Over the years I’ve bought my fair share of camembert and being the Frugal Diva that I am, I’ve saved the boxes (cleaned by filling with baking soda to remove the “smelly cheese” smell). I use these boxes as organizers, holding tacks, clips and other accessories that get lost in cavernous drawers. It seems so charmingly French that camembert comes in “wooden boxes” rather than cardboard containers. But in fact this tradition was started in the 19th C for exporting the cheese to America! The wood provided the perfect humidity for transport but as technology passed by the tradition lingered!
Popular scenes on labels include everything from luscious milk maidens to man’s first walk on the moon! Prices for labels run less than a euro each ($1.40) but move upwards the rarer the scene depicted is. Occasionally artisans will turn camembert boxes into small wall clocks – selling these for $10-15 each. Of course, you can make them yourself by picking up a clock kit at your local hobby store.
The Antiques Diva™
(seen at right with the famous Gouda cheese of her second home, Holland)
Today’s Italy photos were all taken last summer as we skipped across Italy, hitting Piedmont, Chianti, Naples and even Sicily. They’re being posted now as an Arrivederci before I depart for a delicious journey to Florence to celebrate my 13th wedding anniversary. My husband – The Wine Guy – and I have been to Italy several times before, but this time somehow feels a little more special.
Though I don’t speak more than a few words in Italian beyond “Non parlo l’italiano. Parla inglese?” and “Quanto costa?”, my mouth wants to speak the language. I find the words, “Per favore”, “Mi dispiace” and “Mi chiamo Diva” rolling around in my mouth almost sensually as they rest on my tongue and in my mind and though I can’t speak the language my lips move as if trying to repeat what is said when I listen to the radio or watch two lovers speaking Italian at the table next to me. My mind takes off, trying to speak a language it doesn’t yet know, but I think that perhaps, if I believed in that kind of thing, it might have known it long ago. It makes me feel alive. I love Italy, the loud and affectionate Italians, the gelato, the food, the wine and the language.
The problem with Italy is that there are so many places to see that I can never decide on just one locale to visit and thus end up trying to see everything all at once. Readers who know me well know that I always have several pots boiling at one time, my hands dipped in many projects: chairing committees for various women’s and decorative arts societies, running my Antiques Diva™ business (which is bound one day to be an empire) – all while living an active social life that borders on diabolical. In the past, I’ve always vacationed this same way… running night and day, trying to see and do all. But perhaps it’s because I’m growing older, or perhaps my husband – a connoisseur of slow travel – has finally rubbed off on me… We’re leaving for Italy and instead of making a grand tour we are returning to Florence.
Simply Florence and no place else. We’re driving into the city from our home in Berlin so I can feel the rush of the road (and to insure plenty of space on the return drive for Italian antiques and wooden crates of wine), but instead of visiting several cities and villages in the area, we’ve reserved a spot in a parking garage nearby the Ponte Vecchio and booked a simple suite in a hotel recommended in 1000 Places to See Before You Die, a bargain family-run pensione with a two-tiered roof-top terrace and 360 degree view overlooking the Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens and the surrounding terra cotta roofscapes. And though we’ve “done” Florence before – at high speed – this time we’re going to linger.
Last time we were there we did 3 musuems on our first day and were so brain dead by the 2nd that we barely remembered the 3rd, and though the reason for the trip is to study the art (and to eat the food), I’ve taken a different approach this time. I can’t help myself but to organize our days, it’s in my nature to plan and book outings for us. But each day I’ve planned only one thing per day. I’ve pre-booked our museum tickets – Tuesday is the Uffizi, Wednesday the Bargello, Thursday the Galleria Dell ‘Accademia, Friday the Medici Chapels and Saturday the Church of Santa Maria Novella and on and on…
When we return home to Berlin, I’m certain we’ll have done more than we intended, but this time, on this trip, my goal is to leave a few things undone as a perfect excuse to return and enjoy the true pleasure that is Florence.
Arrivederci and A presto!
Even if you are just in Paris for an afternoon, it is worth checking out. A huge loft style space houses a florist, an eclectic bookstore, a wonderful vintage collection, designer clothes at a discount, homeware and a great kid’s clothing and accessories area. It is the kind of place you can pick up a delicate Isabel Marant necklace for 20 euros or spend several thousand euros on a sofa.
