Flea Market Finds: Metz, France

PicMonkey Collage

We ventured over the border into Metz, France recently, to visit an antique/flea market there.   The market is opened once or twice a month, and we’ve been three or four times–in fact, it featured in one of my earliest posts from Europe.  I think it’s time to mention it again because it’s a fun day out and I have the schedule of markets for the coming year that I can share with you.  Very useful information if you live nearby!

The city of Metz, sat on the Moselle River in Alsace-Lorraine, is an incredible day out with or without flea markets.  It has Celtic and Roman roots, and its history has remained storied and lively up through modern times.  Like all of this region, it has been a matter of French-German border disputes in the modern era (German during the late 1800’s, French after WWI, German again in 1940, and French after WWII).

This city has something to appeal to  everyone:   the history buffs, the coffee and pastry connoisseurs, the architecturally voyeuristic, the _____ (fill in the blank yourself).  Photographic proof below:

PicMonkey metz 2 Collage

But back to the flea market that comes to the indoor Expo center frequently.  It’s one of the biggest markets around, bigger than most of the markets that pop up in Paris, even.  (Although  smaller than the famous Marche aux Puces at St. Ouen in Paris.)  This particular day, there were lots of DSC_0915food merchants (not always the case), in addition    to the dozens (and dozens and dozens) of vendors peddling antique furniture and silver,  vintage jewelry, vintage radios, tableware, dollhouses, signs, cutlery, wine paraphernalia, gardenware, etc.  There were even merchants with chic French perfumes.


Oh, yes– and dogs.  So many sweet dogs. (Not for sale!)

Beautiful old French chandelier.
Beautiful old French chandelier.

There were certainly things that were beautiful


This doll would give my kids nightmares.
This doll would give my kids nightmares.

. . . but also things that were creepy.


A little of everything under a warm and dry roof– it made for a great morning of shopping.

If you are wondering whether I bought anything, then you don’t know me well.  Of course I bought something!  But shopping at a place like this isn’t so much consumerism as it is a cultural lesson– a way to travel across times, social classes, and ideologies . . . and to cross the barriers of good taste more than a little, probably.

DSC_0928So we bought some wine paraphernalia, some French cheese, an old French hotelier sign, and a piece of old (1800’s) British silver.   What do you do with a hotelier sign?  I’m not entirely sure, but I knew we wouldn’t have too many more chances to buy one, so I couldn’t let it elude my grasp.  I think it could be cute in a guest bedroom?  (And appropriate that it is from a one star guesthouse, as I’m not known for my housekeeping skills.)

The sign wasn’t an all out bargain, but it was a little cheaper than the silver we bought. I have a weakness for old silver–

A silver fish slice/server
A silver fish slice/server

despite the fact that it has to be polished and doesn’t get used a lot.  I used to see pieces everywhere when we lived in the UK and quickly learned to read the silver hallmarks, which indicate the city where and year in which a piece was made.  They also indicate if a tax was paid to the king/queen, and that stamp makes each piece a quick read (if it’s a dowdy male head, you’re looking at a Georgian piece–early 1700’s to early 1800’s– if it’s a woman’s head, it’s Victorian –mid to late 1800’s).  That ability to place a piece of silver makes it really interesting to me.  Of course, sometimes you can date a piece by it’s style, sometimes by its wear.  Old pieces can be pretty beat up looking, but often they are in fantastic shape–well cared for, they were obviously a prized possession for many years.  And how lucky are you that you can pick up a 200 year old piece for a fistful of dollars, and use it to serve a fancy holiday meal–knowing full well that that punch ladle (or serving spoon, or fish slice, etc.) has seen its way around more holiday parties than you ever will.  If it could talk, what stories and family secrets would it spill?  This is the kind of thing that goes through my head.

