French market tote bags

metro shelving display with tulips and hanging French market bag

Next door to Pomarius in Northwest Portland is Versailles Gardens, owned by a Frenchman, where you can buy traditional French garden statuary, plant pots, and woven market bags in various sizes, the latter friendlier to the budget (around $40 for the bags, compared to $20,000 for a large fountain).

Funny thing is, my American friend in London, who lived for years in Paris, has a half-French child, and has frequently traveled through the south of France, had never heard of "French market bags" till I mentioned how much I loved mine—the natural straw, the herringbone weave, the plump leather handles, the light weight, the carrying capacity!

Even in Greece, market bags, to my dismay—since you would think Europeans would know better—were simply the ubiquitous, standard, single-use plastic grocery bags carried around the world, just as in London, just as in any American suburb or small town, pushed upon us decades ago by the petroleum industry. France only last year banned plastic grocery bags, as a growing number of progressive U.S. cities like San Francisco and Portland have already done.

woven French market tote bag, detail

However, Tilda Swinton's character in A Bigger Splash, shopping while vacationing in Pantelleria, a volcanic island near Sicily, carries on her long alabaster arm one of the woven bags that Americans call "French market totes". So the bags do exist in the Mediterranean, at least on film. Such bags in the hands of Western elites, yuppies, hipsters, and environmentalists become a status symbol, the natural materials and ancient craft both a reclamation of heritage and a rejection of the cheap plastic bags of the poor and of conservative suburbia. (For why spend a good chunk of a meager grocery budget on a handmade heritage shopping bag when stores give plastic ones away for free?)

Maybe "French market bags" are called something else in France (just as they don't call their pommes frites "French fries"), especially since the bags are typically made in Morocco or other parts of North Africa. If anyone knows what the French themselves call woven "French market bags" or "French market totes" with leather carrying handles, and where (or whether) they were traditionally used, let me know.

In any case, soon it will be farmers market season and the end of Portland's incessant rain. Time to pull out and dust off the straw totes and canvas bags and fill them with fresh vegetables.


field trip: Pomarius Nursery

turquoise metal bistro set, Pomarius Nursery, Portland (May 2016)

One day last May, I stumbled upon Portland's Pomarius Nursery while walking from a bus stop in Slabtown up to an appointment in the Alphabet District. Pomarius is what the British would call posh, meaning not your average suburban-chain garden center but a nursery for dreamers and those in higher tax brackets. Sections of the nursery are set up like rooms, complete with bright-colored bistro sets and potted table décor atop neo-modernist rusted-metal occasional tables, the pea-gravel paths like textured rugs. Caged parakeets, tropical houseplants, and trickling fountains were tucked inside a humid enclosure. With plants staged in groupings in furnished rooms, the feeling is small-space intimate: a secret garden of topiary nestled within a former industrial district, now turned into high-end apartments and condos, cafés, and doggy-day-care centers with puns for names.

A few months later, feeling a bit homesick for green space in dense, sprawling London, a walking trip to London's Clifton Nurseries reminded me of Pomarius in Portland. In fact, I preferred Pomarius for its modern, casual, confident mixing of global styles—West Coast American, European, Asian—meaning the world has grown much smaller when a small, progressive Northwest American city can, at least in part, compete favorably with a former Empire capital, particularly when that capital is known for its garden culture. Portland is moving up in the world—or rather, the world is moving to Portland.

peachy-pink rose, Pomarius Nursery (May 2016)

Pomarius Nursery sign, Portland, Oregon (May 2016)

planter pots, Pomarius Nursery, Portland, Oregon (May 2016)

parakeets, Pomarius Nursery (May 2016)

indoor pond, Pomarius Nursery, Portland, Oregon (May 2016)

round metal table, Pomarius Nursery, Portland, Oregon (May 2016)

jade plant, Pomarius Nursery, Portland, Oregon (May 2016)


waiting for summer

alligator lawn ornament, Gladstone

What do you do when you realize your hundreds of blog readers are mostly bots? Why spend all this time writing and curating photos for robots, unless it's really just for yourself—myself—a quiet, insignificant little hobby? Even so, I haven't seen the point the last few months. Plus, the natural light's been too dim for decent indoor photos (though that hasn't stopped me before). But this winter in Portland was extra long and extra cold on top of the usual wet and gray. It's long past time to move on from my teaching job and crazy-long commute, after which most evenings I feel numb and exhausted. Over half the year here (which seems a bit much?), I daydream of moving south where the sun is—if only I had the money and a car, if only I knew where to go, where home is.

All this dissatisfaction can't be good for my immune system, the body's defensive line against cancer recurrence (since it's the immune system's job to take out rogue, mutated cells—or not). So for Christmas I asked my boss for Fridays off for health reasons, gifting myself recurring three-day weekends for less pay, which helps. I still go swimming a couple times a week, the most joyful three hours of my week. I've been trying to meditate. I've been reading life-coaching self-help. I've been letting my hair grow. Through no effort on my part, I've happily become an aunt, though my nephew lives six hours away via the car I don't have. I've been eating lots of kale. I've been trying to find the point . . . or at least a personal road sign marking a different road less traveled, one smoother yet full of unexpected turns leading to long pauses for scenic vistas and adventures off-trail—because the one I'm on has been an unpaved dirt road full of rocks.

tree blooms, Gladstone

carved-wood yard statue of half-buried man, Gladstone

Fortunately, finally, my job ends in June. But I don't have a plan for after. I know I want to wake up slowly at a reasonable hour, smiling and stretching, ready for the day to begin, instead of groaning "Fuck!" to my phone alarm at 5 AM. I want to spend more time with friends and with my cat. I want more time to putter around at home and in the garden, moving around instead of sitting all day, tinkering with projects, being creative. There is eBay and Craigslist to keep playing with (aka selling on). I do know I'm happiest in summer and when I don't have a formal job. I'm not sure what to do with that information. But it's the truth. Will the truth set me free?

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