Perfumed Letters

Reading the scent trail of fragrance and words

Sniffing around Paris: To A Passerby



The deafening street around me roared.

Well, not exactly deafening. It’s rue des Rosiers. A little noisy.

A woman passed…

Several, in fact. Men, too. Someone leaves a stunningly ambered floral perfume trail.

La douceur qui fascine et le plaisir qui tue (The softness that fascinates, the pleasure that kills),” whispers Baudelaire, an invisible yet persistent traveling companion.

Turning to detect the source of the sillage, I lock eyes with a stranger.

A lightening flash! Then darkness!

No, no, not like that. Less Sturm. Less Drang. More malaise. Eye contact, especially in close proximity, should be avoided by urban street-strollers. We look askance. We offer mumbled excuses as if to pardon an elbow-brushing pedestrian collision. Wait. She’s the one wearing the ambered floral perfume.

I’m sorry,” she explains, “I couldn’t help looking at your your bottines. Did you get them here?”

She wants details on the boots. I deliver. Relieved that I’m not the only party guilty of shattering personal crowd-space, I readily provide all requested information relevant to footwear. I confess that I had dared to break my urban stride to find the source of a beautiful perfume. Hers.

My turn: “What is that wonderful perfume?”

She nods. In thanks? In agreement?  It wasn’t a yes-no question.

Then, tilting her head, as if consulting the mountainous archives of her morning routine, she deals the blow: “I don’t  know.”

A lightning flash… then night! Fleeting beauty…

Exchanging a final, complicit glance, and with the breezy warmth of ladies who’ve lunched, we wish each other a good day,

I know not where you fled, you know not where I go,

Oh, the perfume I might have loved! Oh, you who knew it!


With apologies to Chalres Baudelaire, Walter benjamin and the rest. You may read the entire Baudelaire poem uninterrupted at this link:

Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 8.15.47 AM

Screen shots from my copy of Agnes Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7,


8 thoughts on “Sniffing around Paris: To A Passerby

  1. It does happen like that.

  2. Alas, indeed. But it makes for a wonderful story.

  3. Thank you, Natalie! Fortunately the next tie I smelled a divine perfume on someone else, the someone else was a friend who was happy to reveal her secret, and the perfume was La Petite Robe noire, which I thought I disliked. It was beautiful on her. I must give it another chance.

  4. I imagine this fragrant near-miss is an occupational hazard whilst strolling the streets in Paris. 😉 Good old Baudelaire – I haven’t looked at his poems in 30 years…but I sense I should!

    • So true, Vanessa!

      I’ve noticed that Angel is very easy to detect in a crowd. Sadly, not a favorite of mine to wear–though I’m always happy to be able to ID it.

      I wholeheartedly endorse your return to Baudelaire!

      Happy travels!

  5. On my recent trip to Paris I was amazed how many times I smelled a nice perfume on a passing by woman. But since I don’t speak French I didn’t even think of asking 🙂

    • Hi, Undina!
      I normally wouldn’t ask either, but I thought I had a free pass after she inquired about where to purchase my boots. No dice!
      I’m enjoying your travel posts and wishing I were back in Europe.

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