Handmade Perfume

Today I’m wearing something I made myself.  No, not something knitted, instead it is my lovely perfume that was hand made by me.

A hint of ......

A hint of ……

My daughter and I spent an afternoon at Le Studio des Parfums Paris creating our own perfume under the direction of Sophie the fragrance expert.  Nestled in rue Bourg-Tibourg in the Marais district the Studio des Parfum’s neighbours include tea merchants and more parfumiers amongst fancy boutiques.  Along the road a cluster of typically Parisian café-restaurants hum with summer activity; waiters deliver glasses of rosé to accompany platters of cold meats and French cheeses while customers busy themselves with people watching from the shade of striped umbrellas.

Having telephoned a few days in advance to fix a rendezvous for our perfume making session we arrived in the fragrance focussed neighbourhood in time to take a leisurely lunch and obligatory bubbles at one of the cafés and simply enjoy being together in Paris in the summer.

An hour or so later at Le Studio we were welcomed and settled at our perfume making counters ready for the do-it-yourself workshop.  We started with a chat about our perfume likes and dislikes – flowers yes, vanilla and spices no for me.  Then armed with pen and paper and our noses we began the process of selecting and recording our preferred scents starting with the base notes, the scent that lingers longest. Oh how hard it was to be decisive; sniffing and re-sniffing, comparing notes and sharing opinions, we made our choices.  Next up the middle notes – the heart notes – four or five more and finally the top notes; 4 or 5 scents that will be the first impressions of our perfume.  It did get easier, we became bold.  Sophie looked over our list of notes to confirm we had arrived at a harmonious mix and determined the precise recipe for our selection of notes.

Sophie and Katherine

Sophie and Katherine

The chemistry lab

Perfume chemistry

Stage two, the formulation, was the most elegant lab work I’ve done!  With measuring cylinder and beaker we tipped and dripped exactly the right volume of specified notes.  Base mix first, then heart and head notes, mixed, sniff-tested by us and checked at each step by Sophie’s assistant to make sure we were on course.  With the last few millilitres of notes added, and the final assessment by Sophie, our very own perfumes were bottled, labelled and presented for us to take home.

The finished product

The finished product

As we wafted out in a fragrant haze of happiness and satisfaction, Sophie and her team filed our worksheets safely away ready for the day we return to make a bottle or ten of our favourite personal scent. My gentle flowery scent with hints of bergamot, rose, lilac and lily of the valley reminds me of my lovely grandmother.  My big question now: what to call this eau de Keiry?  Ideas?

It’s hotting up in Paris

Happy half-marathoners

Happy half-marathoners

It’s hot, so hot the weather is the news.  In the last five days in Paris we’ve been sweltering in temperatures ferociously close to 40 degrees C (104F) as a result of hot air blowing in from the Sahara baking Europe.  The first week of July is early for our first official heat wave of the summer – that means high temperatures are recorded for 3 consecutive days – and the public health authorities were very prompt in launching “heat wave safety” alerts.  The temporary beaches alongside the Seine are not set up yet and Paris hasn’t yet emptied out for the summer holidays; that won’t happen until August when many small businesses close up for a few weeks.  The summer sales are in full swing so the shops are busy, but thankfully air-conditioned.  Shopping is definitely a cool thing to do.

Right now we are fondly reminiscing on our recent weekend in Hamburg to cheer on the runners in the Hamburg half marathon.  Not only were our dear Kiwi Hamburger and her boyfriend competing, but the weather was a comfortable 20-ish degrees with sunshine and puffy white clouds.  The parental cheer leading squad stationed themselves on the looped section of the run so we cheered them through 4km and then 9km before jumping on the U-bahn to head out to the finish and wave and cheer them through the last kilometre.  A happy posse of proud parents and tired but happy competitors were reunited after the finish line.

As for knitting in this weather, I’ve had to temporarily abandon one knitting project, Penguono a colourful kimono-styled jacket, for a lighter project that won’t cause me to self combust.  My new Rattan shawl project is a treat for me in several ways; I’m knitting with Zealana Air yarn from New Zealand, the pattern designer is from NZ and I’m knitting as part of a virtual KAL, a knit-a-long, led by Libby the designer, so I’m feeling the kiwi vibes with this one. Rattan However even with this gorgeous light-as-a-feather yarn I couldn’t knit on the hottest days, my sweaty hands just could not manipulate the sticks and thread at all.

