Bonjour encore, Strasbourg!

Despite the pandemonium experienced during the final leg of our German road trip, we managed to travel to Strasbourg in three hours.

‘We are like an old pro now, aren’t we?’ I chatted to mum as we strode towards Hotel Cathédrale from La place Gutenberg. We were there a mere seven days ago and acquainted ourselves with the area already.

Bonjour, our one night nest!

Last time we were in the city, we only had a few hours to explore the place in reality. It was in a late Saturday afternoon when we arrived and had to leave for Würzburg next morning.

This time, we reach the city by lunchtime, therefore, we had ample time to explore the place further. Mum and I dumped our luggage in our hotel room and went out to see what Strasbourg’s Saturday was really like.

Saturday was market day, and there were stalls laden with antiques and crafts all around La place Gutenberg…

At one stall which specialized in vintage and second-hand books, I asked in my basic French if they had any book of Caroline et ses amis by Pierre Probst. An old vendor in a director’s chair with a Panama hat on looked very surprised and asked me why I knew about the books. I answered him in my basic French again that the series was my childhood favourite.

Caroline and her friends on summer vacation in original French…

Then, the Japanese version with which I grew up…

I loved all the characters in the series…

and especially Youpi, I loved the most because he was the naughtiest…

And I named my aunt’s Yorkshire terrier as Youpi as well!

It was before we had a family dog, and Caroline and her friends really made me fantasised about the life with furry friends…

The old man apologised that he didn’t have any Caroline book in stock and I had to walk away from the stall empty-handed.

It would have been wonderful if I could read the book with mum again…

Some years back, I did managed to buy a few copies of the vintage Caroline series at one of the antique bookshops in Passage Jouffroy, Paris. The books smelt rather musty, but they brought back all the memories of my early childhood.

‘Now, let’s stretch our leg further, mum!’ We turned northward and walked towards Rue des Grandes Arcades…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Twinkle on Kensington Church Street

Ouch! I poked my eye with my finger accidentally as I was hastely applying eyeshadow over my left eyelid. I knew nothing good would come out if things were done in a hurry. However, I was way behind the time and panicking! Ohhhh, I’m gonna be late!! I kept on muttering the same phrase over and over, like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. The appointment with my hairstylist was at 1pm, and I was running late. If I didn’t hit the pavement in 15 minutes, I wouldn’t be able make it on time. Of course, I could go with my face make-up free. But then I would have nothing else but my bare face to stare at in the mirror for a couple of hours. The thought of it made me shudder. Ugh…

Anyway, Bella and I were on Kensington Church Street last Thursday. The weather was exceptionally mild and pleasant, and we were in the mood for a long walk.

Kensington Church Street, which connects High Street Kensington and Notting Hill Gate, is well known for expensive antique shops. The thoroughfare is lined with shop windows in which one can gape at amazing treasures and relics from the past…

Ahhh, it’s like visiting V&A and British Museum…

My girl Bella was not into antique, apparently…

Cuddle me! Carry me! I’m not interested in old stuff.

Oh Bella, you’re so disrespectful.

She doesn’t give a damn, evidently.

Some shops didn’t weather the post-Brexit climate very well. I saw gutted shop interiors, and it made me sad…

Once upon a time, I used to come to the street three times a week in order to help out a shop which sold vintage prints. Being an art student, I was very good at cutting cardboards for framing, so I was in their basement studio, wielding a Stanley knife and sticking prints with special glue. During my lunch break, I usually sauntered towards Notting Hill Gate and gazed into the shop windows along the street. There were two particular shops I was fascinated with but never dared to enter.

They were Mrs Crick’s Chandelier Shop and Denton Antiques. Today, they are still very much in business and I am very happy for them!

The shop mistress of the print shop was a spinster and a tough taskmaster who was not into small talk. During our rare moment of chatting, I mentioned about how I was taken by the beauty of the chandeliers and my desire of owning one one day…

She looked at me with amazement at first and asked me if I knew how much they costed. Those shops never displayed any ticket so I had no idea how extraordinarily expensive they were.
‘I think you will change your mind if you are told how dearly just one crystal from those chandeliers costs.’ She left me very red faced.

She could have corrected my ignorance a little more kindly, I reflected on as I gazed at the crystals…

I used to wonder who would buy such an opulent light fixture like this for their home. Industry tycoons? Arab royalties? The crystals twinkled behind the window pane right in front of me. But the monetary distance between us seemed to be a light year away.

Now decades later, I live in a flat with ceiling height high enough to hang a proper chandelier. Do I fancy one now? I look around and ponder. Probably not. Our decor won’t go with it, and Hubbie will never agree to have one as he hates any period style older than the 50’s.

By the way, another fixture of Kensington Church Street is The Churchill Arms

I love this pub. They are one of those old-fashioned English pubs with great decor. They also serve delicious Thai food and welcome dogs – very important!

Ok, Bella. Our next destination is Kensington Gardens. Allons-y!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Antiques In Nagano

When it comes to vintage-hunting, I must admit London is much better than Nagano. Weekly vintage markets in & around London are teeming with people and a craze for anything vintage & antique is palpable. Apart from the actual markets, more than a few TV programmes related to bygone times and artefacts are on-aired on a daily basis whereby it indicates how much the Brits are into all things vintage & antique.
In Japan, however, that level of enthusiasm towards Japanese antique is non-existent. As the reflection of the fact, there are only a few vintage shops around the Zenkō-ji compound.

I came across this shop a few blocks away from the temple entrance…


The shop front was inconspicuous and looked rather private. The items on display consisted of ceramic plates, dishes, cups, pitchers as well as old dolls and roof tiles (瓦).
By the entrance, there was a bargain basket…


They were priced as ¥1,000, approximately £6.00.
The basket was stuffed with wooden bowls, a champagne cooler(?), a metal horse and some tools.

Then, I found this shop which seemed to be specialised in vintage ceramics a few minutes walk away…


The plate on the upper right looks like a delft blue plate, don’t you think? And I loved a Persian blue glassware in front of it….


It would not be strictly true to say that the Japanese are not interested in antiques. A few years ago, I visited the Sunbury Antiques Market at Kempton Park and encountered a few coach-loads of Japanese housewives shopping for European vintage kitchen ware and chests. They do like vintage as long as their origins are western. I suppose it is related to the fact that the majority of contemporary Japanese houses are built and decorated in a western style, and non-eastern vintages fit better to it. Also a lack of variety in Japanese vintage in general keeps its audience number very small.

Next door to the antique shop, I found lots of cats…


If some of them ever manage to survive the passing of time, they may be cherished as “Kawaii” vintages? I sincerely hope so.

By the way, there is a really fun weekly TV programme featuring antiques in Japan. The show is called “Nandemo Kanteidan” (何でも鑑定団) – The Troop of Appraisers.
Participants bring their treasures to a live show and experts appraise them on spot. It sounds like the BBC’s popular “Antique Roadshow”, doesn’t it? Non, non, NON. On the stage with the venue full of gleeful audiences, each participant presents his /her (most of them are men) treasure, recounts the item’s history (how it comes to their possession) and estimates a monetary value of the item.
Then, the experts who sit on the tiered seating on the stage examine the item and give it their evaluation. The treasures the participants bring are worthless more often than not. And it is a kind of guilty pleasure to see how they fall flat on their face.
I am sure there are a plenty of fake and rubbish brought to be appraised in the BBC show too. Why don’t they show the moment when the expert says “Ohhhh, I am so sorry to tell you”? Wouldn’t it be more entertaining, don’t you agree?

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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