Have you seen “Emily in Paris”? It’s fun, but oh-la-la! the exaggerations!
The story is about a young social media whiz sent at the last minute to fill in for a French-speaking senior colleague. Our heroine, Emily, is neither senior nor able to speak French. She doesn’t even have experience in the same sector as the Paris office she’s sent to. But she bubbles over about how she’s going to teach them. No wonder they aren’t happy with her.
A little escapism today to a time before lockdowns and social distancing, when we walked the streets in crowds of people! Remember that? Like an eternity ago, n’est-ce pas?
Back then, when spring was just unfolding and we roamed the streets freely and unmasked, I was noticing a number of women with, shall we call it assertive taste. Assertive in that they seem to know what they want and don’t care about what anybody else thinks. Oblivious to mutton as lamb snarks. Confident. Regardless of whether you like it or not. Because when a young woman wears something a little outrageous, it’s simply outrageous and maybe courageous, but never some sort of crime against the eyeballs of the public.
And so I salute the sartorial derring-do of these women. I wonder whether everybody being stuck at home for so long will make us all either more attuned to fashion when we get out, or much less. I have paid zero attention to clothes since the lockdown. No appetite for it at all. (It seems I am not alone in letting go of appearances. This article says lipstick sales are down 82%, eye makeup down 68% and deodorant down 45%.) And you? Do you dress for yourself, for others, for your partner? Maybe all three, depending on the circumstance? Are you daring or classic?This woman caught my eye because she was a good decade or two older than me but that didn’t stop her from rocking a short leather skirt, leather beret and tall boots, with a little leopard, of course. My reaction was “you go, girl!”There were quite a few beret sightings before the weather warmed up and we had to stop going out.This woman clearly has something in mind. This outfit isn’t a willy nilly closet grab, like throwing on a jeans and a T-shirt. The tiered skirt is interesting; I bet there’s a story to it. And the headscarf, which is not a simple bandana but has layers. It isn’t something I would try, but I commend her for her use of color and mix of patterns. Life would be boring if everybody dressed like the mannequin in the top photo (which is more or less what I wear, but with flats).Wide, cropped pants are a thing. Worn with brogues or “creepers,” as the French call them. A challenging silhouette, but most of the women I see wearing it clearly do not care about looking taller and thinner. The wide pants are comfortable, and being cropped you don’t worry about the hem, and the flat shoes also are comfortable. They are dressing for themselves. Chapeau!I suspect this one dresses for him. If that makes them happy, then fine. Rad haircut!Another rad haircut with an otherwise very classic look. My haircut is the same as in the black-and-white photo of me with missing front teeth. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. In my defense, it’s the same cut as Anna Wintour. Something my husband or kid can cut for me–a plus these days! (I doubt Anna’s hubby is cutting her hair, though.)This woman is someone I worry about. I used to see her regularly diving through trash cans and fishing out half-eaten food. Even in the dead of winter, she had no more than a big sweater. I wonder what has become of her and how she ended up like this. We are lucky to have a roof over our heads and food to eat. Concerns about fashion feel frivolous in the face of a pandemic, though sometimes they’re a welcome distraction.
Are you dressing up these days? Or is getting dressed at all enough of a victory?
Good riddance, Gloria. Spain and southern France were pummeled earlier this week by Tempête Gloria, which flooded a bunch of places, including Carcassonne, where the Aude river ran into the streets despite having a large floodplain where vineyards, vegetable farms and parks are adapted for soaking up surplus water.
We didn’t get out much, because il tombait des cordes (literally, it was raining ropes–imagine rain falling so hard it seems like ropes–but more akin to raining cats and dogs). Now the sun is out again and it’s in the mid-50s F. As you can see from the photos, even bad weather here is pretty mild, except when we get three months of rain in two days, and even then it wasn’t cold.
