Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My first flea market à la Parisienne

There are so many things to do in and around Paris that I have yet to venture out and try, like canoeing in the Bois de Boulogne, touring Versailles, viewing the city from the top of the Centre Pompidou So, I've decided to finally start checking things off my list, starting with something I have been dying to do since I moved here: visit a Parisian flea market. I got the courage to head to the Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves after a recent trip to Caen where I saw first-hand exactly how to negotiate for the goods I want. At a small vide grenier (neighborhood yard sale), my friend, Marie, managed to get 2€ taken off the price of a vintage camera by simply asking. Who knew it was so simple?

So, off I went last weekend to try my hand at sifting and negotiating. I started early, knowing that the stands pack it up and close up shop by about 1 pm. My original plan was to take a walk-through once and then go back to buy things, but I was meeting someone at noon and couldn't take all the time I wanted in the end. So, I strolled through, stopping at the tables with folded printed fabric, painted porcelain plates and ceramic coffee pots. I saw some beautiful antiques at reasonably high prices as well as some totally unaffordable junk. Everyone was pretty friendly, though, and I generally felt comfortable eyeing over their tables and examining their goods. A woman pushing a small cart scurried through the crowds offering cups of hot thé à la menthe and vendors conversed with one another about their recent holidays. I was surprised to see so many anglophone vendors, and I even overheard one guy's phone conversation about how he wasted so much time last week talking to a guy for 2 hours about the massive wooden cart he was selling before the guy walked away saying he was uninterested. It was clear he was sorely bitter about this.

At the start of the day, I had made a mental list of what I wanted to find, but I also told myself to keep an open mind about finding treasures that were not on my list. I got pretty lucky, and about 20 minutes into my flea market adventure, I stumbled upon a lovely old alarm clock - one nearly identical to the vintage clock that I have in my "Favorites" on Etsy. I wound the clock to check if it worked, and when I heard some tic-tocking, I asked for the price. The lady said she bought it for 25€, but was selling it for 15. There was no way I was paying that much, so I told her I'd give her 10€ if that was alright and after a slight customary hesitation, she agreed and I walked off with this lovely timepiece:

(sorry for the crappy iPhone pics - my digital camera's still broken)

I was really proud of my negotiating abilities and it felt like a victory not only in the purchase I made, but also in the proficiency of my verbal French. I kind of already knew how much was too much to pay for a clock like that, and I think that was what made me so confident to suggest a lower price. Now, I know to come armed with information!

I spent a long time sifting through boxes of button cards before finding a couple of grey plastic button bundles for a Euro each. I nearly caved for an old, rusty coffee grinder that was in totally workable condition (another item I have favorited on Etsy), but I just told the guy selling it I’d think about it. Sadly, I didn’t get to dig as much as I wanted and I passed up so many racks of vintage clothes to save time. But, I must say it was quite a lovely first experience, and I’m so glad to have finally done it. I plan on going back many times now that I have a feel for the place and ambiance, and hopefully I’ll stumble upon more good deals just waiting to be made.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A perfect lunch

I've lived in Paris for nearly three years now, and I'm a little ashamed to admit that there are still not many things that make me nostalgic about the city. Of course, the Eiffel Tower at night takes my breath away, and the colors of autumn and spring make me feel hopeful, but my connection with the city is not yet strong enough to make my heart pound. Still, I have had some very perfect moments in my life here that I've found myself getting caught up with - ones that produce a feeling of utter, raw happiness in my soul and cause an involuntary smile on my face or chuckle in my belly. Today, I very simply made a moment like this. One that I will probably attempt to repeat in the near future, but will likely fall short of doing.

It was my lunch hour and as it usually goes, I had no idea where I felt like eating. I tend to come to work starving, but completely lose my appetite by noon. I'm weird. So, as I've been doing all week while everyone else in my department is still on holiday, I set out and went where the wind took me. Well, the wind today (lovely as it's ever been) took me to Bert's, a little, well-known lunch hotspot of sorts where I've been only once before. I got excited to see the big bags of Pepperidge Farms Chunk cookies, Tim-Tams and Reese's peanut cutter cups on the shelves next to endless assortment of cold salads and dessert cups.

I picked out my lunch (paprika chicken fusilli and pineapple pieces), took it to-go and had every intention of returning to my office to eat in front of the computer when I spotted an empty, lonely green bench in the square nearby. As I sat and ate my lunch, I watched and judged the passersby - the tourists on vacation looking for their next destination, the American interns heading back to the office after lunch, the busy businessman running to make his meeting, the tired security guard on his smoke break. Everyone had their perfect place in this scene. I looked up and saw the green leaves of the tree shading me outlined in orange against a piercing blue sky. Autumn is so close now. The wind was cool and the sun was warm, and I felt the quiet rumble of the metro echo through the bench seat every five minutes. This is Paris. This is the city that I'm starting to love and feel a part of - a reflection that until that very moment would not have been true.

