Body BuilderDear reader, by now you must know I am a sucker for funky foreign stuff, and living in France, I have the fabulous opportunity to visit the twice-yearly antique market in a town not far from my village. (I wrote another blog post about that market a couple of years ago.)

It’s a kick to see some of the treasures displayed along the streets, to imagine who might have once owned or coveted these things, and if perhaps these people were a bit soft in the head and in need of a spot of therapy.

Then again, who am I to judge? Does owning this creepy body builder carving say anything about the original owner — or the artist who created it — other than that he or she loved well-oiled muscular bodies? You tell me.

One should not judge the taste of others, so I will not. Look at these godawful chairs. Wouldn’t they cheer up a gloomy room, and what’s wrong with that?

Red chairs(No, they are not toy chairs. They’re full size!) Of course the painting behind the chairs would help to brighten things up as well.

But if these chairs do not fit your sophisticated sense of style, what about this one:

Poppy Chair

Who doesn’t like poppies?

The market has the “normal” sort of junk as well, the knickknacks and trinkets from yesteryear, the dishes and glasses and vases. This time I was particularly charmed by the collection of art meant to be displayed on the mantelpiece, the coffee table or perhaps the home altar. Here a few for your entertainment and possible coveting:

Mom an Dad on the mantelpiece

Who are these lovely people? Mom and Dad? So much nicer than a photo, don’t you think?

A Far Away Uncle?

Might this be a rich distant relative who traveled the world?

And below, who would this lovely damsel be?

Danser

Someone’s talented daughter?

It’s not only the flotsam and jetsam of the good old days that’s fun to look at. People-watching is a kick as well.

Lovely colors

I want a coat like hers, and the guts to wear it. I so admire people with a unique style. Me, I’m so boring.

Mystery objects tickle my fancy — thingamabobs and doodads and doohickeys. Small ones, big ones, skinny ones. Any idea what these sticks might be?

Oyster sticks

Antique French Oyster Sticks

I had no clue what these were, so I asked the vendor: They’re oyster sticks, so there you have it. He explained that in the Mediterranean oyster beds, oysters were grown in the hollows. Or something like that. Nowadays they use other techniques. Google it if you care.

It occurred to me later how cool it would be to have an arrangement of 5 or 7 of these sticks displayed on a wall. Très artistique! Sadly, I thought of it too late. Maybe next time.

And when it comes to artistically re-purposing old or antique items, think of what you could do with these:

Chinese cabinet doorsDoors from an antique Chinese cabinet.

I fell in love with these before I realized what they were: doors. I knew instantly what I wanted to do with them: Hang them on a big wall like a painting, a piece of art. So did I buy them? No. The dealer wanted hundreds of euros/dollars for them. Even bargaining would not have gone down far enough for me, even though my prince said if you want them get them. But no, I have my limits, you know. So I sighed and took a picture instead.

Next I saw this contraption, and had no idea what it was. A torture device? An agricultural gizmo?

Mystery boards with stones

It was huge. No vendor was in sight to ask what this thing was, so I am still wandering around in the dark desert of unknowing. The wooden boards have slits in them and into the slits bits of stone have been inserted. What could you do with this? Make a really big dining table out of it by adding legs and covering it with a sheet of glass. Any other ideas?

Are you a hoarder or a manic collector of one thing or another? I wish you would have been here! I saw a stack of Marie Claire magazines from 1940, I kid you not. Boxes and boxes of antique post cards, of old buttons, of all sorts of junk treasures.

As usual, there was a plethora of bed linens available — linen, white, monogrammed. Some people wax lyrical about these, how cool they are to sleep under, how lovely to look at. All I see is the ironing they require and I run. I did stop to admire this piece of embroidery and took a picture. For a quiet moment I meditated over all the hours a dreamy girl – now long dead – must have spent making it to add to her trousseau.

Antique embroidery

In my mind’s eye I could see her sitting in a chair wearing a prim little dress stitching away while dreaming of love and marriage. I didn’t inspect the piece for a label to see if perhaps it was made in China, because I did not want to have my romantic scenario busted.

I should stop here. You’ve seen enough old stuff, me thinks. Except maybe just one more:

Mystery CarvingMystery carving. Head stuck in rock?

Please tell me if you know what this might be. Surely someone can shed some light…

Did I buy something? Yes! A loaf of country bread from the baker who was selling his wares to the hungry shopping masses. The bread was not antique: It was still warm. So it goes.

* * *

Make my day and tell me something about your experiences with antique markets, with collecting stuff, with not collecting stuff.

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You wonder about that title, don’t? Well, all will be revealed, so read on:

I was introduced to the exotic, spicy flavors of Indian curries not in India, but in Kenya, East Africa, where I began my long career as expat wife and kitchen goddess.

Kenya Highlands

Newly married, my Peace Corps volunteer hero and I lived in the town of Nyeri in the Kenya Highlands, spectacularly gorgeous as you can see on this photo.

We had a little house with a lemon tree in front and a Swedish volunteer next door. Bengt worked in animal husbandry and spent his days in the field teaching Kikuyu farmers better milking, dipping and castration techniques. After work he’d often come over to have a cup of tea with me and tell me about his adventures, which to me, as a city girl, were rather, let’s say, fascinating. So, one day he came over and invited us to a party . . .

