Sunday, 23 June 2013

Paris Is For Perfume Lovers: Part 3 - Meeting Denyse Beaulieu And The Undinas

Day 3 was dry (hurrah!), and I decided to wear my T K Maxx Toast dress or bust (I am of that age - I shall wear purple!), teamed with a pair of unsensible shoes.  I had arranged to hook up with Denyse Beaulieu (of Grain de Musc and The Perfume Lover fame) for coffee that morning in the 17e district - this was technically not a blind date, as I had briefly talked to her at the launch of Séville à L'aube in London last year.  Greetings over, I lost no time in apologising for the fact that I was wearing the same outfit as the last time she had met me.  'I do have other clothes.' I piped up staunchly.

The three most memorable aspects of my meeting with Denyse were firstly her silver sunglasses, a perfect match for her now luxuriantly long ('fifty shades of grey') hair.  Then there was the surprise fact that she is acquainted with the widow of Alain Robbe-Grillet, an avant-garde French author I studied at university, and thirdly - and most tantalisingly - she had just come back from a press junket the day before, held in a marquee on a rocky promontory in the wilds of Brittany.  The company's in-house perfumer had regaled them with nuggets about his portfolio of materials, while the assembled guests enjoyed a delicious lunch against an idyllic backdrop of waves lapping the shore and glinting in the sunlight.  Her evocative description of the scene made me want to visit the area again, and retest all those Breton coast-inspired scents such as Miller Harris Fleurs de Sel and the Lostmarc'h range.  It also brought back happy memories of childhood bucket and spade holidays in other parts of The Celtic Fringe such as Cornwall and SW Ireland...

After our chat, Denyse was off to visit the Guerlain factory on one of their rare opening days, while I dived on the Metro and made my way to the apartment Undina (of Undina's Looking Glass) and her vSO had booked for their stay, which had been cut short by a day owing to the air traffic controllers' strike.  We had agreed that I would meet them there, to help out with any translation issues during the handover with their landlady.

A near-miss transaction with a possible impostor

Unfortunately, Undina and her vSO were held up in traffic on the way down from the airport in a taxi - I say unfortunately, not because I was in any hurry myself, but because it was clear that the landlady was keen to get the payment for the apartment and shoot off.  Reading between the lines and observing the elaborate care with which she made up her face right there in front of me, I think she had a hot date to go to, which could explain some of her agitation.  I figured that realistically The Undinas could be another half an hour or so, so I tried to stall the landlady by asking her to show me where everything was kept and how every last appliance worked in great detail - TV, washing machine, dishwasher, several coffee machines of varying degrees of sophistication.  'Be most particular about pre-piercing the little plastic container of coffee before insertion.'

Bears a passing resemblance to the designated piercing utensil for the coffee dose thingy 

We also discussed bin and cleaning routines and the fact that the enticing terrace was sadly not weight-bearing; we pored over maps of the local area, and the landlady indicated the best restaurants, the nearest pharmacy, bank and the best bus stops for the most scenic rides.  A good five minutes were killed leafing through the visitors' book together and reading past guest comments.  I volunteered to translate a few of the English ones to gain a bit more time.  Ever the market researcher, I quizzed the lady about the relative breakdown of her client base, the average numbers of guests per rental and seasonal patterns.  She told me about one single woman who came for a month at a time, and a party of five Italians for whom she rustled up an additional roll-out bed.  Then I told her about my hotel, and we discussed the prevailing room rates in that part of Paris versus the rental sector.

Source: Wikimedia Commons via Jebulon

Readers, I did my level best to stall this lady, but it looked like it wasn't going to be for long enough, for after about twenty minutes or so she abruptly interjected: 'Look, I really must be away by 2pm latest, and I need my money.  Have you got the money, or can you go to a cash point and give it me if they don't show up in time, and have them pay you back later?'  So I thought for a moment: 'Was I be prepared to hand over a substantial sum of money in cash to a lady I don't know on behalf of two friends I have never met?'  And the answer was: 'Of course I would!', but as things worked out, the Undinas' taxi drew up just in the nick of time, the lady got paid, scarpered, and all was well.

Well, we assumed all was well, though Undina's vSO sowed a seed of doubt after the landlady's departure.  'Hold on, didn't she tell you on the phone that she was about 60?  That woman was never 60!  She looked a lot younger.'  'Do you suppose she might have had work done?' I inquired helpfully.  Undina's vSO puzzled over this for a moment and replied, with a wry grin: 'I am still not convinced she is the right woman.  D'you realise we may just have gone and paid a big wedge of money to an impostor?'


Lunch - tasty, if somewhat lost in translation

Ever the optimists, we dismissed this thought from our minds and Undina and her vSO set about freshening themselves up and Undina also did a spot of ironing, which in hindsight was another topic I could have used to delay the landlady's departure.  'Where is the ironing board kept?  Is it a steam iron?  Any special water you have to use with that?  Would you mind talking me through the settings?  Is there an instruction book with it perhaps?  And do you have a little tea cloth type-thing for delicate garments?'

