Details

mantel fullHaving restored our 17th century apartments to their former grandeur, the spaces speak to me, as if we’re now friends and confidantes.

Bacchus would have been a dinner party regular….kitchen fireplace straight

The fireplace, the hearth of the kitchen, is big enough to stand in. To think that originally, it was the place for cooking. Even now, the French term for a house-warming party is pendaison de crémaillère–hanging of the notched tool that held the cooking pot above the fire–rather than increase or decrease the heat, you had to lower or raise the pot.  You can see the transformation of the kitchen here. I can almost hear the voices and laughter of the generations who gathered around the table. The hands upon hands upon hands that smoothed its wood.

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On the kitchen mantle.

Not far from Bacchus’s reach is a bottle rack. Our guests have joined in the game of adding to it. kitchen fireplace side

We encourage them…kitchen counter w:wine

Wine tip: when choosing a bottle, feel the indentation, called la piqûre–the punt. It reinforces the bottle, and costs more than a flat bottom. If the winemaker is shelling out for a better bottle, you can figure what’s inside is pretty good.

What is so satisfying about tracking down just the right thing–as opposed to ordering with a click–is that everything has a story.

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Like this Louis XVI armchair, so perfect for reading (feet up on the pouf), that matches the sofa and makes me wonder how the tiny lady who sold it to us is faring these days. And I smile at the little desk she threw in, which had seen better days but was revived with some fresh paint. Because that drawer really deserves it. They don’t make drawers like they used to.deskOr this cupboard, which had served generations in the huge, familial kitchen. hutch tophutch bottomSometimes we staysauna here ourselves, to enjoy a night on the town, so to speak. It feels like vacation. Especially the sauna, followed by a cool-down in the huge shower, with its funny niche that we kept. Check out what was there before.shower

I love how the bathroom turned out. The Venetian mirror. The pedestal sink. The second mirror, that shows a glimpse of the sauna in its reflection. The cabochon floor.

 

 

We found another Venetian mirror for the powder room.wc

It’s hard to choose between black and white and blue and white. So we have both.sauna tile

By the sauna, above, and then the blue and white china, assembled from so many brocantes!

 

The things you can find at brocantes! Young ladies…bust

More blue and white…and cool mantle ornaments. Befitting of a cool mantle.mantle

A few things didn’t quite work in our house and found a home here. Like this table I bought many years ago in Lamu, a little island near Kenya’s border with Somalia, now too dangerous to go back, unfortunately. I have many happy memories of Lamu, including how I first admired the work of the carpenter who hand-carved this table back in the mid-’80s. Alas, I was a broke Peace Corps worker who could barely afford $1 a night for a mattress on the roof at a dive hotel (mosquito net included). Years later, I returned, dead set on buying a Lamu coffee table. Lo and behold, the same carpenter was working in the same place. He didn’t have any coffee tables, but he also wasn’t going to miss a sale. He got this one out of his own house, unscrewed the legs and wrapped it up for me to take home. While the cobbler’s children are the worst shod, I hope he got around to making himself a new coffee table. lamu table

It is just perfect in the apartment–the right size, not visually heavy, the carving remarkably similar to that on the Louis XVI sofa and to the swirls on the antique carpet.

While I enjoy watching the bustle on the street from the balcony in the other apartment, I also appreciate the quiet and the view in this apartment, which overlooks the communal courtyard, full of flowers and plants maintained by one of the neighbors. The apartment faces north, which, with the two-foot-thick stone walls, keeps it surprisingly cool in summer. In winter, who cares–there’s a sauna! And lots of radiators.window view 1window view 2

Both our apartments are on AirBnB: l’Ancienne Tannerie and la Suite Barbès. The perfect place to hang your hat during a stay in the south of France. Bienvenue!

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Four-star rental again!

kitchen fireplaceWe don’t do things by half measures. We have two vacation rental apartments, and both have earned four-star ratings. We featured la Suite Barbès on Tuesday. Today is the turn of l’Ancienne Tannerie. On AirBnB, you can find la Suite Barbès here and l’Ancienne Tannerie here.

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Mostly antiques. The hand-carved coffee table is from Lamu, Kenya. Not antique, but it fits in.
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Look at that marble mantle!

Logo 4 étoiles 2017The star rating was given by the ministry for tourism’s department for furnished tourism rentals.

