Monday, August 27, 2012

A special story to celebrate "la Rentrée..."


Chers lecteurs, Dear readers.

The long summer is winding down. Fall will return soon, and all over France and the United States, students will be going back to school over the next few days. To celebrate, I am about to do something I have not done before. This week, I am going to re-post a story I wrote a year ago. 

I am proud of all the material I publish on this blog, but I must admit that I do, on occasion, play favorites. The following post was inspired by a special place I found during my travels in Southern France last summer; childhood memories; and several hours of research. I read the story again last night and decided to share it with you. A couple of sections could use some editing, but... Here it is, as it was originally published in September 2011. 

I hope you enjoy it. 

Bonne lecture. Happy reading!

-- Véronique (French Girl in Seattle)

Il était une fois, l'Ecole. Once upon a time, School.

The story begins here.

A bientôt.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Antique-shopping: An exercise in nostalgia...

Once upon a time, in my *other life,* [the French one,] I loved to go antique hunting. 

During field trips to les marchés aux Puces (flea markets) in St. Ouen, Vanves, or Montreuil, or to local brocantes and vide-greniers (garage sale,) I spent hours browsing, rummaging through dusty boxes, scanning shelves for the unique object - reasonably priced - that I would take home that day. I did not have a big budget, nor did I have much room in my cramped Parisian digs with limited storage. No Louis XVI furniture, rare statue,  or expensive Asian rug ever made it home with me, but no matter, it was the thrill of the hunt I enjoyed. 

For Paris offers an endless variety of options for amateurs of antiques and miscellaneous vintage goods. From the high-end vendors at le Louvre des Antiquaires or le Carré Rive Gauche, on the Left Bank's quai Voltaire, to less intimidating neighborhood brocantes and flea markets, anyone can - with a trained eye and enough patience - unearth treasures, valuable or not. 

Once in the United States, I have kept indulging in my old guilty pleasure: chiner (antique shopping.) I have been rewarded by a few trouvailles (finds,) even though most objects I have brought home would likely be discounted as couillandres (*) by my [very Southern] grandmother. 

There is a special place in my area I visit often. Welcome to historical Snohomish, WA. I have written about this charming local town in the past. Last Saturday, les Boys and I headed back and hit antique stores. 

The three chineurs (one of whom could not help shooting away as she made her way along First street,) had a wonderful time. It was *almost* like being back at les Puces, (the flea markets) in Paris, except you could tell you were in the United States. First, there were these guys: Harley Davidson riders LOVE Snohomish as much as I do. I had never noticed it before, but they can really accessorize: Everything is coordinated, from their cool rides, to their cool clothes with matching head gear, and their tattoos. 

Yes, Snohomish loves beautiful machines, and if you blink, you will wonder if you have just experienced a blast from the past. 

See what I mean?

Once you manage to pull yourself away from the great show happening in the street, antique shops/malls/dealers are waiting, often located inside refurbished historical buildings, old barns, and moldy basements. The selection can be overwhelming.

As I was browsing, I spotted the American versions of the French vintage goods I had once admired in Paris... For each Fantômette comic book, Bécassine doll, Pernod-Ricard adorned tableware, I saw nostalgic mementos of Americana.

It is a well-known fact the French love studying the past; savoring it; cherishing it. American society is said to always look towards the future. It is not that apparent in Snohomish, WA, and I dig that. In Snohomish, children can browse antique stores and, under their parents' tutelage, learn about American heroes. Pourquoi pas

Buffalo Bill

"Frankly, French Girl, I don't give a damn!"

I love discovering old objects, looking for clues, and wondering where they came from and who owned them once...

Fripes (vintage clothing)

I love being surprised as I turn a crowded corner, by mysterious finds... Qu'est-ce-que c'est, ce truc? (What on Earth...?!) immediately followed by: Quelle horreur

Too scary, even on Halloween night!

Pressure cooker? Artisanal bomb? Canning device?

Cool centerpiece for the average geek's dining room table

"Tell me,  ma chère,  do you know the way to Versailles?"