This place is definitely a labour of love. When I went with my friend Belinda to check it out, Marie-France Cohen herself was the person helping us out and making sure that we were getting all the attention we needed.
Emilie at Babycinno
“The Diva of The Day”
Another Exciting Guest Blog From La Reine!
Since there was not a Notre Dame home game this weekend, my husband The Big Guy (TBG) and I found ourselves at home in New York City instead of jetting off to our alma mater to fill our season ticket holder seats! This meant we had a whole free Sunday to occupy. My husband decided it was a good time to see and photograph the Northeast’s colorful Fall foliage. To see the best foliage in our tri-state area, The Weather Channel was recommending a trip to the Hudson Valley.
TBG asked me to arrange a scenic car trip for Sunday up the Hudson Valley…not more than 2 hours driving time from NYC. SCORE! The NY Times had recently run an article on spending an antiques weekend in the Hudson Valley. Naturally, as every good “antiquing diva” does, I had saved this article which meant we had a great scenic route to follow north. And then we had a different scenic route to follow back to NYC. And even better, I was loaded with shopping recommendations along the way.
We left NYC early after a Starbucks stop, and crossed the Hudson on the George Washington Bridge and went north along the gorgeous Palisades Parkway until we reached route 9W North. From there we took this local road, filled with scenery, restaurants and shops, and shockingly little traffic. After several impromptu pullovers for perfect scenic photo ops, we drove slowly through West Point, the US Military School, to enjoy the beautiful campus. Then we continued north through Hyde Park, home of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), and passed many antique stores and markets (not a very pretty town). Here we also drove past the FDR Home and Library, and the Vanderbilt home… we decided next time we’d spend more time in Hyde Park and enjoy both the antiquing and the cultural stops, but since we had another 60 miles to cover, we kept going.
We continued slowly up 9W until we came to Rhinebeck and Asher House Antiques. My heart started beating faster: this is my kind of store – loaded with French and English antiques, big and small, expensive and very affordable! As I always do, I started picking out things I already own, to get a sense of pricing for what I purchased while living in Europe, and what I’d have to pay to buy them in the US… thankfully I made good purchases while living in Europe! In the end we only purchased a few small items, an aged French terra cotta flower pot being my favorite. But, after we paid and were heading out, the owner said: “It’s almost 11:00, the antiques fair is opening”.
“Antiques Fair? What Antiques Fair?” I asked!
The Rhinebeck Antiques Fair was held October 11th and 12th 2008 at the Duchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck…less than a mile up the road! Several other shoppers at Asher were on their way… they were just waiting until 11am for the Fair to open.
TBG and I were famished. Deciding to bypass the food court at the Fair, we opted instead to brunch at Calico, a cute little restaurant and patisserie located next door to Asher House. Since we were in CIA territory, we were anticipating many of the local restaurants would have CIA graduate chefs, and we were very pleased with Calico. I had smoked salmon and toast points with crème fraiche, onion and capers, TBG enjoyed a steak panini. Prior to being served we were treated with hot homemade yeast rolls. Throughout our meal we watched the locals practically buying out the pastry counter: we were too late to score the very popular chocolate chunk cookies, but we did buy a few oatmeal-with-raisin cookies for the car. The other pastries were tempting…but looked too sticky for a car ride.
Before we made it back to the car, we took a little walk around Rhinebeck: it’s a charming downtown filled with antiques shops, restaurants and boutiques. I stopped in Cesare + Lili, a women’s boutique, and now own a beautiful new cream sweater cape…I was chilled since it was much colder up north than in NYC! TBG found a pair of khakis on sale… a very pretty, walkable little downtown, we’ll be back!
With the back of our SUV rapidly filling up with bags, and not even being halfway along our route, we headed to the Rhinebeck Antiques Fair. Held entirely indoors, the Fair has a good mix of antiques and vintage, everything from furniture to Christmas ornaments to books to jewelry to dishware, leaning towards a country motif, but with plenty of goodies that even the most urban shopper would enjoy…in short, an antiquer’s heaven. And there were plenty of “mantiques” to distract TBG: he found a booth specializing in antique sports equipment, so found a sympathetic ear to discuss the tragic ND v UNC game the day before. We’re on the mailing list for this fair: the next date is sometime in the Spring, probably May. Check the website. That will be the perfect excuse to return to beautiful downtown Rhinebeck! One last stop: the food court. We had 2 very good, but expensive, cappuccinos to go!
