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9 Jun 2009

Vide grenier - junk and bargains

A sign that summer is really happening, despite the weather, is the appearance of often amateurish signs advertising Vide Grenier events. These are the equivalent of British car boot sales – the name means 'empty the attic' – and can be very strange. The bigger and better ones are often called Braderies or Brocantes, meaning in effect second hand or antique, but not junk. Definitely not junk. Some, like at Granville, La Haye des Puits or Hambye, can be enormous with hundreds of stalls, thousands of punters, and even two or more days long.
The one in Hambye was early, in May, and coincided with the first warm Sunday. The result was thousands of people in this small village, stalls in every street and alley, and half a dozen fields dedicated to car parking on all roads leading to the village. Still nothing to buy though. That's not actually true, my wife bought a sort of billhook, called apparently a Leicestershire slasher in the Midlands, well rusted and mounted on an old piece of tree branch for a handle. Ancient and blunt, but she wanted one and new ones were 35 euros, but this was only three. It turned out to have been hand forged, and a neighbour sharpened it to such a fine edge that you could carry out delicate operations such as spleenectomies with it. Probably.

The vast majority of stuff in small vides greniers is utter rubbish – not even worth picking up to throw away. Yet people buy some of it. There was one stall I saw recently which had only old pieces of defunct electrical and computer stuff – odd circuit boards, chips, cables, Sinclair software and other long gone components. There were always five only slightly geeky men around it, usually rummaging through a couple of boxes of old transformers, clearly looking for specific items.
Often there are professional stalls, whether someone selling cheap watches, or higher quality near antiques, and maybe a few specialist such as window replacement firms, but they mostly only go to the big events. The majority of stalls are just as the name suggests, individuals selling off the accumulated odds and ends they no longer want. At one small event in a nearby village I bought a pick axe/mattock tool that I couldn't find in any of the shops, a new pair of binoculars and a new cafetiere coffee maker both of which appeared to be unwanted gifts and were still in their boxes.
Most of these events are organised by the local comités des fêtes, which most communes have, and vary in the quality of their organisation as well as the effectiveness of the event itself. Some show that Monsieur Hulot is still around, but they can be an excellent way of passing some time, of seeing a wider range of French people in their own habitat, and just occasionally, finding a bargain.

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