We are just back from a quick trip to London and Paris where we saw old friends, made new friends, and shopped flea markets under a warm winter sun. We had other touristy adventures as well but I'm limiting this post to "friends" and "flea". No Eiffel Tower pics today, sorry!
London with Old Friends
These two guys flanking my husband are Paul and Michael. The three met back in 1981 and it's a funny story.
My husband Gary, in the middle, left for England the day after he graduated high school. He thought he would spend the summer tending bar in some interesting pub. He didn't account for the massive unemployment roiling the country under Margaret Thatcher. There were no jobs for Brits, much less some small-town American teenager.
After a few weeks scrounging around London like a stray dog, Gary heard that there were jobs on kibbutzes in Israel. So he took a ferry across the channel, hopped a train across Europe, boarded a freighter from Athens to Haifa, and then hitchhiked to Tel Aviv.
When he finally arrived at Bar-Am Kibbutz in the north of Israel, Gary was broke, dirty, and very lonely. The first two English-speakers he encountered were Paul and Michael, sitting on a bench, awaiting a bus to the kibbutz. They took one look at him and quickly agreed to ignore the bloody American and maybe he'd get the hint and go away. No hint taken. Gary took one look at them, bopped over to their bench, and glued himself to their sides for the remainder of the summer.
Over the years, they have gotten together more than you would think. They've hiked the Yorkshire Dales and the Grand Canyon together. They've gone to British football matches together. And on this night in the pub, they vowed that when they retire, they're going to hike the Appalachian Trail together. Of course, now that I've published it here on the blog, they must!
London with a New Friend
That's me on the left, and my new friend, Lisa, on the right, shopping vintage a few hours after meeting face-to-face for the first time. Lisa is an American fashion blogger living in London. The first time I came across her blog, The Sequinist, I spent an hour scrolling through old posts, gobbling up her fabulous style, and laughing at her dry wit. We became online buddies and when I told her we would be in London for a visit, she agreed to meet in person. Because we are never too old to take risks and make new friends.
And how did that go, you may wonder? She's just like her online persona. Smart. Funny. Fun. And a lovely shopping companion! We will be meeting again soon, I hope!
Lisa took me to Selfridge's. I'd never been and couldn't wait to experience it after watching the TV series. It reminded me of the old department store glory days. We don't have anything like it in the midwest. Maybe the old Marshall Field's on State Street came close.
And the shoes! Those are Charlotte Olympia "Kitty" shoes, which I've admired from afar for so long. Because we should all wear cat-shaped footwear.
Paris with Our Kids' Friends
Ten years ago, the one on the right shared a bunk at Camp Miniwanca with one of my sons. A week into the program, we got a postcard with this message: “There’s a guy in my cabin from France and he’s just like me – except he wears funny jeans. His name is Benoit and I’m inviting him home.”
Thus began a foreign exchange program that ran far longer than anyone could predict. Benoit arrived with tight pants and plenty of French reserve, which finally evaporated the night I caught him and my son throwing cheese curds from our balcony at unsuspecting people below. His excuse: “Deez curds eez not bvery good cheese.” He loved our music and our graffiti. It fed his revolutionary tendencies.
After Benoit’s stay, our son decided to study in France, and who better to host him than Benoit’s parents. Oo la la, they had no idea what they were in for.
Our son befriended many teens on Benoit’s street back in France, including the guy on the left. That’s Raphael and he showed up in Wisconsin a couple of times. He made us gravlax and weird coddled eggs. He grew a mustache and twirled it anytime an English word evaded him. His hand-rolled cigarettes were symmetrical works of art.
Eventually, Benoit’s cousin came. And his younger brother. Both of our French-speaking sons went to them more than a few times. We visited Benoit’s sis in Canada. Benoit's mom visited us in Dijon. All of us met in New York once. And that’s how it’s been for ten years. Aller et venir. Back and forth.
It was wonderful to see these kids, all grown and living productive lives. But I can still see traces of boy in their faces.
And of course the side effect of these kids growing up is that we parents now have a little more time to spend together. We four made the most of our get-togethers.
Les Puces de Saint-Ouen
This isn't your typical French brocante. This is a vast marketplace of objects, furniture, art, and clothing. It is held on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays, rain or shine. I struggle to find the words to describe its awesomeness except that I did start fantasizing about having a booth. (Rent for a small outdoor stall is $1000 e/month. Not bad!) Anyway, I hope the photos will do the talking.
Please note the repast of yumminess this vendor is enjoying. And in looking at this photo, I just now noticed Benoit's dad, our friend, waving to us. He diligently kept close track of us as we wound our way through the maze of shops. Not an easy task, as I'm like a dog with a scent at times, letting my nose lead me into dark corners.
The art of window dressing and visual display is practiced with love and dedication throughout the flea. I found inspiration in every booth. No slackers anywhere! There must be incredible competition to see who can create the most stunning effect. This guy's stall, with statuary, rhino head, barbershop ebony mirrors, and mercury glass thingamabobs, really took the cake for me.
Benoit's sis accompanied us in the flea market. She was searching for a dining room table and loved a teak Scandinavian number that also happens to be in my basement. The flea market price for my table would have easily covered her airfare to Wisconsin and the shipping back to France. The offer's still open... .
Oysters on the half shell with some newspaper protecting the marble and gilt wood below. Many of these sellers have been here for twenty years. This is home for them.
Anyone recognize the owl with the agate eyes? Yes, I had one of its siblings in my shop for a much much lower price than these Parisian versions. Brutalist animals and sculpture are all the rage because 20th century modern furniture is the rage, and they look so good together.
This vendor is not wearing a lampshade. He was kind enough to share a few words of wisdom with me. I complained that my difficulty is in honing a style. I love all of it, like a putain. That's French for "whore" and my metaphor got a raised eyebrow from him. But he did tell me that after thirty years, he's learned that you shouldn't deal in what you like, you should deal in what's different from everyone else's. By the way, the lamp with the chapeau shade and a basket for knitting was 500 euros.
See the guy in the background with the couch? Later, we saw him loading the couch into a truck. He was struggling under the weight and a friend came running over to help, but not before giving the guy with a couch a bises first!
Yup, an iron stairway to heaven. Can't you imagine that in your atelier?
Those are inlaid ostrich eggs. And they light up. Of course they do.
We were searching a military jacket for one of our sons. This one came really close.
Here I am with Bea, taking a little break. She was so patient during our shopping, looking the other way when I skipped in glee, helping Gary find an ATM when I blew through our cash, finding us an authentic, less touristy restaurant.
The entire family was kind and welcoming. We are twisting their arms to come here and let us squire them around Milwaukee. We have nothing like this Puces, but we do have a statue of The Fonz. And Summerfest. And cheese curds!
Photos with iPhone 6 except the family photo. That credit goes to Romain Gaillard.
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