Back in the car, continuing up 9W towards Hudson, another 60 miles north. Along the way, a few more Kodak moments and stops at a few garden centers to buy our fall gourds, pumpkins and mums. Finally, we reached Hudson. This main street is filled with antique and vintage stores and restaurants, but this is not a pretty town. It looks like it was a pretty town, and it could again be a pretty town, but the local Chamber of Commerce needs to put some thought and money into making Hudson a destination spot. We ended up buying only a book (Pierre Deux’s French Country: A Style and Source Book, 1984) at Hudson City Books on Warren, the main thoroughfare. We were both disappointed…I doubt we would make Hudson our destination in the future, although if we were in the neighborhood, we’d happily spend some time visiting the shops again.
Back in the car to NYC, this time taking the Taconic Parkway, again very scenic and shockingly car-free. In all, this perfect day of beautiful scenery, leisurely antique browsing, good food, and fabulous company took 11 hours, covering 230 miles. What a pleasant way to spend a gorgeous Sunday!
The 4th of July is as American as Apple Pie, Baseball, Parades, back-yard BBQ’s, red and white checkered tablecloths and ants invading the picnic! The date technically commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain, but it is much more than a federal holiday. In all the parades, fireworks and enthusiasm, Independence Day defines the American Spirit. As my Dutch friend and I chatted on the phone this morning, discussing the meaning behind the American Independence Day, she asked me a difficult question… the type of question that foreigners often ask; taking me by surprise and making me verbalize an intuitive answer.
“How do you define the American spirit?”
As an American – true red, white & blue – I’ve lived outside the USA for almost a decade. But my birthright remains strong, providing a framework in which I find & define my identity – I’m a passport-wielding American, but in spite of an international lifestyle, I am an American through and through! An Irish friend, who spent a few years living in New York, told me “What I love about Americans is that they step into a room and expect to be adored! It’s a wonderful trait Americans have – a confidence and a belief in themselves that defines the American spirit.” Whether it’s a Nike slogan “Just do it!” or the rugged self-assurance of the now politically-incorrect, iconic Marlboro Man, as Americans we possess a “can do” attitude that often translates into an entrepreneual spirit.
My dad always says that the last two words in “American” are “I can” and the longer I am overseas the more I realize how this self-empowered, do-it-yourself attitude truly is an American trait. As Americans we are self starters. The American dream is based on the belief that all people are created equal – essentially anyone can do whatever their personal skills & desire allow them to do. While European friends who watched hours and hours of video, post Hurricane Katrina, might disagree with this statement, I believe that the social hierarchy found almost everywhere else in the world is not as readily in effect in America as it is elsewhere.
I think my European & Asian friends wrinkle their brow in confusion at me sometimes – asking “Why do you do it?” – it being any number of things from moving to a new country, volunteering as the president of an international club, helping organize my town’s antique fair, starting a new company or writing a book (which, fingers crossed, a publisher will someday fall in love with) and in the meantime blogging about my life as The Antiques Diva™. More than once a friend has said, “Wouldn’t it be easier to have stayed home in Oklahoma? To have ‘read the book’ rather than ‘tried to write one’? Why bother to learn Dutch when you are only here for a few years? Why waste the time & effort starting a company, for that same reason?” “What do you get out of volunteering on the board of your women’s club? Why not merely be a member and reap the benefits without so much bloody work?”
But to do any of these things is in my very nature as an American. An elderly Japanese friend, who is a member of the same women’s social club as I am, remarked one day after I returned from a solo trip driving back from England (and taking the car on the ferry) to Holland by myself, “You’re so good at finding your way around Europe. Americans are always good at finding their way. In our club, American members always know where to go, how to get there, and then they are the first to volunteer to coordinate a group activity to go out and do or see something!”
