Sunday, September 30, 2012

Une Bonne Bonne Nuit

For my 9th birthday, my parents bought me a Singer sewing machine and sewing lessons at the neighborhood Singer store.  Even though it was a portable, it weighed about 12,000 pounds, or so it seemed to a 9 year old.  At least I didn't have to carry it back and forth to my sewing lessons.  I remember that my mother could barely attach a button, but always boasted about the "A" grade she received in her high school sewing class.  Puzzling, yes?  So the burden fell on me to pick up where she left off. 

I loved sewing probably because it was a creative way of expressing myself.  I could choose the fabric, the pattern, and I could tweak the combination endlessly.  Not to toot my own horn, but I got pretty good at it, even venturing into some tailored coats and jackets.  By the time I was in college I discovered the pure magic of second-hand stores and I have hardly sewed another garment for myself again.

Even though I rarely sew anymore, I can't help but appreciate exquisite handiwork of an expert seamstress, especially hand stitching.  So when I was rummaging through a box of linens at a recent vide grenier and came across this nightshirt for five Euros, I knew I had to rescue it. 

The first thing to know about this nightshirt is that it is not soft, so the original owner had to be one tough cookie, or was constantly doing penance, or just never slept well.  I'm sure it has been washed many times in the past, but the fabric is very coarse.  As far as I know, it could even be a locally woven fabric.  The bottom edge is the selvedge, so it has been cut across the grain.  I found this unusual and counter to common sewing practice, which usually dictates cutting length on the straight of the grain.  But this method does utilize the full width of the fabric with zero waste.  There is only one side seam since the pattern is laid out sideways.  Quite ingenious when you think about it.

The hand stitching is so uniform and exact, almost as if measured with a ruler.  But I doubt it. They were that good. The detail work on this garment is remarkable.  There are gussets under the arms allowing for freedom of movement without fear of ripping and tiny gussets on the side seams at the hem for the same reason.  The collar and front placket fit like a glove.  The photo above illustrates the precision with which the seamstress gathered the back panel into the collar.  It is literally a series of the tiniest most even pleats I have ever seen.   

The yoke over the shoulder is unique, with an additional pleated insert.  I have never seen the likes of this, but I am assuming it is also intended to provide some freedom of movement.  The cuffs are a repetition of the tiny even pleats on the back of the garment. 

This is perhaps one of the most beautifully crafted pieces of clothing I have ever seen.  And only to be worn to bed! 

Three Guesses???

On recent explorations through brocantes, vide greniers and marche de puces, we have come across a few items that have stumped us.  But not for long, that is.  What would we do without Google?

When I learned the broad range of uses of Dr. Macaura's "Le Pulsoconn", I was surprised to also learn that it is no longer a commonly-used medical device.  Such a shame!  Once heralded as a universal healing machine as far back as the 1880s, it was an electrical therapeutic device that sent an electrical current through the patient's body to stimulate muscles or increase blood flow.  It reportedly treated rheumatism, gout, lumbago, sciatica, maladies of the nervous system, paralysis, and ataxia.  See what I mean about universal healing?   If you'd like to read the full brochure or learn more about Dr. Macaura, here's the link:

The Mignon AEG, on the other hand, certainly looks like some sort of medical torture device.  But in reality it was an office work-related torture device.  It is an index typewriter, dating back to 1905 in Berlin Germany.  It featured a carriage or typesleeve, an index card with letters/numbers, and two keys in front.  You positioned a pointer over a letter on the index, struck a key which depressed the pointer, which printed a letter on the paper and advanced the carriage.  Different fonts and character sets could be used for different languages, making this machine extremely versatile.

The most amazing tidbit I uncovered about the Mignon AEG is that operators could attain typing speeds of 100 keystrokes per minute on this little beauty!!  Now how about that for lightning fast texting?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Study in Advertising: L'Illustration

There is a huge stack of L'Illustration Magazine---a Journal Universel Hebdomaire, a weekly publication, at the Depot Vente in Mirepoix.  I don't know if L'Illustration is currently being published, but I was only interested in the issues dating back as far as 1926.  There are lengthy stories on politics, technology, automobiles, travel, any and every topic one might imagine an educated society would devour.  Doug pores over the pre-WWII era issues, deciphering the photo captions.  I, on the other hand, am charmed by the black and white advertising.  The following ads are from L'Illustration issues 1926 - 1931. 