The apartment’s name comes from the fact that, back in medieval times, the inner courtyard was a tannery. The tiny alley behind the building is called ruelle des Tanneurs–Tanners’ Lane. Our apartments are in the “new” town of Carcassonne, which was built around 1260 under the orders of King Louis IX, aka St. Louis, to house the refugees expelled from la Cité after the Albigensian Crusade of 1209. Our building, however, must have replaced an older one (that likely burned down–fires were a big problem), because the high ceilings (13 feet) and large windows are in later architecture.

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View from the living room (and kitchen, and small bedroom, and bathroom).

cour toward doorBTW, here’s a list of the residents in our building in 1624. You can see several were tanners, well into the Renaissance. (There’s also a captain, “called Captain Galaton of Pezens,” although Carcassonne isn’t on the coast.)

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The floor plan is the very definition of “n’importe quoi.”

As with the other apartment, we preserved the historical details while adding modern conveniences (sauna, anyone?). And, to make sure visitors know they’re in France, it’s furnished with locally sourced antiques. Like this marvelous crystal chandelier that we drove to a little village to the south of here to buy.

living fireplaceWe kept the old piano with ivory keys. I love the sconces on it, though I imagine that one would have had to play carefully if candles were burning.

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The stereo was a criteria for the stars.

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Many old books!

What’s new: all the wiring, double-paned windows, plumbing…. plus the original terra-cotta tomettes were cleaned and treated.

The apartment sleeps up to five. There’s a spacious bedroom, a small bedroom, and a sofabed.bedroom 1

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The crazy, lop-sided niche in the bedroom.
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A bedroom for one, au cas où.
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The sofa opens to a double bed.

The kitchen is my favorite room. The fireplace is big enough to stand in. I love having the table in the middle.kitchen to fridgekitchen lightkitchen to stove

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First, note the thickness of the walls. Talk about insulated. Second, note the clock and the painting….

Among the paintings we found was one of the kitchen. It shows the clock and the fireplace.clock paintingAnother painting we found in the apartment depicts Square Gambetta, which is two blocks away, before World War II. During the war, German troops destroyed the pool and its fountain, pictured.gambetta paintingThe square was redone a few years ago for construction of an underground parking garage. First, it was completely covered with gravel, and everybody hated it. So it was done over, with squares of formal gardens, a small restaurant, the old carousel and a fountain where kids can play in the water in summer. The same allée of plane trees still stands.

Visitors always ooh and ahh over the bathroom. It has a giant glass shower that doesn’t photograph well at all, being clear. The sauna always brings smiles, too.bathroombathroom mirror

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Choice of overhead rainfall or handheld shower. The little niche was there originally. Check out the before posts!

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The sauna. Such an indulgence.
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The WC is separate.

It has been such a pleasure to hunt for pretty furnishings and accessories that establish an ambience of French tradition and authenticity. And it has been an even greater pleasure to meet people who appreciate it all as much as we do.mantel decorationA quick reminder of the main draw of Carcassonne, the majestic Cité, just a few minutes’ walk away from the apartments:la cite from bridgela cite peekla cite sunsetla cite trivalleWe’d love to welcome you and your friends!

Four Stars at la Suite Barbès

living to mirrorOur vacation rental apartments in Carcassonne received four stars in an official inspection recently.

Logo 4 étoiles 2017We are doing everything strictly by the rules, from the renovation to the rental, and are focusing on the highest quality. The ministry for tourism’s department for furnished tourism rentals set the criteria.

We’re very pleased with the results. Five stars weren’t possible—no possibility of a swimming pool in an apartment in the center of town, nor, for a historically classified building could we have an elevator or air conditioning. The renovation was under the supervision of the Bâtiments de France–our apartment is historically classed not just for the façade but also the interior.

Our apartments are listed on AirBnB, with la Suite Barbès here and l’Ancienne Tannerie here. Let’s take a look again at la Suite Barbès; the next post will look at l’Ancienne Tannerie.

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A little reminder of the local draw: la Cité of Carcassonne, shown here at sunset recently, just a short walk from the apartments.

Not to repeat previous posts too much, this one will zoom in on a few favorite details. You can find other posts with pictures and stories about the apartments and their renovation via the tab Our Vacation Apartments above. The post about being featured on Desire to Inspire shows broader shots of the rooms.

