‘Empty your Attic’ doesn’t quite have the same ring as ‘Vide Grenier’, which is where half of France heads off to on Sunday mornings…
The churches are half empty, but the towns and villages that have closed for the day to traffic are full of people looking for bargains, meeting friends, having a beer or eating boxes of chips and munching on sausages. The local Vide Grenier is the place to be! The best are in lovely old towns where the traffic has been banned and everyone has set up stalls outside their homes. Full of granny’s old butter churns, rakes, French wine bottles in wicker baskets and everything else under the sun, the day is a treasure trove of bargains and bargaining!
The stalls have everything from large pieces of furniture to baby clothes – and even bikes with only one wheel! There are ancient implements that engender conversations, trying to work out what they were originally for. Sometimes there are stunning turn of the century (the last one!) dresses that ought to be in museums. And boxes of monogrammed linen that make my eyes water at the beauty of the work and the care that was taken in the making. There are frequently farm workers shirts to be found, made from heavy linen and cotton, pleated and tucked, with triangles of fabric under the armpit to allow movement. Studying the way the clothes were made is fascinating – and then you come across a box of immaculate, never worn, monogrammed slips and undergarments, shirts with pleated cuffs and collars that are lined in flannelette, yet smooth cotton on the face. Those old French knew how to keep warm in winter! But not in the nether regions – the knickers make today's young wince – long pantaloons, stitched together at front and rear, but with a large gaping gap where one might relieve oneself with minimum effort. Pretty draughty on cold winter days – but joyfully easy if you think of having to hitch all those long skirts and petticoats up for a pee – and it makes sense when you think of all those old hole in the ground loos…..
At the centre of the town or village, the beer stand and the lunch stand have been set up. This is the way the village raises money each year. The coffee is always black – despite the fact that most of the customers seem to be English, and whilst the beer is chilling in the Fridge, the French won’t pander to any taste but their own….so its beer and chips and a local sausage. It’s now the Sunday lunch ritual, sitting on a bench in the square with friends, everyone chatting away and showing off their bargains. Occasionally it’s possible to get a glass of the local epine – a homemade drink made from wine infused with twigs. The recipes are secret and closely guarded! The epine made by my neighbour is one of the best drinks I have ever tasted and I am sure she would make a fortune if she marketed it – but that’s not the French way! In the spring, when it can be chilly, we brave the cold wind and munch through our lunch before heading off to see if there are any bargains left. And then it is home to a roaring fire to warm up. In summer it’s a delight to sit in the warm sun, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the sights of some of the stunning things for sale – or sometimes it might just be the sight of the one wheeled bike that leaves you speechless!
And then there are the plant stalls – row upon row of different varieties of tomatoes and herbs and sometimes, dotted in between, unusual flowers that are selling for a couple of euros. With plants in the shops selling at exorbitant prices, it’s the place to stock the garden. I even bought my biggest pot in the garden from a Vide Grenier, had it delivered and bought the plants to put in it there too! And what a bargain it was too!!