I’m seeing lots of young women wearing black tights or semi-opaque nylons with white athletic shoes and skirts, like in the top photo. Sometimes the skirts are short, sometimes long like the one above. I don’t follow sneaker trends but hers seem unusually spiky. Also, the guy next to her has some very colorful Nikes.Winter white is another trend. The young woman’s white skirt, this woman’s white pants. Do you wear a sweater as a scarf? It gives her a nice color accent, and, hey, if it turns out to be colder than she thought she can put on the sweater for an extra layer. Practical!A white coat. Her boots were interesting but my toes hurt just looking at those heels. Another white coat, with white boots. And a scarf. Always a scarf. Even on men. Hanging insouciantly.You also can coordinate your white coat with your white dog. However big it looks, in reality it was bigger. HUGE.Red is even more popular as a coat color. Note that the top of her bag is red. This coat had a lovely swing to it as she walked, thanks to the pleats in the back.All-in for red.She looked so good–straight posture, good haircut, shiny shoes, cleverly tied scarf, that red coat. Also red accents, on the right, or all blue, on the left. The audacity of a red artificial flower in her hair–I love it. I want to sit and have coffee with her and hear all about her life, because I bet it’s interesting. Not easy to see, but she’s wearing a long red pencil skirt with flat red boots.A monochrome look also is popular. This woman paired gray glen plaid pants with gray high-tops and a gray coat.A different neutral–camel. Her bag was in the same Burberry-esque tartan as her scarf. For all I know, they’re both real Burberry; I didn’t ask to check the lablels. Boots and coat both camel. It all went with her hair, something I noticed with lots of women, especially redheads. French women pay attention to which colors work for them and they make the most of it.She was just one of the redheads I noticed wearing coppery colors. There were several others whose photos didn’t turn out. Once you notice one, you see so many! What impresses me is that this shade is hard to match, and it isn’t always on trend, so you can’t just walk into a store and expect to find what you want in that shade. They must collect and curate constantly, making sure what they choose will last several seasons.This is quite a different shade of red, and it matches her coat exactly. She gets points for confidence.Another example of flamboyance, with an oversize hat and a furry coat. You don’t wear that to blend in. She also looked like she would be interesting.
How do you cope with winter? Do you hunker down in black and wait for it to be over, or do you have a fantastic, fun coat that makes you happy every time you put it on? I’ll cop to being boring in black–black sweater dress with black leggings, black boots, black bag, and either a brown or dark gray coat, depending on the weather. I have fewer and fewer clothes as time goes on, and wearing forgettable clothes makes them seem less monotonous. Are you also a minimalist or, like some of the examples here, more flamboyant?
One of my favorite Christmas carols is “Away in a Manger,” which makes me think of a crèche, with all the innocence of a five-year-old looking at a bunch of dolls. I grew up with the James Ramsey Murray version and remember vaguely being outraged when I learned there was a different (and to me wrong!) version by William Kirkpatrick, which happened to be older. But I didn’t know that. What you encounter first is what you think is normal and right.
The santons of Provence are famous, but there are so many other variations on the crèche, which is a French word. It dates to the beginning of the 12th century and meant a manger (which literally in French is pronounced mahn-JAY and means “to eat,” but if you want to do apples-to-apples meaning-wise, the French version is mangeoire (mahn-ZHWAR), or long feeding trough for animals). It didn’t take on a religious connotation until 1223, according to the Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales–the etymology police.I have a bunch of photos from over the years and wanted to share them. It’s why I took them in the first place. “Somebody else needs to see this!”For example this crèche scene has life-size figures made of straw by a Polish farmer. The biggest figures are 1.80 meters tall (5’9″). The figures are based on an iron base, to which is woven balls of straw. The explanation sign said the straw symbolizes that Jesus was born in a stable, poor among the poor.This has nothing to do with the crèche, but where I grew up there were no crenellated castle walls with towers on any altars. Oh, France. Kids here who see such walls (big ones, for real) on a daily basis must not even notice small reproductions in a dark corner of a church. Nothing special.Another shot of the crèche at the top. Again, check out that altar!
There are other quaint Christmas touches around.
How is your Christmas season going? Is your shopping done? We are going ultra light this year. For the tree, too. Just the blue balls and white lights, and actually it’s very pretty. Sometimes less is more.
So retro, so unconnected. A piece of metal to spare one’s knuckles when summoning residents from within. They sometimes are as simple as a ring or bar of metal, but often, in usual French fashion, door knockers are elaborately decorated, sometimes as fantastical figures. They are made to last multiple generations. I love them.
Door knockers were the subject of conversation recently, and I decided it was time to post my collection, which is getting out of hand. The conversation was with a reader, who was visiting the region with her husband. These IRL (in real life) meetings are a surprising but gratifying aspect of writing this blog. The conversation turned on which model to choose, how to carry home something so heavy, and oohs and ahhs over various examples we spotted on doors as we wandered about Minerve.
