Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Paris, Perfume, and Popsicle Sticks

Serendipity- a "happy accident" or "pleasant surprise"; a fortunate mistake.

In celebration of my 40th birthday I invited 40 daydreamers to join me in Paris for a cup of coffee. I’d like to imagine what I lack in height, I make up for in imagination.  They were invited to email a picture.  I would paste their photo on a popsicle stick and bring their image along with me for the day.  My goal was simple, to gift myself a birthday to remember while allowing 40 daydreamers the opportunity to visualize themselves in a quintessential Parisian scene.  The events that transpired were filled with unexpected surprises.  

First was the lackluster response.  Only 13 people provided pictures (my own mom didn’t bother to email her photo).  It was deflating.  The upside was less work on my part and fewer popsicles for our family to consume (in retrospect, this was a disappointment to my girls).  So, with a handful of paper images on wooden sticks, I left on a quest to find a picture perfect cafe in Paris for me and my daydreamers. 

We started our adventure at a cake shop in the Latin Quarter.  Unlike the name of the district, nothing about the bakery pulsed with excitement.  No signs of a fiesta. I can’t fault the cake shop for the cake’s presentation, it was exactly as I had requested over the phone, chocolate with vanilla butter cream icing.  It stood tall and regal in a shade of pale yellow. This cake was sure of itself.  It wasn’t looking for anyone’s approval.  After all, it sat in one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Paris.  The etched mirror on the wall seemed to offer it one last view of its voluptuous backside before being cut and consumed.  An employee brought over plates and a cutting knife. She was so quick in her departure, I couldn’t help but imagine her angst, not wanting to see yet another cake, so grand in stature, be consumed by strangers.  I then noticed the most important element of the cake was missing, a candle.  Not unlike my fellow companions on popsicle sticks, I too am a daydreamer. In 40 years I’ve never missed my annual wish.   Unfortunately I hadn’t brought candles and the cake shop said they didn’t have any.   Not only would my wish be denied, but the glorious cake would not meet its ending with the pomp and circumstance it so obviously deserved.  Fortunately, my 13 paper friends seemed unfazed.  We ate, snapped pictures, and without fanfare moved on.

The next stop reminded me why I love Paris.  Entering into the parfumerie Marie Antoinette is like tip toeing into a jewelry box.  In place of a twirling ballerina, stands the owner, Antonio de Figueiredo.  Behind a smile with sparkling white teeth is a man filled with a passion for perfume and the history of its origins.    If you want to know what history, gossip, and fragrance have in common, this is the place to find enlightenment.  Want to smell like Marie Antoinette or Josephine Bonaparte?  Not only can he tell you about the fragrance, but he can share with you the stories behind the creation (at times scandalous).   I sniffed a dozen fragrances before this gentleman of scents guided me like a monk on a mission to what he called, “my scent”.   As he lightly sprayed a piece of paper, he began to explain why he believed this scent in a bottle was destined for me.  He said, it was a fragrance unlike any other.  It had mysterious notes not easy to identify.  He imagined me waltzing within a lavish court ball, my hooped frocks swaying gently, while soft breezes carried my fragrance across the crowds, intriguing everyone within scents reach.  Antonio continued to tell me about the original creator of the perfume line he was convinced should sit upon my shelf.  He explained the history, which involved Queen Marie Antoinette.   With confidence, he said this perfume "would carry me through all seasons".  It wasn’t filled with overpowering notes of jasmine, roses, or gardenia, for in the world stage of perfume, these botanical scents only marry with spring and summer.   Without a doubt, I was going home with this fragrance. Antonio's poetic visual combined with the luxurious aroma looming under my nose had me sold. 

After leaving the store, I perched myself on a park bench outside the shop to reflect upon the day.  It had started dismal and disjointed at the cake shop.  The missing candle on the cake rattled me more than I care to admit.  It amplified my fears, the fear that growing another year older meant I was another year further removed from hopes and dreams.  Does the passage of time rob hearts of their natural inclination to wish on fallen stars and dandelions?  So I didn’t have 40 daydreamers, what’s in a number?  So the cake shop didn’t have candles or treat me as royal and regal as the cake they placed in front of me?  All these were out-shined by the gift I discovered while shopping within the walls of Marie Antoinette.  It wasn’t the delicate glass jar filled with liquid flowers and spices that shook me out of my pity party.  It was Antonio.  He unknowingly reminded me why I had invited others into Paris.  Behind the stores whimsical red facade was a daydreamer!  At my side, I had a pocket full of 13 eager individuals who willfully came along to share in a day filled with serendipity. 

After arriving home, I took the remnants of the half eaten cake, topped it with one pink candle, and made a wish.  The day wasn’t what I had envisioned.  Lyrical tunes from The Rolling Stones traveled through my mind before drifting off to dream, “You can't always get what you want, But if you try sometimes well you just might find, You get what you need”.

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