All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Eau de Nice - No, it's Not a Commercial for Scent.

Friends are visiting from France and have been kind enough to bring a Red Cross parcel; goat cheese, Chaume, harissa.....and a large bottle of Eau de Nice.

I like scent, but normally only buy perfume as it lasts longer on the skin and of course have my favourites - Guerlain's 'Apres l'Ondee', Jean Patou's 'Joy' and I used to like Jean Desprez' 'Bal a Versailles' but either it or I have changed over the years and it just doesn't do it any more. Perhaps I should try his 'Revolution a Versailles' instead.

I would like to have Viktor and Rolf's 'Flowerbomb'...but the price is such as to give me the heebie-jeebies at the thought of handing over that much cash for that little quantity of liquid, so the old favourites it is while they last.

Eau de Nice is very different.
It's an eau de cologne, something I associate with mother dabbing at her temples in hot weather and something I thought very old lady and very not for me.

I was, of course, wrong.

Many years ago in France I had been invited to make the acquaintance of a rather grand elderly woman - in social terms - who was desirous of widening her circle.
She lived in an logis dating from the Renaissance in the medieval centre of an old town nearby, high stone walls and blanked off metalwork gates preserving her privacy.
Her garden was 'a l'anglaise', free flowing and full of flowers.
Ancient limes shaded the terrace.
A trellis for the Chasselas vine screened the kitchen garden.
In winter we would sit round the fire protected from draughts in what I would think of as porters' chairs, tall screens between us and the long glass windows.
You would not have thought that the town existed apart from the odd motorcycle exhaust and the sirens of the police heading back to the office at aperitif time.

Our first meeting went well, though it intrigued me to see that the person who introduced us was not invited at the same time  in later meetings and we hit it off with interests in history, gardening and, of course, politics.
I expect I amused her...this creature from the world of Hume gasping for air in the clear waters of Descartes.

She had had a husband who died early following his treatment at the hands of the Vichy Milice during the war, she had no children and used to laugh heartily at the visits of inspection of her sister's daughter in law intent on seeing that no family knickknacks went AWOL before the divvying up process on her death.

She spent a lot of time laughing.... making provoking sallies at dinner; a little spicy character assassination over the washing up of the antique dinner services she insisted on using; telling stories of her youth round the tea table set under the limes. She had her 'days' for tea, on Wednesdays, although dinner invitations could be on a whim.
A woman of no pretension whatsoever, secure in her own personality and, it must be said, secure in her social status.

But she had a secret.

I used to amuse her with tales of the Britpack....the ever growing number of British immigrants to the area...and she would ask how anyone expected to know about another country solely from books and magazine articles written by their own fellow countrymen.
After all, so provincial was France that it was difficult enough for someone from another area to adapt, let alone someone from a completely different culture.

My explanation was that, with some honourable exceptions, they lived in a bubble. They did not have enough French to be worried about things they did not understand, they paid whatever bill was presented to them and they were just happy to be 'living the dream'.

There were, of course, the pack leaders...the 'helping hands', who provided the link to French culture and practice to people who knew - through little fault of their own - not much about either.
These were always trumpeting about their friendships with French people prominent locally, Maitre X, Councillor Y and the Comtesse Z, which boosted their appeal to those of the Britpack seeking their advice, though I often thought that if they were reflecting the views of their French friends the said friends must either be extremely dense - or taking the urine on the scale of the Paris sewers.

One summer I had been invited to tea on a day which was not her regular one. I was in town at the tax office and she had suggested I drop by afterwards to discuss the results of a fight over retroactive legislation.
It was blazing hot and by the time I had left the stuffy office, climbed the hill and negotiated the cobbles carrying a basket full of files 'glowing' was not the word for my state...I was approaching the equine.

The table was set for only two - a tete a tete being felt to be appropriate for discussing money and property - and as I settled myself, breathing like a grampus after a close encounter with Herman Melville, she said

?I've just the thing for you. You need a dab of eau de cologne on your temples to cool you down.'

She rang the bell on the table and as a figure appeared behind the curtains she called

'Suzanne! Go upstairs to my dressing room, would you, and bring down the bottle of Eau de Nice and a handkerchief.'

Then, turning back to me

'You'll like this. It's very old...a favourite of Madame de Montespan. All violets and spring flowers and a little powdery. Just the thing on a hot afternoon.'

