Travel: 83 posts

Searching for scents and sensory traditions around the world.

Paris Autumn Walks : The Basilica of Saint Denis

If I made a map of my favorite walks in Paris, the routes would invariably lead to an old church, a cemetery, a café or a market. They would circumvent the glamorous Paris of the tourist brochures and explore the places where the ancient and the modern city coexist, where the mysteries linger, and where one can satisfy one’s hunger, literal and figurative. Paris is often associated with spring, romance and blossoming, but my Paris is autumn, fallen leaves and the light streaming through the stained glass windows.

The Basilica of Saint Denis, Basilique royale de Saint-Denis, is one of those large French Gothic churches that to a non-expert eye are hard to tell apart. Even the fact that it has only one tower instead of the usual two can get lost as one contemplates its imposing size. Yet, the space inside the basilica is so elegant with its slender windows, graceful columns and candlelight filled enfilades that I’d take a stroll here over visiting Notre-Dame. It’s worth a metro ride to Saint-Denis, a northern suburb of Paris that manages to be both bland and seedy. My Paris explorations often end up here.

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Scents That Satisfy Wanderlust

Some scents have the flying carpet effect on me. I only need to put a few drops on my skin and I feel that I’m in another place. It might be a place that I visited, but most of the time it’s about a fantasy. In my new FT column, Scents with A Sense of Place, I explore how fragrances can transport us out of our usual routine and take us on a journey. I use the example of several favorite fragrance, including my recent coup de coeur, Chanel Paris-Deauville.

The art of perfumery is about creating illusions. When we explore scents, it’s best to forget about the brand, bottle shape and perfume name, and focus on what the aromas tell us. For one person, Etat Libre d’Orange Jasmin et Cigarette is a smoky jazz club, while for another it’s an Indian temple filled with incense smoke and flower garlands. The only thing that matters is whether a perfume creates a vision one wants to experience again and again. To continue reading, please click here.

What about you? What perfume do you reach for when you wish to satisfy your wanderlust?

Scents of the Burgundian Spring : The Perfume Course

Wrapping up yet another perfume course, I want to linger over each moment that we shared together and examine how far we’ve come over three days of intensive studies. Originally, my course took shape as a rigorous training program for perfumery professionals, aimed at educating people who work in the perfume industry (but who haven’t had perfumery training) and to give them an appreciation for perfume history. When I adapted it for fragrance lovers, I discovered that my method worked to help anyone, regardless of their knowledge of fragrance or background, to sharpen their sense of smell, learn how to smell and how to analyze mixtures from the simplest to the most complex.

Even as I teach the subject I’ve spent more than a decade exploring, I discover new facets to familiar scents, new ways of talking about aromas and new ways of connecting different sensory impressions. It’s because of the subject matter itself, which is vast, but also because of the people who come to my classroom–and to Bois de Jasmin–and their willingness to share their experiences. Thank you to all of you!

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An Anemone Walk

A few kilometers south of Brussels lies the Hallerbos (Bois de Hal in French), also known as the bluebell forest. I’ve written about it previously and shared photos of its turquoise tinted valleys during the bluebell season which starts around mid-April. This year, however, I went to the forest earlier to see the anemones.

Although less striking in color than bluebells, woodland anemones have a graceful beauty. Their flowers are white, with delicate pink veining and as they turn to follow the sun, they look opalescent.

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Pysanka Easter Egg Museum in Kolomyia, Ukraine

Decorating eggs is an ancient tradition, still alive in many countries, from Iran to Greece, but in Ukraine it becomes an art form–and a national obsession. Pysanka, as the decorated egg is called, from the word “pysaty”, “to write,” is  one of the most important traditional arts in Ukraine. Today pysanka (plural is pysanky) is prepared around Easter, although decorated eggs were also used to be given as birthday gifts and wedding presents. Each region has its own set of symbols, colors and patterns, while each master adds their own signature touch.

It’s not surprising then that Ukraine should have a museum dedicated to the pysanky. The Pysanka Museum in the western Ukrainian city of Kolomyia is one of the most fascinating museums I’ve visited. The museum was a labor of love of the local community that collected the best examples of its pysanka masters and preserved them in the Kolomyia church of the Annunciation. In 2000, the museum was formally opened, allowing for preservation of the fragile masterpieces, as well as for hosting workshops and lectures. Walking through its halls filled with more than 1000 pysanky is a mind-blowing experience. It’s hard to believe that such intricate designs are made by human hands.

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