And if I sound a little spacey, like someone who lives life in a Beauty and the Beast fairy tale where inanimate objects come to life, so be it.  In my world, they do.  And if you spend any time wandering these weekend markets in Europe, you may find yourself in the same mindset.  Here’s how it goes:

  1. You wander into the flea market, DSC_0903still drowsy with sleep on a Saturday morning, and your eye falls on this vintage French foosball table.  Foosball tables immediately take you back to college days and your shiftless friends at the Pi Kappa Alpha house.  But here you are in France at a “vintage do”– the Twighlight Zone music starts to play in your head, time and space fall a little out of sync, and there’s no going back from there.
  2. Next thing you know, the hands of time PicMonkey Collage 1  begin spinning backwards:  You walk through a maze of old radios from the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, emerge in an aisle of World War II and Third Reich memorabilia, and nearly stumble over Rolf’s bike from The Sound of Music. (Ugh, I hate Rolf!) Hoping to get away from the evil grip of Nazi history, you make a beeline for a vendor whose display looks airy and inviting, and find yourself smack dab in the middle of World War I!
  3. From there, things take an utterly surreal turn and you stumble into some magic land of German dwarf bands, Asian totem fishermen with eyes that follow you,  and Alpine yodeling horns paired with Jesus in plaster relief.PicMonkey Collage 3
  4. At this point, relief is exactly what you need, and you are all too happy to see more cheerful items: wine crates, Easter breads, and the world’s most beautiful marionette theater.   PicMonkey Collage 2  When your Saturday morning shopping
Our wizard friend shops the stalls of Diagon Alley. . . ur, Metz market.
Our wizard friend shops the stalls of Diagon Alley. . . ur, Metz market.

experience looks like this, you can’t tell me that it’s more about the shopping than the cultural experience.  And you can’t tell me that life isn’t a little bit “Beauty and the Beast and singing teacups” after all.  But if you want to tell that to somebody . . . well, you can take it up with Albus Dumbledor on your way out of the market.  I’m sure he’ll set you straight, and possibly point you to the best wand vendor he knows.

Maybe that’s a key to how you should approach the Metz antique market– it’s the closest thing to shopping Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley that you will ever find in this life.  You’d be nuts to miss it.

If you have a chance to visit the antique market at the Metz Expo–go, go, go.  It takes time; it takes a little cash; it takes patience to comb through junk to find treasure; and it takes imagination.  But the effort yields an absolutely magical morning.

If you check out the Metz Expo, do bring cash.  (There may be an ATM on the premises, but I’m not sure.)  In my experience, these merchants aren’t big on haggling, at least not compared to the Brits and the Turks.  If you come later in the day, you probably stand a better chance of working a deal . . . but you’ll also miss out on some of the best merchandise that gets snapped up quickly– it’s a calculated risk.

Here’s the schedule, and the address is Rue de la Grange-aux-Bois.  (The market is easily accessed from the highway, but also only 10-15 minutes from the center of town–so you can make a whole day out of it and enjoy Metz, if you like.)    Bon Chance!


London Fashion Week, Feb. 2015, Part 2


lfw tix

We were in London Wednesday to Sunday, but the epicenter of the trip was  Thursday.  That was the day we had tickets to London Fashion Week festivities and the Amanda Wakeley catwalk.DSCN0481

We woke to a chilly, rainy day in London.  The sort of day that is perfect for an indoor fashion show, but not perfect for looking your best when you show up at the gates of the show.  We primped and twirled in front of the mirrors at our hotel until we felt pretty good about ourselves, but the wind and rain on the streets of London did us no favors.  Of all people in the world, the Brits should have a word that means “cute but sodden.”  That was us.

smerset house

Luckily, there were no bouncers at the gates of Somerset  House with the mission of separating the stylish from the sodden, so we made our way in to the festivities.   The courtyard of Somerset House was set with large tents–housing the catwalk shows and a small shopping area.  Parts of the interior of Somerset House were set up with other vendors for the “Shop the Catwalk” experience.   The spread of bags, accessories, and clothes were impressive (and more egalitarian than you might think: while most shops were very pricey, there were a few offerings in line with every budget).  It was quite a spectacle, with the beauty of Somerset House itself, and its grand hallways and staircases, providing an exquisite backdrop.


We arrived about 11 am and the Amanda Wakeley catwalk show didn’t start until mid afternoon, so we shopped the vendors who were set up in Somerset House, and then visited the gallery for a photography exhibit featuring the work of Guy Bourdain


Bourdain’s photography–featured largely in French Vogue in the 70’s and 80’s, and for shoe company Charles Jourdan– was fun, edgy, and occasionally unsettling.

