Current Exhibitions



Les Vieilles Devantures de France

October 2016

Perhaps the best name for this exhibit would be, NOSTALGIA.

At the age of 90, you cannot help but looking back at earlier days, comparing the facilities of life before World War II with the improvements of today.

The motto “Stop the World I Want to Get Off” surely still applies to each generation, often ignoring or unaware of the advantages of our time.

I try to keep up with the “I.T.“ (Information Technology) but the rapid evolution or the obsolescence of new discoveries makes me look back at the slower pace of the early part of the last century…

…when we were still going to the boucherie to request cuts of beef, veal, or horse directly from the butcher.  When similar shops dealt with cochons , volailles et gibier (pig, chicken and game). Epicerie, Alimentation (grocery stores) sold mostly dry and canned foods of all sorts from flours, beans, coffee, spices and wine, of course.

when laiterie, beurre, oeufs, etc.: fresh milk, was not pasteurized or homogenized and sat with a layer of heavy cream on top, sold by the litre (about 2 pints) in a pitcher that the customers themselves would bring in to be filled. Oeufs (eggs) sold by the pieces (with bits of chicken feathers still stuck on them) and if you bought a dozen you would get an extra one: treize a la douzaine (13 for a dozen).

when beurre (butter) was dispensed from a motte (big block) on the marble counter, from which hunks were weighed on a piece of wax-paper and quickly shaped with a wood paddle, often displaying a carved motive like “Beurre de Ferme (Farm Butter) or the outline of a cow transferred on the side of the soft butter.

…when the Boulangerie (bakery) would serve fresh baguettes, or pain de quatre (4 pound loaves), sometimes cut in half, and all baked in a wood fired oven at least twice a day. One bake in the early morning and another later in the day to be picked up on your way home. The boulanger had to be up at 3am in the morning, baring his chest due to the heat from the nearby oven and the hard work of mixing the flour, salt, water and the “mother” (piece of an earlier made fresh dough used as yeast). I hate to add, that often, his sweat would drip into the dough, which would only add to the sourdough flavor of the bread. By 5pm, at the latest, he would go upstairs to rest while his wife, who had been up since 6am, would sell the breads through the late evening or when they sold out!

…when the Quincaillerie-Droguerie-Fers sold hardware, tools, nails, as well as candles, soaps, and all kinds of cleaning products, including paint and thinner.

when grey poupon was a tradition specializing in mustard of all strengths and flavors.

…when the pharmacie was where your prescriptions (hand written and often illegible) were filled by a pharmacist who would select the proper chemicals to be mixed, packaged, and sold within little cardboard boxes with handwritten labels identifying the content and the name of the doctor. Sometimes the pharmacist would press the drugs into pills or fill them in to soft capsules that you could swallow whole. My parents would often choose to take the unpleasant powdered drugs and wrap them within a wet hostie (small wafer of bread without yeast still used as the Host in Catholic Churches), making them tasteless and easy to swallow.

…when Tabac establishments often combined with a “café” where you could stand at the comptoir (counter) for a quick glass of wine, beer or coffee along with a smoke. They also sold newspapers, magazines, postcards. I used to love the smell of the shop when I went, every Thursday afternoon, to pick up the weekly edition of the famous Belgian comic series of “Spirou and Tintin”.

… when you might go by a Café Restaurant, Casse-croute (cheap snack shop) with a plat du jour (daily special dish cooked by the owner) but might have been tolerated to bring your own sandwiches as long as you ordered a vin rouge a beer or café au lait. And you could smoke in those places!

…when Graineterie and Tout pour le Jardin shops dealt with all your needs for your garden, from seeds to all the tools, poisons, and fertilizers you could need.

…when you’d frequent the Herboristerie for all kind of herbs dispensed according to your ailments or faith in natural remedies (still favorite shops all over Asia).

…En passant (while at it) we had a bureaux in my village, where you could order a taxi, an ambulance, or a hearse! There were only 2 telephones in town: one here and one at the post office.

…when we couldn’t forget the beautifully decorated tricycled Marchand de Glaces, the precursors to our own “Good Humor Man”. But instead, you would select the flavors of ice cream you wanted from the 2 or 3 that they had that day, and the ice cream man would scoop them on wafers of different shapes (my favorite being a “frog”).

…when especially, in the cold months of the year, you could see outdoor stalls in front of restaurants, where all kinds of “shell-fishes” would be displayed, opened and served on plates of seaweed, ice, and lemon wedges. You could select crayfish, dozens of different kind of oysters, mussels, clams, or langoustines as you went in and it would be brought to your table on a large plateau de mer (platter from the sea). These still exist.

…when the streets in small towns or villages would be lined with many shops, giving us the chance to fill our shopping baskets, not plastic bags, from shop to shop.

Of course there still are outdoor markets for vegetable, fruits, fishes, local homemade specialties, etc. They are still available at least once a week in small towns and every day in the bigger cities.

It should be the subject of another exhibition of markets that I photographed in many countries. They still exist and are coming back more and more to give us opportunities to sample local, and often, organic produce at their best and most seasonal.

I photographed some of these “Shop-Fronts” over 60 years ago and many have been eliminated by supermarkets or modernized with fancy new fronts. I miss them. I guess that is nostalgia.





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