Thankfully the hottest days have passed and we have some respite before the next blast from the Sahara.  A little knitting is on the agenda again and hopefully the stores will replenish their stock of fans.

Stay cool.

New in Neuilly

Another chapter in our Parisian adventure is underway, although strictly speaking we are out of Paris now.  Moving day went without a hitch; the hired minivan turned out to be less mini and more van and our experience with the official Authorisation to Park for the purpose of house-moving was amusingly French; it happened perfectly half the time and not at all the rest.  No indication of a special parking arrangement appeared in the street outside our old apartment but on arriving at the new address we found two formidably official looking NO PARKING signs bearing a copy of our personal parking permit stationed by the roadside.

Authorised to park

The official parking authorisation for moving house.

Most drivers had completely ignored them and parked anyway, but we still found enough space for our hired van and completed a swift unload of our belongings.  Despite the absence of reserved parking at the old place there was no problem, we simply followed the local custom and parked where it suited.  The boss of the painting gang working on our old apartment building that day had parked alongside us and directed traffic and moving operations as part of his supervisory routine – which incidentally did not seem to include painting.

The Boss

In charge of operations

Day one at Neuilly the telecommunications technician arrived bang on time and with supreme efficiency and expertise connected us up with the same industrial strength wifi, VOIP phone and TV that we’ve enjoyed for the last 3 years.  Top marks this time Orange.

Week two and we are still wondering just how we have managed to accumulate so much stuff in only 3 years here.  What didn’t get thrown out has been unpacked and a place found for almost everything in our 53 square metre apartment; an increase of 5 square metres on the last apartment.  Plus, best of all, we have a balcony with a view onto gardens and large trees lining both sides of the boulevard.  It’s a treat to look outside and see the sky, the trees and watch the world go by.

Knitting spot

My new knitting spot

Our new neighbourhood on the edge of Neuilly where it borders with Levallois-Perret is very different to the much loved corner of the 17th arrondissement that we left behind.  We’ve exchanged the lively cosmopolitan bustle of Avenue St Ouen and the food merchants on rue des Moines for the leafy bourgeois suburb of Neuilly with its wide green boulevards, modern apartment buildings and the American Hospital of Paris just along the road.  For the moment we are missing the friendly local bakery, the cheesemonger and the butcher but we are discovering other pleasures in our new neighbourhood.  It’s only a 5 minute walk to the Ile de la Jatte for a stroll alongside the river Seine where it loops up and around the western edge of Paris.  House boats, some of which look decidedly like house mansions, line the river and the Impressionist Walk through the park marks the places where several famous painters set up their easel and paint box to capture the scene.  Georges Seurat’s paintings Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, and the Bathers at Asnières are two of the best known.

Neuilly sur Seine

The Seine river at Neuilly

The reasons for choosing the new apartment are many and varied and include that my DB can still walk to his office from here.  Since it’s a 15 minute longer walk he now picks up a Vélib (the subscription hire-bike) part way and completes the journey à vélo.  We might be technically out of Paris, but with the nearest Line 3 Metro stop a mere 8 minutes walk away we are still connected to all the joys of the City of Light; the Paris adventure continues.  À bientôt.

Moving along at the speed of time

Time flies at the same rate it always does, 24 hours a day.  So quite what I’ve done with all those 24-hour aliquots since I last posted is a bit of a mystery, but I know it was all fun.  For a start there has been plenty of knitting; I’ve made one of the loveliest knits ever; Belmont cardigan by Gudrun Johnson.  After finally selecting and sewing on the buttons, Belmont made its debut this week in welcome spring sunshine.

Belmont cardigan from Shetland Trader Book 2

Belmont cardigan from Shetland Trader Book 2

I’ve also finished a big manly project.  It was a big project in the sense that I started with a photograph of what we wanted; a shawl collared man’s sweater, and adapted those style elements from my pattern files to the yarn and stitch design we wanted.  There was a lot of maths and swatching to start, the theory was good.  The finished project looks good, the final test – and the photo shoot – is still to come.

