Coming Clean about Soap
Nestled on a bed of nylon and silk,
between bras and underpants, slips and chemises,
stripped of their paper wrappers ( for longevity )
rest the heavenly soaps of Haute-Provence.
Their very names rise from the tongue like incense:
Marius Fabre, one of the oldest usines in Provence,
maker of Marseille soap, pur vegetal,72% by law.
L’Occitane de Provence, named for the language of
the region, their word for yes oc not oi, never oui.
Bonne Mere, the good mother, a scented
soap enriched with the product of the bees of Provence,
sold in a square cut, like an emerald, 100 grammes.
Le Petit Marseillais, the little boy of Marseille,
his silhouette imprinted on a rectangular bar of
gold, with the words “ grava grapefruit “ in small letters,
a scent exotic enough to export to English speakers
the world over.
Carré de Savon à l’Anciennne, buerre de Karité,
made the old fashioned way, this huge chunk of green
blends olive oil with the gift of the African forest:
shea butter. One whiff and I can almost smell
raindrops on giant leaves of fern.
And the only round soap in the drawer: Roget & Gallet
extra-vielle, très parfumé, the soap and bottled scent
found on the shelf above the sink in every Grandpère’s
lavatory in France. Discontinued, this last round
of soap will never touch water.
The huge 8.8 ounce brick of green olive oil soap on the
dish above the kitchen sink was for decades,
found in every French home. Crockery, silk
clothes, pots and pans, even floors were subject
to the ministrations of Marseille soap.
We spent one summer in St. Rémy de Provence, the heart
of soap-making country, in an almond grove,
and what did we bring home?
A jacquard tablecloth in the sun-drenched colors of the south,
and ten bars of Marseille soap, every color and scent
I could find.
Our yearly excursions to France have dwindled
to one every 5 or so years, but I still I carry
the spirit of Provence with me: Marseille soap
is stationed beside every sink and tub in our home.
I cannot have favorites: it would be like picking
between my children. I love all Marseille soaps, even
the kind that was put aside when Napoleon sent
a message to Josephine:
“ I am coming home, my love; do not wash.”