There's a dragon charging down the street. Smoke pours out of his mouth and nose. Large, red eyes blink with malicious intent. The brown ridges along his back stand out against the blue sky. As he approaches, the crowd oohs and aahs with approval. Dramatic, orchestral music builds to a climax. Children yell with excitement. And then the dragon gets stuck. Clearly someone has miscalculated. So far, his progress has been smooth. But he's reached a slight bend in the road, and he just can't get through.
Nice's annual Bataille De Fleurs is peppered with such charming mishaps. Now a firm fixture in the city's famous winter carnival, the event has been scenting the air since the 1870s, when the writer Alphonse Kerr decided to organise a spectacle which would celebrate the labours of the area's flower growers. Since then, the local community has come together almost every year to create floats of various designs, decorate them with tens of thousands of blossoms, parade them along the Promenade Des Anglais, and fling the mimosas, roses and tulips into the expectant crowd.
As an activity, it may sound underwhelming, but it turns out to be great fun. For one thing, the members of the audience are surprisingly enthusiastic about grabbing as many flowers as possible. Whilst the floats saunter by, voices cry out, "Plus fort! Plus fort!" willing the costumed damsels to throw their blooms higher and farther. The petals soar upwards, and when they begin their descent, countless arms reach to the heavens, and several strategically aimed elbows try to knock out the competition. This is clearly a serious business: some people amass bouquets large enough to grace a bridal shower.
The colours and the sights are part of the attraction too. People in panda costumes walk by, for no apparent reason. Gigantic, inflated figures of half-human, half-animal creatures tower above the trees, occasionally bobbing their garish heads right down to the level of the crowd. Rajasthani dancers play drums and trumpets. Queen Cleopatra, the Statue Of Liberty and a Spanish flamenco dancer follow each other in quick succession. A circus acrobat climbs up and down a pole. People dressed as ostriches prance about on stilts, and spend several minutes chatting up some nearby construction workers, who then down tools and do nothing but watch the proceedings for the next two hours. It's a riot of reds, greens, yellows, blues and purples, more alluring even than the sight of the sunshine glittering on the waves of the Med.
And then, of course, there's the smell. Most of the flowers thrown to the crowd are unscented, but the mimosa more than makes up for them. As the tiny, powder-puff buds spread their perfume, the atmosphere is completely suffused with their unique aroma. It's milky, creamy and buttery. It displays a pronounced pollen facet. There's a hint of delicate elderflower too. And perhaps even a very subtle, smoky aspect, not unlike the tobacco elements of jasmine exploited in Etat Libre D'Orange's Jasmin Et Cigarette. Above all, it's a light smell, in terms of both heft and luminescence. A smell that was made to be carried on a breeze, spreading out across the tops of the buildings, over the sea and into the sunset, as the floats gradually shed all their flowers and the parade winds down to a halt.
Over the years, a few noteworthy attempts have been made to bottle the scent. L'Artisan Parfumeur's Mimosa Pour Moi
is an obvious example, a delicate, ethereal construction painted a pale shade of yellow. It's arguably more effective in its candle form - dubbed Mimosa Marin - which perfumes its surroundings with a subtle, yet unmistakable evocation of the Côte d'Azur. Hermès have made one too: a Cannes exclusive called Voyage (not to be confused with the more widely-available Voyage D'Hermès
). And then there's Cloon Keen Atelier's 2011 mimosa creation called... guess what... Bataille De Fleurs
! Suitably weightless and translucent, it would make an excellent souvenir, a memento of the Carnival spirit, brightening one's day long after the confetti has been swept away and the sequinned costumes have been pushed to the back of a dark cupboard.
But what about that dragon? Well, it does eventually get going again, but only after its keepers remove one of its clawed paws... and someone kicks a traffic light several times in order to bend it out of shape and widen the street by the few inches needed to let the monster through. That's Mediterranean nonchalance for you. After all, the show must go on... even if that means indulging in a spot of vandalism.
About the author
Persolaise is a twice Jasmine Award winning writer and amateur perfumer with a lifelong interest in the world of fine fragrance. His perfume guide, Le Snob: Perfume, is published in English by Hardie Grant and in German by Süddeutsche Zeitung. You can find out more about his work at www.persolaise.com or by writing to him at persolaise at gmail dot com