Monday, January 24, 2011

Histoire d'une chineuse

When I first wrote about La Bellevilleoise (read post here), I was not totally convinced by its charms.  Since then, there hasn’t been an opportunity to go back till yesterday. But as I write this post, I realize its not quite fair to say that it was a second chance for La Bellevilleoise as it was for entirely another reason that brought me to its premises. Yesterday a special Vintage Brocante event was held at La Bellevilloise.  Sometimes it amazes me to see how much vintage and all things vintage related has become so much a part and parcel of our zeitgest.  When did it become so acceptable, so fashionable, to hunt for and acquire things that have already lived previous lives? Why are we so fascinated by vintage?

For myself, I can’t claim any highbrow reasons. I just simply adore the idea of finding treasure in the middle of what is often the detritus and dross of someone else’s well lived life.  And as treasure is a subjective idea, there’s always something for everyone right?  Someone, I forget who thanks to the sieve that is now my memory, once told me that I had the soul of a chineuse and I had to look up the meaning of the word.  And in fact, one meaning of a chineuer or chineuse is someone who recovers things.  I thought then, as now, that it seemed a lovely way to describe one’s soul.

Well, my chineur of a soul pushed me out of the comforts of home yesterday into the cold and in the special brocante.  As brocantes go, it was a rather large affair with plenty of things to marvel at.   There was no lack of clothing and bags and fur played a starring role in several stands.  It was also packed with people and believe it or not, there was even a queue to get inside?!  There was also a 50s themed band giving a special concert and it really added to the rockabilly spirit of the brocante.  Oddly enough, I learned that there was also a special Burlesque show scheduled just after the brocante.  That explained the number of Dita von Teese wanna be girls walking around. That would have been some photo to take but I’m afraid they didn’t look too receptive to the idea of me taking their photos. I had to content myself with just shamelessly gawking at them. 

Some photos I took...

A nice turntable that still works and that comes with its own luggage

A lovely retro print

Old fashioned weighing scales

Nice bags and jewelry

This lady's stand had a collection of Christian Dior ties

I loved the hand luggage at the back!

Oddly, someone was selling an old post box. 

Fur hats

Fur scarves, though I was pretty scared by them. They looked too animal like even for me!

Someone's bits and bobs, including an old compass and coat hanger in the shape of a gun!

Someone's collection of powder cases but in fine croco...

And finally,my own find of the day! A beautiful 60s era necklace made of brilliantly faceted jet stones! A lovely lovely piece that made my trip out into the cold well worth it.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Its off to the fair we go

 This weekend was an important one for professionals in the fashion industry.  At least five fashion-related trade shows were held at the Porte de Versailles as . Normally these trade fairs are open only to professionals like buyers, journalists and designers and not to the general public.  Last September however, I was able to attend one of the tradeshows thanks to a friend’s invitation. It was an interesting experience as you get a first look at various designers’ upcoming collections.  And hwile there are established names, there are also a number of new and relatively unknown designers showing their wares for the first time. For new designers, these trade fairs are one of the most important means to show their wares and make themselves known to the buyers from the big stores.  It is quite exciting to think that the next Marc Jacobs or Rachel Comey could be one of these designers. 

This time around I was a little more prepared and instead of inveigling an invitation, I secured my very own badge for the trade fair I was most interested in—the Eclat de Mode.  This is one of the biggest international trade shows dedicated to jewelry. Everything from fashion jewelry to precious gold and gems from jewelers all over the world were in the Eclat de Mode.  So you can imagine my excitement as I set out for the fair. Not even the nasty cold rain dampened my spirits.

I arrived at the Porte de Versailles and was prepared to be dazzled. And dazzled I was.  Unfortunately pictures were not allowed and I only managed to sneak a few under the eagle gaze of the security.  Imagine if you will a huge and cavernous hall filled with stand after stand of all kinds of jewelry.  I can’t even begin to describe the sights.  I felt a little like Ali Baba in the presence of so much gold, except that there were no thieves and I wasn’t there to steal anything.   Gold and diamonds while well represented shared equal billing with fashion jewelry of which there is always big demand. After all, not everyone can treat themselves to a solid gold, gem studded dazzler of a cuff but we can all indulges ourselves with a nice pair of dangly earrings that doesn’t quite carry the same hefty price tag but is nonetheless equally pretty.  What really impressed me was the sheer creativeness of a lot of the works on display. One Brazilian stand carried jewelry made out of some native fiber, cunningly reworked to resemble gold thread.  While visiting their stand I had a sudden image of Rumpelstilskin working for these Brazilians.  A Turkish stand had wonderful necklaces that made extremely creative use of freshwater pearls.  I had to take their card and the next time I visit Istanbul, I firmly intend to hunt down their store.