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Early in his career, Bourdain worked with the artist Man Ray, and the surrealist’s sensibility is always apparent in his photography.  Our favorite series of photographs depicted disembodied legs (calves in exquisite shoes–mannequin’s legs) on the streets of London–hailing cabs or waiting for the Tube, etc.   It was a great exhibit, and a fitting show to pair up with the LFW activities.  Many of the photos struck a certain tone that I think of as Warholesque– very late 70’s pop-surreal-tongue-in-cheek.    All the sass, glamour, and playfulness of  high fashion . . . with a little edge, a little menace, the threat of emptiness at the heart of it all.

The catwalk show was fabulous and Amanda Wakeley was very gracious when she came out (on crutches) to introduce her collection and discuss her thoughts on fashion.  Her philosophy was simple and classic, and that was reflected in the all-white collection she introduced with the catwalk show.  We enjoyed the show, but enjoyed our seats even more.  That is–we sat on the second row, in good seats, but nothing of note . . . until two minutes before the show started.  Then Caroline Rush, the CEO of the British Fashion Council, was escorted to the front row seat directly in front of us.  My daughter went nuts.  Just the day before, Kate had run down a list of cool celebrities she might see at LFW.  The impressive Ms. Rush was on that list.  I didn’t know who she was, so Kate Googled her and educated me.  Yes, this was definitely Caroline Rush in front of us, cheering on Amanda Wakeley and enthusiastically applauding the show.  As the  show drew to a close, Katie tapped Ms. Rush on the shoulder and asked if she could take a photo with her.  The answer was a very gracious yes, and as I snapped the photo the two of them chatted.   They say you should never meet your idols, but if one of those idols is Caroline Rush, then you have no worries, you are in good hands.

Wakeley’s catwalk show had been elegant, impressive–but I was partially distracted from the clothes as I kept looking at the models and trying to figure out if this was 30 or 40 different women parading clothing in front of me, or just 15 or so who kept changing outfits.  It disturbed me that I couldn’t tell.  A few of the women had very distinct faces, but many of them looked so similar, and so blank. They were simply a blur of girls, indistinguishable as individuals.   I’m sure that is, in part, by design– they stroll mannequin-esque, with blank stares.  They are meant to be blank canvases for the clothes.  But an afternoon of people watching and photography exhibits had my mind spinning on bigger questions of who we are and how we present ourselves through fashion–is it about beauty and comfort, is it about innovative art and form, is it about capitalism and consumerism, or is it about the masks we wear, or . . . or . . .  is it not reductive?

Yes, they are blurry girls.  By design, maybe.  They could be you.  You could be them.
Yes, they are blurry girls. By design, maybe. They could be you. You could be them.


We left Somerset House immediately after the catwalk–we had to turn it around quicklywoman in black if we wanted to change clothes (and brace for more damp and cold as the sun fell) before we headed out to the West End to catch The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theater.  It was a great show–the story was told by only 2 characters, who held the stage powerfully  for over two hours.  It was a very different experience from the spectacles we usually go to see–Oliver!, Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Les Mis, Mary Poppins–it wasn’t about the stagesets or the carnival, it was a different sort of storytelling, and we loved it.

By the time we actually sat down to dinner, in the midst of the blurry nightlife of the West End, it was 11 p.m.  We were spent . . . but we were happy.


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Umbrellas in the spiraling stairs of Somerset House.



London Fashion Week 2015 – Pt. 1

Somerset House, venue for London Fashion Week, Feb. 2015


Maybe you’ve seen the headlines in fashion magazines, the svelte and stylish stars in tabloid print; maybe you’re a fashionista and you are in the know.  Last week was London Fashion Week and festivities took place at Somerset House–a beautiful, neo-classical complex built in the 1700’s and nestled between the River Thames and the Strand (that major London thoroughfare that runs from Trafalgar Square through Fleet Street, home to British banking and legal offices).   The first few days of London Fashion Week belong to industry insiders and celebrities, but the later part of the week is open to the rest of us. . . and that’s how my daughter and I ended up shopping the stalls and attending the Amanda Wakeley catwalk last Thursday.

