Ah, the Antiques Roadshow, the Mecca for antique lovers and collectors. Who among us has not watched this well-loved show and marveled at the treasures seemingly ordinary people like me (and maybe you) have in their homes?
When a dear friend from college invited me to accompany her to the recent event in New York City, I jumped at the chance, grateful for the opportunity. She and her sister had entered the lottery for tickets. Sis had won, but couldn't attend - so my friend Anne and I were the lucky recipients.
We met up at Penn Station, caught up over breakfast, and walked over three long avenue blocks to the Jacob Javits Center. I had a love-hate relationship with the Javits Center - I took the bar (shiver) and passed it too, there, several years ago. But Saturday our trip was purely for pleasure, and the Javits Center shed all its unpleasant associations, with the good karma of excited, friendly hords, each clutching their booty.
The show is well-organized. Upon entrance, tickets are checked, and you are directed to the appropriate line, based upon the time you entered the building. We were assigned to the 11am line, conveniently rapid moving and a direct path to the rest rooms. It was easy to make friends in line. The ladies in front of us were about to become mothers-in-law, and told us their children were marrying in two weeks. One had a Chinese bronze, the other an early American painting, unsigned. The woman in back of us had a very interesting "last rites" kit her Irish grandmother had had in her house, complete with candles and instructions. A young woman joining the end of the line carried a spectacular gold sequined Broadway costume. I asked her if it fit, and she excitedly told me yes, and that she had just had her picture taken in it. Across the way, a good son was helping his mother bring two ladder back chairs.
When we reached the head of the line, we were directed to a table where an assistant took a quick peak at our pieces, and gave us tickets for the appropriate appraisal line. I got a ticket for Pottery and Silver, and Anne got a ticket for Asian Art and Tribal.
We started with Tribal. This line was surprisingly long, surpassed only by Asian Art, Paintings and Jewelry. Anne found out that a little statue from her aunt's estate was a whistle from Central America. It was not worth much, but we both were far more interested in finding out about our pieces than the monetary value. We next went to silver, because the line was fairly short. I had a small, exquisite single serving tea set. The appraiser looked at me sadly and told me it was plate, not sterling. I assured him I knew this and didn't care. He wasn't able to shed much light on the set, except to say he thought it dated from the early 1900s. From there we went to pottery. I had brought a small pitcher I obtained near Limours, green glazed outside, yellow inside.
The first words out the appraiser's mouth were: "It's not a taker." He told me it was European, and only identified it as French after I told him where I bought it. I was a little surprised he didn't pronounce it French right away, as the green and yellow is such a traditional glaze combination in Provence. However, I did learn that it was a measuring cup of 1/8 of a liter, it was fired on an electric kiln, and was probably made in the 50s or 60s. He told me sternly that I should not have paid more than 5 euros for it. I told him quite cheerfully: "That's exactly what I paid for it!" I still consider it one of my treasures though, for the proportion of its shape and the emerald green glaze.
Finally, we waited a long time in the Asian Art line. Who knew there was so much Asian Art in private homes in America? Anne's mother had a Chinese bronze, which was the big winner of the day. Score! At least one item broke the three figure mark. After a quick beer and a snack, we bid adieu and hied to our respective homes.
It was a very fun day, a little hard on the feet from so much standing, but seeing all the beautiful items, meeting all the people - so friendly - and learning a bit more about what we had made it worth the trip.
IIn many ways France is still a traditional country. While the number of actively religious citizens may be fewer than in years past, it is still not unusual to serve fish on Fridays. It was not unusual in my house growing up, either. I grew up in an Italian-American family with seafaring ancestors, and a father and grandfather who often took us fishing. Having fried or grilled Mackerel, Bluefish or Bonita was certainly not new to me. But my dear mother and grandmother always cleaned and deboned the day's catch.
Not so in France. Every Friday night, my landlady would prepare a traditional fish dinner. It was always delicious. But my pleasure was inevitably tempered by the fear of choking. Madame did not usually serve her "poisson" with the head still on, but the fish was not deboned. I remember cautiously putting the fork to my mouth and very carefully and gently chewing, to identify any errant little bones. I think Madame simply found this appalling ignorance as more evidence of the inferiority of American ways, but by the end of the year, I had learned how to debone a fish with refinement.