One innovation of this year’s fair is the addition of a section whereby professionals can buy their stock from wholesalers. And here, I literally had to take a moment to catch my breath for there were (I kid you not), rows and rows and rows of all kinds of gems, stones, minerals, crystals, glass beads, resin, wood, Mother of Pearl, and tons of other materials, that could all be used in the process of making beautiful jewelry.  It literally took my breath away because unlike the other stands, you could actually take home some of these precious beauties. So I started to ask around and alas, here is where they separate the major players from the wanna-be players.  One stand had a minimum purchase policy of 200 euros. Gulp. But another had a whopping 1000 Euros minimum purchase policy. Suddenly the 200 euro min didn’t seem to bad after seeing that!  After spending what felt like hours in this section, I had to literally tear myself away after firmly telling myself to “WALK AWAY” from a 200 year old strand of trade fair Venitian beads that looked like it had lived through an awful lot of history and was the loveliest shade of lavender I ever did see.

This section featured young and unknown designers 

But my day wasn’t finished with its store of surprises. Imagine my great surprise and pleasure at discovering that the Philippines had 4 booths participating at the fair.   How wonderful to see Pinoy creations!  Easily the best booth was that by Janice Minor from Cebu.  She was there to exhibit, for the first time her Binibini collection which is composed of jewelry and accessories.  Her collection is a wonderful illustration of how beautiful our native materials are and how extremely talented and creative Pinoys can be.  The jewelry on display were crafted from minerals like Jaspers and petrified wood, all endemic to the Philippines and they were big and bold and as global chic looking as you could want them to be. What I really liked though were her bags.  Her designs are clean and modern with a bit of ethnic twist thrown in but cleverly executed in such unexpected materials as raffia and tinalak.  I tried to buy one of her bags, that’s how much I liked them but I was told that they had to have the complete collection on hand for the Milan Trade Fair.  For a split second, I tried to imagine going to Milan but well, we haven’t won the lotto yet.  For the Philippine market, the big launch is in March at the Home and Accessories trade fair in Cebu. I strongly suggest that you look for their wares, if you should find yourself somewhere in the vicinity of Cebu during this time. I can’t tell you how proud I was at seeing a fellow Filipino in such a setting.

Some of her bags

Friday, January 21, 2011

All it takes

When we took a walk outside our usual haunts the other day, we discovered a wonderful new cookie and chocolate shop called Meert. What attracted me was their wonderful window display.  Meert’s window featured wonderful gift wrapped boxes and a lovely cake stand filled with what looked like the most delectable waffle cookies. One look and I had to step in.

Inside, even more delights await the visitor.  There was box after beautiful box of the most sinful looking chocolates. There were mendiants with their mix of pistachio and orange, sables in dark and milk chocolate, truffle filled ones and various assortments of chocolates from all over the world. If that weren’t enough, they also had scrumptious looking candied fruits, caramel, marshmallows and confiture. I tell you, my head spun just taking in all the goodies that surrounded me. 

Isn't this a wonderful display of goodies?

The yummy boxes of chocolates

Finally, hard as it was to narrow down my choice, I went with a box of the house specialty –La Gaufre Vanille.   But as was painstakingly pointed out to me, these are no ordinary waffles. They are vanilla filled waffles made according to the Meert’s traditional recipe dating back from the 19th century. They even hold the proud distinction of having been the official supplier of King Leopold I in 1864. In more recent history, their waffles were the personal favorite of General De Gaulle. So you see how I had to have a box of them right?

Now the question is, did the waffles live up to their not inconsiderable hype? The answer is a resounding YES.  They are simply divine.  One bite and the vanilla explodes in your mouth in a creamy burst while the waffle cookie acts as a melodious counterpoint to all the sweetness. The taste transports me and I can well imagine King Leopold likewise enjoying the taste centuries before me. 

I have to restrain myself from eating more than one at a time, heck, from not finishing the whole box in one sitting. It is that good.

I think its safe to say that I’m going to be frequenting their establishment.

La Gaufre Vanille

a clever way of packaging the cookies

 I couldn't leave with just one box so I indulged in one of their chocolates. Its too pretty to open so I'm saving this pleasure for another day...maybe when it turns all gray and snowy and I'll need a little pick- me up.

Practical Details
16, rue Elzevir
75003, Paris
01 49 96 56 90

Monday, January 17, 2011

A day out of the city

 Yesterday was a blessedly sunny and mild day for winter.  A visit to a family member in Versailles was the perfect way to take advantage of such weather.  No matter how many times I visit Versailles, a glimpse of the castle always induces  a sigh of appreciation. It truly is a wondrous place, one worth visiting over and over. I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised as Versailles used to be the capital of the French Kingdom for close to a century.

And while the Chateau de Versailles is the main draw for the hordes of tourists who come by train, bus or car, it is also a thriving and modern suburb of Paris.  One proof being, the Starbucks that has just set up shop not far from the Mairie or Town Hall.  I never noticed before but the Town Hall is itself a pretty imposing looking building. It has beautiful grounds and provides the perfect photo opportunity to couples who get married in the Mairie.

Our discovery of the day was, no, not the Starbucks, but a little creperie place not far from it.  It doesn’t look like much from the outside but I’m so glad we gave it a try. Believe it or not, it is hard to find a place that does decent crepes.  Usually the crepes are too dry or too thick or not tasty but Le Dolmen actually does pretty good ones. They have a good selection of savory crepes and an even better list of sweets.  We downed our crepes with good cidre and we left with happy bellies.  All in all a pretty sweet day.

