Potpourri is a mixture of dried, naturally fragrant plant material, used inside the home to give the air a pleasant smell. It is usually placed in a decorative (often wooden) bowl, or tied in small sachets made from sheer fabric.
The word “potpourri” comes into English from the French words “pot-pourri.” The word “pot” in French has the same meaning as it does in English, while the word “pourri” means rotten.
In early 17th Century France, fresh herbs and flowers were gathered—starting in spring and continuing throughout the summer. The two were left for a day or two to become limp, then layered with coarse sea salt. The aging mixture was stirred occasionally as layers were added to it. Often the mixture would ferment or even mold as the summer went by. In fall, spices would be added to the unsightly grey mix until a pleasant fragrance was achieved, then scent-preserving additives like allspice, cedar, cinnamon bark and cloves) were added. The finished potpourri was set out in special pots with perforated lids to perfume rooms.
Over time potpourri has come to mean a mixture, a medley or assortment of one kind or another. In this blog, I am using the expression to give kind of a scrapbook of my Paris reminiscences. Here are some of the highlights I am taking home with me.
A trip to Giverny, Normandy, fifty miles from Paris. Here you will find the famous garden laid out by impressionist artist Claude Monet (Featured Photo is the home of Monet). His effort offers an impressive palette of colors. The water lilies are just as he painted them. The place is an area of total tranquility as are his paintings. A lovely day’s outing.
The Outdoor Markets: Just the best of everything. All is naturally ripe and fresh and tasty. And what fun it is to see all the shoppers and talk with the merchants. You’ll find nothing else like it. Fruit and vegetables of the finest quality.
Maria: The Portuguese housekeeper. She is about as good as they get. She’s raised several children who are quite successful. She’s a great friend and spoils you rotten.
Rouen, the capital of Normandy. Another good trip out from Paris is a trip to the city of Rouen, the historic capital of Normandy. Rouen was the scene of the martyrdom of Joan of Arc, convicted and then burnt at the stake in 1431 on the Place du Vieux Marché (Place of the Old Market.). The Notre-Dame Cathedral inspired Monet to paint his Cathedral series, in which the church is seen in different lighting situations and seasons. Also Rouen is the location of the oldest, still-operating restaurant in France, La Couronne, which was founded in 1345. Just out front a stone’s throw from the restaurant is the spot where Joan of Arc was executed. La Couronne is famous in modern times as being the restaurant that introduced Julia Child to French cuisine. Julia dined there as she and her husband, Paul, drove from the ferry landing in Le Havre to his posting at the American embassy in Paris. In “My Life in France,’’ she describes the experience as “the most exciting meal of my life.’’ You can see Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci, playing the Childs, savoring this lunch in the movie “Julie & Julia.’’ In my first blog from Paris, you’ll find a photo of my friends Ken, Christian, Laurent and I having lunch there.
Souvenirs: Don’t forget your friends back home. You’ll find great souvenir shops around Notre Dame and on le Boulevard du Palais Royal across from the Tuileries Garden. I once took a friend a souvenir ashtray from Paris. He turned it over when I presented it to him and said, “I asked for a souvenir of Paris—not China.” Funny, but it’s all made in China these days. But you’ll find a lot of clever souvenirs available. Great fun checking them out.
Outdoor booksellers on the River Seine: One of my favorite things to do is walk down the area near Notre Dame where along the Seine you’ll find booksellers who deal in old books, magazines and art. These places are treasure troves and they attract me like a magnet. You really might discover a hidden gem here.
The Aperitif is a French ritual. It can be anything really from a beer to wine to coffee to a soft drink. Paris is full of splendid sidewalk cafes where you can stop and have an aperitif and watch the world go by. I mentioned elsewhere these moments are like non-stop movies. You can also have an aperitif before dinner out in a restaurant or at home. Of course there are always many little plates of amuse-gueule (snacks or literally “amuse your face”) to go along with your aperitif.
The Table: Here is the table where many wonderful meals and conversations have taken place—also a lot of singing. It’s amazing how many people sing in Paris and how little it takes to fire them up. Just great fun and outstanding memories.
Bateaux Mouches: These are large boats that travel up and down the Seine to let you sightsee in comfort and up close. Literally the name means Fly (like the insect) Boats and got their names because they were manufactured in an area in Lyon known for its large quantity of flies. You can even have a dinner cruise in the evening with music. It’s all great Parisian fun.
So, dear readers, I am now back from my three weeks in Paris. I hope you feel as though you might have been there with me. I also hope that you will plan a bit of Paris in your future. It’s a wonderful city!