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A detail of one of the antique gilded mirrors. The previous owner included them in the sale because they were too perfectly matched to the motives (a basket of flowers on this one) to separate them.
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Full view of the mirror.

living to fireplaceliving to paintingsEach painting has a story.painting citeWe bought this watercolor at the Toques et Clocher event in Cépie. The painter looked familiar–it turned out we had met at a dinner party some months before, plus she’s the sister of the apartment’s neighbor. Is that karma or what?

painting bridge
The old bridge in Carcassonne.

We found the other three paintings in a storage closet in the apartment. They all feature local scenes. You’ll see almost the exact shot of the one below in this post about the Canal du Midi (the photo captioned “Black Mountains in the background).

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The Canal du Midi.
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The Aude River.

The stars are based on a long list of criteria, including the quality of furnishings and decor, modern conveniences like washing machine and hair dryer plus all the usuals in the kitchen, how well the kitchen is stocked with everything needed to prepare meals, the space, etc.

 

La Suite Barbès has a large living room and a crazy big bedroom (35 square meters, or 375 square feet), plus two marble fireplaces, and elaborate moldings. The furniture is almost entirely antiques sourced from local brocantes or bought from the previous owner.

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Queen-size mattress and antique embroidered sheets, which, considering they predate cotton growing, are organic.
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A sweet engraving found at an antique shop.

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This painting is by my mother. I always thought it was gigantic–it’s almost 3 feet tall–but it looks tiny in this room.
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Armchairs face the bed; the bathroom has a washing machine.
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I love this Venetian mirror. The silver sconces were tough to find (usually they’re gold-colored).

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The bedroom fireplace. A chandelier in every room.
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This is the chandelier in the living room. It’s enormous–before we put it up, it was on the floor and came up to my waist. With real crystals.
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The roly-poly cherub is worthy of a smile.
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This dining set has been in this spot for generations.
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The table has four different animals at its base. This is a sanglier, or boar.
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The bedroom and living room each have a small balcony.
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The kitchen has an induction stovetop. Induction is wonderful–what we have at home.
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Cannisters with coffee, tea…

We have enjoyed meeting the people from all over the world who stay in our apartment. They like the décor–you know you’re in France. They also like the location, just a block from the central square, so it’s close but without the noise. La Cité is about a 10-minute walk away, making it easy to get to without actually staying all the time in the touristy area. The Canal du Midi is also about a 10-minute walk away, as is the train station.

We hope to welcome you and/or your friends in 2018!

 

 

Antique Finds

P1080511Since the rentrée, the vide-grenier season has been in high gear. The mass garage sales are the excuse to visit a new village, to people-watch and above all, to find one-of-a-kind items for a song.P1080513This stand had an impressive collection of Ricard items. Ricard is a brand of pastis, an anise-flavored apéritif that’s very popular around here. It is clear and barely yellow but turns cloudy when water is added, and thus gets called un jaune–a yellow. Ricard brilliantly played on the name. The glasses have a line to show how much pastis to pour. I can only guess that the tray, with holders for the glasses and bottle, is designed to set down at the boulodrôme during pétanque.

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Ricard, the victor over thirst. 
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A logical combination: Ricard and boules.

The professionals have the greatest concentrations of good stuff, but at higher prices. Look at this collection of antique night clothes.P1070816The pants have a completely open crotch. Interesting. I would guess something to do with using a chamber pot in the dark but I could be wrong.P1070818I love the embroidery. Even when it’s just small initials.P1070817The képi blanc is the hat of the French Foreign Legion. It reminds me of the Colette story. Ageist double standards.

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That orange phone!

Another had old knives in a very scratched plexiglass case. Can you make out some of the elaborate decorations on the handles and even the blades?IMG_3146

P1080514I do wonder about who would collect figurines of pin-up girls. Actually, I don’t wonder at all. Ick.P1080508The regular folks getting rid of stuff from grandma’s attic are where you find the best gems. Look at that silver inkwell.P1080509

And how about a mantle clock with a cherub on top?

There also are plenty of less-antique offerings. Bowling, anyone?P1080510

The thrill of the hunt is what the vide-grenier is all about.IMG_3149IMG_3144IMG_3148

What’s your best find?

Journées de Voyeurism

IMG_4749During the second weekend of September, France opens the doors on many buildings that normally are off-limits, in honor of les Journées de Patrimoine, or Heritage Days. It is the perfect opportunity for the curious/nosy/antique-lovers to eyeball  how the French really live and work.

