It’s been a while. This blog has always focused on the good life in France, and not about my life, which is pretty boring, and, of late, hit by unhappy changes. But I finally got out and did something very French–I went to an antique fair.Read more
I recently Marie Kondo-ed my wardrobe. (New life goal: have my name become a verb; this might be even better than having my name become a dessert or a cheese.) I haven’t read the book nor seen the show, but I had the assistance of a knowledgeable friend. In fact, a second opinion is invaluable when sorting one’s stuff. Perhaps MK herself suggests it.
I Marie Kondo-ed other parts of the house, too. Books. DVDs. Kitchen stuff. The discard pile grew. I made many trips to the déchetterie, or dump.
Next step was selling the good stuff: a vide-grenier. Individual garage or yard sales aren’t allowed here; one must go to a communal flea market. Usually the space is €1 or €2 per meter, with those proceeds going to the organizing group–usually a club or a school. Participants have to fill out a form, so as to separate the twice-a-year purgers from the every-weekend vendors that are supposed to pay tax. As all-day outdoor events, vide-greniers pause during winter, but the season is gearing up again. It was the first weekend with several–a good thing, because folks like to make a day of it, hitting several on a circuit.
The first time I did a vide-grenier, it was cut short–by noon the blazing sun had disappeared behind roiling black clouds, and everybody packed up fast as fat raindrops pelted down. I didn’t care–I had sold almost everything and had made nearly €500.
We loaded the cars the day before and got up at 5 in order to set up. Vide-greniers start early. I got in plenty of steps before sunrise.
Then we waited. A few people came by, but attendance was thin. We figured that selling for low prices was better than taking the stuff to the déchetterie. But even so, people haggled mercilessly. Some haggling is normal–you have something you bought for €30, used once and haven’t touched since. It seems like €15 would be reasonable, or even €10. We would start at €5 and end up at €2. If we were lucky. One guy wanted a DVD. Figuring I’d never get €2, I said €1. He insisted on 50 centimes. I accepted, half kicking myself. Then he pushed further: 40 centimes. I said, forget it. He threw the 50-centime piece at me.
Other people looked carefully, then reassessed and put back a few things, as if to stay on budget. If they were polite, I gave them a crazy low price, then also handed them the things they wanted but had put back. Times are tough.
A little girl bought a stuffed animal. She was maybe four years old–she still had her front baby teeth. She had a little bag from which she primly pulled out a big polka-dot change purse. She examined her money and frowned. “I only have €2,” she told her father. The toy was €1. He explained that I would give her back €1, that €1 plus €1 makes €2. You could see it soaking into her four-year-old brain. It was too cute. She beamed and did a little jumping dance. I gave her a bonus of some colorful shoelaces, still in their package.
During one of the many lulls, I left my kid, aka The Closer, in charge and walked around. Everybody was selling the same things: Old clothes, old toys, old electronic gadgets of dubious reliability. I saw two dozen child car seats; no wonder nobody gave ours a glance. But it was the clothes that got me. Piles and piles and piles. I looked it up: clothing production has doubled in the past 15 years, and we wear each item a third less than we did in 2000. People throw away–not including recycling–an average of 70 pounds of clothes and shoes per person each year.
We have bins around here to collect clothes and shoes. It’s sorted–decent stuff is resold at places like la Croix Rouge, damaged stuff is made into rags, and the dregs are ground up into insulation. It’s where our leftovers are headed.
We packed up at 5 p.m., having earned a whopping €45. I don’t know what kind of economic indicator it is–does it reflect a widespread fast-fashion hangover? Is it that even €2 is too much for some people to spend? Was it a one-off, a date when people had other things to do, and the vide-grenier season will boom later?
Separately, this photo was too good not to share. The window says: “Frequent Stops/Blood Samples.” I bet nobody tailgates!
Having restored our 17th century apartments to their former grandeur, the spaces speak to me, as if we’re now friends and confidantes.
Bacchus would have been a dinner party regular….
The fireplace, the hearth of the kitchen, is big enough to stand in. To think that originally, it was the place for cooking. Even now, the French term for a house-warming party is pendaison de crémaillère–hanging of the notched tool that held the cooking pot above the fire–rather than increase or decrease the heat, you had to lower or raise the pot. You can see the transformation of the kitchen here. I can almost hear the voices and laughter of the generations who gathered around the table. The hands upon hands upon hands that smoothed its wood.
Not far from Bacchus’s reach is a bottle rack. Our guests have joined in the game of adding to it.
We encourage them…
Wine tip: when choosing a bottle, feel the indentation, called la piqûre–the punt. It reinforces the bottle, and costs more than a flat bottom. If the winemaker is shelling out for a better bottle, you can figure what’s inside is pretty good.
What is so satisfying about tracking down just the right thing–as opposed to ordering with a click–is that everything has a story.
Like this Louis XVI armchair, so perfect for reading (feet up on the pouf), that matches the sofa and makes me wonder how the tiny lady who sold it to us is faring these days. And I smile at the little desk she threw in, which had seen better days but was revived with some fresh paint. Because that drawer really deserves it. They don’t make drawers like they used to.Or this cupboard, which had served generations in the huge, familial kitchen. Sometimes we stay here ourselves, to enjoy a night on the town, so to speak. It feels like vacation. Especially the sauna, followed by a cool-down in the huge shower, with its funny niche that we kept. Check out what was there before.