Cooking Lessons: Not at the Cordon Bleu

(A repost from 3 years ago)

Bengt is in my tiny lean-to kitchen watching me pour us both a cup of tea. He has come to invite us to a party he is organizing. International volunteers from far and wide will be attending so it will be a fun gathering. “We’re having curry,” he tells me, stirring two heaping spoons of sugar into his tea.

Chicken CurryChicken Curry

“Curry?” Now, I’m not surprised about the curry itself, since eating curry in Kenya is not so strange if you consider that Indian people have lived here for several generations, having arrived in East Africa during British colonial times to help build the Kenya-Uganda railway. No, I am impressed Swedish Bengt is cooking it. “Are you making curry?” I ask.

He laughs. “No, no. Karim and two of his mates are coming over to do the cooking.”

“Karim? Your friend?” Cooking does not seem to be the domain of young Indian dudes in turbans.

“Yes. Their mothers are telling them how to do it.”

This I have to see. “Can I come early and watch?”

Of course I can come early and watch. Watching seems like a good idea because my earlier experimentation with curry was not a success. Wanting to make beef curry, I had stirred numerous spoons of canned yellow curry powder into a pot of American beef stew, thinking that would do the trick. Trust me, it didn’t.

 Curry PowderNo, this is not the curry powder I used. Not that it would have made American beef stew into an Indian curry.

So, on the day of the party, pen and paper in hand, I squeeze through a hole in the hedge separating our yards and enter Bengt’s back door into the kitchen, which is significantly bigger than mine. Three young Indian guys, dark-eyed and handsome, are busily chopping whole chickens in small pieces, bone and all. I see individually wrapped spices on the table, eight or nine I’m guessing, waiting to be used. Not a can of yellow powder in sight.

I introduce myself and tell them of my culinary mission and after a few joking comments, the cooks get busy again and I watch as they chop onions, garlic, tomatoes and ginger root. So far, so good.

“Where’s Bengt?” I ask.

One of the guys points his knife at the door leading into the dining room. “He’s in there with Susan. She came early so she could spay his dog before the party.”

I tell you, expat life can be interesting.

I decide to peek in and say hello. I open the door. The dining room table is covered with a bed sheet on which lies Bengt’s German shepherd, comatose. Susan is a British volunteer, a veterinarian, who lives in the bush. She’s dressed in jeans and a shirt and her mousy brown hair is tied back in a pony tail. Various pieces of surgical equipment lie at the ready for the impending canine sterilization.

“You want to watch?” Bengt asks. His big hand rests tenderly on the dog’s head. Since he’s used to castrating sheep, watching this procedure is probably no big deal for him, but I’d just as soon go back to the kitchen, where, incidentally, I’ve just been a cool witness to dead chickens being hacked to pieces. Well, it’s not the same thing, really, is it?

“No, thank you,” I say nicely, “I just came to say hi. I’m getting initiated into the secrets of cooking curry.” I escape back to the kitchen where the men are melting half a pound of butter in a large pot.

Mesmerized by that sea of bubbling butter, I contemplate the present moment, how bizarre the situation. Here I am, in Africa, a Dutch woman, married to an American, learning to cook chicken curry from three Indian men in the house of a Swedish volunteer who at this moment in the room next door is watching his German shepherd being spayed by a British woman vet. Talk about living an international life.

Onions, garlic and ginger root are tossed into the hot butter and fried until golden brown. One of the handsome threesome tosses in a load of chopped tomatoes and stirs. Karim makes a move to add the spices and I quickly put my hand on his arm to stop him.

Curry Spices

“Wait,” I say. “How much of each of these are you putting in?”

The guys consider this for a moment. “We sort of guess,” Karim says confidently, adding that that’s how their mothers do it. Not that they have much of an idea how to guess, but since their mothers aren’t present to see what they are doing, why worry?

“Let me just measure them then.” I’ve brought my American measuring spoons, much to the amusement of the turbaned cooks.

“Now what is all this stuff?” I ask, waving at the various ground spices.

Karim points. “Cumin, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, cardamom, coriander, cayenne pepper.”

I write it down dutifully, hoping my color description will help to identify them in the shops when I go to buy them.

After I’ve measured the spices, they stir them into the fried onion mixture and magic happens: Fragrance explodes from the pan. I breathe in the aromas, ecstatic. I watch as they dump in the chicken pieces, mixing them well to coat them with the spice mixture. The lid goes on the pan and all is stewed for a while, after which Karim pours in hot water to make the sauce, and adds several tablespoons of lemon juice.

The guys are enjoying my enthusiasm. They tell me curry can be made with anything, with all kinds of meat, poultry, seafood and vegetables. Even eggs, and bananas. The door opens and Bengt comes in with a saucer holding some bloody tissue. “You want this for the curry?” he asks with a grin.

Karim waves his hand in dismissal. “No, it’s perfect as it is.”

And he’s right. A few hours later, not a bite is left.

***
Are you interested in exotic food? As expats living in foreign countries, we all end up with a cooking lesson or two. Tell me your tale, I know you have one!

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