Round Top, Texas
Twice a year Round Top, Texas – population 77, explodes into a flea market bonanza of epic proportions. Antique dealers intermingle with farmers selling their wares ranging from exquisite European masterpieces to pots, pans and pictures dug up from the church attic. Spread out along a byway in the middle of nowhere Texas, this sprawling market encompasses dozens of smaller collections of every collectable imaginable. Require that last Hummel figurine to round out grandma’s collection, or perhaps a vintage stone fireplace mantle from the Black Forest? no problem, it’s here. Initially overwhelming but never intimidating this is the perfect time of the year for Texas. The fields are covered in wildflowers, the sun is warm and not too high in the sky, the small towns are ooh-so-cute and everyone is so syrupy friendly you think you just landed in some charming southern fairytale
(although in this fairytale everyone has a holstered weapon and a mag-wheeled SUV!). There is something for almost everyone at this market. The more seasoned shoppers skip the “grand openings” of the more famous Marburger Farms and Red Barn. Well covered and even air-conditioned, here you are definitely going to pay a premium. Come early and scour the fringes, just off highway 290 and again closer to Warrenton, this is where the bargains and variety abounds. It is a well known fact that some of these items find their way over to the Marburger booths were they suddenly acquire pedigree and provenance. This is a pickers paradise, the food is fried, the vendors are friendly and extremely conversant and the hunt is exciting - alas beware reproductions, they seem to have infiltrated all levels of product.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
After two days of traversing über-wide boulevards, strolling quaint cobblestone byways, and eating way too much steak (pampas-fed beats hormone-infused any day) we have decided that Buenos Aires is an amalgam of the best of France, Spain, and Italy. Where else can you view an exquisite chateau, while eating a taco, having just downed an espresso? Food in Argentina is great and cheap. You can eat and drink yourself sick at an excellent restaurant for about twenty dollars. I’m talking steak and a bottle
of top shelf Malbec. The Sunday San Telmo market marked the start of our buying extravaganza. Chandeliers, glassware, and silver were the hot items of this mart. Reminded us a bit of the Porte de Vanve market in Paris. Small stalls one after another sparkled in the morning winter sun (although winter here the last few days is a quite pleasant 65 – 75 degrees). Bric-a-brac heaven! Surrounding the square are numerous higher end and much more expensive antique shops – great stuff, just too pricey.
Iguazu Falls, Argentina
The magnificent falls stretch through the rain forest engulfing the sky with a perpetual mist, birthing rainbow upon rainbow with the glint of the sun. Myth has it that an Indian warrior named Caroba infuriated the forest god by escaping with a young maiden named Naipur with whom the god had become infatuated. Enraged, the god caused the riverbed to collapse producing a line of precipitous falls over
which the lovers fell. Naipur turned into a rock at the base, Caroba survived as a tree overlooking his fallen lover. The thunderous torrent is quite breathtaking with walkways both over and under the cascades. Most famous is Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) – remember that great opening scene with the priest tied to a cross going over the falls in “The Mission”?
Lacoste, perched precariously on a hilltop with stunning views of the surrounding valley, All the wonderful names reside here: Avignon, St. Remy, Aix, Bonnieux, Arles and more. Authentic beyond compare, this is the consummate example of unparalleled Provençal beauty. The restored castle ruins of the notorious Marquis de Sade, now home to Pierre Cardin, preside over the narrow cobble-stoned streets, which cascade down the hillside. The vista in every direction is breathtaking; fields of
cherry and olive, and perfect rows of grape laden vines, with distant hilltop towns dotting the horizon. Too picture perfect, in fact, so much that one feels the need to reach out and try to touch the supposed false painted background. L’école SCAD is in session, so during the day the streets are filled with students – l’artiste est en residence. At night the sun sets over the valley only to rise again revealing a mist-covered wonderland. An artist’s dream world, a tourist’s nirvana.
