28 December 2006

Laptop Life

I spent 5 hours (FIVE HOURS!) on the telephone with a very nice DELL representative to install a new hard drive for my laptop. After 5 hours and a flashing screen that left the technician--and I quote--"dumbfounded," everything seems to be up and running. However, due to an intense desire to keep my life simple, I will not be taking the computer back to France. I'll continue to use the school computers like I did before.

In some ways it's harder to live in France than in Japan, and for the next 6 months I want my life to be as hassle-free as possible so that I may focus on...perfume.

26 December 2006

Blast from the Past, Part 2

So in honor of being in France, I decided to post some funny stories from my study abroad experience in Paris 3 years ago. When I lived with a host family, I wrote down things that made me laugh, and I just re-discovered the file on my parents' computer. They still crack me up today...so I hope you enjoy.

* * *

-I love looking at the little dogs in this city:

Katie to me: Lauren, I thought you were staring at a hot guy, but when I turned to look, I realized you were checking out a poodle.

-on a tour of a tiny village near the chateau Chantilly:

me to Lauren Merkeley: Lauren, have you noticed that there’s a weird man following us on the tour?

Lauren Merkeley: No way, really?

Me: Yeah, he’s been with us ever since we got off the bus!

Lauren Merkeley: You mean the bus driver?

(I crack up at my own stupidity.)

Zain to me: What are you girls laughing at? What’s so funny?

Lauren Merkely: Oh not much, just introducing a little logic.

-at dinner with my host family and their friends, who are all at least 65 years old:

friend to host mom: My friend’s daughter was on her honeymoon, and when she got to the island she called her mother to say she’d forgotten her luggage. But instead of sending it, her mom replied, “Dear, it’s your honeymoon; do you really need your suitcase??”

-at “home”:

host mom to me: What day should we eat together?

Me: I don’t know.

(host dad suggests a night to eat)

host mom to me: Ah, he’s right. Good idea.

host dad to me, joking: Of course I’m right—I’m a man! Men are always right!

host mom to me: Don’t listen to him, the old fool! (and she whacks him in the stomach with her spatula)

-at someone else’s house for dinner:

older man to me: I went to the US once, and in general I liked it, but you know what really got on my nerves? The clothes! Everyone there wears the brightest colors!

-my host family in Lyon, to everyone they introduced me to: And this is the little American that’s staying with us for the weekend!

-in a restaurant, the first time I met Steve (hot guy from Cornell who speaks French very well)

me: So how long have you been taking French?

Steve: Well, only for about a year. But I’ve been French-kissing for quite some time now.

-making fun of EDUCO people:

-Katie: I love Bahij, he cracks me up. But he’s a very simple guy.

Merkley: Simple? I think Bahij is complicated. Self-tanner, hello, that’s not simple!

-in my animation class, where the prof. always likes to discuss the philosophy of theater and animation

prof: (talking about something obscure) Yes, it is invisible, but it’s invisible for a very good reason: it doesn’t exist.

-the whole French-speaking population, to me at least every other day (literally): Excuse me, can you tell me where the nearest metro station is? Or where this street is? Or if this direction will get me to the train station? Or what time it is? Or where exactly this metro is going?

-my host father works in advertising, so he likes to discuss the giant ads in the metro stations

host dad to his wife and me: Have you seen the latest lingerie ad? Where the woman is wearing a bra that’s the exact same color as her skin? FREAKY!

-on the difficulty of relating to French guys:

Emily to me: Yeah, I’ll meet someone who’s hot, but then he’ll just go and do something French, and I won’t be attracted to him anymore.

-French woman to a friend of mine who’s Mormon (doesn’t drink), and who happens to dislike cheese: You’re in the wrong country, my friend.

-and the one that prob. tops them all:

Last night I was having dinner with my host family at their friend's house. They poured me a glass of wine that was made from vineyards at their "country house." Then the host-man started telling a story.

host: A few years ago someone thought our wine had a potato flavor.

host's wife: No, let me tell it. You do a horrible job of telling stories. So, a few years ago someone thought our wine had a potato flavor. And we said, "really?" Well how interesting. I"ve heard of fruit notes, wood notes, even burnt toast notes, but no potato notes. So we decided to examine the barrel of wine that this bottle had come from...and floating inside the wine was a drowned mouse! Haha! So mice must taste like potatoes!

host to me: So, what do you think of the wine?


Winter Break Update

Now that I'm in North Carolina for a lovely 3-week vacation, I have some time AND an internet connection. I hope everyone had a great Christmas - mine was fantastic, even more enjoyable since I was in Japan last year! It feels really good to be home.

The first 'semester' of school ended quickly. Things in France were hectic and we had a big exam on the last day, which was interrupted by an emergency trip to the Prefecture for a temporary visa (so that I can return to France in January. The timing was awful but at least I GOT it!).

For the exam we were given about 15 raw materials that we had to identify and describe "from scratch," with no background or context clues. We had to list what types of perfumes they are appropriate for and why, their different rates of evaporation (volatility), and other properties related to perfumery. Basically, we had to know everything we've studied the past two months. Then we had to identify a few perfumes and discuss why they were 'landmarks.' It was very similar to an art history test, where you view slides, date and describe the work of art, then discuss the relevant art movement and its significance. (I knew perfumery was artistic, but I never realized the extent to which perfumers really are artists, until now!) I nailed all the perfumes, in part thanks to my grandmother. When I was younger Manana used to give me little bottles of L'Air du Temps. I'm sure you've seen the round bottles of yellow liquid with two flying doves on the top? This floral fragrance was launched after World War II and has a strong carnation note. I recognize it instantly because the second it hits my nose, an image of Manana pops into my head. I guess that was the confidence booster I needed because the rest came to me easily.

* * *

I've been called uptight before, but I thought there was one rule when it comes to cheating: you don't do it. For me it's not so much about being 'uptight' as being PROUD. I'm too proud to cheat. In some people's eyes, this just makes me conservative or 'prudish.' Here's a conversation I had with someone in my class:

John Doe: Well, we're getting a grade, but this exam is mostly an assesment for our own information. So we don't have to worry about cheating.

Me: What? Do you mean that if this test were more important, then you'd want to cheat?

John Doe: (no response)

...then, during the test...

John Doe: Do you think the answer is X?

Me: Don't ask me.

John Doe: Do you think the answer is X?

Me: Don't ask me.

What's WITH people? I don't care if I'm earning a GPA or not. I don't cheat. I don't see how anybody does so in good conscience. In any case, I'd always trust my own nose before somebody else's. Perfumery is in large part instinct, and I don't like to second-guess my guts. Why would somebody else?

* * *
Here's wishing everyone continued holiday spirit and a very happy New Year. Got any resolutions?

19 December 2006

Class Photos

...compliments of Christian! The sophisticated lady without a labcoat is our instructor.

11 December 2006


The cheapest raw material in the world is benzyl acetate, at about 3.50 euros per kilo. It's in quite a few floral notes, including jasmine, and smells like fake bananas. I recognize it as the product most likely to give me an instant headache. (Anything that ends in -ate can cause no small amout of pain if you inhale with too much enthusiasm).

The most expensive material is iris root absolute, at about 100,000.00 euros per kilo. Getting this fragrance takes up to six years while you wait for the roots to mature underground. It smells kind of floral, kind of plant-like, green, and mild, not what you'd imagine the 'Kohinor' of perfume materials to smell like!

Today we had a guest speaker who used to work for Chanel. He showed us some extremely old perfumes that are no longer on the market, such as one created 2,000 years ago called "Perfume Royale." Main ingredients? Honey, cinnamon, and cloves. Yum.