Chatou Brocante and Antiques


We’ve been doing a bit of work on the house again, and this time the shower-room is taking shape. There just the physical water connection, a shower screen and a mirror left to do, and when it comes to mirrors, there’s nothing better than trying to pick up an antique one, especially when the antiques faire at Chatou is on.

We’d never been to this particular fair before and so didn’t know what to expect. The brocante is laid out on a small island in the middle of the river Seine, just outside of Paris. It was mid-week so not too many people were there, but it was huge and fabulous, and there were plenty of makeshift restaurants to choose from in the middle of the day.img_1325-2

What I liked best was the artistry of some of the stands, and there was plenty that I would have loved to buy, though the mirror remained elusive!img_1310img_1311img_1326

There were so many amazing urns and cloches, but our bartering didn’t manage to get us any bargains!img_1327I so nearly went for the pineapple, but “husband chez nous” didn’t look away for long enough.. it was after all “mission mirror”!img_1316I loved this one, a grey and gilt trumeau mirror….the price was to die for too!

And after all, why have one when you can have three!img_1318-1img_1322img_1330

So many lovely things that it was hard to head home.img_1309img_1319

But since the great mirror hunt continues, there’s still the excuse to come back for more. The basin is very lonely all by itself.

In Which You Can’t Chose Your Relatives!


WP_20140119_011About five o’clock yesterday afternoon, mid-tennis lesson, my ex-neighbours and antiques friends sent me a message, inviting me to view their new house, and promising to keep me there until I’d eaten dinner.  Not wanting to turn down a French dinner invitation, by seven I was hammering on their door, my car cleverly already pointing downhill on their narrow road in a homeward direction, thus avoiding any awkward manoevres a wine glass or two later on.

Their house, which i’d seen in a very shabby state of distress a week or so before the removal date was inevitably now a picture of perfection. Antiques husband had just arrived back from the coast with Turbot fresh from the fisherman’s market on the quay and Antiques wife was busy stirring crème fraiche into finely sliced leeks. Cooling on the counter was a freshly baked Tarte Tatin.

Somewhere between the first glass of Champagne and the Tarte Tatin, Antiques husband asked me if I wanted to see his latest purchase and we all trooped into the Salon to view an unframed portrait of very beautiful woman from the early 19th century sitting in her fine blue gown against a deep almost black background. Alongside, cheek to jowel, a multitude of other protraits, all gazing loftily at us from out of their frames.

Having, with a certain level of irony, remarked on the striking family resemblance, the colour of eyes, the angle of the nose and so on, I asked him where he’d found her, and only when he replied ‘The Zenith’ of course, did I realise how close I’d come to missing the most beautiful fair of the Antiques calendar – The Rouen Puces. We laughed about his new addition to the family whilst Antiques husband scrabbled in his wallet and handed me an unused ticked for the final day at the brocante.

So it was that today found me wandering the five halls of antiques and bric à brac and wishing I had a tidy sum of money burning a hole in my pocket.

WP_20140119_019The problem with the ‘Puces’ is that invariably, within about five minutes, it clearly becomes necessary to move house to one with twice as many rooms and several ‘dependances’ or renovate-able outbuildings. Only moments later one is sighing about the misfortune and hardship suffered since the ancestors hadn’t left an enormous country ‘pile’ to inherit. The bearded gentleman above certainly looks a kindly and benevolent fellow, and I considered adopting him and taking him home with me – but first I made a tour of the halls.

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WP_20140119_006I rather liked the detail trim on these Louis XVI chairs,

WP_20140119_007and the paint effects on these pieces of furniture.

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WP_20140119_005There seemed to be more painted furniture this year than last, and in my mind’s eye I had already placed several pieces in my new baronial home!

WP_20140119_020This rather wonderful dresser was clearly essential for my new vast servants kitchen, though since I liked the display of old labelled pharmacy jars on the shelves within, I decided I would need a second closed dresser in which to store the more every-day items.

