Jasmine & Cantaloupe


When visiting Grasse in spring 2009, I was intrigued by Salade de melon et jambon de Parme
 (AKA Prosciutto e Melone - a simple carpaccio dish that seemed rather alluring even to my eternal vegetarian-born-and-raised palate. Thin slices of cured ham were layered flat on a plate, and wedges of cantaloupe arranged on top. It seemed so odd to me to pair something so meaty and brown with something so vividly orange and juicy. But, living vicariously through the carnivore boyfriend I had at the time, I gathered that the magic lay in the contrast between the saltiness of the prosciutto and the fragrant sweetness of cantaloupe - not unlike the Balkan signature pairing of crispy sweet watermelon with creamy and heavily brined feta cheese.

Later research into the matter also informed me that pork has a coconut, peach and apricot-like notes to it from lactones, which makes it so suitable for pairing with fruit as well as certain fruity white wines or lightly oaked reds. Vegetarians may enjoy a somewhat similar experience by savouring tiny cubes of well-aged Pecorino Romano with abovementioned cantaloupe; or if you want to go overboard, find yourself a coconut-gouda and watch out for exploding tastebuds. And since we are on the topic of coconut, vegans can also enjoy the coconut and cantaloupe contrast by sprinkling fine coconut flakes on their melon; or toasted coconut curls for an even more decadent experience.

Prosciutto e melone

While in Grasse, I had the pleasure and honour to meet with Michel Roudnistka - a multi sensory and visual artist (photographer, perfumer and filmmaker who combined his videos into a film that is accompanied by five difference ambient fragrances, each for a different indigenous culture around the world), and that is when I firs experienced his magnificent perfume Emotionelle, which he created for Parfums DelRae in San Francisco. How does Emotionelle smell?

Picture this in ripe, juicy, room-temperatured cantaloupe in your mouth, with a full-bodied flavour filling your entire palate:

Crisp Cantaloupe
Suddenlly and immediately, you are interrupted by more than a whiff of this indolic jasmine:
Grasse jasmine
That is the basis for Emotiomelle, the main structure upon a complete, original and unusual perfume is built. One could argue the source for this pairing is in Le Parfum de Thérèse (which the perfumer's father created for his mother), or Diorella. However, the other two had melon, not cantaloupe. And that is a huge difference. As far as influence goes, I would suspect that a new cantaloupe molecule or base was invented that year in one of the Grasse houses, because both Emotionelle and Un Jardin Après la Mousson (which pairs this very cantaloupe note with more bracing, chilled spice notes and cooling vetiver) were released the year prior (2008).

Emotionelle opens with a big, ripe, juicy cantaloupe note and is paired with sultry jasmine and sweet violets. It’s hard to believe these will get along, but they sure do. The key is in the balancing of the animalic indole in the jasmine with softly-blended, oily violet, musk and cedar notes, almost like pastel crayons smeared with a persistent finger to create a bold picture with loud colours yet with very soft texture.

The result is magical, even if a little disturbing, like striking the right chord in the right time. After all, we are talking about pairing something very edible, with something very floral and animalic. To me Emotionelle is very sexy, sensual. I like the fact that it's a distinctive tricolour - with cantaloupe, jasmine and violet being in the centre at all times. There is a complexity and tension that all three bring to the composition, but there are also other subtle layers underneath that keep it from being too simplistic and ordinary. Those who yell "cantaloupe" and dismiss it (most of the reviews I read, actually) miss the entire point. There are many composition styles, and Michel Roudnitska's is one that takes a theme and goes all the way with it. It's also what I smell in Noir Epices: it's very bold combination of geranium, cloves, orange and cinnamon. But it's brining a new, modern meaning to the ages-old pomander scent (the root of all Oriental-Spicy scents, if you ask me) - by not trying to play it quieter, but rather amplifying the seeming dissonance between those notes. Those who pay attention will find it actually humorous, playful and at the same time sophisticated. In the case of Emotionelle this is achieved with low dosage of musk to offset the animalic indole; cedar wood to substantiate the ionones; and warm, sweet notes of honey, amber and labdanum to deepen the sweetness of the cantaloup, with tiny sparkling of spices (cloves, cinnamon) for a bit of warmth and dimension.