For example, I found my dream office, pictured above and below.IMG_4754Don’t you agree it meets all the criteria? Awesome chandelier? Check. Amazing drapes on French doors that open to Juliette balconies? Check. High ceilings and moldings? Check. Mega mirrors, gilt? Check. Silver candlesticks (in case the lights go out, probably)? Check. Herringbone floors with carpets? Check.IMG_4751Gigantic Aubusson tapestry that coordinates with the Empire (?? feel free to correct me) seating.

Sigh. I could be very productive in an office like this. It’s at the Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie, in the hôtel de Murat, an 18th century building. It was built by the family of a local judge, but the proprietors fled in 1792 during the Revolution and the property was confiscated. IMG_4767That includes their amazing library and its 13,206 books. In addition to the classics in French, Greek and Latin, there also are precious manuscripts dating back to the 14th century.

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The smell of a library is a heavenly perfume.
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View toward a courtyard. Perfect.

 

 

Check out the jib door covered with fake books!

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Today it’s a meeting room. With a very functional, not-of-the-époque folding table…and the typical French ingenuity for electrical wiring (look in the fireplace). IMG_4762

But that mantle! And the mantle clock!

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They don’t make ’em like they used to.

The stairwell was a work of art.

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Molding on the stairwell ceiling.
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All the right curves.
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Had I known that acorn was just screwed on I would have come prepared. Note: Phillips screwdriver.
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A modern, but not too, light fixture. I like the one in the office better.

We also visited the Palais de Justice. I didn’t get a shot of the biggest of the three courtrooms because a mock trial was under way. I got lost in the back and forth of the trial–dogs biting cows, a fight, a broken phone….my kid informed me afterward that the witnesses kept changing their stories. No wonder I was confused. The audience was full of nonchalantly chic French parents with their mostly teenage kids, everyone riveted by the proceedings. I have never seen such a concentration of good haircuts. IMG_4727

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Nice ceilings.
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Fancy above, but simplicity below.
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Marianne in another courtroom.
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One of three holding cells in the basement. Only two were empty; the third was full of books and document boxes! Our guide was a judge, who wore a simple black outfit with a fabulously vivid long jacket.

We also popped into the Musée des Beaux Arts. Most museums are free during the Heritage Days. I prefer to focus on the buildings that aren’t usually open to the public, rather than just avoiding a museum entry fee. Plus, we’ve been to the museum before. But we were walking in front of it, so we went inside.

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The plate on the back of a massive fireplace in the museum entrance.
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A pineapple this time! And a straight screw.
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These doors have seen better days. I love that they haven’t been fixed up, painted, or, worst of all, replaced.
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THAT’S a hinge worthy of the name.

The museum was actually purpose-built, in 1836. It isn’t huge and it doesn’t have big-name artists. I find that’s a plus–no crowds jostling for a photo of a painting (I understand wanting to get close to examine, but why a photo? just buy one at the gift shop!) or a selfie with a sculpture. People actually look at all the works, rather than passing over the “nobodies” in search of the Famous Artists. The benefits of Carcassonne–small and civilized.

Tell us your stories about les Journées du Patrimoine! Last year’s visit is here.

 

Little Treasures

screen

You could call it shopping the closet. We bought much of the furniture along with the apartments we renovated in Carcassonne. And in closets and cupboards there have been lovely finds.

The embroidered screen now stands in front of a fireplace. It’s really exquisite. I suppose it was handmade–everything was, even just a couple of generations ago.

The wooden bowl, below, is big and heavy and certainly hand-carved. So much of the furniture has a grape motif. Appropriate for the region!carved-bowl

And this funny dish, shaped like a shell, very light, and painted by hand. What would such a dish have been used for? P1080589There’s a souffler for a fireplace.souffler

And this delicate lamp.lamp

We also found lots of books, mostly old school books of several generations. School back in the day must have been awfully rigorous. The pages of the history book below are half-consumed by footnotes. Enough to make the biggest history buff’s eyes glaze over.P1080591

Which is probably what led to notes like the ones below.

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Not the initials of any members of the family as far as I know. The 4 probably refers to the grade, the equivalent of 8th grade in the U.S.
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Greek to me….doodles tucked in the book.

