Monday, December 17, 2018

Outfits for the Shorter Days. . . .Keeping Spirits Bright When the Skies Just Aren't!

A few outfits I've worn in the last week or two, as we move closer to the Winter Solstice. . . we've had a week of icy temperatures and sunny skies and now if we've still got Christmas shopping to do, we're braving wind and rain and a scarf, hat, and warm coat.

Perfect weather, then, for my new wool bouclé moto-style jacket (Eileen Fisher) and my recently completed cashmere-silk-mohair beret (both featured in my journal illustrations, last post). Worn here with boots I bought in Bordeaux three years ago and continue to find just a bit too tight on my right foot -- finally had them stretched by my wonderful neighbourhood cobbler, although I'm not sure that's going to do the trick. . . Wearing a chalk-striped dress (label: Minimum,  also shown here). The zebra scarf I've had at least eight years, but too often now find it too high-contrast to wear. . . I think I like it like this, though. . .
And here's my most recent iteration of a favourite style: Bluestocking Chic (although you're right, the Chic is debatable).

The purple cardi is cashmere (Bompard), at least five years old, and I'm wearing it with the love-at-first-sight silk scarf I bought in Paris last month. The silk is heavy and sumptuous, but it was the way the print featured a soft pink that could echo/balance my pink Oxfords in an outfit without in any way being too girly. The print leans to the baroque and the colours playing with the pale pink are its older, more sophisticated cousins, who may even have talked it into taking a puff or two of that naughty Gitane. . .
And then my tweedy grey wool box-pleated midi-skirt, which I bought at The Gap about ten years ago -- I'm not sure they've done anything I liked as much before or since (although I also have a fringed, wildly embroidered slim black midi-skirt they did the same winter).

 I've decided that I don't mind the staggered hems that are inevitable with a hip-length jacket (although it took me some time, considerable observation of stylish young women "on the street"). . . but some will find this distracting. (And let's not even get started talking of the hem problems when it comes to midi-skirts and coats. . . )
One last outfit, and this one doesn't involve a coat or scarf.

What it does feature is the "little black dress" I bought in Bordeaux two years ago, somewhat against my better judgement (hmm, combined with what I told you above, re the boots, are you seeing a theme emerge here? I promise I've been gradually learning these lessons, Brownie's honour!).

I've worn this dress a few times and I still love it -- a fine black wool crèpe that drapes beautifully while offering a light warmth -- and pockets! The embroidery means I don't even need to think about jewelry, just pop the dress on over black tights and a simple pair of boots or shoes, and I'm ready to take the granddaughters to a theatre performance or to celebrate Christmas Eve with my huge extended family.
But I've continued to second-guess the dress's length as too short/young for me, and a number of times it's gone back into the closet after a try-on.

The other day, I popped it on as a nod to the festive season we're embarking on (truly, all of December is fair game for the sparkles and the colour as ways to brighten these short, darker days -- it's not the time to save the good stuff for special occasions, imho) -- and was just lifting it over my head to put it back on its hanger when I remembered something a reader had commented a ways back -- that perhaps I could wear it (or another short dress) over jeans, tunic-like.

I've done this dress-over-pants look before, but only with a slimmer cut or at least in a fabric that stays closer to the body I wasn't sure this more substantial dress could work with jeans, but I love the look I ended up with by cuffing the jeans and pairing with my Blundstones for a solid grounding.

Again, not for everyone, but I'm pleased to be allowing that dress to earn its keep and managing what feels to me a comfortable yet expressive outfit with a bit of edge, a nod to the street, if you will. . . (Ah, please, leave me my Nana illusions ;-)

Week before Christmas now, and all is reasonably calm here, although I have a few things I'd like to pick up, still, and I'm trying to decide on a Christmas dessert. I'm also sketching up a little Christmas story (illustrating the memory of a favourite gift) to share with you closer to Christmas Eve. And also making sure to find time to sit and enjoy the twinkling lights of the bare-branched maple tree outside and the small cut fir tree inside (yes, we decided we could squeeze one in).

And what about you -- do you celebrate (and if not, what's that like in a culture that is so focussed on the various Christmas stories)? Are you finding ways to enjoy the days before? Have you found any felicitous combinations of clothes and accessories that make you feel just a bit happier as you've grappled with too much Christmas traffic and too-long lineups at the cashier? All comments welcome, as you might know by now. Happy Monday! 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Fashion Illustration? Presenting My New Jacket. . .

