I’m going to what feels like the Mean Girl of cities in a couple of weeks.
You know the one.
She’s all Chanel and couture and linen and lipstick. They speak fancy French there, not the regular, old, Canadian kind (and even my Canadian French is pretty patchy and rusty).
I lived in Europe with my family as a teen and then in my early and later 20s, on my own. But, somehow, I never got to Paris.
London and York and Cornwall, I love. Hamburg and Heidelberg, too.
But Paris, is a big old question mark for me.
Or, is it actually a REAL PLACE with garbage trucks, and people wearing pajamas in public, and bad cooks?
My parents went to Paris for a holiday when we lived in England, but for some reason, they didn’t take their teenagers with them. Who knows why?
I was too broke when I lived close by to get there, and my friends lived in Germany. So, I just kept flying over Paris, as if she didn’t matter one hoot.
Take that, mean girl!
But now, my German friends are living in Paris, in the ninth arrondissement. I think that means near ALLLLLL the Pain au Chocolat (one of the main reasons I’m even going to Paris), right?
And, I am slightly intimidated.
According to Canadian/US versions of Paris, I am prepared to feel inferior on a number of levels including my weight, my fashion sense (lack thereof), not to mention my (quelle horreur) love of patterned fabric.
French chic? Mais, non. Just call me “flabby, shabby chic”.
I am not sleek or sophisticated. I am much more inclined to the chubby and cheerful.
But, so is Ina Garten and she supposedly loves Paris, right? So did Julia Child and she was tall and awkward.
Vives les Tall and Awkward!
With a side of Still Too Many Shoes for My Suitcase.
Practical Man disliked Paris when he was there so he’s glad to be sitting this one out. Mind you, he dislikes ALL cities so he’s not really a neutral opinion. Instead, I am travelling with my sweet sister-in-law Roadrunner, who speaks Northern Ontario French as her first language at home. She’s never been to Europe. In fact, this is her first trans-Atlantic flight. Although she is fluent in the language, I’ve heard that Parisians can be quite cutting when it comes to The Canadian Form of French. My also fluent father was once asked in Paris where he learned his French and when he told them Canada, they said, “c’est domage (that’s too bad)”.
I do love me some vintage, flea markets, and sparkly lights. Someplace called The City of Lights seems to be a good city for that sort of tra-la-la.
Anyhoo, if you’ve been there, here are the questions I have about going to Paris:
- I expect there to be accordions playing in the background as we stroll around. But, should I be prepared with some Charles Aznavour on my playlist, just in case?
- Is there a “how not to overpack” Pinterest board for people who are not Marie Kondo or wearing exclusively Lululemon?
- If I can’t get rid of my vertigo before I leave and end up getting arrested because I’m wobbling down the streets like I’m intoxicated, will they bring me the French version of Bread and Water (baguette and Perrier) in jail?
- Is black the only colour people wear? What if I look more like “Widowed Nonna from a Godfather movie” than “Audrey Hepburn” in black?
- Where can I rent a Betsy bicycle or a moped so I can ride along the Seine with a baguette sticking out of the basket, humming La Vie en Rose?
- Is it wrong to have a pain au chocolat EVERY morning while I’m there? Wait, don’t answer that.
- Will my brain actually turn into a pretzel if I try to speak German (with our host family), Paris French (let’s face it, that won’t be possible), Canadian French (only slightly more possible), Bad French (definitely possible), and English (please direct me to the nearest pain au chocolat?) in one holiday?
- How many beautiful buildings can you drool on before they kick you out of the country?
- Ditto for Boulangerie, Patisserie and other “erie” windows?
It’s like a first date with someone way out of your league.
Or, as they say in Paris…
[nonchalant and chic expression full of fabulous cheekbones].
So far I haven’t died.
That seems like a good thing.
Practical Man found a giant puffball yesterday, when he was out in our forest. When he told me how large it was, I decided I had to see it for myself.
Out in The Nature, as it were.
This tells you what a momentous occasion it was. Me, out in The Nature, in the middle of the week, no less.
We ventured out today after lunch, across the yard, down our forest path and back to the last part of our trail, before it ends at the farmer’s lane. I pointed out what I thought were new trees and Practical Man assured me that those trees had been there for 10 years. I noted the grassy areas where there used to be just rocks and he shook his head.
