Sunday, April 27, 2008

Provence a la Beth -- Part Deux

So sorry for the delay in reporting on the final weekend of our Paris to Provence adventure. Our youngest son, Morgan, is moving to NYC next month, and it has been a family effort to get his “fixer” house ready for selling. Last Sunday we did a pinkie swear that none of us need to buy a fixer upper house again! He’s done a fabulous job with his 1920s Craftsman house. And now it seems like it has been ages since we returned home from France. (The six inches of snow we received last week also added more weirdness to my time continuum.)

Our last weekend in Provence was crammed full of thrills and one slight spill. We started Saturday with our guide, Jill, driving our rental car for us to Cassis, which is just east of Marseille. My husband, Raoul, was happy as a clam to be in the backseat and not behind the wheel with roundabout after roundabout to maneuver. Our first stop was to the vide grenier in Cassis. Its’ American counterpart would be a community garage sale. The 100 participants turned out to be about 10 people selling mainly baby and children’s clothes and toys. It was just like at home when you drive to an alleged estate sale and find nothing vintage or estatey about it! I did buy a couple of metal carpenter’s rulers, so all was not lost. Plan B was to enjoy a nice café crème in an outdoor bistro with a lovely view of the Mediterranean. Cassis is gorgeous! We had planned to take a boat ride to visit the calanques (narrow small inlets along the coast) anyway, so our time line got pushed up with another kind of sailing.

The color of the sea water in these narrow inlets was emerald/turquoise/stunning. Of course there were Roman ruins all along the coast, but by day 10 in France, we were much more excited about the color of the water.

Back on land, it was time to head to the brocante in Sanary Sur Mer. We headed further east along the Mediterranean coastline and landed in the most breathtaking site for an antique market I’ve ever visited. Yachts and palm trees and blue skies. The sea on one side and table after table of the real deal vintage/antique-wise on the other. Not long after we started exploring, we found a few tables that had so many things on my wish list – religious medals, rosaries, small sterling purses and jewelry. The dealer was one of the friendliest we had met, and we spent the next two hours getting acquainted. Jill kept up a running conversation with Fabien, our new favorite dealer. I looked at all the secret boxes of loot he would bring out from under the tables to show me. Rose wine in a small glass pitcher was served. I kept adding one treasure after another to my pile, wondering if I could afford all of it. In the end I received very fair prices along with the history on lots of the pieces.

Sunday was our final shopping day and boy, did it deliver! First stop the brocante on the outskirts of Aix. Some canopies and tables in a parking lot with some of the best shopping of the whole trip. We heard one other woman speaking English, and the rest of the crowd were locals. Really fun.

And always that superb cup of coffee.

Our next visit was to an antiques shop, Broc Antiq Provence in Meyrargues, owned by charming Agnes. We had a nice visit, courtesy of Jill’s translation. Agnes’ grandson shyly joined his grandma’s side so he could hear my American accent. Please visit Jill’s blog for terrific pictures of Agnes and our weekend extravaganza.

After lunch we visited a small brocante in Peyrolles and found the dealers had been enjoying their wine for most of the day! The drunker they were, the higher their prices. It was a short visit.

Last stop was a treasure trove of a brocante located in Army barracks where you had to dig a little (or a lot) and imagine how something would look with ages of dust and grime removed. In our previous emails, Jill had learned that I am comfortable in this sort of setting and am happy to work for my bargains.

I loved every minute of our splendid week in Provence!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Provence a la Beth

If you need to get from Paris to Provence, the TGV, France’s bullet train, is the way to go. At speeds up to 200 miles an hour, the journey is a mere three hours long, and that includes one stop along the way. Even at the high speed, you enjoy the gorgeous scenery on the way south.

The fun went up a notch or ten on our second day in Aix when we met Jill Mitchell, our wonderful guide for three days. Before we go any further, the question I’m getting asked a lot is how did I find Jill? My favorite blog (even more than our own!) is Tongue in Cheek, written by Corey Amaro. If I could only read one blog, this would be my choice. She is an American who has lived in France for the last 20 years or so and loves old French stuff. Her writing is poetic as well as chock full of useful info. Last year sometime, she recommended Jill Mitchell of Le Trip as a guide in the Provence area. I checked out Jill’s website and began an email correspondence with her. From her first reply, I knew we would be a great team.