 Thought you might like to know about my new jacket, bought before I left for Edinburgh last month. It wasn't all-purpose enough to justify bringing it along, so I was pleased to be reunited and I've got a few OOTD photos that feature it -- I'll share those with you next. . . (I know it's tough to tell from this sketch, but it's actually solid black -- wool bouclé with leather trim along the zipper in a moto shape).

First, though, the sketch I made of it back in early November -- in fact, I've opened my journal to share two pages.  On the left, my new jacket, and on the right, the details about a beret I'd just begun and have now finished and worn several times. . . As with the pages I showed recently featuring my new perfume and face cream, I took advantage of the pretty packaging -- I've been thinking twice and three and four times about what we throw into the garbage too easily and trying to slow that process down at least a little bit. . .

And now, transcriptions so that you don't kink your necks too drastically (I'm looking at you, Georgia ;-)

Left-hand page, November 7th, 2018
I found the jacket to replace my very worn Mackage leather moto (although I suspect I'll hang on to that old faithful, scars and fading and all).

Up the left shoulder: And yes, very clever of EF to send me that $100 gift certificate!
Right shoulder: 62% Suri Alpaca, 33% Wool, 5% Nylon . . . with a Bemberg lining . . . 
Right margin, centre: Gorgeously sunny fall day -- perfect!

Bottom: Also bought 16" circular 2.25 (needle) from Three Bags Full
Met Paul for lunch at Bob Likes Thai Food
Yummy nap, then read Michael Robotham's The Suspect
And now heading to French class. . . 

And before the transcription of the second page, here's a closer look so you can twist and crane . . .

Top left, commentary on the two price tags: Makes for an expensive little hat, doesn't it? But as long as I don't lose it, I suspect I'll be using it for years -- featherlight so it easily tucks in pocket or purse.

Top right: December 1, 2018, Coming back post-Europe trip to this page I began before I flew to Edinburgh November 12th . . . All the cutting and pasting was done then, and since [follow arrow to centre] I've finished knitting this gorgeous blend into the Churchmouse Yarns Beret pattern -- and the beret has been blocked and sits on my head as I write. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some sourdough to shape into boules. . . I do have that Outfits post started and I'm halfway through the post about what I re-affirmed, in Edinburgh, about my travel priorities. But it's beginning to get busy 'round here, so we'll see how well I keep up. What about you? Are you remembering the value of a Slow Christmas? Or is that already a lost cause?

Monday, December 10, 2018

Random Abundance on a Monday. . . Travel Wardrobe, Portrait of a Celebrity, Stairwell Art. . .

OOTD Selfie taken on a train 
 I'm off to celebrate an ex-colleague's retirement -- my first time back to campus since I retired over three years ago now. I'm taking advantage of the jaunt over to the island to visit friends, so posting will be light this week.  And, if this post is any indication, posting might also be rather random.

Let's call this Random Monday, shall we -- I'll try numbering the random for some arbitrary cohesion -- and see where the week takes me. . .

1. Photo above is of a favourite outfit in my recent carry-on-only travel wardrobe. Because of the pleats in the skirt, it might seem rather impractical, but because I love this recent purchase (Eileen Fisher, bought it in September) so much, I really wanted to bring it along. So to save the pleats from a good suitcase-squishing, I wore it for all the Transit days -- wore it on the plane days and the train days -- so four days, long days, right there. And I enjoyed wearing it for walking around cities as well. That's a relaxed/boxy, navy merino sweater (also EF, bought at the same time as the skirt) I'm wearing it with, above, and my pink Oxfords (Officine Creative).

This is a secret weapon for me, I'm just realizing, in planning a very small travel wardrobe that I won't get bored with: loving the garments I wear is more important to me than variety. Honestly, I've been wearing this combination almost as often now that I'm back home. . . .

2. Since we're all Tilda Swinton fans here (Is that a reasonably fair assumption? Feel free to pipe up in comments with your Yesses and Nos. . . ), I suspect you'll love this portrait of her by ex-partner and father of her twin son and daughter. It's worth reading the plaque below for a description of the portrait's execution -- in twenty minutes!

