Brocante Finds and Wisteria.


A perfect day off involves a morning wandering through an old french market followed by a lazy lunch and afternoon in the garden. The month of May is perfect for indulging because there are so many state holidays that the french people have become experts at avoiding going to work where at all possible. This week the national holiday, which unlike in the UK where it always falls on a Monday, relies on its date, and has fallen not only on Tuesday, Victoire (victory day) the 8th of May, but also on Thursday, the 10th of May which is Ascension.

The idea of having a weekend and then returning to work for Monday only to have a national holiday on Tuesday is so ridiculous to any Frenchman, that a nationally recognized “pont”, or “bridge” is put into action. Monday becomes a bridge from Sunday to Tuesday and effectively no one works that day either. Since Thursday is also a national holiday, Friday becomes a bridge to the following weekend and no one works that day either. But of course we can’t stop there, because Wednesday also becomes a bridge from Tuesday to Thursday. Pretty impossible to work that day too, and before you know it there’s a 9 day holiday in the middle of May!

As the month of May comes round, everyone visibly relaxes. The first of May, the fête de travail, is also a national holiday as is the 20th and 21st of May for Pentecost. A fabulous month for everyone, made better still under sunny blue skies.

A few months ago at the far end of our local Sunday market we came across a stall holder packing up for his long anticipated lunch, and jumbled in amongst the bric à brac of his antique stall was an old tap, a decorative brass collar and the old over arch of a grand wrought iron gate. Perhaps the over arch was from an old Château, or an old manoir. We shall never know, but for a scant amount of money we heaved it onto our shoulders and carted it with the old tap and collar off to the car. They sat in a rather forlorn state over winter and this spring the tap was attached to the old brass decorative collar and mounted onto a piece of shaped stone against the conservatory wall. The old over arch was scraped clean and repainted and then modified in width to sit over our rather more diminutive gate.Two summers ago we had bought a small wisteria plant to grow up the side of the house where ivy used to grow. Last summer we knew that if we didn’t find a framework for it to grow over quickly, it would become very difficult to manage. While the stems of the Wisteria were still in hibernation we pushed them through the gate overarch and waited to see how it would look.It’s been wonderful coming in and out of the garden this month and breathing in the scent as we pass. Having an outside garden tap at last has made short work of the watering! Next year we may have to cut back yet more of the ivy as the wisteria vigorously winds it’s way the length of the garden railings. I can only anticipate how heavenly the scent will be next year, and hope there will be even more days off and “ponts” to look forward in which to enjoy it!Have a wonderful “end of week”!

Continuing the Renovations -Attacking the Bedroom!


It occurred to me that I haven’t updated on the renovation process for a while. As with many projects, you take a huge leap forward, and then revelling in the new transformed state of things, it goes onto the back-burner, although really it isn’t finished at all. Such is the case with the master bedroom which I started a year ago and is now starting to cry for attention again. Here is the bedroom before the last owner, an elderly gentleman in his 90’s moved out.Annonce1-photo8 (1)

It’s not normal that I would seek to put my bedroom in front of those of the kids, but an unhappy chapter of events made it happen that way. Days before our moving date, on visiting the now empty house, it was immediately obvious that the house was filthy, and a quick run over with a hoover just wasn’t going to do the job. A fabulous friend of mine offered (in, I suppose, a momentary absence of sense) to help me wash the carpets with a hired machine. A back-breaking day of intense labour later, after several buckets of black water had been thrown out, the carpets were altgether a different colour, if smelling suspiciously of drying sheep!

That should have been the end of the story; only it wasn’t. By the day of arrival of all our furniture, a full week later, one carpet had stubbornly refused to dry and smelt so strongly that nothing short of leaving the door closed, and the windows wide open (it was december), night and day, protected the rest of the house from its awful stench. My bed was erected in the sitting-room, and stayed there for three months!

Then one day in march, I woke with  a spring in my step and decided that that would be the day that the carpet would be ripped up and thrown out. So imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the darn thing had been stuck down to the floorboards with a powerful glue.