Then there is the zany colourful Westknits design Enchanted Mesa.  Several times I thought “how is this going to work?”  In the end it does, very clever and fun to see it emerge off the needles.

Enchanted Mesa by Westknits

Enchanted Mesa – Westknits design

On my needles right now is Bien Aimee; a pretty lace shawl.  It’s my first foray into all over lace – one of my knitting goals for this year – and it’s a light and portable project that means I can keep knitting while we pack up and move!

Yes we are on the move to another part of Paris.  In fact just over the peripherique and out of the official Paris postal code.  The apartment we have been living in for almost 3 years is being sold and we’ve found an apartment to rent that is also walking distance to DB’s workplace and will be another new experience for us.  The contents of my yarn cupboard are packed and ready to go and with 3 years experience of living in France we think we’ve got all the pre-move arrangements covered.  When we arrived it took us 9 frustrating weeks to get our internet connection in place, this time with much improved French I was able to make the arrangements for re-direction of our existing service without breaking into a sweat.  It remains to be seen if the actual de-and-re-connection occurs as hoped, my fingers are crossed.  DB has even organised a very official Autorisation pour un demenagement; a permit to “guarantee” us parking space outside our current and future addresses for loading and unloading on the day of the move.  Despite that fact that we have accumulated more stuff than we thought, thankfully this is not an entire household move since we are shifting from one furnished apartment to another.  Moving in Paris is a challenge and often involves something like this…….

moving house Paris style

Moving house the Parisian way

If all goes according to plan I’ll tell you about our new neighbourhood in a couple of weeks.

Destination Champagne

When we arrived to live in France a visit to Champagne was near the top of our must-do list.  I wanted to see the home of French Champagne; the land, the towns and villages, the famous Champagne houses and walk along the Avenue de Champagne, dubbed “the world’s most drinkable address” by Winston Churchill.  As it turned out, we stayed two nights at Magna Quies, a family run Bed and Breakfast at number 49 Avenue de Champagne, Epernay.  We were not disappointed; every aspect of our stay was as good as its perfect location.

Along with the other guests on Saturday evening we enjoyed a convivial apero time sampling champagnes made by the family of our most charming host Francois.  They undertake every step in the process themselves from growing the grapes on their land just to the south of Epernay to harvesting the grapes and making the wine to offer their guests for tasting and sale.

A short stroll along Avenue de Champagne towards the town centre took us past names from the list of who’s who in the world of Champagne; Perrier  Jouet, Pol Roger, Moet et Chandon just a few of them.  There are tours to be had, samples to be sipped and souvenirs to be purchased if you wish.  We rationed our time to two tours, one at de Castellane in Epernay and the other at Pommery in Reims; both were thoroughly enjoyable, informative and of course involved tasting some of the effervescent stuff.

Having escaped Paris the easiest way on the fast train to Reims, we hired a car from there to make our way to Epernay and allow us the pleasure of exploring the countryside at our leisure over the long Easter weekend.  Epernay proved to be a good choice; we ate delicious food with extremely pleasant service at both La Grillade Gourmande and La Banque.

In the countryside it was too early in the season for there to be any green on the vines; their bare branches stretched out like tentative beachgoers exposing undressed limbs to the first rays of really warm sunshine.  Even if the vines were bare the countryside was still beautiful with perceptible green buds emerging here and there, and golden forsythia heralding the end of winter hibernation.  We followed the well signposted Champagne tourist route tootling through tranquil villages stacked with small champagne producers that are the only interruption to hectare upon hectare of grape vines covering the rolling hillsides between Reims and Epernay and along the Marne Valley.  At Hautvillers the cluster of village buildings that includes the Abbey where the cellar master Brother Pierre Perignon – Dom Perignon – perfected his technique for making sparkling wine was picture-postcard perfect.  From a lookout point just beyond the village the river Marne sparkled below in the sunshine and the lateral flow of the Marne Canal followed its straight and narrow path.

Abbey at Hautvillers

Abbey at Hautvillers

It seemed an incongruous mix that this area, famed for its alcoholic beverage that is the ultimate symbol of celebration, fun and fizz, was so close to the setting for one of the most important battles of the first World War; the Battle of the Marne between 5 and 12 September 1914.  We learned on our tasting tours that the production of Champagne continued, albeit with difficulty, during the war years.  Any celebration deserved Champagne, and there was nothing better to boost morale than bubbles.

