Sunday, October 30, 2011

Montpellier Deballage Deux!

We are out the door--a surprise invitation to spend the day with friends in Aix. Who doesn't love spontaneous moments like this? It is so wonderful to be thought of, to be appreciated. An issue which I have been thinking too heavily on as of late so this is the Universe's way of saying, "Oh be quiet, everything is fine you silly goose." Speaking of, will you take a look at that regal fowl of an armrest? Ah, antiques such as these means one thing and one thing only--the Deballage, or unwrapping of Montpellier. Yes, I have already posted about it...somewhere but can't find the link! Too prodigious, this one, eh? Why I love this event is that it is a gathering of hundreds of dealers from all over Europe, not to mention buyers from all over the world. The number of Russians was staggering and I can tell you, they weren't looking at nicknacks, they were more in the market for the man-sized chandelier as seen below.

We, being of zero budget, mainly come to be inspired and dream. But were tempted by this gorgeous, if cracked altar piece. Insane patina.

I was frankly, scared by this ginormous cello case and had images of Houdini using it in a magic trick of some sorts. It looks like the sort of thing that if you stepped into, you could exit in another dimension.

The trend for this go round? Regency and especially anything with arrows. We took a gander at this inexpensive floor lamp from the 50s but found it a bit too...or not enough...

Look at these gorgeous girls waiting to find new lives. A bunch of maidens at a dance--pick me! Pick me! If I could afford to, I most certainly would have brought a pair home. But alas, we have other priorities right now...

...Which means finding a chandelier for the living room. Oh, my. And were there ever some beaut's to choose from. Remi was taken with this baroque Catalonian one from a dealer out of Barcelona...

And me? Oooh, the Italians always have the best choices. We actually were seriously considering this rather traditional piece but all of the wiring had to be redone. Um, that just made the price go out of our reach. As we were pacing back and forth, trying to decide, trying to communicate in Italian with the dealers we spied...

...this gorgeous and very real, very antiquo, winner. Well, it might be a winner. We are still thinking about it but I think that it is love. We would have to drive to Lyon to pick it up in December but it could be worth the effort. I have seen so many reproductions of this type on the market but the genuine article? Nope. Not to mention one with the tiniest, most delicate beads...Sigh.  We shall see...

All of this dreaming makes one hungry! And truly, I swear that I go to the deballage for the one thing that I know that I will find at the end of the morning: lunch on a huge magret de canard sandwich with fries...and for once, just because I could, a glass of champagne!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Whistling in the wind

On my morning walk with Ben, I was taking in the crunch of my feet on the leaves when I realized that I was hearing something else...floating notes of a disjointed tune and they were coming out It wasn't even a song, something solid to identify with to place my mood here or there, "Stormy Weather" or "The Man I Love" but just pure, unadulterated randomness. How lovely to find myself whistling. That has to be an example of a simple joy if ever there was one.

My Mom likes to tell a story from when I was about three years old. She was out, a baby-sitter left in charge. Said young lady suddenly became terrified when she heard someone in the next room. She reached for a kitchen knife (ok, maybe I have made that part up in my memory) and burst in to find little curly topped me sitting on the floor, whistling away, totally lost in my music. 

Have you ever heard a sad whistler? A tragic one? I didn't think so.

"You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and...blow."

And as if this post isn't random enough already, a teaspoon more of sugar to make the medicine go down. Further along on our walk, Ben decided that he had had enough. I did not agree and, ah-hem, being the supposed leader of the two, insisted he follow. He refused. I pulled. He pulled back. I finally pointed at him and said, "If you don't get your act together mister, I am going to give you a kick in the pants!" His ears perked up. I added, "Ok, I know that you don't actually wear pants but you know what I mean." He considered for a moment and then kept walking. Yes, it is official then. I am the crazy lady who has conversations with her dog in public. Soon I will be making little outfits for him to wear. I think I need an intervention. 

Found attached to our new oven filter

Monday, October 24, 2011

First Anniversary

"I am definitely wandering, not only these streets of Arles that I have come to love so much since moving here in 2005, but also looking for that next step, that sign of the direction of what is next for me. A good a day as any, then to start a blog and share my experiences of living in Provence that I find along the way..."

