The Treasure Hunt

European antique fairs are treasure troves of old world glitz and new world kitch.

I recently ventured to France with my friend Margaret, an antique addict, to visit the fairs in Avignon and Montpellier and learn about the antique experience.

My first lesson was to set my alarm clock EARLY.  Wise Ben Franklin’s maxim, the early bird gets the worm, applies to the antique trade.  If you snooze, you lose… literally, as the dealers start to pack up their wares by noon.  Long lines form as crowds gather in the early dawn just as the sun begins to brighten the sky.  The collectors amiably greet one another as they queue for shots of hot espresso and bites of crisp croissants beneath makeshift tents. In the cold morning air, their breath visibly mingles with the swirling smoke from dangling cigarettes.  The Surgeon General has not yet infiltrated France!

As the gates open, the crowd enthusiastically cheers, “Chargé!”, and quickly disperses among the vast maze of stalls that covers several football fields.  The antique quest begins!

IMG_2660From glitz to kitch there is a wide array of furniture, silverware, artwork, pottery, glassware, vintage clothing, animal heads, marble busts, furs, jewelry, clocks, and trinkets of every variety.  There is something for everyone…

…for those who love gold, there are loads of fancy gilded clocks to stay on time and in style…

IMG_2654…for those who love silver, there are sparkly trinkets of all kinds to dress up a table or a person,

IMG_2666…for those who are curious, there are ancient books to expand the mind….

IMG_2664…for those who love color, there is rustic pottery to brighten a room…

IMG_2665…for those who love the hunt, there are beasts to adorn your walls…

…and for those who are schizophrenic, there is a perfect item that marries maritime and mountains…or Old Greenwich and Jackson Hole!

IMG_2653Here is how it all works.  Once you find an item you desire, you ask the price and then provide a counter offer.  I was surprised at how willing dealers are to bargain.  If you reach an agreeable price, you need to fill out a shipping form in triplicate.  One copy is your receipt.  Another provides proof of sale to the dealer.  And the last is delivered to the shippers who are on site in specified locations.  The shipper will pay the dealer, pick up your item, load it in a van, and arrange shipping as you request.  As the morning progresses, traffic jams form as carts filled with purchases block the alleys between stalls.

IMG_2661I have been known to shop ’til I drop, but after two consecutive days of antiquing, I was surprisingly exhausted.  As in the antique shows, high brow and low brow were juxtaposed in Avignon, a town that boasts the former palace of Popes and the present homes of local villagers.

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 IMG_2651I enjoyed a cappuccino in a cafe located on the ancient town square and basked in the mid-day sunshine that illuminated a church’s crenellated spire as if under a spotlight.

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I appreciated driving along the winding country roads and taking in the sights of the quaint French towns protected by enduring walls of ancient stone just as much as I enjoyed strolling along the winding alleys and taking in the sights of the quirky French fairs amidst makeshift walls of antique stalls.

Either way, I loved my treasure hunt in France.

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