Monday, 29 August 2016

'La vie est belle': thoughts on 'Lancôming' home to Limousin, and a curious confluence of perfume and porcelain - Part 2

It is to Birmingham airport's credit that the whole of Part 1 of this post ended up being dedicated to my wanderings in its duty free section, but the time has come to move on to the visit to France itself, which took a surprising number of unexpected fragrant turns. Though not before I report on my unlikely baby epiphany on the plane! Yes, longtime readers may be aware that - possibly thanks to my travelling status as 'single woman of a certain age who if she doesn't already have children must surely want them' - the seat planning alogrithm of all the budget airlines never fails to randomly assign me a seat beside an infant. Beside or in the row in front or behind, say. Very definitely within proximity and earshot of its inevitable sustained bouts of wailing during the flight. Now I have a certain amount of sympathy for the babies in question: I was young once, and I understand the thing about engine noise and ear pressure - it must be quite scary for them.  But I really don't think it is fair that I should attract babies like iron filings on every flight. Sometimes also a young child who delights in kicking the back of my seat while keeping up a stream of aviation-related 'Why?' questions.

And on the way out to Limoges, not only was there a baby on its mother's lap on the seat next to me, but a bonus baby across the aisle and one row back. I was in for some serious stereo grizzling, I thought. But then two things happened to make me completely revise my opinion on the matter. Firstly, as its mother came down the aisle and spied the seat they had been allocated, she immediately exclaimed: 'Oh, I am sooooo sorry!', which predisposed me to like her from the off. Why, the baby in her arms had yet to emit a sound!, and thanks to the mother's cunning plan of breastfeeding her (for she turned out to be a four month old girl, and to have the exact same name (and middle name!) of the friend I was visiting) for much of the flight, she was as good as gold, quietly feeding until she eventually dozed off, A model baby, no question. There were adults on the plane with loud voices, complicated drinks orders and no small change who were considerably more annoying. Moreover, it turned out that the baby's mother and I had a ton of things in common in addition to the spooky coincidence of the baby's name: we had both worked in waste management(!) and for part of Unigate, and we both had a close relative who had undergone the same cutting edge medical procedure.

Sightseeing on the 'Route des Noix'

So between the well stocked duty free perfume section at the Brum end, and having my faith in babies - or specific babies and their mothers - restored, that was a jolly good start to the holiday you could say. My friend L was waiting in Arrivals at Limoges' Lilliputian airport (which is a rare treat for me), and we drove back to her village, just over an hour away by car. I immediately fell in love with L's mid-18th century stone townhouse and en suite barn(!). The previous owners, two elderly sisters, had died some time ago and the house was sold with a number of their beautiful pieces of furniture thrown in.

To kick off the scented aspects of this report, check out L's dressing table in her bathroom, with its artistically arranged perfume bottles and jewellery. (Yes, I know the photo is quite small.) On a side note, L wishes she had bought the new rose scent from Acqua Nobile, the Iris one being a blind buy, and famously not very iris-like. Iris Nobile was one of the first three niche scent purchases I made - all in the space of one impulsive day in Paris in 2008 - and I too lived to regret it. And offload it.

And then there was the piano, with its amazing smell of incense-impregnated wood. Perhaps it had lived some of its life in a church, I don't know. I closed my eyes and pressed my nose to the gleaming curved cover. You could so easily fancy that the meditative scent it yielded was some high end release by Armai Privé. Suggestions of names welcomed!

Then my bed - a cunning improvisation of two inflatable mattresses stacked on top of each other - was the most comfortable one I have lain on in a long time, and even though I am noted for not liking lavender in perfumes, I was touched to find a sprig in a little organza bag on my pillow. I don't seem to mind the stuff in nature, plus I was predisposed to like everything about L's quirky and venerable house: the hydrangeas in milk churns, the toilet rolls in plant pots, the beautiful silver name plate on the boiler.

Oh, and this account would not be complete without a special mention of the orange blossom-scented gentle shower gel in my bathroom, from the brand Le Petit Marseillais. Despite its cheap and cheerful packaging, it smelt decidedly high end and felt benign on my increasingly jumpy skin (of which more in another post).

The next significant crossing of paths with perfume on this trip was on our way back to Limoges the next day, to visit the Bernardaud Foundation, Bernardaud being a brand that is synonymous in France with very upmarket porcelain - the kind that ends up as a bespoke dinner service in a luxury hotel such as Claridge's, for example. L's friend S, a long time resident of the village and a ceramicist herself, came along with us for the day, and I was immediately struck by how pretty her perfume was, and how well it suited her. It turns out that S was wearing La Vie est Belle by Lancôme, which I would never have placed, and may never have smelt, or only hurriedly in an airport somewhere.