Undina and her vSO were understandably hungry from their journey, so our first port of call was a bistro on the nearby square.  Here, on my advice, Undina's vSO ordered 'cassolette', which I had momentarily confused with 'cassoulet', a hearty stew featuring meat and haricot beans.  Undina's vSO quickly detected the complete absence of either, but got sportingly stuck into what turned out to be a mega-cheesy potato gratin dish.

One day, two closed perfume shops and three pairs of shoes

Fortified by our meal, the three of us spent the next few hours walking around the city, loosely following an itinerary I had devised earlier.  The first stop was L'Arc de Triomphe, cunningly chosen for its iconic tourist value and proximity to the Guerlain HQ at No 68, Champs Elysées.   Imagine our dismay to find that Guerlain happened to be closed that day, a Friday!  Perhaps all the staff had gone to the factory with Denyse?  Seems as plausible a theory as any, but what utter and undivided cheek!  Our disappointment was only slightly assuaged by the sight of a spectacular bee bottle hoarding just to the left of the main entrance.

Pictures of bottles are no substitute for the real thing

By the time we had legged it to the Place de la Concorde my feet were killing me, and I gladly succumbed to my second pair of shoes, carried with me for just such an emergency.  These flat leather pumps were a little tight to be honest, but they pinched in different places at least compared to the high heels they had replaced.  And in footwear as in life, a change is as good as a rest.

The joy of Jovoy

We strolled along the linden-lined  rue de Rivoli, talking about the lindens in Undina's native Ukraine, dived up to the Place de Vendôme and then back down to the niche mecca that is Jovoy in the rue de Castiglione, mindful that they shut at 7pm.  I guess we must have had about half an hour browsing in there - by a happy chance there was a selection of seating for non-perfumista spouses, but Undina's vSO ended up engaging in a bit of sampling himself, all-round good egg that he was.  Undina and I worked our way round most of the store in a systematic fashion, with my comrade-at-nose occasionally having to bring me to heel as my natural instinct was to drift off and start exploring things that caught my eye anywhere in the store, much like an overexcited magpie.

I can't tell you exactly what we sniffed but I did retain some favourite blotters, chief amongst which were Ramon Monegal's Ambra di Luna (the highlight of the whole trip, no less - review by The Non-Blonde here), along with two to which Undina drew my attention, namely Xerjoff Fatal Charme and Kind of Blue from their 'Join The Club' range.  There are no available notes for either of those, but they are powdery orientals at a guess?  Undina may be able to help us out here.  Then I do remember being pleasantly surprised by The Vagabond Prince's Enchanted Forest, despite my difficult relationship with blackcurrant.  Aedes de Venustas on the other hand proved to be too tart, despite my easy relationship with rhubarb.

At chucking out time, we mosied along the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré towards the Palais-Royal gardens.  Pausing outside the now shut Serge Lutens / Shisheido store (try saying that quickly after one too many Pernods!), we peered into the sepulchral and purplish gloom of its baroque interior.  I must say that the Undinas were jolly good sports about this steady procession of closed perfume stores I brought them to - well, two out of three so far.

So we hopped on a tube to St Paul, and I showed my companions the Marais district they nearly stayed in, including the elegant colonnades of the Place des Vosges.  We shared a bottle of wine at a pavement cafe by the statue of the Bastille (thanks, guys!), before heading back to our respective bases for the briefest of pitstops before dinner (and in my case, a change into pair of shoes No 3).

It was late by this time, but the restaurant I had lined up didn't bat an eyelid when I made a booking for 10.15pm.  We rolled out of there at about midnight, armed with a dessert doggy bag, which we shared over a cup of tea at the Undinas' apartment.  Finally, it was time to say our goodbyes, which speaking for myself was quite a wrench.  For despite only having known Undina and her vSO in person for about 12 hours give or take, I had already developed a fierce affection for the pair of them, and very much hope our paths will cross again.  I'll have the cash ready this time, just in case...;-)

And what of Rusty?  Well, apparently he had a live-in carer while his owners were away, as befits a puss with America's Top Feline Model status.  I imagine he might have enjoyed Paris too - there are a lot of sewer rats and any amount of cafes for practising his poses.

Check out Undina's account of her Paris stopover, including a cute shot of Rusty inspecting her holiday perfume bottle!

PS The results of the 'Bonkers at 3.6' prize draw will be coming up next!


  1. What a wonderful read, Bonks! I had to chuckle at the apartment-landlady-stalling techniques. Wonderful! Envious of all the perfume folks you have met in your travels.

  2. Hi Carol,

    Thanks! - Undina's account is in now, with more details on this funny saga, and of what she and her vSO got up the next day.

    I am happy to have also met you on my travels - roll on the next time!

  3. So funny how you stalled the landlady!
    I'm glad you had such a great time with the Undinas. Thanks for another lovely Paris post!

  4. Hi Olfactoria,

    The landlady incident was a highlight of the day, but only because the story ended well. :-)

    It was indeed lovely meeting the Undinas, as you know yourself!

  5. V, what a great job you did stalling the land-lady! You are such a trooper in a bind. You always go out of your way to help fellow perfumistas (being a mail for B comes to mind).

