A blue glass top box. Handmade. Holding a variety of blue glass beads. Left behind in a drawer next to a stack of letters and a key.
A small black box with a number 63142, missing 5.
The pills are gone.
Do you think a hundred years from now people will collect Bayer aspirin boxes?
A pair of large menus without an ounce of flavorful descriptions written on them. Either the party didn't take place, or food wasn't necessary.
I love when I find menus that say for example: Chateau Margaux Wine 1855 or some far off year.
A pair of antique lock covers. One has been used, note the keyhole, the other is waiting for its turn.
What secret was held inside the drawer? And why was the lock cover removed?
These are the questions that present themselves to me while I am at the brocante.
The thread lets us know the color of her dress.
Most likely springtime.
She seems happy with herself.
A hint of a smile.
A clip holds her curly hair in place.
A collection of postcards. Only three. But I bought over two thousand. The old man was going out of business. Retirement. I looked at ten or twenty of his postcards in his neatly stacked boxes. I could tell the collection was to my liking.
He shared his love for old postcards.
I listened, and thought to myself it has taken him years to collect all these, and now they are going to be mine in less than five minutes.
Over one hundred years old gatherd in five minutes. Odd.
Snippets of emotions, greetings, how are you...
Her dream was to be a flapper.
But her diploma in hand spoke otherwise.
Surely she danced the night away.
The little beads neatly kept all these years tell me so.
What stories will our tiny trinkets, junk in our drawers, leftover mementos stuffed in a shoebox tell about us?
I hope they say, "Happy ever after."
My grandfather asked his children, "Who would like to learn a musical instrument?" As an immigrant farmer he wanted to give his children an opportunity he did not have.
My mother the youngest of seven, asked to play the violin. My grandfather bought her lessons and a violin.
Though she never learned to master the violin.
The violin followed my mom as she grew up, married and had children. When I was a child I use to love to take a chair into the hallway closet and peek into the violin case where it hid. If my mother wasn't at home I would take it down and admire it. I never wanted to play it... admiring its form was what I was after.
As I grew up, married and moved to Europe, When I would return back to my childhood home I would open the hallway closet to admire my mother's violin.
It was as if a generation of coming and going from one country to another sang from that silent instrument.
Last Christmas when I went back to visit my mom the violin wasn't in the hallway closet. I assumed my mom finally took it out of hiding and used it as a decorative form somewhere in the house. But no, oh no!
When I asked my mom where was the violin she said, "I sold it."
"What?! When? To whom?" My mom said she couldn't remember it had been awhile ago.
Flustered. Frustrated. Sad described how I felt. Though I understood that mom didn't mean any malice, instead she was just getting rid of things she felt nobody wanted or needed. When you are an antique dealer you cannot be too sentimental. You gotta love to sale more than you keep. Though my mom tops the cake of letting go, she sold her violin!
That is what I get for not saying I wanted it.
Later when I went to visit my friend Shelley, I told her about the violin and how sad I was. Shelley had a funny look on her face when she said she knew who bought my mother's violin.
Shelley told me her mother collected old violins and used them to decorate her home. Shelley told her husband Eric the story, and Eric went to Caroline's house (Shelley's mom) to tell her the story of the violin.
Caroline gave me my mom's violin.
Thank you Caroline for your generosity, thank you Eric for relaying the message, thank you Shelley for remembering and telling me, thank you mom for giving me the brocante bug and understanding the need to let things go, thank you Grandpa for encouraging my mother to play such an elegant instrument.
And thank you violin for your charming hold on me.
Slow motion reality: When you see something happening before your eyes that you wish wasn't happening, though there isn't anything you can do to stop it.
French Husband turned around,
his elbow caught the corner of the crown,
The crown's airborne flight appeared in slow motion going down towards the tile floor.
I cringed as I recalled, "Italy. 18th century wooden crown. Small, off the beaten path shop. I'll never found another or that shop again. Crash."
It shattered as if it were porcelain.
French Husband quickly turned around. His shocked expression said it all. His eyes met mine waiting to register my reaction.