Jessica of Now Smell This describes La Vie est Belle as a 'gracefully composed' and 'very wearable' 'fleurmand', describing its drydown as 'a polished and long-lasting harmony of cocoa and soft patchouli and white floral notes'. It has vanilla too, I see, which always tends to reel me in. I will definitely have a spritz of this the next time I am in Boots.

The Foundation visit had two memorable perfumed aspects, in addition to felicitous wisps here and there of S's sillage: the Bernardaud house line of scented candles, which I sniffed in the gift shop - all were well done with delicate and subtle fragrances - there was even a candle that made a very good fist of capturing the scent of porcelain!

So there was that, and then - most startlingly - there was a further perfumed twist to some artefacts in an exhibition of contemporary Korean ceramics, with which our visit happened to coincide. For we stumbled across a series of vases that were made from soap and varnish - and perfume. Whoever would have thought that it might be a good idea to make a vase from soap? The scent of each was quite pronounced - we had to stand on tiptoe to smell inside some of the works on display, though a few were too tall even so!

Another surprise scented object was a walnut windfall, a number of which we came across while walking through an orchard on the second day of the trip. About the size of a green plum, with a leathery aspect and incipient wrinkles, I can confirm that a walnut pod smells oddly herbal, like sage maybe?

And the final perfumed aspect to the trip - for in case you were wondering, there was no duty free at Limoges airport, or even a cafe for that matter! - was a chance encounter in the local 'brocante' (secondhand shop) with a number of retro perfumes: several colognes specific to local French pharmacies, and one or two other curiosities, including a violet perfume from Toulouse.

I didn't buy any perfume, though I did pick up a kitten saucer, a French missal from 1920, and an antique print of a collection of eggs. I could have come away with a stuffed owl or squirrel, but resisted.

However, what I may be less able to resist is the lure of France itself, specifically the area where my friend lives. Okay, the very village. The sense of wellbeing I felt while out there bordered on the transcendental: the gentle pace of life, the simple pleasures of bread and cheese and paté eaten outside on a warm summer's evening...the comforting solidity of the house also felt nurturing, as did the charming selection of vintage tableware and glasses the two sisters had left behind.

As it happens, I collect mugs and egg cups and crockery generally, in addition to being bonkers about perfume...and knitting, and cats. Yep, I love porcelain and bone china and earthenware - and with a bit of time could come to appreciate vases made of soap. And I live within spitting distance of The Potteries, Limoges's opposite number in Staffordshire. So downsizing and retiring one day to France, where houses can still be picked up for a relative song, is only a twinkle in my eye at the moment, but it is one that I think is set to grow...

Truffle, guarding her walnut


  1. I am in France right now, and I know what you mean with the simple pleasures and the gentle pace of life. And even better in terms of coincidences, I have just come back from having a shower, where I smothered myself in Le petit Marseillais Fleur d'Oranger! A few bottles will certainly make it back to the UK. Feel free to place an order :)

    1. Hi Sabine,

      I saw you were off to the in-laws - enjoy the last days of summer. That is a mad, mad coincidence about the shower gel, and I know you are technically my Teutonic soup mule, but if I could press you to a bottle, I'll gladly pay you for your trouble. There are various logistical possibilities for receiving the goods too, without necessarily resorting to the post. Them my friend L is already bringing me back pillows(!), palets Breton biscuits and a plate when she comes home at the weekend - I am so demanding!

    2. Consider it done. We have the car, so bringing back stuff is easy. Any other flavours you'd like? I just bought the verveine and citron and the vanilla, but haven't tested them yet.

    3. Ooh, you enabler. I tried the olive oil in a cafe, and it was lovely too...just saying! ;)

  2. Wow! Amazing trip! And I love the house and every little detail you mentioned about it.
    I'd love to visit a small French town for a change and spend some time there. It seems the pace of life there is like it was centuries ago and I sometimes miss the feeling of not having to hurry anywhere...

    1. Hi Ines,

      I know that I see Croatian culture as pretty relaxing - well, based on the lovely photos of your holidays and trips here and there - but maybe in the city where you live it is a different story. Rural France can't be beat for turning back time, and I feel it would be so good for mind and body to slip back a gear or two from the frenetic pace at which we live these days.

