The lilac season

As the lilac season has just ended, I realized how I have missed seeing this flower blooming around the city. For those who do not know, early this year marked my fourth expatriation. After spending three years in Asia and two in the Middle East, I am back in Europe and specifically in Berlin, Germany. A new adventure, which although may be less exotic, I must admit that regaining the rhythm of the seasons is probably the aspect that has pleased me the most.

Also during the past few weeks, I have truly rediscovered lilacs. Observing these purple, white and crimson bushes forming along roads and alleys, flourishing at the bend in a garden fragment that can be imagined behind a wall, and especially feeling its perfume exhaled in the quiet air that reaches your nostrils long before you are able to see any flower. Thick and light all at once, heavy bunches of flowers emit their fragrance as the wind comes to brush against them. I became drunk with this almost forgotten scent revealing a feverish joy brought by the spring that I had not expected.

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It is midnight on a Friday in Tokyo. I am in the subway that connects Haneda airport to my hotel in Aoyama. Immediately strong smell of sake reaches my nose. I have just arrived in Japan and I am submerged in feelings of both impatience and excitement. For years, I had dreamed of visiting the land of the rising sun and it took months to prepare for my journey.

Like many others before me, I have come to Japan during the month of April to experience the renowned cherry blossoms. Following months of bare branches and fallen leaves, Hanami, as it is known, is a hugely popular time of year in which it is tradition to observe and pay tribute to the natural and ephemeral beauty of flowers.

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Ylang ylang, the greatest of Bali’s flowers

Popular small island in the Indonesian archipelago, Bali abounds with a variety of flowers and large plants. The Balinese place a unique emphasis on flowers and perfumes, which punctuate their lives. But the scent that is probably the most cherished among the Balinese is ‘Sandat’, which is more commonly known as ylang ylang. Ylang ylang is a flagship ingredient in perfumes due to its sweet and exotic scent. At the beginning of October, I arrived in Bali to discover more about this small fragrant flower.

The ylang ylang (Cananga odorata) is a tree from the Annonaceae family and is native to Southeast Asia. Although within Balinese culture these trees are often maintained at a height of 2-3 meters, they can reach 30 meters in their natural habitat. The flowers, shaped like disheveled stars, start out a soft greenish color before maturing to a bright yellow. The trees blossom year round but most abundantly during warm and humid seasons.

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In search of the osmanthus flower in Yangshuo, Part II

The next day we head to the west of Yangshuo, in the heart of fields and rice paddies. On the way, I stopped at a tea merchant. A small shop with typical gait, pots of all shapes and all sizes adorn the wooden shelves. I am looking at large labels scrawled with Chinese characters, I try unsuccessfully to decipher the precious contents of those boxes stacked by hundreds. And there, in large clear jars laid on the ground, lost between jasmine tea and oolong tea, I see the osmanthus flowers. I have hardly removed the large cork when I am seized by an enveloping scent. The flowers, even dried, have lost none of their fruity apricot smell. The smell is actually quite harsh and makes you easily return to the morning of your childhood where you revel in large slices topped with apricot jam (dear Proustian effect!).

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