New York City
One can go for the soaring classical neo-metropolis of the Four Seasons (Cary Grant should be your bar mate), the picture perfect Central Park-side Ritz-Carlton (would you like a carriage ride with your croissant?), Gramercy Park’s dark lux glam (a private key to the park, for your pleasure), gravity defying Mandarin Oriental (coolest thing in the world swimming a mile up in the sky), or the brooding hypercool of the Bowery (remember to step over the derelict bum, while sidestepping the paparazzi). New York has perhaps the best shopping in the world. The latest couture, one-off’s, knock-off’s, and more litter the main streets and side streets in an orgy of fashion, furnishings, and fillers. I can’t understand
how all these stores survive, but as the weakest perish, new ones blossom into the light. So, we can begin with the fabulous trifecta: Bergdorf’s, Barney’s, and Bendel’s. With no preset spending limit these three will handily defeat your budget and keep you wanting more. Find your latest and greatest here and then descend the streets of 5th Ave to peak your pleasure center to exhaustion. Once you have trolled the usual suspects, South Manhattan beckons. Chelsea and the meatpacking district, Greenwich Village (don’t forget the west and east), Soho, Noho, Nolita, the Bowery and Tribeca. The names like Prince, Spring, and Canal are emblazoned into our subconscious. So much shopping, so little time.
The City Palace, still home to the Maharajah of Udaipur, this is actually a series of interconnected palaces massed into an impressive whole. Multiple courtyards and gardens open to grand views of Lake Pichola and beyond. Floating in the center is the Lake Palace Hotel, a Taj Resort, and the town is lush and tropical, a distinct departure from the previous weeks travels. A wide variety of palms and a profusion of flowers grace the streets. Shopping is again on the agenda with a whole series of fantastic little shops. Another great facet of shopping in India is the government sponsored Artisan and Craftworkers cooperatives. Usually little cottage mom and pop stops, these places
focus on promoting continued historically accurate local handicrafts. What the artisans produce differs according to where you travel in India. We witnessed everything from jewelry and furniture design in Mumbai, mosaic work in Agra, rug making and textile printing in Jaipur, to painting in Udaipur. They function by funding apprenticeships but also serve as living, working museums displaying often mind boggling precision. Educationally phenomenal, they allow one to witness the work behind the art, and after meeting and speaking with the artists, one can then purchase works with the profits supporting this valuable resource.
Three times a year, the sleepy south Florida town of Mount Dora transforms into a bric-a-brac Mecca. Dealers far and wide descend to the rolling grass covered fields setting up trailers, tents or just plain old lean-tos under the sprawling moss covered oaks. Furniture, glassware, baskets, jewelry, your aunt Emma’s favorite 1950’s prom dress, you name it, you can find it here. The more “elevated” finds reside in the large exhibition hall or along a quaint “street” of the cutest little shops.
The real extravaganza, however, happens outside. If the weather is good – and this past month that Florida sunshine was just grand – this is where the action is. Nothing like a piping hot corndog in one hand, a cool sweet tea in the other, perusing someone else’s treasures. And treasure we found. I don’t know if it’s the economy or what, but I have noticed things back on the market that have been practically impossible to find the lasts several years. We blew our budget in the first 15 minutes.
San Francisco, California
We started our journey in Napa Valley, home to Auberge du Soleil, and legendary The French Laundry. These restaurants literally wrote the book on French inspired, locally sourced cuisine. With wine lists the size of a small town phonebook, these restaurants will leave your stomach incredibly full and your wallet remarkably empty - being beaten down to pauper status, however, is completely satiating. Between St. Helena and Yountville, the night sky is literally ablaze with all the
Michelin starred restaurants (Bouchon, Redd, Terra, Martini House, Bistro Jeantry, and Meadowood to name a few). Ah, San Francisco, my salivary glands will never be the same. Michael Mina, Aqua, Coi, Gary Darko, Acquerello, Chez Panisse, Boulevard all such a treat. Want something hip and new? Try Flour + Water, Frances or RN74. For a great brunch try Foreign Cinema or Maverick. Food, wine, sun and sea, San Francisco was the town for me!
