Saturday, March 6, 2010


Susie and I spent much of Saturday exploring the world of antiques in Lorraine. Our first stop was the biweekly flea market at a Metz's exposition center, south of town. Two huge halls were filled with stuff, ranging from junk to jewels, mostly laid out on the floor in patches. The flea market runs from 7:00 a.m. to noon, so you have to get there early.

We then drove about 20 miles east of Metz to the town of Conflans-en-Jarnisy, which was hosting its 37th annual antiques salon. This turned out to be quite an event, with antique dealers from the region and from a far away as Paris presenting some very nice items--furniture, ceramics, art glass, paintings, textiles, and so forth. There were signs on the roads directing motorists to the salon, signs pointing to guest parking, and a banner hung from a building on the main road. We parked our car, crossed a bridge over the Orne River, paid 5 Euros each for admission, and entered the salon, which spread across the two main buildings of Conflans's sports center.

The Conflans salon was several steps up from the flea market. But consequently the prices were correspondingly elevated. Although most of the sellers were forthright about their willingness to discount the sticker prices, the prices were high enough that any reasonable discount still would not have brought the items into the realm of possibility for us. The displays were beautiful. Eighteenth Century furniture supported eighteenth century faience, porcelaine from Sevres, and art-nouveau glass from the Nancy School. Below one of the paintings was a book, open to a page with a picture of the very painting. We learned a lot about Longwy enamelware, which was much in evidence. This was made in the city of Longwy, in Lorraine just south of the intersection of France, Belgium and Luxembourg, starting around the turn of the 19th Century with faience. In about 1870 Longwy moved to enamel, producing goods that looked like cloisonne but were actually all enamel. These wares proved extremely popular, and the dealers at the Conflans salon had many beautiful examples, including the ones shown here.

The exhibitors were full of knowledge that they were willing to share. Susie and I learned that the best work from Longwy was between, say, 1870 and 1945, that Longwy started declining in the 1950s, and that lately it's been somewhat rejuvenated, although only a few styles now feature the art-nouveau and art-deco motifs that made Longwy famous. The manufacturer has a Web site where you can see their current production.

About a third of one of the salon's halls was given over to dining. For 15 Euros, the exhibitors, other shoppers, and we had a lunch of veal and vegetables, with salad, cheese, and dessert. Susie and I splurged, also getting a glass of wine each for an additional Euro.

We were fortunate, in that the salon's designated expert, who had been providing commentary like that in PBS's Antiques Road Show, sat with his friend at our table. We had a great discussion about antiques, the US, and France. It's amazing how outgoing and welcoming people are here. Of course, it's true that places like Conflans don't see a lot of Americans, so maybe they made a special effort for us. But the fact is, on reflection, that we were lucky enough to experience a little of la France profonde--the salon, the dealers eating at the dining tables, more dealers eating around a table in one of their booths--and the unexpected encounter with real people who were willing to demonstrate crafts, talk about art and antiques, and share some stories about their lives.

Leaving the salon, we drove into the country a little, then followed the Orne downstream to Amneville, where the river joins the Moselle and we connected up with the road back to Metz.

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