WP_20140119_002Clearly things were getting ahead of themselves, so I decided to find a more parsimonious ancestor to encourage a bit of frugality and restraint. I felt that he would have been a little more eclectic and inclined to live off the land.

WP_20140119_014But it was hard not to dream, and not long afterwards, my illusions to grandure had once more returned, and I found myself thinking of beds and armoirs, of which there were several to choose from.

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This bed complete with it’s very own ancestor!

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A Louis XV style bureau..

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and this lovely banquette.WP_20140119_021But firmly setting aside all visions of a Louis XV boudoir, and under by the firm eye of this imposing gentleman, I settled to the task in hand ..

WP_20140119_003..to find a small French chair for my rather more modest bedroom. And after several minutes of hard bargaining the stall holder was carrying a lovely battered Louis XV chair to my car, whilst I took one final glance around at the remaining portraits.WP_20140119_001

But this glamorous woman was no match for the outstanding beauty of Antiques Husband’s ‘arriere grande maman’, so I turned my back on her musing to myself that..

While you can’t choose your relatives, you can at least these days select your ancesters!

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The Rouen Puces .. And The Tête de Veau!


Yesterday ‘Husband à l’Etranger’ and I went to the Rouen Puces together for the first time since living in France. The Rouen Puces are advertised as ‘the most beautiful indoor brocante in France’ and for a nominal entry fee it is a wonderful way to pass a day wandering amongst beautiful antiques and bric-a-brac.

There are five halls to wander through, brocanteurs packed together, sometimes with tables loaded with lamps, or bibelots (ornaments) and othertimes with complete room-sets of beautiful French antique furniture, lamps and paintings on the walls. ‘Husband à l’Etranger and I were in heaven!

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This year we were both on a bit of a mission. Having stayed in the chateau a few weeks earlier and having some beautiful ornate plasterwork ceilings in our apartment, we were on the lookout for a chandelier, or at very least a pair of Girondoles (table top chandeliers). Having passed a good three hours ‘flaning’ the halls,(a word specific to strolling through brocantes) as every good ‘flaneur’ should, it began to dawn on us that we were getting hungry!

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The Rouen Puces have made over one hall to an impromptu restaurant. However, in true French style, this was not any old basic restaurant! At a guess the hall could seat a couple of hundred diners, and the ‘menu du jour’ was written out on huge blackboards, the tables were surrounded by ornamental urns and pillars each topped with an enormous fern, whilst here and there large cream-coloured outdoor canvas umbrellas helped us believe we were in the garden of a luxurious ‘Cote d’Azur’ hotel.

A small queue of a ‘dizaine’ were waiting patiently for a table, and the Maitre D was calmly shepherding people to vacant tables. Behind a couple of ‘femmes gourmandes’ we were also waiting our turn. Finally the Maitre D approached and said he had a table for four, and if we were happy to share with the ‘femmes gourmandes’ we could eat immediately.  No guessing that we readily agreed!

The ‘femmes gourmandes’ took the aisle seats, whilst we wriggled ourselves through the narrower gap between tables. Respectfully pulling our seats towards the edge of the table to allow the two women their conversational privacy, as much as one can when sharing a small square table, the ‘femme’ next to me grabbed the side of my seat to yank me closer saying..

“Je  ne mord pas”  “I won’t bite” (well thank heavens for that!) and we set to  to studying the menus.

‘Husband à l’etranger leaned conspiratorially across the table to whisper…

“I really think they are going to order the Tête de veau” (veal’s head)

..and a second later, at the table the other side of us, the waiter approached with a steaming blue enamel pot. ‘Husband à l’Etranger’ grimaced at the idea of the skull lurking within, and I leant over to ask them if there was really an entire ‘cerveau’ (brain) inside. The couple and the ‘femmes gourmandes’ roared with laughter and lifted the lid to reveal a fairly innocent looking stew of somewhat floppy meat and vegetables and declared it was delicious.

