As I sit down to reflect on my most recent trip to France, I admire a few objects of luxury in front of me: a perfume bottle with a scent extracted from the Mimosa of Grasse, chocolates from the number one chocolatier in France available only in Lyon, and a Grand Cru Classé du Médoc blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc from a château in Bordeaux ― my fruits of adventure and discovery ― placed on a suede-covered bench nestled inside my bedroom window against the backdrop of Paris.
Frenchwoman and friend Laurence Haxaire and I walked the hills of Grasse with a world-renowned scent and flavour extraction scientist to meet the men and women who hand-pick the Mimosa, whose oils, when extracted, will be blended into the perfumes of Creed and Guerlain, among other French perfumes. During the February harvest, the Mimosa blooms stain the hills of Grasse a brilliant gold with its small delicate yellow flower.
Taste with your eyes closed, I was told as I closed my lips around a bite of a savory macaroon whose flavour burst ― musty and dense, salty and sweet ― like a spring walk in wild woods near Lake Superior or the rich valleys of the Rush River in Wisconsin. Here, behind the counter, where the chocolatier and his wife were working hand in glove, we sampled the richness of France and the gastronomic history of Lyon through its chocolates and confections and were inspired by the imagination of this chocolatier.
Now I am in Paris, but the clay soils from the hilltop château overlooking the vineyards and town of Saint-Émilion are still on my boots. And on my mind: the desire to know more about the Bordeaux wines we tasted. The excitement of returning home with a bottle (or more), of wine I blended to suit my taste. From Grasse, I want the sensation of walking through the fields of Centifolia Roses in May, Jasmine flowers in September and wandering among the Mimosa shrubs in February pleased to be creating my own perfume with a “nose,” a parfumière who creates perfumes from a mixture of natural and synthetic scents from the nearby city of Cannes. I want to be inspired by the pairing of wine with chocolate and be surrounded by the gastronomic flavours of Lyon. The sensations and pleasures of Bordeaux, Grasse and Lyon linger in my memory and I long to experience more.
Together with Laurence and the many women and men we have met on our ten-day journey, I have been immersed in the culture, traditions and people of France. I have experienced the sensations and pleasures, albeit in small measure, which define why I love Paris and France.
In September, Laurence and I will return to France with a few same-minded friends. We will search for that joy of living, joie de vivre, that is the heart of Paris and France, its luxury, elegance and tradition. We will visit behind the scenes to uncover the savoir-faire, the ability to create the most beautiful objects. And, like reading a favorite poem for the hundredth time, we will continue to discover new reasons to love this place.
Laurence Haxaire received her Master Degree in Science and Technology for the Food Industry of France. She became a journalist and writer specializing in food and flavors after working for the flavor extraction industry in Grasse (the perfume capital of France). Laurence was born in Romans-sur-Isèrre, a bustling town in the South East of France famed for its longstanding tradition of shoe making. She was raised in Lyon, the food capital of Europe, in a family where food is part of a smart education. She spent the last five years discovering the U.S.A. while living in the North Shore of Boston with her husband and two daughters. Her family now lives in Bordeaux, France. Website: http://www.lh-echo.com
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