Friday, December 9, 2011

Strolling the brocante

Ben and I were cruising through the outdoor market, searching in vain yet again for decent mushrooms and our missing goat cheese lady when I suddenly remembered that it was in fact the first Wednesday of the month. "Ooh, let's go to the brocante," I proposed. Ben wagged his tail in agreement and off we went.

A brocante, or flea market has taken place along the boulevard des Lices for as long as any of the vendors can remember. And while it might look a little rikiki, you never know what you might find. Some time ago, a man bought an old book and found several drawings by Vincent Van Gogh tucked in between its pages. I kid you not. 

This being Arles, there are many stands that specialize in materials used for the traditional costume, named aptly enough, L'Arlesienne. While the woman next to me fingered a bit of heavy lace for trimming, I made the mistake of running my hand along a bit of fox stole only to have the seller snatch it away while glaring at me with a raised eyebrow. It is true, Ben and I make a suspicious pair if ever there was one.

Speaking of typically Provençal items, check out these creepy santons--I have never seen anything like them. The two sailors in the back look like that want to capture you in the net, the scary old maid next to them as if she wants to hit you with her wool batting, the gentleman is hunched in preparation to whack you with his walking stick if you make another move. Then again, perhaps they are just protecting the Mamy and Pappy relaxing on their bench so that Mamy can continue grinding away at her mortar and pestle in order to prepare a killer aoili. 

So did I score any goods? Bah oui, mes chéres, if not I wouldn't have taken you along for this little jaunt. For it was the vague memory of dyed linen sheets that made me change my direction in the first place. I found the seller, slightly hunched in a well-worn fur coat, eyes smudgy in blue eyeliner and checked out her wares only to return with Mr. Benali in tow later in the afternoon. He wisely chose three.

(Slight parenthesis in the middle of the post: after typing the word three, out of nowhere popped into my head, "Mr. Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie pop?" "Let's find out. A one...a two-hoo...a thrreee...*crunch*...Three." For the original commercial see here. I guess this is what happens when I have a big espresso after lunch.)

So yes, three. And lovely choices they are. My photos don't do them justice. There is even one with the initials "HB" which are what my initials would be if a certain person and I got married. *cough, cough* As the seller uses her own pigments, the colors are all slightly in-betweenish, such as the vieux rose that she created by mixing "fruits rouges et chocolat"--it sounds like a dessert! The mocha has a pinkish hue and the thick gray a metallic deepness to it. They are far too pretty for the linen closet and I can't wait to make up the bed with them.

Something I couldn't resist...the one luxury seller at the brocante (Hermés scarves for 150€), also was offering this one bag, sewn by a friend out of an old beaver fur coat and topped with velvet handles as well as a tassel and a jet bead ornament. For only 30€! I adore it, which means that I am finally giving the Sonia Rykiel leopard-print pony tote that Remi bought for my birthday a well-deserved rest. And so, while I should be out buying Christmas presents for my friends and family, I am instead focusing on...myself. Bad Holiday Karma! Bad! Will someone please help me dig into the spirit of things? This year, it has remained elusive but I really truly need to get cracking!


  1. Hello Heather
    I loved tagging along with you to the brocante.

    Your linen purchases are stunning. You may not be in the spirit but I can assure you your choices in shopping is spot on.

    Helen xx

  2. Ah Helen, thank you but I need to start shopping for OTHER PEOPLE! Would love to stoll a brocante with you (and your artists eye). Bon Weekend!

  3. umm..... that bag is perfect just for 30 E's...lucky you!
    We have skipped the last couple of years of Christmas shopping as we have been travelling
    and instead of sending off bits and bobs we make a donation to our Phuket Soi Dogs and all the group seem happy with that!

  4. Bonjour Heather,
    Loved visiting the brocante with you today. Loved your photos and the tidbits you threw in about Provençal life... Yes, I agree, those Santons look a tad creepy. I never cared for them much myself anyway, but they are valued collectibles for many people. As for the Hermès scarves at $150... just one question: How did you manage to NOT get one? Were they in so-so shape? oh, and I love your new bag, girl. This one is a keeper. As for getting in the mood for Christmas and starting to get presents for everyone else, well... There is always another brocante. ;-) You could not let these goodies GO, now, could you? Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

  5. Hello Heather:
    Oh how we should have loved to have been mooching along with you at the Brocante. The eclectic mix of it all is so beguiling and alluring as it really does make one believe that one will find an absolute treasure hidden in there somewhere. Just many, many hours to search....