I screwed my mouth to the side, opened my eyes wide, shrugged, though inside I was SCREAMING.
"Well," I offered, "Better that it was you breaking something that was mine, than me ruining something of yours."
"Let it go, it is what it is. Not important. But I did, really did like it."
So if you come to my house and see a small pile of wood on the coffee table, do not ask if it is kindling. Because I might come unglued.
Brocante joy. Really. Truly. It was one of the best this Sunday.
Though you might not think so by this photo.
French Husband looks baffled, bewildered, bothered...bugged.
But no, honestly the photo is deceiving, he is hiding his brocante joy.
The brocante dealer seems to be saying, "What are you looking at?"
Photo Source: La Belle Brocante. Alwen Rambo's original artwork.
Each Saturday I focus on a different artist that I admire. From potters to painters, chefs to collectors, seamstress to songwriters, lifestyle to lovers... anyone who set the paintbrush, pastry brush, hands and heart on fire to create.
Those who inspire art to flow where it may.
Today I would like to intoduce Belle Brocante, Alwen Rambo, a collector of French ephemera.
Above shadow box: Alwen describes it, "Custom open-front shadow boxes. Reproduction and original vintage imagery. 1800s medicine vials and corkscrews. Finished with turned wooden feet (not shown)."
Alwen describes how she started to collect French ephemera,
"La Belle Brocante was born of carbonation ... sitting in front of a cafe in Anduze, France watching the bubbles rise to the surface of the glasses, watching the world pass by. Musing on the word Quincaillerie, and the fact that it would probably be challenging for English speakers to get their tongues around, though it was the essence of what we wanted to do. A mixture of old treasures, old ruins, snippets of life in the beautiful south."
Alwen describes her shadowbox (above): "10" x 20" stretched canvas. Vintage photographs and paper ephemera. Embellishments: brass finials, dip pen, monopoly car, shell buttons, optometrist lens, clock hand, charlotta doll, French box lid, fossil, human tooth, enamel pocket watch face. A mosaic of thoughts and stories."
I love the way Alwen describes her photos and artwork on her blog,
"Teeny tiny ink bottles to add a little dose of French sweetness to your studio decor." Alwen mixes snippet of poetry, and fact, "Bottles are approximately 2.5" tall and are for decorative purposes only ... after decades of opening and closing and waiting to write that fateful love letter, the ink has dried up in despair."
"My life via a vintage telescope lens." I love how Alwen describes her life as a collector in this quote and photo.
I thought I had the peeling, rusty, chipped, faded, dusty French brocante bug badly... until I discovered Alwen's blog. Alwen makes my collection of bugs look like a hiccup.
Last week when I asked what do you collect I was giggling inside thinking of Alwen and her mass collection of brocante bugs.
I admired too, that my cousin and another reader, who do not know each other, both said they collected their cat's whiskers. I am sure Alwen smiled reading that too.
Collecting what we love, what inspires us to live an artistic life.
Be it objects, or memories, or most likely a collection of those things and thoughts that make a whole.
"The teeny tiny things that accumulate in my studio:
Vials of watch parts. Mourning pins. Wee carnivorous teeth. Clock hands. Gem sized photographs from early photobooths. Small bones. Military buttons from forgotten conflicts.
Bits and pieces of a creative life."
"Beautifully worn handwritten mailing labels. Glued to small wooden boxes that were used to post gold and other valuables, the boxes were then wrapped in twine and secured with wax seals."
Alwen comes to France, in search of those bits and pieces that are often overlooked, she said,
"...Early morning brocante in the Super U parking lot. Bits of magic unceremoniously displayed on rickety tables and blankets laid out on the ground. Old books and piles of engravings. Zinc basins. Enamel clock faces and hand blown wine bottles. Wooden crates of postcards and letters and other ephemera. And at the back, a jumble of handmade lace, knotted and tumbled together. In amongst the larger pieces were cards with lengths of the sweetest lace pinned to them. Fine as cobwebs, and not much more expensive."
and her humor, "Because really, when does pink ever get a mention?"