  3. What a fascinating trip. I wonder about the soap vases ? Anyhow the baby scenario rang bells as I always get the annoying kid an the bus or used to . As for babies wailing it only sounds sweet to a hormonal new Mum . They have even manage to make me miserable in several film showings. As I can't go out now I am spared the little "darlings".

    1. Hi Angie,

      In case you were curious to investigate them further, the soap vases are by the Korean ceramic artist Meekyoung SHIN, who lives in London, I see.

      Sorry you are housebound these days but I guess the lack of annoying baby interaction is one silver lining.

  4. Finding somewhere that gives you such a transcendent sense of wellbeing shouldn't be ignored. Hopefully you can make repeat visits until you make a final decision but it sounds wonderful and well suited to you.

    I believe Le Vie est Belle is the best-selling perfume in France. I must say I found it pretty terrifying - an iris drowning in a vat of caramel, but maybe it's better on skin, as L's friend clearly pulled it off beautifully.

    Your purchases sound fab. Look forward to viewing them.

    Vases made of scented soap!

    1. Hi Tara,

      Yes indeed, the area exerted a real pull on so many levels.

      I didn't know La Vie est Belle was so popular in France, so that is interesting. I just snapped up a 4ml mini on Ebay, that is how taken I was with it. My great love of Plus Que Jamais features both those notes you mention, so maybe there was an echo of that I was picking up on. It was spectacular on S, I have to say. That said, I know you don't do sweet and that you like your iris to be very much centre stage - I think Jessica says in her review that the iris is pretty much nowhere to be seen - but I am going to hope my skin is as good a canvas as L's friend!

  5. Hi Vanessa. I do hope your France plans progress. I know many people love the laid back lifestyle here. To be honest I found it quite a shock at first after living in a city but now I'm just about terrified to move back and be stuck in traffic for hours. I'll also say that the shower gels are fabulous. Would highly recommend the pampelmousse - that has been a favourite for a while now but all of the citrus themed varieties are great. There's also a coco beachy one that is good too. You reminded me that I need to pick up some more. The orange blossom deodorant is not bad either and has no nasties in it. La vie eat belle is definitely the best seller here and has been for 2 years now. It's not my cup of tea but I know it often smells better on skin than out of the spray!

    1. Hey Megan,

      Great to get the perspective of a person living in France already! I did spend a year along the coast from you in Antibes, working in Cannes, but it doesn't compare to making France one's permanent home.

      These shower gels are getting a lot of love! I don't like the smell of grapefruit, but I am sure my brother would love that one. He has the Guerlain scent of that name. So many tempting scents to try...;)

      I will know more about La Vie est Belle when my mini arrives and I can try it on my own skin, see if it matches up to L's friend's. Even if it didn't work as well on me, it will serve as a lovely souvenir of the trip.

  6. Now I am feeling nostalgic for La Petite Marseillaise, which I could buy when I used to visit Montreal. The fig version was possibly my favourite...AnnieA

    1. Hi AnnieA,

      Another fan of the line - I can see why it would be available in Montreal, with its French connection. The fig sounds nice too - l'embarras du choix!

  7. What an enchanting post, it makes me yearn to go there, so I can easily see how that twinkle can develope into a change of scene.
    I'm quite sure kitty Truffle wouldn't mind, although she might be sad leaving her pals behind.
    The house sure sounds like everyone's dream of a stay in rural France.

    1. Hi Asali,

      Thank you! Glad I was able to convey the allure of the area. I am not sure that Truffle has been socialising with her pals as much lately, though of course as with anything cat related, I can never be too sure of that...;) But I think she'd be up for an adventure. Maybe I should start calling her 'Minou' in anticipation.

  8. While I wouldn't mind spending a couple of days this way, just a thought of living this way makes me shiver: it's sooo not me! But your post made me nostalgic for the smell of green walnut pods... My grandparents had 2 great walnut trees but in summer when I spent my time at their place walnuts were still too young to eat - but we would still grate the pods on asphalt to get to the kernel.

    I think in your list of things you "collect" you forgot tea towels... Or do you not call that "bonkers about"?

    1. Hi Undina,

      I am not surprised to learn that this kind of rural living would not be your cup of tea - I do have you pegged as more of a city gal.

      Loved the story of your childhood walnut grating antics...I have come across them very late in life by comparison.

      Certain tea towels have the power to make my heart sing, but I am not bonkers about them in the sense of being a collector, as with perfume, mugs, egg cups and wool. Though technically all my collections are 'closed' now, or should be. :)