The Virgin and a Pilgrimage Grassoise

Today I thought I’d share a story that began via my meeting of a very interesting woman the other day here in the old city of Grasse. Her name is Ann Marie and she is about 72 years old.  I met her while having lunch with friends at my favourite little restaurant in the centre of the city.  (It’s the Cafe Oratorio, and may I recommend their Tirimisu salé- a cold glass of savoury marscapone and whipped egg whites layered with parmesan cheese and sautéed veges in olive oil….one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten… bit I digress.)

Ann Marie is blind- and a rather eccentric character with a strong sense of humour that rather takes you back with its boldness.  Before her retirement,  she worked for 40 years, at Robertet, one of the oldest Grassoise fragrance/raw material houses.  Her position was as a translator for the clients coming from Germany, Spain, and English-speaking countries.  She would translate the briefs into French for the perfumers, evaluators, etc.

She told me a very interesting story about a recent date- September 8th.  This is the birthday of the Virgin Mary, and ever since the 17th century, up until more recent times- there was an annual pilgrimage à pied (on foot), from the city of Grasse to a nearby village called Valcluz- where there is a Catholic sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary,  called the Sanctuaire Notre-Dame de Valcluse.  Back in the day, September 8th was a major holiday in Grasse, and all the perfume factories would close, and all the workers would hoist their respective flags representing their companies, and walk to Valcluse.   Part of the reason for the tradition of this pilgrimage, was to thank the Virgin Mary for her protection, since the Plague never touched Grasse.    I decided to go there this morning to see the place for myself…

The sanctuary is about 10 min by bus from Grasse, and when I arrived to the shady green gorge where it is nestled, I found the most perfect feeling of peace surrounding the enclave.   The chapel was lit only by many candles, with natural morning light filtering in through the stained glass.   The place was silent and I thought it was empty, until I saw several white-robed nuns, perfectly still, deep in prayer.  With representations of Mary everywhere,  I was struck with how this place felt like a woman’s chapel.  Slowly more women came in quietly, and settled in for their own personal communing with the spirit of the place.  I sat for about an hour, lost in my own thoughts, prayers, dreams, and reflections.

Then, the bell tolled in the tower, and some priests came in, the lights came on, and I realized there was a general preparation underway for mass.  I watched all this with interest, since I am not Catholic, and decided to stay for the service.  About 30 people arrived for mass, and about 10 more nuns appeared, as well as 4 priests.  As it was to turn out, there was a guest father…. a man from Gabon… a man as black as coal.  He gave a moving sermon, interspersed with the most beautiful singing by the nuns.  The vibrations of sound were simply amazing- and I had the feeling that one really doesn’t have to be religious, (or fluent in the language of delivery), to be deeply effected on many levels by the power of sound and devotion intertwined.

Later, when I spoke with one of the sisters, she explained to me about the guest priest from Africa, whose grandfather had been a sorcerer.  This man had also been in training to become a sorcerer, but one day, he had an epiphany, and changed to Catholicism.  He then went on to study in Rome, and as turned out, was here in Valcluse for 2 days to teach.  Somehow, this felt auspicious for my visit today…to have such a rare event, and dare I say, one touched indirectly by just a hint of magic from another culture.

To add a little more history of the place-  the first records show that there was a sanctuary dedicated to Notre Dame on the left bank of a water source in this area, likely the same as now, in the 12th century- although the current chapel was constructed in 1650.   There is an Hermitage next to the chapel, which also used to house an olive oil press (a moulin– a wheel operated by the water from the river). At one time, and there was a hermit who lived there from about 1614 onward.

All in all, the place is peaceful, immersed in a green gorge of nature, with waterfalls,  and benches everywhere to sit and take it all in.  Plus, it’s 10 min from Grasse by the bus that runs every 30 minutes….

I have a feeling I’ll be going back.

One of the many plaques that decorate the walls of the main chapel, a mini-chapel inside the hermitage dedicated to Saint Rita, and also on the walls of a grotto beside the river. I thought this one rather sums it all up.

Ps- Here is the direct link to the Sanctuaire’s site.  Sanctuaire Notre-Dame de Valcluse

Réglisse Noire and the Art of Packaging

This blog began in January of 2007 with my journey to Grasse, France to study perfumery.   Since then, following my studies and internships there,  I have been focusing all my attention on the subsequent portion of the dream- to create beautiful perfumes, and to realize a successful career at the same time.  No small feat!!

I returned to Canada 7 months ago, and have been working day-in and day-out on all the details of launching the first fragrance.  To say the least, this has involved an enormous amount of work.  More facets than one can even imagine!! (although, such a wonderful challenge!)

Since being back,  I have also been taking classes in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to learn graphic design so that I can fully express all visual aspects (that accompany imagining of the perfume formula itself) of this creative process.  To be honest- more and more, this project feels like an artist’s installation.  Such a multi-faceted creation that involves digging deeper into my creative depths than I ever have in my life.

So, subsequently introducing the new outer packaging (as developed in Canada) for Reglisse Noire- the perfume that was born in France  ….

Cedar box

The box is solid British Columbia cedar (from off-cuts, leftover from home building), stained pure white with titanium dioxide powder and water, and sealed with a cigar-box style label to guarantee the purity and hand-made nature of each batch of perfume.

My goal has been to create an outer packaging that is an item of beauty to be kept…. thereby having a super light footstep on the Earth.  (‘recyclable’, in my humble opinion, just doesn’t cut it anymore…)  Refills will be available soon.  The lockable vintage-style atomizer is removable, unlike most perfume bottles.  Standard perfume bottles, even from luxury and niche brands, have what is called a ‘crimped’ spray top.  These are permanently attached, therefore making the bottle, once empty, impossible to recycle or to reuse.  For years I have struggled to find a solution to this problem… and finally, the technology has been developed- an atomizer that threads on, that also has a locking mechanism.. so it can be sealed for transport and to prevent evaporation of the precious juice inside.

Réglisse-50ml bottle

So there.  Years of work at the drawing board… with the goal of bringing into the world a product that represents beauty and that has a light environmental impact….

If you’d like to order this perfume- please go to the 1000 Flowers website….

As well, your feed-back is greatly appreciated… I like to think of this as a work in progress….. Merci!