I think Antiques Roadshow is my favourite TV programme… there, I’ve said it! I like Match of the Day too, but Eric Knowles, Rupert Maas or Philip Mould are my pundits of choice. I’m a big fan of Grand Designs but when it comes to design Andy McConnell and Will Farmer are my guys. I love The West Wing but if you want intrigue and storytelling then you can’t beat Bill Harriman or Mark Smith. What I’m saying is I love old things, beautiful things… antiques, if you like. So what, you might ask, has this got to do with moving to France?
Well, much like car boot sales in the UK, the French have the vide grenier. Meaning ‘empty attic’ a vide grenier is usually organised by a local committee in a village or town, often in aid of a local cause or association, and held on a sports field or other public space. Sometimes, because closing roads for markets is still commonplace here, the village will close to traffic and the main street will be used. People set up stalls offering all their unwanted stuff for others to buy whilst the committee run a bar or food stall and raise money for a good cause.
Since the spring we’ve been to quite a few. There’s a useful ‘app’ which tells you where the nearest events are and there’s usually one within 20 or 30km every Sunday with the odd bonus one on a Saturday too. It’s also a good way of exploring the countryside nearby as it takes us to places we might not have visited. We haven’t bought much as we’re moving house soon and we’ve got enough ‘stuff’ but sometimes just can’t resist. My daughter had always wanted a globe so when we saw one that was also a lamp, we handed over €3 and she was happy. I’ve bought a painted coffee pot with a broken hinge and my wife acquired an interesting serving plate featuring a crab and a lobster!
As well as these occasional events France also has the brocante, a much more romantic name for a cross between an antique dealer and a junk shop. These ‘Aladdin’s caves’ are often stuffed with the strangest assortment of things, some of which it is hard to tell what it was for but makes for a good guessing game. Occasionally you get a combination of the two, when a few traders will set up stall outside a permanent brocante on a given day. We’ve only browsed a couple so far, though I was tempted by a large round, galvanised steel ‘trough’ the other day, thinking I could turn it into a water feature?
Yesterday we went to the local Emmaus in Limoges. You may be familiar with Emmaus if you are in the UK as they also exist there, and I’m sure elsewhere. Emmaus Limoges has two locations; the first about 10km outside the city in a lovely, wooded valley is the ‘Bric-a-brac’ outlet. This is actually a hanger or barn, with one side open to the elements, stuffed to the rafters with books, clothes, old plates, lamps and all sorts of ephemera which reminded me of a 1970s jumble sale, particularly the elderly ladies with their elbows out looking for a bargain. The second, in Limoges itself, it slightly more civilised and organised with display cases and orderly shelves.
Our greatest discovery though has been a relatively new phenomena, the ‘brocante permanente’, though actually it is more like a ‘vide grenier permanente’ as I’ll explain. These are large shop units or warehouses, usually on the edge of town or in one case in the middle of nowhere, that have been taken over by enterprising souls who offer shelf space to people who have stuff they want to sell. People rent the shelf space, put prices on their things and then leave the shop to do the selling, paying commission of around 20% to the shop. These places tend to be open all week, including Sunday when most other shops are shut, so perfect for a rainy day out.
We’ve found two so far but may venture as far as Angoulême tomorrow, in search of a third. There’s also an Emmaus in Angoulême, which is a bonus. So, what have we bought so far? Just a couple of nice vases, a cruet set in the shape of some fish, a jar with fish on it and something else in the shape of a ‘wide-mouthed fish’ that we’re not sure what it’s for. I’ve also bought a couple of interesting plates, one with a reservoir for hot water to keep the food warm and the other with mysterious numbers round the edge. I’m not sure what we’re going to do with any of it, though some pieces will probably end up decorating our cottages. We’re going for a 1950s ‘vibe’, though not slavishly, so it’s the colours and feel rather than a strict adherence to ‘period’. Having said that, I’ve just ordered a book on mid-century design so it could get more intense!