Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The BIG Day

No hitting the snooze alarm this morning - it’s the beginning of a BIG day. 

We have watched the weather for a week to find the best day for our adventure. Rain is no good as we will be outside all day long. Drizzle is doable, but rain is miserable.

Now it’s Tuesday a.m. and the alarm goes off and layers of warm clothing go on. There’s no telling if the sun might come out and warm up our BIG adventure, or if we will need to stay snugly bundled up. We are going to need all our energy to focus on our epic adventure and being chilled and wet just wont do.

There is no communication between us at this time of the morning, just two quick questions, are the dogs all set, and do you have the check book?
There is just a hint of light as we head off down the road. I am not quite as prepared as I wanted to be so we make a quick stop at the ATM - cash is important to a BIG day. 

We are off to la Foire a la Brocante et Antiquites des Quinconces de Bordeaux (aka the Bordeaux winter outdoor antiques fair). It’s a 2-hour drive and a churning feeling of anticipation has joined us in the car. 

Over the years we have established a routine to the BIG day - discipline is crucial or else we will either poop out from exhaustion or get disoriented and frustrated. The line between the two states is just too darn close to monkey around with. Impatience has to take a back seat to seasoned reason.

Today we have no interest in the splendors that Bordeaux has to offer - too bad as it is a jewel box of a city. Zipping through the morning traffic we are early enough to get a premium parking spot right by the fair grounds.

Hearts pumping with anticipation we arrange our ammunition for the hunt. Camera - check. Note book and pencil - check. I am the team photographer to record visual reminders of the treasures that catch our eyes. Tom is recorder of prices, the # of the stand, and of noting the location marked on the map. It doesn’t take long before location becomes a blur - there are 250 stands to check out and we’ll be here for a good 6 hours.

We have just started down the first corridor, entered the first booth and BAM there are gorgeous things! A sweet patio set from the 50’s catches our imaginations. Wouldn’t those fold up chairs be perfect for extra seating on busy summer nights. The small square table would make a great side table. At the first booth of the day we can talk ourselves into pretty much anything as we drool over some potential prize. While still in that very first booth we spy a magnificent gilded mirror. (If the other 249 booths are as great as this one we might be dipping into our retirement funds.) The size and shape of the mirror is intriguing. Not to mention it’s beauty.  Working with gold as much as Tom does,  he is impressed by the intricate gilding.

Hungry to get his day off to a quick sale the seller is sure to show us how easily the chairs fold, the quality of their construction, and to mention that since it’s winter when folks aren’t thinking of outdoor items he could give us a better price. It’s listed at 150 euros - he’ll let it go for 100. This type of negotiation exchange will go on a quite a few times before the day is over. But, there will be no buying yet. We have to stick to “the rules”. Photos are taken, prices noted, and the booth location marked on the map. Goodness! One booth down and our hunting has begun in earnest.

For an hour we glide in and out of booths. Sometimes separate, sometimes calling the other back to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to some intriguing object. The #1 qualification for anything we are contemplating is where can it be placed in the decor of our already over-crowded home. Tom and I do not always agree on an item, but when we do we both love it. We’ll stand there discussing both physical and emotional elements of a thing, then haggle with the vendor before adding the info to the ever lengthening list.

Around 11:30 we take stock of our location and strategize how to to arrive at the restaurant before we drop from fatigue and before the restaurant fills up with boisterous vendors. 

Turns out there is no great crush on a drizzly midweek day. We grab a table and start reviewing the morning’s collection of potentials. “Let’s keep the little patio set, scratch off the marble urn, what are you really thinking about that painting?” We run through everything listed so far as our legs and eyes take a break. 

Lunch finished we are reenergized for the remaining work. No lingering over a coffee. A coffee break is saved for later, when we will take stock of all we have seen, the very last review - but we have a ways to get to that…..

The afternoon continues pretty much the same as the morning but, we notice that we are less and less excited by things. By now we have looked carefully at, picked up, or at least glanced at thousands of things. We are able to make the decision “no” without the need for reflection on the list. Everything is now weighed by our obsession with an armoire and a great block of carved stone we seem to have our hearts set on. This late in the day we walk past stands just scanning from the outside. We think, but our muddled brains are a bit unsure, that we have passed up and down all of the aisles. 

It’s time to head to a cafe for the last pow-wow. Susan waves off coffee, fearing that caffeine could obliterate what little is left of her self-control. Time to check the list, add up the amount of dreamed of purchases and narrow our purchases down to reality.

