One might think that the most difficult part of being on the road full time would be missing family, friends, and familiar territory. The inconvenience of uncomfortable furniture, constant language barriers and the need to cope with unfamiliar cultures and customs could also be viewed as wearing after many months. But the truth is that none of these challenges really cause us inordinate discomfort any more. We have learned to be flexible, and we remind ourselves when we’re feeling cranky, tired, lonely or displaced that we are extremely lucky to have the health and energy to continue having such a rewarding lifestyle and should never grouse or complain.
The problem that does give us the blues, though, no matter where we are, is our self-imposed ban on shopping! I know that may sound shallow, but I’m woman enough to admit it for all the world to see. We just can’t help it . We LOVE to shop, and we are constantly being assailed by temptation everywhere from the souk in Marrakech to Oxford Street in London, from that shopaholics’ dream, that endless mall called Fort Lauderdale to the scarf and bag nirvana of Florence. But the most unbearable venue is Paris. Every day in that beautiful city causes the agony of deprivation. It’s not that we can’t afford to buy anything, but the very nature of our nomadic life demands that we must follow our cardinal rule: when we buy something new, something must be left behind. For this reason, we are forced to peer longingly in windows, sometimes even enter and caress the goods, then sigh and move on.
Every sortie around the city tests our resolve, and generally we manage to look, even touch, but still resist the urge to purchase very much. It was a thrill when summer finally came in July this year and the steamy Paris heat justified the purchase of a few new threads to supplement our wardrobes. A couple of linen shirts and a wonderful skirt became mine during those scorching days, and Tim bought a pair of salmon-colored cotton pants, which were all the rage among the French men. Paired with a loose linen shirt, he looked every inch a Parisian!
Strolling along the avenues delights us, but pains us, too. The designer windows along San-Germaine-des-Prés, Avenue des Champs Elysées, or Rue de Rivoli stop us dead in our tracks. And the shoes….oh, the shoes. Stunning footwear everywhere, but none in my hideously large 11 1/2 AAA, for which my banker, Tim, is grateful. We can still stop and stare, though. Let’s not even get started with Le Gallerie
Lafayette, Au Printemps and Le Bon Marché, all of which elevate the notion of “department store” to a whole new level. Their wares are completely beyond our price points, but they do allow peasants like us to wander through their glittering halls gaping at the finer in wonder.
The exquisite goods offered in the brick-and-mortar stores are hard enough to resist, but our masochistic attraction to flea markets and street fairs bedevils us even more. These events occur all over Paris on the weekends, and addicts like ourselves join shuffling masses slowly making their way through aisles of booths and tables laden with the contents of thousands of attics, dresser drawers, sheds and barns that have been collected throughout the country by dealers. Fabulous lamps, tables, china, silver serving
pieces, jewelry, crystal, games, sculpture, paintings, oddities vintage clothing, and much more are presented in the haphazard, colorful way of the street fair, punctuated with vendors selling hand-made crafts, food, and curiosities. People laugh, joke, haggle and have a great time, but it’s exquisite torture for two collectors who no longer own collections or a place to house them. Our favorite, Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves, was a five minute tram ride from our apartment, and after several visits, we did succumb in some very small ways. I now possess a collapsible travel cup (well, I NEEDED it, didn’t I?) which tucks into a wonderfully preserved leather case with a little snap. It’s from the 1940’s and I have invested it with all kinds of
magical tales about its history.I bought an old silver lapel pin that features Istanbul’s fabulous Hagia Sophia in relief. It was probably someone’s souvenir from a visit to that exotic city. Of course, I can spin all kinds of romantic tales about its origin, too. And, best of all, we found a gift for our daughter Alexandra and her family. The farm where they live in California is plagued by roaming herds of deer, so we could not leave behind the bizarre salad tongs made of deer hooves. They’re deliciously disgusting and will no doubt be an ice-breaker at many a dinner party in the Chamberlain household.
We’ve moved on from Paris now, and although Berlin and London do offer their own brand of special temptations, we didn’t find those cities nearly as upsetting to our acquisitive natures. But we’re not really out of the woods because we will be returning to Paris next summer, where all roads, including the one to Marché aux Puces market lead to Le Gallerie Lafayette. Hmm….I think I might just pack really, really light next year!