Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Trunk" Show

I went to see my sister today at her medical office. All of her staff are big fans of the baskets, so I told them come come out and see some of my summer clearance items. They came out for a look-see, and before I knew it there were five strangers from some of the other medical offices also shopping out of the trunk of my car. I love it when this happens! Lots of business cards get handed out, a lot of baskets get sold, and I remind myself what an appealing product I have! This is the end of the sale....

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Where to Stay in Avignon

This post is for Judy & Bill H. from Savannah....

I met Judy and Bill recently, and I had a great time chatting with them about healthcare, France, and Avignon in particular. Judy and Bill like to stay at the Hotel d'Europe, which is among Europe's best hotels. I haven't spent the night there, but I did treat Mom to lunch at the fabulous restaurant once.

Avignon is a great place to stay because it is centrally located to see a lot of the south of France. The city itself has the Papal Palace (will post on that later), which was home of the "French Popes" in the 14th century; it's also a university town, which gives it a certain edge; I don't like to be in town very late. But within easy driving distance you can visit a number of other great sites: the Pont du Gard, the Roman amphitheatre/coliseum at Arles (not to mention the rest of Arles including Van Gogh's Cafe de Nuit), the Roman theatre at Orange, Les Baux, Fontaine de Vaucluse, Ile sur la Sorgue, the vineyards at Chateauneuf du Pape, Cassis, Marseille, the Luberon valley, Aix. I could go on and on! The TGV station in Avignon is one of the best and very modern; there are lots of car hires (Hertz etc) there at the station and Paris is only 2.5 hours away.

Anyway, Judy and Bill asked me where I stay in Avignon; it is actually not in Avignon; it is called La Ferme Jamet, a bed & breakfast or chambre d'hotes on the Ile de la Barthalase, which is Europe's largest river island, largely agricultural. The Rhone river splits in Avignon, with Avignon and the famed Pont d'Avignon on one side, the Ile in the middle of the River.

The Ferme is run by Francoise and her husband Paco, and you will be hard-pressed to find a warmer welcome and a better oasis of calm in the region, unless of course the Mistal gets going, which it did just one night during this trip! It's easier to get in and out of town on the Island than it is from central Avignon, which is about 5 minutes away, and the parking is also free....

Here is the lovely ivy-covered facade:

The main building is a 16th/17th century hunting lodge, now with a series of rooms named after French painters. At this point I have stayed in just about all of the rooms, I think, and they are all very charming and comfortable. One time R and I stayed in one of the little cottages on the property, which was great because it has a little kitchenette, so we were able to do some light cooking. On the other hand, he was also very jetlagged that trip, and woke up several times in the middle of the night deliriously wanting to drive to the Fondation Maeght museum. Go back to bed, I kept saying (neither of us had a watch), when the sun is up we will leave! Other than that night, I have always slept super soundly at La Ferme...

Here are a few photos of the house from this trip. There are lots of places to sit and read or rest, inside and out, which is why a lot of French come here; you can take little day trips or bike rides and really "get away."

The other thing I love about La Ferme is that everyone eats breakfast together. This time of year, we were all outside under the giant plane trees. Tomorrow I'll post re our conversations. The boys were generally late to get up, so here they are having their breakfast by themselves....

You can see more at give my best to Francoise and Paco if you go!! I will see them again next spring.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Villa Ephrussi

I could do about 20 posts on this villa, which is on Cap Ferrat. It was build by Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild (she of the Rothschild family) and her husband Russian Baron Ephrussi, between 1905 and 1912; it was a piece of rock when it was built, and Beatrice had the soil brought it and numerous gardens created. She used to have all her household staff dressed up in pom pom hats like a cruise ship; the second name for the house and gardens is Ile de France, after the ocean liner; and so the gardens are shaped as if on a ship; I have been here a half dozen times, and each visit I appreciate it more! I will post again; here are a few general shots to give you the idea; the water display in front of the villa was set to opera music; very impressive!
Baron Ephrussi died several years after the villa was finished, and Beatrice could not stay there after his death. So she only had a few years there. More later....

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Switching out for Fall

What was I saying about fall? It's here! The last few days have been super foggy in Laguna (see last photo), and today was foggy and a little cool in Palisades, a nice change from the heat of summer. I saw a bunch of my regulars, Charlene back from a trip to Napa, Mrs. Airplane (always a pleasure), Victoria, a special visit from Ladan, and at closing, Bob the filmmaker who is back from a recent trip to Rwanda and Tanzania. Lots of great conversation going on with me at that market....