Things sure do change in The Nature, when you only come out to visit a few times a decade.
Finally, under the trees, off the trail, I saw it.
I didn’t see any fairies dancing.
But, then, this wasn’t a toadstool. It was a puffball.
I picture Rubenesque fairies (of the sort I could blend in with), eating ice cream under this cherubic baby.
Or rather, babies.
There were two.
A giant puffball and a super-cali-fragi-listic-expi-ali-docious puffball. The giant-est puffball of them all.
It’s hard to capture the scale, when it’s in the forest, but it was GIGANTICO.
Bigger than my head and we all know that my head is blessed with some magnificent largesse.
This mushroom was endowed with some encephalic proportions, yes sirree.
Here’s a picture of it in the kitchen sink, in case you had any doubts about the size of it.
The puffball, not my head.
I was slightly nervous, what with it being a wild mushroom and all. Practical Man knew what it was (Calvatia gigantea) but, to reassure his suburban-born wife, he did a little extra research. The Google assured us that it was the harmless and edible Giant Puffball (The Google is always truthful and wise, as long as you don’t believe much of what it says.) And, our friend, Trail Diva, reassured me that we seemed to be the lucky owners of a forest delicacy.
Fried in some butter, it could even be used in lieu of noodles for lasagna, she said.
She had me at “fried in some butter”.
Accordingly, Practical Man plucked it from its forest home and brought it to the house.
It was kind of like bringing home the moon.
A moon that might kill us with its toxins and pent-up mushroom rage.
What, what, what?
A puffball is a pretty show-offy mushroom with its moon scape-y shape and super-cali-fragi-listic-expi-ali-docious size, I think you’ll agree. This made me wonder if it might be the mean girl of the mushroom world.
You can tell I love The Nature, right?
We had to use a very big, bread knife and even that wasn’t enough to deal with the extravaganza of mushroom we had on our hands.
Houston, we need more counter space!
I can hear my friend Pippi saying, “Bleeech”, as I write this.
Not a mushroom fan, that one.
Even I was slightly overcome. This was bigger than the watermelon we had last week and that took a party and 4 meals to devour.
We have mushroom enough for crowds.
Or, for a wicked show-and-tell at school.
Yes, definitely that.
Except, there’s no show-and-tell when you’re an adult, more’s the pity. Many a meeting could be livened up with some show-and-tell, don’t you think?
I’m not sure mushrooms would make it past the (inevitable) safety checkpoint on the way to work show-and-tell, though.
Anyway, we cooked it, outside on the barbecue (it’s the expensive hydro rates in the afternoon and it’s 30 degrees C today, that’s why).
Fried in butter, ‘cos those were our instructions.
We both tried a little schnibble, after it had been fried.
(I watched for convulsions, in case Practical Man and The Google and Trail Diva were wrong.)
It tastes pretty good but we’re not sure about the consistency.
Slightly mushy. Too much butter?
Is there such a thing?
We’ve decided we’ll make lasagna a la Trail Diva with it.
Even though the Italians are probably rolling over in their gnocchi-lined graves.
And Pippi is probably saying, “Double Bleech.”
By the way, this post is a bit of a “do not try this at home” affair. Don’t–I repeat: DON’T just grab mushrooms out of your yard and chow down.
Gotta be careful with the fungi, friends.
If we end up hallucinating or dying, I’ll let you know.
Everyone knows that collecting books isn’t the same as hoarding, right?
Collecting books is literary. It’s a luxury (after all, how many mansions and castles didn’t have a library room?) It’s professorial.
And, even though I’m a professor’s daughter and not a professor myself–not to mention a library user and advocate–I do love to keep me some books.
Especially vintage books.
Just a few.
Before you start picturing the worst-case scenario, let me clarify that we only have four bookshelves in our home.
Okay, fine. We have books in nearly every room (on tables, in magazine racks, in cabinets,) but only four official bookshelves. That’s what counts.
Four bookshelves is nothing for a bookworm/vintage lover/pack rat, all rolled into one.
Really, I’m small potatoes in the world of book hoarding–I mean–collecting.
