28 October 2011

from past to present

I brought home some cuties and beauties from Les Puces du Canal a few Sundays ago.

Some days, I go there and I don't see anything I want to take home -- and that's okay, because half the fun is in looking (not just at the stuff, but also at the people). On this particular day, however, I kept finding things.

I fell in love with this serving utensil because of its delicate floral etching detail. It has a slightly irregular shape -- it must have had a very specific function. I would love to know what that might have been.

I love vintage tea towels. I spend so much time in the kitchen, often doing the dishes --I figure I might as well use pretty things that make me happy. The linens in these photos came from four different stalls, and were incidentally all 5€ each. I don't ever spend more than 7€ on a tea towel; otherwise I'd hesitate to use it because it's too precious.

Two pieces of cloth caught my eyes at the stall of one of the ladies in the hangar who specializes in laces and linens.

They are both made of several pieces of fabric, patched together to make a larger piece. The MP one is actually quite small, and also very narrow. I have no idea what it may have been used for -- it's too small to be a tea towel, and too long and narrow to be a dinner napkin. The DM one is larger but isn't even a recutangular -- the fabric used in the corner has a slanted edge, and the whole piece looks like an indecisive pentagon. All the sewing is done by hand, with stitches so small that I can barely see them without a magnifying glass.

I keep spreading them out on my lap, looking at them again and again. I look at the stitches and think of the women who saved fabric scraps and patiently repurposed them. I remember how my mother used to mend our socks when the toes got thin -- does anyone do that any more? People talk about recyling as if it's such a cool, new, green thing, but that's how things have been done for hudnreds of hudnreds of years. Mending, fixing, reusing, upcycling. When did we stop repairing things to keep them in use longer?

This little princess of a plate is about 16cm by 12cm. The lady at the stall wanted 10€ for it; I paid 8€. I can't date it but here are some clues: The bottom is all bumpy, so I'm guessing it wasn't factory-produced on an assembly line. The drawing looks like transfer printing and the color hand-painted (but I'm no expert).

There's no indication of where it was made, either. Does it look English, perhaps? 

The dealer I bought these cups from would not negotiate (he's in La Halle -- under the arcade, toward the western end). I almost walked away but eventually indulged because I was smitten with the patina on these cups.

I love the medieval chainmail-looking design on one, and the sweet way the number 64 is carved on the other. I won't use them for drinking. They'll look pretty with miniature cactus plants in them, or cradling our toothbrushes in the bathroom. Maybe I'll use them to hold a small stem of flowers from my backyard -- once I have a backyard again.

Many of the things I buy at Les Puces are indeed French vintage and antiques. Occasionally I ask myself if it's right that I will be taking them out of the country, out of the context of where their being makes most sense. But I'd like to think that they are finding a new, good home with me. I'd also like to think that they appreciate being used by someone who enjoys their function as well as their beauty.

And if I do things right, they will last 30, 50, maybe even 100 more years. They will find new owners who would do the same as I've done, wherever they are. Then they will be passed on, once again, to someone who will take care of them, so it can be shown to the future generatoin that, you know, people didn't used to just throw things away.

14 October 2011

a fine day in Vieux Lyon

During the last weekend of September, we had a visitor from England staying with us. It was sunny and very warm; perfect time to walk around in Old Town Lyon

The exterior walls of Eglise Saint-Jean had been completely cleaned, and the cathedral looked like a young woman who just came out of the shower -- fresh and happy to have all that yucky stuff scrubbed off.

When we see these gothic churches, they are typically wearing grey skin, dotted with decades' accumulation of black dirt. That's how we know these buildings, and when we see them with all the dirt washed off, it almost feels "not quite right", as if not gothic enough.

But old buildings weren't always old. What a privilege to see them like this, the way people saw them when they were first built. I had a sensation, as I admired the facade of this beautiful (and clean) church, that I was sharing the joy and awe with the people who stood there when it was dedicated back in 1476.

