Worth the Wait
Chiner (shee-nay): To hunt or look for antiques.
Il / Elle chine
Ils / Elles chinent
One of my favorite pastimes while traveling anywhere but especially
in France is to go antiquing, or chiner. When I see signs
that say "Antiquités" (high end antiques),
"Brocante" (second-hand goods), "Dépôt
vente" (consignment shop) or "Marché aux
puces" (flea market), I know that a marvelous find is in
In Le Paradou in southern France a couple of years ago, I pulled
the car over to stop at a weekend roadside brocante. One
vendor had several antique textiles for sale including three linen
kitchen towels from the 40's or 50's. They were hand-hemmed and
had never been used. I knew immediately that they would be ideal
for drying wine and Champagne glasses. I was right. Chez moi
(at my house), the towels feel wonderful in my hands and don't leave
a speck of lint. What a find!
October, I was again in southern France driving through the Alpilles
mountains, one of my favorite places on the planet, when I came
upon a dépôt vente in the middle of the countryside.
It had only been open a few months and was full of treasures. Armoires,
china, silver, paintings, linens, curiosities, and more filled the
warehouse-type building. An antique panetière (a decorative
bread cabinet that hangs on the wall) from Provence had just been
sold for a song.
As I wandered through the shop, I happened upon a lovely impressionist-type
painting of the Alpilles by a local artist which I bought on the
spot for 45 euros. I then had to figure out how to get it home but
I knew it belonged on my living room wall.
Upon leaving the depot vente, I caught sight of a wooden
mortar and pestle that had come from a local Provençal kitchen.
The quintessential symbol of southern French cuisine, the ensemble
smelled faintly of garlic and olive oil. I picked it up-was it heavy!
And I thought: No room in the suitcase for such a hefty item. Je
me demandais aussi (I also wondered) if I would want to break
in a new mortar and pestle myself-there were some lovely olive wood
ones in nearby St. Rémy-or if I would want one that had already
been seasoned (i.e. used). I left without buying the mortier
et pilon but fortunately I picked up une carte de visite
(a business card) with the shop's name and phone number on it. For
by the time I arrived back in the U.S., I realized belatedly that
the authentic mortar and pestle was a fantastic discovery I should
have bought sur-le-champ (right away).
The next week, I called the shop to find out whether the mortar
and pestle were still there. As I had a friend who would be in the
region dans 15 jours (in a couple of weeks), I asked if they
would hold the items for me. Of course was the reply. It turned
out that my friend did not make it to the consignment shop, so I
called again to say that I would be in Paris in December and would
try to pick it up then. Again, no problem, said the shop owner.
Long story short, I did not make it to the Alpilles in December,
nor in January on another short trip to France. When I walked back
into the shop in February, the American part of me expected the
mortar and pestle to have been sold long ago. However, the French
in me harbored a faint hope that somehow the mortar and pestle would
be there with my name on it.
Sure enough, the owner remembered my request and went to fetch
the mortier et pilon out of a dusty armoire. The wooden bowl
and pestle had been waiting for me in France for four months, pas
de problème. I was surprised and yet not surprised. I
realized that rather than focusing on making a fast buck, the shop
owner honored the client-seller relationship despite the slow pace.
I was thrilled-with both my antiquing find and the people interactions
that accompanied it. Now I just have to make a lovely aioli,
Provençal garlic mayonnaise, to baptize this lovely culinary
treasure and kick off its next phase of life in my kitchen.
September 24, 2008
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