The Battle of the Marne memorial at Dormans was well worth the stop on our Champagne route itinerary.

Reims is the main city in the region, even though it’s not the administrative capital of Champagne.  The trickiest thing about Reims is to pronounce the name! Say “Rance” with your best nasal twang and you’ve got it.  Reims Cathedral is where the kings of France were crowned.  It was damaged by fire in 1210 and rebuilt, severely damaged again during WW1 and repaired once more.  The restoration of the spectacular cathedral is an ongoing project, as is the evolution of the equally spelndid interior.  For its 800th anniversary modern stained glass windows by German artist, Monsieur Knoebel, were installed in the apse.

Here’s to Champagne, it’s something special: cheers.

Tasting at la Maison Pommery

Tasting at la Maison Pommery

Fresh air – it blows out the cobwebs and is good for the soul

I get to wear my own hand knits in the snow

I get to wear my own hand knits in the snow

I’ve been away.  Two weeks out of the city and into the fresh air of the Alpes for a week of energetic skiing at Chamonix, a couple of days exploring Geneva before venturing further north for brisk walks beside the Alster lake in Hamburg.

I love the buzz of city living, but escaping to the outdoors is such a refreshing and invigorating change!  Even though it was later in the season than our previous visits, there was still plenty of snow on the vast ski fields surrounding Chamonix.  First day up on the mountain the early clouds prised themselves off the mountain tops and there in all its snow covered glory Mont Blanc sparkled in the early spring sunshine, and stayed that way for the next few days.  On our last day light cloud returned but through it (and our goggles) we enjoyed a great view of the partial solar eclipse as we rode the chairlift – a fantastic sight.

I’ve confessed before that I’m not a proficient skier, nor have I been an avid fan; it has always seemed to be a lot of clobber and discomfort to slither down a slope with little, if any, control and a bit more than a healthy dose of fear.  But this time was different.  For a start the boots seemed to fit better, the ski bindings weren’t such dang-fangled things to get in and out of, I felt more familiar, even a little bit confident. Starting out where I left off last year everything fell into place so that I conquered the slopes designated red for difficult on the Balme field.  (Maybe conquered is a slight exaggeration – there were a few spills.)  It was exhilarating and remarkably picturesque skiing in the sunshine along ski lanes winding down a forested valley.  Oh the serenity!, and I was tickled pink to have added a few new skills to my (old dog’s) repertoire of tricks.

Parapenters soar and swirl above Chamonix town

Parapenters soar and swirl above Chamonix town

We farewelled Chamonix and made the short train, train, and bus trips to Geneva.  After a week of energetic skiing in the mountains any remaining cobwebs were swept away with lashings of freshly chilled lakeside air as we walked along the promenade for a glimpse at some of the international organisations located there: World Trade (WTO), European HQ for the UN, International Red Cross, and the World Meterological Org (WMO) amongst them.

WTO building, Geneva

WTO building, Geneva

The famous fountain spouts a tall plume in the lake

The famous fountain spouts a tall plume in the lake right beside the city centre

Leaving my DB in Geneva for his meetings at WTO, I headed off to Hamburg for some quality mother-daughter time with my Kiwi-hamburger.

There was no let up in Project Invigoration!  She had me up at 6am and out walking around the Alster lake en route to Boot Camp.  To be clear, she ran as her warm up and did the group boot camp with trainer Ollie from Original Bootcamp – which did seem to be quite fun despite the occasional groans and grunts coming from the participants – while I followed at a brisk walk.  Inspired by the early but definite signs of spring we weren’t the only ones out and about.  On the weekend the track around the Alster is a highway for runners, the grassy verges are alive with dogs chasing balls and sticks, while the lake ripples with yachts racing along, every now and then their sails ruffling noisily and then snapping taut again as they tack back and forth into the bracing wind.

After two weeks of fresh air and lashings of outdoor exercise I’ve been well and truly invigorated and inspired by the beauty of nature.