I once knew a couple who brought back over 250 books from their honeymoon. He was doing his PhD (What did I tell you? Book collections are professorial.) and she just loved books. Their Victorian house was a maze of floor-to-nearly-ceiling shelves, lining the walls in every room, the hallways and even up the stairs. The top floor used to be fiction and the bottom floor was non-fiction. Even if I hadn’t been living in a village with a teeny, tiny library at the time, I would have loved their house. It came up for sale recently and I was tempted to buy it even though they and their books are long gone.
Their collection made that house a home.
It was a swoon-y, book lover’s house of the best kind.
Like that couple, our measly four bookshelves are also floor-to-ceiling and chock-a-block with books of all kinds. Mildly organized, as I like to be once or twice a year and clustered among other vintage objects that need a home. I also (ahem) collect a few vintage toys, which fit very well in my children’s book section.
I believe the staging experts calls this “giving the eye a place to land.”
Anyhoo, the annual book sale for the local symphony orchestra started this weekend and I have never been. I can’t imagine why, especially after all the fun I had there on Friday evening.
It was in a warehouse, which made it even more fun because of the whole forsaken, industrial vibe. Plus, there is bound to be tonnage of books in a WAREHOUSE!
When we got inside, there was a map which showed what types of books were in each section.
Maps = tonnage!
Sections = tonnage!
I consulted the map and tried not to squeal. There was a children’s section and music A, B, and C sections!
Three sub-sections = tonnage!
Practical Man and I mused about the definition of “Ephemera”.
Such a fun word, don’t you think?
Can’t remember what it means, of course. This is why I don’t do crossword puzzles, like my sister and Grandma Helen. I could Google the word, but I like to give my brain a chance to percolate for a few days.
It’s cheaper than Lumosity.com.
I hot-footed it to the music section, leaving a Practical Man in my book-hoarding dust. There were books about genres of music and books about the people who make music. But, I’m not as keen on reading about music as I am about playing it. So, I searched through lots of classical piano books–even a couple that looked just like the ones I scored in East Berlin back in 1985, before the Berlin Wall came down. (You had to spend all your money before you came back to the West and I spent it, even then, on super-economical, communist music books.)
On Friday evening, I looked for guitar books to help me with my new-ish relationship with Alice, my guitar.
It was a fun search but, yielded nothing interesting.
Then, I saw them: piles of vintage sheet music. There were boxes full of music with retro graphics and songs from the likes of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald.
Swoon-y swoon, swoon!
There was music featuring my friend (well, in my imagination anyway), Julie Andrews. I’ll frame this score by my piano.
Some of the books just SMELLED vintage and special and the pages and illustrations dated them instantly to a by-gone era. Like, this Fireside Book of Folk Songs that is a large, hardcover book from 1947. There are songs to sing and play from South America and Scotland, Cowboy songs and Railroad songs, Hebrew songs and Chinese songs. There is even a part for spirituals and hymns. The arranger notes in the preface that “To avoid the monotony and vulgarity, no attempt has been made to persuade one style of accompaniment to suit varying styles of melody, and the square-toed “oom-pah” bass had been studiously avoided.”
Now, who wouldn’t want to take that book home with them for the bargain price of $1?
I found a couple of gifts for people who appreciate this kind of dusty treasure just as much as I do (I wish I could show them to you!) and Practical Man popped by every once in a while to carry my growing pile, because opening my car door and carrying my books is the kind of vintage gallantry that oozes out of his pores every old day of the week. He paid my $12 total at the end of our book sale, Friday night date, too.
He’s a keeper, that man.
As I rifled through the sheet music, I felt my heart begin to beat faster. Judging from the era of most of the music, I wondered if it had come from one person’s collection. And, I suddenly realized that something really special might be found within the stack. Something that was worth far more than the 10 cent price tag that was listed on the sign.
And then, I found it.
The song that would bring tears to my eyes in a warehouse full of bargain book tonnage:
It was sung in an episode of Downton Abbey in recent years, but, that’s not why I know the chorus by heart:
I’m in love with you.
Let me hear you whisper
that you love me too…”
Originally a hit in 1911, it became the biggest selling popular song on the market again, in the run up to WWII.