Take the angel at the top. What work went into it! The chubby face, the interesting sleeves, the patterned torso.And how about this beauty? I think I stared at it for 20 minutes. There are three faces, not counting the creature itself. Is this from a story, a fairy tale? Who created it? Who lived there and decided “THIS is what I need on my door!” Was it a commissioned piece? Was it one of several choices presented to the homeowner? Where do I get one of these?Lions are a classic. None of the lions I’ve encountered (remember I lived in Africa!) would be inclined to hold a ring in its mouth. Did you know there were lions in Europe? As late as the 4th century AD, in part of Greece. I wonder how the makers of these knockers came to visualize lions.
Then we have a combination lion and ouroboros, the Egyptian symbol found on King Tut’s tomb and later associated with alchemists and gnostics, though other mythologies also included the self-eating serpent.
Fish are another theme for knockers. They look great. I’m not one to go knocking on strangers’ doors, so I am not sure how they feel in the hand. I’m a bit put off by those faces. Do you agree?The swan is a bit more elegant, don’t you think?Or this gentleman, with his pageboy coiffure and Bolton-esque moustache, gazing to the heavens in…what? exasperation? Disgust that somebody did a bad patch on the door above his head? Or, worse, that somebody scratched the door?The one my friend desires is the classic woman’s hand holding a small ball. The hand is supposed to signify welcome, and the ring symbolizes the theory that a vein runs from that finger to the heart, signifying love. What I love is that the cuff is elaborately detailed and that the fingers are delicately perched on the ball. Note that the base also is decorated behind the hand. Never miss an opportunity to add a design.
After all, more is more!Tell me which is your favorite. For great detail about the history of knockers, or heurtoirs, check out this post (in French but you’ll still get a lot out of the photos) on Paris Myope.
Before everybody bundles up in winter gear, here are a few final fashionable moments from this fall.
The woman at the top has it all: Mustard. Orange. Leopard. Rolled cuffs. Great glasses. Great hair. You can’t really make it out, but her bag was orange with a narrow turquoise-green strap, picking up on the turquoise in her shirt. This one is the opposite: monochrome from head to toe. I cut off her also awesome hair (simple bob) but even her graying blonde color went with her clothes and looked good.More mustard. Two examples of what to wear for Saturday shopping. I like to think their choices reflect their personalities. I love the flowing duster but I’m not much of a flowing kind of person. Much more of a blazer type. How about you?Speaking of flowing, lots of long dresses worn with sneakers. Love it. Same day, not that long ago! It was warm! I love that she went for bold color. You can’t really tell but she had great posture and moved fast through the crowd.Another long dress, this one with impractical boots. The skirt was tiered and very big when the wind took it, but otherwise made of a material that hung straight down. Interesting.I love the straight business skirt worn with sneakers.This is a lousy photo but it was to show the little details: a canvas bag with a cool rope handle, the shirt cuffs folded over the sweater.
One thing I’m seeing in shop windows but not so much on the street are high-waisted pants, especially dressy wool pants. Shown with shirts or sweaters tucked in. I like it.
The fashion sightings are getting harder as we move into the rainy season. Folks are covered up and it’s hard to take pictures while holding an umbrella. Although I have to say that even if it’s raining, don’t forget your sunglasses. Sometimes you need them AND the umbrella at the same time. Crazy. When I lived in Brussels it was the opposite: even if the sun was out, it would be only momentary and you’d better have an umbrella ready.
Are you colorful or neutral? Bohemian or business?
Since we’ve doubled down on being vegetarian, meal planning has been a challenge. Vegetarian meals aren’t just the same as traditional meals minus the meat. They’re a completely different animal (non-animal?).
Instead of grabbing a package of meat, a vegetable and potato and voilà, dinner, things are more complicated. Plus, we make an effort to get complete proteins, even though it’s possible to have some of the amino acids at lunch and the complement at dinner (beans plus rice, for example).
Our kid has become quite the foodie, doing a lot of cooking and learning techniques from the Internet, especially from Bon Appétit, whose employees now feel like old friends.
A few weeks ago, local teens were treated to a kind of low-budget TED Talk about food waste, hosted by the company that does municipal solid waste removal, Covaldem. A repeat of the talk in the evening was aimed at adults, with a no-waste tasting afterward. The theater was full.
They even gave away a little booklet of “anti-gaspi” (anti-gaspillage = no waste) recipes by local chefs. For example, autumn vegetable soup with croutons, a velouté (thick soup) of potimarron (a kind of small, sweet pumpkin) with a “tartine” made with the potimarron skin, nuts, and grilled potimarron seeds. The idea was to either use everything, or to transform leftovers.
