Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.



Isle-sur-la-Sorgue: The Mothership for French antique shopping

Get up! It’s a perfect day to go antique shopping…the view from our rented house in the tiny Provence village of Rasteau
Views along the way to Isle-sur-la-Sourge

What’s the big deal? Isle-sur-la-Sourge has morphed into the antique shopping capital of France and one of the top three in Europe. There are more than 350 permanent antique dealers spread over the town and two major international antique fairs at Easter and on August 15. Don’t wear socks, it will blow them off. If you are in the know, the locals call antiques “brocante”. I get why, I went broke buying brocante.

Too big for my suitcase, “tant pis” as the French would say. My expandable suitcase is pretty miraculous but does have a limit. I’m seriously tempted by the idea of filling a shipping container and selling some of my finds next time.


Found it! My first treasure all wrapped up and ready to take home. I’m liking that fountain and the outdoor set too.

My primary mission was to find a hand-carved rustic bread proving bowl and I found one in the very first shop we walked into. It’s a sign right? I took it to mean I was on a roll.

Here it is back home in Canada…It fit perfectly in my suitcase with clothes packed around and in it. I love thinking about the other woman who made bread with it and her own Handyman making it for her.

My next purchase was a basket which happened to nestle nicely into my new bowl in my suitcase, with a slight bending of the handle.

My antique mushroom picking basket was a bargain at 20 Euros. It made a stop at our patio table in Rasteau before heading home in my magic suitcase.
It posed for another selfie in Ilse-sur-la-Sorgue in front of an historic waterwheel. The town stretches across the Sorgue River — earning it the nickname of Venice of Provence. The mossy waterwheels were used for dyeing fabrics and powering olive and paper mills.

IMG_1252If you ever look up from all the shopping for treasures, the town is pretty. It’s shaded with plane trees, the river actually babbles and the riverside cafes and restaurants are festooned with flowers. There is a farmer’s market as well where we sorted our dinner.

Olives times a million at the farmer’s market

We stopped for lunch too which was necessary to keep the rest of the less enthusiastic antique shoppers’ spirits buoyed.

Crepes s’il vous plait

Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a 30-minute drive from Avignon and is also accessible by train. If you go, it’s best to arrive early for the Sunday market, which starts at 9 a.m.  both to enable you to find parking and to avoid the crowds. It was raining by the time we got there and not crowded. You can try to negotiate a bit on the prices too. I paid about 20 Euros less on the asking price of my wooden bowl and saved another 10 Euros on the picking basket. I had also done some pre-pricing on the Internet so had a rough idea what I wanted to pay. Bargaining is worth a try. I think that being polite and speaking to the vendors in French helped. It’s not a place to find amazing bargains though. Dealers are savvy and know their prices. The thrill for me was finding things not found in Canada or found here, imported from Europe and sold for appropriately more money. It was also about having so many wonderful things all in one place.


The antiques trade took off here about 30 years ago when a few dealers got together on weekends to sell off the contents of a few local chateaux. (Wish I had been there for that.) There are now 10 main areas or “villages” spread throughout the town with the largest being Le Village des Anitiquaires de la Gare where over 100 dealers are gathered in a giant warehouse. Here is a tiny list of what you will find: garden furniture, entire fireplaces, enamel signs, books, paintings, cutlery sets, linen, zinc-top tables, mirrors, crystal, stone statues, silver trays, glassware, porcelain, jewellery, weird curiosities, lamps, children’s toys, and on it goes with enough treasure to fill Ali Baba’s cavern and a few select items left over for my modest Canadian home.

There is so much to see that I could happily have spent a second or third day here.
The view from our Rasteau villa

It wasn’t too hard to leave as dinner on the terrace of our Rasteau villa was pretty inviting. Much of the conversation centred around items sadly left behind due to budgetary and suitecasary considerations. I have to go back with bigger luggage and wallet…

View of the villa in the last of the evening sun.
Olive trees flank the drive and a vineyard sits below.

It was one of my best antique shopping days ever (on par with the day spent at Ardingly Antiques Fair in England). The Handyman, his brother (and our wonderful English relatives) indulged me and helped make the day special. The Handyman and his brother had other plans for the following day that I in turn did not indulge by accompanying them.

The Handyman and his brother summited Ventoux on their bikes the day after our visit to Isle-sur-la-Sorgue while I basked in the afterglow on the terrace with a good book and a glass of wine. Chacun son truc.


Women with hats: capellophile or millionophilia

My daughter and her lovely pals

Although there is no “official” word for hat collector, there has been some attempt to create one. Millinophilia, derived from hat maker, or milliner is one possibility and a second is capellophile, using the word capel which is latin for hat or headdress.

Whatever your term it, my growing collection of vintage and new hats is turning me into a mad hatter. In celebration of Easter bonnets, here are some of my frillier women’s hats. The hats come out to play often and are great for photo shoots where the wearers adopt some version of “hat face”. It’s a pose and expression brought on by the hat. Hat face is either a very serious face with an upturned chin in a regal pose or a silly smile.

Do you remember Marlo Thomas in That Girl?

Hat collecting turns out to be an affordable hobby with many only costing $20 or $30 and collecting works equally at home and on holidays to just about anywhere. There is also a good deal of nostalgia involved as I picture my mom choosing from among her hats stored away in flowery hat boxes.