There were books for all ages. How about this one: P1080596

The title translates as “While Laughing: Reading Without Tears.” One would hope so! It’s from 1930 and does away with the “old analytical method” in favor of the new “global method.” As illustrated below:P1080597

I’m not sure it accomplished its goals. It’s not exactly a laugh a minute. And how confusing to have to learn letters as printed and in cursive at the same time as trying to figure out the code of what they say.

Another book has vocabulary for items I don’t even recognize. What ARE those clippers? P1080598

However, it gives some great pronunciation points. Here, you have a list showing which “o” sounds are alike. It’s similar to a book I had in a French class back in the day, “Exercises in French Phonics,” by Francis W. Nachtmann. Excellent book, although pronunciation can’t be learned by books alone. It helps to also have a native speaker around to say the words correctly and then to point out how one has failed miserably to repeat them.

We also found another trove of old newspapers. It seems madame (or monsieur? their kids would have been pretty young) was thrilled by the Apollo 11’s moon landing on July 24, 1969. The papers show the extent to which it was big news, even in France profonde.P1080603P1080602P1080601P1080607

Ted Kennedy’s woes also warranted saving for posterity.P1080606

I was intrigued by a note about the weather. Perpignan had a record high of 36.9 Celsius, which comes to 98.4 Fahrenheit, while Carcassonne was at 33.2 Celsius, or 91.8 Fahrenheit. The all-time record for Carcassonne was during the 2003 heat wave, with 41.9 Celsius, or 107.42. That is definitely hot, and shows that the records are getting higher. Usually the average high temperature in summer is 28.6 Celsius, or 83.5 Fahrenheit–very pleasant.P1080605The finds reminded me of the book “A Paris Apartment” by Michelle Gable“A Paris Apartment” by Michelle Gable, which was based on the real story of a Parisian apartment that was left untouched for 70 years. Another book, in French, titled “Madeleine Project,” by Clara Beaudoux, is the true story of the author trying to figure out the life of the previous owner of the Parisian apartment she has bought–full of stuff.

We have found many small traces of the previous residents, some too personal too show. A torn bit of a photo. An electricity bill from 30 years ago. A Mary medal pinned to a mattress. I know the family endured tragedies, but I don’t know the details. In cleaning out a storage room, amid all manner of sports equipment, we found a wrapped present, itself wrapped up in sheets and stuffed into a box of clothes. I think it was too painful for them to go deal with, and too hard to let go. Even I was overwhelmed by emotion, their grief was so evident, despite decades of being shut away.

But I hope their trip to Nice was a happy one.

Antiquing We Will Go

P1070958The brocante of Limoux, on the first Sunday of the month, holds plenty of treasures. (Alert: there’s one this weekend, on July 2.)

Paris, with its huge population, has the famous marchés aux puces, or flea markets, namely les Puces de Saint-Ouen, selling carefully curated antiques at carefully curated prices from stalls that have become fixed shops.P1070970In France profonde, the flea markets are called brocantes and may be single shops selling antiques and vintage items, or they may be itinerant gatherings of these kinds of professional vendors. These are a step up from the vide-grenier, which is like a group yard sale. Brocantes have better stuff, but vide-greniers are where you will find something amazing for a song, buried amid piles of cast-offs.

That said, brocantes here offer some amazing finds at bargain prices. Though you are free to negotiate the prices down further.P1070967Can you guess what the object above is? The Carnivore knew immediately, having been there, done that. Put your guesses in the comments.P1070968And what about the gold things above? I thought at first they were some kind of hook for handing a coat or something. But no, on turning them around, the shape wasn’t right. They’re about 10 inches high. There’s a little cup, but it’s very small. Maybe for visiting cards? Even the vendor didn’t know what they were. Just pretty. He wanted €50 for the pair, which seemed too high for something mysterious, even though I loved the faces. If you know what they are, do tell!P1070956We saw lots of rattan, which I have read is on trend. I’d rather buy it because it is beautiful, like those chairs at the top, and beautifully made, rather than because somebody declared rattan to be “in,” which means that cheaply made versions will be in stores everywhere.

I’m also a sucker for old portrait photos. Those girls look so sweet. I supposed they’ve died–you don’t throw out Grandma’s picture when she’s still around. My mom did genealogy research, very thoroughly I should add. My father referred to it as “your mother is busy digging up the dead.” Anyway, she managed to get photos of ancestors going back as far as photography was around. Not just direct linage, either, but all kinds of relatives. So it makes me a little sad to see these girls for sale.