Found at the brocante, Alwen is someone who knows the affection that the brocante bug gives, she gets the passion, she has the artistic eye that sees the world as beautifully old and worn in perfection,
"An enormous stack of antique documents from Paris and its environs....mostly 1700s....some 1800s....some 1600s....incredible wax seals....hand drawn maps....little attachments stitched on with fine thread....steel pins holding pages together....the most heavenly aroma, that mixture of cedar and tobacco that makes me swoon every time....beautiful watermarks....parchment so fine it is transparent....ragged edges....creases and stains....the foxiest foxing...."
Description of Alwen's shadow box: "Studio Collage. 23" x 47". Antique French botanicals. Ooooold French script. Cabinet card. Wooden Loto markers. Clock faces."
Description of Alwen's Shadow Box:
"Elements being arranged and rearranged, added and subtracted, and moved once again:
Wouldn't Alwen's collections, musings, shadow boxes make a BEAUTIFUL BOOK!!!!!!!!
Description of Alwen's Shadow box:
"6" x 8" wooden box collage. Vintage papers, early French photos, Muybridge imagery, bone/ebony domino, vintage copper upholstery nails."
"I find it more and more difficult to distinguish between art and collecting. Shadow boxes line the walls and the elements within them move fluidly from one to the next, making room for new arrivals, new stories. Things are not fixed in the sense that would traditionally make them become art pieces, but I think they serve much the same purpose. (Perhaps I'm an unrequited interior designer?) With collage I am a little more sure-footed. The building blocks of paper, paint, and charcoal, familiar elements telling new stories. The common thread is the story, the narrative that unfolds through alignment and juxtaposition, heartache and humour."
All text quotations are from Alwen.
The French brocante is my happy place.
My heart literally leaps when I see the stands.
French Husband knows to stop the car and let me get out, before he goes to park it.
My feet carry me to my favorite dealers, but my eyes peel every stand in between.
Brocante Bug medicine was needed. I took it in gulps. Oxygen. Blood. Drug. I took it straight up and dove in for more. Overdose does not happen.
The French Brocante never disappoints. Never. Happiness is assured.
Leaning on the dealer's truck a theatrical piece smiled.
I winked back.
Fresh air gulped.
The dealer annouced a price that made French Husband do a double take in a good way. He whispered, "Why so inexpensive?"
"Because it is the Brocante Bug giving me a shot of love."
"Where are you going to put it?"
"In bed with us?"
"Under the bed?"
The scene is set like a table: Sturdy chairs, small wooden tables, plain round wine glasses, ironstone plates, waiters in black pants, white aprons with their shirt sleeves rolled perfectly and most likely a black bow tie.
Some things never change, is that true?
The menu: Simple straightforward home cooked style, unless you aren't French, then the menu seems so French, romantic, classic words pop like a champagne cork: Coq au vin, Crepe Suzette, Quiche Lorraine, Soupe du jour, Escargots, Gratin, Poulet, Creme Brulee...
After you order, the waiter takes the chalk board menu away, and the life of the bistro plays before you: The zinc bar with the locals gathered around, kiss-kiss, a couple leaning towards one another with glasses in hand, a newspaper on a chair, a trail of cigarette smoke comes inside, and in the distant you are sure you hear Edith Piaff singing.
One of my favorite brocante dealers had a table full of thick small liquor glasses. He teased, "Do you know the name of these type of glasses? Do you know why they are thick, with a trompe l'oeil effect?"
A shook my head no, but added, "Bistro glasses?!" But I knew if he had asked, there was a reason. A French culture lesson coming. Another story to unfold before me... and with that the desire to covet them. I could hear the siren singing, "Take me home with you."
I am such a sucker for old French things. I never knew I was a Francophile: I drink Orangina.
The brocante dealer's table:
French bistro glasses,
Hand blown, with bubbles caught in the glass.
Small in size.
