Monday, February 28, 2011

Over at the Opera

I learned a curious thing recently. Individuals may participate in vide-greniers/brocantes  only twice a year. Otherwise they are considered professional brocanteurs.  I always thought that participating in one was a great way to get rid of your unwanted things though my experience of brocantes have always been on the buyer side and only once on the seller side.  You rent a stand, bring your table and things then spend the whole day trying to sell them.  Most of the people will try to bargain down your already rock bottom prices, but that’s part of the fun. And for the most part, your co-brocanteurs are a friendly lot. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of a professional brocanteurs. I suppose they are the modern equivalent of the itinerant peddlars of yore.  They spend their days buying up people’s old things and then selling them at various parts of the city.  In the really major brocantes, like the Bastille and Chatou, you have brocanteurs coming from all over France, some as far as the South of France.  I don’t think that it’s an easy life, but everyone I’ve talked to seem to enjoy it and can’t imagine being tied down to a store.  That said, there are some brocanteurs who are professional and properly accredited antique dealers whose wares often carry hefty price tags.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

La Dolce Vita

For many, Rome is the Eternal City.  Indeed, there are layers and layers of history to be found in this city which was once the capital of one of the mightiest empires the world has ever since.  For such an ancient city it carries its age well; its old buildings living harmoniously, even nonchalantly with its young inhabitants.  I love that there is always something to new discover.  We stepped off well- trodden and known paths and our reward was the discovery of a charming part of Rome, we hadn’t seen before.

Capital de la mode

Returning from an evening stroll, we came across a photo shoot. Suddenly a normal quiet little street turned for a brief moment into a backdrop for fashion. Excitedly, I whipped out my camera to record the moment. Alas, my enthusiasm wasn't matched by my camera's capabilities hence this blurry photo.  But its exciting when Paris lives up to its title--capital of fashion.

Monday, February 21, 2011

On the other side of the river

Going to brocantes is starting to be a real habit (dear friends, do you think it should be a weekly feature of the blog?).  It doesn’t help that there seems to be one every weekend.   Case in point, it was a rainy weekend but there were at least 2 or 3 in the city.  I thus decided to visit one that I’ve never been too. Boulevard Grenelle where this week’s brocante was held is all the way in the 15th arrondissement, across the river.  The fifteenth is mostly residential and is full of young families.  It is a quiet area with no major sites except for a few museums here and there so perhaps it is less interesting to tourists. But it is full of restaurants and cafes that can be quite good.  I was thus unsure whether the brocante would be worth the trek it took to get there. It didn’t help that there was a constant drip of water from the unrelenting rain. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

A mystery

Within the past year or so, I've become a fan of Petit Bateau. They make lovely children's clothes and the section for adults is not bad either.  Every time I go to the store though, my attention is inevitably caught by a sign hanging a few doors down. When my curiosity became too much, I peeked. Unfortunately it was closed with a sign saying "Fermeture Exceptionnel" (Exceptionally closed). At that time, I didn't think much of it. I just shrugged it off as the typical eccentric shopkeeper keeping odd hours. French ones are known to do that.

 But as time passed, I noticed that the store was always closed. But how could that be? It got to the point where every time I went to Petit Bateau, I would automatically walk down the few steps to see if La Licorne was finally open. Finally I couldn't bear it anymore, I started to do a little digging about this mysterious store. And what do you know? It is a store after my own heart. It turns out that the owner has been selling jewelry manufactured by their family owned company from this store for the past 38 years.  Others who have had the pleasure of browsing inside the store describe it as filled to the brim with all kinds of jewelry from jet necklaces to vintage Swarovski earrings.  You can just imagine my frustration when I read that!

Now I am really consumed with curiosity and I wonder, when oh when, will they ever reopen their doors?  Just the other day, I passed by again, and I felt sad at all the beautiful pieces locked behind this door, gathering dust and never seeing the light of day. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Delicate things

The first time I went to the Antiquities Brocante at the Bastille, I remember being awestruck by this wonderful 1920s lace cloth of the most delicious shade of yellow. It was a remarkable piece. I remember too stroking it for the longest time to the bemusement of the lady seller.  Unfortunately I left the brocante without it as due to its great age, it had not survived unscathed. A slight tear towards the bottom marred its perfection.  The seller was willing to give me a discounted price due to the tear and my inner voice told me to buy it right then and there but the cold voice of reason won out. What, it asked me, would I do with such a fragile piece of cloth? And it was torn to boot.  I’ve regretted it ever since. Its funny how loss can make one realize just how much one wants what is gone.  I suppose this is true for a lot more things than a piece of cloth from a bygone era. But as I write this, I realize that I love lace. There’s something so elegant, so refined and old world about it.  If the wear and tear of daily life would just permit it, I would swan about dressed always in the delicate weaves of a lace pattern.  When I do indulge myself, I find myself gliding, rather than striding about, holding myself erect rather than hunched over and weighed down by my everyday things.  