It was my daughter’s idea.  (I love to look good–and have a love of jackets that borders on fetish–but I also love to be comfortable.  This means I vascillate between style-mama and sweatshirt slob.  My daughter, however, is just coming to that age where style is the ultimate, and requisite, in self expression. )

So a couple of weeks ago, I got a call from her around lunch time.  She’d just returned to school after two days of a nasty virus, so I answered the phone expecting to hear misery and fever on the other end of the receiver.  Instead of fever, I got fervid.  “Mom, London Fashion Week is in two weeks! Look it up, Google it!  We need to go!”   I wasn’t prepared for this and, lacking any other comeback, I said, “You know, that’s not much heads up, but I’ll give it a look.”  My way of saying, I’m not ignoring your request–since you are so enthusiastic–but you know that’s just not going to happen. So, it turns out, the laugh was on me.

I did Google it, and it sounded kind of fun.  Too bad we couldn’t go.

 Could we?

 I logged on to RyanAir.com–an Irish airline known for (usually) cheap tickets when you travel within Europe.  Imagine my shock when I saw that we could book tickets on our travel days for 20 Euro per person each way.  For the next two hours, I skittered the sticky strands of the world wide web, and eventually extricated myself with airline tickets, London Fashion Week tickets, and reservations at reasonable, but extraordinarily well-located and well-appointed  hotels in hand.

  And theater tickets; every trip to London needs theater tickets.

So next thing you know, we were off to LFW!


We arrived Wednesday mid morning, after only 2 or 3 hours of sleep.  (One way to catch a cheap flight is to fly at a God-forsaken hour.  Ugh.)   We weren’t due at Somerset House until Thursday, so we checked into our hotel near the Tower of London  and jumped on the Tube (London’s  rail) to head out to Kensington  and make an afternoon out of Harrods Department Store and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Harrods is a London landmark, and it lives up to its reputation.  If I were plump with cash, I could have a really good time there.  Sadly, I am not.  The clothes were beautiful, but here’s how it works at Harrods:  your daughter sees a fabulous swimsuit and pulls you that direction.  You turn over the price tag and realize that it’s an $800 swimsuit (maybe more–I’m a little vague about exchange rate math), and next thing you know the chic shop girls are reviving you with smelling salts.    And, yes, I suppose “shop girls” is outdated, but it seems to fit here, because Harrods isn’t just a store.  No, Harrods is a theatrical production.  It’s like a West End stage set, where everything glitters, and you turn a corner and –pow!–you’re in a different land.  You move from the colorful, sparkly set of the  jewelry department, to the finely choreographed fragrance floor with it’s fleet footed sales-people-spritzers, to gallery after gallery of magnificent women’s clothes, to a children’s section full of books and toys that is so visually perfect and orderly  you will wonder if any REAL children have actually been in that space in the past 24 hours, to a food hall that is amazing. . .truly amazing.harrods macr 2


However, not to be a downer, but the $5 strawberry I ate in the food hall–plump and juicy as it was–was really nothing special.  I’m sure that’s the exception to the rule.  At least, everything LOOKED amazing.   And all the shoppers LOOKED amazing.  It really was theater at its finest.

As the curtain came down on our afternoon at Harrods, however, I had a little trouble getting out the front door.  More than a little.  Alarms went off, security guards stepped forward.  I handed over my purse and my tiny Harrods bag of macaroons.  (I had no large Harrods bag filled with thousand dollar swimsuits.)  I unzipped my coat, as the guard said, “It’s probably a clothing tag you never clipped.”  Who knew?  My year-old red ski jacket (which, note to self, is not a cool thing to wear when you shop at Harrods) had a tag on the inside that clearly said “clip after purchase.”  It had escaped my attention.  Had it said, “Clip after purchase, or you may be arrested exiting Harrods under the gaze of posh customers,” I suppose it might have registered.

So that was our interesting Harrod’s experience.  Don’t let me dissuade you — it’s a lovely store.  I’m just not sure I’ll be allowed back in.

