French Country

My life in France is not what I expected.


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Truck Stop Find: confiture

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Sorry, it’s gone. We ate the whole jar in about three mornings. But I want the recipe so much that I’m going to have to make one up.

I have taken to driving down to the house. The train is cheaper and more convenient but I’m still in the “transition” phase, so I often find myself with a carload of stuff that should really be down there. So off I go, but it can get pretty boring. Thus the truck stops.

In the States I liked that the better-stocked truck stops had every imaginable small appliance for folks who spent too much time on the road. All kinds of things were fitted with a cigarette lighter power plug: vacuum cleaners and radar detectors, of course, but also little water heaters, coffee makers, toaster ovens, you name it. I loved it. This was before the days of hookers and drugs at the truck stops, at least as far as I knew, so it was great fun.

Now the best truck stops — “aires,” they call them here — are found along the routes to Normandy so, well, I don’t get to use them. I do take the pay roads, so I miss the little roadside restaurants that cater to truck drivers. Back in the day, I’m sure they were often terrific, but that’s over. These days I just pull off to buy cheaper gas. Hot tip for fellow car-crazed fools: Chemillé has a Leclerc right there (I think it’s the A11, could be A10), easy on, easy off, gas that’s 20 or more centimes per liter cheaper than the aires. Michelin’s green guides should add a “worth a detour” category for this sort of thing.

I guess to counter the entirely accurate argument that the toll roads are bleeding local businesses to death, I find that the aires often have a section that sells local products. I look for those and buy a fair amount of my food there. No serious food, but the jams and jellies, maybe a bottle of something, why not, it’s good stuff. Unlike the sodas, I have not found the prices to be marked up. I doubt that our little tourist purchases do much to counter the relentless tide of Big Business but really, what will?

Which aire carried this utterly delectable gingery goodness? I wish I could remember. I’d go back and buy a case.


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Auction Fever

  
There is a long way to go on this house. The thing is, I’m getting tired of saying that and it’s spring, time to get out, do something different.

For someone with a big house to furnish, that could mean weekend sales. The true franconut soon learns the verb “chiner,” to go antiquing. Garage sales are illegal in France; no, I have no idea why. Instead they have vide greniers and brocantes, which are more convenient for shoppers, anyway. These are flea markets. The vide greniers are all about fleas. The brocantes range from not much better than that to fairly nice, midrange antique fairs. There is a big middle and upper range, all the usual varieties of dealers with more or less permanent locations.

When it comes to antiquing, sorry to say, the Vendee is all about fleas. I have started to meet the local guys who do “relooking.” Bless them, they buy the better bits of stuff, then fix it up. I’ll have to show you a few of the things I have gotten from them. Then there is my buddy Roger, who makes the most amazing photographs. Nothing gives me that “I’m not worthy” feeling like looking at Roger’s work. But those things are essentially new. If I want nice old pieces in their original condition, so far I have had to leave the area.

Auctions are my favorite source and Drouot is my favorite auction house. In recent years they have cleaned it up. Literally, they renovated and reorganized, so it looks and works better. Perhaps as a result, you no longer see Granny’s broken dining chairs, that kind of thing. The auctioneers bring decent to high quality, whatever didn’t make the Sotheby’s/Christie’s cut.

I like the auction ethos. Negotiating with a dealer always leaves me feeling like I may have paid too much. Maybe I didn’t but I always feel that way. Auctions, on the other hand, are clean. Whatever the owner paid is irrelevant. There is always a catalogue and it always includes an estimated value. I’m not a collector, so I don’t know fair values; for me the estimates are hugely important. Then the only question is, what’s it worth to me?

Fortunately for my bank balance, I’m usually outbid. Today, though, I won and paid below the low estimate. My post-purchase research — I’m such a slacker! — tells me the price was at the low end of fair. Sweet.

This is a dowry box, made in Kerala during the 19th century. I love the shape, the color and those heavy brass fittings. Wherever it winds up, it’s going to look great.


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I can’t decide about the entry paint.

  
Well, don’t I wish this were me in my completely furnished, completely finished house. But no, this is a copy of a William Merritt Chase painting. I would love to own this, so much so that I may buy a copy. This can be yours, too, in a size pretty close to the original, for about $150, shipped from China. Kitschy? Absolutely, but I don’t care. Love has no pride.

The reason I bring this up now is that green color of the bedspread. It looks good there — good with the other colors, right for the period, which is the period of my house, an all-round good choice. So why, when a similiar color accidentally shows up in my entry, do I have such doubts about it?

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This is Little Greene’s Pearl Grey, I think it is. When I did the sample board it looked for all the world like a flat, neutral, light gray. It sort of is, too but it has this green cast. I stand there in my hall feeling dubious while Kieron is saying, “I love that color. It’s even better upstairs.” It is better upstairs. In less light it looks more gray. Here it is more of a watery sea green. Is it a little too fifties? If I tart it up a la Chase, the yellow of the stone floors, pictures that are heavy on blues and reds, etc., will I feel better about it?

This is a big question. The color runs through the entry, up the stairs to the landings and the stairwell ceiling. Literally every other color in the house will be seen in relation to this. And most of those colors are grayed greens too, but distinctly muddy. I don’t know what to think.

In other news, I do have a stone floor. It is all in and mostly grouted. I’ll show you more floor when the grout is done. Upstairs the floor in all but one room is sanded and sealed. There is loose talk about moving furniture to final locations, maybe even unveiling some. We are crawling toward the finish line.

12 April update: Remodelista says celadon, which is basically what I have here, is a great color choice for right now. So I’m definitely going for it. Let’s hope it works. Thanks for encouraging me.