The French Collector


This last week, a friend and I entered an enchanted garden store where the owner, we were told, lives part-time in France, three hours from Paris, where she collects beautiful objects that she sells in her little, magical store. 



She goes to France. Gets to buy and collect beautiful things. Then she sells them at home, supporting her future trips to France. Oh, and she bought her three-hours-from-Paris home for around $50,000 and it needed little work that, when done, was done quickly and reasonably.



Can I have a life like that one? “Honey, I need to go to our second home for a month, to get new items to sell in the store. I’ll go to the flea markets, to little run-down shops, to auctions, to cobblestone streets, to the song of the French language lilting off the tongues of everyone around me. And I’ll buy silverware sets, and books, and old tins, and perfume bottles, and tattered crosses that I’ll clean up and sell for $50 apiece. I’ll drink French coffee and eat baguettes and go to the COOP grocery store and hear the church bells and walk in the rain and breathe the air and think, “I did it. I love my life. I’m here. This is it.”


This weekend, we went to the coast. Instead of living part-time in France, we drove into the heart of Oregon wilderness where the trees loomed up around us, blocking out the light, and the rain blew sideways, and the tides were out.

We got coffee at a very tiny and expensive gourmet grocery then walked to the small expanse of beach, with an island only accessible at low tide. I wore my rubber boots and dared the waves to come. 

The island loomed. Trees on the top, shards of rock cascading beneath them, and two little inlets where we could cross the wash of water that ran over the sand, about an inch thick per wave. Our islandy perch was about seven feet of dry sand, with a cave on one end and a nook on the other. Plants dangled long tendrils with baby leaves over the mouth of the cave. I had to go inside, then to look up and see about a thousand cockroaches writhing over each other. Very slowly, I backed out. On a slant of rock near the nook across the way, clung a tiny trilobite-looking thing, much like the cockroaches, and I marveled at seeing one alive, as I’d only seen something like that fossilized. Maybe that’s what they were: ancestors of trilobites, not cockroaches.

And I stood in the water, with my rubber boots, and marveled at the expanse of froth that glistened as though made of diamonds. And then it ran over my boots and I ran back to the lighter shore, where the husband carried the sleeping child, and his larger-than-mine coffee, and laughed and said the words I’d been thinking: “Never turn your back to the ocean.”

Then how are you supposed to get back to shore?

Walk backwards.

It’s easier to be pushed over from behind, than when you face the ocean. I guess.

If only I could take rocks from the sea, and then sell them for gardens, supporting future trips to caves with coffee, boots in saltwater, a vast expanse of diamonds.


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