Moments later a blue enamel pot arrived at our table and the femmes gourmandes rubbed their hands in anticipation and lifted the lid; and just at that moment ‘Husband à l’Etranger’ let out a loud…

“MOOO”

Tête de veau will never be the same again for any of us!

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Clearly, the small ‘pichets’ of wine supplied at our meals were subsidized by the stall holders. Our innocent little pitcher contained a deceptive quantity of wine. We were rather more cavalier after the meal than before and it wasn’t long before we were once more standing in front of the chandeliers and girondolles. Some hard bartering and walking away a few times secured a good price for the pair and we left the Puces happy with our purchases, and having thoroughly enjoyed our day.

The Most Beautiful Brocante in France – The Rouen ‘Puces’


Like much of Europe, snowflakes were falling gently this morning as I headed off to  the Rouen ‘Puces’, a three day sale of the most beautiful antiques from all over France.

PUCES 2012 036 I had to wait for the kids to come home for lunch and feed them before I made an early afternoon escape for the fair. As a result I arrived just as the exhibitors were settling down for ‘dejeuner’.

This is France after all, and since each individual stand holder had arranged, for the most part, their antiques into ‘room sets’ to best display their furniture, paintings and ‘objets d’art’, I was amused to find myself walking through several ‘dining rooms, with each Brocanteur comfortably settled at his antique table, complete with linen table cloth, fine glass ware and three course menu. Every ‘dining table’ distinguished itself with a good  bottle of red wine, and a lovely aroma of Boeuf Bourgignon and Paupiettes de Veau filled the exhibition hall!

Clearly, this was not the time to start a business transaction. I decided to give time for the wine to do it’s work, and spend an uninhibited hour wandering between the stands, enjoying what was offer.

Ultimately though, no single bottle of red was going to help reduce the very beautiful ‘banquette’ from 1700€ to an affordable 100€, nor an armoire from 1500€ to 150€!

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I took this sneaky one, just after one couple had got up to get back to work.

PUCES 2012 004 These were a few of the stands that I passed during the afternoon….

PUCES 2012 011A quantity of maritime paraphanalia, and old sports equipment..

PUCES 2012 015Lamps and busts…

PUCES 2012 020…. and one of the lovely banquettes.

PUCES 2012 028Several old model boats…

PUCES 2012 027Old urns and chests of drawers…

PUCES 2012 029Antique French linens…

PUCES 2012 024 Distressed wooden frames…

PUCES 2012 018It may not be everyone’s idea of interior decoration but these antlers in the huge stone vase looked incredible in this room-set made up of browns, naturals  and taupes….

PUCES 2012 032…and I was very tempted to take home this ‘serre’ (greenhouse) – sadly the bus driver wouldn’t let me on the bus with it!

PUCES 2012 023Taxidermy, and Butterfies….

PUCES 2012 025Lamps from old bobbins…

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PUCES 2012 013A good quantity of Retro -( excuse the photo quality)

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PUCES 2012 005I was sorely tempted by the small chandeliers!

In the end I took home a little wooden lion because he was distressed, and who so closely resembled my clay lion with a friendly face waiting for me still to collect him from the UK. Luckily the bus driver didn’t spot him as we climbed on the bus by the back door!

I wonder if you can spot him amongst these photos?

PUCES 2012 035I did spot where the empty bottles ended up though!

Off Piste in Rouen


One of the most pleasant things about France is that, unlike most of Britain, things only get christmassy when christmas is just round the corner. It means that Autumn can be celebrated for its beautiful colours before the sparkly lights and street vendors come out to roast their chestnuts. Somehow, when all these things happen too early the excitement of christmas looses its edge before the day actually arrives.

The difference I suppose is that whilst the British manufacturers are on the ‘hard-sell’ for all those totally unnecessary “must haves”‘, the French are more interested in true excellence; the smoothest fois gras; the perfectly chosen wine; the oozing cheese; the freshest of fish and the elegance of christmas. Maybe because France is fairly new to me I am seeing it with the same eyes that children see their first few Christmases.

