Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Day in Grasse

Grasse, France is the perfume capital of the world and it is only about 15 kilometers from Cannes so today's day trip was to Grasse. Leslie is very into the process behind perfume and scents, largely from her interest in aromatherapy and I had read a bit about how they get the oils from the flowers so it promised to be an educational (and scentsational -- sorry) day.

We took a bus from the station in Cannes and stopped at Les Quatre Chemins for the Fragonard factory tour. There we saw the table where "the nose" works. He (and it's always a man) has a gift for scents and can distinguish between hundreds of different smells and figure out how to best mix them to come up with new fragrance that fit a theme. It seems to be kind of like creating music in that each scent is a different note and he composes with these notes. He even works at a table with hundreds of little bottles on it that looks like an organ. We saw where they made soap, and where they were filling tiny bottles with perfume and ultimately ended up at the factory store which had quite the collection of little gold bottles.

The scent organ

Now for a bit about transportation in Provence. This isn't Switzerland and the busses do not run on time. Our first bus was supposed to leave at 10 and it didn't leave until about 10:15 and given that they are supposed to go every 30 minutes, being off by 15 minutes from the start means that a bus could come at any time and you have no way of predicting when it will come. So as we left the factory and headed for the center of Grasse for other factories we had no idea whether it would take 2 minutes or 30 minutes for the bus to come. The woman at the factory told us that it was only 3 km to town, though, so we figured we would walk. It may have been 3 km to Grasse but it was also all uphill - way uphill - so it felt more like 6 km. About 4 busses passed us on the way so we figured we were on the right path and it seemed like it was always just around the next bend but that bend always led to another bend. Unfortunately, Grasse keeps all of their restaurants in the middle of town so there was no place to stop for a drink or for lunch until we got there so we kept trudging up the hill until we finally arrived at the center of town.

We finally arrived, exhausted and dripping and at that point, I was a way too tired to care much about perfumes but a good lunch at a cafe in the town square helped a lot and we were off to the second Fragonard factory/museum tour which was pretty similar to the first one. I did see an interesting book from the 19th century which talked about soap. It said that given roughly equal populations, you could tell which of two nations was more civilized by the amount of soap they consumed. An interesting perspective.

After that museum, we just walked around Grasse which, at its center is full of small winding streets and lots of little shops and restaurants. The colors were wonderful - bright and mediterranean blues, reds, oranges and yellows offsetting the unpainted grays. Great stuff! The tight and winding alleys full of character and scented with the perfumed bottles and soaps inside.

Very cool!

You can see the web album of some of my pictures here.

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