My hands trembled with excitement as I hit "publish post" then "view blog". There it was! What a difference from the world of the press where it would take months to see an article be published. Such immediacy was stunning. Now the only question was whether I would enjoy it enough to continue...and would anyone be interested?

It is incredible to think that a year has gone by. On this, my first blog anniversary, I want to thank Remi, my love, for encouraging me to start and to those of you that have inspired me to keep going. I am so very, very grateful for everyone who stops by to read and for those of you that have become friends. I am well aware of how extremely fortunate I am. Both my Mom and my friend Sonny have made the same remark: "Your readers are so amazing! So intelligent and well-spoken." Yes, they are. Not to mention generous, talented and funny to boot.

I hope that you will stick around for the ride. It has been an adventure, coming at blogging from the quite formal world of French travel writing with nary a moi in sight. Yes, I am still learning and as I wrote yesterday, still finding my way as I go but happily, doing so in excellent company.

Merci encore, mes amis et bisous!

PS. Yes, I have decided to change the look of my blog. I originally chose the red, gold and purple as I felt, as I still do, that those colors are the essence of Arles, a land that is both baroque and farouche, as described by native son Christian Lacroix. Well, they have recently begun to annoy me. I need less noise in my life and that includes on my blog! I certainly would never have thought that I would be moving again when I launched this and those colors also reflected an "olé!" that doesn't feel appropriate to where I am right now. I had a lot of fun last night with Remi at my side to help decide on colors. Merci, coeur. I might do some tinkering still in the next few days but nothing fancy. The words and photos will have to do all the work!

Sunday, October 23, 2011


I have always wanted to visit India during Holi, the Hindu spring festival where colored powders are thrown at passer-by with a jubilance verging on mania. The force of the act, covering someone--a lover, a friend, a stranger--with one gesture resonates with me. I had a similar experience once in Phonm Penh, Cambodia during Full Moon celebrations where white powder is used. Young girls, normally shy, would run up and smear my cheeks with it, locking eyes joyfully with mine as they did so.

And yet, we have these types of interactions all the time, every day. We are constantly moving amongst others and they too leave their marks on us, on our eyes, our hearts, albeit invisibly. How many times have I come home from a walk with Ben in foul mood because another dog tried to attack him or conversely, buoyant after having witnessed the small act of a father lifting his giggling daughter into his arms for a kiss?

Like a pinball in the machine, I know that I am too sensitive, too susceptible to these moments but prefer it than to be utterly closed off. I can't stop looking even if sometimes I see more than I would like--thoughts, hopes and deceptions. Nor can I stop thinking about the seemingly random comings and goings in our lives. Why we invite certain people to be friends, to come into our private circle at certain points rather than others. And how we know when to let them drift away. Because they will inevitably, laisse des traces. And sometimes, unfortunately, wounds. It takes courage to open our hearts.

Digging down a little deeper, I have become increasingly aware of how flexible our personalities are, those outer traces of our inner spirit. I might be nearly unrecognizable to some of my companions of years gone by. How would I see them now and they me? For we see what we want to, we pick and choose and turn a blind eye. Would we still find the desire to be a part of each other's lives? Continuity in relationships can be a blessing as it necessitates that a certain flexibility is built in, one that involves seeing beyond personality and the temporary swoosh of life. Being fairly nomadic, I haven't experienced that type of long-standing connection as much as many but that doesn't prevent me from appreciating it when I do.

We are heading into winter, so maybe that is why I am wondering about what remains, what is solid inside us while all around me the leaves are falling from the trees. A real autumn, finally. Certainly so in the golden light writing secrets in the sky, running over rooftops, pressing on upturned faces that are all too eager to inhale the last of its warmth. A contact as certain as the powders of Holi. And when those revellers return home and wash off the vibrant colors, what traces remain? Everyday we bump along, as day follows night and season follows season, finding our way, through others and ourselves, clutching the cord of life that connects us.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Galerie de la Gare

Oh my, I am having technical difficulties on my end, so all of the posts that I have planned to share with you all are on hold for the moment. Yes, les difficultés techniques are very much a part of living in France and most especially in the South of France, a twighlighty zone where, when things go wrong, they do so terribly that your only option is to laugh. Can anyone please explain to me why the internet in general, WIFI in specific, no longer works when the Mistral winds are blowing (as they are today)? I imagine many a French person would be wise enough to just do a little Gallic shrug over the matter and be done with it but I am nonplussed. If any of my local friends happen to see this, I would love to know what they think of my theory--I swear it is true.

