Grasse, France, famous for its fragrance history, was lovely. Rob and I rented a scooter and drove up from the coast into the small mountain town, catching trails of perfume as we got closer, passing shops dedicated to making you smell captivating. Before we went into the International Perfume Museum, we had a small lunch in a cute café owned by a husband and wife, sharing a quiche lorraine and a dessert along the lines of pudding or hot chocolate. We couldn’t figure out which it was supposed to be, we only knew that the cup of marshmallow-sprinkled, smooth, dark decadence was possibly the most intense chocolate experience either of us has had. A light trace of lavender, and maybe even orange, tantalized our tongues with a lingering aftertaste, coming in waves that we weren’t quite sure were even real. How can a pudding beverage leave one so mystified and breathless? I licked the bowl clean with some help from my finger. Not a drop was to be wasted.
The museum itself is one of the most fun and interactive I’ve ever been to, reminding me more of a children’s science center in the sense that it had so much for you to actually do, not just look at or read about. My favorite room was called “Sensorie Immersion”. I pushed a heavy door open, at once stilled by the darkness and quiet inside, having no idea what to expect. The room was lowly lit by the color green being projected on two walls, as if a movie were paused, and Rob and I excitedly plopped into the beanbags that were scattered on the floor. There must have been a sensor to let the projector know to start its visual journey, because suddenly the wall came alive with colorful moving close ups of nature, plants and the like, intercut with spanning scenes of forests and hills. Rob and I soon realized that there were scents coming from somewhere in the walls to accompany these images, overwhelming me in the most heavenly way. It reminded me of the Soarin’ Over California ride in Disneyland’s California Adventure Park, a motion simulator that flies you over California’s beauty while scents match wherever you’re flying over, the bright zest of oranges emitting from above you as you zoom over orange groves, for example.
In this dark, blissful room, the sound of bossa nova accented by African drums filled my ears as the smells of land, sea, and fruit filled my nostrils. I identified everything from earthy vetiver to fruity canteloupe, from sea breezes to honeysuckle blossoms, with help from the images, of course. It was so relaxing that Rob even fell asleep. I stayed in the room long after the film and music ended, basking in all the lingering fragrances as I snuggled deeper into my beanbag. I felt intoxicated, sedated, and refreshed all at once, and didn’t want to leave.
There are many intriguing facets about the International Perfume Museum, but one of the other favorites that stands out in my mind is the smell game. Built into a wall are little drawers with pictures below them, and you have to pull the drawer open, take a deep whiff with your nose, and without looking at the picture yet, try to guess what the smell is. When you think you know, you look at the picture for more clues, and to confirm your guess you lift the picture up and a laminated sheet of paper behind it gives you the answer, along with a brief history of how the scent was used in the history of perfume. I was excited to test myself, and one by one Rob and I attempted to figure out what each scent was. We knew some of them right away, and I was amazed as I always am at how scents takes you back in time like none of our other senses. Pulling my face back from one drawer, I closed my eyes and was immediately transported to Long Beach Island, New Jersey, sucking puffs of pink cotton candy from my sugar-coated fingers. After inhaling from another, I smiled and leaned against the wall, happily remembering what it’s like to play in a sprinkler upon fresh cut grass, the remnants from the lawn mower sticking to your feet. For some of the smells that were encapsulated in the drawers, there was no way we could have guessed correctly. Who would have known that secretions from a beaver’s sex glands were what made the musky base notes of what are considered sexy perfumes? The smell was nauseatingly ripe, pungent and purely animal. Back in the day they believed animal smells brought out the animal instincts in us humans, and today we have synthetic fragrances to emulate those original notes of primal rawness. The beavers and their sex organs are now safe.
Cannes is not unlike other ritzy seaside cities I’ve been to. The main strip is one long stretch of designer stores, glamorous hotels, open-air restaurants, boutiques, souvenir shops, and ice cream stands running parallel to the beach. It was hard for me to imagine a film festival here, although I’m sure the city shuts down and transforms during that famous week in May. One day I’ll return, hopefully walking a red carpet to promote an amazing film I’ve starred in that I’m actually proud of, dining at the finest restaurants and staying in one of the airy, gilded hotels with an ocean view… but until then my impression of Cannes remains this: Miami Beach, France. With unspeakable bathrooms. I’ll let Rob share with you all the ultimate tale of toilette horror he endured while in Cannes in a separate blog post. For now, take my word for it that it was one sandy, stinky, drenching, toilet-paperless, humiliating experience, leaving him in desperate need of a shower.
Between my sketchy hospital visit and Rob’s awful experience I allude to above, we concluded that we’d gotten our fill of Cannes, and continued west to St. Tropez.
St. Tropez (no, Rob, tro-PAY, not TRO-pez) is a picturesque rich little place, surrounded by azure waters in a classic Mediterranean climate: hot, dry, and yet balmy with an ocean breeze. A Brigitte Bardot exhibit was the current buzz of the town, her pouty lips and smoky eyes beckoning to me at every corner we turned. By this point, Rob had just about had it with driving through Europe’s corkscrew tight cobblestone roads, and we almost had another Prague incident. Fortunately it wasn’t as crowded here, so we managed to get out of downtown St. Tropez without killing anyone or damaging our RV, but Rob was fried. Between the toilette horror of the morning, and the stress of driving a beast through a dollhouse village that afternoon, we agreed to give camping a break for a night and treat ourselves to a hotel. My legs were red and raw from mosquito bites, and also pocked and splotchy from an allergic reaction I had to a shaving cream I’d tried. (Finally found a scented one for women—this is what I get for my vanity.) Together, we were a miserable, unsightly pair in dire need of R&R, showers, and pampering.
I cannot tell you how heavenly it is to be escorted to a luscious hotel room after you’ve been camping for a few weeks. Our room in the Hotel La Villa was decorated in pale blues, creams, and tasteful nude artwork. It had sliding glass doors that opened onto our own private terrace, where we could see a stone-lined green swimming pool just down a level. The bathroom was large and en-suited, the toilet room separate from the sink room, which was separate from the shower room. There was so much space, I hardly knew what to do with myself! Rob showered first, then I took my sweet, sweet time deep conditioning, scrubbing, soaking, and steaming. I actually giggled as I leaned against the tile wall, letting the hot water run over me just because it could, without me having to push a timed button in, or insert tokens, or be so chilled that I have goosebumps, as I was showering in certain campgrounds we’ve stayed in, if we’re lucky to shower at all. We lounged on our king sized bed, basking in the evening breeze until we got hungry. We took a walk into town along a bike and pedestrian path than ran parallel to the ocean, and I loved seeing all the twinkling ships that dotted the harbor. We found a sports bar that looked promisingly crowded and ate the best breakfast pancake we’ve ever had! It was a cross between a traditional American pancake and a French crepe, stuffed with eggs, ham, and cheese! Breakfast for dinner has always been a favorite of mine.
That night Rob started throwing up and didn’t stop for almost thirty minutes straight. Something he’d ingested that I hadn’t, most likely spoiled carrot juice as we later deduced, forced him into a state of convulsions I have never witnessed the likes of before. I didn’t know it was possible for a human being to vomit that much, that frequently, that violently, and still have more left. I’ll spare you further details, since for all I know you’re reading this while twisting a forkful of spaghetti. Rob was left weak and tired the next two days, nauseous and pale. What an awful day for Rob. I felt very badly for him, but he has since recovered, so don’t worry.