30 October 2006

Perfume School 101

If you weren't lucky enough to receive a huge email from me (I say lucky with sarcasm, since it was too long for anyone to actually read), here's a more recent update...

First, I apologize for the lack of photos, but laptop problems persist and the school computers have no USB ports. Rest assured that when I have good pictures and am able to post them, I will.

Second, I love school. I spend about 7 hours a day in a small lab (with 7 other people from around the world) as we familiarize ourselves with raw materials (natural and synthetic), and learn about perfume families. This is more confusing than you might think. As scents become more modernized (read: more synthetic), the whole library of smells is growing, even while many synthetic products are replacing natural ones. More sources = more variation = more categories to organize. But to smell a chemical that is found nowhere in nature, that simultaneously evokes caramelized sugar, chocolate, cranberries, and raspberries...it is quite a heady experience.

Lately we've been working on creating floral accords from synthetics. Our teacher (a wonderful, kind, sophisticated, beautiful woman with wild coats) doles out numerous synthetic raw materials. We smell and describe each one, pencils flying as we try to make note of everything to study later. Then the teacher says, "Ok, now compose a rose." And we spend the rest of the afternoon diluting and mixing and re-mixing to find the right proportions of each material that will together produce a satisfying rose. Mine was a bit fruity, with a sweet note that lingered for days (a potential plus), and overall I was happy with it. What fascinates me is that anyone could identify it as a rose, though there was nothing natural about it.

(As a side note, "synthetic" does not mean it is never found in nature. Many synthetics are single molecules that occur naturally but are copied and built in a laboratory. For example, a molecule found in cloves can be isolated and then produced by people in a lab, without the rest of the cloves notes.)

The past few days were more challenging because we studied lilly of the valley. I don't have an image of lilly of the valley in my mind, which makes it difficult for me to whip one up out of synthetics. The other thing is that as new chemicals are created in labs, the market idea of what lilly of the valley smells like changes over time. So you can create different styles of this flower -- some greener (like cut grass) and fruitier; some softer and more floral, like baby powder or fabric softeners. Also, there is no natural version of lilly of the valley perfume. Despite all the available methods, it's impossible to obtain this flower's natural scent, so everything has to be synthesized.

Tomorrow we'll begin jasmine, which is my favorite floral note. It's a very complex, multi-faceted scent, but I already have an imagine in my mind of what the final product should smell like. I'm looking forward to breaking it down and learning about how each component works together. Jasmine is a white flower but it always makes me think of something three dimensional, sensual, and dark purple. And something that rotates on an axis. I have no idea why those images come to my mind, but anything that helps you remember a smell is a good thing. :)

Happy breathing...especially with the onset of fall!

03 October 2006

Downtown Versailles

the flower market

My School

The Fragrance Academy

The Apartment

Thanks to Mom I now have some great photos...but for the moment this is all the school computer can handle. There's one of me being silly in my apartment, one of The Fragrance Academy, and one of the flower market in downtown Versailles.

La Cuisine

I guess it's no surprise that moving from Japan to France can give quite a culture shock!

You know the state of mind just minutes before falling asleep, where you think you are dreaming and don't realize that you are actually awake? A few nights ago in that stage of pre-sleep, I realized that I was "dreaming" about Japanese food: cold soba, instant sticky rice and salmon and seaweed, big hot oily restaurant portions of miso ramen with bamboo shoots and hard-boiled eggs, chewy rice cakes and sweet red bean paste...I am still going through Japanese food withdrawal. I want it every day.

Which is ironic, since I am in The Land of Good Food. Maybe I should qualify that with "In the West." My cheese and red wine intake have both increased by about 200%. I am certainly not complaining. I've had fun preparing various dishes I couldn't make in Japan: whole wheat garlic pasta, grilled cheese with brie, goat cheese and fresh strawberries, portobello mushrooms with (what else) big slabs of camembert. And did I mention the coffee ice cream? (Noel heaven, Bill!) Yum.

Antonio, on the other hand, prefers Spanish sausage with his bread, instead of cheese. Last night he made me eat a piece insisting it was the "secret of Spain." (Whatever that can mean for a tubular hunk of pig.) The sausage was bloody and looked raw, but considering my diet last year, I can't use "raw" as an excuse to say no. I ate it, and it tasted good. Kind of spicy.

I never guessed that moving to France would teach me more about Spain...but it just goes to remind me that no matter how much globe-trotting I do, I will always know less than there actually is to know out there. It may be a small world, but it's cram-packed full of stuff.