Why I "had" to go to France - Part Two – Sarah Drake Design
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Why I "had" to go to France - Part Two

August 14, 2018 | 0 comments

If you missed Part One, you can catch up here.


My intuition was taking me here. I sat, I journaled, I knew a little about what was next and tried to follow the steps. My heart said “scent” but I didn’t know much more than that. Only that scent connects us. It connects us to our pasts, to our memories, to places, to people. I learned about a school in France that held week long classes in perfumery. The website read: Spend a week in a 13th century convent and discover the scents of provence, home of lavender and clary sage. Study under a french perfumer, visit growers and distilleries… I imagined picnic lunches in the lavender fields, walking through centuries old cobblestone streets to class each morning, wine and croissants every day. And all of it came true.

Who was I? How privileged? How dare I think that I could travel alone to France, take a class in PERFUMERY. How decadent, how selfish. Leave my family? Spend a ton of money on a flight, hotel, the class. I should be at home, with them. But my heart kept telling me to go. I told my husband I had to go. He said let’s wait til next year and we can go as a family. We can explore together. I told him I had to go this year. How selfish of me, I thought. He understood, amazingly. I started planning my trip, talking to everyone I knew about traveling alone in France. I would fly in to Paris and out of Nice. Instead of trains, I decided to rent a car and drive to the small village in Provence that housed the perfume school and convent. I booked airbnbs in paris and provence. Then the crushing fear started to seep in. How could I rent a car in a country I didn’t know the language and drive 8 hours?  How would I even find it? I was sure to die. THe days that led up to the flight to Paris, I was sure of it. Probably there would be a terrorist attack in Paris when I was walking through the streets. A van would crush me as I looked at the eiffel tower. The plane would definitely crash. Maybe it would be on the way home. I would at least get to go to the class, and then I would die on the way home. Whichever way it happened, I was sure my selfish creative journey would leave my boys motherless. Somehow, with the reassurance of supportive friends, I got on the plane and surreally flew to Paris, ubered to my apartment in the Marais, saw as much as I could in Paris, stayed up all night one night, and then stood in line at the car rental place after walking around the airport lost for an hour.

It was on the drive to Forcalquier for the class in the convent that the peace set in. It felt so right to be there. My trusty phone told me the directions in English: “at the roundabout, take the second exit” so many roundabouts. The countryside of France was comfortably familiar to valleys north of Santa Barbara where I grew up. I felt at home. I drove 8 hours to my new home, taking it in the dry summer air, stopping in a small town for espresso and croissants to fuel my drive.

When I found my home for the week, a wooden door at the top of a stone narrow road opened to an inner courtyard filled with flowers, vines, a fountain. My apartment was perfect, charming and clean, with the best private balcony, covered in grape vines, lavender, rosemary. The nights were hot, and I slept well for the first time that trip, peacefully, with the door to my balcony open, taking in the hot summer night and the scents from my balcony.

The next morning, I walked through the market, buying fresh goat cheese wrapped in charcoal, olives and a juicy melon that sweetly scented my apartment all week.


The week was incredible. Yes, I got a huge lesson in days of examining raw materials, the scent triangle, heart, top and bottom notes, got to vist a honey farm, a lavender distillery, an organic lavender and immortelle farm, tour l’occitane, drink rosé over the owners’ terrace with my landlord for the week, but the best part of the trip were the friends I made: Ghadi from Lebanon, Rosa from Germany, Ricardo from Spain and Christine from LA, all brought to France for one reason or another, all interested in perfumery, as I was. I invited them all to a picnic after class the first day at a lake I found nearby, we became fast friends, eating cheese and cookies in the rain, hanging out every night after class, laughing all week. They were seriously the best part of my trip, and I know I will have them as friends forever.

The birthplace of perfumery is Grasse, and I had planned my last two days to be exploring that town and the South of France. I booked an airbnb last minute, and took another 2 hour drive to find even more ways that the south of France was oddly similar to my home in Santa Barbara. The air felt and smelled familiar: salty ocean air and a mix of olive trees, oleander, jacaranda trees, hibiscus, bougainvillea, grapes, lavender, jasmine, wisteria...



My next home away from home gave me yet another beautiful courtyard all to myself and a a chocolate brown retriever, Babar, to share it with. I explored the beaches and towns of Nice, Antibes, Cannes. I had only dreamed how these would be, seeing them depicted as glamorous from the movies, seeing celebs walk the red carpets of Cannes, and although they were lovely, they didn’t compare to the california beaches I grew up with, and I longed to be “home”, writing on my private courtyard covered in grapes, lounging by the pool with Babar, I had a quick dip in the refreshing and very salty mediterraenn, and headed back to my stone covered courtyard, reveling in how perfect it felt to be at home in Grasse.

And I sat and enjoyed my beautiful surroundings and tried to make the pieces come together. The inspiration, the research, the knowledge was there, but it didn't quite fit. I knew what it had to do with, of course: water, flowers, El Salvador, safe and protected, but what this product was, I still wasn’t sure. Was it a perfume? An experience? I still wasn't sure, but I could feel I was close to finally, after 3 years, figuring out my creative purpose.

Next Tuesday, I'll share how my childhood and home in Santa Barbara contributed to the unfolding of what I finally knew I had to make.


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