A Brief and Hectic Travel Journal
Every time I get back to my shop from one of the French buying trips, customers always greet me with the same question: “How was your holiday?” Invariably I answer that it wasn’t a holiday, even though it was very enjoyable.
Buying well is at the core of any business, and when I’m on an overseas trip time is of the essence. I must move about and search, and pick out things from an enormous amount of stock on offer. I must have the luxury of saying no to things either not beautiful enough, or too expensive. There is not much time left over for sight-seeing, and none for sitting around in cafes. There is certainly none for late-night revelling. A day’s work can start any time after four in the morning, with long drives to early-morning markets in distant towns. By most evenings the hour of my bed-time looms large, as the busy workload and the creeping jet-lag tend to take their toll.
Despite the hard work an antique dealer’s life is full of big and small blessings. An antique dealer lives amongst beautiful, unique items – and then enjoys dealing with customers who fall happily in love with those same things. I say jokingly, that in Europe I am transformed into a hunter who sources and tracks down difficult-to-find treasures, and then back in Australia I become a fisherman who puts out tempting bait in his shop.
Let me exclude from this story the mind and limb-numbing twenty-four or so hours that it takes for a door-to-door Melbourne to Paris trip. Once in France, travel becomes very exciting. The more one is able to blend into the French culture the better it gets. I love the French sense of humour, their idioms, even the colourful and coarse language that is heard on the streets. I marvel at this culture that is apparently so self-deprecating, but in reality is staunchly patriotic. I love the way that French people shake hands and kiss each others’ cheeks. They do this every single day, not just amongst good friends, but to all people that they work with and see on a daily basis.
Everything in France stops and closes-up for lunch, and I do enjoy this mid-day break. Unfortunately much of Europe, including France, have been permeated by the soul-less fast-food culture, and particularly the larger cities seem to have been affected the most. There are still however many good bistros and restaurants to be found which offer genuine French cuisine, served by brisk and professional waiters. It’s always a treat to enter one of these eateries and to be part of its boisterous crowd, particularly now that there is a lesser degree of cigarette smoke in their interiors.
Much of my buying is done in Paris, and to whoever complains to me about driving in that city’s busy and forceful traffic I tell them that I normally drive in it with a truck. When I’m driving I can’t even glimpse at a map. I need both my eyes and all my senses fully alert just to stay on course, and considering the bulk of the truck I cannot pull over! I don’t know how I could do it without my portable satellite navigator.
Paris offers several permanent antique markets, like Saint Ouen and Vanves. These operate regularly, all year round, and are always open on the same week days. They contain several hundreds of stalls, many of them specialising in specific types of objects, or in specific styles or periods. Within these large markets there is also a sub-stratum of itinerant street vendors that sell their wares on the kerbs, along the crowded streets. Treasures can be found both in the regular and in the itinerant stalls, and prices for similar items can differ enormously. Haggling is a must, and a good measure of theatrics is advisable when doing so. No-one seems to take tough discussions on a personal level, providing that these are carried out with a sense of humour.