 3. I need to take a cue or two from Swinton -- hard to imagine her ever wearing a simper like this in a photograph. (honestly, I have such a problem with photos, having become quite self-conscious about an open-mouthed smile over the past few years).  Except for that, it's a decent photo, thanks to the lens-wielding by my good friend L, who invited me to Edinburgh to visit her while she was on sabbatical there. It was snapped at L'Escargot Bleu which I heartily recommend should you be heading to Edinburgh anytime soon. The ribbons you can glimpse dangling in the air behind me are attached to balloons floating at the ceiling, all in celebration of the just-arrived "nouveau Beaujolais."
 That cashmere leopard v-neck is so light-weight that it tends to get slipped into my case to provide that variety I mentioned above. I'd guess it's ten years old now, and still earning its keep. Except for the purple skirt, the pink shoes, and a leopard-print silk blouse, everything I brought was black or navy/indigo denim. . . (actually, the other shoes I bought were antiqued gold-black, so they were neutral, but not bland)

4. This bit of random is one of a series of photographs I took of a brilliant and beautiful staircase, Richard Wright's Stairwell Project at Scotland's National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two in Edinburgh). I'm going to tell you more about this very soon.

And perhaps you'll notice that I'm beginning, in this random post, to get at some of what I was talking about last post, about sorting out how a particular trip, a visit to a city perhaps, takes shape, how it shows one's priorities, on the ground. . . . Still intending to post more comprehensively about that.

 5.  I took a few Selfies in hotel rooms or in the mirrors of my guest rooms along the way.  This one was to show off the silk scarf I fell for, and bought, in Paris. . .
 You can also see here the outfit I most often presented to the world as I traveled -- my coat and scarf! (I brought two with me -- one in taupe cashmere, the other sporting a gold-stamped skull on soft pink merino).  I did bring along my down-jacket-in-a-tiny-bag and it was useful in Italy, where the days were a bit too warm (and the activities more casual) for the tailored merino. . .
Speaking of Random Abundance. . . That Hair!! Curls and Grey, all completely natural, yes, and so "interesting" to see how it behaves in different water conditions. . . . 
Random Abundance -- out of this is born Coherence, as Kim Stafford promises in The Muses Among Us. . . .So shall I continue to hope.  Because I'm quite sure these next few days visiting will bring more of it, and I'll be doing my best to capture some of it for you and midwife it onto a page in my sketchbook or a screen for your eyes to read here. . .

Meanwhile, as I'm heading across the city on buses and skytrains, across the water on a ferry, along a seawall pulling my faithful little case, I look forward to reading your comments here -- they can be random too, if you wish ;-)

Friday, December 7, 2018

Portraits of a Travel Experience, or There and Back Again . . .

Reader Eleonore, whom I've had the pleasure of spending a few hours with, once in Berlin, once in Munich, commented on my last post that she, too, keeps a journal while travelling. Like me, she "sticks tickets, postcards, labels, tourist brochures, etc., on the pages of a notebook, with some comments." And also like me, she finds that if she does "not finish it on the way, it will stay fragmentary in most cases, because after coming home, "normal" everyday life swallows me up."

I was drawn back and back again to Victoria Crowe's portrait of her mother's friend Marion Pulford. Besides it being the attentive and aesthetically wonderful depiction of a woman in her senior years, I'm fascinated by the way she's captured a psychological complexity here -- an apparent ease of posture implied in the stillness but belied by the tension in mouth, brow, even the neck (which, poignantly, has shrunk so far from its collar. . . 

Yes! To that I have to say a resounding "YES!"

This week, I've been "swallowed up" trying to re-establish a fitness routine -- oh, the sore muscles! --  and hunting the Christmas boxes out of storage, deciding what kind of decoration is feasible and appropriate to the condo. I've shopped for the kids' Christmas gifts -- books, as usual -- and we've done something with the Littles three afternoon-evenings so far, with a daycare seasonal "concert/recital" this afternoon. . . All of which has been absolutely delightful (the time with the Littles, especially, not so much the sore muscles!).

But I'm quite determined that this trip -- which, after all, was about maintaining and creating some space about and for me as Solo Traveler rather than as a Retired Senior or as Nana or Matriarch (potentially swallowed up by family!) -- not remain fragmentary in my journals. Actually, my concern is perhaps not so much that it not remain fragmentary, because what we recover from the past through memory is always necessarily just that. But I don't want to compartmentalize my trip, to pack the ephemera into a box, eventually to erase the (several?) hundred photos I've taken, to allow the whole experience to be quite so easily effaced (and part of me with it. . . one meaning of "efface," I see, is "to make oneself appear insignificant or inconspicuous." Turns out I really, really don't want to do that!

