Saturday 20 August 2011

Brocante-ing in the south of France

The south of France in the summer is practically synonymous with brocantes, the French version of antique and flea market rolled into one, something I'd really looked forward to ....  the only problem, as I quickly discovered, is getting there - often after driving some distance - before the heaving August crowds descend and it becomes a struggle to park or even move around.
So when a brocante/vide grenier was advertised in our little village of Goult on a Saturday morning, I was thrilled - all I had to do was roll out of bed and walk down the street.

I was in the village square as the church bells were striking 7 am ... in the Place de la Libération (there's one in every single French village it would seem) and extending into all the side streets and alleyways, stall holders were setting up their tables ...

... silverware being laid out on linen-covered tables, a beautiful Provençal boutis casually tossed in a heap on a bush, furniture being unpacked from vans, house wares - some good pieces amongst some junk ...

With only a few customers about at this hour, it was clear that the early birds were going to get the worms ...

... and for this early bird, that meant making a bee-line for the old French linens - monogrammed sheets, pillowcases, table cloths and serviettes, once part of a 19th century bride's trousseau, these have lasted for generations, getting softer with every wash.

Pure linen, rough hemp, or metis (cotton and linen mix) - it was in suitcases, plastic crates, slung over bushes ...

This lady (below, with her husband helping her lay out her linens from crates in the car) had the best selection and became my new best friend. A moment of panic set in when a dealer arrived, a glint in her eye, and started scooping up goods (no you don't, I wanted that!), and I understood why the first rule of the brocante is 'get there early'.

Mission accomplished, feeling good about the small stack of linens at bargain prices now safely in my basket, I could enjoy wandering around the streets, poking about for interesting items, fantasising about how well one could furnish an entire village house with brocante finds...

This is clearly a social affair in France, a weekend hobby, a place for convivial chat with neighbours, for a little polite bargaining, and the fun of hunting for something unique or special. Everywhere I heard people wishing each other at the end of a bit of chat "bon weekend et bonne chine" (chiner - antique bargain hunting) ...

I loved the random and unexpected mix of professional dealers with good quality antiques and individuals selling  their second-hand cast-offs (vide grenier - empty attic) ...

... an old suitcase of nostalgia (feeding the French Johnny Hallyday obsession)  shares space with zinc roosters, Provençal santons (nativity figures) and handwoven tapestries ... and at one stall a man had chaotic stacks and piles of old books and handwritten documents ...

These two gents, seasoned brocanteurs, had settled themselves for the morning with comfortable chairs and newspapers, their paintings stacked up against the wall of Goult's 12th century church ...

... perhaps later on they'd enjoy a little companionable pastis in the sunshine?


  1. So much fun! I get nostalgic.
    Did you get that red and white Provençal boutis?

  2. Beautiful. I love the french brocantes!

  3. I love your attention to detail Karen and I am sure I would enjoy a visit to such an event but me thinks I would have to take along a very healthy wallet.

  4. I have so enjoyed this walk through the brocante and all the details as seen through your eyes and lens! I know that feeling when those dealers swoop in...glad you were able to find your special linens at a bargain! Thanks for taking me along!

  5. Those documents! I do miss the French brocantes, although hopefully will be at one later this week in Montreuil-sur-Mer. During my time in Paris, I bought way too many antique linens; so difficult to resist!

  6. Oh and that boutis - so lovely! Your pic reminded me that I have one somewhere, perhaps in one of the boxes in storage. Must find it, as fall approaches.

  7. Like the apotheosis of all garage sales!
    I very much enjoyed seeing it through your sympathetic, occasionally dazzled, eyes ----


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