The Edacoto, a an endless lead pencil

Le Kou-to-Kle---was the first 'Leatherman Tool" invented by the French?

Attila will destroy your rodents, bugs and cockroaches...and prevent them from circle dancing.

Somehow, I don't think SHELL is using a plume of nasty black smoke in their ads anymore.

A styptic pencil?  Advertised for "here today, there tomorrow, comfort but sometimes uncertain, but always in a good mood"???

Slaves of your eyes?  This is one I can relate to.

Original Price: 4 Francs

Upcycled into a Two-Bottle Wine Carrier

Le Grand-Pere et le Petit Garcon

I call them le grand-pere et le petit garcon, but in reality, I have no idea whether the man and the boy in the photos are related.  Somehow, I can't imagine that they are not.  I found that I couldn't take my eyes off them, their interactions were so fluid, genuine, tender.  They sat at the next table parallel to us at the Transhumance food orgy in Le Sautel last Sunday. 

The young boy was so captivated by every gesture and word from the older man, and his facial expressions were obviously delight.  The scene all around us was general mayhem, but these two were oblivious to all but their own world.

It wasn't until I went to post the last photo that I noticed the army tank sitting on top of the water carafe.  So the two of them might be talking strategic maneuvers?

Now You See It....Now You Don't

At the Mirepoix market one Monday morning, we watched a woman buying a couple of chickens.  I'd like to think she was buying them for pets, but I doubt that was in their future.  Nevertheless, it's tricky business getting them home in one's car.  The vendor wasn't worried in the least, grabbed a cardboard box with the flaps already folded.  Within a few seconds, he deftly slipped the feathery creature into the darkened chamber and off the woman trotted.     

Portrait of an Artist

We sat at Fontestorbes on a Saturday afternoon, waiting for the gushing water to resurge.  While the rest of us gawkers sat around twidling our thumbs, my sister-in-law Peggy made use of her time sketching the cavern.  Her intensity is captivating, but unfortunately not catching---at least not in my direction.  

While it does not appear that we can lure Peggy into writing a guest post on North of Andorra, I am hoping a few of her watercolors might just appear......

Friday, September 28, 2012

Busy, Busy, Busy

We can barely find the time to post anything these days.  We've been here, there and everywhere and that included a Transhumance in a neighboring village.  Also a part of that event was a repas and a vide grenier.  A transhumance is the rounding up of sheep or cattle in their summer pastures and moving them down to lower elevation, winter pastures.  It is a celebrated event here in the Ariege.   We attended, along with my sister Peggy and friends Peter and Angela.  Above, Peter is preparing to dig into his first lamb chop and some white beans after the fantastic salad.  We were supposed to have brought our own plates and silverware but we spaced it out.  Angela, thinking on her feet, quickly went out to the vide grenier and bought up five plates and sets of hardware to eat with.  Below, Nancy is giving me her radiant and most sincere smile.

The sheperds had a table of their own, and each table had a pitcher or two of red and a couple of rose.  They also brought along a bottle of homemade peach brandy, or something akin to jet fuel, to share with some of us.  The waitstaff kept refilling the wine pitchers since the lunch took  three and a half hours from start to finish.

The sheep were successfully moved from their old pastures to their new quarters.  A water trailer stood at the ready to provide water and also shade for the hard working border collies.
I marvelled at the two-man chain saw.  It seemed rather out of place and I thought I wouldn't have been surprised to see it in Alaska or British Columbia, but not France.  But there it was at the vide grenier with a bunch of other antique chain saws.  It would have been quite exciting to see it in operation on some towering and large-girthed tree. 

We had a picnic in Camon one bright and sunny day near the old railroad bridge.  Fergus went wading.

Peggy bought a extra large container of cous-cous from this vendor at the Monday Mirepoix market for our dinner that evening. There was some confusion whether we were getting paella or cous-cous, and whatever it was, it was delicious.