All of this came back to me in a flash late last year, when I took my daughter and niece to Chartier Bouillon for dinner. It had been cold and rainy in Paris. We were lucky enough to get a table just before the rush started, without any wait. As usual, we had a funny, funny waiter, who should have had a day job as a stand up comic. He took good care of us though. We sat back, drank our wine and savored our entrees (endive with blue cheese, simple and exquisitely delicious). We made friends with the table next to us and translated the menu for them. Then our meals came. The waiter proudly set a plate with a big smiling fish in front of me. I was suddenly unnerved, a thing that rarely happens to me. I had ordered the d'aurade, and had forgotten the usual French presentation of the whole fish! For the first time I truly understood the phrase "glassy-eyed." That fish was staring right at me, no matter how hard I tried to look away.
My pride, and that of America's, was at stake. I couldn't falter in front of my girls, the table next to us, and least of all our waiter! My decades old training took over, and in a flash I remembered the trick to deboning a fish at table in a cultured manner. Don't worry; it's not hard. I carefully slit the fish in half horizontally, and gently turned out the top half. (Don't do this in an Asian restaurant though; it's considered bad luck. Just flake away the top flesh to expose the bones.) Using my fish knife and fork, I found the central bone, or "vertebrae," carefully lifted out the entire skeleton, and then the "rib cage" bones separately. Crisis resolved; dinner, delicious. After deboning, it's personal choice as to whether the head and tail should be cut away; many people think the head contains some of the best flesh. I confess: I concentrated on the middle, not the ends.
Practice this at home a few times. Then, the next time you're in Paris, elsewhere in France, or an Asian restaurant, you won't hesitate to order a whole fish. You'll have some good eating and impress your friends, too.
Photo credit: under creative commons license: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Tvabutzku1234
Check out my latest article on My French Life® - you'll learn a lot AND be amused:
You may have seen the new dresses and baby wear we've added to Parlez-Vous Provence. They are made in Draguinan in the south of France. Arlette Forstier, the owner of l'Ensoleillade ("sunbeam" or "lighting up"), very kindly agreed to be interviewed by me, as well as share an article from Nice Matin. We'd like to tell you a little bit about her background and the design sense that is so apparent in her beautiful creations. Pardon in advance for any clumsy translation.
In Draguignan, Arlette Forestier creates household linens and apparel, 100% "made in France," sold in boutiques in Provence as well as abroad. She is a little bit of woman, who never stops, not even for catastrophes. Since she created l'Ensoleillade in 1997, she has survived a fire in April 2006 and floods in June 2010. Each time, she lost everything, and each time, she rebounded.
Specializing in the manufacture of table and kitchen accessories (napkins, towels, runners, fabric baskets) and in apparel (dresses and skirts for little girls, skirts for women), she uses fabric printed in the eastern region of France, to her specifications, or fabrics like jacquard. She favors the motifs of Provence, from the classic to the modern, and has exclusive rights to certain designs, like those in her Estérel range.
In the beginning, says Arlette, apparel represented about 90% of her production, and table accessories about 10%. Now, it's the inverse - 90% table accessories, 10% apparel. Her company invests about 300,000 euros each year in fabrics. They are all cut and sewn by her "very good team" in her atelier in Draguinan, where foreign clients come to verify everything is, indeed, "made in France." About 30% of her sales are for export, and the rest are sold domestically, some in her own boutiques in Nice.
When we asked Arlette, and her daughter Estelle, whether they themselves designed the beautiful, classic clothes, they told us: "Yes. For our exclusive dress prints, we look for motifs and colors with the help of a design agency (n.b. - these are the powers-that-be behind fashion trends) or a designer works in collaboration with us in creating the motif. Because of this, our dresses and designs are exclusive to l'Ensoleillade." So these beautiful little dresses won't be found just anywhere - not even on 5th Avenue! But we have them - for the time being.
Here it is, almost Easter, and Passover has come and gone. Best wishes to all our friends, whatever holidays they celebrate – the more the merrier. We need more faith, love and joy in the world, whatever the source.
We’ve been trying to decide lately what direction to take our company. Our goal is to provide high quality and unique home decor and accessories, at fair prices. We want everyone to have beautiful things. Beauty is not an element for the elite; it’s for everyone.
Sometimes, it seems as though these simple aspirations are out of touch with consumers. While we sell our tablecloths at prices equal to or lower than many other companies, and have pledged 5% of our profits to Women for Women International, consumers don’t seem to recognize that high quality costs money – but is less wasteful in the long run. Others have referred to our wares as “fake,” because they’re not made by Souleiado, even though our manufacturers have been around since the 1930s, and the tablecloths are sewn in the South of France. Sometimes it’s downright discouraging, when we have a big table full of delicious things at a corporate vendor day, and no one stops by to look or even chat.
