One Thousand Scents

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Paris, Je Ne t'Aime Pas

Yesterday was...traumatic.

We had originally planned to go to the UK for only two weeks, but through a series of circumstances too convoluted to talk about right now, we ended up going for three. Since we didn't have a huge amount of time, we planned on a single day in Paris, and booked the (expensive and unalterable) ticket on the Eurostar.

Unfortunately for us, Paris--most of western Europe, really--was undergoing an unseasonably hot spell for late May, and they do not appear to believe in air conditioning. As a result, we ended up walking around the city in 33-degree weather, with the sky a haze-smeared inferno that was somehow worse than a cloudless sky, because the thin cloudiness diffused the sunlight into something that seemed to be coming from every direction at once.

Boo hoo, I hear you say. But I grew up in a cool climate and I have never gotten used to any serious heat, and this was serious heat, as a result of which we both become hotter and sweatier and stickier and more dehydrated and irritable with each passing hour, until by midday I was a cauldron of free-floating anger.

This anger was not helped by two little doses of hell. The first is that the signage is hopelessly bad for the non-initiated, and it is extremely difficult to find where you want to go: most of the signs are little blue plaques attached to buildings about two stories up, and far too many of them are difficult to read or obscured by awnings, in addition to which the Metro stops are frequently unlabelled or otherwise hard to spot--compare this to Toronto or London or New York, which make sure you can see them from across or down the street. I'm sure there are third world countries that have better signage than Paris does. The second hellishness is that all Parisians smoke. I'm convinced that upon reaching their sixth birthday, they're issued a carton of cigarettes and a nice little enamelled lighter and told to have at it. Since you can't smoke in buildings any more, they all congregate outside--right outside, where the smoke blows into the open doors and windows. If you want to eat at a restaurant (of which there are many), you can hardly manage it with the slightest degree of comfort, because to eat inside on a day like yesterday means that you're melting into your seat and being assaulted with wafting cigarette smoke, and if you eat outside you're subjected to even more smoke. After yesterday, I feel as if I'd smoked an entire pack myself.

After arriving at 10:20 or so, we started out the day by looking for a couple of famous department stores, Galeries Lafayette and Le Printemps, so that Jim could buy a couple of shirts. We expected department stores; think Sears or The Bay. What we found was more along the lines of Holt Renfrew or Bergdorf Goodman. At one of the stores I found a dreadfully tempting set of Etat Libre D'Orange miniatures, sixteen little bottles (maybe 5 mL each), for €125, but I managed to put it back on the shelf, realizing that 1) I like maybe half the ELO scents I've tried, which is not a good average (although I briefly considered a bottle of the spectacular Je Suis Un Homme at €59 before realizing I could order it once I got back home), and 2) I would be going to the Serge Lutens boutique in the Palais Royale later that day.

You don't need me to tell you that if you are ever in Paris, you have to go there (and good luck finding it--it's well hidden), because it is a bedroom-sized temple to the exquisite, dimly lit to increase its allure, with a spiral staircase anchoring the middle and a few gorgeous tables stationed around it, each of which bears an array of bottles to tempt you and a little grooved tablet containing a battalion of hand-labelled strips of blotter paper for you to sniff deeply.

Choosing was torment.

The lovely saleswoman, Sandrine, spoke good English; I think I could have made a go of it in French, but after hearing her I lost my nerve. (I would like to say that I did manage a few transactions in French yesterday, but that's as far as it goes: I speak shopping French only.) I naturally made a beeline for the Exclusive line, which are barely and rarely if ever made available outside Paris; unlike the Export line of tall, stately 50-mL sprays, the Exclusives come in bell-shaped bottles with a spherical stopper, and are 75 mL each. I told Sandrine what I already owned and she showed me a selection of possibilities, and fairly soon fastened onto the fact that I probably needed to own Fumerie Turque, a smoky, dreamy concoction of tobacco and warm orientalia.

I quickly wrote off Rahat Loukoum, which is pure sugar, almost Pink Sugar; Muscs Khoublai Khan, which I like but don't need a full bottle of; Sarrasins, a jasminey floral concoction (I think I like the purer jasmine A La Nuit better); El Attarine, a lot of cumin and immortelle; and Encens Lavande, La Myrrhe, and Bois Oriental. Cuir Mauresque wasn't as magical as I was expecting for a leather scent, but still a distant possibility, as were Mandarine-Mandarin and Santal de Mysore. But then Fourreau Noir happened.

Oh, good god. It is a swirl of lavender and tonka bean and I don't know what else, masculine despite its name (a fourreau noir is basically a little black dress), oriental but not heavily or obviously so, irresistible in its every aspect. I suppose I should have tried it on my skin, but I didn't really have to; I knew.

I couldn't decide between Fumerie Turque and Fourreau Noir, so I had no choice: I bought them both.

Coming up next: the confection that changed everything.



  • It's hot as Hades in Toronto today, and I'm wearing Fumerie Turque. I love the bitter sweetness of it and somehow it suits the weather. Maybe it reminds me of hot summers in my youth when I still sneaked a cigarette now and then.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 3:34 PM  

  • Dealing with hot weather is a difficult thing especially when trying to navigate unfamiliar territory. I enjoyed reading your post from the comfort of my 68F home! I'm planning a trip to Paris in August with definitly a stop at Serge Lutens-am wearing my favorite,La Myrrhe today.

    By Blogger Cymbaline, at 4:51 PM  

  • I am sorry you had such horrible weather. I cannot manage heat either. At least you had a story with a happy ending, getting to new beauties to enjoy for a long time.
    I have not been to Paris in 10 years,and although I have always loved perfume, I was not a dedicated perfumista back then and did not even knew who Serge Lutens is. I was outside the Palais Royale, oh a missed opportunity

    By Blogger Arwen, at 1:22 AM  

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