As a foreigner living abroad, I don’t take my new home for granted. I go to the museums, I visit the tourist sites, I eat at the best restaurants (I like to say “I’m eating Europe, one bite
at a time”) and try to learn as much about the area as I can. Part of the joy of day-to-day life in being a foreigner living abroad is that you get the excitement of being a tourist while dealing with the drudgery of day-to-day issues such as a plumbing repair in a foreign language (trust me, that teaches you vocabulary you never wanted to know) or grocery shopping without being able to read the labels.
So now, while living in Holland and France before that, I’m still an American, red, white & blue. But through cultural absorption of the surroundings of my new countries, a part of me becomes “Almost French” or “Almost Dutch”. But to be “almost any other nationality” is in fact part of what it means to be an American. When you are American, you are always – through your ancestors – something else. I’m English, I’m Irish, and I’m Scottish, with a little Native American somewhere down the road thrown in. I’m certain a German fell in the pot at some point, and I must tell you I can’t walk through the streets of Istanbul without someone thinking I’m their cousin! A Russian friend was recently granted her American citizenship, an Indian friend waits to take their nationality test, and my former Afghan housekeepers immigrated to America with hopes of someday becoming American.
Anyone can become American.
The United States is a cultural melting pot with many nationalities thrown together to form a new nationality. Perhaps it is the very nature of how America was founded – by pioneers – that defines the American Spirit. Perhaps our Pioneer Past is the reason why we, as a nation, tend to be self-starters and entrepreneurs. And perhaps the very fact that as pioneers we succeeded in forming our new land gives us the inherited internal confidence that my Irish friend spoke of.
I’m not sure that I have the answer to my Dutch friend’s question on the definition of the American Spirit, but as my friend and I chatted on the phone I realized that, for me anyway, when I look through a lens at my home country across the pond, I almost feel I can see America more clearly now from afar. Even though I forget to celebrate the 4th of July, I think I’m more patriotic than I ever was when I was living in America. Just like the person in the forest who couldn’t see the forest for all the trees, I couldn’t see America for all the Americans! America was normal to me so I suppose I didn’t truly appreciate what was special about it or Americans.
Now when I visit my family in Oklahoma each year, my mom laughs at my desire to ride horses. As a child, or heaven forbid as a teenager, my interest in life on the ranch was non-existent. But through the wisdom of adulthood I look back and realize how good I had it! I now appreciate so many things; I realize how special & unique to my home-town they are: I appreciate the horses, the rodeos, the cowboys, even the cows, the Friday Night Fish Fries and Church Potluck Dinners. Without having these elements in my life, I’m even more aware when I do have the opportunity to experience them! I’m more of an Okie now than I ever was when living in Oklahoma! In part because being away helps me realize what’s special about my hometown.
And it’s the same with America. I feel sometimes, through moments of homesickness for the USA, that I am better able to see what makes America – or American’s – so special!
Happy 4th of July!
The Antiques Diva™
I read on your blog that you are off to London with your nephew! It sounds like you’ve already done a lot of booking for your upcoming trip but as I used to live there I wanted to give you some tips!
As you’ll be with your nephew, I think a great thing to do in London is Madame Tussaud’s. It is very popular and though the lines outside are crazy long, you can avoid standing in the queue by buying the fast-track tickets. They are usually a bit more expensive but it is worth it. Same goes for the Tower of London – I hope they still do the fast-tracking there! You will still be with everybody else in the Crown Jewel room but at least you saved the hassle of queuing to get into the Tower grounds!
The London Eye is just magnificent and I enjoyed it especially by night when you can see all the lights of London. They now do a “champagne flight” – perhaps that is not too “teenager friendly” but worth noting for another time when you & WG are in the city sans nephew!
You’ll love the walking tour in the area of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre! In fact, when we first moved to London we lived not far from the Globe. Speaking of this area – if you want to enjoy the pub experience try The George Inn on Borough High Street south of London Bridge. The George is one of the oldest pubs in London and was used as a stage for the Shakespeare Company, but be forewarned – it does get a bit crowed at times because it is so popular.
Another thing in this area that your nephew might enjoy (and if you are up to some horror) is the ‘London Dungeon‘ – it’s quite scary and nothing for the faint-hearted. There is also the HMS Belfast mooring on the south side of the Thames if you are interested in ships (and war). From there you could walk along Southbank, cross Tower Bridge and visit the Tower of London. Makes a perfect afternoon!