Nor, however, do I want to be stuck reliving the trip while life goes on around me here. I made a promise to myself about that while I was away, that I would pull the trip into my life here, use it as inspiration for enriching my creative life. I promised myself that I would make time back home to finish my journal account of the trip; that I'd sort through the paper ephemera and glue into my books whatever seemed significant and let go of the rest (a mini Marie Kondo project -- I'll show gratitude, first, to whatever gets sorted into the recycling basket); and that I'll go through my too-many-photos thoughtfully, pausing to remember precisely what moved me to snap each one. After that, I'll delete most of the photos, but I suspect before I do I'll add a few notes to my journal. Artists I want to find out more about, streets I'd like to get back to, dinners whose sequence of courses I want to remember. . .

I know there's got to be a difference between what I want to recall for myself and what you'll be interested in reading about here. I've been doing some thinking about how to strike that balance between the general and the particular when it comes to talking or writing about travel. Next week, I'd like to share some of that thinking in terms of the way a trip (or a portion of it, a visit to a particular city along the way, for example) shapes itself, the way it materializes out of, and against, the research, the preparation we've made for it. The way that shaping can show us our priorities OR the way those priorities yield -- too easily? pragmatically? happily? -- to circumstances "on the ground."

For now, as my day will soon be "swallowed up" by a Creative Morning and a DayCare Afternoon,  I'm sharing some images from a wonderful exhibition I took in last month at Scotland's National Portrait Gallery, an exhibition of exemplary paintings from Victoria Crowe's decades-spanning career as a portraitist. I find the three preparatory sketches for Crowe's portrait of the Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing, the intimacy of her focus on his cardigan, absolutely mesmerising. Compellingly intimate and revelatory. And fragmentary. The importance of the fragment, the effort, the attention paid to detail. The beauty, the undeniable beauty of those fragmentary studies. . .

I bought the exhibition catalogue (as I tend to do, as long as the weight isn't too much for my carry-on), but have yet to make enough time to sit down and read through the introductory essay, although I have thumbed through the pages again, stopping at favourite portraits. I'm not going to put it away on the book shelves until I do. For now, it will stay on my writing table as a prompt. . . .

But speaking of "prompt," if I'm going to be, for my event this morning, I'd better pack up. . .

Happy Friday to you, and I hope you might find time over your weekend to leave me a comment or wave me a wave. . . tr

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Journal Pages -- Paris Purchases, Sketched near Rome. . .

Back home almost a week now, I'm beginning to sleep a bit better (5 1/2 hours in one stretch last night, the most continuous sleep in weeks), and I'm settling back into a very pleasant routine. Baked bread yesterday, watched the granddaughters' dance classes on the weekend, did some Christmas shopping yesterday and then had lunch with that fellow who stayed behind while I gallivanted == yes, that would be Pater. I've been knitting and reading and arranging visits with friends and family. . . and I've been trying to catch up my travel journal, while also getting my daily journal going again.  Leisure can be exhausting! ;-)

I'm off to the dentist this morning -- a tiny chip on my front tooth seems to need re-plastering (might not be the technical term!) every few years, and the most recent fix (perhaps three or four years ago broke off while I was away. I'll be crossing my fingers that it's a simple fix again. . . 

Meanwhile, I'll leave you these journal pages. I sketched them at the table in my daughter's house in Italy. I'd bought a perfume that I tested and loved last Paris visit but hadn't found time to get back to the Boulevard Raspail shop to buy it. I'd also bought a jar of l'Occitane face cream, having deliberately brought only enough cream from home to get me through my first week of travel, wanting to bring back something that would weave my trip into my daily routine -- I'd originally thought I'd get another jar of Caudalie, but I tried the l'Occitane and liked it.

And both products were packaged beautifully, but I travel light, as you know, and couldn't see much sense in carting home the paper boxes or bags. Instead, I decided to incorporate some of them into my journal, and I had a delicious hour or two playing with scissors and my little glue stick and my pen and marker and paints. . .  

Snips of the beautiful L'Artisan Parfumeur packaging combined with my riffs on same -- the blackberries, and the two doodled hexagons on the right are mine, in case you didn't guess. . . 

Here are the transcriptions:
Top page, across the left margin, Frankie told me I smelled Bee-you-ti-ful so I asked her to check if her parents thought I could spray her too -- some consideration on her part about rolling sleeve up or down first. . . 

Mid-page, to the right of the penguin, I arranged my two Paris purchases on the table at my daughter's house, but then I needed something else to round out the composition -- and what better than a seasonal snow globe, penguin and all . . . 

