“Well if it isn’t our dear Dame Nelly of Notre Dame!?!”
He swept into the shop with a flourish and such force that it left the bell above the door ringing for some moments after his grand entrance.
“Open even today!”
His wide Gallic face, flushed with the unseasonal cold May air and no doubt a ‘medicinal’ mid-morning brandy or two, glowed red and shone a little from the effort of guiding his enormous frame up the hill of the rue Mouffetard.
“The show must go on!”
He hazarded in English and his hilarious, even to him, as-broad-as-his-belly French accent.
He once told her as they were sharing a rum baba and watching world go by on a particularly slow day that he modelled his manner of speaking English on the Queen of England’s attempts at French…
“All the words are there, and arranged most correctly, the grammar is immaculate… but the mouth, it does its own thing, the tongue is trapped in its native language.”
She laughed then, as she always did with him, and encouraged the story on.
“Yes, Elizabeth and I, we are both engaged in an attempt to speak each other’s language through the medium of our own. She speaks French through the medium of English and I English French.”
Since then his few and far between Anglo-Saxon words would always be known between them as ‘English French’.
Standing before her now, unwrapping and depositing his various silk scarves around the store, a latter day elephantine male rendering of Salome’s dance, he stopped suddenly and fixed a stare upon her, raised first his right eyebrow and then both his arms.
It looked to anyone but her like an invitation to be embraced by his so-thick-they-might-be-wings arms, indeed the first time she had rushed forward to receive the hug, only to be batted away like a naughty child.
“This is not an invitation to intimacy. It is an expression of curiosity! What wares have you to tempt me today?”
For this is why he travelled up the ‘mountain’ as he called it, every morning, past at least a dozen perfectly competent French owned and run bakeries, epiceries and pattiseries to come to her tiny hole in the wall just before the Place de la Contrascarpe.
She was the avant garde of the cake and pastry world of Paris.
The revolutionary who’s mission it was to let everyone eat cake.
He told her so, he told everyone so, in great and enthusiastic detail.
Those who liked him would be most likely to describe him as ‘avuncular’ and compare him to a favourite uncle, those who didn’t thought him ‘overbearing’ and just like a despised sibling of, invariably, their father’s.
Judging by the steady stream of customers who came through her door on the basis of his recommendations, there were more people who adored this funny uncle of a man than bore him a family grudge.
“Well” she smiled, “We have your favourite…”
Before she could finish his brows had danced a merry jig upon his forehead, all of which his eyes had rolled skywards to witness and now he was joining with her in near song ,
“Tarte aux peches Melba!”
It was the dish that had won her the honour of being re-named after the great operatic soprano,that, and of course, the fact that she was an Australian, but they chose not to talk of that.
His nose began to twitch now, as his manner took on that of Alice’s white rabbit, the game they played each day was underway.
He would, by a process of deduction (or chance, she tended to think) ascertain what other curiosities she had cooked up that morning.
Beyond the sweet tinned peach in syrup, coated with vanilla custard wrapped in the light baked almond smell of pastry cut through with sharp raspberry puree he detected…
“Cardamom! Yes there is something of the East here today.”
From below the counter she withdrew a tray of cardamom and clove infused French flan.
He smiled, held up two figures in a ‘V’ modelled after Mr Churchill, not for victory now, but double portions.
“Of course there is coffee, there is always coffee, and chocolate too… something tells me, my little antipodean songbird that you have put them together.”
She drew back the tiny red velvet curtain that concealed a triple layered china cake stand balancing in the window.
“Cappuccino crème brulee!!”
This time four digits shot into the air, they were, after all “small” and “friends are forever falling on one’s hospitality”.
He began to peer around the room, uncertain as to the final morsel of fun.
“I smell roses.” He said with an air of triumph.
“And yet in these vases of yours there are only white flowers and not one of them is a rose!”
With a curtsey she revealed to knickerbocker glory glasses filled to the brim with gooey matter of many shades of pink and topped with a dusting of cream and then icing sugar.
He shrugged his shoulders. Brought both hands to his mouth.
She set down the glasses on the single circular table and they sat.
Armed with long spoons they attacked her new invention.
“A jelly of Turkish delight. Rose blancmange. Cardamom again in the cream.”
“A triumph!” He exclaimed.
“A trifle.” She responded.
A frown forced those athletic brows down into a point above his fat nose. This was a word he did not know.
From a pocket emerged his tiny pocket translation dictionary… plump fingers raced through the pages…
‘a thing of little value or importance’…”
He looked seriously at her, the colour departing a little from his cheeks.
“But I fear these are moments of great importance.”
“Students are lifting cobblestones from the streets around the Sorbonne to throw them at the Gendarmes, their brothers, fathers, uncles sometimes. DeGaulle has left the country or so they say and millions have stayed at home today.”
“We are on a precipice my little Pan of the pastry kitchen….”
“But what is the value of worrying for now, when we have such delights in front of us!”
“These are….”, she began.
“The last desserts you have the ingredients to make.” He finished.
“I know, but I have plenty put aside for such a time as this.”
Histoires de Parfums’ 1969: Parfum de Revolte is a curiosity shop turned confisserie pattiserie of a scent.
It is an eccentric uncle of a fragrance, dressed in crazily miss matched clothes that somehow come together to make a unique and engaging look.
Being British, The Dandy finds himself incapable of resisting this slightly mad cap, if not downright peculiar, perfume, conceived it seems entirely on a whim.
Everything starts out peachy, quite literally. Though what we are offered here is more akin to the canned fruit served swimming in rich syrup than anything picked straight from the branch.
Yet, strangely, inexplicably in fact, the opening doesn’t cloy.
This must I part be due to the surreal intrusion of a giant and garishly artificial rose in the heart. This improbable note is an inflatable toy rendering of the bloom, but somehow it works.
This could be because this particular rose scent has as much to do with Ottoman pastry and nougat than the flower itself.
The addition of spice, particularly cardamom, helps considerably and has the rather interesting effect of creating a ‘trompe le nez’ with hints of both mint and coconut appearing from apparently nowhere (as neither are listed in the official notes).
The herb merges with clove and chocolate to form a sort of after dinner mint effect that paired with a subtle coffee has one getting ready from some brandy, that sadly never comes (presumably that would have been a step too far for even this olfactory oddity).
Set out like that, the fragrance that emerges might sound like an ultra niche oddity concerned more with eliciting reaction than being beautiful.
True, this is not a beautiful perfume, but it is a pretty, witty, engaging and highly attractive affair much more in the whole than the sum of its parts.
Not unhinged at all, nor revolutionary, just a little off the wall.
I’d wear it.
The Perfumed Dandy.