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It’s hard to find a shopper, or much of any traveler to France, who doesn’t like flea markets.
But here I am to say, whooooaaaaa—there’re better bargains to be had in France. I have become spoiled by vide-greniers and Emmaus. To me, many flea markets, especially The Big Flea in Paris, are too touristy and too expensive.
It’s springtime in the South of France, and the season begins. There are, of course, indoor events during winter…and many Paris flea markets continue their cycle throughout the year. But here, in the South, the vide-greniers have just begun. We have mimosa. We have forsythia. We have lift-off.
Vide-grenier (empty attic) is a tag sale. But individual tag sales are not allowed in France. Instead, the village has a one-day one-off event, usually just once a year. Every person in the village can buy a space for 10 euros (or less) and get rid of “junk.” One man’s junk is my treasure, you know.
Actually, most of my homes have resembled flea markets when I was finished “decorating” them. My fondness for the U.S. chain of stores Anthropologie is based on their ability to re-create my own home within their stores. Beyond my urge to own everything I see, there are deeper social implications.
At the three vide-greniers I went to this weekend, I noticed an inordinate number of plastic water bottle/statues from Lourdes. I suddenly realized a vide-grenier is the last step in the cycle of life. Get sick. Go to Lourdes. Die anyway. Family dumps stuff at the local vide-grenier. And so the world turns.
The best things to buy are baby items because they are never worn out. I am not buying much of anything now, because I am about to move house and leave France, but I look nonetheless. Hey, you never know.
I admit to being mesmerized by the small selection of naked plastic doll-babies available at one family stand. Two of the three dolls had penises. I know it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a doll, but I didn’t know that anatomically correct dolls were so easy to come by that they are selling for a few euros each in the outskirts of Roaix.
More importantly, I made yet another discovery (aside from the Big Picture and the Small Penis)—vide-greniers are enormously less expensive than flea markets… but Emmaus is less again by as much as half the price.
Emmaus is the French equivalent of Goodwill. It was begun by Père Pierre, who took in homeless men, housed them, fed them and put them to work either repairing or selling donations. The donation sorters are now so sophisticated that they use eBay and the Internet to price each item.
Still, fève-sized santons (for the galette du roi at Epiphany) at a vide-grenier cost one euro for five. And no Baby Jesus. At Emmaus, they were ten for one euro. (Still no Jesus.) A wooden high chair, maybe from the early sixties, was 20 euros at Emmaus, 40 euros at one vide-grenier and 60 euros at another. Go figure.
The Emmaus that I have been using for many years is near Orange, about 20 minutes from my house. There are branches all over France, even in Paris. I’ve checked out a few in Paris. But they were not good, and I’ve never seen another rural branch-store.
“My Emmaus” is a small village. It takes a village to make a bargain. It has one building filled with books (in English and in French), cassettes (10 for one euro), disques (vinyl) and graphic novels. There’s another building for electronic equipment, another for kids’ items, another for women’s wear, two for furniture (large, gorgeous armoire, 1000 euros) and my favorite of all, Vintage and Bibelot—which are two different rooms in the same trailer.
“Vintage” is all old linens, vintage clothes, hats, fur coats, buttons and trim. “Bibelot” is dishes and objets d’art, including a complete African Section.
My best buy this past weekend came from the outdoor tables, where the true junk is piled higher and deeper (everything, including the kitchen sink)—here I found something unique for my mid-sized collection of nains (gnomes): a plastic gnome who requires batteries so he can sing. Now that’s an important work of art.
(c) Suzy Gershman
Suzy is revising “Born to Shop Provence Plus,” which will include every flea market and brocante she can find.
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To cruise the beautiful French countryside in search of vide-greniers in villages away from the big city, or almost anywhere in the world, we recommend Auto Europe.
In the meantime: for more about The Flea Markets of France.