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.

Copper bed-warmers and dame-jeannes

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).

This bust was larger than life size. By about double.

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!

Oh, the temptation.

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.

Can you guess what drew me to to this display?

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.

This sconce. It could be very cool in the right setting. Which is not in my home.

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:

Chestnut crackers!

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?

Details!

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.

Huge miroir à parcloses–the main beveled mirror is surrounded by panels of smaller mirrors–the parcloses–to make it bigger. Tip: if you buy an old mirror, look for beveled (biseauté) edges, which indicates it isn’t a more modern and cheap replacement in an old frame.

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.

That leg!
The canisters caught my eye because they looked like marbre de Caunes, like my old kitchen counters, but they were ceramic, from Italy.

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.

A dressing table and chair

Not everything on display was antique. There was plenty of “art.”

A mailbox? I think. Also, do you see the white mushroom thing? A lamp?

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.

Three kinds of stripes (the bag has very narrow stripes, his shirt and his jacket), but, as my dad would say, “they all have blue!” And are those SPATS? Fun! We bought a stone sink at this place years ago…

Now to sort through a zillion photos of the heart of Pézenas….

Advertisement

43 thoughts on “The Big Unboxing

  1. So sorry to hear about the loss of your husband. I hope you treasure the good parts, and the parts that remain of the life you built together. I would imagine the life changes are a lot to negotiate, and I wish you well with all that.
    I loved this post, as I always do yours – like insights on how modern life severs us from the natural world, and how satisfying it is to be with someone you have enough in common with AND enough difference to be interesting. The photos are always marvelous, and your blog continually inspires me to travel in France, which I have a lot of plans to do as time and $$$ allow. Thanks for the effort to keep this blog going.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So sorry to hear of your husband’s passing. Glad you were able to meet with friends and enjoy such a lovely outing. As always, thanks for sharing the lovely day.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When I lived in Roquebrun, northwest of Beziers, I went numerous times to Pezenas, both during those big sales and other times just to visit the town and the shops. They make a thing out of their connection to Moliere, as you must have noticed. Its a good day outing. We have similar things near here (carpentras) but not such a nice setting.
    bonnie near carpentras

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so sorry to read about the death of your husband but I appreciate the honest words you wrote about your marriage. I have missed your blog and I look forward to reading more (hopefully) in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. We were pleased to meet him when we stayed at one of your Bastide apartments in 2019.
    I’ve enjoyed your blog in the past and am happy to see you’re moving forward with it. It’s a pleasurable way to learn and travel vicariously.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I echo the remarks of others in offering my sympathy on the passing of your husband. And I applaud you for beginning to move forward and explore new paths and reconnect with old. I’ve missed your intelligent take on life around you. So enjoyed this review of an excursion to Pezanes.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am sorry to read about the loss of your husband, I cannot imagine how difficult that has been for your and your child. No matter how good or bad a relationship is a loss is always hard.
    It is so nice to see you back here. your blog is my all time favorite. Your writing is beautiful, I always learn something and it is fun as well to tag along with you as you explore and navigate life in France.
    Take care of yourself, x Elizabeth

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh, what striking news – I am so sorry to hear of your loss, dear friend. I never imagined this was behind your blog’s hiatus. I wish you and your daughter all the best for your new situation. It’s wonderful you’ve been able to make some good friends from “home” through this time, and your antiques expedition looked and sounded like a fun outing. I’m looking forward to seeing you more about these lovely pages.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I am so sorry about the loss of your husband. My condolences to you and the Kid. Loss is so hard when you’re young. I had wondered what happened to you and now I completely understand why you weren’t writing. Like others, I really enjoy your blog with its intelligent commentary on life in France and have enjoyed the vicarious traveling. Thank you for taking the time to write and entertain us all.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. So sorry to learn of the Carnivore’s passing. You really buried the lead in this post, but when I read the news my heart did a little dip, and a double dip when you said it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Few marriages are, but that doesn’t make the love any less or the loss any easier. Glad to see you resurfacing here with new explorations of French life. Best wishes to you and your son! xo

    Liked by 1 person

  11. My condolences. I had really missed your blog and figured something major had changed in your life. Very sorry to hear of the loss of your husband. Your child and you are going through hard times, together, but feeling it in different ways.

    I hope your zest is coming back. This blog post gives a little taste of it.

    Now remember that what you call mundane and boring about your life in France is fascinating to those of us living elsewhere.

    That straw hat–I saw it twice in France in September and now in your photo. Is it the latest big thing?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Straw hats are always a big thing in France in the summer. I think more men are wearing them as they realize the shaved/bald look exposes them to skin cancer risk.
      I’ve been reading “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion. Can really relate.

      Like

  12. You were missed. I kept wondering what had happened to you and checking this page weekly to see if you were coming back. I thought your long absence could be related to long Covid. I am very sorry to hear about your husband. My condolences to you and the Kid.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.