So here is the merchandise I showed today; I switched out the rose pink and green in favor of rust, blue, neutrals, mango and orange; lots of great comments and sales; next weekend we are at the Laguna Eco-Fest ; new merchandise is arriving this week from Madagascar and Morocco; anticipating a lot of pretty new stuff that should be out on the tables next weekend....

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Up to Eze

If you go just a little way down the road from the old port in Villefranche, you see signs for the Moyenne Corniche. There are three roads running from Nice to Monaco and Menton to the east: the Haute, Moyenne et Basse Corniches. The Haute corniche was built by Napoleon I on the route of the Romans; the Basse is the traditional road hugging the coast, and the Moyenne is the middle road built in the 20th century for the aristocratic tourist crowd. Of note, Princess Grace of Monaco died in a car crash on the Moyenne Corniche, though I don't think there is a marker. I was in Ireland as a high school exchange student, so I remember that tragic event well; Grace was all class, and was and is still beloved in Monaco.

The boys were fascinated with the views as we climbed up, up, up the hills, especially Corino, eyes glued to the sea and full of comments. There were a fair number of cyclists on the road with us; I can't imagine! Talk about taking your life in your hands! Anyway, we were on our way to see a few sights, the perched villages of Peillon or Pelle, and maybe Notre Dame de Laghet.

We stopped at Eze, a perched stone village, along the way up the hill, basically at the top of the hill....about 10 years ago, I took my Mom on her "dream trip," to the south of France, and in one day I drove from Biarritz to Eze (then as now, I drive for hours!), and we stayed two nights at the best hotel in Eze, which is Chateau Eza, built on the ruins of a castle by someone like Albert of Sweden; 400+ years ago.

Here are a few shots from Eze; there are a lot of little stores, so it is a little touristy, but there are many photo ops for interesting architecture and vistas. It's a fabulous honeymoon spot, and the boys were agog over the Maseratis and Monaco-esque cars in the park lot at Chateau Eza. You park down below and the porters take your luggage up the hill for you. This is a boutique hotel, and even 10 years ago I gagged at the price, but it is fabulous! I never got the same photos that I did 10 years ago, from our room down to the sea, and from the marvelously engineered stone terraces... from our room it looked like our yard in california, with stone walls and giant succulents, so we never went for the walk; Mom wanted to see the villas on Cap Ferrat instead. I think I used my zoom a lot here; it's tough to appreciate the scale and the view; all I can say is that this is one of the most lovely corners of the world!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fall Merchandise

Fall is here, and just to remind me that summer is indeed over, they were taking the lifeguard towers off the beaches at Crystal Cove today.
Fall means time to change my merchandise too, of course. Most of the pink and green will go back to the warehouse, and the rust and orange and new merchandise will come out. Oh, except the new merchandise is not here yet! The new Moroccan merch will be here end of next week, after a delay in shipping. We will also have new merch from Madagascar, including some high-end totes lined in vintage sari silk. I'll post photos as it comes in. And while I wait for that to arrive, I will finish the spring 2010 order and refocus on the new line and other Madagascar projects...stay tuned.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mediterranean Fish Tour

I need to tell you more about my trip to France; I still have what, about 1,175 photos still to show?

We left Beaune in the late afternoon and drove the last 2 hours in the dark, along the winding, forested autoroute. We arrived in Nice at 11pm, and I was astonished to see it more crowded than any place I have seen in a long, long time--it was packed, especially near the promenade des Anglais. As we got off the autoroute there was a moped driver down in the road, and the Samu working on him with a curtain around them and the entire neighborhood watching. Welcome to Nice. Dennis kept calling it Nee-Say and I kept saying NEECE. It was a combination of ethnic groups and degrees of affluence, basically a typical urban mix, but with an incredible sense of activity, even at 11pm. Get me out of here, I remember thinking! With the heat and the summer days, people are inside during the hot day and out walking, eating and drinking very, very late.

