‘Java. I was so excited about everything I was about to see: the temples of Borobudur, Yogyakarta and its volcanoes, the aquatic rhinoceroses of the Ujun Kulon natural park. But where to begin? I had heard in passing that I should “go toward Garut, the landscapes are amazing there”.
I followed this piece of advice and was glad I did. This time around, I lived with a local named Komang, a woman with an iron fist and a tender heart. One morning she took out an old Dutch bicycle for me to use. It had chipped paint and had once belonged to an Australian photographer and novelist, who’d come to the island on a quest for deeper meaning. I wouldn’t be riding with just anyone. I took a winding road to the plantation belonging to Old Ketut, Komang’s uncle. “My dear girl, you are going to see something you will never forget”. Talk about mysterious. And talk about a shock! There was only green, and more green, as far as the eye could see.
If it weren’t for the heat, I could have mistaken the place for Ireland. All around us were cascading fields of vetiver. There were only a few fields like this in all of Indonesia. I felt so lucky. The sky was low, with a few grey and black clouds here and there. Huge bunches above ground and deep roots below: that’s vetiver. And once it has been cut and dried it has an uncommonly strong power: a scent so special, smoky, earthy, and creamy that it smells like a man’s essence. But not just any man; an elegant dandy, an explorer.
After the first wave of scent, as if by magic, vetiver gains more freshness, as if it wants to reveal its feminine side. I liked this aromatic paradox. I returned home before nightfall. Komang was waiting for me with a plate of Ikan Panggang, a traditional fish dish spiced with cardamom. A true delicacy. The smell of bundles of vetiver that Ketut had offered me mingled with the spice. For a moment I imagined myself crossing paths with the handsome Australian and him wearing this unusual fragrance. This stranger from Garut, who’d left his bicycle for a young globetrotting Parisian woman, would now be known as Mr. Vetiver. See you soon…’