It does not hurt that Snohomish, WA. offers a plethora of attractive dining options. A sign of the times: Many eateries specialize in organic, locally grown ingredients. A favorite is la boulangerie. It feels so good to sit down and rest for a while (window tables are the best!) before moving on to the next section of shops...

But if vintage-style food is what you crave, Snohomish has that too...

Apparently, antique shopping makes one very thirsty!

When, enfin, it is time to go home, you will leave feeling good, and comforted by the sightings of so many old friends...

A bientôt.

A heartfelt "Merci" to all the friendly shop keepers and antique dealers of Snohomish, WA.

All photos by French Girl in Seattle
Please do not use without permission.

(*) couillandres: Junk. Worthless objects with sentimental value.
Use this word with caution, or suffer the consequences!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ballade au Marché... A stroll at the Market...

Victor Steinbrueck Park, near Pike Place Market, Seattle, WA.

We are back in Seattle, after three weeks on a sailboat. We were sad to leave the old girl behind at the marina, but honestly, it is good to be home after traveling so much this summer. 

Seattle is absolutely magnificent right now. Beautiful summer skies; greens and blues everywhere I look. Locals are relaxed, enjoying summer parties, barbecues, trips to the beach...

One of the best places to experience the Emerald City is the Pike Place Market neighborhood. It is colorful and vibrant, and packed on weekends (especially during summer months, with the onslaught of tourists and visitors.) Finding fresh produce, locally-grown flowers, seafood and local crafts there year round is another perk. The concentration of French eateries in the area also makes it an appealing option when I feel homesick. Maximilien. Café Campagne. Le Pichet. Le Panier bakery: What would French expats and local francophiles do without you? 

But in the end, the Market is simply a wonderful spot to indulge in a favorite guilty pleasure: people watching. I never go without bringing my faithful sidekick, the Panasonic Lumix LX5 with me. The capable little device is so small and unobtrusive, most people think I am a tourist myself. When I do ask for permission, most strollers do not find it intimidating and are happy to oblige and pose for me. Love you, Lumix LX5! 

Today, instead of showing you the traditional stalls of Pike Place Market, I have decided to introduce you to some of the people I met there during recent outings. (Street photography has become quite the hobby for this French Girl, you see.) Mes amis du marché. They live there. Work there. Or are just visiting. No matter. The market would not be the same without them. Are you ready? Suivez-moi... Follow me...

First, meet the friendly Pike Place Market merchants... 

Le marchand d'huile d'olive
(The olive oil seller)

La pause cigarette...
(smoking break) 

Les marchands de fruits et légumes
(fruit and vegetable sellers) 

"Goûtez mes pâtes parfumées!"
("Sample my flavored pasta!") 

Le poissonnier
(The fishmonger)

Les habitués. Regulars. The musicians and artists of Pike Place market.

Les visiteurs du marché. Visitors.

Déjeuner au Panier
(Lunch at the Panier French bakery) 

Elles aiment les fleurs!
(Flower lovers)

Les Amoureux

La Gourmande
(Sweet tooth)

La dame et le chien
(The lady and the dog)

Just a few steps away, north of the Market, is a wonderful urban park, Victor Steinbrueck Park, pictured above. The place screams Seattle: Expansive mountains and water views. Quirky characters. Laid-back vibe. 

Le rêveur

La Pause-déjeuner
(Lunch break) 


Brad Pitt à Seattle?

L'Artiste des rues
(The street artist)

Taking a trip to Pike Place Market, a beloved local landmark, is a Northwest tradition. I never tire of it. It is my favorite spot downtown. It appeals to all my senses and provides a much-needed "urban fix" for this unabashed city girl. To get there, I ignore the long drive out of suburbia; the much coveted and overpriced parking spots; the crowds. 

The Market neighborhood is friendly and colorful, but I also love its gritty side (Gum Wall; graffiti, anyone?) Try it next time you are in town. You have met some of my friends, but there are other fun characters and places to see: Rachel the Pig. Flying fish. The original Starbucks store... 

A bientôt.

All photos by French Girl in Seattle.
Do not use without permission.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Lessons I learned on a boat... (Cruise log #3)

Life is good on a boat's transom...

Twenty days. 260 nautical miles. Two countries. 