    We love the Beaver fur bag, but then you probably could have guessed that. Indeed, a stuffed Beaver in a glass case or a complete Beaver fur coat would also have done the trick for us!!

    It seems to us that you are well into the festive spirit already and that makes us happy. Presents for others we are sure will emerge, after all there is simply ages left yet before Christmas Day!!

  6. The sheets, the bag all GREAT BUYS!Love the colors you dyed them!Feel no guilt as I always shop for myself too this time of year!Three goodies for me and perhaps one gift!That always seems to be the theme!I too am not there this year!What is it?I was downtown San Francisco yesterday and not many people a strolling!Kinda scary really!And the storefront windows werenot very good!Very disappointing really.......COME ON EVERYONE LETS GET CRACKING AS MADAME HEATHER SAYS................time is a ticking!

  7. You know, my blog may be "petite" but I really have the best readers (and 'blog' friends) around!
    Heather, I LOVE that you make donations to your worthy cause rather than buy more...stuff. Perfect. And aren't you on a boat in the middle of nowhere?
    Vero, PLEASE tell me that I did go back and leave a comment on your EXCELLENT post on the house of Hermes? I will have to check but I think that I did. And truly, I was tempted. They were in excellent shape and there was a gorgeous one with a black background, a rust orange border (like the color of my hair) and cream colored roses were the drawing. Just in typing it, I realize how insane I sound that I let it go but I don't actually need it thanks to my sweetie and better times. :)
    Jane and Lance--hooray! I just clapped my hands (I did) to read your comment. I try not to regret the things that I foolishly gave away in moving about so much but I had the softest beaver fur coat. True, I looked slightly insane whenever I wore it as I couldn't stop rubbing my arms. True, I wore it to pieces but I could have made a stole or a throw or something out of it! And I love the idea of the beaver under glass. I garner he would make me smile every single day. And as for the festive spirit, like your wonderful selves, I am all too happy for any reason to celebrate!
    My dear Contessa, how I wish that I had been with you the other day in SF. Of course, I would have dragged you out to the Mission for burritos and margaritas and we wouldn't have gotten any shopping done at all!
    PS. I feel extremely proud of myself as I actually bought one present today! One! And it wasn't for me! it's a start...

  8. What did Mr.Ben purchase? Sounds like the rest of the family picked out treasures so Ben needs a little something too. I always buy myself a little Christmas gift and why not I work hard for my money and I'm guaranteed to love it! Your linen colors are gorgeous and the colors so rich. Does your Mom or sister like linens? Just a thought.....Happy Christmas to you with your new/old bag!

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  9. Dear Heather,

    Well, not to make you feel more than usually unenterprising, BUT?.....

    It's ironic to read this posting an hour after I've walked back into my house, after and HOUR AND A HALF in the supposedly "One-Stop, E-Z Mail Shop". I'd been packing off 67 Christmas presents.

    Just for the record?.....I got my tail in gear and ordered every single present in danged OCTOBER (Thank you, Jesus, for sending us LL.Bean & Four days ago, I bustled out of the house and returned with a trunkload of wrapping paper, colored yarns, bows, christmas cards, bubble wrap, computer labels, and multiple rolls oftape (both scotch and packing tape....running out of tape in the middle of packing is the one thing that's sure to put me in an irretrieavably foul mood until Easter).

    Two days ago, I began signing cards and books. Poor Herve had to sit at the end of the kitchen table each of the past two nights, with multiple stacks of books (already signed by me) in front of I passed them to him, saying things like "Just write 'Merry Christmas! Congratulations on the new puppy!". He'd occasionally say something like "Wait?....they got a new puppy?", and I'd say "Don't worry about it...just SIGN THE DAMN BOOK and tell them you love them. I'll tell you about the dog later...."

    When we got through all that?....I spent a day and a half prettily-wrapping everything.....and, then, most of yesterday security-wrapping and boxing it all up for mailing. That was before I got around to printing out all the address labels.

    As indicated earlier? all went into the back of the truck and got mailed a couple of hours ago.

    Poor Herve (that's about to become his well-earned title hereabouts) left at 6 am to go off for a five-day conference in San Diego. I'm about to clean up all the mess from all this fuss, and I'll probably end tonight (since I'll be alone) by washing all three of these nasty terriers (first chore: detach wrapping tape from at least two of them, who've been playing with the stuff).