To me this perfume will forever remind of Southern France and in particular Grasse, and the visit to Michel's studio and home in Cabris where I first smelled Emotionelle. There was an osmo-art (multi sensory film) projected in one of the room of the MIP (Musée International de la Parfumerie, AKA International Perfume Museum) of which an image of a ladybug crawling along a split cantaloupe was the olfactory if not visual highlight. And lastly, the cantaloupe in the above photo is one I bought and ate there, in its entirety, one afternoon. I didn't have a big enough refrigerator in my hotel room there, so I had to eat most of it room-temperature (which is actually delicious, by the way: it makes the fragrance more apparent than when chilled). It is the perfume of a hot spring day up on the mountainous Alpes-Maritimes-Cote d'Azur, where the sun shines generously, people are warm and hospitable, life is slowly savoured with the people you love, lunch breaks span over two hours minimum, and an afternoon siesta to follow is not a bad idea at all, especially when the room is permeated with a fragrant cantaloupe.

Top notes: Cantalupe, Tangerine, Bergamot, Ylang Ylang, Prune
Heart notes: Jasmine, Violet Flower, Violet Leaf, Rose, Cinnamon, Honey
Base notes: Vanilla, Cedarwood, Cloves, Patchouli, Musk, Amber, Labdanum

After the Rose Fields

Roudnitska Garden

“Je ferai fleurir les pierres et chanter les oiseaux”
(I will let the rocks bloom and the birds sing)

I’ve never really got around to tell you what I did after the rose fields. I will now.

The taxi picked me up from the gate of GIP. It was driven by a lady shauffer, and as soon as I’ve given her the address, she jumped out of the taxi to ask another driver for advice on the route – revealing an attire that most women I know would reserve for a night at the concert hall listening to chamber music or contemplative choir pieces: a black buttoned shirt and a silver brocade skirt with a floral pattern.

On the way I have to admit, I was getting a little nervous. I was about to meet someone whose work and knowledge I admired greatly.

We drove to Carbis, about 20 mintues away from Grasse (traffic permitting) and she pulled off the freeway. There it was, and a metallic art-nuveau sign confirmed I was in the right place. It read: “Atelier Art et Parfum”.

I was a little early for my meeting and the place seemed so quiet it almost seemed as if its inhabitants were having a siesta. I finally found the courage to knock on a little door that had an office sign on it and a lady opened it and told me quietly that Michel will meet me shortly. I noticed an olive tree near the building. I pulled out my camera and than and there my battery, which struggled with death for a few days now finally gave in. This photo you see above is the last of them, which is great – because this way I could focus my attention entirely on my real senses without the camera to “remember” instead of me. Besides – Michel is a far more talented photographer than I, and have captured the beautiful garden that his father has planted and you can find his photographs online.

Now, Michel came down the stairs from the top floor of the Atelier. He was tall and pensive, just like the olive tree I didn’t take photo of, and was just as kind in person as he always seemed in his correspondence and photographs. We walked down the road and a lower level on the other side of the building revealed a lab full of bottles and drums of raw materials; and below it was the garden.

The garden was like no other garden in the world. Parts of it looked like a Japanese garden, and other parts like an the exterior of an Italian villa. The most magical point though, was standing right in front of a little patch of green leaves, which I knew right away were those of lily of the valley. Seeing them, even after the blossoms dried out, made my heart skip a beat.

The flowers were all gone (it was already the middle of May, and these plants need the most tender weather conditions to bloom – it was already too dry by then…). Nevertheless, there was nothing quite more powerful than staring at the patch of green leaves where Edmond Roudnitska planted while he was creating Diorissimo – which was the perfume I worn on my wedding day and one of the very first perfumes I’ve worn. It is told that he would crouch to the ground to study the scent of the flowers in their real surrounding – the dirt, leaves, moss and rocks on the ground… And there I am, standing next to no other then Michel Roudnitska, an accomplished visual and olfactory artist that continued his father’s yet has his very own, unique voice both artistically and from a perfumery point of view.