Once the carpet was disposed of, the little old man in the ‘Bricolage’, (Do it yourself shop) recommended a glue solvant called ‘decapant’ and I set to work with a a paintbrush, spatula and the windows open as far as possible to let out the noxious fumes. A couple of days later I had finished the job, but left a few more before hiring a floor-sander (ponceuse) in case the friction of the sanding belt sparked the highly inflammable solvant residue!WP_20150217_002WP_20150217_001The sanding machine took a little getting used to, and I was thwarted early on by the fact that the sander had a miniscule cable of about half a metre, and clearly I should have an earthed extension cable (rallonge) to make the distance across the room in question to the power source. I might add that since the power supply to the house was not itself earthed, it was unsuprising that I didn’t actually have the appropriate cable, nor was I sure what good it would do, but was left to waste valuable hire time making a second journey to the bricolage.WP_20150222_001By the end of the evening, the main area of the room was transformed, and buzzing with the success of the day, heard myself eagerly agreeing with the hire company to hiring the ‘edge-sander’ to complete the job the next day when I took the drum sander back to them.

However, not all things carry on the way they are planned. Somewhere around 3am I woke with a pounding headache, and as the hours marched their way towards dawn, it occurred to me that I had succombed to the flu. Somehow I made it through the next day clinging onto a rather headstrong ‘edge-sander’, until finally, about the middle of the afternoon, I was no longer capable. The sander and I collapsed in a heap halfway across the ‘en-suite’ floor. The floor remains in the same state to this day, but thankfully I am back in one piece!

After the floor, the dismanteling of the corner cupboard, the filling of holes and the wallpapering of the walls was ease itself, although I did contend with a minor moment of anxiety and a bruise of two as my hand-sander exploded while I was at the top of the ladder smoothing down the uneven plasterwork, and I consequently went flying. I know, hand-sanders are not appropriate for plaster dust, the monsieur at the bricolage gave me quite a lecture on the subject…..after the event. My greatest find was a little ‘morceau’ of wall-paper with handpainted little birds on it. It was so pretty I wished there had been more of it to make a feature, but sadly it was so brittle that it fell apart in my hands.WP_20150128_009WP_20150128_001WP_20150222_005WP_20150128_004WP_20150222_004

Now, a few months on we have curtains, a pretty toile called ‘Charente Birds’, a little daringly in black and ‘white’. Our bed waits to be re-upholstered (whenever will I find the time!) and came from a ‘chateau sale’, my chair from the Rouen Puces (antiques fair) and upholstered by me before we moved (which was a very good idea in the circumstances considering the hefty list of things to do now we are in the house) and our wardrobe (photo to be added later) came from a wonderful organisation called Emmaus. Emmaus takes house-clearence furniture and sells it on using the unemployed and homeless as staff to create a profit and get those same people off benefits and back into employment. There are many great bargains to be found there, especially if you know what you are looking for.bedroom4

Now I’m just waiting for the motivation to tackle the windows, and  I know that they will be time-consuming and unpleasant, before finally finishing the final small area of electrical wiring and the skirings.

As for the half finished floor in the ‘en-suite’? Well the bath leaked into the sittingroom a few days ago, so it looks like that project is now on the urgent list, and it may be done sooner than we think!

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Making an Entrance – Transforming on a Shoe-String!


If you are anything like me – once you’ve put all your hard-earned cash into buying a house you suddenly realise that there’s not a lot left to make your transformation dreams a reality.  Unlike many french families who live in one house whilst undertaking a complete renovation on another, we shall be working slowly and on a shoe-string. If you know that you are going to be living for some time in difficult conditions, I’ve always found that creating one or two zones which don’t scream at you, but leave you feeling somewhat tranquil are essential. For me there is nothing more essential than a welcoming entrance hallway. I don’t want to arrive back home exhausted to be reminded immediately of what needs to be done.

Our hallway was gloomy, with dirty and peeling cream-coloured paint over the walls and panelling. The old owner had decided to highlight the mouldings of the panelling and doors with dark turquoise paint, the carpet is a deep and very worn sludgy green, and the ceiling showed the residue of many years of smokers, smoking chimneys and oil-fired central heating stains.

