Sunday, 20 June 2010

Wet Grasse

I’m waiting for the weather to stop raining so I can start walking to the centre of Grasse, perfume capital of the world. I’ve already seen the billboards for Molinard and Fragonard. Time is very short here. It’s lunchtime and I must leave tomorrow morning. My room at the Mercure Grasse has recently been renovated so I’m pretty happy with it. I’ve had to purchase WiFi access but at least it’s available. Hopefully it will be free in Nice tomorrow.

This is my third to last night in Provence so I need to find a way to maximise my time. The train from Marseilles to Cannes was pleasant. I wish I’d been less tired. I struggled not to close my eyes because I wanted to see the countryside. It really is lovely with the vineyards that stretch in endless kilometres punctuated by olive groves and houses (with orange roof tiles) set in the middle of fields. The French really seem to value trees. They add great amenity to the country. Occasionally I would catch a glimpse of the Mediterranean. It’s choppy out there today and the sky is mostly an ominous dark grey. The bilingual receptionist informs me it will be much better tomorrow.

I do hope so because they’ve had some nasty, fatal winds and floods here. On my way in on the bus it was sad to see the olive groves all on the ground, the vineyards under silt and the wheat fields destroyed. There were a number of farmers out surveying the damage as we passed by.

I didn’t quite get my wish. It’s hard to believe this is the end of June in Provence. It should be fine and scorching. Instead it’s cold and wet. That’s a bit of an understatement really. And wandering the narrow streets of Grasse on a Sunday is , I discovered, not the best day for a wander with most of the shops closed.
After leaving the hotel Mercure on foot, determined to manage several kilometres to the centre of town, it dawned on me fairly quickly that since Grasse is a perched town it was all going to be uphill. There was no choice. The bus timetable told me I’d have to wait two hours for a bus; not an option. After a while I got to thinking that at least I wasn’t wet from rain but soon I was running rivulets of sweat as the clouds parted. Just as I got to the centre of town someone turned the sun off and it got very cold as the sweat evaporated.

Thinking it might be a good time to go indoors, I visited the Fragonard perfume factory. They had a free tour so I joined it. It was interesting. The person who mixes all the essential oils together is called The Nose. That person has spent at least three years studying and seven years gaining experience so that they can identify 3000 ingredients used in perfumerie, where they come from and the exact quantities in each perfume. Of course the perfumes don’t have 3000 ingredients, usually up to 50 but these 50 noses around the world (Paris, Grasse and New York) are very special individuals. They can only work 2 hours a day because their noses get ‘saturated’. They are not allowed to drink, smoke, eat spicy foods or get colds. The nose uses a perfume ‘organ’ to conconct a unique scent from base notes, heart notes and top notes, 500 oils are arranged in three levels like an organ.

After Fragonard I visited the museum of historical bits and pieces from Provence, another free activity. Some things are a bit ‘dusty’ but there are various rooms of kitchen, furniture, Neolithic and other items of interest.

I discovered a small, boutique perfume house down an alley and spoke to the owner who turned out to be the The Nose for Parfumerie Artisanale Guy Bouchara. Indeed it was Guy himself. He proudly showed me his old copy of the novel Perfume, with the signature of the author Patrick Susskind and a handwritten note from the production company of the film Perfume which came out a few years ago. What you learn about perfume manufacture, in the film, is absolutely correct. The crew visited his perfumerie for ideas on dressing the set. He’s proud he had a hand in the film and he’s a charming man who was pleased to speak french with someone from NZ even though he has some English. That was a nice little adventure to stumble across. You can check out his wares on

Then it was time to find something to eat. I decided on something cheapish to keep me going until breakfast. That turned out to be a French pizza. Not much topping on it but I finished it. The waiter was somewhat eccentrically dressed in a chiffon caftan with nothing under the top, and large Indian or Arab- looking pants and a necklace. He seemed constantly nervy.

While eating, the weather took a nasty turn for the worst; thunder and torrential rain. Of course, being a tourist, I had no access to an umbrella and nowhere to buy one. The bus timetable didn’t work for me and taxis seem to be only in one’s imagination in Grasse. Back towards the hotel I went but soon became lost in the myriad of narrow look-alike street running torrents of rain. I could hear rivers of water gushing through the stormwater courses down the water-stairs inside walls. Interesting engineering. Nothing for it but to hoof it and shelter under dripping trees or lurk in doorways.

Things became very unpleasant. My shoes had earlier alerted me to the fact that all my walking in France was just too much for my aging Reeboks. The sole of one shoe announced its impending detachment by making desperate squeaky, sucky noises. That now turned to squelchy noises as my shoes filled with water, my hair and jacket clung to me and my best trousers slapped my ankles as I walked in any direction that said Cannes. This went on and on. Sprinting back seemed to take forever but suddenly the hotel came in view and I soothed myself with the thought of a nice warm shower.
No, not yet.

My room decided to be unco-operative. I tried to get the electricity to work by inserting my room key. Nothing. Drip drip. Again? Nothing, drip drip. Eventually a housemaid arrived and announced I must move to another room. Bye-bye nice room, bye-bye balcony. My current room isn’t bad but it’s not as good as the first, plus the air-conditioning in this one is very noisy. Hairdryer working over-time, I set about drying off my sopping leather handbag and camera case.

Now I’m pooped and I need to find out how and where to get a bus tomorrow for Nice and launch into the very last stage of my holiday in France.


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