Olfactory Observation #5: An Armful of Lavender Stems in Paris {Scented Thoughts}


Today, I met a merchant of lavender in Paris. His wares were on the pavement, looking intensely rustic with several degrees of separation from the usual open-market lavender seller. And now I know what was different, his lavender had been cut recently. It looked like a harvest - was fresh like the day. You can usually only find dry lavender in Paris, or potted ones. His display was royal blue, mauve and purple. Purple is the color of real lavender as opposed to lavandin which is mauve-grey. What I discovered is that lavender and lavandin can be grown not just in Provence but in Villepinte. Jean-François, his name is, has a field of lavender there near Roissy airport, he told me...


Visually, lavender is so much more attractive than lavandin. Without smelling them I knew I was going to get the beautiful purple grapes. What I did not expect was how good freshly cut lavender smells not so much from its floral crown, but from its stem. An armful of lavender held against my chest first then held up to my nose, I could not let go of the green stems of lavender. They smell like lavender but more surprising and complex and as someone put it like a more "unusual" lavender.

After a little while, I recovered from sheer rapture and analyzed the bunch turning it around. It has a facet of fennel, but then also of turpentine, to the point of evoking fresh paint. Then it smells also of dark cistus or labdanum. The freshly cut stems smelled of subtle greens and resins. The flowers themselves smelled like faint, soft lavender. As the merchant said, you'd need altitude and the "cagnard" for them to be able to yield a good enough essence to be sold under his watch. "Cagnard" is an ancient word in the Southern dialect which means a "burning sun", a "violent sun". So, the plants come from his field near Paris but the oils are from the south - but I forgot to ask him from where exactly.

I went to vote for the second round of the legislatives smelling all the way to the voting booth. A bee which had landed on the bouquet when I bought it was still there when I entered the school where you go cast your vote. Then I took a picture to commemorate the event and the happy lavender all at once inside the voting booth. At the urn, a smiling man asked if I came from Provence and said, "That's good, it freshens up the air". I answered him equally smiling "And it calms things down"; There had been a political quarrel at the urn with polite "Madames" thrown across the air barely disguising passionate political anger. Out on the street again, a smiling Doner Kebab merchant gave me a thumb up from his little window as I passed by and then a tourist took my picture as one of the sights of Paris.

Then I had to let go of the bouquet, it was meant for someone else.

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