And from centre to right margin, I bought the face cream at the crowded little L'Occitane shop at Gare de Lyon before boarding my train to Torino (en route to Roma). The sales assistant was obviously pleased with such an easy sale -- he loaded me up with all kinds of yummy samples. . . 

And on the second page, beginning at the bottom of the left margin and then working around the page. . . The pleasure of this scent is amplified by memories of the elegant shop, the conversation with the lovely Sales Assistant, the same one who had suggested last June , that I should try Mûre et Musc, and sent me away from the shop on Boulevard Raspail with samples. And today, Monday November 26, 2018, I got a follow-up email from "Ninon" thanking me again for my visit . . . and repeating a description of the scent, "An accord that explores the freshness of luscious blackberries, with an addictive facet of white musk."

Monday, December 3, 2018

Introducing . . . French Maison, an Expat's Adventure in Vintage

As promised last post, I'm excited to share with you an interview with a friend I've "met" through social media, a woman whose recent  bold lifestyle change has intrigued me (and, let's be honest, triggered a bit of envy). Especially, I want to tell you about her new Etsy business because I know that many of you are also francophiles, that many of you might want to own a little bit of French vintage for your home or  give it as a gift at Christmas or throughout the year.  For the past several months, Joanna has been visiting flea markets and vintage shops in Lyon, collecting pieces that she then refurbishes, where necessary, and sells and ships from her Etsy shop. It's the kind of project I want to support because it accords so well with the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" mantra we're all trying to pay more attention to. 

Be sure to note the 20% off Code that Joanna has offered Materfamilias readers -- that's you! (no, I'm not being remunerated for this post; you're the only ones benefiting from Joanna's generosity here) 

I "met" Joanna through Instagram a few years ago, I think after a visit to Seattle. I'd probably posted a few photos from that city, and as a shop owner in Pioneer Square she'd reached out. I always appreciated the way she maintained contact without unduly pushing her own commercial product (beautiful artisan jewelry that the Canada-US exchange rate kept slightly out of my budget). I followed her through some European travels, and she followed mine -- I remember an exchange, for example, about the Polish bookstore in Paris, its wonderful Christmas window display on Boulevard Saint Germain.

So when Joanna began traveling earlier this year, I followed to see where she'd go -- and my, oh my, this trip grabbed my interest and didn't let go. I'll let you read about it in her words in an "interview" we conducted by email this last week. . . 

Could you tell my readers a bit about what you were doing before you moved to France this year? When we met on social media, you had a jewelry shop in Seattle, if I remember correctly. How long had you lived in Seattle, and how or why did it seem like a good idea to give up that life to try something else?

Yes, we met via Instagram. I think I chimed in with a comment or two.  At that time I had a jewelry studio in Seattle, in Pioneer Square.  My husband and I lived in Seattle for about 11 years.  We moved there from New York.  And now we live - in France!  Which was planned for a long time.  So no, it was not a rush decision, we did not wake up one morning and said - "honey, I feel like packing everything up, selling our condo, and spending my retirement in France”.  

Choosing a life as an expat was not the first time for me.  I emigrated to the USA from Poland about 30 years ago.  But this time it was different.  I was moving with my husband, a dog, and a household of belongings.  But we we both determined to pursue a life rich that’s a bit different, no matter how difficult the process was going to be.

In the USA I was working in banking for a long time.  First in New York, and then in Seattle.  But art was in my blood, many of my family members are and were artists, so I had to answer that “call” at some point.  

I have always been a creative person.  I had an idea of creating a jewelry line, and that dream became reality in 2010.  I started a jewelry line called “Joanna Morgan Designs”. After a few years I opened a jewelry studio in the historic Pioneer Square in Seattle.  I loved working there, among other artists, and yes, it was hard to close it up, and leave.  But as I said, we had a plan.  A plan to move to France and try to live there for a while.  We had been coming to this beautiful country over the years, first time it was right after we got married (a loooong time ago!).  We got to know various regions, and always had a really happy time.  We made friends.  We missed France when we got back to the US.  

My next question (okay, questions!) would then be about when you began to think about closing up that business, and why? I will admit that part of me has always dreamed of an ex-pat life, at least for a year, but the dream was never strong enough to overcome the practical objections. So I’m always excited to hear about how others make such a bold move. It must have been at least a bit scary along the way, but also liberating? Was France a part of your plan from the start or did it gradually emerge as a possibility and then firm into reality? And how long were the preparations, transporting belongings, bringing the dog with you. etc.? 