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Speaking of girls, how about this toy stove?
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Other things are just not destined to be loved by anybody but the original owner.

There were lots of really nice pieces of furniture.P1070970P1070963P1070969After having hunted for decorations for our four fireplaces, they continue to catch my eye. I love these sphinxes.

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A lot more bosomy than the Giza version.

And some old space heaters…P1070961If you are in Carcassonne, I can arrange personalized brocante tours. You can contact me at taste.france (at) yahoo.com.

 

 

Cleaning the Closet

P1070981A closet left untouched for over a decade, but probably filled long before that, is a kind of time capsule, full of clues about life in France years–sometimes many years–ago.

First, the closets themselves. They (both, I think) started as water closets–toilets. Folks used to have chamber pots, which they would empty out the window to the street below, passersby beware.

According to the genealogy blog Histoires d’Antan et d’à Présent, there were some public toilets, which were little stalls with holes in the floor, set above a pit. How difficult that must have been when women had to wear long dresses with big skirts!

People started to want more privacy and would put in a water closet as high as possible in the building–as far as possible from the main living quarters. The excrement would flow down a pipe into the street, while the odors would escape above. By 1553, the parliament of Paris required each house to have a septic pit.remise 2By the 18th century, most buildings had two WCs, one near the ground floor or near the stairs, and the other on the top floor. And indeed, in our apartments’ building, there are two closets on the landings between the floors.

When I first moved to Europe in the 1990s and looked for an apartment in Brussels, I was shown one with the toilet and bathroom (separate) on the landing; the facilities were shared with the other two apartments in the building! I passed on that one. Also, on a trip to Paris around the same time, I had chosen an “authentic” hotel from the Lonely Planet; it praised a “charming Turkish toilet.” If you don’t know what that means, see the photo below. And steer clear of “authentic” and “charming”!

Anyway, these water closets had been converted into just closets (the toilet was filled with concrete). And they were full.  One had nothing interesting, but the other one, which had no traces of its former use, was full of stuff.

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Some of the finds, after being relieved of a thick layer of dust. Four irons!

The lock box in the top photo, was an exciting find, but sadly it was empty. (Imagine the typical French gesture of swiping your forefinger under your nose–meaning out of luck.)

A plastic tote bag held architectural documents for city halls/schools from the late 1800s; I want to go around to the villages and get photos of the buildings today. With them was this document, which seems to be a handwriting/copying exercise: “Hommage to Our Lady of Angels. Extract of a letter from my Lord the Count of Massaïra (today brother Mary Joseph of Angels) to his sister, Madame the Countess of Weisemberg.”P1070984P1080013Look at how it was bound by sewing the three sheets together. Even a tear on the fold was repaired by sewing. P1070988The handwriting is beautiful. Not a single bit scratched out.

The content is odd; the writer says he was born in Naples and recounts his life, mentioning that he married off his sister to the count of Weisemberg. Wouldn’t his sister be on top of this info already?P1080011There were several pots à graisse (grease pots), used for making confit de canard (duck) or pork.

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Missing the lid. There was still sugar inside!

A few stray pieces of a set of Limoges china. I plan to use the surprisingly large sugar pot, above, as a vase.

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I’m trying to trace the Saunier-Limoges link.
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Sweet hand-painted plates and an ivory mustard spoon.
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A magnifying glass in a silver frame.
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A bed-warming brick. It was set on the hot coals, then wrapped in a blanket and set at the foot of the bed.
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Bandages still inside.
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Silver holder for a cièrge, or church candle. Supposedly, the bigger the candle, the better the chance of the prayer being granted.
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A mirror for a tabletop, with decorative beveled edges.

In the lower closet–the one with the Turkish loo–we mostly encountered rubble and coal! The upstairs closet did harbor a charbonnière, or a kind of scoop/bucket for gathering coal from the heap to put into the furnace. Happily we don’t heat with that anymore.P1070995

What’s the best thing you’ve ever uncovered in cleaning out a closet?

 

Antique Mania in Pézenas

champagneSunday was the grand déballage–the big unwrapping, a term used in connection with antiques–in Pézenas.