Lovely weather means lunch outside. Soon all the terrace tables at cafes and bouchons were filled with people enjoying food, wine, sunshine and conversations.

Alas, there was plenty of cigarette smoke there, too. So my friend and I opted instead for a brioche and a crêpe, and ate them as we walked.

I had always wondered why Rue du Bœuf was called that: The Bull Street. It's such an unusual name for a street. Did this street get its name because this statue was here? Or was the statue erected to reflect the street name? Which came first: the statue or the name? It only took a click on the mouse to find out the answer (the former).

Now I'm curious as to why it's a bull. This bull is placed in the part of the building where we normally find a niche adorned with statues of saints or otherwise important people. So who put a bull up there?

I'm sure something has been written about that by someone somewhere, but I can only Google in English (unfortunately my French is too poor to do any type of in-depth research), and I have not found anything.



La Tour Rose is one of the most famous Vieux Lyon landmarks. Part of this building is a hotel, and there is a traboule here that's open to public.

I wonder what function this tower used to serve. The staircase it houses doesn't lead anywhere but the room at the top. It sure looks like a watchtower of some kind, but this -- in the middle of a town -- seems to me like a strange location to have a watchtower. Perhaps this used to be a good vantage point to watch the traffic on the Saône, before the taller buildings were built along the river? 



Since that lovely weekend, the weather in Lyon has gotten rather cold rather fast, and we now have heat in our apartment. I need to get out more often with my camera before it gets too cold to walk around. 


07 October 2011


How does a pumpkin know where to stop being yellow and start turning green?



I love the many, many shapes and colors and faces and textures of pumpkins.

Thank you for being so astonishingly beautiful.


02 October 2011

sunday afternoon

It was Sunday. The sun was smiling happily on us, and the afternoon light was bright and crisp.

I realized it had been a while since the last time I stepped outside just to walk around and look at things.

I had a few hours to spend alone, so I grabbed my camera and headed out. 

I love the area between the hill of Croix Rousse and Presqu'île, where the 1er and 4eme arrondissements meet and the slope toward the hill starts.

This area, I've been told, used to be much seedier and was frequented by questionable characters. But that meant the rent was cheap, and cheap rent attracted poor artists who needed big spaces to paint, sculpt, and otherwise create their stuff.

That history explains the many galleries and art studios we see in this quartier today. The vibe is funky and bohemian. I don't quite stick out walking around in my Birkenstocks here, like I do in the 6eme (where high heels and brand-name handbags rule).

Rust, cracks, peeling paint, crooked doorways -- I love them all. I just need to remember to look down every few meters, just to make sure I'm not stepping on something horrible on the sidewalk.

My understanding is that traboules are open to public if the entry is not locked. I still feel as if I'm trespassing, but I have to admit: that feeling kind of contributes to the sense of fun when I'm exploring the old sections of Lyon.

There are many fabulous trompe l'oeil murals in Lyon. This one, perhaps the most famous of all, is called La Fresque des Lyonnais. I don't know anyone on this wall except Paul Bocuse, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and the Lumière Brothers. There are a couple of benches facing the mural, and it's the perfect spot to sit and take a five-minute break before I continue my walk.

Just by the mural, I cross the Saône on Passerelle Saint Vincent. Lyon has many bridges crossing its two rivers, every one of them having different history and unique character. Passerelle Saint Vincent is one of my favorite -- I like suspension bridges and foot bridges; this one is both.

Whenver I walk on this bridge, I stop to take in the view toward North/West. I don't venture out much further that way from this point, so this view to me signifies an unchartered territory, a mystery. I also like how the river bends when I look in that direction. Elsewhere in the city, both rivers are pretty much straight, but here, the Saône turns quickly to the right and disappears, as if beckoning me to follow it.

Ah, yes, mystery. An adventure.

But not today. My two-hour sabbatical is ending soon and I must head home. I see people fishing and think to myself, hmmm, fish for dinner tonight.

No, the fish isn't from the rivers around here.

And that's probably a good thing.