Just Looking

I’ve been in France. Where I thought perhaps I might buy a bijou or two. There’s an antique jewelry store called Dary’s in the Rue Saint Honoré in Paris—one of the most expensive shopping streets in town—that I was determined to revisit. Fortunately for my budget, I got there at the end of July, just as the store was about to close for the month of August, as quite a few stores do. I spent a chunk of time in Dary’s, admiring one piece after another, but my admiration was of the abstract sort. My urge to acquire, it seems, had gone on vacation too.

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As you can see from these photos of the shop windows, Dary’s has beautiful pieces from many eras. It was a pleasure to run my eyes over them. But the itch to buy was conspicuously absent. When I packed for this vacation, I’d spent quite a bit of time locking my jewelry away, and I couldn’t imagine adding still more to the hoard.

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Besides, the prices were high. Not outrageous, just high. I already own an Edwardian Niello locket from Dary’s, which I wrote about here, and though I love it, I know I paid too much for it.

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I did take a long fond look at several pieces, almost hoping there would be one I couldn’t live without. My jet-lagged eyes fixated on a glittering row of diamond rings. I can usually talk myself into lusting for such things.

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The Edwardian ring above, clean diamonds in a beautiful platinum setting, delivered a lot of sparkle for the price. I’ve always wanted a ring like this. I could have managed it. But a voice in my head was saying: “Oh, Marcia. Really?

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And then there was this beauty, a peridot with a surrounding coronal of platinum-set diamonds. Truly special. The voice in my head said, “You’re not the woman to wear this.” It’s true: I’m just not that elegant.

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I admired these Victorian coral earrings. Any pair would have looked good on me. The voice said, “What part of your life do these fit into?” I had no answer.

Nor did I have a chance to reconsider any of these baubles, or to look for others. Dary’s was closing the very next day. The entire country was preparing to shrug off its workaday life and get away, truly away. I decided to do likewise. At a store near our hotel that made intaglio rings to order, I looked lovingly, but not longingly, at their various designs. I don’t have a family crest to engrave on a ring. And I already own an intaglio.

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Then something happened that ensured I wouldn’t buy any jewelry on this trip. We were in a museum gift shop when a man bumped into me. I looked in my purse and realized my wallet was missing. Gypsy pickpockets at the Musée d’Orsay! Quel horreur! We had been warned about gypsy pickpockets, though to be fair, there are all kinds of pickpockets in Paris, and I’m pretty sure this guy wasn’t a gypsy. And in fact, he wasn’t even a pickpocket. I had left my wallet in a store in the Rue du Bac, where I was about to purchase a belt (forgot to pack one) and got distracted (jet lag). The salesperson, whose name was Olivier, looked at my driver’s license, found me on Facebook and messaged me. I got the wallet back, intact. But by that time, I’d canceled all my credit cards. It was…liberating. My husband had his cards, but I felt no desire to use them.

I was in France. There was enough to look at. And the best things weren’t for sale.

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Silk and gold on a 19th Century loom at the Soierie Saint-Georges in Lyon

In Lyon, a center for silk weaving since 1466, we visited an atelier that’s been in business since the 1820s—the last active weaving workshop in the old town. IMG_5653On Nineteenth Century Jacquard looms, they recreate period fabrics for chateaux and palaces. (The fabrics at Versailles were made in this way.) The fabric above, being woven of red silk and 24 karat gold thread, was commissioned for a Japanese kimono and will cost 5,000 Euros per meter. At right, raw silk cocoons with color swatches that are still vibrant after more than one hundred years. The cocoons, which have been treated with steam or boiling water, weigh nothing. If you shake one, you hear the poor little larva rattling inside.

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Before he did a water lily painting, Monet would have a gardner clear away any debris between the groups of lilies.

We also saw Monet’s gardens at Giverny, above. This too is a recreation, as the original gardens fell into neglect and ruin after Monet’s death in 1926. Monet diverted a small river to make his water garden, to the great chagrin of the local farmers who were trying to grow flax. But now it’s a tourist mecca, with good reason. The gardens are a great work of art.

Finally, a work of art that was for sale.

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Above, the fish that introduced Julia Child to French cuisine: Dover sole meuniere at the restaurant La Couronne in Rouen. After reading Julia’s description of the 1946 meal that changed her life, I had to taste that sole. It was simply wonderful, served in a sauce of brown butter and lemon and boned table-side. I’m not going to go into ecstasies over it, because I believe, like my late friend Juliette, that this is how food is supposed to be. But I will say there was no moment of this meal when I even thought about jewelry.

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