The Horse Guard is another London sight which I enjoyed. And of course my favorite building in London is The Parliament building. Also, you must do St. Paul’s Cathedral – climb up all the stairs (approx. 400!) but the views from there are mind blowing!
If you want to see lots of London in a short time the red double decker buses are great. It is a hop-on-hop-off tour and it stops at all interesting sights. That’s what I did first thing when arriving in London.
For lunch you should have the famous fish and chips. I only know two very good pubs in Greenwich which is a little bit far to travel from central London just for lunch. Anyway the names are ‘The Trafalgar‘ and ‘The Yacht‘. They are both facing the Thames but the Yacht is hidden in the side street behind The Trafalgar. They are both popular and you will find someone who can give directions. Also Greenwich is great for the Observatory and the Maritime Museum. Unfortunately the Cutty Sark was burned down and it is being renovated right now, so you can’t see it.
Another nice place for lunch right in the city is the ‘Coq d’argent‘. It is one of the very few restaurants in London City where you can sit outside on a roof terrace. It is a small place and you need to make a reservation. I know you & your husband’s taste in food – you’d love this place!
Now, for dinner there are several diva-worthy choices:
1. The OXO Tower – it has wonderful views, delicious food. The downside is that it is expensive and hard to get in.
2. Another obvious recommendation for The Diva is The Ivy. Again, it is quite expensive and hard to get a table on the weekend. It’s close to Covent Garden
3. Remember me mentioning Coq d’argent above? Well, it is a Conran restro of the Sir Terence Conran restaurants. A few other Conran restaurants to consider are The Orrerys and Butler’s Wharf Chop House. And for a nice glass of champagne in the city try the Royal Exchange – it’s be
4. The Vinopolis Restaurant (Southwark/Borough) is just great for wine lovers. You could do a tour around the world of wines (tasting included) and then have dinner there – just delicious! In the UK the legal drinking age is 18, so your 16 year old nephew isn’t quite old enough to enjoy this yet!
5. The Winewarf (belongs to the Vinopolis) is great for nibbles and Champagne/wine before dinner. Your husband, The Wine Guy, would love it.
6. The Roast (Southwark/Borough) is located on top of the Borough Food Market building and is great. Borough Organic food market is every Friday and Saturday and we just lived around the corner and had Saturday breakfast on the market! I miss London!
7. Champor Champor (Southwark/Borough) is a very small place behind Guy’s hospital with a variety of Asian dishes and a beautiful setting, and sometimes offers quite unusual dishes.
8. For a real British experience Rules Restaurant, close to Covent Garden, is a must. They have their own hunting grounds in Scotland and Wales and this is the place to go for good and tasty game dishes!
9. Are you fish eaters? I can’t remember! If so, for fish, try FISH! behind Borough Food Market.
10. Most of the Italian restaurants are really good in London, you don’t have to go to one of the big names like Giorgio Locatelli and Carluccio’s — although I must confess, they are nice though!
11. Try going to one of the restaurants owned by the big chef names like Gary Rhodes, Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Marco Pierre White or Markus Waehringall. They all have one or more restaurants in London, but making a reservation is a must! These are places to spend your entire evening – simply eating and enjoying the ambiance.
There are so so many restaurants in London and I am sure I forgot half of my favorites as I just have too many favorites to list!
Now, forget your nephew for a moment and make sure to go shopping for yourself!! Buy yourself a lovely hat as this can’t be done anywhere else other than London. Harrod’s is a good address naturally, but if you want to be cost efficient go to Selfrigdes, (you could buy two or more there for the price of Harrods!). Try Debenham’s and Marks and Spencer on Oxford Street.
If you fancy a real English Tea, The Ritz does it nicely, but again it is quite expensive. You could also consider tea at Fortnum & Mason. They are nice for buying tea and British delicacies. Harrod’s has beautiful food halls where you can also have a delicious lunch.
I am sure I could just go on and on and on but I have to run now! I hope the above information will be helpful! Not too many tips for a 16-year old as I never had this experience! But the Musical night is great and I am sure he will enjoy it. I can’t wait to hear all about your trip!