But more than this, it’s the song my grandparents played in their “cellar” rec room, amongst the ’50s furniture, when I was growing up.
It was the first song that they danced to at their 40th wedding anniversary, when I was 13 years old, my grandfather with tears brimming in his eyes.
It was my grandparents’ love song.
And, in part because of the symphony book sale, its ours too.
Today was all rusty and sweaty and full of (luckily, not too many) deer flies and one magnificent wild strawberry.
Yes indeedy, I love me a vintage junkyard.
Or, scrapyard, as Practical Man calls it.
If you are like him and call a junkyard a scrapyard, be sure to convey the word with all the enthusiasm that Practical Man uses when he utters it. My usually reserved, strong-silent type guy can barely contain his glee when it comes to scrapyards. With those mere two syllables, he manages to morph into someone who looks and sounds exactly like a 7 year-old boy on Christmas Eve.
In other words, he kind of resembles…well, ME.
Minus a little of the tra-la-la. But only just.
Not that I mind his enthusiasm for the world of auto wreckers. I am a big fan of old-school scrapyards myself.
Y’know, like most women in their middle of ages.
Well, maybe not.
Anyhoo, ever since my favourite junkyard, Minakers, closed for business, I have been somewhat bereft. Bereft of real-for-true, old-school junkyards, that is.
Minakers was even better than a regular junkyard because it had been around a long, long time and was chock-a-block with antique cars. Wanderers there were hard pressed to find anything newer than about 1970.
It was scrapyard nirvana.
There were 1940s bread vans with trees growing through the engines. Sedan deliveries and original Beetles and ’30s gangster cars with swoopy running boards. I spent most of my time there running around, stumbling over thing-a-ma-bobs from 1953 and squealing, from one wreck to the next.
What? You’ve never heard a grown woman squeal in a junk yard before?
Maybe that’s because you’ve only ever darkened the doors of a modern-day junkyard. You know the kind (or maybe you don’t, in which case I’m here to help): there is no “wandering” amid the wreckage. You have to know what you want before you go in! Then, they go and FETCH IT FOR YOU.
Junkyard Joy Stealers: that’s what they are. They rob you of every little bit of the tripping and squinting and dreaming and squealing.
There is no squealing in a modern-day junkyard. Only safety vests and liability clauses and steel-toed boots.
And, people who call you “ma’am”.
It’s tragic, really.
But, we spotted what looked like an old-school, rural junkyard on a recent trip and today was the day to go and explore. Our vintage Boler travel trailer could use a few bits and bobs and we have a derelict boat that needs a windscreen and who knows what other treasures we might find?
Yes indeedy, I love the smell of broken safety glass and grease in the mornings.
First, I put on my lucky socks. It’s very important to have lucky socks on when you are wandering and tripping and squinting and squealing.
Also, some hole-y, derelict, work boots circa 1991, which I still happen to have for occasions such as this.
When we got there–to my very own version of Canada’s Wonderland–I said hello to my first love at the gate:
After I bid my first love a tearful goodbye, we went in. We were armed with bug juice, hats, water (not nearly enough for a junkyard extravaganza, it turned out), a gigantic toolbox and an additional bag of tools (and some socket sets and a first aid kit that we left in the car “just in case”.)
I was with Practical Man, after all. Who needs safety vests and liability clauses when I have him?
Soon enough, I found my second love:
Soooo pretty, pretty.
And then, my third love:
How can my second love compete with my third love? Third love is really a Colin Firth kind of truck and you know you don’t find those trucks every old day of the week. I think our vintage Boler travel trailer really needs a vintage truck companion, don’t you? A Colin Firth kind of vintage truck companion (I hope I’m not getting above myself).
Then, there was a very exciting PILE. You have to have a heart of stone, not to love a junkyard PILE.
We were looking for trailers so that we could source a screen door (to re-make into a teeny, tiny Boler-sized screen door) and maybe even some outside cubby doors. There were lots and lots of cars. There were only a few trailers and they were scattered far and wide through the junkyard.
All the better to ensure the tripping and wandering and dreaming and squealing.