But you go around the point to the east and suddenly you find yourself in the small town of Villefranche, with its soaring cliffs built up with villas and usual houses, and a charming little fishing village painted Italian-influenced shades of ochre. On the other side of Villefranche is Cap Ferrat, a finger of land which is home to some of the most beautiful villas you'll ever see. Villefranche is a naturally deep harbor, and this is where the cruise ships drop anchor (Nice and Cannes are too shallow and unprotected), and the little navettes ferry passengers from the ship to the shore, where they can spend the day at the beach, dine at some wonderful seafood restaurants, or take a shuttle to Nice. Here is a shot of the entrance to the old port, with Cap Ferrat in the background, then a view from above, one of the villas near the beach and the cruise ship arriving:

Despite the fact that people like Tina Turner live in Villefranche, and the Rolling Stones made one album in a rented villa here, it remains unpretentious, with a lovely "old port" and a crescent shaped beach along the water's edge. It was very hot, even here along the water, like 90 degrees at night, and I sat at the Moroccan-style cafe across the street from our little hotel the last night until 1am (the boys had already gone to bed) making notes of my various basket purchases and business ideas over a carafe of water and glass of rose. It was that languid kind of heat; you can't sleep and you don't want to move a lot, so you plop down in a cafe until late late. The locals were engaging but not intrusive; there was a relaxed, safe vibe in town. It is still a working fishing port, and I got up early the second morning of our stay to see what the fishermen had caught.

One of the fishermen was originally from Croatia, and easily bounced between Italian and French for his regular clients; here he is, at left. He used to work in telecom but this is his bliss. Anyway we got talking (for over an hour) across the board on topics, and he gave me the full tour of all the fish he had caught between 4am and 8am; here are the photos and a few highlights....

The most impressive was this dark grey angler fish; it has its own little fishing lure built right in, and it dangles this little line right in front of its mouth and then swallows the prey fish whole! There are several rows of teeth on the way down...when we see it in the market it usually has the whole head cut off, see photo; but it is a very impressive fish!

The next one here is what I call poisson menchant, because this is one mean little fish! It has a vice-like jaw and if it were just a little bigger than this one, it can grab a fisherman's wrist and might cause him to lose his hand. Or so the fisherman says!

The last one here is a similar red fish, but without the would get this grilled whole on your plate...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Elaine shops the Market

I got to Palisades today a little late, but still earlier than Ronnie and his SconeAge granola, and earlier than the Bakery Guy from Point Hueneme. As I finished unloading, the LAPD was there to try to give me a ticket since we have to double park to unload; first time ever this has happened. I yelled out the window to Ronnie, to move his truck behind mine, and he came running and he had a word or two with Mr. Officer but didn't get a ticket. What a way to start the day!

Anyway, Julia Louis-Dreyfus was there today, with her rolling cart, so she doesn't need a basket. She comes from Malibu, and is there often, and is undisturbed by the patrons; you don't want to disturb Elaine. She's usually pretty focused on what she's after, but she actually said hi to me this morning then stopped at Ronnie's next to me. Ronnie and I wondered later if she was going to the Emmy's. She had her hair done dark today and later I saw a mention of her at the Emmy's; here is a clip:

So, Bravo, Julia/Elaine/Christine; she got her market shopping done AND managed to look fab at the Emmy's! Ronnie thought it took all day to look fab; Julia is not sitting home with cucumber slices and botox; she's out being normal and we love to see that....

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Flying Samples

The whole purpose of my trip was of course to see what baskets are on the French market, what's new, and go see a few suppliers. I buy direct from the manufacturers in Madagascar and Morocco, but some things I wouldn't mind buying from those same countries via France. That is, I can have a lot of styles and colors recreated, but not all. More sources are good!
I was looking for neutrals, shoulder bags/totes, and some red. Most of these flew out the first weekend at the markets, with the exception of the red one, the gold stripe and the neutral set with bronze handles. They were showing a lot of metallics on the Riviera, tons, so I bought some of those. I am keeping the little gold handled Morocco basket since it is perfect with my little gold gladiator sandlals, but probably won't order it; my supplier in Morocco specializes in artisanal, traditional baskets (and frowns on the trendy stuff like gold metallic!), and that is my focus in the market: to supply the traditional aticles. It was interesting that the silver trim bag (fully lined, with drawstring closure top, wonderful, also available in gold trim) was the last to go, but the day it did, I had two other women come to the booth wanting it because they saw it going through the market on another woman's shoulder. People are so funny! The one that went first was the similar seagrass basket with brown leather trim; awesome purse/bag and the one I am most likely to order.
I got two baskets in neutrals and in what I call a "shopper size" with a slightly keystone shape. Perfect for groceries. They do not have covered corners but are light and also squish up very well, so good to pack in a suitcase. I am keeping the cognac colored one with the geometric raffia border to use for a while, and I am loving it for the grocery store since it's pretty big! Both of these shoppers have wonderfully soft and slightly aged leather handles.
The one with the stitched flowers is a lovely little basket with a wooden base to keep it flat. I carried that bag all over France and bought multiples of them. All the rest are just singles. Call me of course if you are interested in pricing or details.