So I will instead keep shopping because isn't that something that all of us do virtually in perpetuity anyhow? I originally took these photos for my lovely friend Brooke Giannetti. Yes, she of the Velvet & Linen blog fame, she the co-author of the "sold out on Amazon for three months" super-seller book "Patina Style" that is alas, still unavailable to many of us in Yee Olde Europe (and no Brooke, that isn't any sort of sneaky plea for a special delivery!). But I don't think that she will mind if I share them with you. They were taken on just a whim actually.

But how can one look at such worn cabinets and armoires and not appreciate their patina? All of the hands passing over their handles, pastries pushed out on their surfaces, the best china carefully handed up to the top shelf. Pieces that have lived and are still living for us if we only give them the attention that they deserve.

All of these objets were found at one antiques shop that I adore, the Galerie de la Gare, located in Molleges, beyond St. Remy but before Eygalieres. Now, I truly don't necessarily love this shop for the antiques (even though they are fantastic and we did buy our one "good" piece here in better times) but and oh, how hopelessly American this sounds, for the experience. Trust me, I am wincing as well. But Remi and I have the best conversations here. Either with the owner, who has been in business for around twenty-five years or his Zen Buddhist nephew, from whom we recently bought a light fixture for our bedroom. There is none of the posturing "Monsieuuur, may I help you?" here but smart talk about the economy and certainly, politics. Taboo at the dinner table but apparently not in certain antique shops. We are usually there for at least an hour chatting or, at least, until a more important customer strolls in.

The shop was emptier than usual when we went to pick up our little alabaster light. A sign of the times. Business has dropped drastically for all of the antique dealers in the region--even on the lower end of the scale according to a friend in Arles. But what lovely things remained--especially those from a dealer on the Côte d'Azur who rents out a corner of the gallery. Photos are not usually permitted so I am being a bit...sneaky. I had asked to take them specifically to take to share with Brooke so please, no Pinteresting, no pinning. One thing very worth mentioning is that the doors inside of the white cabinet are plastered with letters and photographs from long, long ago. I did not have light or time enough to read those forgotten words but hope they were old love letters. Well, they are for me, no matter what they were.

Remi is what he is, that is, a photographer and a brilliant one at that. I was so touched that when we stepped out of the shop, he took the image below, just so I could share with a far-away friend, one that I haven't even met yet, how glorious our light is here. So, just a little side trip but hopefully one that kept your interest--I would hate to lose you! And so, in the buoyancy of imaginary shopping, I will ask--did anything catch your eye? And if any of you actually did have a true coup-de-coeur, I jotted down most of the prices, just in case!

Sunday, October 16, 2011



We all have our favorite weekend activities and I have read about several on the net that have left me tinged with jealousy--apple-picking in the States, gardening in Normandy (I actually enjoy the grunt-work), and simply nesting all over the world. Sigh. Personally, nothing says weekend more to me than heading out to browse at an antique shop. It doesn't have to be fancy, actually I prefer a dépôt-vente or consignment shop, where all manner of items can be found.

One of my very favorites is L'Atelier de Dépôt-Vente. It is in the countryside outside of Eygaliéres,  one of the loveliest but also swankiest villages in the Alpilles. It is located within a simple hangar or metal barn that is stifling in the summer and freezing in the winter. That never prevents us of course, for often, when the new owners of a mas move to Provence they find that their goods just don't quite fit in with the new surroundings and let them go for a song.

Does that mean that there is always something to take home? Of course not! But the fun is as much in the hunt, as any brocanteur or brocanteuse can attest. Hmmm, so what was to be had for the offerings on our last trip? I was fascinated by this over the top Rococo cabinet (note the small skull on the fronton) that held a stuffed white cobra and a screeching owl within its doors as if to keep them from attacking the public.

Don't be fooled by the German Shepherd, he isn't there to guard but sneak up and give bisous on your hand! I thought that the pair of colonial style low-slung chairs behind him were similar to things that I have been seeing in several design magazines and blogs. I could easily picture them on a stone veranda in California.

I would have been tempted by this chair, sorely tempted if those gorgeous arms would only fit under my desk. I am a sucker for a worn animal print--in chenille no less. Just imagine the fine prose this could inspire me to? Alas, no.

