Tucked into the library in the neoclassical gone modern building that houses the San Francisco Alliance Francaise, we greeted several hundred visitors for the annual Foire de Noel, or Christmas Fair. This was the first of two weekends in San Francisco where we will sell our wares to people in a buying mood and giving spirit.
It is always fun to listen to someone's reminiscing of happy times spent in Provence, where these table linens originate. One can often find them being sold in the farmers markets there on the streets as well as at small home decor boutiques. This past weekend, our wistful clientele included many young people learning French and hoping to visit France sometime in the future. Just across from us was Pascale, who makes handmade chocolates, Jean- Paul, who sells discount travel packages, Morgane, who sold handmade skin soaps and another lady, whose name escapes me, making jewelry. A French festival would not be complete without food and the lovely smells from the warm buffet wafted up into les etages, the upper floors, where we were. The hot mulled wine that was walked through to us later added a nice finish to the afternoon. We hope to be there next year too.
I want to compliment the Alliance Francaise of San Francisco for its art work exhibitions. The oils and etchings on display on the walls added a nice touch of glam. Years ago I spent about a year at the Alliance Francaise in Paris in classes. Our classrooms there were bare bones, sans distinction, by comparison. Joyeuses Fetes a tous.
It was a rainy weekend at the Elk Grove, California annual Dickens Faire. But many people came anyway, to make merry for the holidays. Vendors were invited to dress in period costume, and I did! And many guests came dressed with hoop skirts, bustles and top hats, as well. Strolling jugglers and decorated dogs added to the fun. I sold many a French tablecloth but few people really understood what they were; they thought I had hand painted them!
Sixty years ago I left Elk Grove as a child. It was a cow town then, but not anymore. It now counts 171,000 souls. But living à la française is still a little exotic for the locals in this suburb between the railroad tracks south of the state's capital, and sandwiched between fields of hops and cattle pastures.
Nevertheless I enjoyed myself and the welcome visit to the past and yesteryear. Having a little fun can be as simple as a change of habit, and costume. And welcome returns to family gatherings during the holidays can start with the tablecloth. A Table!
The crowds numbered in the thousands yesterday in balmy downtown Benicia, situated on the Sacramento River Delta and graced with the delta's breezes on a hot summer's day. A Table Chez Nous was there too, with our tablecloth display pop-up just outside the oiutdoor plaza of the historic St. Paul's Cathedral downtown. The annual Benicia Peddler's fair, held this year on Sat., Aug. 11, helps raise funds to restore the church's stained glass windows and to keep up its grounds. The church was built ten years after the gold rush, in 1859, and was the one of the first churches built in Benicia, which had been the state capital of California until 1854.
Many historic buildings remain in the area, with wood structured California bungalows and craftsman style homes populating the back streets and alleyways of this picturesque town. Our colorful linens attracted many new clients, and I imagined them finding a lucky place by a dining room window in one of these historic structures. There as even a contingent of women from St. Paul's Episcopal Parish. apparently word had spread about us, and one by one, the volunteers for the day's events snuck away from a shift for a few minutes to buy some Provençal treasure before we entirely sold out of the more popular items.
We were able to speak some French with some of the passers by, and there was even a lady with a real, live lizard dressed up in wings and fake diamonds who paid us a visit, to get out of the scorching sun for just a few minutes. We were surrounded by vendors of vintage artifacts, castoffs from other times and eras, as well as the displays of vintage Hawaiian shirts and prints of well known French artists. From 100 yards away came by the sounds of the various orchestras and bands who performed on the steps outside the cathedral, to the thrall of the crowd and to help raise more funds for the glory of God.
We will come back next year, nous y serons à la prochaine année. I hope we the vendors and our clients return to see the windows finally restored, as the result of our collective good deeds to help.
An estimated crowd of 5000 people descended on the Justin Herman Plaza across from San Francisco's Ferry Building July 14 to celebrate the French National Holiday, Bastille Day. Francophones and francophiles mixed and mingled in enjoying freshly made crêpes, seared saucissons (sausages), and the many products from France on display.
The passersby started flooding in around 10 a.m. and stayed until twilight. We closed the day listening to the crowd sing La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, and French language versions of many popular songs. Of course, one of the day's favorites were songs by the late French pop singer Johnny Hallyday, sometimes called the French Elvis.
