fragrant fun at Fragonard

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All the girls are now at university so we are officially empty nesters. With that in mind we decided to take a few days off and are currently enjoying warm weather and the local rosé in the south of France.  St Paul-de-Vence to be precise, and very lovely it is too.

As we are only half an hour from Grasse it was not difficult to persuade the Boss that a little detour around the Fragonard museum and factory would be a pleasant way to spend the morning.

The museum was small but fascinating with fine examples of toiletry bottles and equipment from as early as the sixth century BC, the latter in such superb condition that at first I thought it was a copy.  But the jewel in the crown is the factory tour.

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The bottles of essential oils alone were enough to woo me.

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The bottle went on and one.  To be honest I am not sure what is in them, but they were so beautiful.

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Originally extraction was either cold press, where each flower was placed on a rack of animal fat (cow or pig) for twenty four hours and then replaced daily for a  month until the fat was soaked with the flower essence.  It was then washed with alcohol, the alcohol evaporated away and what was left was the absolute.

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Racks for cold press.

More robust plants were heated with the oil over a few days and then washed with alcohol as above.  Today they have perfected a slightly more rapid option using alcohol directly, or the good old maceration and still method.  (See my post here about how to make your own rosewater – but sadly not essential oil!)

The perfumes (at 76% these are the perfumes not the eau du parfum nor eau de toilette) are blended in these huge vats.  Perhaps not quite as romantic as those rose petals we soaked in water to make perfume for our mothers, but a little more effective!

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I am wearing this particular perfume today/

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Some of the equipment looked like giant coffee machines!

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For reasons known only to Fragonard, you can buy egg boxes of soap.

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This process was a little more familiar (soap making not egg boxes – most of our egg boxes are full of real eggs from our real hens!)

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Lots of mixing, shaving and mixing again.  Mind you their equipment is a little more sophisticated.

They also run workshops where you can mix your own perfume.  Sounds fun at two hours and might give it a go.  Particularly when I learned it takes six years to train as a Nose.  That’s as long as a doctor!  This is the play laboratory.  Apparently a real one has 2,000 to 3,000 different scents to choose from!  This Libran would find that a little overwhelming.

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And finally of course to the shop!  The prices were actually quite reasonable (especially with my 10% discount voucher acquired earlier in the day!)  So a few purchases were made.

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Today is Farmers’ Market day in St Paul-de-Vence so it will be cheese I will be smelling and tasting!

Love Gillie x

to sieze or not the day

Horace

Horace has a lot to answer for.  Often regarded as the first autobiographer as well as a superb poet he also was either right hand man or court puppet, depending on your point of view, to Octavius during the transition from Republic of Rome to Roman Empire.  He also coined two of the most misused words in poetry: carpe diem.

From the first book of Odes, the words carpe diem are frequently translated as “seize the day” and often quoted alongside six equally misused words: live each day as your last.  I have recently had good cause to consider these six words.

My eldest daughter has been travelling in southern Mexico. She was travelling with a friend who returned at the end of last week, my daughter is due to fly back tonight.  Like parents of most young travellers we watched her Facebook page and kept in touch with the occasional text.  Then on Saturday morning I woke up to the news of the devastating earthquake in Mexico.  It took me a good five minutes before I linked Mexico, earthquake and my daughter.  And then I went into panic mode.  It went a little like this.

  • Main damage is in Chiapas and Oaxaca. Check where daughter was last seen.  Chiapas.
  • Check last message from travelling companion.  Daughter due to leave Chiapas for Oaxaca.
  • Contact travelling companion.  Daughter said she was going to spend her last few days on the coast at Puerto Escondido.  The coast, the nearest part of the country to the epicentre.
  • I send emails, texts, messages to her.  None are returned.

I tell myself she will be fine.  Then I ask myself why should she be fine?  Why should ours be the story with the happy ending.  I watch the numbers of deaths rise alarmingly.  I remember what I said when she left.  It was something like “have a lovely holiday and take care” followed by a kiss and a hug.