    I can just imagine you in Jovoy flitting from section to section while Undina methodically makes her way around. Someone could definitely characterize our personalities via perfume testing techniques!

  6. Hi Tara,

    Thanks for your kind comment - I was very glad to help, plus the longer I stalled the lady, the more of a workout my French got, which was a happy spin-off. ;-)

    And yes, Undina and I may perhaps be characterised by out respective sniffing approaches! I like her more organised MO and will endeavour to follow it in future, as you don't miss so much if you are not always darting about. But then I am a Flittersniffer....!

  7. Oh Vanessa, you crack me up! I would have been at a total loss as to how to stall the landlady, as I don't speak French, but you obviously managed this beautifully!

    As Tara noted, I can just picture Undina making her way very systematically through Jovoy, and you floating around and alighting from one thing to the next like a butterfly. (And I can also see Undina very naturally and efficiently getting you back on track. She's the best!)

  8. Hi Suzanne,

    I knew I had the fall back plan of fetching the cash, but it was a challenge to see if I could distract her from her clock watching a little while longer!

    Yup, Undina is the best! - I can highly recommend her as a sniffing companion. And we labelled all the blotters at the time of testing, which is also an important rule.

  9. Vanessa, so sorry I missed you all -- and especially Jovoy, which I forgot all about in my rushing around like a mad person.
    I admire your shoe packing. I took two pairs but wore only one the whole time unbelievably, since it was much cooler than expected and the open sandals i had seemed so not right.
    Eh, you are too kind, the landlady could afforded to wait for her money, that's her job, right? I doubt very much she'd ever rush off without it, late for a date or not. I am also thinking I am going to spring for a proper hotel next time, whenever that may be. All this DIY on vacation gets to be rather taxing, especially with the language issues when you are not so fluent, as you are.

  10. Hi Lucy,

    Jovoy is well worth a whole other trip to Paris. And you may have missed out on some sniffing opportunities, but you more than made up for it in your visits to other cultural hotspots of all kinds!

    I am in awe that you managed with one pair of shoes in the end - I have issues with varying trouser hem length and skirt vs trousers that made it difficult for me to streamline my packing even to two options, but at least they all got worn!

    Hmm, I wonder if the landlady would have waited for her cash or frogmarched me to the bank at a certain point when her patience finally snapped. We'll never know I guess...

    So did you also stay in a self-catering set up? I must say I have always stayed in a hotel in the past, just because I wasn't really aware of other options. The flat the Undinas rented was very well appointed and in a great location. Good value for two or more sharing. But it is true that hotels are more likely to speak English and other languages. so that might be a good bet for you next time.

  11. Oh--I wish our trips had matched up. And what great meet-ups! It feels like ages ago, though only a few weeks. I had a major Iunx moment this time. I imagine we walked in the same footsteps--even to Place des Vosges. I was staying just off of the Place--passing major perfume shops (Guerlain, Dyptique, Artisan) and less the traveled (Filles en vanille; Senteurs de Fée; Marie Antoinette) on my daily strolls. Sigh.

  12. Hi Cheryl,

    Yes, I was so sorry to miss you - in yet another country to boot! Hopefully it will work out one day.

    A major IUNX moment, eh? You didn't come out with a light sabre of your own by any chance?

    I am sure we did walk in the same footsteps, though you may have covered even more ground. Those less travelled names are all new on me!

  13. I had to leave Iunx with just a small bottle of Eau blannche. I had just spent a long time in Jovoy (which gets extra points for offering coffee to testers--that was new!) and was as a result covered in perfume. I couldn't test anything properly on skin, scarf, hair or shoe. But I truly enjoyed those testing gadgets. I meant to return but never made it.

    I think you would love Marie Antoinette on the place du marché Ste Catherine in the Marais. The owner is so much fun to talk to. Ask him to spritz and talk about Oriza L. Legrand perfumes. I began to blog about this experience but I'm sure I"ll never get back to the draft. I would love to read your report of a visit there.

  14. Hi Cheryl,

    They do small bottles at IUNX? ;-0 I don't believe I even inquired, assuming that all their bottles come by the yard!

    Ah yes, Jovoy offered us coffee and it is rather novel, I agree. However as we were there in the run up to closing, we figured the act of drinking might curtail our sniffing time...!

    Oh I say - we were on the place du marche Ste Catherine but never spotted that perfume store - though I believe Sens Unique is round there too somewhere? It was well after 7pm though so I guess they would have been shut by then, but we didn't spot Marie Antoinette. On the list it goes for next time! Do carry on with your blog though, won't you? will be a while before I am back. ;-)

  15. I am devouring and loving these Paris posts!

  16. Hi Ari,

    Hey, thanks - I'm glad you like them!


  17. I still can't believe that 1) you were able to stall the landlady (thank you once again!) and 2) you had spare shoes with you :)

  18. Hi Undina,

    You are very welcome! I hope you got your deposit back...;-)

    Spare shoes are a must in Paris if, like me, you persist like me in wearing ones that aren't too comfy to start with!