My previous answer addresses the why and when I closed my business.  I think my dream of living in France was stronger.  I know I can make jewelry and set up a new studio anywhere.  And we wanted to make this (very big) change while we’re still young enough to undertake the move of these proportions.  Moving anywhere is stressful and disruptive; moving to a different country is very very stressful.  Logistics took over a year.  We sold, gave away, donated a lot.  We hired movers and shipped a container of belongings.  It was a lot of work, but totally worth it!  We also studied French for a long time.  Difficult to do when you don’t have a lot of contact with the language, but now of course it is much easier (and necessary too) to get up to speed with it.

We have a dog we brought with us.  Bringing Mandy was always part of the plan, and yes, created more complications (the paperwork to “export” an animal is onerous to say the least), but also gave us an excuse to be (even) more adventurous  -  we drove cross country to New York and took a cruise ship to Southampton, UK!  The Atlantic crossing was something I dreamed about, it was an unforgettable experience, and I was happy my dog didn’t have to fly in a cage under the plane.  She was in a dog kennel area for the whole time, but we spent lots of time with her every day.  We couldn’t have her with us all the time, but though not ideal, it was still a lot less stressful for all of us, and all in all a better solution.

How difficult was it to let go and leave behind? Is there anything you really miss?

The most difficult thing was saying goodbyes.  I know I will see my friends again, when they come to visit me, but…  So one thing I really miss is the people close to me.  We stay connected via email and phone as much as possible.  The time difference…

Yes, that time difference requires some thinking, doesn't it? We usually try to make our FaceTime calls with our granddaughter about 10 a.m. -- after her dinner but before bedtime. That would be much tougher to do if we weren't retired!

And now tell us about how this idea for your Vintage Shop came about? Had you had this idea from the time you began planning to leave Seattle? Or did it present itself more spontaneously? I’ve watched on Instagram (enviously, I must admit) as you and your partner looked for an apartment and then began furnishing it. I know you shipped some of your belongings (including furniture?), but I also began to notice you bringing home great finds from the flea markets in Lyon, refinishing chairs, furnishing your new home with treasures, setting your table with silverware and linens that you’d brought home and polished or laundered. Is part of the reason for your online shop simply that you can’t resist the hunt but have no more room for all the treasures you find?

So we landed in France, with some belongings, but still lacking many necessities.  And a man/woman can’t live by IKEA alone.  So I started going to the flea market.  I got “the flea bug”.  Opening a business was not on my mind.  I have just moved.  I was refinishing chairs.  For a while we did not have silverware, we had two forks between us, and two spoons.  It was a bit like being newlyweds again. We brought some furniture with us (come to think of it, all of it is either vintage, antique, or inherited/aka old or antique).  We didn’t have a bed.  We slept on the floor for a month.

In New York and in Seattle I was always looking for items that would bring more personality to our space.  I sewed, I gardened, refinished furniture, scavenged estate sales, antique malls, painted walls, collected linens, china, pottery…  So the inner need to make a new space my own was not a new feeling to me. Since I always loved browsing vintage stores, flea markets, estate sales, I looked up if there is something like that in our new area, in Lyon.  As it turns out, Les Puces in Lyon is one of the best “fleas” in France, second to probably only Parisian flea markets. However this time I found myself in a place just ripe with possibilities. 

My husband went only twice with me.  It really is not his thing.  He looked into a couple of stalls, and then wanted lunch. So I started going by myself.  I loved talking with the vendors.  How?  No idea, my French is still “in a development stage”.  But we talked, I bought things, I posted pics on Instagram, and some friends started commenting: you should open a shop!  your finds are beautiful!  And I thought, hmmm, I am not ready to dive back into the jewelry biz, but this flea market treasure hunting is really up my alley.  I was really enjoying myself going to the markets, chatting with people, researching what I found, and then seeing the beautiful objects adding the character to our new place, making it feel like home.

So making it more of an occupation was a natural progression (and with an encouragement of friends too).   

I was fascinated with the variety of beautiful objects available at the marché,  their history, how they enhanced my new living space, and how happy they made me.  Often their quality surpasses a quality of anything else you can get nowadays.  With them you can escape the uniformity and vanilla blandness of so many interiors we see everywhere.  The vintage objects let you unleash the creativity, make a space your own, help you express yourself and show your personality.  

Going to a store and buying what you need is OK.  But bringing the older objects back to life, giving them another chance, is something else.  And, when your friends ask you - where did you get that, it’s fantastic!  You can answer - in France!  And it is one of a kind.  How cool is that?