After we walked around the garden and saw the view of Grasse from Cabris, we went upstairs into the atelier, and sat on the balcony sipping orange juice and discussing what most concerned European perfumers at the time, and the rest of the world would suffer from after – the takeover of our art form by the EU beaurocracy, IFRA and the like. It is so sad to think that oils such as bergamot and oakmoss can no longer smell true to themselves after removing the “allergenic” molecule in them, which are an important part of their odour profile. With all the heaviness of the issue, it was clear to me that although this could make continuing the use of many beautiful natural raw materials in commercial perfumes, the human need to adorn themselves and their environment with pure, beautiful scents will continue, and while the legalities of it may become more complex and cumbersome, people will continue to want to smell good and connect with nature through her smells as they did for thousands of years.

On the mention of Michel’s artwork combining perfume with film, Michel spontaneously offered to screen some of them just for me. We walked to his home, which is right next door to the atelier and facing the beautiful Italian pond and sculpture. On the coffee table there just happen to be a few scent strips with a perfume in progress, which was beautiful, and had a dominant immortelle note (it was in Grasse that immortelle all of a sudden showed its versatile, albeit stubborn side to me, i.e. – beyond maple syrup). And that was also when I first got to smell Eau Emotionelle – a bold, beautiful jasmine contrasted with juicy cantaloupe and delicate violet petals. While preparing for the screening, Michel was also telling me about the vigorous perfumery training that he underwent with his father.

And then the private movie screening began… Michel was both the projector man and the senteur of his own creations. I was shown three pieces out of his 8 short films that make Un Monde En Senteurs (Wolrd Scents), each accompanied by a perfume that is misted in intervals into the atmosphere of the theatre (in this case – Michel’s study within his own home).
I’ve been fortunate enough to be shown three amazing pieces:
Pangaea – Creation of the World Aboriginal Culture, which was showing imagery of Australia’s nature and aboriginal people, and was scented by a completely natural perfumer that was made entirely of plant essences native to Australia, such as eucalyptus, fire tree and what smelled to me like Buddha wood. I’m no eucalyptus fan, and this film and perfume alone made me not only intrigued by this strange, medicinal plant, but also curious for the first time about Australia’s nature and culture. It was so touching to experience both the scent and the visuals, as well as emotionally charged music (composed by Nathalie Manser).

The second film was called Aquarium – and was visually focused on the Polynesian lagoons and underwater life, beginning with what looked like a perfectly shaped shimmering pearl, and had beautiful flowing movement of dolphins throughout it. The scent for this was dominated by calone and coconut and I have to admit I did not feel too well smelling it and starting coughing a bit… The fragrance is described as “Salty sea-mist on the reefs and dried coprah in the coconut grove” on Atelier Art et Parfum’s website.

The third chapter in the world’s scented story was called Cherokee – and was about the Native Americans in North America. While I expected smoking sage, cedar and sweetgass, It smelled very incensey, rich woody and a little smoky - described as Cedar forests, tujas and tanned hides (Beaver, bear, buffalo).

And like all wonderful things, the visit came to an end with this vignette, and Michel drove me back to Grasse to my hotel and the next day I was back in school “as usual” but felt inspired for months to come.

Expo Rose

My visit to Grasse seemed to be in a perfect timing: not only is it the rose harvest season (which only lasts 3 weeks), but also that week was the week of Expo Rose – a rose show with rose experts and growers from around the world showcasing incredible hybrids of fragrant and colourful roses.

The English roses were particularly impressive, with hundreds of petals condensed and arranged in such a stylized way as to resemble flowers made out of rolled crepe paper or metallic Art Nuveau sculptures.