Pézenas is a beautiful town in the hills of the Herault department, a bit beyond Béziers. We have been numerous times to visit its bounty of 50-some antique shops. Many are open on Sunday and offer a rare something to do for those of us who don’t have the usual obligations with extended family on that day. Twice a year, Pézenas holds a big brocante faire, with about 150 antiques dealers, who set up stalls along about a mile around the ring of the historic old city center.

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Vintage shop in front, café-restaurant in back.
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A gate leads to a lush courtyard serving several shops, including this one and the one below.

courtyard shop 1It was a lot of fun, on many levels. We had specific things in mind to buy and tried to ignore everything else, no matter how enticing. (It is very hard to stop looking at furniture when you’ve been hunting for so long, but now there’s no more room!) Still, we couldn’t help but be distracted by pretty or quirky things from time to time.

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A tool used by pharmacists to seal caps on bottles.
lettuce baskets
Lettuce baskets, which I recognized thanks to Corey Amaro’s blog.
sharpener
A sharpening tool with its wooden holder that would hang on a wall.
bed
Detail of a bed frame.

The top photo shows a crystal egg, called a cave à champagne. A glass or mirrored tray inside holds the champagne flutes around a hole for the bottle, which descends into ice below. The whole thing looks like it requires nerves of steel and no partaking of the champagne by the server to ensure a steady hand. We saw several, including in dark blue. Très cher.

pipe

fountainWe heard English (of both the British and North American varieties), Spanish, German, Dutch, Flemish and Italian, as well as plenty of French–with different regional accents.

phones

scalesWe didn’t find what we wanted and came away with just a framed picture. However, we completely enjoyed browsing. There were many objects, and many collections of such objects, that we rarely see at the vide-greniers, which are often the first stop on an antique’s journey to a second life.

jesusangels

shower
Plumbing with panache.

That’s what makes antiques a challenge and so satisfying–you can’t just walk into someplace or order online and get just what you want, the first try. You have to look and look, and wait and keep looking some more. You have to play a long game. Here, where vines take six years to produce grapes worthy of turning into wine but then produce for 40 or 70 years, the long game is in the DNA. Rushing to buy almost-good-enough is throwing money away. Patience and persistence make the find all the sweeter.

cellist
Along the route, all kinds of music, from jazz to classical.

 

Before/After: Salon

trumeau closeupThis room faces a pretty courtyard full of flowers. It has evolved as we worked on it, and I’m so glad we didn’t rush. Plus, I procrastinated on sewing the curtains and only just finished them.We have two vacation rental apartments, both extremely elegant and spacious, yet they couldn’t be more different. The front apartment faces south, with balconies over the street. It has some of the most elaborate boiseries, or carved high-relief decorations, of Carcassonne.

courtyard
The view from the back apartment.

The back apartment faces north, with the hidden courtyard, and somehow feels more intimate, despite having large rooms and ceilings just as soaring as the front.

 

The apartments started as one huge, unpractical labyrinth (who wants to wind through a couple of other people’s bedrooms to get to the bathroom?). We sealed the connecting doors with sound insulation and drywall to create two separate apartments, which had separate entrances anyway.

salon toward piano before
Before. The curtains hide glass French doors that lead to a separate entrance. Note the linoleum floor in that entry.

That is why this room used to be a bedroom.

The previous owner’s wallpaper aside, it has always felt like a blue room to me. The front apartment feels red, but this room feels blue. Does this happen to you, where a room seems to tell you what IT wants? And it’s up to you to find the right pieces to carry out the room’s vision of itself?

tomettes before
Tomettes before, with paint.

The tomettes were stripped to their original state. Painting tomettes was fashionable, the restorer explained, because often houses had many different kinds, from different makers in different periods, with different colors,  even in the same room.

tomettes during
Removing the paint.
salon painted not furnished
Old paint off the floors; new paint on the walls. Didn’t our painter, Jacques, do a great job on the chimney?

Because it faces north, we chose a bright white for the walls, and gray for the trim–the reverse of the other apartment. I like that the boiserie doves are white while the chimney is a contrasting dove gray (it’s true!).

 

birdsWe bought most of the furniture with the apartment, but the family kept some things, including the mirror that was here. But look at that trumeau mirror the Carnivore found. We were going to touch it up, but friend Ali advised leaving it alone, and I’m glad we listened to her. It’s perfectly imperfect. A place that’s 400 years old shouldn’t be too glossy, even if it’s grand.

mantle before
Before.
mirror and fireplace
After. I just scored some cool decorations for the mantle. Later!