    My plan is to get up tomorrow morning, look around me, and consider that I now have exactly 14 days to get myself in a more presentable "Christmas spirit" before we get on the plane to France. Sometime during that time, I've got to cough up four commissioned paintings (fortunately, they're all small pictures) that other folks are giving to their spouses.

    All of which is to say, Heather, that I really can't recommend this business of Being Hyper-organized. I should be beaming with Martha Stewart-like self-congratulation....but I'm mostly just worn-out and kind of stunned.

    You, Mister Francey-pants, and Ben obviously have better instincts than I do when it comes to kicking-off the season with some fun.

    and, now?....I'm starting at the front end of this old house and, equipped with my broom and vacuum cleaner, moving my way towards the back....many things now on the floor will go into the maws of the recycling and garbage bins.

    And then I'll think about enjoying the holiday season.......

    Level Best as Ever,

    David Terry

  10. Oh boy - you have to take me there when I come to see you next year! And as for the Christmas spirit, it seems to have crept up very very quickly this year. So hopefully it will hit you very soon - with a magical poouf of excitement. Light those candles, drink the Champagne, it's just around the corner! Have a great week - not sure if I will be able to log in from NZ to read your posts but shall catch up when I am back otherwise. About to board my plane...gotta go... Virginia xx

  11. Oh my, this will be much shorter than I would have liked as I am unexpectedly out the door to go to a photo shoot with Remi (yes on a Saturday) even though I was supposed to be CHRISTMAS SHOPPING this afternoon!!! Le sigh. But I would be sorely remiss without at least thanking David Terry for the much needed laugh after a long week. I especially loved the scene with Hervé signing the books--that rung home!
    Virginia is on an adventure!!! Hooray!
    Design elements, thanks for stopping by and Debra you should by now how spoiled our Ben is!!!

  12. What is the quickest train route from Dijon to Arles?.......Assuming that I would have you as my guide for discovering all things beautiful in your wonderful town!
    Just "go with the flow" at Christmas. If the spirit doesn't grab you so be it. No "have to". No guilt. Just enjoy the pleasure of others who are in the festive mood. Bisous.

  13. Wise words as always from you Elizabeth. Really perfectly put and exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you friend. As for the quickest route from Dijon to Arles, I have VERY good news! It appears that there is a DIRECT TGV from Dijon to Avignon that takes less than three hours! Hooray! :)

  14. In regard to "getting in the SPIRIT!".....

    I'm reminded of a very-funny line from Alice Thomas Ellis's not-generally-funny (but otherwise marvelous) novel "Birds of the Air".

    In the novel, a grown woman is staying for a few months at her mother's house, after a terrible tragedy. She just wants to be left ALONE. Unfortunately, Christmastime rolls around.

    At one point, her mother comes into her room to announce that an old neighbor has just sent over some utterly banal "christmas present for you". The young woman has to be reminded of who this old neighbor actually is, and she exasperatedly remarks that she's now obliged to go buy something to give in return, pay a visit, etcetera, ad infinitum. Her mother says that of COURSE that's what any NORMAL person would do at Christmas.

    After her mother's left the room, the oppressed young woman simply stares out the window, grimly thinking to herself "Please forgive our Christmases as we forgive those who have Christmased against us....."

    Actually, I don't have to worry about being co-opted into any Christmasing that I'd rather avoid. As I've done every year for at least a decade, I simply tell several friends/family-members (the ones who are historically most-prone to repeating misinformation) that I'm leaving for France 12 days BEFORE Christmas. So, most folks think I'm gone. If I do want to accept an invitation (which I rarely do) or answer the front door (so that I can be forced to be pleasant and spend an hour trapped in my own house by someone who "would have called, but I just wanted to drop by really quickly and GIVE YOU YOUR PRESENT!")......well?...then I just tell them that I'd misheard Herve when I asked him about the airplane-schedule.

    So, basically?...we spend the ten days before Christmas successfully avoiding the frenetic, enforced fuss, and we get to spend a few good evenings with folks that really do matter.

    It's odd to consider that, while Christmastime and Bringing-the-New-Baby-Home-From-the-Hospital are supposed to be two of the happiest occasions a person could name, they're probably the two occasions when (if you don't take precautionary measures) other folks are most likely to ratchet-up anyone's anxiety and stress levels.

    Advisedly yours as ever,

    David Terry

  15. The linens are very beautiful. I have a collection of vintage linens and I love using them. I think starting the Christmas present buying season with a present to yourself is just perfect. I must say, as well, that I enjoy reading the comments from your readers. Some of them are extremely entertaining. Have a lovely day.