My brocante dealer loves glass, His stand is full of various sizes, shapes and purposes. Who knew that there was a jar for everything: Olive, wine, champagne, vinegar, water, eau de vie...
In his stand he had a blue glass, light blue glass demi-john. I had never seen one like that before.
Fragile must be his middle name. I know it is true his eyes are tender. His love affair with old French things is never far from his lips. He reminds me on a wind up doll, his stories go on until someone says, "I really gotta go..."
Then those eyes, his eyes, like glass see through to the heart, seem to say, "Oh! Okay. See you, sorry I carried on for so long..."
"Do you know the name of these type of glasses? Do you know why they are thick, with a trompe l'oeil effect?"
An eighteen century wine glass.
Large fine base.
I found this one years ago. In a small run down antique shop, on the top shelf. The dealer didn't know that it was as old as it was. I bought it for one Euro. What excitement. Oh the pleasure of finding something for seemingly nothing. The hunt is a big part of brocanting.
Thought I would throw is a surprise photo. One of the Parisian department stores' Christmas window display. Prada for dinner. Glasses and the tabletop covered in crystal snow. Serving a hot pink shoe.
Let me know what you think the name and purpose of this type of glass.
The first one to guess the name and purpose of the glass correctly will win a small apertif glass. The most creative winner will win the same too.
The wind, that famous freezing Mistral, nearly stopped me from going to the brocante this morning: How dare it! How dare it creep in on a Sunday morning! It has all week to take advantage of the clouds, blowing them where ever they are appreciated. Where ever? Provence claims the crown for blue skies, often due to the Mistral. But I am not saying merci today.
As I walked from stall to stall, talking to the dealers that I have come to know, searching for the unusual, hoping the prices will be reasonable, buying bits and pieces for my brocante, foregoing practicality because the worn, used, cracked, torn whatever touches my imagination and the object before me soars into a story.
It doesn't make sense after all these years, why out of the thousands of beautiful French antiques that spread out faithfully throughout France every weekend, only a few of them catch my eye. Wait a minute, what I mean to say is that many things catch my eye, but why does one object make me go over and ask the price, and not another?
Is it my "sensitivity" hearing the object's story? Is there a cell connection? It fascinates me. The French antique dealers also question themselves about their attraction to one thing and not the other. Wondering why they nod, "Sensitivity. Seeing in three dimension. A connection." They say brocant(-ing) is a virus. Oh yes the brocante bug.
Down jacket, wool socks, scarf, runny nose, hair blowing wildly, hands so cold, gloves are not an options, they down let me "feel"... So into the brocante that I forget every problem or concern in my life. Instead, other stories fill my head and I am taken to a place I no longer live.
When I was young, it was riding my bike.
When I was a young woman it was praying in the monastery.
Later it was dancing. Boy did I dance. I meet Yann.
As a mother it was my children.
And throughout it all the brocante stirred me. The first old thing I ever bought I was 12. I bought it with my babysitting money. A hand mirror, a brown jar and a blue beaded purse from the 1920s.
French antique portraits.
Their story, our story, your story, my story, her story, his story...
At the end of the brocante day, I walked around with my cell phone and took random photos without looking at what might be in front of me. Then when I came home I put them on my blog.
I must admit those hand carved mother of pearl tokens (in the top photo) make me want to turn the clock back. Dang. Ding Dong me for taking random photos and not paying attention.
Random photos... as I walked back to the car to come home.
Long wooden table.
Two urns that don't seem to be that old.
An elephant, a cat, a happy face... on a silver tray.
Ding Dong! I should have opened at least one of these ring boxes!
Brother Mat are you throwing up?
Poor poor Mat! You don't even know. I have been praying for you. One day when you aren't looking the brocante bug is gonna bite your butt. Then you will kiss me for all these blog posts I have done over the years.
Another day in France:
Stories unfold, page by page, object by object, history to present day.
Without knowing how or why I listen.
A mediation of sort.
Giving me time to let it be, giving me time to accept what it is, to let go, to breath... to continue with my story and the stories of others.