It’s that time of the year again. Over the summer weekends every self-respecting village and town in central France holds its annual fete or saint’s day, meaning that bowls competitions are held, food and drink is served for a minimum fee and both local people and ‘outsiders’ can set up stalls for the annual flea-market sale of sundry goods, bric-a-brac and anything that’s surplus to requirements.
The flea-market, or ‘brocante,’ is the place to be on a balmy summer morning, when people of all ages, shapes and sizes turn out to inspect one another’s wares, possibly even to buy a trinket or ancient copper pot and to enjoy socializing with neighbours from near and far.
The brocante is everyone’s chance to bring out the contents of their basement or attic (some brocantes are also called ‘attic-emptier’), set up a stall and get rid of the porcelain service they inherited from their grandparents, the toys and clothes that their children have outgrown, old books, records and tools, and even the jewellery that dear grandmamma left them.
I really enjoy strolling along the rows of stalls, inspecting the goods on sale and exchanging a friendly greeting with the people manning (or rather womanning) the stalls. Sometimes one sees beautiful dinner- or tea-services, antique cutlery and interesting paintings. And it can be almost painful to see the linen tablecloths and serviettes upon which a young woman once embroidered her initials, as was the custom before marriage in former times.
I have seen ornate soup tureens that I would dearly have loved to buy, but really have no good use for. And of course there are also cups without saucers, saucers without cups, teapots without lids, pots, pans and ancient metal implements whose purpose is not always clear.
One of the items that caught my eye one Sunday morning was a large metal stand consisting of dozens of arms and hooks. When I asked the stall-owner what it was for he told me it was for drying wine bottles. Now, who has to dry dozens of wine bottles all in one go? This is not a grape-growing area, so I can only presume that the former owners used to consume a great deal of wine. I was later informed that such objects were taken by the early Dadaist artists and presented as ‘a fountain,’ revolutionizing modern art by the introduction of the concept of ‘ready-made.’
Every once in a while I have come across items that are both beautiful and serviceable. And so my tea-service has benefited from two cups with matching saucers that are almost an exact fit with mine. In addition, four handsome mugs matching my breakfast dishes and large enough to accommodate a generous cup of tea also now grace my table of a morning.
Arts and crafts aficionados can also occasionally find something to their liking, and I know several artistic types who use the opportunity to earn a few extra pennies by selling their home-made embroidered tablecloths, crocheted mats and even delicate items of clothing. Of course, there are also those talented individuals who make necklaces, bracelets, earrings and other trinkets which can be very attractive.
As long as I don’t have enough things I regard as discardable I am relieved of the onerous task of standing behind a stall for several hours, and am happy to leave the work to others. But perhaps one day my children and/or grandchildren will be doing that with all the ‘stuff’ I’ve accumulated over the years. Sorry, folks!