And of course there were many vendors outside selling anything from rose jewelry and accessories to rosewater, rose wine, rose petal jams, soaps and so on. A little word of warning though: not everything that tastes like flowers in Grasse is high quality. In fact, I was barely able to swallow two bites of a crepe filled with mimosa-flavoured confiture. It was horrible. And so were the flower-flavoured seeds at the end of the meal in the local Indian restaurant. Both tasted like platic (for reference: if you’ve ever tasted a fragrance oil accidentally, that was the effect). One must be careful and stick to the authentic rosewater and orange flower water when visiting this overtly perfumed town…

In this blog entry are just some photos of how the city centre looked like May 21 - 24. And the city’s businesses, shops, museums and restaurants all had rose petals decorate the tables or reception area. At the end of the day, the street grounds were dotted with rose petals too. Quite a sight!

Rose petals in a water-fountain. How very luxuriuous!

Terracotta coloured rose. Never seen a colour like this (but it's really difficult to transfer through the camera).

English Roses
Fake rose trees that decorate the little alleys, staricases and passages in Old Grasse (aka downtown/city centre).

La Bastide du Parfumeur

La Bastide du Parfumeur is a conservatory and a botanical garden nestled between Grasse and Cannes, that has opened just recently - in 2007.

This is an unusual botanical garden. Expect none of the manicured and controlled French garden like those in Paris. What you’ll find here is a wild paradise of fragrant plants and flowers, arrange visually like one beautiful meadow that spills from the hills with endless surprises of unusually fragrant plants (most of which are famous for their use in perfumery, others less known or exotic – such as Seringat and Hymmemosporum). And between them grow in careless abandon unlabeled roses of surprising colours as well as wild oats and other weeds. The beauty of the place is breathtakingly unconventional. And it is arranged according to odour, a classification quite unusual for any garden. You’lld find rustic signs for vanillic notes, woody notes, citrus notes, herbaceous notes, spicy notes and so forth.

The list of sponsors is impressive on its own right (including perfumers such as Le Cristophs for examples), and also from talking to the gardeners I understand that Michel Roudnitska played a key role there in consulting about what plants to use and how to group them together.

Where to find it: 979 chemin des gourettes-06370 Mouans-Sartoux Tél : 04 92 98 92 69

Below are just some of the highlights to hold you over until you go there. Because you must do that.

The garden begins with mint groves that smell more impressive than they look. The Japanese mint is especially green, crisp and sweet and with hardly any camphoreous menthol aspects. And some are more sharp and strange than others. The picture above is of Bergamote Mint, which smells convincingly of bergamote. I'm guessing its the result of high presence of Linalyl acetate.

Next come some spicy and woody notes (I was happy to find Zantoxylum in the raw living form for the first time).
Other beautiful spicy notes belong to the many carnations the trimmed the plots, both pink and white (I spotted 3 types but all photos of one of the fuller-petaled pink ones turned only blurry).

The garden of white flowers included jasmine (not in bloom at the time visited), star jasmine and white roses.

I haven't spotted any plants around the Vanilla notes area, rigth next to the canal at the centre of the garden and across from the white florals - but this sign will give you an idea of how the garden was arranged. Each section had a note category stated by a sign that looked like this:

The fruity notes included sweet juicy strawberry, loquat and Ananas Sage, which is very unusual and mouthwatering with its pineapple-like notes. Of course I couldn't help myself and had a little picnic.

After fruity comes floral...

I really liked how the iris was planted right next to the acacia garden. There are common characteristics for these two notes - powdery, woody and floral and cool. There was only one bush in bloom, since the mimosa season in Grasse is January-February.

This is Seringat, a bush I'm unfamiliar with and am at loss describing its scent. It was floral and a little fruity - perhaps peachy - but I can't remember being able to come up with any other adjectives.

Next come the herbaceous notes, and there are plenty: rosemary, helicrysum, lavender, sage, clary sage, Roman chamomile, etc. and many types of pelargonium, including this strange looking one, Eucaliptus scented pelargonium and one that didn't have a sign and smelled intensely of animalic musk.

This particular helicrysum really smells like curry more than others.

I was surprised at how soft this dangerous plant smells. Sweet and almost coumarin like, despite all the thujone.

Roman chamomile, of course!

