Day One: Jet-lag Jack (that's "Jacques" if we meet in France): meet Avignon, in the south of France.... but, life isn't too bad -- got bumped up to a very slick Passat Wagon, survived the last two days of a nasty gas crisis, and got francs out of the bank (might sound like nothing to you, but French bankers make you beg for your money like the servile lap dog they prefer you to be). Made it to the first of three blockbuster shows -- Avignon, Montpellier, Bezier. Triple damage.
Day Two: there's a full moon pushing its way up through a delicate pink haze hanging over the Mediterranean, on whose sandy shore my spent body is sprawled. Jean Pierre and I are still quietly digesting a to-perfection lunch from Au Pied de Boeuf, on the southern outskirts of Avignon, as several of the oh-so-casual-as-though-nothing-were-really-happening topless bathers gather up their towels and brush the fine sand of the beach at Palavas-les-Flots off their luscious booties. One foire down, two to go.
The Big One, boys and girls, the Big One which will separate the ouvriers (workers) from the chefs (bosses), send a few Texans scuttling back home with their financial tails between their legs (secretly hoping their container of broken, new things posing as old, gets lost at sea); yes, the Big One will start at eight A.M. sharp, just three kilometers away from this placid but delectable beach scene. The "bull pen," an area of about a half acre of macadam in front of the Parc des Expositions, will hold more than ten thousand elbow-to-elbow dealers from around our tiny globe: Americans, French, English, Italian, Spanish, German, and Japanese, your basic international smorgasbord. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of plumes of cigarette smoke will rise from the crowd where it will mix with equal volumes of espresso-breath. There's nothing politically-incorrect about having a Gaulois clenched between your teeth here. Each dealer will have paid his fifty francs for the privilege of being swept along on a human tidal wave through the gates into the inner sanctum of antique-dom, where perhaps three thousand French dealers are giddily awaiting the opportunity to transform their goods into another huge pile of 500-franc notes. We ain't talking about horse-chokin' rolls, here, we are talking about wheelbarrow loads of cash! Cash is King in Montpellier, and anything less than cash is Not Welcome.
Today, at Avignon, one dealer told me he'd just take the item back when I brandished my checkbook. You want to see a long face on any French dealer? Drag that checkbook out! They've gotten bolder about voicing their displeasure around this "check matter." Now it's just: we only take cash. Not even "sorry." Just: no checks. They screw up their faces soooo unpleasantly, "Monsieur has no cash?" Splitting it works sometimes, 1/2 in check form, 1/2 in cash. The invoice? NEVER is it written for more than the amount of the check, and you can't beat an invoice out of someone who you've just given a pile of 500-note francs! One dealer, in the height of the selling frenzy, just flat-out refused to write an invoice -- even having received a check for the item, so deeply entrenched in his "no-invoice" mentality! (The next day he realized the error of his way, and sheepishly apologized, and produced an invoice. Like, duh, you can't hide a check from le tresor publique, can you?)
Suddenly it's tomorrow, and getting back to that cranked-up mob in front of the gates at Montpellier... aggression and paranoia also fuel this nicotine and caffeine-spiked crowd, each one determined to walk away with enough purchases to make the long flight or drive worth it -- plenty worth it. Meanwhile, my personal Demons have shown up -- they're barraging me with their usual show-time questions: is the buyer next to me smarter, richer, quicker, pushier? It takes a lot of years of doing this to feel "comfortable," to stretch the term, to ignore those Demons, send them back to where they came from. A lot of sleep the night before, a big breakfast, a short drive, these are all ingredients to potential success. Then, it's just a matter of Doing It, not wavering whatsoever in the face of the crazed, greedy throngs. And what is this Doing It?
