It’s been a while. This blog has always focused on the good life in France, and not about my life, which is pretty boring, and, of late, hit by unhappy changes. But I finally got out and did something very French–I went to an antique fair.
It was the Grand Déballage–the big unwrapping or unboxing, to use a current term, though not in the current sense of filming as one opens one’s latest online order of fast fashion or gadgets or what have you. The stuff here was anything but fast or new.
The site was Pézenas, a town of about 8,000 that has an extremely high concentration of antique shops. Also an extremely high concentration of picture-postcard cuteness (which will be covered in a separate post, promises, promises).
The antique dealers of Pézenas, who number around three dozen, according to their website, understand the more the merrier, and so twice a year invite about 170 more professionals to display their wares on a couple of the town’s avenues. That makes for about 200 sellers–plenty of choice!
I left Carcassonne at 6 to meet a friend at 7 at the halfway point, in order to get there by the starting time of 8. Good thing, too, because by 9:30 or 10 it was noir de monde–packed with people. At the meeting point, there was a gas station with a café that rattled up its shutters at 7 sharp. However, a large group of hunters were waiting, most of them peeing in the bushes or alongside their large vehicles. I had counted on getting caffeinated here, but I was not inclined to get out in the dark among a bunch of armed men with open pants. With hunting season open, we have the usual river of stories about people getting shot, in their yards, in passing cars, on hiking/biking trails. A hunter recently shot his neighbor and her two kids who were walking in a vineyard, saying it wasn’t his fault because he was blinded by the sun.
I left Carcassonne under a full moon and clear skies. As soon as I got on the departemental road out of Trèbes, I hit a wall of thick fog. It felt as if I were still and the waves of fog were crashing into me. Occasionally I could make out a ghostly tree on the side of the road. Finally, it cleared a bit, with the white cottony rolls weaving through the brush and vineyards on either side of me, very prettily. It reminded me of Africa, maybe only because I’m rarely out before sunrise here, whereas on the equator, the sun rises at 7 (and sets at 7 p.m.) every single day, and 7 is a very normal time to be up. Not to mention that my toilet there, an outhouse, was in the backyard, so I not only was up but also outside around sunrise. It’s crazy how modern conveniences can sever us from the natural world.
I was quite delighted to spend the day with my new friend, an American I met in Carcassonne. After a long time of not managing to coordinate our schedules, we met up in Béziers this summer. We have enough in common to make a connection, and enough different to be interesting. I am very glad to know her. And she was a great companion at the déballage, with an eye for unusual items. Like this:
We were flummoxed by these, but she learned that these shoes were used to get the husks off chestnuts, mostly in mountainous areas where wheat didn’t grow and where chestnut flour was used for bread. Back in the day, people mostly ate what they grew locally. I got a real sense of that as I was reading “Jean de Florette” and “Manon des Sources,” by Marcel Pagnol. (The movies are great, too!) I am sure the design is calibrated for efficacy, but it’s also aesthetic, no?
I got an incredible deal on a small table and she got a basket for taking her couverts–plate, silverware, etc.–to village dinners, as I explained here. Then we met one of her friends for lunch with that friend’s friends, for a large table of American women of a certain age out antiquing. And what fun it was! The conversation was varied, lively, intelligent and good-humored. The food, at Les Cordeliers, was excellent and the setting lovely. The staff seemed a bit frayed at first, as the usual Sunday crowd of multigenerational French families mixed with a tidal wave of antique buyers. My last trip ended with us fleeing to Béziers for nourishment. It pays to reserve ahead! By the way, Les Cordeliers refers to an order of monks from around the seventh crusade, who tied their gray robes with a rope, or corde.
I had another delightful encounter last week with a couple from California, who stayed in one of our former AirBnBs. We explored Caunes Minervois, managing to mostly dodge the rain, and went for a wine tasting at Domaine Saint-Jacques d’Albas. They were absolutely charming, as have been every single person I’ve met through this blog. They were very knowledgeable about wine, which made the tasting all the more interesting. I feel so lucky to have met them in person.
I realized that most of what I knew about antiques I had learned from the Carnivore, who grew up with a lot of the stuff we saw, especially at his grandparents’ homes, and he usually had delightful anecdotes to explain different items. So I was a little worried that going to Pézenas would be too emotional. The Carnivore died earlier this year after a long fight with cancer. I can’t say that we had a happy marriage, but it wasn’t all bad, either. That trip to Pézenas was definitely a good day.
Not everything on display was antique. There was plenty of “art.”
The shoppers included a good number with interesting fashion tastes. I only got one photo, but they ranged from people in outfits that could be described as retro or even period to simply interesting color combinations or silhouettes. It was hard to know where to look–at the antiques or the people.
Now to sort through a zillion photos of the heart of Pézenas….