The talk pointed out that 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted every year worldwide, which accounts for a third of food produced. It went through expiration dates (many of which are n’importe quoi–whatever–except for meat and fish), and pointed out ways that supermarkets have been pushed to reduce waste, such as by having a display for discounted food that’s about to expire, or for “ugly” vegetables and fruit, also discounted. They also said restaurants are being encouraged to let diners take home what’s left of their meals, not in “doggie bags” but in “gourmet bags.”
The talk also pointed out that meal planning can reduce waste. A few days later, a friend told me about an app for meal planning and it’s everything I wanted. It’s called Jow, and it seems to be available only in France. That’s because it links to several chains of supermarkets to make your shopping list, which you can then order online. The app is free, so they must make their money by getting a commission from the supermarkets.
I prefer to buy my produce at the market, so I haven’t made any purchases through the app. Curiously, even though the app is French and I never made any language selection, some of the recipes turn up in English. Or partly in English and partly in French. It’s fine with me–it’s how we roll in our house.
First you choose your supermarket (you can put anything, just to continue. A Walter Mitty moment where you can pick your dream French town). Then how many people you’re cooking for and how many are children. Then what you eat: everything/vegetarian/vegan/no pork/no gluten/no dairy.
Next it asks what you have in your kitchen: oven, microwave, stovetop, fryer, blender (and what kind), automatic cooker (Thermomix or other brand–they’re listed). Then you put in how many meals you want to plan: 2? 5? 7?
Et boum! (Not a typo–that’s the French spelling.) Meal ideas, mostly one-dish, with recipes and compiled shopping list. The recipes change each week. Doing it just now, Jow suggested onion quiche with chèvre and honey, shakshuka, eggplant curry, pear and gorgonzola pizza, and sweet potato gratin with chestnuts. If you don’t like something, you click on the remplacer button and it suggests something else.
Click on the red shopping cart to get your shopping list. There, you can eliminate items that you already have in your pantry or add other things you need, like breakfast foods or dish soap. The entire list for the five menus above come to €49.40 at Leclerc.
I made the eggplant curry, but I had only a tiny eggplant, so I added other vegetables (mushrooms and spinach stems….yes stems. You can get bags of baby spinach at the store but at the market it’s much bigger, sometimes with the roots still attached). Last week there was a quiche with roasted butternut squash and red onion; I substituted leeks and zucchini. I also made the risotto with red peppers.
Other suggestions under vegetarian: onion tart tatin; Tunisian lablabi; roasted camembert; crunchy tofu with quinoa and broccoli; roasted tomatoes with feta; chèvre and spinach tourte; eggplant parmesan; lentil and avocado salad; salad with dried apricots and spice bread; beet, chèvre and nut quiche; zucchini crumble; pasta with muchrooms; gnocchi with spinach and gorgonzola; polenta with roasted tomatoes. And you can click on more recipes. There are other buttons to try: favorites, new, exotic, autumn, express, desserts, healthy, veggie, gluten-free.
It’s easy to eliminate things you don’t want. The recipes are quick and easy and they give an idea of reasonable portion sizes. Some, like the tarts and quiches, are for four–you can’t really make a quiche for two–so we have leftovers for lunch. I realize that while I eat very healthy–everything homemade, heavy on vegetables–I eat too much. Portion control is the very French way of dieting. My Fitbit tells me that even with running I barely pass 2,000 calories in a day, far less on the days I don’t run, then something has to give. FitBit’s calculations are based on averages for age, height and weight. At some point recently, I seem to have passed into a new category, because for the same number of steps in a day it was telling me I was burning significantly fewer calories. Wake-up call! How middle-age spread happens.
Years ago, I tried to do the same thing as Jow, but using a spreadsheet, not with all the wonders of app technology. It was an utter failure–clumsy, bulky, hard to change, hard to organize. I am sure there are other apps out there, ones that connect to your local supermarket. But if you want some meal planning help with French flavor, check out Jow.
This isn’t sponsored. I just really like Jow. If you have similar apps that you like, please mention them in the comments so readers in your country can find out about them.
We had a reunion last weekend. Two sets of neighbors who had moved away came for a visit, spurring a long, chatty lunch with the entire gang. We dined en terrasse, where it was borderline hot. The day before had been incredibly windy–my laundry was ripped off the line and scattered across the yard. But on the appointed day, there wasn’t so much as a whisper of a breeze. The sun shone. The birds joined the jazz playing. It was perfect.