For this one, your Jack (Jacques when in France), "it" is the equivalent of just keeping one foot in front of the other, cruising the aisles as quickly as humanly possible, threading through the other "professionals" (as we're called here, thank you very much for having noticed), scanning table after table, taking it all in at warp speed, and then....HITTING when it appears. If there's any undue fatigue, or an insufficient breakfast, or if the Demons are given any kind of a front seat this day, confusion and failure are sure to follow. There's a supreme irony which presents itself in this situation: if you actually have your hands on something that looks good -- buyable, not damaged, authentic, attractive (even possibly, though rarely, important), and saleable -- well, how come you are standing there with your meager little hands on it??? How could that have happened in the midst of this conundrum of competition? Are you dreaming? What's wrong with this picture??? I want my Mommy!!!
Well, this guy, your "personal shopper in France," didn't need his Mommy today. It was Jack's day to be Top Dog.
Do you know that exquisite, rare, profoundly serene feeling when you are just doing what you are supposed to be doing, in the right place at the right time? The world is an oyster, and you are its glistening, radiant pearl!
That's what it was like today as I flew, feet as though on Teflon soles, through endless halls, corridors, parking lots, stands -- scooping up treasures for you, My Darlings! It was a bit of a bumpy start, because I didn't draw "first blood" until at least ten minutes (a veritable eternity) into the fray. Then, there it was: in Didier's booth, a gilt-bronze mounted Muller chandelier with a center bowl and three matching shades. The price -- "correct," as the French are given to saying. Then, off to "Halle Gargantua," spinning along the aisle, and BANG: a tiny, delicate, deep-bronze patinated angel chandelier with two extremely rare undersized three-color Muller shades. Hmmmm....a great score... onward, just hurling the cash, asking the dealers to keep the purchase -- put it under a table please I'll be back later to get it -- and zooooommm off for more. Veering around a stand of 18th century furniture and other atrocities, the eyeballs hone in on a -- ohmygod, what is this? -- an exquisite art glass bowl chandelier, uncommonly large, especially interesting pinks and opalescent yellows...
"C'est quoi, Monsieur?" ("And what do we have here, Mister?")
"C'est une vasque de Daum, Monsieur" ("This is a bowl by Daum, Sir")
Total paranoia erupts! Having in ten years of buying in France NEVER seen a Daum bowl for sale outside of the Paris "boutiques," I can't imagine that I'm looking at anything but a fake -- Yesterday's "Daum" -- Daum by Mrs. Daum. And, of course, I know there's a slew of acid-etched Daum repro's on the market, all nicely signed, "Daum, France," thank you.
"C'est ancien, Monsieur?" ("This thing's old?)
I just can't trust the situation at all. I've seen it happen sooooo many times, the fakes just keep coming. The metal looks old and appropriate to the piece, but the signature is just impeccable (i.e. too good to the true), as is the glass, clean even, a true rarity in a country that seemingly lives to export its dirt. I ask him the price and it's a fraction of what it should be, adding to an already volatile mix.
"C'est guarantie, Monsieur?" (It's guaranteed to be old?)
I mash the money into his hands and sprint out of the booth, heading back to Didier, who I know to be a rock-solid art glass expert. He instantly pronounces my bowl The Real Thing, and stashes it for me along with my previous purchase!
"Now I know how it feels, to have wings on my heels. To take a stroll among the stars, get a close look at planet Mars." -- Moody Blues
Back to cruising, pedal to the metal. More good luck follows -- and soon things are stashed under five or six tables, all over the playing field -- large WMF silver-plated vases, a statue, several incredible German enameled bracelets. I've misplaced my pen, and now I start to get worried -- so many things, so much money spent, no pen to keep a list, a brain too addled to easily recall where the packages are hidden. Another gorgeous art glass chandelier presents itself. A nickle-plated Art Deco mirror, with a handsome Modernist design on the sides... a cute pair of sconces, all glass.