Imagine then my happiness when I discovered a darling little store just full of the most beautiful lace dresses and linens. Perhaps I'll find the twin of my lost lace cloth or perhaps I'll find something else equally precious.  Au fil d’Elise with its inventory of over 1000 pieces, ranging from the 1800s to the 1950s, is the kind of place you can spend hours in, just browsing and marveling at the treasures contained within its walls. It helps greatly that the owner is patient and nice enough to answer all your questions.  The store itself is luminous and full of charming and whimsical decorative touches.  

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What makes a collection?

A recent post of Full Measure on her collection got me thinking about things I’ve collected over the years. My collections have always tended towards books (whenever I move, I bring my favorite tomes despite the weight) or personal adornment (I love jewelry!). I’ve never had an affinity for household ware. Imagine my surprise then when I found myself the proud owner of different pitchers. Yes, you read it right, pitchers. 

It started innocently enough with a trip to St Tropez, a few years back. The weekly market had a stall selling provencal dishes typical of the region and I couldn’t resist this wonderful red and yellow hand painted one. I remember thinking how wonderful the colors would look in my yellow kitchen so I bought it. I thought no more of it.

Till last year when at a small antique fair, I found myself endlessly admiring this tall orange gold pitcher. I imagined myself making peach ice tea in it during the long scorching days of summer and inviting like- minded ladies for a long leisurely chat. I felt a little like a Southern belle with this particular one.  Of course summer has come and gone, and along with it my summer party, but I have hopes for the next one.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The new kid on the block

I was coming home after running a mundane errand, as errands often are, when I noticed the façade of a brightly lit store. Up close it was even more interesting as it was chock full of chocolates. It seems that a new chocolate shop had just opened. This is no ordinary chocolate shop however, as it proudly carries the distinction of Meilleur Ouvrier en France or the MOF. This distinction, which is unique in France, is  awarded to those considered the best in their craft or trade.  Originally created in 1924, the MOF seeks to recognize the savoir-faire of craftsmen and has now evolved to include trades in high technology. I dare say though that it carries much weight for those in the artisanal trades.  Here in France, much pride is taken in producing the best bread, best pastries, chocolates and even butchers.  To be awarded such a distinction is to be recognized by one’s peers in the trade as well as the grand public.  How then can I resist the opening of a store that carries such a distinction?

Georges Larnicol is in the biscuit and chocolate trade and is originally from Bretagne.  Tempting and luscious chocolate displays abounded but the house speciality is the Kouign Amann, a sweet pastry made predominantly from butter. Lots of it. Fortunately for our respective cholesterol levels, he has decided to make smaller versions of his sinful dessert—the kouignettes. It comes in different flavors including pistachio, caramel, citron, framboise and chocolate. As everything looked equally scrumptious, I opted to try the plain, citron and caramel. Verdict? A sweet mouthful that is even better when warmed up so its all gooey and soft and literally melts in your mouth.  Be warned though, you gotta work off all the calories you get from partaking this sweet goodie.

the house specialty

The Kouign Amman

There was nonetheless a huge selection of macarons, which uses no animal fat and only vegetable dye

Pots of caramel which is another Breton specialty

Chocate piece montee

Rows of different chocolates and biscuits

Am I the only one tempted by the chocolate lollipops?

The beautiful chocolate display

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Book candy

Photo courtesy of

Every so often, I’ll reach out for a book purely for escapist reasons. Much like we would reach out for a bag of smarties I suppose.  Lately I’ve had a thing for Scandinavian police thrillers.  Blame it on Stieg Larsson. After Stieg, I tried Henning Mankell and promptly fell for Inspector Wallander.  My newest inspector of choice comes from the pen of Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo.  I first met Harry Hole in The Snowman and he’s not your typical hero. He’s an almost recovering alcoholic, he’s just lost the love of his life, and is neck deep in a grisly investigation. Flaws aside, or maybe precisely because of his flaws, I was hooked on the story. I literally couldn’t put the book down.  After finishing it, I had to have more. But this time, I wanted to know the back story of Harry Hole. Is this a sign of true addiction? Probably. That didn’t stop me from buying The Redbreast, one of the earliest in the series.

Here, we meet Harry before he even becomes an inspector and it is to Nesbo’s credit that he is able to create a character that we can fully sympathize with. Unlike maybe Mankell, Nesbo’s touch with Harry Hole is a bit lighter. He is not as dour as Wallander though they both share a thing for the bottle.  The Redbreast story itself is vividly told and as fast paced as later books in the series.  It also deals with racism and Neo-Nazism, something that Larsson also dealt with in his Millenium trilogy.  Despite the Scandinavian image of pristine whiteness (blame it on all the snow?), I have the impression from reading all these books that there is an underlying darkness in their national psyche. Is it their way of dealing with their history during the WWII?  Hmmm, maybe its not such light reading after all.

What’s your book candy of choice?