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.
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.
Not So Secret Paris
Are there any secrets left in Paris anymore? With the advent of the Internet, I venture to guess there are far fewer than there used to be. Still, we’d like to share some of our favorite places that most tourists might miss, places of color, quiet, intimacy or sensory delight.
Royal Gardens behind Comedie Francaise
Photo by MoonSoleil, 2007. originally posted to Flickr at http://flickr.com/photos/8027316@N02/803733466 under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Photo edited for clarity.
Have you been to the Palais Royal Gardens? Our daughter tells us that these gardens have recently been inaccessible due to work, but are now open. Compared to the Tuileries, Bois de Boulogne and the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Palais Royal Gardens are intimate, discreet, and even more classically beautiful. The Duchesse of Orléans, sister in law of Louis XIV, had them installed. There is an alley of trees, large rose plantings, and children’s playground, and one may have a little picnic in this “tucked away” corner, across from the Comédie Franćaise. Sit and imagine the royal children playing among the flowers, followed by anxious nannies, and Louis XIV entering the courtyard to visit his sister in law and nieces.
Sunrise on Sacre Coeur
Il y a belle lurette, or a long time ago, one of my French friends, Bénédicte, told me about going to see the sun rise over Paris from Montmartre - Sacré Coeur to be exact. She and her brother ascended the hill in the not so wee hours (the sun rises quite late in Paris in the winter), and watched as the light began to spread over the city. There had been a little bit of snow, and the effect was magical. It was quiet, and still, and there were few people up and around. Afterward, she and her brother found a little café - quite easy in that neighborhood- and warmed up with hot chocolate. It remained one of her favorite memories.
I too can attest to the magic of the stillness as the yellow-pink rays of light advance over the city, lighting it up quartier by quartier. I remember getting up (relatively) early, and climbing up the steps, to see the “rosy fingered dawn.” There’s never been a better description than Homer’s so we’ll leave it at that. It’s as though Paris belongs to you, and only you, when you can take in the sight with solitude. As the sun completed its ascent, we turned to go, and saw a beautiful young woman, in her bathrobe and slippers, hurry across the street to fetch her bread. It’s good to know that Montmartre is still its own little neighborhood, where families live and work, oblivious to the tourists crawling over Sacré Coeur. Fortunately for them and us, certain times of the day remain private and still, if we make the effort to find them.
Swedish House, or Le Café Suédoise
And no, we don’t mean the band! The Swedish Institute in Paris was established in 1971 as a unique cultural center for Swedes abroad. It hosts expositions, concerts, films, theatre and of course, courses in Swedish. Situated in the Marais, its café is a congenial place to meet friends, and offers delicious Swedish tea treats and meals in its folkloric tea room. At Christmas-time, the courtyard is decorated with a huge version of the traditional straw Swedish horse, found on Christmas trees and holiday decor.
You can find the Café in the Hôtel de Marle, at 11 Rue Payenne, in the Marais. Look for the stone courtyard and the blue door. Alternatively, follow the aroma of the fresh Swedish pastries and brioche made by the staff. The café is open Tuesday through Sunday, from noon to six pm.
The Great Mosque of Paris
The Mosque isn’t quite as well kept a secret as it used to be, but it’s an out of the way respite where you will be warmly and graciously welcomed, in an exotic and mysterious atmosphere. Perfect on that rainy Paris afternoon when the streets are gritty and your feet are tired!
The Mosque was founded in 1926, as a token of gratitude, after World War I, to the Muslim tirailleurs from France’s colonial empire, of whom 100,00 died fighting against Germany. And, let’s remember that during World War II (in which France was occupied by Nazi Germany) and The Holocaust, under its rector Si Kaddour Benghabrit, the mosque served as a secret refuge for Jews, being persecuted by the Axis powers, providing them shelter, safe passage, and fake Muslim birth certificates.
Many aspects of the Mosque are open to the public. There is a fabulous restaurant, where you can experience tagines, couscous and pastries. If you want a break, treat yourself to the Salon de Thé, and imagine yourself in a moorish cafe, surrounded by beautiful, intricate tile tables and walls. The waiter will bring you mint tea or coffee, and you can indulge in sweet, flaky North African pastries. The Salon de Thé is open 7 days a week, from 9:00 am to 11:30 pm.
For the more adventurous, the Mosque offers baths for men and women (strictly segregated) and a souk, or bazaar. You can get a full virtual visit at www.la-mosquee.com.
Share your favorite secret spots in France...
À la prochaine,
All photos unless otherwise noted ©Parlez-Vous Provence.
The French are legendary for many things - haute couture; pastry, bread, cheese and wine brought to the level of fine art, actual fine art, tangos by the Seine, the Eiffel Tower, the glamour of Paris and the ancient charm of its sleepy rural villages. Unfortunately, in the English speaking world, they are legendary for rudeness, snobbery, and impatience with anyone not French, or any poor soul trying to speak French as a second language. If you’ve read this Blog, you know I’ve spent a fair amount of time in France, and I can attest to the true friendliness of the people. You just need to respect them, their culture, and their dogs.
Yes, their dogs. If you want to take a short cut to a French man or woman’s heart, stop to politely and respectfully ask if you may take a photograph of his or her dog:
“Desolé [madame][monsieur], mais est-ce que je peux prendre une photo de votre chien(ne)? Il/Elle est si beau/belle!”
Then make a sincere fuss over canine cuteness, beauty, nobility, good behavior, or any other admirable trait the pup possesses. The French are passionate about their dogs. Dogs are allowed routinely in restaurants, buses, métro cars, markets and cafés. And they are surprisingly very well behaved. Perhaps they are socialized so early that they know how to behave - often better than the children in the family may be.
We met many adorable dogs in France on our last visit, and purposely tried out our theory. Of course it helps that through marriage I have been converted to a “dog person,” (still a “cat person” too of course) and have a deeper appreciation for these best friends of ours. They are entrusted to us and are helpless, so in our family we feel a great responsibility toward our two little dogs, so much so that they may at times have received as much or more attention than our daughter! As a consequence, cooing over a dog is second nature. The French are palpably proud of the delight their canines bring to Americans, and that pride melts away some of their reserve - for it is reserve, usually, and not the unfriendliness it is too often taken for. And of course, while petting an absolutely adorable little dog, smiles abound and can make for a fast bond.
We thought we’d share some of our favorite photos of our French canine friends:
A baby Keeshond we couldn’t resist fawning over in the market in Limours. She just couldn’t stay still, so we were lucky to get even this shot.
Later we learned that her owner, owner’s mother and grandmother owned the local shoe shop, and we made fast friends with them all. In fact, this is the shop that supplies us with Rondinaud slippers, so admiring this little puppy also led to a fun business deal and new friends to visit, and to have visit us.
Take a look at this monsieur’s pale green eyes! And his tongue matches the pink of madame’s coat, although that was probably coincidental. With the French, however, maybe not! He was having a good time accompanying his mistress at the semi-weekly market in Limours, and was quite happy to have his picture taken.
This Dalmation was being so well-behaved at the market. If you look closely perhaps you can see that he had one blue eye and one hazel eye. And he loved the camera.
And finally, one of the sweetest little friends we made. He traveled in style in a beautiful cart lined in a soft quilted cotton, and was the apple of his human parents’eyes. The next time you travel anywhere, try asking politely if you can take a picture of someone’s adored little dog. At a minimum you’ll have some fun travel photos, and you may make some canine and human friends.
À la prochaine,
Louise and the Team at Parlez-Vous Provence