This pair seemed to me to be the buy of the day at 80€. Beautifully sculpted, I believe out of Rosewood, nor could I see any nails, so probably more ancient than one would think. Do we have any place for them, chez nous? Absolutley not!  The same can be said for the romantic lithograph and the golden applique below but it doesn't stop me from redecorating in my mind.

So did we find anything, anything at all on this particular outing? Why yes! 

Drawn by the insanely kitschy photograph of a very literal interpretation of Coq en pâte, we bought the massive tome, "L'Art Culinaire Français" and were delighted to find that the photographs were the only thing dated about it. "This is the kind of book that my Mother had," Remi assured me. The recipes are written simply in paragraph form and cover absolutely every French basic that you could ever wish to whip up. I have casually left it out, just laying around, so that Monsieur le Chef can be inspired at will.

We also bought a set of glasses for 2€ each. They have a lovely feel in the hand and are a more solid alternative to our antique Baccarats (that Remi bought in Ecuador where they had been brought from a wealthy Cuban family!). We are invited to lunch in St. Remy today, so time permitting, we might swing over and buy a few more. At that price it is worth it to stock up, especially as Ben has quite a talent for breaking glasses with the swish of his tail.

As I was writing this, my initial thought was that we had never really bought anything "major" at this Dépôt-Vente, but I realised that wasn't true at all. My ciel de lit (that we finally put up yesterday--hooray!) came from there, our pair of antique basket lamps, both our everyday porcelain plates (very heavy, previously from a restaurant) and our "good" service (we were astonished to learn that each of the Le Jaune Chrome plates were worth $200 as we had paid 45€ for the set). The list goes on--even the brass cup that I keep our toothbrushes in was a gift from one of the owners! It is interesting when objects fit so well that their story is forgotten, they are just ours now. Who knows what we will find next!

Bon Dimanche, everyone.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Full on empty

"You aren't going to write about this are you?" Remi has locked eyes with me to make the point. I lower the camera clutched in my hand back down into my bag. No, I don't need to write about everything. I don't have blogger fever. It is his birthday and some things are best left in the realm of the personal.

True, it is tempting. We are lunching at the METropolitan restaurant in the courtyard of the Collection Lambert in Avignon, one of my favorite spots in all of Provence. But hey, I have already written about it before, so why repeat myself more than I already have a tendency to do?

But Remi had taken the day off, it was his fête after all, so a glass of white wine was in order. Actually, two. And when the always charming serveur brought out two coupes of champagne, who were we to say no? 

And so we lingered. My back was to the rest of the tables but I could hear the bubble of conversation starting to fade. Having waited tables (something that every member of the population should be forced to do at one time or another), I dread being the hated 'last table that won't leave' so we offered to settle the bill so that our waiter could go. No need to vex a man who offers free bubbly, now is there?

Much to our surprise, not only the waiter but the entire equipe headed out, locking the restaurant up behind them as they did. "Just leave everything where it is. Stay as long as you like." Really? "Only in France," Remi sighed contentedly. And it is true. We sipped our espressos slowly and let the conversation drift into out-right philosophical realms. The trees shimmied their leaves. It was just too exceptional. "Come on, you have to let me write about this!"

We left behind our private little kingdom for another. The exhibition "Le Temps Retrouvés" featured the works of Cy Twombly as well as a selection of complimentary masterworks. I am a Twombly fan and was grateful to see the last exhibition curated before the artist's death. It was lovely to slide in between the layers of his paintings but also to watch the light play off them and the architecture as well.

Something about the sunlight trying to break beyond the flowing curtains and the endless horizon of Hiroshi Sugimoto's sea photographs made us both feel as we had slipped into another dimension.

We wandered from room to room gazing at stark Cindy Shermans, moody Louise Lawlers and a haunting series by Sally Mann. 

At every turn, the light played as much of a role as the art in charming us. Softness, whispers and again the absence of noise. It wasn't until we had reached one of the final rooms that we realized that we had seen the entire exhibit alone. We hadn't crossed another person save for occasional security guards that would nod at us, each in varying stages of a seeming Zen like state. 

One of the many phrases painted along the walls of the courtyard translates as "I believe in miracles." And big or small, yes, yes I do. All alone at both the restaurant and amidst the museum's changing colors and themes. We both left feeling full on empty.