Sunday, September 23, 2007

L'Odore Del Tuo Raspare

I’m asleep, dreaming about being trapped in a room full of snakes (triggered by a glass of absinthe?). In the distance, outside, in the dark, a tractor is going up and down the rows of vines, harvesting the white grapes. In the afternoon it had rained and the owner of the chateau was worried. The approach of the harvester wakes me. It smells musty, like rancid heather and ancient, dusty ambergris. It’s 5:30 AM. Again.

A week earlier I was stuffed into a plane to cross over to France, excited about visiting the planet of Aroma. On the plane, a young man in dirty jeans sat next to me. He reeked of mustard, sweat and semen. My nose isn’t my best friend on a plane. I took off my seat belt and headed into the restroom, where I thrust water into my nostrils to wash out the arôme de foutre.

A glass of cheap Bordeaux, an Ambien and 25mg of a generic antihistamine, that’s my “formule”. Six hours later I wake up ready to land in Paris.

I have taken my nose on vacation. The rest of me doesn’t want to be here. Part of me wants to stay home and look after family matters, of which I can do nothing about. Another part of me just wants water, a beach and a platter of grilled langosta. Not this time.

The walk to the rental car. In the airport terminal there lingers the aroma of cigarettes, dark Turkish. Resin, patchouli, more sweat, this time from Africa, paste wax, silicon spray and burnt crust.

Once in the parking lot, the pavement, a mixture of tar and concrete, wet from a recent morning rain, welcomed me to the earth of France with a coppery, rust-like greeting. Once at the counter, the cultures of people from three continents helped me to pick up my car. The European smelled like butter and violets, the Asian reminded me of frankincense and pork brisket and the African smelled of starched cotton, and pine that had marinated in an ant pile.

On the road to Beaune I find an Autogrill. Hoping for un café Italien, I get a soppy mass of dank, dark bitterness.

A moment in Beaune, and back to the road, across the massive central of the country. France, a country as large as Texas. And we are driving down it, across it, over it and, eventually, back to where we started.

Along the way a short stop in a little run down hotel with a restaurant on the second floor. The aromas of burgundy wine steeped in an oven with lamb and veal. Ripe local cheeses, perfume from an elderly lady, and the smell of the dust of baking flour, a thin sheet of mist that settles on everything. It is invisible, but, like scent, is very present. A moment with a bottle of rosé wine, a plate of string beans in butter and olive oil, like my grandmother used to make when I was the only one at the house. I used to ask her, “Nonna, why butter and oil?” She would say, “So we can always remember the times when we can afford both butter and olive oil.” This would be a short long trip across the plane of the country we were now exploring, this planet of perfume and forests, butter and duck fat, Pinot Noir and Merlot.

As mentioned two weeks ago, time to take some deep breaths. And what a place, where all the aromas and smells one could imaging are gathered in this confluence of aromatic ecstasy. A chunk of bread, a slice of cheese and a row of lavender. Did you notice I didn’t mention wine? Not yet. Remember? We've just started harvest.

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