A Lesson from the Feminine in France

After a full day on the TGV from Biarritz to Paris and Paris to Nice followed by a local train to Menton.  I find myself at the easternmost end of the French Riviera, just east of Monaco and just on the border with Italy. My Airbnb was a 6 block walk from the train station and I was grateful after a full day of mask-wearing on the trains to being able to walk along the promenade outside and breathe in the fresh air.  The view of the lights on the hills and the Mediterranean laying out before them was stunning. It was a beautiful evening.

Menton has a lovely old town on a hill which was an amazing workout the next day, winding through the streets and shops, upstairs, downstairs. I was trying to pay attention; is this a place I might want to spend a longer time.  It takes me very little time to make decisions, typically I just know if something is right for me or not. Some people might say that I am too quick to make a decision, but I know that if I am struggling with a decision, I am really being told to wait for more information but when I know a decision in my gut and just go from there that is when all the best things happen for me.

Menton feels bustling, it feels like there is a giant party going on from late afternoon until the wee morning hours. Because of the proximity to Italy, I hear about half Italian and half French but the place to me almost feels more Italian than French.

I can attest that on Bastille Day in Menton there are amazing fireworks and they set up the disco tech for the celebration right on the promenade. Even when I returned to my flat to relax on the balcony, I still felt like I was at the party, I believe that everyone in Menton and the neighboring Italian hills of Grimaldi felt like they too were a part of the party.

I easily decide that Menton is a place I would vacation to, but it doesn’t have that energy that I would want to spend my day to day in so with that decision made I could just relax and enjoy the rest of the trip.

The next day I was taking the train to Grasse. Grasse is the home to several French perfume houses. I had an appointment at Fragonard to participate in a class on perfume making.

My train trip to Grasse started out interesting enough when a woman got on carrying a basket which she popped onto the seat across the aisle and proceeded to remove a towel from it to cover the seat, then she added hay from the basket, and then she proceeded to pull a rabbit out of the basket and set him on the hay.  Then she placed a bowl in front of him and a plate of carrots, clearly it was time for bunny’s petit dejeuner (aka breakfast). It was all rather adorable.

After a lovely walk from the Grasse train station to Fragonard, which is very hilly and about 2 miles, I realized that I was just enjoying all the movement. It felt so good to be outside, especially after lockdowns. 

I was waiting in the lobby at Fragonard, with about 20 other people all masked up. When in walked this woman, you could feel her presence. She wore a blue wrap dress with white polka dots with a flounce on the bottom that swayed as she walked. She had on those old-style white nursing shoes with a big thick chunky rubber heel, they were practical, comfortable, and totally worked for her. I would put her at around 60 years old perhaps and I was just taken by her presence and how she moved about and commanded the room. This was our teacher.

As it turns out, technically speaking, she is “the nose” the professional title for a perfume maker.  She explains that it takes 7 years to become a Nose. You see the average human will only ever learn approximately 300 smells in a lifetime, but a Nose must learn approximately 3,000 smells to complete their training. I found myself amazed by this woman who was beautiful, commanding, and seemed to constantly float around the room. She never seemed to stop moving but she; like the flounce on her dress, seemed to be in a choreographed dance as she taught her lesson.  We learned about forward notes, middle notes, and finishing notes.  I was reminded of a wine tasting course I had taken many years ago. We would smell all the notes of each of 10 essential oils trying to identify each scent.  We would finish by making our own perfume.

My first essential oil is placed on a bladder (a little cotton stick). Now under my nose, it says it is Orange on the bottle, but I don’t smell orange. It is bitter. The Nose guides us that it takes a full 10 minutes to follow the journey of all the notes.  I am not picking it up when the Nose says “do you smell the green apple” I can say I do but I need her to tell me the subtle scents I can’t seem to recognize on my own and then it hits me. I was trying to think about this problem logically, but this isn’t a problem for the mind, it is a problem for the body and the body’s innate functioning.  The second oil came and this time I just quieted my mind and focused on connecting in my body.  This time I could make out a few of the subtle scents before being told.  With each oil, I was able to recognize more but then I also realized that with the shift from my head into my body, I had relaxed, I was fully and completely present in this moment.  Then the Nose floated by in front of my table, and it occurred to me, “she floats about and is constantly in this dance because she is fully and completely in her feminine essence and in her body,” this is a woman whose professional career keeps her in her feminine. Amazing, I wanted more of that for me.

I felt like just being around her I was given a tune-up, something to pay attention to, a desire to shift out of my masculine, driven, hunting mode and into my floating through life but still with a purpose, a passion, and a direction but just coming at that differently.

It felt like I was living through a life-changing lesson.

À Bientôt (See you soon),


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