VIVE LE VIDE GRENIER
August 8, 2011 1 Comment
I believe that France must have one of the lowest levels of disposable rubbish per capita, as very little must actually ever get discarded, a belief supported by what one sees for sale at the French institution of the Vide Grenier (VG). Whilst this correctly translates to “Empty Attic”, I am sure that the majority of stuff just moves from attic to attic until after about 2-3 generations it will end up back in the hands of the family who started the cycle in the first place.
I know that the UK has “Car Boot sales” and Australia has “Flea Markets”, but I feel that in France we have raised this art-form to new heights.
The belief is that these were originally created in France to enable people to pass some wealth on down the generations by allowing grandchildren to clear out their grandparents’ attics to make some money. In those early days it may have been possible to find some treasures, but unfortunately those days are long gone. Today it is more about clearing out ones grandparents’ homes so that they don’t run the danger of setting fire to the old newspapers and magazines that block their hallways, or to ease the weight bearing down on century old ceilings.
Every village in France gets a chance to hold their own VG at least once every 2 years, which ensures that some of the local unwanted rubbish gets moved away to other villages thereby allowing the cycle to start again.
We have used the weekend VGs as a way of seeing different villages around our region and, to ensure that we also have a serious reason to attend, have accumulated quite a collection of old fly sprays that adorn part of a wall in our kitchen, and I am sure are still wafting hints of DDT into our airspace.
There are also added benefits in that there is always a beer tent and a sausage sizzle that I would imagine are greater attractions than the 100 or so trestle stands trying to sell old copies of “Madame” magazine which originally came free with the weekend edition of the Figaro newspaper, or old green screen computer monitors that must have been rescued from a local rubbish dump (dechetterie).
There is also generally in evidence a core of professional retailers who tend to sell wares like glassware, copper items, old tools and other bits that one would normally find in the cheaper stores, and who travel from VG to VG as a weekend second job, and who I salute for diligence in a country where most people work only the required 35 hours per week, and for whom weekends are a time to be religiously guarded for some serious television watching.
The French are generally a very pessimistic nation but the vendors at VGs exhibit overpowering unbridled optimism, based on the belief that what they have gathered is actually saleable. I am sure that the majority pack up their wares at the end of the day having sold little, if any, of their hard scavenged goodies, and just move them back into their homes in readiness for the next return trip to a nearby event, cursing the lack of taste of this day’s buyers, but content in the knowledge that someday someone with discerning taste and an eye for a true bargain will see the value and beauty in what they have to offer.
The reality is that these are more an opportunity for people to mingle in their community than an attempt at any real commerce, and hopeful vendors spend more time talking to each other and sharing a picnic lunch with neighbours than actively trying to peddle their wares. They do have a lively country fair exuberance to them that is rare in a country of controlled emotion and decorum.
While most of the junk on sale would not interest us even if it was free, we have become addicted to the whole theatre that is the true VG, and will go to 2-3 per month just as an excuse to visit somewhere we haven’t been before and to participate in the scene that these play in French rural life. We are subscribers to the monthly magazine “Aladin” that lists all the Vide Grenier and Brocante (generally a bit of a more upmarket version) markets in France, and avidly calendarise those that are planned for the Gironde and departments bordering.
Some VG/Brocantes have been going for decades and attract people from all over France like the ones in Rauzan and Pau which cover multiple days and attract thousands of people from all over France who come mainly to be able to walk around and sneer at the what is on offer rather than to actually buy anything.
We love them all, as they all have their unique elements, some snaking along river banks like the one in Branne or those that mill around the Mairie and village square like the mini one in Tabanac that was really more of a local produce and plant market than a true VG (got some great savoury scones).
They have become an integral part of our life in countryside France, and I love standing at the counter eating a sausage and onion baguette washed down with a cold beer, whilst talking to some locals about whether the rains will effect this weeks planned corn harvest or whether the Bordeaux-Begles Rugby team have any chance this coming season having been elevated to the premier league (we are supporters and subscribers and their NZ captain Matt Clarkin is a friend).
Vide Greniers may not change the world, but they have definitely enriched ours.