Away, together in the Balkans
For this new series, Histoires de Parfums has chosen to reproduce the fictional letters of real lovers. Over the course of these lines, we read of landscapes where history and perfume are never too far apart...
10 August 2021,
You must have been waiting for me for a long time, I know.
So much has happened since your last letter.
I'm writing to tell you that I'll be back.
I did not get lost on the way; I merely took a detour.
I did not set sail from Dubrovnik, as I should have.
I will take it further on, in the Pontic Sea, on that Slavic shore warmed by the Mediterranean sun. I will sail on the deep blue that borders the feet of Istanbul and by Marmara, by Chios, by Rhodes and by all the islands that divide the Aegean, I will return.
I will return to you.
I went along the coast, first, I went along the clear blue line of the sea.
I passed through the rolling hills of the Istrian mountains.
I reeled in the miles of white sand, of fine sand, of all the sands that frame this morsel of coastline wedged between the Adriatic and the Dinaric.
I walked, under a golden sun that is always mild, my left guarded by this chaos of white rocks, these mountainous massifs sharply expelled from the deeps of the Earth.
I walked to Dubrovnik.
I saw its walls whitening in the distance. I passed through the little gates. I walked through the peaceful streets when night falls. One feels so protected, when one’s heart is enclosed by such sturdy walls, in this sort of marble box set on the light foam of the sea. There is a strange sensation, of walking between the lines of a parchment scratched by the wear of time. Sometimes I thought I was in Venice, sometimes in Rome, sometimes even in the oldest parts of Jerusalem.
Do you remember that alley in the shadow of the Holy Sepulchre with its blackened stones and old men sitting in front of their doors, watching time go by? I found the same street here. Well, over there...
I am no longer in Dubrovnik.
I was supposed to set sail from there I know, to join you on the waters... but I was overcome with such a love for this land, for its people, for the wonders that the Balkans must hold on the other side of the mountains, far from the beauty of the sun, far from the turquoise seas, the tropical beaches, the exotic fjords unhooked right in the middle of Europe.
I couldn't leave yet.
Not to the west, not now. Not when the East calls you like this, with the visceral force of the Balkans, with the weight of magic in its deep valleys. You do not refuse their invitation.
I stayed because I know that you will always be here, somewhere, and that I will always find you.
I have passed through the mountains too. I climbed passes and peaks. I have slept lulled only by howling winds, by wolves barking in the misty countryside. I ate at strangers' homes, I shared brandy and Sunday Liturgy. I met Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox and a few gypsy witches living on lonely hills in the shadow of abandoned caves.
After happy Croatia, I discovered a discreet Albania, the ancient Romania and at last the serene Bulgaria. It was here that I stopped, at the other limit of the Balkans, as soon as I saw the Black Sea drawing its fertile coastline in the distance.
I walked for a long time until I stopped in another of those picturesque valleys that only exist here. The sun, the humus-rich earth, the infinite vision of cultivated terraces, planted with rosebushes, tea trees and juniper bushes.
I am staying with a kind woman, her name is Svetlana. Her farm is in the middle of the fields. A tiny red house with walls covered with icons. It is so nice here, so hot but also so cool. The plain is vast and surrounded by mountains that jut black on the horizon, comforting like shadows that embrace you.
All around is green and fragrant and shines with dew.
It is not yet harvest time but you can already smell the air vibrating with the scent of ripening juniper berries. There is something indescribable, a kind of appetising, mineral light, zesty but cold, metallic but green at the same time. It smells of citrus but also of wood. Of plants, but also of Men. It is a strange smell of heated skin, animalic, that invades the plain already saturated with the scent of yarrow.
Svetlana wants me to stay for the harvest. It's such a beautiful moment, she tells me. All the surrounding villages gather and the berries are happily picked by hand before being left to dry in sheds. The smoke burns the eyes a little, according to Svetlana, and the fragrant steam purifies the skin, sticks to the clothes and perfumes the hair.
The village women then take some of the essential oil, the treasure of their labour. They also leave with bottles of hydrolate as a medicine for when the winter is too harsh. Then the oil goes to Grasse, on the other side of Europe, to be made into perfumes.
I hesitate to stay, to settle there for another month and harvest the berries with them, these happy women. It's another month, I know. A month without you. Without us. Unless you join me, here, on the shores of the Black Sea.
It's another month at sea, a month from port to port.
But I know you love the sea. You have always loved her as much as you’ve loved me.
It's another month at sea, in the arms of your furious mistress.
But I know you will always be here, somewhere.
Come back to me, quickly.
I love you.
And I'm waiting for you.
In this land of good smells.