I fire up all the networks I know and help and support comes pouring out of the woodwork.  A friend of a friend is married to a Mexican military official who will check casualty lists.  Old school friends offer somewhere for her to stay when (if?) she is found.  People offer help with repatriation when (if?) she is found and she can’t get to her flight.  Somebody knows a BBC journalist in Mexico and asks if I would like her to make contact.  Anything, yes please.  This was a little odd as I then found myself on the M74 heading up to Glasgow to drop another daughter at university and conducting a live radio interview at the same time (I wasn’t driving!)

I think back to the time she left and wonder if I should have said more, should I have lived that day as if it were her last?  I am now in serious mother panic mode, but on the outside am all calm and positive.  Only my feet are paddling furiously under the water and going nowhere.

We arrive in Glasgow, still no news.  I have been welded to my phone all day.  We go out for a meal and for the first time in my life I have my phone, screen up in front of me on the table.  All those times I have sneered at people who can’t leave their phones for one second and I have become that person overnight.

Late that night standing in the co-op whilst the twins pick up some fruit and yoghurt one of them yelps “She is active on Facebook!”  Frantic punching of keys and we phone her.

She is fine, she is safe and she is well.  She had not been in Puerto Escondido, she had not been in Chiapas, nor Oaxaca city.  She had been up in the mountains.  They had felt the quake and it had been terrifying, but in the middle of nowhere, with no telephone or internet connection they had no idea of the devastation elsewhere.  It was not until they got down to Oaxaca city that it dawned on them that they had had a very lucky escape.

I have no idea what the other people in the Co-op made of our happy little family squeaking and shrieking as we headed out onto Gordon Street, but who cared?

She isn’t home yet and today I am hoping to find out if she has made it to Mexico City where she can catch the first of her planes home.  If not, well we’ll sort something out.

Going back to saying goodbye to her before she left. If we truly are to live each day as if it were our last then we would not really be living at all.  We would be forever fearful of what tomorrow might bring, we could not seize this day because our minds would be forever concentrating on the next day.

Carpe diem is correctly translated as “pluck the day”, perhaps no better than “sieze the day” in its intention?  However, as with all things context is vital.

Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero – sieze the present, trust tomorrow e’en as little as you may.

Now things start to make a little more sense.  Perhaps it is wise not to trust tomorrow entirely, because the lack of flexibility that would ensue would make for a very fractured and disappointing life as things fail to go as expected.  On the other hand, to have no trust in tomorrow is equally unhelpful.

So I have my own tenet.  I won’t seize (or pluck) the day, nor will I live each day as if it were my (or even my daughter’s) last.

I will live contentedly.  I will enjoy this moment and at the end of each day I ask myself if I had a good day.  If I did I spend a moment or two reliving and enjoying it.  If I didn’t, then I look at where I could have, if at all, improved upon it and then I let it go.  It is been and gone and tomorrow is another day.  To be trusted a little but not to be entirely depended on.

love Gillie x

autumnal herbs

When I wake in the morning I can no longer hear the dawn chorus, when I sit outside in the evening even I need a jumper and we lit the stove for the first time last night.  I can no longer pretend that summer isn’t coming towards its end.  I had never really thought of myself as a summer girl, but as I have got older I have become aware that summer is the time that I truly come alive.  I am more productive and my creativity ups several notches.  Getting dressed in the morning takes seconds and I live in my Birkenstocks all day and every day.  The garden is full to bursting and we have fresh flowers in every room of the house.

However the is a reason for every season and as autumn begins to take the upper hand I can start to gather in.  Our vegetable garden, along with much of the house, was being rebuilt this year so we didn’t have as big a harvest this year.  However, the winter veg are in, the greenhouse has brought forth a bumper offering and the herbs have been as abundant as ever.

I do have a dehydrator, but I prefer to use that for roots and fruits.  For leaves I leave them to hang in the boiler house.

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Parsley, lavender and marjaram.

The mint, lemon balm and sage have been hanging for a few weeks and are now ready to put away in jars.

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We have also made our own bacon, salt beef and lox.  Today I shall be picking the rosehips for syrup, shrub (sweet vinegar), jelly, ketchup and elderberry and reship tonic.

What are you drying and preserving this autumn?

love Gillie x