How do you feather your nest?

P1080573Home. The word itself is soothing. All soft H, long O, humming M, even the silence of the E.

Houses are built but homes are made.

I have seen some pretty spartan living quarters, but they always included decoration, even if it was pages and pictures from old newspapers and magazines, wildflowers in a used tin can. Usually, there is something personal. A memento. A photo, a souvenir from a happy moment in the past, a relic of a loved one.P1080571Homes are gathered. Some might say collected or curated, but that involves an aesthetic that doesn’t necessarily include raw emotion. It’s why, to me, the best interiors are those that are layered by years of life experiences, not the latest trends clicked and ordered and delivered same day.

There is a magical quality to the minimalist and modern Roche Bobois aesthetic. Epuré– streamlined–is the term. One imagines that the resident of such pared-down perfection could have an entire wardrobe of white clothes and that they never would be wrinkled or stained, and no paper would ever arrive from officialdom to cause one to tear one’s hair out and spend several days trying to get the situation resolved. Because such houses have no place for papers that represent unresolved problems. All surfaces are void. All problems are null. It is a seductive proposition.P1080584But I don’t believe it for a minute. And while I like a modern space every now and then, the way I like vinegar–a bright, bracing contrast to more comforting, comfortable things–a little goes a long way. Too much, and all you get is sour emptiness. No heart. No past. No memories. No love.

I’m very sentimental. As I type this, I’m wearing a sweater that belonged to my mother, even though there’s a huge rip on the sleeve. I have other sweaters, but this one was hers.  It will have to be far more shredded before I part with it. (Fair warning to my husband.)P1080581Every piece of art in our house has a story. Sometimes the story is that I, or my husband, or both of us were someplace and the picture or carving captured that place, that moment, and we wanted to keep it with us forever. None of it is valuable in a collector’s monetary sense, but all of it is beloved–not so much the items themselves but the moments they represent and the people we were then. Sometimes the story comes from having been was passed down. Especially the photos. The exuberant smiles on my siblings’ then-young faces. What a mess we made our home, four forces of nature with far too much energy to be contained by the walls and roof of a mere house. The smallest thing can transport me there, across the ocean, across the decades, so much so that I am startled to find myself here, now, when I snap out of my reverie. I am not sad to be here. I want to go hug my kid and kiss my husband and jump for joy for being so lucky. That doesn’t negate the yearning to also throw an arm around the buzzcut boy in the photo. P1080586A home is feathered not only with things but with rituals and sounds and scents. My mother’s constant classical music. My dad’s snores from down the hall that let me know he was home safe from work. Roast beef on Sundays whose smell permeated the house when we came back from church. We have different rituals, but they still tie us to each other, like a shared safety net. As Rick says in Casablanca, “We’ll always have Paris.”

 

 

Home Remedy

savonThe French pharmacy is legendary for its trove of affordable beauty treatments. The French droguerie may sound like a drugstore, but it’s a pharmacy for the home.

The advice is what makes it special. Sure, there are mom and pop hardware stores in the U.S. and elsewhere where the owners know every detail about every product they sell, and they are more than happy to take the time to teach you.

baking-soda
Baking soda…not to be found in the sugar/flour aisle.

But more and more, consumers go to gigantic retailers that sell everything for a few pennies less, and where the minimum-wage employees have zero training about what they’re selling. Yet for a few centimes more, the droguerie offers invaluable advice with your purchase.

Most of the stuff in the droguerie can’t be transported on a plane in your suitcase. A few products–savon de Marseille, pierre d’argent–are safe, though.

exteriorI went into a Carcassonne Caoutchouc, a droguerie in Carcassonne (caoutchouc means rubber) recently to find a solution (in more than one sense of the word) after a young visitor had an accident on our sofa. I spent half an hour going over various products with the vendor. Ammonia was good, and I was given detailed directions as to how to use it. An organic spray was new–expensive but made in France, in Toulouse. I bought both. The spray worked great, by the way.

sprayThey also sell …. everything. Hardware, though it isn’t a hardware store, called a quincaillerie–one of the most musical French words, in my opinion, all the more wonderful for its unglamorous meaning. Pots and pans. Oilcloth by the meter. Bead curtains to keep flies out of the house. Tools. Bug spray. Shopping caddies. A rainbow of dyes for clothes.

shelvesThe clothing dyes, as well as medicines, originally were the base of the drogueries’ trade.

dyes

It’s the sort of place you’re apt to pass by, especially if you’re a tourist. But inside, you just might find something more useful to take home than another souvenir T-shirt.