Bringing the past to the present, re-use, re-love older things, things with history, to enhance our modern lives - this is what I’m passionate about. Yes, there is some “save the environment” consciousness philosophy for me.  Eclectic furnishings, mixing patterns, including old among the new, appreciating beauty and function, finding new uses for objects that may have outlived their usefulness in the modern world. I feel these objects have a soul, someone loved making them, and loved using them.  Whereas what I see in malls, chain stores, well, it’s a quite different feeling.  

I select everything myself.  If you’ve ever been to a flea market, you know how overwhelming it can be.  Some things are charming, rustic,  rare.  Some things are just - junk!  Sometimes it really takes a few visits to find something that can appeal to me, and to my clients.

Is what I sell an overflow of my vintage shopping “addiction”?  Not really.  What I sell is definitely a reflection of my personal style though.  Objects that I sell at My French Maison were specifically selected for the store.    It’s about bringing that je ne sais quoi that we so admire to our surroundings.  It’s about what makes you smile and gives you joie de vivre.  So what you see in my online shop is truly hand selected by me.  And often times cleaned up, and presented in the images I post so you can imagine the objects in a living space.

Another question I’d like to ask: why Lyon? many of us have visited, read of, or seen photos of the flea markets in Paris, but are less familiar with those of Lyon.  Is there one big weekly market you go to or do you have several favourite spots you visits? What range does the flea market cover and what skills have you found yourself honing through these past months of looking? Are you building relationships with some of the vendors? 

I have to reveal that before moving here we had never visited Lyon.  We read about it.  We saw beautiful pictures of it.  But in none of our previous travels had we come to Lyon.

When people think “France," they usually think “Paris.” Or “Provence.”  The fact that Lyon is not usually on everyone’s travel itinerary was part of what attracted us to it. We wanted to live in a more authentic place, more “French.”  But also we were looking for a larger city (it is third biggest city in France, after Paris and Marseille), with good public transportation, good connections to the rest of the country and Europe (we love train travel!), and lots of things to do.

Being here is magical.  Lyon is a beautiful city, with layers of history.  People are nice, food is excellent (Lyonnaise cuisine is known worldwide).  The climate is mild (albeit with very hot summers).  As I mentioned above, there is a wonderful flea market.  There is an antique book market on the Saone as well.  And there are numerous smaller “fleas” or vide-greniers throughout the city year round.

As one of my friends asked me:  What kind of things can you find at a flea market?  My answer was: Everything and nothing.  It really is up to you.  Furniture, whole and pieces of it, from extremely expensive museum pieces, to insect eaten shaky chairs.  Gorgeous china can sit right next to piles of old books, taxidermied animals, smelly vintage clothes, silver darkened beyond recognition. Many times things are dirty, you have to dig through boxes of stuff, piles of old linen, it can take quite a big imagination to see what you can do with what you’re finding.  Much of the market is under an open sky - hot in summer, cold in winter… It can take some stamina - get up early, rain or shine, and spend a few hours digging through old objects.  But to me, there are very few other things that can get me out of bed at 6AM!

The main skills I learned right away is how to count in French!  After a couple of markets I was fluent.  
Some vendors I frequent have nice little shops set up.  They know their trade and are a mine of information.  There are a few I love - a lady who specializes in old linen, another one that has the mosts amazing little shop with china and pottery, and a few others where I always find most amazing things.  Chatting with them is always a free French lesson, and a delight.

I know you brought your dog to France with you — does s/he accompany you to the flea markets? Might s/he eventually curate a small corner of your French Maison dedicated to dog-related vintage? (I note that Linda Rodin, whose poodle, Winks, shares her celebrity, has recently developed a line of collars and leashes)

Mandy stays home - she opts for getting the full 8 hours of her beauty sleep :)  But I like the idea of curating a corner of the shop for dog lovers.  You just gave me an idea :)

Best discoveries/ lifestyle changes about this move?

We have found what we came for - a different pace of life.  Being more in the now.  Enjoying more.  

Biggest challenges? 

The language, bien sur!  But our French is improving.  Being surrounded by it, and having to actively use it (not so many French know English here) forces you to overcome quite a few hurdles.  

And favourite finds that you’re now listing in the shop, anything that was especially tough to sell rather than to keep for yourself?

There are definitely some - like the rose shaped inkwell, or lace and textiles.  But, I am happy to think someone see can enjoy them too!

