Melted stone: scented town
23 July 2008 | Grasse
Having read Patrick Susskind's wonderful book, Perfume, the old town of Grasse was a must-see. Also, an old New Scientist that Sarah had finally finished reading, had a wonderful article about a scientist who is exploring how smell works, arguing that is about the shapes of molecules. Using his theory he is successfully producing new perfumes in this very competitive market. By contrast, the Grasse approach relies on the professional 'noses', of whom there are only about 60 in the world, who can distinguish and judge thousands of different aromas.
The town has sprawled over what used to be the flower and herb fields. These are now often grown overseas, in places with cheaper labour, though some, such as the Provencal tuberose, rely on being grown in specific situations. You can visit lots of the perfumiers, and in some places even do a workshop to mix your own scent. We went to the historic factory of House Fragonnard, run by the Fushs family who named their business after the famous painter who came from the town. It was very interesting, with the ancient alembics, the principles of cold maceration and hot distillation. But this is very much an historic overview; the real work is now done in their state of the art factory down the road.
In addition we visited the twelfth century cathedral, which has the austere nave, very high in proportion to its other dimensions. After the revolution, there was a major fire inside this building, which melted the stone, causing the roughened, melted look you see around the arches. The flowing stone makes a beautiful contrast to the precision of the roof, the carvings on the pulpit or the large, devotional oil-paintings hung along the walls.