May roses are blooming in Grasse, the birthplace of French perfumes, but out in the fields, some of those who pick them face a problem this year. "Working with a mask and not smelling," the flowers, "is pretty frustrating," horticulturist Carole iancalana
Owner of the Domaine de Manon which works with the Dior fashion house, she nonetheless told her seasonal workers they must wear a mask owing to the risk of catching the coronavirus.
Biancalana can still tick off a list of adjectives to describe the "complex, multiple and varied" scent of the centifolia rose, a fragile variety that cannot even stand by itself in a vase.
"It is somewhere between honey, spicy, fruity, lychee, it is a perfume all by itself," she sighs.
After two months of confinement marked by resounding silence broken only by buzzing bees, the gathering of rose petals began over a week ago and continues depending on the weather, under extra sanitary precautions.
"Normally, everyone grabs a smock, we help each other out and go down the rows facing each other, we chat and it's nice," Biancalana says.
This year, each worker has a separate row, starting at 9:00am and stopping before 1:00pm when the sun gets too hot.
The rose's temperature and chemistry are paramount criteria in the gathering process.
"We are 'timed'. The rose has odour molecules that work at certain hours," explains Vincent Rossi, who at 26 is one of the youngest workers.
Biancalana adds that they must also demonstrate "rapidity, dexterity and delicacy: you must pluck without breaking buds that will flower in the coming days."
- 'Break its neck' -
Working by hand, "the goal is to not touch the heart of the rose. You take it just below the peduncle, and hop, break its neck," Vincent explains.