Brantome was my very first outing. I had set up shop and was nervously waiting to see how the day would play out. Would there be any customers? Heck, it was already 10:00 and there was just a small trickle of folks wandering among the vendors stalls. Somehow when I wasn’t looking a lovely couple came up to the stand and introduced themselves. I thought this a bit strange until they said, “We’re your neighbors and we know you from your blog.” How amazing!? We had a quick get to know ya visit and then they were off. They were leaving France the next day. I’m counting on them introducing themselves the next time they are in Bourdeilles as I am the pits with faces and names, especially when caught in the shock of being recognized. As far as the world of blogging goes, I am usually pretty anonymous.
My second outing was into the fray of the narrow streets and the oceans of crowds in Sarlat. Thousands of tourist stream by all day long. There are hundreds of vendors. In the frenzy of vendor overload, the tourists get a glossy look in their eyes as they wash down the street past our booths. Feeling invisible and worn out by sellers’s angst, I looked up and there was a Virginia Tech baseball cap heading my way. I couldn’t resist accosting the man wearing that cap. I had to find out if indeed he did have any Virginia connection. And yes, he is a Virginian. To be more specific he is from my home town, Lynchburg, Virginia. Better yet, he was a math teacher at E. C. Glass High School my alma mater. I never made it to his level of math, so never encountered him, but what the heck - we’d walked the same halls. Spooky fun!
During my search for the perfect markets someone told me to try a market in Monpazier, an hour away from home. It is one of France’s best preserved Bastide towns. A true gem of a village. Again a first morning encounter - a gentleman walked up to the stand and said - “so you’re the blog lady". Now I love each and everyone of my faithful readers, but there just are not all that many of you and to encounter a “fan” out of the blue, a long way from home, well, that was a shock, an honor, and a joy. We had fun chatting about how we had discovered the Dordogne, our favorite places to visit, and how amazing it is to immerse oneself into the french lifestyle even if it is just for a month or two at a time. It adds a warm feeling to the day to know that I will see a familiar face on Thursday’s market.
I will repeat that I am honored by the kind words I hear from you all. Writing this blog has been a great source of reflection for Tom and me. What we love about these small articles is that we find that we are constantly looking for sweet and fun things to write about. This one consistent decision translates to focusing on the charming side of life. The world has been unraveling swiftly over the last year - I am heartbroken by the many senseless tragedies. My way to confront my grief is to look for ways to help others around me and to continue to look for the small things that allow me to keep up my morale, courage and the joy of opportunities offered to us each and every day. I find such joy in the serendipitous connections that continue to present themselves on market days, just another small part of the magic of my market outings.
Thank you all for the kind words for the blog this week.
Here is a little update and the answers to some questions.
I have narrowed my outings to 3 village markets.
Monday - St Alvere - small, intimate village know for it's truffle market. Right now is the season for white truffles.
Thursday - Monpazier - best preserved bastide town in the region- a true jewel box
Friday - Brantome - just about 'home sweet home' and so lovely in it's setting along the Dronne River and under the Abbey. Tom has painted this scene hundreds of times. Wonder if he ever thought he'd be painting me into the scene!
If you are around at all until the end of August please stop by and introduce yourself. I love love love meeting ya'll!
I will have to abandon the markets in late September to join Tom for our gypsy life of selling paintings.
I would like to offer free shipping to my stateside readers. The Code is stateside and is good until July 31st. You can place orders at www.lilyos.com
Since I am in the commerce mode - I will be posting new paintings by Tom later this week. His works and the schedule for painting shows can be found at www.thomasvieth.com.
Well, I am not on my way to fame and fortune selling tea towels at the farmers markets, but I sure am having a grand time trying.
The word in between the market stands is that this is the worst year for sales in any one’s memory - it would be the year that I arrive on the scene. (I am beginning to worry about my karma as I was there for the demise of the Philadelphia and the Chicago trade shows. It’s one thing to take down a city, but quite another thing to take down an entire country.)
My tea towels are not selling to every tourist that passes by as I was so convinced they would, but everyone that does step into my colorful world buys at least one - and absolutely gushes over the concept and the execution. (Thank you Tom!)
In spite of the lack of great, cash-toting crowds of tourists, it’s still worth the early morning departure to encounter the exciting energy of the coming morning bustle. And as my brother reminded me the other day, “Heck, your making more than you would if you were substitute teaching…..”.
These markets are so much more fun than being locked in a classroom pretending to be a mature, intelligent adult. Here we are all grown ups that forgot to grow up. We are gypsy spirits and con-men, we’re artistic souls that may or may not have a good idea for a product to sell, we are folks that thrive with other folks around.