It wasn’t last minute but not with great advance warning either, so the food was simple. One neighbor brought nuts and charcuterie for the apéritif; another brought cheeses and apple pies (three! homemade!) for dessert; we supplied barbecued ribs and non-meat options–spanakopita, hummus, Patricia Wells’s red peppers with cumin. One of the returning neighbors has been vegetarian since before it was fashionable the last time, as well as a yoga teacher since well before the Beatles discovered yoga. My role model.
Everybody was thrilled to be reunited. Truly tickled pink. We’re several years older now, and it’s these gaps in gatherings that make everybody look back and realize that OMG Time Has Passed. My role model remarked on how much our palm trees had grown since she moved away. She kindly didn’t mention how many wrinkles I had acquired. But back when the palm trees were shorter than me, my face was smoother.That’s the least of it. So many medical issues, all around. They seem to give everyone an urgency that life is short and precious.
There is also, for me at least, a hard-won intimacy that comes only with the passage of time and true affection, though I always think I should do more. The others, for example, helped dig each other out after the historic flood that hit before we arrived. They did each other’s laundry. They had each other’s back. Muffin deliveries can’t measure up to that.
Yet, little by little, it happens. I’ve learned which ones got pregnant before their weddings and other little tidbits that are water under the bridge and no longer anything that would raise an eyebrow but not usually common knowledge either. These stories amuse me to no end and make me love my friends more than ever.
In town, there’s a group of friends I call the Fashionable Glasses Group. They are in their 70s, all meticulously dressed, and all with very not-ordinary eyeglasses. They meet at the same café every Saturday morning at the market. One time I was sitting at a table next to them, and more and more of their friends came and asked to take the empty chairs at my table. Eventually I suggested they also use the table for their coffees, and somehow I finagled my way into their conversation, which was brilliant.
Recently, I once again was seated next to the Fashionable Glasses Group. A guy in the same demographic came up and started chatting, then sat down. Eventually his wife, as immaculately dressed as he (in coordinating colors with him–post on that coming up) arrived, flicking her hands sharply with the south-of-France gesture that means “extreme/lots/you wouldn’t believe it,” and saying she was held up because, as she walked down the street, she just kept running into people! I couldn’t help myself. I eavesdropped. I did more that that. I took notes.
The gentleman then explained that he likes to go to the forest. He described preparing his thermos of coffee. He rhapsodized about the whispering pines, the piercing stars at night, the song of the cigales, or cicadas, in summer.
One time, a cigale drowned in his pool. “She wanted to save it,” he said, gesturing at his wife. “What could I do? Mouth-to-mouth?”
“It didn’t move. The poor thing was dead. My sister gets crazy from the song of the cigales. You know, it can drive you mad.”
At this, the Fashionable Glasses Group nodded in agreement and interjected their own tales of having been driven over the edge by the incessant ch-ch-ch-ch-ch of these insects. There also was a tangential discussion of how big they get, which I thought resembled some fishermen’s stories.
“So I wrapped up the dead cigale and put it in an envelope to send to my sister as a joke,” he continued. “A few days later, I went to put the envelope in the mailbox. Just then, it started vibrating! It was alive! I opened the envelope and the cigale flew away! So I didn’t get to play a joke on my sister.”
When you see a group of classy, bourgeoise French friends sitting at a café and talking animatedly, now you know: this is the kind of stuff they are discussing.
I love it.
If you want to know the names of some of these, click here.
I just read the most horrific article. I’m still a bit in the vapors over it. It seems that antiques are among the things millennials are killing.
Realtors are digitally redecorating homes to replace antiques with spare modern furniture and white walls, according to “When the Antiques Have to Go,” in the New York Times. The “after” in the article just looks C.H.E.A.P. to me. The article says that as lifestyles have gotten increasingly informal, antiques are out of the question. But have you ever sat on those horrible modern plastic chairs? I get a backache just looking at them. And who wants their legs to stick to the seat? In the realm of informal dining, I cite McDonalds; even their seats are now more comfortable than those fashionable molded plastic seats. What qualifies as informal? Something you can hose down? Or something where you don’t need to dress for dinner like the Crawleys at Downton Abbey?