Thanks so much, Joanna, for telling us about your leap into expat life in France and for giving us a peek into your French Maison.  And thanks, especially, for this generous offer you're extending to my readers.  20% off, between December 3rd to December 18th, with the code MFMCHRISTMAS at your Etsy shop.

And a note to my readers that this interview was not solicited by you, nor am I being remunerated for posting it. I simply admire Joanna's enterprise and wanted to share it with you because I thought you would like to know about it.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Of Airplane Travel and a Francophile's Vintage Treasures. . .

Since we last met here, I've flown over the Tyrennhian and then the Ligurian seas, the island of Corsica, all bathed in sunshine. . .

flown over the Alps into France,

deeper and deeper into whiteness. . . . of snow-covered peaks, at first, and then, gradually, of clouds that look enchantingly fluffy and white when viewed from above . . .

 but that were dispensing Wet Grey over London as we descended into Heathrow airport, the pilot applauded for maintaining a straight course along the landing strip despite the buffeting by a healthy wind. . . .

The next flight, nine hours in one of the inside seats in that central set of four in a 747, shall not be spoken of because I try to avoid profanity here. I managed to avoid using it on that plane against the woman who reclined her seat back right up to my navel as soon as we were airborne, kept it that way through meals, the only concession (sarcasm alert) being that she bounced it regularly as she struggled for the precise sleeping position she wanted. . . . And thus ends my experiment with resisting that extra fee to choose a seat before check-in! (I'm just over 5'3", not skinny but small enough, and I figured I could tolerate anything for nine hours, trying to stick to a modest budget for this extra travel). Not enough room to remove my shoes, let alone to stretch my back, keep the blood flowing, reach my knitting from its spot under the seat above (Hers! Hiss!!). But there was ample room for my carry-on, even though I was in the last Group to board, and I did survive the nine hours, and really, as gruelling as contemporary air travel can be, I must admit it's a marvel as well. Still hearing the echoes of Darling Four's "I love you, Nana" . . . Imagining the desolation a daughter's trans-continental move meant only a few generations ago.  . .

And I managed to sleep six hours last night (albeit broken up into two shifts: 9pm-1am and 4am to 6), had a decent nap yesterday, and I'm beginning to sort photographs and gather thoughts and play in my sketchbooks with ways to render memories. I warn you there will be more posting about this trip as I integrate my experiences with my life back home (where Christmas is hurtling towards us even as the lengthening nights counsel us to slow down, to take it easier).

As well, I have an exciting post planned for early next week -- an interview with a woman who, with her husband and dog, moved to France earlier this year after eleven years in Seattle, which she'd moved to from New York, and where she opened a jewelry studio in Pioneer Square in 2010 -- which is how I came to know her, I believe, through her Instagram account.

I'm fascinated, always, by accounts of ex-pat life -- I have long had a secret yearning to try it out, but the reality of family makes it unlikely I will manage that this lifetime. A vicarious ex-pat life, though? I'll follow that with avid interest. And if that ex-pat life evolves to include building a small business scouring Lyon's flea markets and vintage fairs to bring back to life and offer on Etsy? Let's just say that I've "Liked" every one of Joanna's My French Maison posts, and I suspect the many Francophiles among you will as well.

I had intended to wait until next week to introduce Joanna to you, and I'm still going to wait to publish our interview then, but meanwhile, I know that some of you are looking for special gifts for special people -- and that Recycling vintage treasures will appeal to many. On her latest post, I see that My French Maison still has a few of the vintage chandelier crystals -- and Joanna remarks there that there's still time enough to ship these for Christmas. . .

I suspect she still has some of these classic French torchons (linen tea/dish towels) as well, and I'm quite sure she has just the cutlery pieces to glam up your table settings with some eclectic sophistication. . .
Just to be very clear, I am telling you about Joanna's shop only because I admire the enterprise (as well as the boldness of such a big lifestyle move in mid-life). I'm not receiving any remuneration for this, except for the satisfaction of supporting another woman and perhaps of helping some of you find the perfect gift.

(and in keeping with the theme, my friend Sue over at Une Femme has posted a collection of gift suggestions for the Francophiles in your life.

Off to feed my sourdough starter now -- that first batch of bread will help compensate for the croissants I'm missing. . . And I have a Three coming to visit later this morning, so I'll be poking holes into oranges for his chubby little fingers to push cloves into. . . one of my favourite, simple, pre-Christmas traditions.

And you? What are you up to as that calendar leaf turns over to reveal the last month of 2018? If you visit Joanna at her French Maison, do say hello from me, tell her I sent you . . .
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