It is strange how certain smells and sounds can transport one back through time and place. The astringent aroma of goats, the heady perfume of Jasmine and Orange Blossom, mixed with the high shrill call of Cicadas, and I am immediately back in Cyprus. In contrast, the burnt smell of fish frying on barbecues mixed with the scent of wild herbs carried on the breeze; dogs barking, neighbours shouting, sounds reverberating along the cobbled streets and I know I am in Spain. Finally the deep earthy smell with undertones of Lavender, the aroma of freshly baked bread, the constant roll of tractors along the tree lined roads and a deep sense of peace and I am back in France. France being the subject of the blog this fortnight.
How I actually became so enmeshed with this country is quite strange. It started in 2008. I was living above the shop in Folkestone, as the expression goes, quite literally.
I had owned a Vintage Clothing Shop in North Wales, and after the death of my Partner I sold the business and the house in Colwyn Bay and moved down to Folkestone to be nearer to family.
Business was slow and the rent was astronomical. I was taking in overseas students to make ends meet. Whilst looking on my laptop one day in the shop I saw a house for sale near Limoges, clicked on it, read it and printed off the details. I had students leaving on the coming Saturday. I phoned the English Estate agent in France and arranged a meeting with them on the following Sunday. Ben, my Son was due back for the weekend from working in Surrey on Friday evening. The plan was to drive down through France Saturday afternoon stay overnight in Fontainebleau and carry on to meet the estate agent first thing Sunday morning. This all happened according to plan, we saw the house, came back very late Sunday evening. Put in a much lower offer the following week which much to our surprise was accepted. Hence I was the owner of two cottages and a barn in Vaugelade, Limousin. Me, who had never bought anything on the internet, not even on ebay or anything and I go and buy a house, down in the heart of France. !!!!!
Just before the shop went broke I had met Ian, he was a customer having bought some vintage suitcases. He asked me out for a meal, and that is where our relationship started.
Ian had a house in Northern France, so we began to make regular trips there and it was then I found the pleasure of Brocantes. I used to long for the weekends to come along so we could visit the ones on in our vicinity. I had no experience of Brocantes before. It certainly opened my eyes. They were in a completely different category to English boot fairs. No modern cheap fair type goods here. Rather old antique quality goods, including the all important clothes. I found some gorgeous things for myself as well as my constantly growing vintage stock. There really is an atmosphere of excitement buzzing around brocantes. I have to hand it to the French they do it in style. They bring their picnic lunch complete with wine glasses, wine and table and chairs. There will not be tired sandwiches with wilted lettuce hanging out or a greasy burger in a bun in sight. There will be fresh baguettes, saucisson, quiche and some salad in a bowl. Eating is a serious business here in France, especially if it is in the middle of the day.
To my surprise I found myself being constantly inspired by everyday life in rural France, the cooking, the breathtaking landscape, the brocantes, the markets and the wildlife and the change of the seasons. I painted more, I cooked more, I wrote more and embarked on a series of blogs that I edited into three volumes and published in Amazon.
We spent one entire Christmas there completely snowed in. It really was a D-I-Y event and when I think back it really was one if the most enjoyable Christmases I have ever had because I was not buried under mountains of “things”.
There were no local shops within walking distance, so I made a garland from a bind of Ivy from one of the trees down the lane, added some red baubles and ribbon that Ian had from a previous Christmas. I sawed a branch of the fir trees in the garden and put in a pot, decorated it with pine cones and dried undergrowth from the hedgerow and some fairy lights. The mantle piece above the roaring log fire was also decorated with ribbons candles and boughs of fir. We had a roulade from the local butcher in the freezer plus other essentials. I made a cake, we had the wine and voila we spent a French country Christmas watching the snow drifting silently across the landscape. It was the most peaceful Christmas I had ever experienced. I felt at one with Nature.
I had lived in Cyprus on and off for ten years and I loved it there, but this love of France that I have developed was far deeper. It does not matter what part of France I am in, North, Mid or South that feeling is still there. Now I am gradually having the houses and barn in Limousin renovated a bit at a time, halted at the moment because of lockdown. I would like initially to make it into an Artists and Writers retreat so people can come and experience that same feeling.
I have now styled my vast collection of English and French vintage into outfits. I have reconstructed some items quite simply in changing the length of the item or adding different buttons.
Now more than any time, vintage has come back in fashion, with recycling being bought to the fore. Vintage clothing has stood the test of time and is usually made of superior fabric, and the cut is infinitely better. They will be coming up for sale on this website shortly. (I have yet to have a photo shoot with my models when weather is more amenable and when lock down is lifted). Fifteen years worth of collected vintage clothing styled into different ensembles. I can only describe the feeling of creating this collection as painting with fabrics.
Next time I will be talking about my time in Cyprus and how the amazing clarity of light there really changed my life forever.