  16. Isn't that true, Mr. Terry. Admittedly, the level of hysteria is far lower in general in France but there are still the random yet all the more insistent well-wishers. Minus, the unwanted grft-giving as folks here are too simply, radin to go throwing their money willy-nilly as we Americans do. And I love that you and Hervé have your own yearly hideout--it sounds like going away to a spa (not that I have ever gone away to a spa but it must be utterly peaceful, non?).
    And yes Victorie, I agree that I have the most wonderful people on here. It is what keeps me going--sometimes I just want to see what everyone is going to say. :) Wishing you a lovely day as well! Always makes me to see the chubby cheeks of your grandson's photo to boot!

  17. Oh, Heather...

    Neither Herve nor I are the sort go a-spa-ing.My impression is that spas aren't, as a very general rule, the sort of joints that are particularly receptive to folks whose first question, upon arriving, is "Where y'all' keep your ashtrays up in here?".

    Without our having bothered with any particularly conscious "choosing", we've spent about half of the past Christmas-weeks either with Herve's family at their place outside of Tours, or at my family's place in the East Tennessee mountains. Just a couple of years ago, we were surprised to hear that our parents had been confabbing, and that the Mommeja-Marin's were coming to spend Christmas at my brother's house (a mile from my family's house). By some wild & rare (as I gather from other folks' grim stories of "family" christmases) chance, all of us happen to enjoy and like each other.

    After the 4-day hulla-baloo of Christmas in Tours (with THE GRANDCHILDREN!!!!!!!!!), Herve and I usually go, for about five days, to park ourselves somewhere we've never stayed-in.....lovely Chinon three years ago, Nantes (I loved it) last year, and Toulouse this year. I suppose this is, each year, fairly "spa-like".....but that's only because all of our relatives and clients (except for the Asian ones, who don't seem overly concerned with Christmas, for some reason) are too worn out by celebrating to send emails or call on the telephone. Herve and I simply spend five days doing nothing in particular and following no schedule,with each other. This is, actually, the one time per year when we can get away with this sort of behavior.

    I happen to love spending Christmas in France. Folks actually celebrate/decorate-for and (gasp!) even MENTION Christmas....without this recent, enforced-piety of feeling obliged to take note of the Muslims, Jews, Wiccans, and lord knows-who-else (and don't get me started on "Kwanzaa"). I gather that this business (i.e., "celebrate" Christmas in all of its secular manifestations such as shopping, but do NOT act as though it were a specifically Christian holiday) is an entirely American phenomenon. I should add that two of the more amusing moments I've had during this past decade were when (1) one of the black check-out ladies at the grocery store told me "My children ask me "Momma?...What in the hell is 'Kwanzaa', and I tell them 'I do not KNOW, honey....'..." and (2) sitting with two European Jews last December, as they asked me why in the world American Jews made such a big deal over a "holiday" that no European Jew even notices.

    All in all, Christmas in France seems a much less-fraught affair.

    Thanks, as usual, for your good blog.

    David Terry

  18. Now, I should really know better by know than drinking my coffee while reading your responses as I almost spit it out--twice! First, over the remark regarding ashtrays (and yes, I would have to agree with you, again as a very general rule, save the exception of certain hammams in say, Turkey or Russia) and of course over "Kwanzaa". Very, very funny.

    It definitely took me a few years to adjust to the pace of Christmas in France. Can you imagine my delight when I realized "wait, you mean it is all about the FOOD?" No craziness, no stress at all. And yes, talking about the meaning of Christmas. The midnight mass at St. Trophime, which ends with a parade of sheep and a little donkey guided by shepherds bearing gifts for the newly born Jesus is always packed to the gills. And yes, I can already tell that people are being kinder to each other. But also, we have the advantage that work is already slowing to a stop. A few more days and that is it.

    Speaking of the approaching holiday, I do need an address from you Mr. Terry as your prints are ready!

  19. This would have been a very dangerous outing for me - I try to keep the holiday shopping focussed on others but sometimes it ends up being a one for you, one for me occasion. That beautiful linen is calling my name - literally - with the initials of my maiden and married names!!

  20. Have always loved a little "treasure hunting" and yes the converted beaver coat bag is a hit and a fitting replacement for Sonia R.
    Carla x

  21. Stacey, I am not sure if you will see this but the dealers gave me their ebay link and they had another with the same initials! Do you want me to contact them about it? If memory serves, it was a gorgeous gray-blue.

    And Carla, coming from you that is a mighty compliment!


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