There were fallen-down trees (this junkyard was kind of in a forest) and tall grass (all the better to hide lyme-disease carrying ticks in) and lots and lots of poison ivy.
But, there were also beautiful sparkles of broken safety glass:
And lace-like patterns shining in the sun:
There were old soul vehicles: the ones that rest quietly among the trees and grass, like silent guardians over a sacred place.
We finally settled on our donor vehicles and got to work. Practical Man’s modern-day tools made short work of the harvesting of parts in this old-timey junkyard. No aching wrists from manually unscrewing scores of rusted hardware. Just a few short bursts from the cordless drill and we were victorious: two cubby doors and an RV screen door for our Boler!
And in this place where beauty and ruin are best of friends, I found the unlikeliest of treasures:
One succulent explosion of summertime flavour.
It’s strawberry season at the scrapyard.
Family legend has it that I conned my Grandpa Lou when I was eight years old.
The scene of the crime was the grocery store near my grandparents cottage. It was in a tiny little town and maybe the owners were Dutch or liked Dutch stuff or something because they had a little room near the back with a whole bunch of Dutch-inspired chatchkas in it: Delft blue pottery replicas and such.
Of course, I was smitten. I was a mostly-useless-but-pretty-stuff hoarder even way back then. I mean, who doesn’t like a little chatchka shopping when they were only planning to buy two-year old cheddar and Mennonite summer sausage?
Naturally, after some browsing, I convinced my Grandpa Lou to buy me a decorative spoon “for my spoon collection.” It had a Delft blue pottery-looking wooden (well, ceramic) shoe on the end and it came all the way from the Netherlands–well, China, actually, via Drayton, Ontario.
Such a treasure. I loved it.
Don’t believe me? 38 years later, I still have that spoon.
So there. Here’s the evidence:
Please consider this when you’re judging my con artist ways.
Anyway, on the way back to the cottage all those years ago, my Grandpa Lou asked, “So, how many spoons does this make in your collection, now?”
He was apparently (hopefully?) quite amused when I replied, seemingly without guilt or guile: “This is my first!”
And that, dear friends, is how I became a decorative spoon collector. Relatives and friends would bring me specimens for the collection I didn’t really have, from their various worldly adventures which I stored and carted around through my 20s and various cross-country and out-of-country moves.
Yep, guilt over your con artist start in the spoon collecting industry will make you very loyal to your ill-begotten collection. And, suddenly, you realize that you actually do HAVE a collection.
In recent years, they were stored in the drawer of the china cabinet (donated by Grandma Verna), since the china cabinet is where I put all the grown-up things that I don’t actually use: “good” dishes, crystal salt and pepper shakers, pickle plates, and the china tea set from my childhood.
Out of sight, out of mind. That is, in the dining room (definitely a room for grown-ups).
There was a brief period of spoons on the wall, but (con artist guilt aside), decorative spoons really aren’t my thing. I’m more likely to have VW hubcaps and vintage printing press blocks festooning our house.
You know, things that kind of make Practical Man roll his eyes, but he still helps me festoon because he’s a very handy festooner.
Lately, though, I’ve been trying to purge items that I don’t truly love or make use of daily.
Have no fear. Practical Man is safe on both counts.
The spoons, however–even after all my years of guilt-fueled loyalty–were on shaky ground.
After getting sucked into the vortex that is Pinterest for a few hours, (after all, who doesn’t like a little chatchka oogling and Fiat drooling when they were only planning to search for upcycyling ideas for decorative spoons?) I came across the idea to transform the decorative spoons into a charm bracelet.
Presto-bongo. Practical Man to the rescue for the tedious (and slightly unsettling) spoon decapitation and hole drilling and jump-ring installation.
Then, I am back for the glory phase of attaching to the chain for the bracelet.
Memories of my and other people’s adventures in Miami Beach, Montreal, Detroit, Texas, New Orleans, St. Augustine, Rio de Janeiro, Quebec, Pheonix, Bahamas, Heidelberg, Ottawa, RCMP, Victoria, and England now tinkle and dance together, making a happy, loved, useful sound.
My spoons are re-born as kitschy, sentimental bracelets. Two of them!
My Grandpa Lou loved kitschy, sentimental stuff so I think he would approve.