Now that was a funny moment! I had just asked the prices of the sconces and mirror and was in the final stages of making a deal with the seller, and I was crouched down not far from the objects, on the side of the booth, when I heard someone ask the booth owner "How much are the sconces?" I looked and saw it was my friend George from Lyon. He hadn't seen me yet and I said,
"Ils sont vendus, Monsieur!" (They're sold, Sir)
He looked over to where I was, saw me, and we started grinning broadly at each other -- recognizing that we'd been in the other's shoes in such a moment!
Oh, speaking of "moments," I have to warn you about the dangers of being from San Francisco in France. Like, saying you're from San Francisco in these circles can be tantamount to purchasing a ticket on the psychotic merry-go-round. To wit:
Brigitte, the waitress at Au Pied de
Beouf, had asked as we were polishing off our sumptuous tartes
tatin, where we were from. Jean Pierre told her where I
was from, and she immediately said, "Ah, zee owner loves
San Francisco, he wants to leeve zere." Later, after we'd
paid the bill (our gourmet lunch was a whopping $15 each), Jean
Pierre went for the car while I visited the restroom. Le Chef
awaited me and as I tried to exit he snagged me with conversation...
I mean, monologue. Ah, I mean fevered-pitch-diatribe: everything
in the world that could be wrong is wrong with France, from the
morons in power in Paris to the swine who are draining the country
of its resources by living on the dole, and everything would
be just fine if the French structured their lives like San Franciscans,
who clearly enjoy the perfect existence. "America's not
Number One for no reason, you know!" On and on he ranted,
spittle gathering at the corners of his mouth, building to a
crescendo (somehow my presence got lost, he could have been addressing
any audience on any street corner). As his finale he lurched
across the counter and grabbed a note pad, and scribbled on it,
while explaining to me that the first day the Euro hits the streets
in Europe, it's the first day of the beginning of the Fourth
Reich: "EURO = 4th REICH!!!!"
I was imagining little goose-stepping bankers handing out hundred-euro notes, as well as wondering how to get the hell out of this lunatic's presence when Jean Pierre, a puzzled look on his face, came back through the front door asking whether something was wrong. Le Chef's spell was broken, it was the perfect time for a quick handshake and an exit stage left. I hope Monsieur finds his metaphorical San Francisco soon, but that he leaves us to our happy selves...
But, I digress... two and a half hours into the madness I suddenly stop, go off "automatic pilot." I take one slow, deep breath, reenter the conscious world. The spinning stops. My stomach says, "I want something and it isn't another chandelier!!!" I have to pee. I'm exhausted. The action is over, the battle is fought, the war is won.
Here's a partial list of goodies gleaned from the three shows:
An especially large-diameter (about 18 inches), deeply colored (oranges, reds, purples) signed Muller art glass bowl/chandelier with three shades, wrought iron metalwork.
A nickle-plated Degue chandelier with a large glass bowl with geometric designs, three matching shades. Mind-boggling quality metalwork.
A nickle-plated Genet-Michon chandelier, SIX outbound shades, a positively massive, thick glass center bowl. Superior geometric metalwork.
An egret chandelier... silver-plated, spread-winged egrets hold three matching shades from their beaks, surrounding a glass bowl with geometric designs. The shaft has three egrets on it, and the canopy looks like a nest full of the critters.
The Daum bowl, about 18 inches diameter, delicate pinks at the top, opalescent orangy-yellows at the bottom.
SIX matching wall sconces by Schneider!
Two signed sconces, unusually large, very classic geometric, by Petitot!
Four other pairs of sconces....
Large WFM vases, silver with black decoration.
A large, gilt-bronze chandelier with screaming Art Deco design elements, rare Muller glass with geometric birds motif.
And so on.... you can now see these and other items right here on this very web site, just click below.
... meanwhile, your "personal shopper in France," Jacques, he ees back at zee beach... the gulls are screaming above the four topless 20-somethings bouncing their way through a volleyball game. The sun sinks into Mare Nostrum. Plop.
Where to next? Tomorrow will present its own "menu," now it's time to, ah... relax...