California & Paris Arrondisements

A few years back there was an article in a local newspaper about a California- Francophile, Myra Hoefer. She is an interior decorator who does business both in the Marais in Paris, and in the Wine Country, Healdsburg, CA. Her shop in Healdsburg is called 21st Arrondisement, which pulls together all the 20 neighborhoods of Paris… in her mind. It is my understanding that the inventory for her shop comes from all those various neighborhoods. What an ingenious name, I though! So, how do we other Francophiles blend our lives so as to combine our love of France with our lives here in California…and satisfy our passions? I most often go rummaging in antique, consignment stores, antique collectives, and vintage shops. I prefer auction house previews and the smaller marches aux puces/flea markets. Tending to overload, I try to limit myself in this regard. Is it really of better quality if made in France? Well, Louis XIV certainly made it his business to convince the world of this. The King’s desire and the support of the Guild System combined to make “Made in France” synonymous with quality. To a large extent they achieved their goal. However, there have always been people in the world who have been able to gain the expertise, and produce top quality things, with or without a king’s name behind them. With the high-powered branding and ad agencies pushing everyone to move on to the next best, latest and greatest thing today, …it is often hard to step back, and hold out for what you really believe to be quality. Is it always necessary to have the “best”? Do we have the energy, funds, and time to always get exactly what we want? At times in history sources can dry up, we run out of energy, and we may find it better to have a beautiful copy than an ugly original. Beauty and serviceability are truly in the eye of the beholder, and often people become more concerned with what others have than what they, themselves really want. It is a human characteristic, as far as I can tell. Sometimes we just need to stop and listen to what our internal self is really trying to tell us. That internal self may tell us to just have patience and…wait. Baron de Rede in Paris once said, “It takes people a long time to learn how to live.” In my…22nd Arrondisement mind though, pedigree may play second fiddle to just plain fun and serendipity or an ability to improvise with what I may find. For instance, across the Bay from SF in Oakland’s Piedmont district, there is a special Cancer Society Thrift Shop. They hold an All Things French Sale over Bastille Day Weekend, hoarding their donations of items throughout the year. These are items either made or identified with France. Then we, the patrons get to enjoy a mini Paris Flea Market. The Staff seems to have as much fun as the customers. Even the music they play puts everyone in the mood. If we find a treasure, all the better, and if not, we still might meet interesting people. I met a Parisian this time, Mme. Jeanne, who said has lived in the Bay Area for quite some time, but she travels home about every 2 years. With dancing eyes she also said this was the one time of the year when everyone could view the Eiffel Tower all they wanted. She was right…replicas of Le Tour Eiffel were in more forms then M. Eiffel might ever have imagined. There were many French brands of clothing, accessories, furniture, paintings, dishes, books… more than I can even recall. The place was swarming with Francophiles! Only a few things were truly expensive, but everyone seemed to have been enjoying this local version of a “Marches aux Puces”, and the proceeds were for a worthy cause. Now let me see, how many shopping bags did I leave with? After that, I headed on a stroll up the street. There are two wonderful British Style shops both called Pimlico Place; one mainly vintage silver, china, crystal, and the other of more personal adornment. How the owner gets so much into these tiny spaces so charmingly, and with such quality, is beyond me. The Piedmont Avenue area is quite an interesting slice of France, England, Italy, and many other countries. Not far from Piedmont is Oakland’s Rockridge area, with it’s conglomeration of euro/american style shops and food markets, and another good place to stroll. The Pasta Shop is great with its international brands of flavors and foods. If you want to go a bit farther into Berkeley, Fourth Street may be what excites you. Quite contemporary, it has morphed in the last decade into what might be called California style “café society”. It is said to be an open-air mall in a Berkeley-bohemian way. Anyone having been to Berkeley will understand what is meant…and the rest of you might just want to come and find out. One of my favorite stores on Fourth Street is The Gardener. Don’t let the name fool you. This shop carries some very upscale contemporary indoor and outdoor items of high quality, and often hand made by local artisans. They have a…
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