Sunday, August 26, 2007

la chasse aux papillons

The hunt of the butterflies. I look at the name on my perfume bottle to be sure I have spelled this correctly even though I studied French for 14 years. We are in a storm of butterflies, monarchs and fritellaries, resting and drinking deeply in our perennial garden and mint hedge. The heat is back and they have landed on every available floral surface and stay their wings, pressing them close together so they become almost two dimensional, or look as if they are praying. The orange and black palette of the monarch overrides the small black winged ones with bits of red and orange embroidered in the dust of their armature. There is a science that says that the beating wings of butterflies in South America can effect the weather in China.

It seems just like yesterday, but it was really at this time last summer, when our fields were full of butterfly hunters. Dressed in white shirts with long sleeves, white pants, and pith helmets or wide brim straw hats, they walked through the tall, straw-colored grass with their butterfly nets. We could not help but imagine a scene out of Henry James or a Merchant-Ivory film where the party stopped in the meadow with a picnic and parasols, stifled in their heavy clothes in the yellowed August heat.

I run outside still in my pyjamas to photograph the butterflies. I am transported back to a hot day in Paris this spring in a small perfume shop on the rue de Rivoli. This parfumeur's scents are lined up along the window overlooking the street, distillations of the perfumes settled in small glass jars stuffed with scent-soaked muslin. I stick my nose deep into the vials breathing deeply as I do when I taste wine. I leave the shop with a floral, slightly spicy scent redolent of rose, violet, iris, and white pepper named la chasse aux papillons.

The weather report says to expect violent thunderstorms, lightening, and possible high winds. When hurricane-like buckets of rain whip through town we wonder at the science of butterflies and if they have brought us such a wild night.

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