Of course, there are antiques and antiques. It seems that vintage, especially anything from the 1950s and 1960s, in that midcentury modern sweet spot, is still hot. Anything older is not. OK, it could be difficult to use a computer on a roll-top desk. Not the right ergonomics. Beds are wider and longer (but can be adjusted! We did it!). Carved details require dusting. But so do smooth surfaces….so what gives?
The thing I really don’t understand are the faux-tiques. The Pottery Barn/Restoration Hardware/Ethan Allen/Birch Lane etc. ilk–even Ikea has some of it–that looks vaguely traditional but is new. Now, knock-offs have been around for quite some time. In the late 1800s, the style of Henri II, which goes back to the 1500s, had a revival in France, as new wood-working machines could easily create the signature spiral rails on chairs and buffets, but the rest of the carving was still done by hand. Either the traditional look is passé or it isn’t. Why pay so much for something new that looks old? Though it doesn’t. The pieces are too perfect, like Real Housewives. Inauthentic.
English antique furniture values have fallen 40% in 10 years. The prices of 18th and 19th century antiques have tanked. In these parts, that’s not even very old. I was talking to an antique dealer who showed me a buffet from the 16th century. “I can’t get €200 for it,” he lamented. “Soon shops like this will be completely gone, and so will the furniture, the history. The new generation doesn’t care.”
The truly fancy stuff aside, judging from the listings on Le Bon Coin (the Good Corner), the French version of craigslist, folks have little interest in incorporating family heirlooms in their décor. They just want to get rid of them. Antiques dealers can pick up inventory for cheap, but if there are no buyers? There are still antique lovers out there. The entire town of Pézenas is one big antique market, even when the twice-yearly antiques fair isn’t going on.Here are my arguments to millennials for why they should give antiques, or older second hand, a second look:
The price. A quick perusal of leboncoin brings up a set in solid oak for €200, including a six-door buffet, a table and six chairs. Granted, it isn’t an antique, but neither is anything at Pottery Barn. In fact, all the better that it’s just a quasi-antique: you can paint it white. Or red. Anyway–not formal. The cheapest table at Ikea is €129, made of metal that they say can be recycled, so that’s an improvement over particle board. The Ingatorp wood particle board table (with a traditional look…go figure) is €299. The Ingolf chairs that usually go with it are €60 a pop. And the Havsta buffet is €910. Ikea is great for some things, and I respect that they deliver good design for low (low-ish) prices and make an effort to be environmentally responsible. But consumption is consumption.
The environment. In the mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle, giving something a new life beats sending it to recycling, which, is in turmoil as the system is overwhelmed with stuff to recycle without demand for the materials that are produced. That’s mostly for paper and plastic, and I’m not sure where a particle board table would enter the stream, but I’m not too hopeful. Sure, millennials are giving new life to MCM pieces, but as authentic stuff has gotten more expensive, you see cheap knockoffs everywhere. Knockoffs don’t count as reusing!!! They are new even if they look old.
Your home environment. The resins used to make particle board emit formaldehyde and other lovely volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs. Something that’s solid wood (and decades if not centuries old) is not going to off-gas.
Personality. I will scream if I see another interior with Eames Vitra chairs (or knockoffs thereof, but either way they are plastic), a fiddle-leaf fig, shiplap, a repurposed pallet and a Beni Ourain rug (probably also a knockoff and made of polyester that will disintegrate into plastic microbeads). If some “influencer” declared something cool and then you copied it, are you cool or pathetic? With antiques, you can get a one-of-a-kind design. Even if all your friends become antiques nuts, you are not going to end up with the same stuff by a long shot. That goes for accessories and tchotchkes, too. Why buy some mass-produced thing to style your bookshelf? What kind of statement is that making, really? Some second-hand stuff was mass-produced, but you won’t find it everywhere anymore. And lots of really old furniture was made by hand. Marquetry is like painting with wood. It’s art. If you don’t like the old stuff, then support a living artist, perhaps someone you know.
If you don’t like brown, paint it. This would not be a good idea for an 18th century marquetry desk. But if it’s great-grandma’s dresser or a second-hand wardrobe that you plan to repurpose, then go right ahead. And you can personalize it. Or stain it darker or strip it bare, two looks I see on Restoration Hardware’s site. Antiques, or old brown furniture, doesn’t have to be precious.