The furniture went through several iterations. We had the daybed in here with the greenish gold armchairs. They were true to the cool blue feel and went very well with the silk carpets the Carnivore scored (he is a genius at shopping, especially for antiques), but I wasn’t happy with two carpets side by side, as gorgeous as they were, and identical, to boot. They were still a bit too small. We separated them for use elsewhere and moved that furniture to the front living room. This is what happens when you furnish with antiques: you discover something, then find something else. It takes time, not like walking into a store and getting everything at once. I am very happy about giving these beautiful, high-quality pieces a new life.

During
First try. The mirror was too small and is now in the front apartment’s entry.

 

toward kitchen with carpet
After. New (but old) carpet that’s much bigger. The door leads to the big kitchen, my favorite room of all.

We found a bigger carpet, mostly cream tones, with a little blue-green and touches of salmon. And the salmon chairs, which had been in the front, worked here, despite not being blue. They actually are the exact same color as the tomettes. This wasn’t on purpose–they were upholstered before the tomettes were restored, when the floor was a dark red. Happy luck.

 

 

toward piano after
After. Same view as the shot above with the bed.

We managed to find a Louis XVI-style sofabed–not easy! I’m not a fan of sofabeds, but we wanted to give the option for more people; the front apartment is for two people max. The sofa (which has a matching armchair) has a dark teal-blue stripe. The curtains are a paler shade of the same color. They turned out great–out of all the curtains I made (for five very tall rooms), they were the least anguished.

 

toward kitchen door
The armoire with the faces in silhouette was refitted to hang clothes.

The coffee table was hand-carved in Lamu, Kenya, by an artisan I first met in 1985. He was still in the same place when I was back in 2001. I bought a chair from him, and also wanted a coffee table. He didn’t have one but, not wanting to miss a sale, got one from his house to sell to me. Trust me, I gave him a good price. In our house, that table felt too small, but here, with the imposing sofa, it feels just right, and it’s easy to move if the sofa needs to turn into a bed.

 

Behind the sofa, the piano moved in from the other apartment’s entry. I hope to get it tuned, if that’s even still possible. A painting, strong on blues, by my mother will go above the piano as soon as it’s framed. We are looking for other little gems to decorate as well. I think it will never be “finished,” but will always be evolving based on our discoveries.

toward tv
After. The tapestry is of Carcassonne, a handmade reproduction of an historic one.

If you look closely, you’ll see how we repurposed furniture. The armoire originally was in the kitchen; husband cleverly installed rods for hanging clothes; it also holds pillows and extra blankets for the sofabed.

The lyre-back chair was originally in this room (you can just make it out in the shot with the bed), and now accompanies a little desk.deskThe pièce de la résistance, though, is the chandelier. Not only is it dripping with crystals (called pampilles), it is gigantic. The room is so large and the ceiling so high that you don’t realize just how huge it is.chandelierWe bought it via the French version of craigslist, driving at night into the foothills of the Pyrénées to a house on the edge of a little village without cellphone reception. Yes, it totally felt like a horror movie. But the sellers were lovely and their house was beautiful. It was more like an oversize cottage, rustic, with low, beamed ceilings, and its new owners said their old chandelier didn’t work at all–it was too big and anybody kind of tall would bump their head on it. We barely squeezed it into the car. The Carnivore had spotted the ad only about an hour after it was posted, and we were there about two hours later to buy it, otherwise it surely would have been snapped up by an antiquaire and resold for many times more.

entry before with door
Before.

This entry is fairly small: just a coatrack in there. Previously it had been used as a closet. In the first before photo, you can see the linoleum that had covered the tomettes. There’s another small bedroom off the entry; I’ll show it later.

 

entry
After. You can see the reflection of the salon’s chandelier in the top pane of the French door. There’s a small montgolfier chandelier in the entry, but I had to lie down to get a shot and it really didn’t capture it well. You need to see it in person.

The apartment is for rent via AirBnB or VRBO (which is the same as Homeaway and Abritel). Or contact us at booking.carcassonne@gmail.com.

(The front apartment can be found here on AirBnB or here on VRBO.)

window
Admiring those curtains one more time. They even were straight. Not bragging–just RELIEVED. All the curtains are DONE.