Mumbai is huge. Let me say this again. Mumbai is massive. People, people, people, everywhere, throngs, masses of humanity; it is overwhelming. About 19 million people reside in the metropolitan area, and once the sun goes down, the masses emerge. Our senses are pummeled with sights, sounds, even tastes. We begin our journey in the Chor bazaar (thieves market). I think I have died and gone to bric-a-bra heaven. Everything you could want and more is displayed in a multitude of shops, with street vendors
piled one upon another, everything for sale, everything for any price. Let the onslaught begin. Salespeople clamor for your attention, beggars plead for your spare change, and the cutest little children try to appeal to your inner parent. Battered old building, decaying Victoria mansions, the remains of the British Raj coalesce with the soaring new high-rises and the ubiquitous shantytowns. This city is like an unrepentant lover, aggressive, assaultive, unforgiving, and yet totally satisfying.
We initially started our journey to Agra clamoring for the front seat – best view, most comfortable position. This rapidly became know as the "most likely place to die in a wreck" seat. Our driver, bless his heart, had nerves of steel, and the inner peace of Buddha. Like sitting in the front row of an IMAX, India came at you, over and around you, faster than you can say "I’m about to throw up my curry chicken". Trucks brightly painted with every imaginable color swarming with passengers packed onto the sides, roof, and hood, lurch aggressively towards you (on the freaking highway, on all the freaking lanes – I mean ALL the lanes), only to swerve at the last moment, escaping sudden death by just the smallest mark of the yardstick. Exiting the car, we touched Ganesh’s head, kissed the
ground, and headed for the bar. Earlier in the day we stopped at Agra Fort, a huge red sandstone complex with exquisite marble palaces; testimony to the power and artistic sense of successive Mughal emperors. This place has all sorts of nooks and crannies that are usually closed off to tourists. This is one place where a good guide and some well placed rupees turns wow into WOW! And now, for the Taj Mahal. There are few places in the world that live up to their legend. This is one that far exceeds its. You can stand directly in front of this monument and still think you are dreaming. There is nothing in the surrounds to detract or distract.. Shah Jehan’s tribute to his wife Mumtaz Mahal cannot be properly described; it is to be experienced.
Tucked between the limestone cliffs of the Luberon Valley, this land of lavender, olives and honey soothes the soul and restores the spirit. The frenetic pace of Paris is left far (and fast – the TGV moves like the wind) behind. Unbelievably quaint and picturesque hilltop towns and walled cities replace the monolithic architecture of the city. One should probably visit Aix-en-Provence, and Avignon for the history and architecture. Apt and Isle Sur La Sorge have the markets; Fontaine de Vaucluse has the quaintness (the “Fountain” isn’t, most of the year), and Bonnieux, Lourmarin, Ménerbes, and Lacoste for the true classic village atmosphere. Smaller towns are asleep from about noon to three (lunchtime, so have a long leisurely feast), and dinner usually doesn’t start until after seven. Our favorite haunts are the more subdued
like L’Arome in Bonnieux. Splendidly covered from head to toe with stone, speckled with rather mod art, this would be haute cuisine if not so laid back and comfortable. This land feels as though time has slowed and mellowed, and after a few more days, so have I. When viewed from our balcony, the cool mornings make for an enchanting vista of mist covered fields; slender steeples of the neighboring towns peeking just above the low clouds and serpentine roads disappearing into the distance as though on a path to nowhere. The gentle hills and shallow valleys are covered with almost too ripe grapes, ancient fruit trees with branches bowing from the weight of a bouquet of apples, and gnarled olive trees, trimmed by generations of love, filled to capacity, slowly dropping their harvest to the earth.