When I was young, I had romantic ideas about antiques, along with lace curtains and chandeliers. Moving to a few continents meant paring down, giving back (to stay in the family) and, often buying new on arrival in my new country. It’s true it takes a while to get into shopping for older stuff. There’s a learning curve to discern a gem from a pebble (but sometimes a pebble is what you need). It requires patience–one might not want to look for months for just the right bed frame when it’s so tantalizingly easy to click online and get it delivered to your door. But, my dears, it’s worth it! Hold out! You won’t regret it!
Not everything is exquisite good taste over here in the land of butter and croissants. We have soul-less subdivisions with idiotic names and no trees. We have strip malls and mall-malls (though definitely inferior….watching “Stranger Things” made me nostalgic for the mall as social center; though our centre-villes are better than most downtowns). Instead of velvet Elvises, there are velvet Johnny Hallydays.
Worst of all, we have McMansions. There is a wonderful blog, McMansion Hell, which dissects all that is wrong about the genre.
Tear-downs are a new phenomenon. Many a gorgeous château is the result of hundreds of years of additions and renovations. The mixed styles create an endearing eccentricity about these rambling stone heaps with willy-nilly towers. It is quite a different thing to start with a blank slate and do a wide-ranging pastiche all at once. It’s the architectural equivalent of canned laughter, silicone boobs, Viagra. Fake, fake fake.
I also have to say that I have seen more than my share of hideous interior décor. These people clearly are not reading the plentiful blogs about French style. In fact, they have rejected French style for something amorphously modern, but not TOO modern, for goodness sake. Instead, it’s a bastard of modern (aka 1970s/1980s) with the contemporaneous interpretation of traditional. The result is furniture that is both ugly and uncomfortable, a simultaneous assault to the eyes and to the spine.
Take, for example, the home of a couple we know. Her: extremely short hair because it’s less work; had Groucho Marx eyebrows until her daughter’s wedding when they were plucked and she is thank goodness keeping up with that; explained, the first time we met almost 20 years ago, that they had “just” stripped the wallpaper (and neither new wallpaper nor paint was ever put up). She’s all about efficiency not aesthetics, function over form. Him: cocky; retired from a sinecure but likes to brag about his business acumen, which consists of inheriting money from his father-in-law; always on the lookout for a fight (of the fist variety, not the sharp words kind); brags about having finagled great deals, through under-the-table clever negotiations, but always pays way too much. Sound like anybody you can think of?
They bought a house for retirement that was twice as big as the house they had raised a family in. It’s in a subdivision outside of town, where one must take a car to get anything. Not a single shop. It’s near where a big forest fire ravaged the pines last month. Where houses don’t belong.
This house, which was a “great” bargain, has some peculiarities. There’s a three-centimeter (2-inch) step just after you enter, swinging in a half-circle along with the front door. That’s because the builders miscalculated the interior floor. (First tip that this is a bad house!!!!) The steps to the second floor have risers that are about 30 centimeters (12 inches). I found it hard to climb them, and I’m pretty fit. Yet, even though I’m very short, I had to duck not to hit my head going up/down because the stairwell was too small.
But hey, the house is HUGE.
They also bought it furnished, so I can blame multiple people for bad taste–the couple for thinking it was just fine and the original owners for having committed such furniture felonies in the first place. In the living area (open plan kitchen/dining/living), there’s a sofa and matching love seat, both with legs so high none of us could sit back and also have our feet on the floor. In pleather.
The dining table has a similar design, with those big-based chairs/seats that you can’t scoot in once you sit and that are also too high to touch the floor. Maybe the original owners were giants? The current owners aren’t–he’s moderate height and she is even shorter than I am.
This is just one example, because I sometimes think everybody here has bought furniture from the same place. You can get antiques practically for free, and yet people go to big-box stores in a “zoning commercial” (how do I even describe that….it’s a part of town that’s full of strip malls and big-box stores….pure hell) and they choose the absolutely ugliest options available. I love antiques but I also love modern–le Corbusier, lots of Ligne Roset. It isn’t to judge modern vs. antiques. I guess the stuff I see is a downscale version. But why? Ikea does a good job of modern for cheap. Heck, I am a total cheapskate. But that’s why I love antiques. Plus the quality. You can’t beat it–solid wood, hand craftsmanship, no off-gassing.
Anyway, I would not photograph examples of bad taste in people’s homes even though they don’t read the blog. And this post is more about homes as buildings, rather than their interior design. Usually I show you places that are achingly beautiful, worthy of being on postcards or calendars. Yes, there is much to celebrate in French taste, but not everybody has gotten the memo.
I love it all the same.
Surely you have McMansion horror stories to share. Unload them!