?I didn't know you had help.'

'Oh yes....I don't mind washing the china and the ornaments but at my age you need someone to do the rough and Maitre X put me on to someone a few months ago. She comes twice a week - but not on my regular 'days' of course.'

The returning figure appeared again at the window, and hesitated.

'Come along, Suzanne, please! Your countrywoman is dying from the heat!'

And Suzanne appeared.
One of the helping hands.
One who was friends with Maitre X, Councillor Y and Comtesse Z.

She passed over the Eau de Nice and the handkerchief and withdrew to the house.

My elderly friend wet the handkerchief and handed it me. I dabbed as directed and did, indeed, feel better.

'There now' she said, smiling. 'That was a nice surprise, wasn't it?'

'Only for me, I think.' I replied.

But I've always retained my fondness for Eau de Nice....and am happy to be reminded of the spring flowers of the south of France in the humidity of the tropics.


  1. That's it! I must sally forth (we elderly ladies do still sally forth, I hope?) and track down some Eau de Nice.
    Well, the cold, wet face cloth is no longer having much effect.
    (I suspect the best I can hope for in this Outpost of Empire is some obscure lavender water...)

    1. The b thing lost my reply!
      Of course we must sally forth...who else is going to keep things in order?

  2. I had a chuckle at this post Fly as I can still picture in my mind the rather grumpy and bellicose English friend of my grandmother who claimed relief from tropical humidity courtesy of her cologne...Sadly, this has never worked well for me.

    1. And again...
      It works for far and i love the scent. Old fashioned and sweet.

  3. Does it work on us hairy males too?

    1. It lost this reply too!
      Can´t see why not.....

  4. Suzanne was one of the expats? amusing.

    Eau de Nice sounds just the job for those hot and humid days x

    1. Well, it was and it wasn't.
      She was quite an obnoxious woman but I think it showed the difference between British and French in that I don't think someone British would have put her on the spot like that.

  5. Sounds a lot better than the stuff you get in litre bottles in Leclerc!! I must try it. If it stops me from developing a radioactive glow I'll buy shares.

    1. As someone who takes on the aspect of a boiled lobster at the first ray of sunshine all i can say is that it makes me feel cool even if I'm not!

  6. Brilliant story with a delicious dénouement.

    I hope you have a lovely time with your friends, and enjoy the parcel of goodies.

  7. Sarah, they're visiting a sloth sanctuary today and then they're off to a spice producing farm so I hope they're enjoying their last week before returning to France.

  8. Sloths and spices? Sounds like they're having a lovely trip. How nice of them to bring you a parcel from "home". Sometimes it's just as nice to hear a familiar accent, though, isn't it?

    1. Yes a familar voice works wonders...even though we have Skype the real thing is better.

  9. As I get older I am horrified to find myself turning into my mother and grandmother. Sadly, there are some thing that you just can not fight.

  10. cheshire wife, I don't mind growing like either of my grandmothers...but I draw the line at mother!

  11. Wonderful post, Fly with a delicious sting in the tale. I have expensive tastes in perfume too and can no longer justify the eye-watering cost of my favourite Chanel No.5. Your Eau de Nice sounds just the ticket and I shall look out for it.

    1. I had to buy it onlne...none of the local shops stocked it any more!

  12. Nice post, and interesting observation that the brits wouldn't put someone on the spot like that.

    I know my mum used to use eau de cologne but I have no specific memories of it. I'm not sure that the cosmetics industry has done us men any good with "after-shave", but perhaps the women appreciate it....

    1. Well, I don't think someone in a similar social position would have done something like that. I thought it was quite brutal, even though the woman concerned was in my view a very nasty piece of work who messed up quite a few lives in her time.

      I loathe 'after shave'....I was used to the odd whiff of a mild cologne among male colleagues, but on arriving in France the gales of 'aftershave' that arose from any gathering in a village hall used to call for a gas mask!

  13. OMG... can not tell you how much I enjoyed this! Now I'm going to have to track down a bottle of Nice!!!

  14. Online only, I think.
    I reckon if it was good enough for the most famous mistress of the Sun King then it's good enough for me...

  15. How nicely written this is, I can just imagine it and transport myself there. I haven't smelt Eau de Nice (as far as I know) but I will make a point of doing so next time I spot a bottle.

  16. It is a sweet, powdery least on me it is.
    Well worth a look round for it.