Before:

WP_20140906_040The small ornate ceiling-rose with it’s smokers yellow tar tinge persuaded me to attack the cracked and peeling ceiling first. Once the ceiling was scraped down, the cracks filled and the ceiling and its rose painted, there was a major difference in the quality of light.

When we were in the final stages of buying the house the owner had aked me if I wanted any of his lights or furniture. I pointed to his ceiling lantern and since he’d had all his posessions valued for auction, he hastened to look at the reserve auction price. After a minute or so of jovial negotiation I exclaimed,

“Mais Monsieur, je vous ai déjà donné mon dernier sou pour cette maison”  “But, I have already given you my last sou for this house”, and we said no more, but when I moved in the lantern was happily still hanging from the hall ceiling.

After:

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WP_20150317_009The dark green carpet and dark blue door at the end of the hallway still remain for the moment.

Before:

WP_20140906_021But the blue and cream paint has been swapped for the palest pale french grey by “The Little Greene Paint Co”

After:
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WP_20150317_003And when “Husband à l’etranger” gets home he will be moving the coat pegs and unattractive gun cupboard to the far end of the hall to make way for a hall table something like this, in place of the bench:hall tableBut what I love most about the hall is this amazing window to the front door. On sunny days I can open the glazed section to reveal the cast iron window guard, and let the sunlight and fresh-air through whilst still being secure from the street.
WP_20150317_005For now I’m waiting for the moment when “Husband à l’etranger finally walks through the front door, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that his Scottish blood will mean that that window will be opened even when it’s mid-winter and i’m shivering under a hundred jumpers, but whilst waiting for our inevitable trip to the brocante to search for a narrow hall table, I’ll pop a few flowers on the window-cill outside.WP_20150316_009

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!

The Great French House Hunt – where to live?


Our house in the UK is up for sale. It may be some time before a deal is done, but in the meantime I’m going to enjoy spending some moments identifying what I’m looking for.

We’ve lived in town, countryside and in the suburbs. each has it’s own positives and negatives, and this great french house hunt is the opportunity to put together a wish-list for the perfect home.

The city is wonderful for it’s activity, it’s buzz and vitality. I love that everything is on the door step – theatre, museums, galleries, shops, school. It takes no effort to move around. The quartier we live in has the main-line station to Paris, the metro system to cross the city and numerous buses to take me to the nearby brocantes, the atelier de patisserie and the swimming pool.

The car can stay parked up in the courtyard and I can walk when the weather is fine, or relax in a cafe and watch the world go by.

Every sunday I amble down to our local market:

but when the last morsel of goats cheese  has been eaten,

and all that remains of the baguette are a few last crumbs,

and the bottle of wine is empty,

I start to hanker for the greenery of the countryside, for a few hours to potter in the garden, the trickling of a little stream tumbling over its rocky bed, the clear blue skies of the summer, and the autumn mists. And then I think how much the countryside has to offer!

Call me a romantic if you will, but the prospect of opening my shutters in the morning and waking up to a view of lavender, vines, or mountains fills me with enthusiasm. Perhaps I could wake up to all three!

Recently I read the blog of Victoria Corby and sighed wistfully at her tale of joining the locals to do the vendange (grave harvesting). Back breaking work though it is, the quality of local tradition and community spirit shines through her experience

But perhaps it’s just the idea of the vendange lunch that appeals, with a bottle or two of last years wine to finish the day.

My sister in law was telling me about her last few weeks bottling fruits and making chutneys, and I wistfully thought about how much i’d like a potager.

and when the jobs were done there would be time to go cycling

and lounge in the garden

looking at the beautifully tended potager that I worked on earlier in the day!

I like the idea of the fète midsummer just to finish things off!

This jury’s out where the children are concerned:

It was inevitable really!

Perhaps we can find a wonderful house in the city with a garden attached, or maybe we keep the apartment and buy a small country cottage for the weekends and holidays….

only time will tell!