Expat Life: Foreign Treasures for Your Home, Maybe

by Miss Footloose

“I want this guy!” I say to my mate, looking at the ghostly hole-ridden doll. “How cool would he look in the hall? We could give him a loin cloth and aviator sunglasses!”

Holy man

My man says nothing and gives me a look. (You can imagine what kind.) He thinks I’m nuts. I think I’m creative. Anyway, owning this acupuncture doll (at least that’s what I think it is) is a moot point as we have no entry way to display him in. We don’t own a house in France and live in a furnished rental place for now. And really, no, I wouldn’t want this perforated guy in my house, but I enjoy playing with ideas like this when I come across funky things. After all, one cannot live by IKEA alone.

We’re scavenging around in a fabulous antique and curio market in the small town of Pezenas in the Languedoc region. It’s a twice-yearly event and the entire center is taken over by vendors displaying their wares on the sidewalks and in the streets. It’s not just any old flea market let me tell you. Just have a look at this sofa. How cool is that?

French flea market

Then again, would you want to sacrifice your spine to sit in it? Whoever did? Onward: A plethora of stalls are selling antique white linens – sheets and tablecloths and nightgowns, embroidered, be-laced and monogrammed.

Vintage linens

At one big stall I see complete sets of sheets, tidy piles of them held together with ribbons, looking fresh and white and never touched by sleeping bodies. Are they trousseaux never used? Do they whisper of heartbreak and sorrow? Of young, romantic girls spending years sewing and hemming and embroidering all for naught because their prince charming never showed up? Of grief-stricken girls growing into sad spinsters withering away their years in the house of a generous brother, never to use their precious sheets and table cloths? Or: These pristine, clean, white collections are fake, machine-embroidered by prison inmates in a distant eastern country. Could that be? How is one to know? Well, maybe French people do, and I don’t. I am somewhat of a philistine, as you may have noticed. Now, if you are in need of a touch of light, a touch of whimsy, how about these lamps?

Romantic lamps

I’m thinking they might display nicely next to a modern IKEA bed, offer some contrast and harem-like charm. Or maybe not. The market is full of fun, funky and lovely things. Furniture and glassware and candlesticks and clocks and antique doors and farming implements of yore. Some things are more antique than others. This wanton mannequin is on the young side, I’d say, if not exactly virginal.

Flea market floozy

(And no, my prince does not suggest we put her in our non-existing hall way.) You have a weakness for old dolls? You’ll find plenty here, all looking for a loving home.

Antique French dolls Flea market doll

Do I actually buy something? Yes, I do! Three very old things. They fit in my handbag, weigh almost nothing and cost one euro for the three, less than a dollar. It’s a bargain! They’re vintage post cards and I cannot resist. I spent ten minutes sorting through several boxes full of them. I remember seeing them for sale in a street market in Paris a few years ago. Huge collections of ancient, old, funky post cards, neatly sorted. I have not seen them in the US or Holland. Is this a French thing? Here’s one of the three, dated May 11, 1924, almost 90 years old. A post card, 90 years old, how fascinating is that?

Vintage Post Card

The little poem reads: La parole s’anime et l’amour devient tendre: Tout est mysterieux pour se voir et s’entendre Which means something like: The word comes to life and love becomes tender: Everything is mysterious to see and hear The back is scribbled full in a tiny, cursive script of which I can read only bits and pieces. Something about the writer sitting in a train for four hours and taking advantage of the time to write the card. Oh, I can make up stories about this card – the sender, the receiver, both long gone from this earth, I expect. Such a strange thought I now hold a piece of their French lives in my Dutch hands. I’ll stop here before I start waxing romantic and sappy. Besides it’s time for us to meet friends for coffee. Sadly, we never write each other pretty cards. We text, phone, email . . .

* * *

Do tell me your flea market stories. What treasures did you find? Or do you detest these places with their old junk?

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O yes, I love my junk shops and flea markets. In the UK we always went to car boot sales. In Singapore, the local don’t like this type of ‘junk’, but I found one amazing junk yard, a big hall full of amazing stuff. Not cheap, alas. Still in shock of the old dusty egg jar I saw standing outside in the rain. 300 dollars…he wanted, no haggling on my hand got that down. My parents used to buy them in Malaysia for a few ringgit each…. Bargains and Singapore don’t go together. There are some fab antiques shops though,… Read more »

Maybe you could stick flowers in acupuncture man? Oui? Non?

And yes, that mannequin is wanton 🙂

I’d probably look for flowerpots at flea-markets, if we had them here.

Jonelle Hilleary

Guyana_gyal- Great idea about the flowers for acupuncture man..
He could be a full size “Chia Pet” or a vertical vegetable garden!

Karen, your prince may wish he had thought better of that potential purchase! 😉

Jonelle Hilleary

Karen- I’m with you. I think acupuncture man is a hoot! I love going to markets anywhere but home. You’re right about the exotic holding more appeal than the familiar.

My favorite treasure is a pair of linen table clothes I picked up in a Russian market for about $5 each. Every time I use them I think what a wonderful memory.

You made the right choice! Love the postcards. I bought some beautiful antique Shanghainese postcards in China, but they didn’t survive the subsequent moves. Sad, they would’ve looked lovely framed.

Antique markets! Oh, don’t get me started! I could get lost in them. Always coming away with something I don’t need, but really really want. I have not found one yet here in Norway. Which might be a good thing!

I remember going to the “flea markets” when we lived in Germany and finding all sorts of treasures to furnish our humble apartment. I would love that bench in my entrance, not too comfortable but pretty nonetheless, good enough to drop the handbag on.
I find it sad when people part with personal stuff like written postcards or old photo albums….they should always stay in the family!

Love the market Love the sofa and the lamps. I would have the time of my life. We don’t have these markets in NZ. I know in Holland you have enormous ones, My brother goes regularly to an indoors one were you can buy stuff from all over the world.

Love the postcard! I’m a big sucker for antiques in terms of the written word. Could spend hours in antique bookstores. During our last move, I came across a bible amongst all our books that I didn’t recall having. Inscribed with my mother’s name and a dedication from I don’t know who, a secret or not so secret admirer perhaps? The weird part was that the bible was a US army issue new testament, a facsimile signature of President Roosevelt in it. How did this US army bible end up in a German girl’s hands after the war, I wonder?… Read more »

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