We went to Limoux and had coffee and croissants in the warm morning sunshine after a cool rainy evening.  And this is only the beginning, the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.  We've been to an open-air concert and film presentation in Leran with Fraser Anderson and Arlene Bishop singing for us.  We've been invited to dinner, gone out to dinner, out to lunch, hosted a dinner and hosted a lunch.  Whew.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Highland Fling

The Depot Vente in Mirepoix is a treasure trove of brocante.  Actually, the store is a melange of "used stuff", some pure junk, some verging on gorgeous antiques, and the rest somewhere inbetween.  I guess that's the brocante part of it.  I'm not really sure just which category this Scottish Highlands steer fits into, as one wo/man's junk is another wo/man's treasure.  (I'm assuming he is Scottish by the kilt worn on his hindquarters.)   He was patiently waiting outside, amidst the water pumps, window frames, and rusty fence sections.  Last summer he was inside, so I'm thinking he is moving out and the owners are willing to bargain.  One word of warning: will require ample space, as he stands about 5' tall.  Name your price!  No reasonable offer refused!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sunday Morning

 On a rainy Sunday morning, Nancy and I went to a flea market in Lavelanet.  Due to the miserable wet weather, it was not well attended by customers or vendors.  We poked around and each of us, separately found little red books designed to help the tourist in Paris, or a native Parisian, for that matter.  The books were printed in 1974 and the other in 1960.  They were priced at a euro and the other for 50 centime.  As you can see one of them had a double-sided fold-out map.  On one side is the tourist attractions and major buildings of Paris.  The other side, pictured about three shots down, shows the subway routes.

 The inside cover of one has a metro plan for quick reference.  I don't imagine that the subway routes and stops have changed much since the books were printed.  They are probably still accurate today.

One of the books, the one from 1975, has a list of street names from the recent past and their new names.  For instance, the first listing, Rue Albouy is now Rue Lucien-Sampaix.  It also gives the number of the arrondissement for easy reference.

 The subway map is shown above and is approximately 18x24 inches when unfolded.  Not huge but big enough to navigate around Paris in 1960.  All sorts of information for the traveller is inside these little books, including and alphabetical list of all the streets in Paris, the locations of  "des commissariats de police", addresses of Thomas Cook and American Express offices, hospitals, SNCF stations.  In short, everything imaginable in one little book.

But my favorite discovery in the book is the list of churches and synagogues and mosques.  Of course the word "religion" can be translated into French as "cultes".  Therefore the book lists "Culte Protestant, culte isrealite, culte musulman" and so forth.  Thus, the little books, inadvertently, but very succinctly and honestly sum up my feelings about religion.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Jam, Jelly and Jello....the Stickiness of Language

As we have pretended to be learning French, we have discovered faux amis (false friends), two words that look similar but do not have the same meanings. An example is the English word library in French is la biblioteque, but la librairie is a bookstore. It sets you up for confusion.  What you would not expect is that you would encounter the same difficulty talking to someone in your own native (so-to-speak) language. 

It began with the question "What is the favorite Mormon snack food?"  Doug and I were sitting at the Leran Bar with (who else???) Billy and Sally, and Gareth.  It is important to note that the aforementioned folks are Brits.  This question was an offshoot of a more political discussion about Mitt Romney.  The answer is obvious, especially to anyone who has ever lived in the all-Mormon state of Utah.  JELLO!!!  And not just any Jello.  While some Americans may actually not know about the Jello-Mormon connection, it is safe to say that Brits are even pretty oblivious to Jello. So, it was inevitable that the discussion digressed from there.

At first there was an immediate assumption that Jello is the same as jelly.  "Jello is a dessert" I attempt to inform.  "It is not something you spread on bread."   "Jello is like a jam?" was the Brit reply.  "No, that is jelly" I insist.  "Jello is clear and it shakes" I add.  "It is not preservatives?" the Brit ask.  "Oh, ha, ha, I'm not falling for that."  Yes, preservatives are yet another word for jams, jellies, marmalades, etc., but in French, le mot 'preservatif' does not mean jam or jelly or even JELLO.  Le preservatif translates to "the condom".  Unfortunately, I don't think any Jello-loving Mormon will appreciate that circuitous link.

La Boulangerie is Toast!

I don't know all the circumstances behind the closing of Leran's one and only boulangerie, but I will go out on a limb and speculate.  An increasing percentage of the local population depends upon the automobile for shopping; grocery stores are located within a few kilometers of the village and offer stiff competition; the elderly population is dying off and some village shops are perhaps no longer necessities but luxuries.  I know that I felt it was great to have a boulangerie, but I was not a 'regular' walking back every morning with a baguette.  Now that it is too late, I realize it takes a whole lot more than an occasional sale of croissants or flutes to keep the dough rolling. 

Thanks to Cecilia and Eric for the time they were in Leran, and I wish them the best of luck in their future.