Image by ahisgett via FlickrI was at a second hand book sale with a friend when she pointed one out to me....
'That would interest you...French country interiors...'
I took it from her. It was a coffee table book written in American English with colour photographs on every page and text in the interstices designed, it appeared, to encourage the reader to recreate the romantic world of the tradtional French interior.
Gauzy curtains shimmered in front of open windows with the glimpse of a rose garden beyond.....
Batteries of shining copper pans hung from the beams.....
Chandeliers hung low over dining tables clad in whte damask....
The jewel colours of Provencal tiles reflected in kitchen worktops....
I gave it her back.
I don't have a coffee table stout enough to support its weight.....and I've seen it all before.
But not in real life. Only in the pages of glossy magazines.
French style as I first met it in small hotels and in country B and Bs was strong on wallpaper.
Not only on the walls but on the doors, the cupboards and the ceiling. Not just flowery wallpaper either, but shag pile carpet wallpaper in electric blue and bright orange, that had a certain Edgar Allan Poe feel to it when you wanted to get to the bathroom down the corridor...and couldn't find the door, let alone the handle.
The absence of sofas and armchairs surprised me; the only place to sit was on a high backed chair at the table, or on benches at either side of it.....but as Edith told me, in her young day the women did not sit down at all. The men were served at the table and the women ate what was left standing at the chimney breast.
And for white damask tablecloths substitute oilcloth. I hadn't seen it for years before moving to France...which must be the oilcloth capital of the known world.
Copper pans were for professional kitchens....more common were the earthenware cooking vessels with concave lids, for putting into the ashes in the morning, loading more hot ash on the lid and being assured of a good hot soup or stew when you came in from the outdoor work at lunchtime.
These days, such items sit snugly on shelves as ornaments....in the photographs in glossy magazines.
Even these days, kitchen equipment can be limited...indispensable is the microwave for reheating the coffee that is made first thing in the morning and will have to last all day and the frying pan, the combination of both items being quite adequate to cope with the staple cooking of the French provinces...defrosting the frozen food delivered by the men from Agrigel.
There are any number of these companies....their vans thread the countryside putting everything from fish fillets to homard a l'armoricaine in the freezer of the rural housewife.
I see that one of the firms is currently promoting
'Tripe!' as 'Just the thing!'
So, as you can see, their range is comprehensive.
Should you wish to become a customer you will generally find that Wednesday afternoon is a good time to ask for a delivery.....the kids are home from school and the average housewife thus does not have the time to devote to discussing her needs and desires with the man from Agrigel.
She prefers Thursdays for the contemplation of her cuisses de nymphe.
Is it that I am too down market?
But in the houses of the provincial bourgeoisie I didn't find 'style' as portrayed in the glossies.
I found old furniture, good china and glass, but no 'arty' arrangements of items, while the one time I was inside the country house of an ex Very Important Politician I noted that there was a distinct odour of not-let-out-in-time dog around the bottoms of the curtains and that the paintwork was the same grey blue army surplus that featured so prominently on the shutters and doors of the little farms around.
I've seen some beautiful interiors though....in French owned and foreign owned houses in the French countryside...but none of them could be said to conform the the image promoted in the glossies.
Each was individual, each house had had the luck to have had an owner with the sense to 'listen' to it, understand its layout and make the most of it...colour, light, comfort more important than conformity to an imposed image.
I remember an acquaintance, long ago now, who had bought a dilapidated cottage and restored it painstakingly, until the day it was complete and he asked the neighbours in for a drink.
One chap kept looking attentively at the ceiling, where our hero had painted the beams and the plaster between them a becoming shade of pale grey so my acquaintance asked him what he thought of it.
'Well,' came the reply 'I was just trying to remember which beam it was that Joel hanged himself from....'
Perhaps if I'd mixed with different people.....