A Bottle of Sky

June 10

Cunningly camouflaged in youth, I go undercover as a student, embedding myself in a school group to infiltrate a guided tour of the Musée du Parfum. We are chivied through exhibits of civets, alembics, and moths in amber. Apparently perfumerie is the science of distilling raw wealth into the richest aromas. The copper distillation vats are so vast you could simmer a millionaire in there. From the condensed steam you could harvest the essence of opulence, but it would smell like boiled hooves and bone marrow.

A Parfumier must memorize a thousand scents. They funnel the whole world into a bottle, these alchemists, mixing limes from Mexico with Australian eucalyptus, French lavender, cedar from Virginia, and Madagascar vanilla.

Imagine Paris as a Parfumerie, each street a shelf showing off tall bottles chiseled from ivory or alabaster and filled to the brim with the distillation of a thousand nations. Top-shelf bottles have labels naming them Petit Palais and Hôtel de Ville. Crowns wrought in bronze and copper stopper these flasks of luxury. The top-shelf bottles are sculpted from marble in shades of ermine and melted strawberry ice cream. They’re all flounced out in gold glitzery and fringed in ribbons of classical friezes.

The Eiffel Tower isn’t a tinker’s ladder of struts and girders. It is a deftly faceted crystal, a slender perfume phial, a bottle of summer sky. The proprietary recipe: distill absent-minded violets with forget-me-nots, night-blooming jasmine and blue spruce, juniper berries and Bombay gin, strain through a sheet of starched sunlight, bottle, and seal. Apply perfume to pressure points and apprehensions.

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