One of the things that I love about brocantes is that a random object can trigger a day spent researching something totally new. Today I found a decorative majolica plate that I walked past a couple of times but kept being drawn back to. The reason? I had seen something similar on a daytime television show back in Britain. It was one of those programmes where people bring along random items to be valued and possibly sold. I must have been sick that day and have taken a day off work to have been watching daytime television mid-week. I remembered seeing a similar plate (and thinking that it wasn’t something that I’d choose to buy).
I did some quick research and the plate, designed by Jose Alvaro, is one of a series featuring various forms of edible sea-life. It is a majolica plate produced in Portugal. In the flesh the colors are both vibrant (the blue of the mussel shells) and deep and murky and the plate is charming. It is clearly stamped on the back as being a Jose Alvaro design.
I’ve always thought that majolica has a high gloss glaze and the absence of this made me doubt the plates authenticity. It seems to have been hanging, maybe in a kitchen, for some time as the whole plate was covered in a grimy film. I’ve learned a valuable lesson, give a corner of a glazed item a quick clean (a bit of saliva!) if you want to see exactly what you’re contemplating buying.
I’m totally in love with the plate and now on the lookout for the other designs in the series and any other majolica that catches my eye.
Last weekend Mr Bric and I felt pretty pleased with ourselves when we arrived at a small brocante in Avernes, 40 minutes north of Paris, at 7:00 am. We imagined we’d have first pick of the “good stuff” and be home well in time for lunch. Imagine our surprise when we saw that the car park was already almost full and we had to park a five minute walk away from the stalls.
The brocante was already pretty busy so we wasted no time in getting rummaging. The first thing that caught my eye was a interesting piece of, old looking, jewellery just thrown into a box of mixed costume jewellery. It was a piece that I suspect could be worn as either a brooch or a pendant and featured an unusual cicada design. It was pretty worn and dirty and I suspected that it might be made of gold.
It turns out that I was only half right. The piece is old (possibly late Victorian) but it is made of gilt metal and not gold, I should have noticed the evidence of tarnishing on the back (the green staining). I learned a valuable lesson: all that glitters definitely isn’t gold. Costing only 20c, I can live with the disappointment.
The long weekend in May saw us taking a road trip through the beautiful Normandy landscape. There were beaches to explore, restaurants, museums and chateaus galore. Me being me, I managed to squeeze in a brocante or two.
We discovered an Aladdin’s cave of a brocante/reclamation yard located right on a main road in L’Hotellerie. The large courtyard outside (no health and safety inspectors here!) was devoted to architectural and less refined pieces. Inside were the smaller, more refined pieces that I was most interested in. It seemed that the owner had made some attempt to group similar items together but the sheer volume of merchandise made it impossible for him to stick to any kind of plan or system.
This is my favorite type of brocante, one where you have to linger at the displays because there’s too much to take in immediately. It was the typical French brocante fare but the beauty was in its sheer abundance. Each windowless room led on to another and the owner himself admitted that he’s been known to almost lock visitors inside the premises overnight when they’ve been hidden from his view in the cavernous depths.
Towards the very back of the maze was an area devoted to large wall mirrors, and marble topped sideboards. My only regret on this trip was that we only discovered the place on our way home and didn’t have the time to explore fully – I didn’t even make a purchase. Some baskets of vintage costume jewellery looked promising but would have meant stalling my grumpy companion (although, to give him his due, he was doing all of the driving).
I’ve put this one on my “return when I have plenty of time” list. I suspect that a morning spent rummaging will unearth a few treasures.
I find myself muddling along in Paris after a relentlessly suburban lifetime spent in Britain. One of the things that has kept me going (and sane) has been the knowledge that at the weekend I can lose myself in an Aladdin’s cave and play amongst mysterious treasures at the myriad brocantes that fill countless shops and occasionally line the streets.
A brocante is limited to a visual spectacle if you have no knowledge of the objects. I started to read and learn about antiques and collectables. As my knowledge grew Mr Bric (the reason why I relocated to France) started taking me to brocantes further afield. Now our Sunday mornings start at 5:00am as we load our car with provisions and drive out of Paris for a day spent treasure hunting.
I have decided to record our adventures and our significant (and not-so-significant) finds along the way.