Monday, May 11, 2009

Summer's Coming & Vides Greniers

Summer is coming; I can feel it and I can see it. We've had a little bit of warm weather, and the bugs and moths and spiders are multiplying and getting larger. We have what are commonly called Orb-weaver spiders in our garden; here is one that is about the size of my thumb, and I don't have small hands. I don't go out to find a lemon in the garden at night without a hand out in front or a stick, or else I might go face to face with this guy! It's not poisonous, but not pleasant! They usually tear their webs down each morning and then rebuild, but this one has been in the same spot for a few days now; it's up above the pathway, so safe from my karate chop and sticks.

In France, when spring comes, it's time for the vides greniers (literally "empty the attic"), the French equivalent of a collective garage sale. The French don't throw anything away. It is all sorted and cleaned and stored, and even if it's broken, it's better to sell it for cheap at the VG than throw it in the local decheterie. In smaller towns, you'll find individual vendors for an announced VG in the public square; in other places, there are dealers who come with trucks and piles of merchandise. The French are very conscious of their personal space, and unless you are in a certain antique-type district, as in Beaune, you don't have your own VG.

R and I went to a VG in Savigny-les-Beaune last spring; you have to look for the little signs on the side of the road a few weeks in advance. We found a nice wheat sheaf light fixture, but that was about it. I love porcelaine blanche, but it has to be free of chips, and that's usually what's on offer. It's a jumble of stuff; mostly not so perfect; lots of chipped plates and pottery and some glass and well, just what you'd expect at a French garage sale. So you ask, who would want a badly chipped piece of pottery?
Well, let me tell you a night J-F and I were invited to dinner at a flat in Paris, it was maybe over by Musee Rodin. It was a family, with several children under the age of 10, behind a typically non-descript exterior. But when you entered the flat, your eyes got wide with the fantastic display of an exotic, eclectic and singularly Parisian decor-- one room full of mostly primitive musical instruments from around the globe (on the wall and hanging from the ceiling), a mix of natural history -- encased beetles and butterflies; a range of patterns and fabrics, both French and very well chosen African patterns. Oil paintings. You felt like you were in the curiosities room of the Rembrandt House in Amsterdam, on steroids. The piece de resistance was a grand format painting lit low and handed down from the grandfather; it was said to be possibly a lost Carravagio (dit Carravage in France). The painting and the entire flat were a treat for the eyes. The children gave us their own tour of their "collections"; mostly natural history; it certainly was in the genes!
When we sat down for our meal, at a tiny table in the kitchen (the flat was the size of a NYC classic 6), we had a wonderful dinner, on a set of old (18C?) Luneville rose faience dinnerware. Clearly this was the family dinner service, and every piece-- every plate and every service piece-- was chipped, not just a little. But there was no mind, they were still beautiful plates and we had a lovely dinner.
In the U.S., we want to toss a set of plates if we get tired of them or they have a few chips; not so in France; if they are good quality, you keep them for centuries! And you go to VG to find replacements and matches to your pattern.

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