Rose, Eternal

The main attraction of Au Nom De La Rose, a flower shop located in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, is the collection of cut roses preserved in glass bowls. These roses look fresh, though they are technically dead.

The store owner explains. He has preserved the roses so that tourists that frequent his store can take the embalmed flowers back with them in their luggage. Without water or light, regular roses will wilt in a matter of days. Au Nom De La Rose’s preservation process allows the roses to live for up to three years.

These preserved flowers are called “roses éternelles,” according to the store’s website. The store sells other rose products–rose-scented bars of soap flecked with petals, rose lollipops, rose honey, and tiny jars of rose jam, glass flutes filled with rose-scented eau de toilette–but the roses resting inside the glass bowls are the centerpiece of the store, taking their rightful place near the register. They also cost 21 euros per bloom, which seems like one euro too many. 

I leave the shop flowerless, then stumble over to a small market. Locals sell clothing and records and jewelry and something that looks like it could be a shofar.My hair is tangled from the wind and keeps getting in my mouth. I feel romantic, and look ridiculous. At the market, I try to gather as many precious pins and gem-studded rings and photographs as I can find. I feel dazzled, increasingly ravenous. It isn’t enough for me in the moment that these beautiful things exist; my impulse instead is to capture them, to consume them.

In some ways, I’ve had this feeling all week. I photograph Paris obsessively. I try and write down everything, hoarding images and fragments of pretty phrases. I’ll find beauty and respond with longing, then sate my own longing with a promise to myself: you will return. My friends and I talk idly about moving here, as if this is the answer. We speak about moving because it’s easier than saying we want to transform our longing into something more permanent.

At this Montmartre market I understand the appeal of bottling beauty, the  mad desire to entrap and preserve it, to turn it into jam or soap or a piece of writing. But some things do not lend themselves well to mummification. It’s hard to know the difference. Flowers are beautiful and ephemeral, some of their beauty derived from their proximity to death. Preserving a flower seems almost sacrilegious. Paris is so enchanting because I know I am leaving. I take a photograph of the market, then briefly hate myself.

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