As I finished my pineapples, a young city worker in a neon yellow vest and green jumpsuit rolled by me with his wheel barrow full of shovels and wished me a genuine bon appétit. I knew that this type of interaction could only happen in such a perfect moment, and after giving him my thanks and wishing him a good day, I sat back on my bench, felt my heart swell and smiled. Perfection.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Un jour à Bruxelles

I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again:  Paris is so quiet in the month of August!  Besides the hoards of tourist at every turn, there are virtually no locals left in town.  It’s hard to make plans without first calling to see if the place you’re headed to is open or closed for the next 4 weeks.  Even during the work week I’ve been disappointed after walking to some of my favorite lunchtime haunts only to see a closed-for-vacances notice scribbled on sheet of paper and stuck to the front door. 

So, Gui and I decided to get out of the tourist-laden city for a bit.  Realizing that we’d only just come back a week ago from a full week of holidays, we were still itchin’ to do some traveling before la rentrée and in anticipation of fuller workloads at the end of the month.  Belgium is practically down the street from us - the same amount of driving it takes us to get from Austin to Dallas - so, that’s where we spent our Saturday.  At first, we couldn’t decide between Bruges and Brussels (we’ve already been to both), but eventually headed towards Brussels so that I could relive a little of the first trip I ever took there in 2008 with Gui and some of my closest girlfriends. 

I was pretty amazed at how much I remembered and recognized from my one single night spent there over 2 years ago.  It was warmer this time around than that first February trip, so we sipped a beer on a terrace, ate moules-frites and boeuf à la bière among the locals, grabbed some nutella gaufres and strolled around the streets and parks of the city without any rush or fuss.  We had no idea that we were coming to the city during one of its most popular weeks – the week of the Flower Carpet – so we were surprised at how big the crowds were in the Grand Place.  We didn’t spend too much time there, opting instead to visit some greener areas of the city I’d never seen before.

There was a lot going on in town, though, and we came across a music festival (Massive Attack and some other groups were playing), a park full of people and even a few pianos in the street.  It was an interesting daytrip, though much of it totally unexpected.  In the end, we came home with full and happy bellies, a trunk full of beer and a few bags of our favorite chocolates.  A day well spent if I do say so myself.

Taking flight
Gui loves his Kwak
The flower carpet at the Grand Place
a little gaufre for Gui
street pianos
Manneken pis

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Vacances

So, half of our vacation is over.  It's a sad reality, really, but we're making the most of the precious few days we have left before we take on a desolate Paris Monday morning.  We spent nearly five glorious days basking in the sun on the Cote d'Azur.  Gui's grandmother (Mamie) has a lovely home on a small piece of land a bit west of Nice and a short drive away from the celebrated city of Cannes.  We soaked up enough sunshine to get us through the rest of our beach-less summer; our lunches were made of the freshest summer fruits and vegetables, picked directly from the enormous garden each and every morning; and we relished in our free time spent reading, knitting and napping by the pool, on the terrace and in the comfort of Mamie's domain. 

We spent one day on the beach in Cannes, where we people-watched, sunbathed and dipped our sandy toes in the refreshing blue sea.  The beach is so magical, isn't it?  I could seriously spend my life trotting around from beach to beach, taking in the sun and rolling in the sand with a good book.  I'm not much into swimming around in salt water with marine life, but I can't think of any better place in the world than a sandy beach with cool, clear water within arm's reach - heaven on earth.

I got a lot of knitting and reading done during our long, leisurely days, but I admittedly spent a good deal of the late afternoons snoozing to the sounds of far-off crop planes and mountain winds.  The coolest thing about the south of France I found, was how varied the landscape is - mountains, sea, farmland - it's all there.  And I found myself in the rare circumstance of feeling overwhelmed with absolute calmness and tranquility, which I wholeheartedly reveled in.

We did run into a few snags along the way though, in the form of my sensitive skin's allergic reactions to weird, country insects.  A wasp flew into my chest as I was running out to the pool, which scared the crap out of me.  I'd never been stung by anything other than a mosquito, and man, is it painful!  Mamie brought out some fleur de lis petals and I rubbed them on my wound until all was better.  Nature versus nature, I guess.  Then, the day before we left, I broke out in some sort of rash along my collarbone and upper arms.  We never figured out what it was, but it went away and came back the next day only to go away again.  There's no sign of it now, so we're chalking it up to over-exposure to the sun or something.

Now, we're in the lovely center of France.  It's not exactly in the middle of the the big hexagon, but it is kind of in the middle of nowhere.  We're here to celebrate a wedding of a friend of my father-in-law and to finish off our week of vacation in the countryside with a bit of R&R.  The landscape is tremendously beautiful here, but the cool winds and sweater weather is a stark difference from the hot sands of the French Riviera.  I plan on lounging around, finishing my knitting project and catching up on some True Blood before we pack it up and head back to Paris on Sunday.  I heart les vacances!




Herbs that came home with us from Mamie's garden.