She quickly caught my attention as my friends and I approached our first booth at Marche aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves in the fall of 1999. I recall mentioning that the lady in pearls across the street reminded me so much of my Southern Belle grandmother, if only she had been European. As my friends wandered off in pursuit of their own treasures, I systematically perused the booths for textiles, honing my visual hunting skills.
Rebecca's Traveling Thread
When a Friend Becomes an Antique
I was attempting to negotiate the purchase of only the trim of an antique textile (in heavily Southern accented French) when Marina suddenly intervened in her distinctive Mrs. Doubtfire inflection. Marina, in perfect French, was able to explain what I wanted to the vendor who had been thoroughly confused just moments before. The most amazing part was that I had been willing to pay the equivalent of one hundred dollars for the trim, and she got it for ten. Marina was 79 at the time.
We meandered through the flea market and each time I saw something I liked, she negotiated for me, always getting a much better price. Of course Marina told me to "walk ahead, not speak, and try not to look American." We were having such great fun and the following day, we agreed to go to the market in Chatou together. My heart swelled as I felt like I had been given another visit with my beloved grandmother who had died nine years earlier.
After the market, Marina brought me to her charming, antique-filled cottage in Le Pecq. Her home was like a movie set and was absolutely full of curiosities and beauty. I noticed a gorgeous painting over her sofa and mentioned that it reminded me of a Donatello. To be totally honest, I wasn’t sure if that came from Newcomb art history classes or my son’s current obsession with Ninja Turtles. As it turns out, my instincts were correct and she exclaimed “Ah, but it is from the School of Donatello! You have a very good eye.” I knew at that moment she had decided I was worthy…. though I prayed she couldn’t see the image of the Ninja Turtle I was trying to get out of my brain.
"It is more than half a century that I am wandering around and now am happy to introduce Becky to some dealers of antiques... During our collaboration I noticed in Becky two qualities, extremely rare combined in one person: the artistic sensibility and the business skills"
- Marina Tosini, Once Upon A Pillow -
Six months later, I flew back to Paris to stay with my sweet “European Grandmother.” After calling her from the airport to let her know I was getting in a taxi, the driver made the unfortunate decision to pad his pocket by taking the long way.
When we finally arrived at her cottage, this sweet grandmotherly lady stood in the middle of the street shaking her fist at the driver. She blasted him with many choice French curse words and remained in the street shaking her fist until he was out of sight. I should mention that Marina is Italian and it was at this point that I realized, wide-eyed, this was not going to be like staying with my grandmother.
Our adventures began at 4:30 the next morning when the coffee aroma wafted through the home. We savored every drop of the hair raising Italian espresso and then drove at what felt like a thousand miles an hour to the opening of a market. After successfully talking a vendor down on something she wanted, Marina turned, pounded her chest and roared. Then she very sweetly looked at me and said, “You know, I am a Leo. We roar like lions when we are victorious.”
We zoomed around France in her little Volkswagen as I braced for impact the entire time. Once in Rouen, we bought an entire booth of textiles by 9 am because the seller gave us such a great deal. I’ll never forget how packed that little car was.
Within the next six months, Marina came to Louisiana to visit me and my family. She loved the paddlewheel boat in New Orleans as well as the spicy food and the people. Come to think of it, Marina actually fit right in.
Marina has just become our most valuable antique - she turned 100 on August 19, 2020. She has lived her life with so much gratitude and joie de vivre that I think this must be the key to living longer….and perhaps being feisty keeps the blood flowing!