It turns out that being with people is what this is all about. My fellow vendors have taken me under their wings.They have given me suggestions about markets where they think the tea towels will sell, they have invited me to set up next to them, they have shared snacks and drinks (so far I have resisted the way-before-noon offers of alcohol), they give me great prices on whatever I buy (especially the olive stand), and they tell me amazing stories. Because of this camaraderie I already have permanent placements for all 4 of my markets. I had been forewarned that it would take years to get a good place. It helps that I have chosen the sweetest, most intimate markets and thus the other vendors are cool. I would forever be a nobody at the mind numbing market of Sarlat.
So even with sales that are just barley acceptable for all the driving and schlepping that I do I am having an experience like none other. Cold mornings, hot afternoons, coffees with new “friends”, too quiet moments waiting for customers, free french lessons-ha!, and crazy crazy serendipitous encounters.
Every vendor says that the market life gets into your blood. I understand this as I have already fallen under the spell of these “gypsy” outings.
I started a new job this month. Seems that my get rich schemes get crazier as I get older. And after swearing that I’d never work any where that made me get out of bed before 7:00 I find myself getting up as early as 5:00 AM to go sell tea towels at quaint French markets.
The latest scheme is to sell LilyO’s tea towels at 4 different weekly markets. This is actually an idea that has taken a few turns to get back to. The idea for LilyO’s was cooked up when I noticed a lack of representative souvenirs at major tourist sites in our region of France. I was inspired by childhood memories of tea towels brought back from trips to the UK where one finds a pretty towel at every grand house or garden. So with the cart well ahead of the horse I got Tom painting images of local scenes, ordered up 4000 towels and then started to look into the rules for selling things at the local weekly markets. 4000 towels arrived, but the French paper work didn’t - it was not going to. It has taken 6 years to get that work permit. In the meantime the tea towels sold like hot cakes back in the States and LilyO’s took off.
Back in France - I now have a work Visa and have navigated all the paperwork (I think,…) for setting up a stand at some local markets.
By the time you normal people arrive at the market everything - all the products and the charm -has been well organized. Those organized rows of stalls wont give a hint of the chaos and jostling that happened within the last hour. There is an orchestrated process to this madness and every performer has their time and place.
The biggest trucks with the best placements take their positions with practiced grace no later than 6:30. The next layer of stalls waltz in in 5 minute increments. The old and experienced prima donnas know that each dancer has to stay in step because the slightest hesitation in timing can set off a chain reaction of trouble. The other morning a late truck was slithering through stands, brushed a couple of tent tops and knocked an edge of a table filled with produce. Nothing like a fist fight at 7 am.
I’m considered a temporary, i.e. those folks that are only willing to go to market when the tourists are around and the weather is sunny. We haven’t proved our commitment on cold winter mornings or rainy spring days when there isn’t a buyer in sight. We get sprinkled into the market where there is space between the regulars.
How much or little sleep I get the night before a market is determined by where I want to park. Being new to this and very timid about driving in and out of this chaos in front of the experts. I have chosen for now to park as close as I can to the market and lug my stuff in. Obviously the closer I can get to my placement the better. But that means getting there in the wee small hours.
Next I have had to find out where the gang hangs out to await The Placer. Each market has a person that is the Placer. This person knows all of the regulars and waits until he sees if they have taken up position or not. This all important person could hold the key to your success in his hands.
A straggly bunch gathers around the Placer and at a certain moment we all take off like ducklings following their mother. At one market we march along and meter lengths are called out, we raise our hands, and the Placer scans us to see who he wants to grace with this spot or that. Location can be ever so important to sales - well at least it is perceived that way by this hungry group.
And after all this I finally get to the set up and go to work.
Oh, the complications of French life…. understanding when to greet someone with a kiss or a handshake, how to drive fast enough on go-cart wide roads, figuring out just what documents you will need to apply for anything. But, returning from an extended stay in the US, the biggest one for me when I am getting back into my French routine is how to organize the grocery shopping. I’m not saying that life is tough, probably not even really complicated, it’s just that getting into the groove of another way of doing things takes some patience.