This cotton-candy pink number screams Easter

I don’t even remember which hat was the first in the collection. They can be found at yard sales, auctions, antique and vintage stores and you will find them even when you aren’t looking.

The back of this hat is lovely
Takes a brave sole to wear this one anywhere but in a Star War’s movie

Some of my hats were reasonable and others more expensive. The more flamboyant the more expensive. If you add in French hat maker labels like Agnes, Chanel, Yves St. Laurent and Christian Dior, the price goes up. The more feathers the more money sometimes reaching up to $300 or $400. If the hat comes in its original box, so much the better. The fun of collecting is amplified by the possibility of wearing the hat. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried a hat on, found it fetching, bought it and chickened out actually wearing it.

I call this one the meringue

Cloche, high crown, tilts, doll hats, cocktail, pillbox, fedora, wide brim, beret, boater, Breton, cartwheel, turban, halo, peach basket, picture hat, sailor and slouch…so many hats for only one head.

“In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it…”



Summerland find and the dead town of Amy Kansas

IMG_9033Yup, taking that home. Who wouldn’t want a plate with a boy riding on turkey on it? Little did I know that a week later I would mail it away to a relative of the owners of the Patten Mercantile Co., postal box: Ghost Town, Amy, Kansas.

Antique shopping in Summerland, British Columbia, just across the lake from Naramata, this strange gem was sitting high on a shelf. The purchase of this peculiar plate started me on a journey into the past of a tiny American ghost town and a 97-year-old store that burned to the ground in 2003.

With my new treasure by the computer, an internet search of “Amy, Kansas” brought me to Amy Bickel, an agricultural journalist for the Hutchinson News in Kansas. She has been chronicling Kansas’ dead towns since 2010. The town once had a lumberyard and a general store. It started out life as Ellen, Kansas in the late 1800s as a stop established by the railway and became Amy after the U.S. Postal Service wanted the name changed as there was already an Ellen in eastern Kansas. Names of local teenagers were submitted and a postal official settled on Amy, after 16-year-old Amy Bruner.

Amy was always small but it had a heyday. It prospered in and around 1906 with life centering around the general store. The store’s owner set up a swing set, baseball field, a merry-go-round and a band with snazzy uniforms often played at its adjacent band stand. During warm weather, the town drew a large crowd each Saturday. Wagons and buckboards, each hitched to a team of horses, covered about an acre of ground.

The Amy store’s counter and its coffee grinder were donated to the Lane County Historical Museum for its general store display.

After I reached out, Amy Bickel got in touch with Vance Ehmke whose farm is in the area of abandoned Amy. Amy Bickel recalled that Vance Ehmke had held onto an old sign from the Amy store. Ehmke filled in some more pieces of the mystery by saying that Guy and Rodney Patten owned the store in the 1920s (hence Patten Mercantile Co.). Ehmke’s grandfather was formerly connected to Patten Mercantile. The store closed in 1955 and the local grain elevator, the only business left in town, burned the store down in 2003 to make way for a new office and scales.

After e-mail correspondence with Ehmke I learned of his sentimental attachment to the store and his family connection. I mailed the plate to him and back to the ghost town of Amy where his farm is located. There are many reasons that more than 6,000 towns have been wiped off the map in Kansas. In the case of Amy and the store, it was the development of highways and interstates, making it easier for people to travel farther for their goods and services.

Ehmke, thrilled to have the repatriated plate, sent me a newspaper clipping with a photo of the store. It looks like one of those movie set false fronts. Pretty fair trade I would say. One plate with boy riding a tom turkey for one very good story.



Me and Big Blue Bobby McGee

I could have happily taken home all of these

It is in no way an exaggeration to say my heart beat faster and the hair on the back of my neck stood up as we entered the gates to the  Ardingly Antiques & Collectors Fair last summer in England. For a Canadian, antique collecting in a country where “stuff” is so much older than can be found at home,  just doesn’t get any better. In a spirit of show, don’t tell, here are some of the treasures encountered in its upwards of 1,700 stalls.

No, none of this collectable animal taxidermy came home with me although the little boar was tempting and cute (but sold). The dog in the case was pretty weird. It’s a rare breed but…

The birdcage in the reflection was really beautiful too

I wish had brought both of these mirrors home. One of my biggest left-behind regrets. I didn’t even ask their price.

IMG_4703Located in Southern England, 90-minutes away from Dover ferries, the annual fair attracts many exhibitors from Europe and the variety was pretty astounding. The prices were reasonable too.

IMG_4717It’s hard to get a sense of how big this chandelier was. You would need a big, fancy room to house it.

I like his hat.

IMG_4724This is right up my alley as I collect kitchenalia.

So many treasures. Such a small suitcase.

IMG_4744These came home with me: skates (who needs those in England anyway), trug, garden signs and my prized possession…the straw boater that came in its original Harrods’ box to add to my hat collection. I think I paid about 20 pounds for it. I love it that the owner’s name is on the inside hat brim…”B.W.G. Massey”. I hope he isn’t still looking for it.

IMG_4713This? did not come home with me.

I dream of returning and filling a shipping container. Big Blue Bobby McGee would look pretty darn awesome in my garden or maybe as a greeter in the tree fort. Maybe the English Channel swim is just a ruse to get back to Ardingly?

Our lovely English relatives organized the outing which included a stop at a pub, of course.


Blog at

Up ↑