as to the efficacy of the physiological effect of fragrance. 

Sardinia-barely speaks English, so as of yet, I don’t have his story.

Brazil-is a vivacious high powered lawyer who since childhood has felt that her sense of smell has been extraordinary, becoming more so as she has aged.  She has left her former life behind to come here and pursue her gift.

Australia– has been working with a perfumer in the industry in her country and wants to take it further; wanting especially to eventually find placement in a European company.

California– is a micro-distiller!  A very interesting girl, and as interested in the naturals as I am.

Canada– that would be me, and I am here to formally learn the art of perfume formulation and to study the over 500 raw materials that will be taught in this course; therefore enriching my knowledge base and developing myself as an artisan perfumer/nose/entrepreneur. (to put it a bit more succinctly than I did at le petit dejeuner….)mimosa and hyacinth- the perfect perfume.

So that is my report for today.  I am about to spend the rest of this full moon night curled in my loft, the moonlight pouring through the skylight and the scent of fresh mimosa and hyacinth infusing the air.


 13th century doorways into the bishop’s palace that are now a fountain- I can hear the water from my flat.Other wise I would like to post the question for anyone who might know- can I absorb the calcium that is in the mineral rich water?      (the ground water filters through limestone to feed the spring that provides Grasse with its water. )

My kettle build ups a layer of white inside every 2 days or so.                                

Grasse- my new home

 view from the terraceIt’s been a few days now since I got off the train in the Cannes station, wrestled my suitcases (with assistance) on to the bus and was driven the 11km or so and delivered to Grasse.   I had a few hours to put in before I could meet the person whom I’m letting my flat from, so I stashed my luggage in a hotel lobby and set out to get a bite to eat.   I found a little outdoor cafe in the maze that makes up the old part of the city and ordered a sandwich and a cappuccino.  I also needed to use the toilet and asked in my halting French if there was one.  I got the general gist where it was, but needed confirmation.  The woman got quite short with me and the other customers kind of sniggered, which promptly brought on my first emotional breakdown.  I was exhausted and coming down with a nasty cold, and feeling like a fish out of water;  so bee-lined it for the bathroom where I had my first serious cry since the trip began.  Then snuffling a bit, I came out, glowered at the woman a tiny bit, I have to admit, and devoured my sandwich.

 That was my intro to the city.   Needless to say, first impressions are not always correct, and I’ve since discovered that the people here are warm and friendly and only a tiny bit embarrassed about their halting English.  So we reassure each other and I am learning to just wing it, and try out the French I know.  Everyone is very forgiving.  Lessons are going to be a must, I can tell.

in the laneways that make up the old cityIn the last few days,  I have spent alot of time walking, getting lost over and over in this ancient maze of a city.  The streets are about 10 feet wide, paved with squares of stone, and the buildings rise straight up 6 to 7 stories high on either side in all their yellow and orange ochre and plaster glory.  All the windows have shutters and it is part of the evening ritual, for me as well, to close them all up for the night.  I wish I could share the sound of the creaking old metal hinges and latches as they clunk into place and draw my attention inward for the night.

 I am falling in love with my flat.   It is very small and on the 4th and top floor of this my building-that’s my pink towel drying on the balcony17th century building.   It is all white plaster, blue doors and shutters and old old wood beams with a red tiled floor and a tiny loft for my bed.  There are two small skylights and of course, the terrace, or what I would call, a balcony.  There is a dizzyingly steep and narrow spiral staircase to get up here and I need a torch to see.  I seriously get woozy every time I go up or down.the spiral staircase   My little square is called the Place Des Artistes because it is where all the artists work and show.  Each little shop is a gallery/studio with the artist working away inside.  There is an exhibition every Friday under the little covered area you see in the photo. (and as you can see, right below my flat)the centre of the square where I live- Place des Artistes

This is the perfect place to land- right in the most creative part of the city.  I am inspired and thrilled to call this home.  Today, I was walking home after exploring and buying some veges, and I was hit with a wave of absolutely expansive happiness.  It felt too big to contain.  It welled up in me and poured out in this smile that I had to share with everyone I looked at.  I am so happy!

the dream bouquetTo top it off, I bought a bouquet of mimosa and this something I have only fantasized about being able to do.  They are gorgeous and smell just like the hard pale topaz cystals of mimosa absolute that I have worked with. 

(that reminds me, I haven’t even begun to talk about the perfumeries and scent aspect of this town, but that can wait). 

Slowly, as the days go by, I am beginning to fathom that I am really here.  It’s amazing how we can build things up in our minds so that they reach a state of almost tangible reality, but when it actually happens, it’s hard to comprehend.   But I am here, and it feels wonderful.

more mimosa       Bon soir, mes amis!

Landing in France…

So here I am….finally,  after a couple of years of mulling it over.  I’ve packed up my life, left Canada behind and arrived in France to follow my passion and study perfumery.  The road to get here has been a roller coaster ride of fear, doubt, excitement, and lots of other deeply challenging emotional and mental and physical highs and lows, with some spiritual development (I hope) thrown in for good measure.

planet Frankfurt airport I landed in Paris on the 20th of January with one small and one very large and very overweight suitcase (believe me, it’s cheaper to have 2 huge ones that are lighter, than one that needs two people to lift it…) and as result, opted for the taxi into the city.  I bargained with the driver, (being Saturday) and we settled on the price of 50 euros to get me to the door of the Hotel Eldorado on the Rue des Dames.   We pulled  onto the tiny little street, one car wide, and I was deposited in the p1010041.jpgtiny reception area.  (my suitcase barely fit).  With great efficiency, I was then taken to my tiny room at the very back of the hotel and that was that.  I had arrived. I sat down on the bed and let it all sink in.   The flight, the very wierd Frankfurt airport, all the hard work and sleepless nights, and the determination that it took to pursue this venture.  I was exhausted and scared and excited and completely overwhelmed by a feeling of the unknown and, of being alone.  But I was in Paris, I’d arrived,  and that was all that really mattered.  Of course, at this point, I had no idea what that even meant!  I may as well have landed on Mars.

Musee D’OrsayOver the next few days, I would master the Metro by getting completely lost a few times,  discover the glorious Musee D’Orsay, happen across an Annik Goutal boutique (heaven), and visit the beautiful Serge Luten boutique in the Salon Du Palais Royale.   I also visited the incredible gardens of the Jardins des Plantes, the Galerie de Mineralogie (for giant crystals ) and the great Galerie de Paleontologie.

Galerie de Paleontologie- bonesOn my last evening I took a taxi to the Creed store and attempted to smell each of their perfumes.  I ended up with early onset olfactory fatigue and had to desperately inhale their quite stale coffee beans in order to get through before closing time.  I settled on Royal English Leather, which, unfortunately is way too strong for me, and is now for sale.  (write me)

 I was shooed out at closing and after getting lost one more time in the Metro, retreated to my hotel for one last night of sleep.   Sleep, I might add, that was punctuated about every five minutes by the subterranean rumblings of the Metro itself . 

on rue des dames- cheap and nice (note: I had to move 2 blocks up to the so-called Style Hotel for the last two nights of my time in the city.  I recommend this little place with its clean, simple and  bright spacious rooms, old wood furniture and reasonable rates.  As for the sound of the Metro, somehow its muffled basenote vibrations became soothing). 

 .The morning of the 26th,  I caught a taxi at 5:45am to the Gare du Nord station, enroute to my real destination- Grasse!