The mirror is gorgeous, but neither of us can think of a place for it. Scratch.
The patio set is sweet, but complicated to store. Scratch.
The painting isn’t really necessary - it was to remind Tom to have fun. Scratch. Let him find fun elsewhere.
The stone is just too amazing to pass up. Check.
The vase will make a sweet Christmas gift. Check.
No place to put the lamp. No place to put the boat. The old doors wont fit our project. Scratch, scratch, scratch.
These pots are the buy of the year. Check.
The armoire is a work of art! Check.

And so we set off to make our purchases. Vendors faces light up to see up return. Checks are written. Then, invariably, Tom does his Tom at the Flea market Thing.  He dutifully follows the rules and argues down the price.  And then after the check is written we have to write another one because Tom feels guilty for arguing down an already fair price. (He also over tips waiters.) Delivery is organized with little maps sketched out to show where we live. No one charges for delivery. They don’t even bat an eye knowing that it could be up to a 2 hour drive-- each way. It’a a little love fest as we glow in our purchases and the vendor thrills to snagging us. 

Our drive home is dark and quiet. The adrenaline and decision making of the day has worn us out. There is also the little nagging feeling of regret for the things we left behind. But having our established routine has kept us from being impulsive, and more importantly, kept us within our budget. Dang that we don’t have a bigger home and a bigger bank account. But the BIG day strategies keep us on our toes and and on pins and needles as we make the most of what we do have - and that is the love of beautiful things created with love by amazing artisans.

Monday, November 21, 2016


 First there was the imposing chateau of Bourdeilles.
It held a great defensive position on a craggy rock outcrop.
 Below was a strong flowing river.

The ramparts looked out over fertile fields and thriving forest woodlands.

 Location. Location. Location. This is why we have our small village of Bourdeilles.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Mystery Behind the Gates

It takes a while to get use to the fact that one is not trespassing when wandering through the tiny passage ways of our small village. Voices babble out of kitchen windows, the funny old sound of an accordion song on the radio floats through living room windows, the crackle and pop of something delicious cooking up for lunch wafts up the alley next to you. Intimacies of village life that are literally under our noses. Passing by one feels almost too intimate with the stirrings of the household and the turn of their daily activities.

In contrast to the close quarters of parts of our small village there are grand homes that stand back behind imposing entrance gates. 
When one first moves to a small village you think it will take mere days to get to know all the neighbors. Yet there are a few locals that remain mysterious, hidden behind those heavy, usually closed gates. Getting to know the people behind these gates and eventually actually moving through the entrance of iron and stone takes some time.  After weeks or perhaps months of recurring “bonjour encounters” in the bakery, one finally moves beyond conversations about the weather and engages on a more personal level. Eventually, an invitation to visit is extended. 

The first time one passes through those grand gates it feels scary, exciting, and like one has been granted a high honor. Some of these entrances are perpetually open, not even guarded by ancient doors or heavy gates. But for some reason they still have the same imposing air that gives them an aura of someplace aloof and special. Now one is getting to enter into a world set apart from others. Entering into a world that is going to divulge more secrets about our village of Bourdeilles.

By the time the invitation is offered one’s imagination has concocted all sorts of ideas of who is behind the gates, what is behind the gates, and stories of life behind the gates. It turns out that some of my imaginings have been sort of correct, but, truth be told, I have yet to meet a knight in shinning armor, a princess sleeping on a bed of roses, queenly rooms trimmed in gold and lined with mirrors, nor Madame and Monsieur being served high tea by a butler with maids scurrying around in black and white uniforms.

What I have discovered instead is the consistent simple country charm of Bourdeilles. No one is here to put on airs. These homes are treasured either because they have been in the family for generations or because they were purchased to fulfill the dream of living quietly, privately in the country. Yes, you can let the tune of Green Acres run through your head.

In these photos I try to capture a bit of the wonder that one feels upon entering the grand space created by those imposing gates. It’s a amazing what a little thing like a theatrical entrance can do to get the imagination going and how that imagination creates and holds onto exaggerated ideas no matter what the reality is. 

Even now, a few years into having permission to “stop on in” whenever I want, a feeling of grandeur and a sprinkle of fairytale magic washes over me each time I enter into these “simple” country homes through those imposing gates. Here, too, the households have their turn of daily activities, but they are embellished with a golden splash of imagination by those of us peering in.