Florabellio

It is a season beginning. There are pale blue, angled shafts of light in which the wind from the sea gathers up rolling clouds, salty bellies of foam snatched from the waves that we hear, sometimes, like murmurs of protest from beyond the horizon uttered by people who are mildly angry. It is a season that is beginning again, in a life that starts by picking up the thread of time and wrapping it in a delicate loop around a child’s finger. Everything mingles here in the beauty of a powdery light and of the rains that fall, fleeting and warm, over the blossoming apple trees whose slightly sloping trunks seem to want to drink the green milk of the fresh new grass.

I walk along the footpath with its ditches filled with violets, with temporary streams tousled with mauve algae, and that trickle and trickle and trickle. I walk through the days and the years, no longer really knowing who I am, nor what my age is so much does a walk among the places of childhood manage to bring the present and the yesterdays together, and thus releases us, for a second, into the illusory dizziness of the death of time.

We never return often enough to the places where we have lived. There are so many familiar things here that I could walk with my eyes closed - I do walk with my eyes closed - along the path that unfolds its exquisite indifference between the fields, amid the faint mooing of the cattle, the distant barking of the farm dogs, the silvery rustle of the poplar trees. The places we visit, the places where we live, tell us, without their intending to, about ourselves.

I go on walking, and I breathe my life in. How many footsteps and unimportant adventures have gone to make up this path? What does it retain among its pebbles and its earth of those who have trodden it? Weddings and funerals both interwoven with the malignant perfume of wreaths of lilies - conveyors of life and of death - sentimental children’s dances, processions of novice nuns whose daisies dapple their solemn headdresses in white, the reeling meandering of drunken poets who smell of must and utter loud and mystical cries, the timid little footsteps of rosy-cheeked fiancés, who hardly dare hold each other’s hand. All the aromas are present along the main part of the path and on my walk, which leads me upwards, towards the fringes of the meadows, those dreamt of and written about, while beyond, I know, lies the distant sea, which like another country, promises voyages of cloves, cedar and sandalwood.

It is here too, among the twists and turns of the path, among its shady hollows and its potholes, that the first trembling kisses, half-stolen from the lips of twelve-year-olds, linger, when the vault of the heavens is lit up with its first seaside stars, during summers of geraniums and petunias, while my mother, who thinks I am asleep in my bedroom, waters the flower-beds in the little garden that surrounds the house as she hums an old song that reminds her, I can tell, of her own mother and of her weary washerwoman’s body walking down to the river.

The sound of water being poured from the tin sprinkler that my mother scatters over the flowers is also a music that suddenly comes back to me, and with it the smell of the earth, warmed up during the day, cracked on the surface like a cake that has been overcooked, and moistened by the drops of water dispersing all around them the scents of a friendly sepulchre, discreet stirrings of winter rooted in the flesh of mid-summer.

There they are, I can hear them, my first loves, behind the hawthorn bush, laughing through their mysterious baby teeth and creamy white cheeks. I know they are still alive, those I loved and those who caused me pain. I could easily leave the path, climb over the fence, stoop slightly beneath the low branches of the pink and white apple trees, trample through the grassy fields, gazing at the long brown eyelashes of the recumbent cattle, draw closer to the singing, the laughter and the thicket, and, in a whirl, experience once more, like a liqueur, the images, the seasons, the ages and the moments, the peppery sweats, the red acid of apples on our tongues, the fold of the leathery new leaves of the nut tree that we shall tear off in the autumn, the dust from the black lines of stubble in the damp crease of our elbows, the beads of blood forming over scratches, the astonishing caress of the tall umbellifers after the storms that had us rushing into the haven of barns to embark on cruises on the pale hay, side by side, as though on the bridge of those great vessels whose sails we would see drawing geometrical dreams over the sea, the sea that was like life itself at that time, infinite, distant, inexorably present in its alternately shimmering and silvery mystery, its smell of cold and teaming bodies.

As the path rises and obliges me to slacken my pace, I breathe deeply, and am left with the soothing effect of my age, which magically brings together all ages, both those lived through and those imagined, as though there were to be blended together, in a perfume that would be that of our true selves, the scent of laughter and children’s voices, the worn patina of old ladies’ cheeks, shiny as the fruit stored in the autumn pantry and that makes us think of sleep when we kiss them, the large sheets drying in the wind, the dreams we pursue when we read old adventure novels redolent of tar, precious wood, musk, Malaysian riggings and oriental languages, and many other things, music, caresses, murmured remarks, promises, insubstantial trinkets that pile up in the sublime clutter of our curious existences, which are journeys, always.

Tomorrow, sleep will have blotted out the fragrances that are too intense. All that will remain of the path will be a meandering mist, and of the walk a faint trail, a bunch of flowers left behind, the wash from a ship, the w-shaped flight of a seagull, a burst of laughter, a grain of blackened peel, a shadow over the moss, a mauve and yellow pansy petal that flutters in the air before landing on a grasshopper’s back.

Not quite awake, I shall turn on my side, and, while your eyes are still closed, inhale the perfume of your neck as I clasp time against my heavy arm.

Philippe Claudel 
For diptyque, 
about the perfume, Florabellio.