Christmas decorations  appeared in Rouen at the begining of December with a classic simplicity which makes one appreciate that many are doing their bit to rein in the austentatious displays which jar with the reality of the recession. Simplicity in itself can still be beautiful!

Our school has a wonderful tradition of ordering in christmas trees and donating at the same time to charity. There is something wonderfully festive about families gathering to collect their trees together from where they are stacked in the school garden and carrying them home under their arm or with the aid of their children.

This year my children demanded that we updated our decorations a little from the unbreakable ones we had when they were very little, and so it was that over the last couple of days I have, under the guise of hunting out decorations, wandered off my usual shopping route in search of something classic, beautiful and unusual. As I did so I made many exciting discoveries and it struck me that this too is one of the fundamental differences between England and France. How many more specialist shops, how many more shopkeepers and customers are keeping alive traditional regional products and traditional manufacturing methods;  the pride of a nation which not only fiercely protects its own small industries but also maintains its demand for their products, celebrates them and stubbornly defends them against foriegn rivals. As one moves from department to department, from region to region, there is always at least one product associated with it, and usually many more. But I digress a little as today I have been savoring the variety of little specialist shops tucked away in tiny side streets of Rouen and the generosity of spirit of those who run them in recommending and directing me to their neighbours, colleagues or competitors in my search for the few odd bits and bobs that were on my shopping list.

The main item on my list was a collection of old pendalogues, the glass ‘drops’ from a crystal chandelier which I wanted to hang from my christmas tree. My initial thought was a glass and linen shop on Rue Beauvoisine. I was disappointed to find it locked up but spotted a little notice in the window requesting that enquiries were made next door at an antique bookstore. What a delight was in store for me. Piles and piles of ancient books towering up to the lofty ceiling, beautiful antique covers jostling alongside modern-day classics.

I asked to visit the neighbouring glass shop, to discover that this was the husband of the owner. He was only too happy to open up and we discussed the correct terminology for the glass drops, and I realised that although his wife did not have what I was looking for, her antique linen tablecloths and crystal glassware were to die for and would be beautiful on a christmas dining table.

I spent a good ten minutes back in the bookshop discussing how reading french books was an essential part of my language learning. In his turn he recommended the colourful  and classic language of Maupassant as essential reading matter for a varied vocabulary and correct sentence construction. I was happy that I could confirm that I had already read several. For all the apparent disorder he knew exactly which stack of books held the desired recommendations, and pulled out a few english ones too. I left clutching three under my arm.

He then recommended the rue Eau de Robec area for my continued search for pendalogues.

Having passed several very beautiful antiques shops – too daunting to enter – I finally spotted  one, a little more approachable than the rest and enquired if he had any broken or damaged pendalogues that I could buy. Not thinking me ridiculous at all in my request he directed me to a beautiful chandelier shop only moments from his.

I was charmed therefore to find that the owner of the Chandelier shop not only had pendalogues for sale but also a large variety. We selected a few all the time enjoying pleasant banter with him and his wife and he asked me to pop back later, by which time he would have embellished each pendalogue with either glass flowers or stars and created wire hooks for each for me to thread ribbon ‘hangers’ through.

Whilst waiting I passed through a narrow pedestrian allée to discover another fabric shop with a basket of remnants and its owner busy on a sewing machine creating curtains for a client. Her selection of linens was delightful and this one was too ‘french’ for me to pass by!

Next I passed this wonderful flower shop

and this violin craftsman

The Quartier des Antiquities in Rouen is an architectural delight with its pretty streets, leaning colombage buildings and pedestrian allées, as well as providing a visual feast amongst its shop windows:

I came home very pleased with my purchases and charmed by the people I’d met on my travels!

and spent the evening adorning my tree!