Lille and Roubaix: science and innovation, art and industry.

rue de La Monnaie, Lille

rue de La Monnaie, Lille

I’ve been through Lille many times.  From my seat on the trains whooshing in and out of the station en route between London and Bruxelles or Paris I had gazed disdainfully at the grimy, graffiti covered buildings near the station and decided I was glad to be passing through.

I’ve had a change of heart.

Lille, and Roubaix a little further out to the north east, were once wealthy cities thanks to the textile manufacturing that boomed in the wake of the industrial revolution, but with so many other beautiful towns and villages neither are likely to hold the top spots on a list of France’s must visit places.  But when Lille was my destination she turned out to be beautiful and interesting – rather more so than I had imagined, and Roubaix has a genuine treasure in La Piscine; the Museum of Art and Industry.

The Old City of Lille centred around the Grande Place, now called Place du General de Gaulle, tells the story of its history through the beautiful old buildings surrounding the square; the ups and downs of its fortune, who was in charge and who was fighting whom are reflected in architectural styles and monuments. From the outside facing onto the square the elaborate Flemish renaissance styled Old Bourse (the Stock Exchange) attracted me; a glimpse into the interior courtyard had me curious enough to venture through the arched doorway to check out the antique book sellers setting up their stalls under the vaulted balconies. 

The Old Bourse, 1652-3

The Old Bourse, 1652-3

My inner science geek sparked up when I spotted the wall plaques honouring French scientists, mathematicians, engineers and inventors whose work contributed to the health and economic well being of the region; in fact to people everywhere.  Amongst the notable names I found Louis Pasteur’s, for his work on fermentation, Ampere mathematician and physicist for his work on electromagnetism, Claude Louis Berthollet for his work on the bleaching property of chlorine and its application in whitening cloth and Philippe de Girard, engineer and inventor of many things including a machine to spin linen; all important in the textile manufacturing industries around Lille.  No women’s names that I could see but times have changed since the plaques were put up in 1854 – at the same time the University of Science and Technology at Lille was established.

Gallery honouring the Agents of Change

Gallery honouring the Agents of Change

Following the Old Lille route in the City Walks guide book led us to more gems like rue de la Monnaie, location of the mint built in 1685, and 18th century weaver’s cottages in rue Peterinck.  The picture of old Lille as a thriving city with knowledge and a practical inventive spirit to fuel the textile industry is apparent as you walk the streets.

The main purpose of our trip north was to visit La Piscine, the Museum of Art and Industry at Roubaix to see the Wool War One exhibition.  A 10-minute ride on the Greater Lille metro system Line 2 from Lille’s main train station then a short walk from the Roubaix Grand Place metro stop, its easy peasy to find.  As we meandered through the entrance hall the wall-sized grainy black and white photographs of chaps in their 1930’s styled bathers elicited a smile and a thankful thought that fashions have changed.  Then, the wow factor: the pool room.  The huge sun like stained glass window at the far end beams a golden glow over the sculptures that line the poolside.  It’s no longer an actual swimming pool, but back in 1932 this art-deco styled public bathing facility was described as “the finest swimming pool in France”.  The conversion into an art museum was completed in 2001 to house the collection of the Roubaix National Museum, and it is a sight to behold.  The former changing cubicles are beautifully restored, the light coloured tiles polished clean and the spaces used as novel display cases for different collections including superb Sevres vases and ceramic works.

Interior, La Piscine - Museum of Science and Industry, Roubaix

Interior, La Piscine – Museum of Science and Industry, Roubaix

I oohed and ahhed at the textile samples on display; these were just a small offering of the rows and rows of hefty sample books from bygone eras in fashion that are held in the fabric library.  (The library is open for research by appointment and there is an on-line catalogue too.)

Samples from the Textile Library

Winter 1920 Ribbon Samples  from the Textile Library

Painting (~1910) by Theodore Gueldry: Wool sorting scene

Painting (~1910) by Theodore Gueldry: Wool sorting scene

Lille and Roubaix might not be tourist hot spots, but they’ve certainly gone up in my estimation; science and history, wool and textiles, art and industry, a feast of interesting topics, and the beer was good too, (application of the science of fermentation of course!).  As the saying goes you can’t judge a book by its cover and seems you can’t judge a city by its railway station. More photographs of our visit here.