But then, out of the blue, you get a week like this one. Ma Vie Française® accepted my ideas for a series of articles. Someone called out of thin air just to tell us how unique and beautiful our web site was; another bought a copy of Henri à Paris. A third person called to let us know she loved our scarves, and could we send one to a friend for her birthday? We could indeed, including a pretty card, iris colored tissue paper and a lavender ribbon. A fourth person, having just received her April Newsletter, promptly read it and called looking for our new nail polish, the infinity scarf the Easter Bunny modeled for us (take a look at the Newsletter), and an Eiffel Tower tea towel – she was a repeat customer, so we were doubly happy. A new friend in Sweden ordered a yellow and lavender treated tablecloth.
In all modesty, here are a few comments:
I can’t thank you enough for all of your help! It means so much to me….Now I am going to go shopping for myself…and explore all your beautiful treasures. The kimono…❤ With Gratitude, L.
What a beautiful book (7 Secrets of French Design). You write wonderfully….The reader goes on a “French Journey”….I told [my sister-in-law] all about you and your website. She’s an instant fan…J.
Thank you for the cologne. I did try it and it’s lovely, light and breezy. Reminded me of a summer’s day in the French countryside….
So sometimes, just when you’re beating yourself up, the seeds you’ve sewn, of inspiration and hard work, may germinate and start growing. It’s a really good lesson, as we coddle our little business, and as I begin practicing law again and studying for yet another Bar Exam. Patience, patience and more patience. Faith, faith and more faith. As wise professor Penny Gill told my graduating class at Mount Holyoke College, don’t scare your seeds, or they won’t come up. Don’t yell at them, or neglect them; love them and watch with patience and faith.
À la prochaine,
Hello, lovely lovely spring. We are ready for you.
Even though it is still threatening to snow here in the New York City area, and we had single digit readings this morning, it is undeniably spring. The warm weather has come to Paris and the Ile de France. Here, the pollen count is up, although we can barely fathom that, with the cold and tremendous winds we’ve had – the trees are braver than we. And finally, we have seen the first sprouting of the daffodil bulbs in the garden, although it appears the winter has done in our little hellebore transplants so lovingly dug in last year. We’ll try again.
(This is a repost of a blog entry from Christmas 2011/New Year's 2012)
Yesterday morning, as you already know, Adriana and I ventured out to chercher du pain. The neighborhood boulangerie is a tiny little place, open at 7 am sharp, when it is still quite dark, and specializes in pain aux noix. We can vouch for its deliciousness.
After breakfasting, cleaning up, etc., we sortied again, with a list of errands. Extension cord at the hardware store, check. Rolling pin at the hardware store, check. Besotted youth staring at Adriana with open mouth, check. On to the metro, to Place Monge. This is a well known market area, and although some of the vendors were taking down their stands, plenty were open for business. We bought apples for clafouti, escarole for white bean soup, lentil samosas, and then, as though it were fate, we saw the scarf man. Hundreds of beautiful silk scarves and foulards from the Indian side of Pakistan, gorgeous colors, designs, weaves. Of course, we ended up spending more than intended, for who can resist such accessible beauty?
From there we walked down Rue Mouffetard, literally down the cobble stone hill, and made our way home.
Recipe of the day:
White bean and escarole soup
1 head of escarole
cloves of garlic to taste (I used three or four)
approximately 16 oz can of white (cannellini) beans, or cook your own dried beans
Saute the garlic in a little butter and olive oil (the butter taste makes a big difference, even a little, so try it). I used a very big frying pan. Add the well-washed escarole, after having torn the core out and freeing the leaves. You can tear the leaves gently if you wish; our head was quite big, so we tore.
Add the escarole to the pan. The leaves should still be wet from washing. Let the escarole steam gently; you can turn it over once every few minutes, and add a little water if needed. This method worked to retain most of the bright green color. Once the escarole is well steamed and quite reduced, add the canned or cooked white beans (cannellini) and let this simmer gently for ½ hour or so. If you don’t drain the beans, you will only have to add a little more water to make a nice broth, gently scented from the garlic and slightly bitter taste of the escarole.
Serve hot, with grated cheese on top and fresh bread to soak up the pot liquor. Be sure to have fresh pepper to garnish; this really brings out the flavor. Serve with a robust red wine and good friends.
Quote of the day:
“I’m not buying Masonite in Paris.”