As we were hungry, we chose the Gargantua and it had cheese, tomatos, ham and ground beef! It sounds a bit like a strange combination but it was delicious!

For desert I had to try their caramel crepe.  So yummy!!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A perennial favorite

 Full Measure's post about Provence got me reminiscing about the last trip we took there.  Provence is easily one of our favorite, if not most favorite place in France. There's just something about this region that keeps us coming back.  When I learned that one of the biggest antique fairs in Europe was held in this region twice a year, I jumped (to be honest, I insisted) at the chance to visit Provence yet again. The fair is held at the pretty little town of L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.  What a fantabulous town it is! Least of its charms is the fact that it is full of wonderful antique shops that are open the whole year round and they have one of the best Sunday markets in the whole region. For antique die-hards, this is like heaven. I know I felt like I was in heaven!

The town itself dates back from the 12th century  and it made its fortune from silk industry. It was renowned for its silk weavers and  paper mills which were powered by the many water wheels of the town.  I can't say enough about how charming everything was. I loved the charming little town square  and the little restaurants around it. But I loved most the way the river Sorgue wends its way all through the town and you can still sit along its banks and dip your toes into the water.  

After I took this picture, a family of ducks came swimming by...

As for the antique fair, it truly was a grand affair.  As you can imagine, there was everything and anything one could possible wish for. 

From french linens and cabinets...

To tables and chairs and other bric-a-brac

 Innumerable pots and vases...

I loved this little courtyard filled with five antique shops selling garden ware

Now we lucked out because while there was the giant Antique fair, we were also there for the Sunday market.  Much of the town was closed to car traffic and stalls sprouted up like mushrooms after the rain. And here, you could find wonderful Provencal wares like these beautiful bowls. I couldn't resist and brought home a couple to add to my now growing bowl collection ....

Pretty dried artichoke flowers..

All sorts of olives pickled and marinated in various spices and oils...

Aromatic spices....

The most wonderful olive oil outside sniff and you were transported....

And of course dried lavender flowers

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A magical little store

 The Village St. Paul used to be known for its antique stores and weekend antique fairs. People used to come in droves to browse the different offerings on display.  Unfortunately, an overzealous mayor closed down the weekend market and since then the Village has become much quieter. Many stores were obliged to close. Only rarely now are there weekend markets.  My favorite of the antique stores however is still open. Its this tiny shop filled to the brim with all sorts of things. I first noticed it because of the lights. It seemed to be full of light so I wandered in.  Imagine if you will then the store full of little lamps of all shapes and styles.  No wonder it was so bright.

After my eyes got accustomed to the light, I looked around me and found that they stocked all manner of things. From those old fashioned French cafe bowls to linens to kettles to bird cages! All of them well preserved and beautiful in a lived in sort of way. These things look like they had stories to tell if only they could speak.

Just look at their wall, full of light scones and frames and other bric a brac....

Today as I walked by, they had changed the display and put in the window this pretty little kettle.
To be sure the store is not for everyone, especially those with an eye for all things new and modern. But there's something to be said about a place that carries so many items with soul.

What better way to spend the first day of the year than to be surrounded by beautiful artwork in a magnificent house turned museum? 

The Musee Jacquemart-Andre was originally the home of Edouard Jacquemart and Nelie Andre. The couple were inveterate collectors of Italian and Oriental art and luckily for us, they bequeathed their house and collection to the Institut de France, which opened the house to the public  in 1913.  The house itself is a magnificent structure, with its gracious lines but the real showstopper of course is the art. I mean, they had me at their Grand Salon where I spied a Canaletto hanging on the wall.  I’ve only ever seen Canalettos in museum and here was one hanging almost casually on the wall. It boggles the mind to think that it used to be someone’s personal belonging.  Imagine, having one now in your home and you could gaze at it anytime you wanted.   Amazing right? If that wasn’t enough, the couple’s former dining room is now a café, yes, where you can sit and take your leisure and while there, you have to remember to look up and gaze at the Tiepolo painted ceiling. That’s right, Tiepolo.

The rest of the house is filled with beautiful turn of the century furniture and they had as well a fantastic collection of delicate Limoges porcelain. I loved their winter garden, this one inside the house decorated with lush exotic plants lending the room with an almost tropical look. From here, one ascends the imposing double staircases where one can once more look at yet another Tiepolo fresco. I wish I had taken more pictures of the house, but its hard to capture such beauty and grace.

Apart from its wondrous art collection, the Museum now regularly hosts temporary exhibitions. Currently running until the 24th of January is a special exhibit on Rubens, Poussin and other 17th century artists.  It’s a rich exhibit and I discovered the works of Pierre Patel L’Ancien.  I especially loved his Paysage de ruines avec un berger.  What a great discovery!

Here's a view of the house's facade

Musee Jacquemart Andre
158 blvd. Haussman
75008, Paris