So, on to the V&A Museum.  The truth is, I wish that I could tell you more about the Victoria and Albert Museum.  It is huge, and filled with fabulous things.  Even the “lunchroom” is a grand production.  But, honestly, Kate and I were the walking dead by the time we got there.  We’d been up all night; we’d ridden the highs and lows of walking Kensington and shopping Harrods.  We were enthralled by the V&A, but we were beat.   We entered the museum wide-eyed, immediately sat down to some nibbles in the food wing, and hoped to refuel sufficiently.v and a mus

Once back in the museum, we strolled the magnificent clothing galleries, enjoyed looking at silver and furniture, and then it all goes to a blur.  We were both about to hit the mat, and we knew we were going down hard, so we grudgingly left the V&A, with so much still unseen, and headed back to our hotel.  It was time to tuck in for the evening, eat dinner, and rest up for the next day, the main event–the London Fashion Week extravaganza.

More on that in Part 2.



A Morning in Metz

Our first Saturdays in Europe have been rather soggy.  The second and third were DSC_0450both rainy days—not overwhelmingly stormy, batten-down-the-hatches-and-read-a-book days, but still rainy enough to make us favor some activities over others.  If you’ve read my post on The Maginot Line, then you know how we spent one Saturday.  Well, we woke up a week ago favoring a short jaunt out to either Trier, Germany or Metz, France.  (Both are just over an hour from where we live.)  When we woke to rain, Metz seemed the better choice, as part of the draw there was an indoor shopping excursion.

I’ll pause here to defend myself.  Some people like to believe that American philosophy runs only so deep:  “I shop, therefore I am. . .American.”   A little unfair, and at least a little untrue.  Many weeks ago I wrote a post, “Boxing Up My Life,” that explained my slightly quirky relationship with things:  found items, antiques, artifacts of places I’ve been, or bits of history.  I’m not an Olympic class shopper, but I am a magpie who collects shiny bits and baubles here and there, so the antique market in Metz is just my kind of place.  A place where it’s as much about the stories and history as it is about the stuff.

So to Metz:  Allons-y!

We woke fairly early and loaded the kids in the car.  They were groggy, but pleasant.  Until I let it slip that the day would include some antique shopping.  That didn’t go over well.  To say the least.

Tres Chic
Tres Chic

But once we arrived at the market, that all changed. My daughter was happy to find a small table with perfumes. She bought two small (think Stuart Little size) bottles: Chanel and Prada.  They smell so good—next trip I’ll plan to follow her lead.

So convenient: a means to cut off your finger, and a suggestion of where to go for medical care.

And my son was absolutely giddy to find old weapons.  (All boy!)  He bought a vintage pocket knife—a trinket that manages to be a perfect product of its region and an ingenious (but rather wicked) marketing ploy.   It has a drawing of “Maison de Cure de Haslach Munster”—a hospital in Munster, Alsace which manages to sound both French and German at the same time (so typical of this region).  And here’s the marketing ploy. . . consider the chain of events:  Boy buys pocket knife; boys begins whittling wood, but ends up cutting off finger; parents panic and seek medical treatment; the image on the knife suggests just the hospital they run too.  Ingenious.

Playing it a little safer, James and I bought a wine caddy—not old, but still charming enough.  And, of course, we had to stop by the market on the way home and buy a few bottles of French and Spanish wine.  Because if you give a mouse a cookie. . . DSC_0453


After the market, we made our way into the medieval town square of Metz.  We arrived at said destination by weaving our way through winding streets lined with bakeries and konditories.  No hardship there.  We nibbled as we walked toward Place Saint Louis.

I posted a couple of photos from Metz this past week, so I won’t repost those here.  Because it was a rainy day, I didn’t take too many photos—but it was a charming town.  In the square, chess tables were set up for competition and a beautiful old carousel sat waiting for riders who were willing to dash out into the rain.  We were tempted, but, owing to damp feet and hungry children, we ducked into a restaurant instead.

There is so very much to Metz to see and to learn—and we didn’t even scratch the surface.  It was a short and soggy trip, but one that whetted our appetites for both the city and the market.  We’ll definitely be returning soon to see more of the historic sites on a sunny day!

I found a great article on Metz in France Today;  I’ll share the link here for anyone who is interested. http://www.francetoday.com/articles/2012/09/24/discovering_metz.html