When I get back to France it’s usually not the “right” day to get back into the usual routine. It doesn’t help that even if it was the right day I’d have to be up in time to get to the market. The first jet-lagged week home I don’t get up in time for anything. So after being away for practically 4 months the first grocery outing was to Aldi, the german chain of stores popping up all over France. Shame on me for not shopping local, but the Germans stay open at lunch. Tom had managed to budget his coffee, toilet paper and paper towels to the very last second of my absence. Aldi was my first stop to restock cleaning and paper products and all the junkfood we eat-- cookies, peanuts, chips, etc. It is a shock to my jet-lagged brain that I have to bag my own groceries. Very quickly! To keep the line moving, Aldi’s counter space after the cash register can be measured in micrometers. Bag it fast or pick it up off the floor! Oh, those kooky Germans!
The second stop was Carrefour Market, the regular (French) grocery store. As a re-entry shopping experience, Carrefour is uncomplicated. I can go there with a list and be sure that I will find everything I need. Of course my Americanized brain always forgets that I have to weigh my own fruits and vegetables before I get to the checkout, and I will surely underestimate the amount of shopping bags that I have to bring from home.
As my American fog starts to lift I get back to the daily routine of planning out what I need for the day. When I am better organized I can walk down to the corner grocery. (One of Bourdeilles’ groceries closed while I was away. I am crushed.) Shopping locally means being more creative about what we are going to eat. I can’t just pull out a recipe and know that I will find the ingredients down at the corner store. I can however count on great fruits and vegetables, a chance to catch up with folks in the village, a rose bush for sale, a small rack of affordable clothes, or an off-brand flat screen TV that has been sitting in the window forever.
All is well in the kitchen when Sunday morning comes back around. My jet lag has cleared and I am ready for my favorite challenge. Hunting and gathering at Bourdeilles’ Sunday market. There are two vegetable vendors, Paola and Vincent, one bread vendor, Marie Anne, one traveling “organic” products van, Cecile, and one cheese vendor, Louise. The cheese stand is easy. I can buy anything there and be happy. What I buy depends on how much of last week’s cheese is still smelling up the fridge. The bread is easy too. It’s always a brioche unless it’s already sold out. Her olive bread will be a nice change of pace from baguettes and croissants during the week. The vegetable stand is where my brain has to kick in. Veggies are the base of our meals. The thing is that there is just no telling what one is going to find. It can be a once-in-the-whole-year appearance or it could be the same selection for weeks on end. Yesterday was a jackpot day. Both vegetable vendors had a nice array of choices. The trick was to stand on the edge of the market and try to scope out what Paola had that Vincent didn’t and vice versa. That way I support both of them, but don't double up on fava beans or more rutabaga than we can eat. Judging how much to buy so that there is no waste can be a bit tricky. There is the chance that later in the week I won’t feel inspired by these fresh, tasty treasures that look so tempting this morning. Thank goodness that often the best thing is to just gently steam the vegetable and have it accompany a small piece of meat or fish. I am the queen of one pot dinners so there is often a very strange mix of veggies with different spices to mix up the flavor sensations. Even though none of it is goulash, that is what we call all of these mystery dishes.
So after a week or two of hovering between two continents I have returned to the rhythm of keeping the cupboards full. The fridge has just the right, slight smell of goats cheese. One can go to the toilet without fear of no paper. Shopping bags are always in the car. Now the biggest complication is adding in the extra time it takes to do the shopping as one stops along the way to visit with the neighbors. Here is a link to a cooking school not far away in our region: https://maisontravers.wordpress.com
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"Il faut une ou deux passions dangereusse, despotiques, ameres et plein d'ivresse pour motiver une existence."
Continuing a wonderful chain of friends, introducing friends to the magic of Bourdeilles, France, we bring you this website.
Who we are is Tom and Susan Vieth. Tom is an artist. Susan keeps everything in our lives somewhat straight so that Tom can stay lost in his painting.
After 22 years of loving Vermont and having tremendous success with Tom’s art career we are making a new bold move - we are now living in Bourdeilles,France.
It all started ten years ago when Tom proposed we buy a house so he could have a settled place to make his watercolors while in France. Being the practical one Susan said, “No, that’s what one does when they are 60 - 70.” Tom’s response was that at that age we might not be able to make it to France. So 6 months later we had ‘the little house in France’.
We are now on to new adventures and this blog is being created to share these experiences as well as showcase weekly cartoons and sketches by Tom. And to keep you posted on new opportunities that we cook up--such as tours in our region of France, products from our region and watercolors from Tom’s sketch book.
Wish us luck, keep in touch and let us know if you are in the area of our small village in France. Life moves; hold on!
Tom and Susan Vieth are exploring life in France. Tom's watercolors and oil paintings show the surrounding countryside and Susan has taken to writing about small events that we encounter in daily life. Tom's weekly cartoons add a spice to our American view of French life.