Objects lost at sea: 2 pairs of sunglasses. 1 Fedora hat. 1 flashlight. 1 wrench. 1 winch handle. 

Successful rescues at sea: 1 dinghy. 1 boat hook. 1 fender.

Photos taken: Too many to count. 

Friendly people met: Too many to count.

All in all, a fine Northwest boating vacation, I'd say.

As I take a few minutes to reflect before we go back to our busy routines on land, I realize that one can learn valuable lessons while observing life from a boat transom.

Lesson: Boaters are an endless source of inspiration and entertainment. They are an eclectic, friendly, fun-loving, bunch. Power boaters seem to be the loudest. They are the ones who sit on the docks and yell at each other from a comfortable chair (even if the other guy is sitting a few inches next to them.) Sailors are quieter. They tend to keep to themselves, and when tired of the commotion around them, disappear inside their boats. If we were in France, sailors would be les Parisiens of the boating world. Power boaters would be les Marseillais; jovial, outgoing, loud-spoken. 

Boaters relaxing... 

Beach Boys hits on a hot summer afternoon? Count them in!

Just another fun evening for the merry members
 of the Roche Harbor Yacht Club

Lesson: Boating involves a great deal of resourcefulness. It is one thing to be able to plot a course; read a compass; plan a trip around tides. It is another one entirely to be willing - and able - to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty whenever something on board needs to be tweaked/patched up/replaced. I have a theory that a successful boater is part Indiana Jones and part Carl Griswold. While on board, Le Husband never seems to sit still, constantly tuning up, checking, fixing parts; or, as I like to call it: "puttering around." The funniest thing is that while he dislikes working on the house or his car, he will jump into action, tools in hand, whenever the boat (his greatest pride and joy) needs attention. And he is not the only one. Boating is the perfect activity for hyperactive personalities.

Getting advice from the "Old timers," always willing to help...
Boating can be a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it... 

Lesson: As a stress reliever, cruising works better than anti-depressants/therapy/yoga combined. Who can resist the soothing rhythm of a boat bobbing gently in a peaceful bay, as herons fly by and disappear in the sunset? I don't remember sleeping as soundly as I have over the last three weeks, in a long, long time.

Lesson: Chores remain chores, on a boat or on land. But chores undertaken as a live-aboard seem somewhat lighter... An important skill to learn is mastering the use of quarters (US and Canadian,) and keeping a full supply on board at all times. Life in a marina revolves around quarters!

Typical marina grocery store: Pasta, pasta, or... pasta?

A laundry room with a view

Window cleaning...

Lesson: There are some friendly, helpful people, out there! A simple fact, and one that is easy to forget while watching the daily news on TV. There seems to be a lot of genuinely nice people working or living around marinas, both in the U.S. and in Canadian waters. These guys made the trip even more special (loved the quirky cab driver - and Santa Claus look alike - who took me grocery shopping; waited outside the store and carried my bags back to the boat on Pender Island, BC!) 

All boaters know the importance of friendly, competent deck hands!

A mellow islander greets guests on Orcas Island, WA.

Lesson: Cute and quaint are overused words. Cute- and quaint-averse people should therefore stay away from the Gulf and San Juan islands. Warning: Cute and quaint overdose in an island near you!

Eastsound, Orcas Island, WA
Darvill's Bookstore, Eastsound, Orcas Island, WA
A resident of Montague Harbor, BC., lives here...
Fire escape ladders,
Hotel de Haro, Roche Harbor, San Juan Island, WA

Lesson: While cruising the Pacific Northwest coastal waters, it is best to keep an open mind and a healthy sense of humor...

That's John Wayne (aka "The Duke") greeting boaters
at Port Townsend marina!

A frequent promise in the islands...

... and if all else fails...

A Roche Harbor [boating] tradition: Hiring the Phecal Phreak...
(private joke, for boaters only) 

Lesson: To guarantee a successful cruising vacation, pick the right boat. Pick the right skipper. Pick the right crew. And always, always, pick the best seat in the house. 

A bientôt. 

Sidney Spit, BC

All photos by French Girl in Seattle
Please do not use without permission