Give my regards to WG! Lots of Love and a Big Hug,
I’d like to say that I’m on the next flight to China but, sadly, my husband, WG, is Beijing Bound without me! Perhaps he’s leaving me at home because the last time I went with him on a business trip, I shopped a little too much for his liking! This afternoon he’s packing his bags, and though he claims he’s going to Asia for an important, international business meeting, I doubt the seriousness of this journey. He’s packing an awful lot of street clothes and guide books in order to attend the type of meeting that usually doesn’t allow time to even leave the hotel for the duration of the event!
As often as WG travels, he is usually stuck inside one hotel or another and often forgets which country he is in, needing to read the hotel brochure when he wakes in the morning to remember whether to kiss, bow or shake hands. That said, each December WG’s team at work celebrates the end-of-the-year with a conference in an exotic locale – and from my perspective, these conferences are more about an end-of-the-year-party than actually doing business! At last year’s party, WG called me from London to wish me goodnight from a private cruise on the Thames as Tower Bridge was opening to let his yacht pass and fireworks were exploding overhead. This year I’m expecting a phone call from the Badaling portion of The Great Wall. If I know WG, he’ll be doing Nixon impressions, muttering Richard’s infamous phrase “It sure is a great wall” and I fear my Christmas stocking might be stuffed with an “I Climbed The Great Wall” t-shirt. While his mornings might be filled with lectures on “Doing Business in China” and tours of client sites, his afternoons are packed with outings to The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and The Temple of Heaven.
Don’t get me started talking about the nights… Dinner the first night will be nearby WG’s Beijing office in his lavish hotel, The China World Hotel, which hosts some of Beijing’s best restaurants. One night WG has managed to finagle an invitation for a private tour of The Bird’s Nest, followed by dinner in the area – on the next, he’s been invited to a traditional Tea House for some authentic tea rituals.
The coup de grâce, if you will, is dinner at the Hepingmen Roast Duck restaraunt, a culinary treat WG’s described to me repeatedly as he awes over the art of a perfectly roasted duck. Beijing Duck (also known as Peking Duck for obvious reasons) is served with thin pancakes, plum sauce and slivers of scallions and cucumbers. You dip the duck into the sauce and roll it up like a pancake with the garnish resulting in a mouthwatering combination of the cool crunchiness of the cucumber contrasted against the sharpness of the scallions and the rich, delectable flavors of the duck! On his last night in China he’ll be dining on paper plates at the Donghuamen Night Market where grasshoppers, chicken hearts, yak butter and kidney are prepared while you watch and served straight from the grill – hopping hot!
While all this food sounds incredible, the thing I am most saddened to miss out on is the Panjiayuan Market, whose name translates to “The Dirt (or Cheap) Market”, where next Saturday WG will spend the day scouting for a perfect Christmas present for his lovely bride whom he has forlornly abandoned at home in Holland. Here, amongst 3,000 vendors and 50,000 visitors, WG will haggle and barter for genuine Asian antiques (though I have warned him to be weary of anything that is stamped with the word “genuine”)! He’ll also find Cultural Revolution memorabilia as well as Chinese Arts and Crafts.
Though I’d prefer an antique for Christmas, I’d be willing to accept a vase from Beijing Curio City, or better yet something in silk from Xiushui Silk Market. Perhaps I should be whispering the words “freshwater pearls” to WG as he sleeps, then surreptitiously sneak the address of Hongqiao Pearl Market in his pocket.
I haven’t figured out how he could get it home as pewter tends to be a bit heavy for the luggage, but a friend turned me onto a shop called Tumasek, which carries beautiful, gleaming goblets, trays and chess set
s all made of Malaysian pewter!
Perhaps a more packable present from China would be a set of calligraphy brushes – but, as I am a diva, not any brush will do. I’m dying for 3 new brushes – a weasel hair brush, a goat’s hair brush and a wolf’s hair brush – all of which are essential for perfecting my calligraphy. These, of course, can be purchased at Rongbaozhai, a typical state-run store, which is a bit of a disaster inside but has an excellent selection from which to choose!
With all this shopping WG’s set to do, I wonder how he’ll find any time to do business in China? Such a pity he isn’t taking me along with him, I could have saved him a bundle of time, scouting out my perfect present and perhaps even purchasing it for myself on his behalf leaving him plenty of time for work, work, work!
Until next time, keep your fingers crossed that I get a killer Christmas present out of this blog!
The Antiques Diva™