The Scented Salamander

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Friday, March 17, 2006

Scented Thoughts: The Archangel Michael, The Demon, and The Salamander

















This is where part of me lives, St Michel in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Good old Archangel Michael is slaying evil, a demon with wings and a tail, amidst the bubbling waters. Once a year, at least it used to be so, the students from the faculty of medecine, called "les carabins" literally take possession of the surrounding streets, throwing flour and eggs at passersby and then emptying bottles of shampoo in the fountain in order to complete their rites of passages. The waters turn to overflowing froth until the municipality has to intervene.

Not far from the square proper, there is another mythical animal, a salamander made of stone and gracing an antique portal that very often smells of an incongruous and acrid pee left by passersby, glad to find some modest shade in its corner during the day or at night, the shadows. The house of Gabrielle d'Estrées, mistress of François Ier used to be located there where she borrowed for herself the emblem of her lover.

I find now in this antique stone animal a symbol of my childhood as I remember how I used to contemplate it or glance at it while playing the "marelle" on the street with the grocer's son. It represents for me a world that endures, somehow, the representation of a faithful animal that never lives the house and waits for you to return from your travels, your long exiles. It was there even before I left and will be there long after I die, at least I hope so. And it is scented in the sense that memory is most extraordinarily composed of lingering smells and perfumes.

Top photo by Mimi Froufrou

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