Set on the fringes of the Thar Desert, Jodhpur just feels exotic. The further you get from Jaipur the more arid and extreme the landscape becomes. Goats and oxen are replaced by camels, fields of crops by sand and dunes, only an occasional wind torn, sun baked tree remnant breaks the vast horizon. This is Rajasthan at its cruelest. This is also Rajasthan at is coolest. You can just imagine the Maharajah’s armies in full battle regalia, a regiment of camels’ hooves thundering across the parched land trailed by a billowing whirlwind of dust and sand. Jodhpur is known as the shopping Mecca of Rajasthan. Everyone who shops in India eventually finds himself here. Importers, exporters, transporters, all other sorts of –orters call this place home. This is the city that is the secret weapon of all the dealers, this is it, and IT didn’t disappoint.
The breadth of antiques and architectural treasures is unfathomable. Treasures are collected from all peripheral states gradually finding their way to street side Jodhpur. It is almost impossible to define ages of antiques, as the Indian craftsmen are extremely gifted in recreating almost any period piece. Fine antiques are recreated out of age-old wood and sold as authentic. For even a keen trained eye, it is almost impossible to tell the difference. British colonial treasures abound, the left over remnants from a proud, but torrid past. In the evening with a crystal clear sky, a hundred million glistening stars, an incredibly calming warm breeze against your face, peering up towards the lighted fort upon the cliffs in the distance, you can only think of one word – magical. This place is truly magical.
I am awestruck and overcome by my muse. Sitting here on my balcony, watching the sun set over the Église St. Sulpice, the final rays off the golden star topping the aging dome, a gentle warm breeze in my hair, I could almost weep with happiness.When you’re ready to shop, be sure to visit Rue Tiquetonne and Rue Montmartre for avant-garde design and jewelry. Feeling at the top of your game? Throw on those spanx, fix your hair and makeup and hit the Champs-Elysees: Rue Montaigne and Rue George V beckon. Don’t miss Galleries Lafayette and Le Printemps. For other goodies, The Marché de la Porte de Vanve is one of our favorite markets to find “smalls” and some vendors in The Marché aux Puce have occupied their unique market stalls for generations. Deyrolle has the most exquisite collection of
taxidermy, and Librairie Alain Brieux is a cabinet of curiosity with its ancient medical devices and books.But of course, just strolling the streets at night is one of this city’s finest treats. Café society at its height, the tables, often imperceptibly spaced, are overflowing with food and drink. The air is filled with the chatter of conversation from the surrounding outdoor tables (both earnest and excited, never meaningless), sumptuous smells from the overflowing cafes (sugar, spice and everything nice) mixing with the lingering cigarette and cigar smoke. As the über-sophisticated intermix with the bobo, the satirist with the sophist, the proletariat with the aristocrat, and the tourist with the local, lines are crossed and distinctions become as blurred as ones eye and mind, aided, of course, by a bottomless wine glass.
Isle Sur La Sorgue
A crisp wind on my face, the sun just peaking behind the ridge, Sunday morning means bric-a-brac is on tap. Twice a year this quaint village transforms into the second largest antiques market (behind Paris). The average Sunday, however, finds a fairly robust market fronting the existing antique shops lining the Sorgue River. Known as the “Venice” of France (kind of a stretch), the town is traversed by several meandering canals, crisscrossed by pedestrian bridges and punctuated by large waterwheels, making this one of the most picturesque of the Provençal towns.
The actual antique shops sell everything from high style antiques (Louis XIV writing desk anyone?), to architectural accents (stone pillars from a bygone Chateau), to the weird and wonderful (Oma Frieda’s wedding dress and maybe even her false teeth). The requisite food vendors abound, having regrouped from the Apt street market yesterday (Saturday mornings). Fresh produce, amazing flowers, spices, aged cheeses in wheels the size of truck tires – a kaleidoscope of sounds, colors and fragrances to warm the senses on a cold fall morning.