The clients who came by were searching out a bit of home, or just the right size treasure for their tables to add a pop of color and joy to their home foyer. My daughter Morgana and I had a great time speaking French with our visitors, and shared the day with a dear friend, Katharine, who like us spent many years in France before returning to the USA. Nous serons là l'anneée prochaine, we will return next year, to again join in the fun.
The joie de vivre is back in wine country, after the brutal fires of last fall. While recovery is still underway many fire victims now have insurance money with which to replace their lost possessions. When life is simple and one is counting the blessing of simply being alive, often family time over a meal becomes even more precious. I was very touched to hear the stories of near tragedy as my clients described their escapes with minutes to spare. Now that life is normalizing, their focus is on savoring life one day at a time.
Having a well set table goes a long way toward making otherwise cramped temporary quarters seem cozy and home. Houses are being built to replace the old ones burnt and lost, and only time will fully heal the hurts passed. The colorful tablecloths that I sell do their part to keep everyone's spirits high.
It's cold here in early spring, as we complete the Sonoma County Home Show. Rainstorms have beat some of the crowds away. But the bloom of color at my tablecloth stand in the festival hall has been bringing many smiles to passersby, swept back by nostalgia to memories of brighter days in sunny Provence. Many of my clients have visited southern France at some point in their lives or have briefly lived there. For them a Provencal tablecloth is a way of reliving wonderful meals and lingering conversations at the tables of family or friends, or at a romantic restaurant.
But I also encounter the visitor who has never had these experiences but who is taken there by the joy and color of these linens. Might that be you?
Having lived myself in France for a time I never tire sharing these memories with others. Check out your own reaction to my linens at an upcoming fair, or when you open the box with a new order from us here on the website.
When the weather warms here in Northern California, as it did this past weekend, my thoughts turn to spending time outside. So when the Glen Ellen winery BR Cohn invited me to take some photos on their property in Sonoma County I gladly accepted.
I discovered layers of straw set out as mulch on the vineyard fringes and was inspired to lay out an impromptu picnic with a bottle of cab. It is Valentine's Day as I write this, so perhaps you too will want to take romance to the fields. With a Provencal tablecloth, and an overturned serving tray, you can set a fine table and then pour a fine wine for a memorable moment with your sweetie.
Shown here is our lavender bouquet print folded in quarters, which fits nicely into a picnic basket. Take your shoes off and linger a little. Enjoy life.
My friend Katharine joined me in Redwood City yesterday Dec. 2 for the town's annual Christmas festival. Together we welcomed dozens of passersbys drawn to our stand by the vibrant colors of our linens. Some expressed wonderment and wanted to know who had painted them by hand. Imagine their further wonder when we told them no, they are printed, in France. Or woven using jacquard looms.
One tall aged gentlemen wearing a handknit scarf so long it almost dragged on the pavement came by three times before buying a lavender printed round tablecloth for his adult daughter. Looking at the tablecloths he said brought back memories of happy family gatherings for meals in countries he has long ago left behind, Germany and South Africa.
In recreating his life here he somehow forgot how to reintroduce the family mealtime ritual back into his life he said. The tablecloth is an incentive to do so.
Another customer initiated a purchase for a friend she said, then decided the tablecloth and napkins set was too pretty to give away. I told her to buy two then, one to give, one to keep. Ah she said, that would be for another time. Budget permitting. Enjoy life, and buy one for you too, as you never know what tomorrow will be. Special people are not with us forever.
Like many people I love a good glass of wine. I am lucky to live near one of the worlds' top wine growing regions, in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. Imagine my distress a few weeks ago when this area literally quite fire, with the destruction burning homes and wineries and other businesses to the ground.
However, this is an amen moment. One of my favorite wineries was threatened by the fires, BR Cohn in Glen Ellen. CalFire created a fire line right along the first rows of vines facing off with the live oak woodlands adjacent. The firefighters made a stand on the border, next to the first rows of vines, and fought back the fires with bulldozers, airdrops of retardant, and resolute land clearing. Charred live oaks attest to the destruction.
Yet at the winery, just yards away, everything is normalizing. The November olive festival drew hundreds, including me, where I showed French linens as a weekend vendor. Just on the other side of the winery, the olive groves glow with a new green, after our rains. Time for Thanksgiving. Raise a glass to the courage of our first responders. #SonomaStrong
Morgana was born in Les Lilas, France, and is now living in San Diego, California. Her mother lives in San Rafael, CA.