Okay, back to Aix. We meet Jill, and she is wearing a vintage, red fun fur jacket, a jaunty cap, cargo pants and has her plaid plastic rolling cart in hand. It was love at first sight! We headed to the three-times-a-week small flea market in Aix on foot. We scored right away with a lovely religious painting and fabulous painted wood gambling chips that say Provencal on them. (They will be showing up as components in some found objects necklaces I’ll be selling in the future.) Jill is also an American who has lived in Paris and Provence for a while. Her French is perfect. She would negotiate on my behalf, while gathering all sorts of information about the objects we were buying.

Then if you learn nothing else from me ever again, two very important words to learn in French are DEPOT VENTE – thrift store! Jill led the way down an alley to one of the most amazing shopping experiences of my life – vintage French stuff with bargains everywhere. It was a dream come true. The quality was high, the prices were low to reasonable and the inventory ranged from furniture to books to household items. Clothing was the only major food group missing. I knew we (my strong and patient husband Raoul and I) were hand carrying everything back in four suitcases, so the weight and size of something made a difference in my selection. It was truly painful to leave rustic pottery pieces and crystal chandeliers there. Believe me, next time I’ll have shipping figured out.

Raoul and I visited San Remy the following day and really enjoyed the weekly morning market there.

Day four in Provence found us taking a private cooking class with Chef Marc Heracle at his dreamy chateau. Jill had arranged this class for us and gave us detailed instructions of how to meet her outside of town. Then she would drive her car ahead of us so we could follow. We got miserably lost trying to drive out of Aix, and gave her a call to tell her we would be late. She came and rescued us! The thoughtful service we received from her was like this the entire week.
We loved our cooking class.

We loved the chateau.

We loved the buildings surrounding the chateau. This one’s interior was covered in shell mosaics and pieces of charcoal from the 1700s.

We’ll save our weekend of shopping and sailing on the Mediterranean for the next blog post. In the meantime, go check out Jill’s website and blog, and start practicing your French. -- Beth

Friday, April 4, 2008

Paris a la Beth

My husband Raoul and I returned home Tuesday from a grand two week adventure to Paris and Provence. We had spent 10 days in Paris two years ago, and were ready to revisit some of our favorite spots, seek out new places and buy vintage treasures for ourselves and the studio. I’ll save the wonderful details of the Provence leg of our journey for a second blog entry.

The Rue Cler neighborhood near the Eiffel Tower was our Paris hotel location. We stayed at the Hotel Beaugency and would stay there again with its convenient location. After dropping off our suitcases, our first objective was to hit a Tabac (no cigarettes for us, but an easy place to buy the weekly Metro pass). With your orange card, you can hop on and off the subways to your heart’s content for a whole week. I was lost a good part of this trip, but I can read a Metro map with the best of them!

Raoul’s two requests for our Paris stay were to visit L’Orangerie to see Monet’s Water Lilies – immense beautiful paintings in a setting designed just for them, and to spend time at the Marmottan Museum housing the best collection of works by Claude Monet. We enjoyed each immensely and discovered new neighborhoods where each museum was situated.

With that fine dose of culture, I was ready to do some vintage shopping! First up a charming, hidden brocante (which can be the equivalent of an antique store or be a collection of vendors selling vintage collectibles and antiques). The owner of this brocante also is the chef for his adjoining restaurant. How perfect is that! Unfortunately, we didn’t stay for lunch as we were headed to another arrondissement (neighborhood) to have tea with our blogging friend, Tara Bradford of Paris Parfait.

Tara was the first person to comment on our new blog, and I have enjoyed reading her blog for the past year or so. We shared a lovely cup of tea near the Notre Dame Cathedral. Afterwards, Tara guided us to some fascinating streets, and we popped in a few shops. Some red holiday lights strung over a doorway on a side street caught our eyes, and we went in to investigate. Before we knew it, Tara was the proud owner of this gorgeous Art Nouveau glass piece and also a splendid antique beaded purse. It was a really special afternoon.

The best vintage shopping was my favorite flea market from our first visit, Puces de Vanves. It is just my speed – sidewalks crammed with canopies, umbrellas and card tables overflowing with vintage French stuff galore! The button guy from two years ago was in the same spot with an eye popping array of buttons. We loaded up. Our picture taking at this flea market was limited by the weather – boy, it was darn nippy. And to be honest, I was totally distracted with looking and digging for loot.

Our five days in Paris passed in a flash. We spent our last day there taking it easy and exploring the Montparnasse neighborhood where we spotted these amazing doors. The next day we would head to Provence on the TGV – the bullet train - for an incredible week! More Provence tidbits in the next blog entry. --Beth