I love how the bathroom turned out. The Venetian mirror. The pedestal sink. The second mirror, that shows a glimpse of the sauna in its reflection. The cabochon floor.
We found another Venetian mirror for the powder room.
It’s hard to choose between black and white and blue and white. So we have both.
By the sauna, above, and then the blue and white china, assembled from so many brocantes!
The things you can find at brocantes! Young ladies…
More blue and white…and cool mantle ornaments. Befitting of a cool mantle.
A few things didn’t quite work in our house and found a home here. Like this table I bought many years ago in Lamu, a little island near Kenya’s border with Somalia, now too dangerous to go back, unfortunately. I have many happy memories of Lamu, including how I first admired the work of the carpenter who hand-carved this table back in the mid-’80s. Alas, I was a broke Peace Corps worker who could barely afford $1 a night for a mattress on the roof at a dive hotel (mosquito net included). Years later, I returned, dead set on buying a Lamu coffee table. Lo and behold, the same carpenter was working in the same place. He didn’t have any coffee tables, but he also wasn’t going to miss a sale. He got this one out of his own house, unscrewed the legs and wrapped it up for me to take home. While the cobbler’s children are the worst shod, I hope he got around to making himself a new coffee table.
It is just perfect in the apartment–the right size, not visually heavy, the carving remarkably similar to that on the Louis XVI sofa and to the swirls on the antique carpet.
While I enjoy watching the bustle on the street from the balcony in the other apartment, I also appreciate the quiet and the view in this apartment, which overlooks the communal courtyard, full of flowers and plants maintained by one of the neighbors. The apartment faces north, which, with the two-foot-thick stone walls, keeps it surprisingly cool in summer. In winter, who cares–there’s a sauna! And lots of radiators.
Both our apartments are on AirBnB: l’Ancienne Tannerie and la Suite Barbès. The perfect place to hang your hat during a stay in the south of France. Bienvenue!
Since the rentrée, the vide-grenier season has been in high gear. The mass garage sales are the excuse to visit a new village, to people-watch and above all, to find one-of-a-kind items for a song.This stand had an impressive collection of Ricard items. Ricard is a brand of pastis, an anise-flavored apéritif that’s very popular around here. It is clear and barely yellow but turns cloudy when water is added, and thus gets called un jaune–a yellow. Ricard brilliantly played on the name. The glasses have a line to show how much pastis to pour. I can only guess that the tray, with holders for the glasses and bottle, is designed to set down at the boulodrôme during pétanque.
The professionals have the greatest concentrations of good stuff, but at higher prices. Look at this collection of antique night clothes.The pants have a completely open crotch. Interesting. I would guess something to do with using a chamber pot in the dark but I could be wrong.I love the embroidery. Even when it’s just small initials.The képi blanc is the hat of the French Foreign Legion. It reminds me of the Colette story. Ageist double standards.
Another had old knives in a very scratched plexiglass case. Can you make out some of the elaborate decorations on the handles and even the blades?
I do wonder about who would collect figurines of pin-up girls. Actually, I don’t wonder at all. Ick.The regular folks getting rid of stuff from grandma’s attic are where you find the best gems. Look at that silver inkwell.
And how about a mantle clock with a cherub on top?
There also are plenty of less-antique offerings. Bowling, anyone?
The thrill of the hunt is what the vide-grenier is all about.
What’s your best find?
Antiquing We Will Go
The brocante of Limoux, on the first Sunday of the month, holds plenty of treasures. (Alert: there’s one this weekend, on July 2.)
Paris, with its huge population, has the famous marchés aux puces, or flea markets, namely les Puces de Saint-Ouen, selling carefully curated antiques at carefully curated prices from stalls that have become fixed shops.In France profonde, the flea markets are called brocantes and may be single shops selling antiques and vintage items, or they may be itinerant gatherings of these kinds of professional vendors. These are a step up from the vide-grenier, which is like a group yard sale. Brocantes have better stuff, but vide-greniers are where you will find something amazing for a song, buried amid piles of cast-offs.
That said, brocantes here offer some amazing finds at bargain prices. Though you are free to negotiate the prices down further.Can you guess what the object above is? The Carnivore knew immediately, having been there, done that. Put your guesses in the comments.And what about the gold things above? I thought at first they were some kind of hook for handing a coat or something. But no, on turning them around, the shape wasn’t right. They’re about 10 inches high. There’s a little cup, but it’s very small. Maybe for visiting cards? Even the vendor didn’t know what they were. Just pretty. He wanted €50 for the pair, which seemed too high for something mysterious, even though I loved the faces. If you know what they are, do tell!We saw lots of rattan, which I have read is on trend. I’d rather buy it because it is beautiful, like those chairs at the top, and beautifully made, rather than because somebody declared rattan to be “in,” which means that cheaply made versions will be in stores everywhere.
I’m also a sucker for old portrait photos. Those girls look so sweet. I supposed they’ve died–you don’t throw out Grandma’s picture when she’s still around. My mom did genealogy research, very thoroughly I should add. My father referred to it as “your mother is busy digging up the dead.” Anyway, she managed to get photos of ancestors going back as far as photography was around. Not just direct linage, either, but all kinds of relatives. So it makes me a little sad to see these girls for sale.
There were lots of really nice pieces of furniture.After having hunted for decorations for our four fireplaces, they continue to catch my eye. I love these sphinxes.
And some old space heaters…If you are in Carcassonne, I can arrange personalized brocante tours. You can contact me at taste.france (at) yahoo.com.