The aquaduct is at the centre of the garden and brings a powerful visual element of freshness and coolness, even though the water is neither good for drinking nor for bathing. You have to experience the heat of that Cote d'Azur day to understand it fully...

Notes Hesperide, which is French for citrus notes - here are bitter orange trees with lemon verbena in the space between them. Across from there is a plot with melissa (lemon balm) and lemongrass.
This exotic Australian tree was planted right next to the citrus plants, although it smelled more like a mixture of ylang ylang gand vanilla. There were also many fragrant pittosporums around this area, so judging by the plant's family, this must be the connecting reason. Or perhaps the orange blossom like aroma of some pittosporum blossoms. There is no mention of pittosporum on the garden's map.

Going down to the left side of the garden, there are open fields, less structure, and many wild flowers. I pass by sitting spots, some look sureal and all very beautiful - my favourite being two chairs in the middle of a lavender field. There is one plot for Jasmine (not blooming now), lavender fields and more herbaceous fields including more curry plants, sage and rose geranium. The garden ends with two large plots for Rose de Grasse (Rosa centifolia, aka Rose de Mai), and many wild poppies in pink and red.

Musée International de la Parfumerie

On Thursday, I shook hands with Clary Sage for the first time. As you can see, her hands are much bigger than mine! This exciting encounter took place at the tropical perfume garden of the Musée International de la Parfumerie in Grasse.

The International Perfume Museum in Grasse re-opened in 2008 and is unusual from other perfume museums in the world in that tries to show the history, archeology, cultural and technical aspects of perfumery not only through bottles (although mostly bottles, as expected) of perfume and cosmetics, but also allows visitors to smell some scents. The press release for the museum promised more than I found there, but I still felt the museum offered an unusual and valuable experience as well as being educational and informative (if you can understand French – only the very main writings was in other languages – and so I missed any commentary on the enfleurage process, for instance – not to mention the many curious artifacts ranging from Ancient Egypt and Greece to medieval Europe and Asia).

A few curious items that impressed me: the mummified feet and hands (covered and stuffed with fragrant herbs for preservation), and very old fashioned mascara used to be pressed powder plus brush that women would wet with their saliva to paint their eyelashes. There were many elaborate accessories and bottles for cosmetics on display that looked like silver tea sets, but were in fact a medicinal/cosmetic treatment kit. The lack of commentary in English (there may have been some in German though) clearly was not in my favour.

But what I mostly came for was what I read about in the press release announcing the re-opening, that mentioned smelling stations or mechanisms around the museum where visitors can dispense scent into the air by a push of the button. None such thing existed. And when I finally gave up and asked the front desk about it, they said it is yet to be built. A later conversation with a tour-guide at Fragonard informed me that ultimately this museum will also include a division of the Osmotheque. That could be so fantastic!

While I never found Marie Antoinette’s vanity chest mentioned in the radio show, but I went to a pink vanity room where you can open the drawers to see scented fans, and flip up a chest cabinet to reveal entire collections of cosmetics and perfumes from long ago. I also did find an old fashioned perfumer’s organ which was very impressive.

The only exceedingly aromatic exhibit was the sensory auditorium, where a short osmo-art film is shown: nature scents on two adjacent walls, accompanied by music and scent, of course. Beginning with ocean (too much calone for me), proceeding to woods (incensy, sappy and warm – almost smoky), a field (which I am unable to describe since by than the room was saturated with both previous smells) and finally, an energetic and juicy cantaloupe piece that was my favourite.
While I found the vast number of stunning perfume bottles overwhelming I was especially moved by the gardens dedicated to exotic aromatic plants that I haven’t had the chance to ever see alive and growing, i.e.: clary sage, with whom I shook hand for the first time in my life, vetiver, patchouli, vanilla orchid, cinnamon tree, cardamom, tuberose and ylang ylang (though not flowering) and bergamot to name a few. The museum seems to be still under development and I can only hope that next time I’m in Grasse the museum will be even more complete and with more olfactory adventures.

Even the wallpaper was created from old perfume boxes:

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