Until recently, I had never heard of a vide-armoires, which literally means “wardrobe emptier”. I have been to many vide-greniers (grenier means attic) and brocantes and had worked out the difference for myself. The vide-greniers provides the occasion for people to get rid of all the stuff they don’t want any more. A lot of towns hold one once a year. Sometimes they are combined with food stalls, but not always.
The term brocante comes from brocanteur who, according to the Larousse dictionary, is someone who buys and then sells (or swaps) secondhand goods. However, brocante is sometimes used to mean vide-grenier and the two can be combined. So you can find householders selling children’s hand-me-downs and old lamps next to a professional selling old furniture.
The etymology is not certain. There is a French expression de bric et de broc which means “made of bits and pieces”, maybe related to the German gebrochen or Italian brocco. It could also come from a broc repairer where brocs are the metal staples that used to be used to hold old pottery together.
Real antiques are usually sold at a “foire des antiquaires” but sometimes you find them at brocantes as well.
So I wasn’t sure what we’d find at a vide-armoires When we arrived in Bracieux, we discovered it was being run by the local tennis club. It turned out to be strictly private individuals – no professionals – and only clothing, mostly children’s. So not of much interest to us.
And before I finish, the correct spelling is vide-greniers and not vide-grenier and the singular and plural are the same.
It hardly seems like a year ago that we got the keys to Closerie Falaiseau, our 400-year-old Renaissance house in Blois in the Loire Valley. We decided to take the weekend off and visit some more châteaux. We thought that if we went to Azay-le-Rideau around noon on Sunday, there wouldn’t be many people. Well, that was a big mistake!
It turned out there was an Easter egg hunt for the kids. In France, there is no Easter bunny – the church bells bring the eggs. I’m not sure how they are then supposed to get hidden in the château and gardens but the kids were obviously keen. The whole family seemed to be there, including all the grandparents and great aunts, which didn’t make it easy to take photos, to my great regret.
I’ll write another post on the château itself but would just like to say that there is the most wonderful exhibition in one of the bedrooms. A Renaissance bed and its covers and trimmings have been reconstructed, based on paintings of the time and using traditional methods. The walls are covered in braided rushes and a video explains how all the different elements were made. Fascinating!
We had a little trouble finding somewhere to eat afterwards because everyone else seemed to be on the same timetable as us! We finally found a pizzeria cum brasserie doing a brisk business and had the set menu (entree + main course) at 13 euros. Nothing remarkable but quite edible with an unlimited buffet entree. The Orangerie in the château grounds offers salads and an amazing variety of quiches for 7 or 8 euro but the room is entirely open with no heating and at 4°C, we were not tempted. I’m sure it’s wonderful in summer though.
I had seen a sign saying brocante but we could see not sign of it. We went to the tourist office and were directed towards the river. It was in a lovely setting and the sun was out. We wandered around looking for a metal bucket for our fireplace ashes. We happened across two old engravings of Blois at 25 euros a piece that Jean Michel got for 40 euros for the two. I then proceeded to drop the bag containing the framed engravings but fortunately it didn’t break!
We found a copper bucket and also some wide lace sold by the metre to use as a table runner. The sellers were very friendly and explained that the brocante is held in Azay on the 5th Sunday of the month, which works out to about 3 times a year. They also go to the one in Blois on the 2nd Sunday of the month that we went to last Easter Sunday. I had actually seen the lace the last time we were here in March.
After debating about whether or not to visit Château de Langeais because of the possible crowds we decided to at least go and take photos of the outside since there was such brilliant sun. After crossing the suspension bridge over the Loire, built in 1849 and rebuilt no less than 4 times, we drove straight to the parking lot we knew from our previous visits and there didn’t seem too many people. When we got to the front of the château, we checked that our favourite tea room/pâtisserie was open and were distracted by loud laughter.
In front of the castle keep was a guard in full mediaeval regalia – codpiece and all. I called out and asked him if he was real. After being reassured that he was not a wax model, we mounted the steps and Innocent le Bel explained, in mediaeval French (well, more or less) that there was a special event going on the castle – the wedding of a young lady called Raoulette and a man whom she had never seen, chosen by her upwardly mobile parents for his wealth.
Inside, other actors were interacting with the public and we were able to watch the wedding ceremony and reading of the marriage contract. After seeing the portrait of her new husband after the ceremony, Raoulette burst into tears and stormed off. We came across her later on in an upstairs bedroom, where her mother was trying to explain to some young visitors why Rahoulette couldn’t choose her own husband!
After a stroll around the grounds, we finished off the visit in Langeais at La Maison de Rabelais with some excellent pâtisseries that had far too many calories. Oh well, we don’t go there often …
From before the Paris sky turned dull and gloomy, Mary Kay from Out and About in Paris describes her Roland Garros tennis experience, Kathy Stanford from Femmes Franchophiles goes to the Père Lachaise Cemetary and gets swooped on, and Johanna Castro from Zigazag Magazine, whose aim is to “champion voyages of discovery to dream places and quiet spaces. Helping you to “Live for the moment, Love adventure and Do something awesome” gives helpful tips to people travelling solo.
Roland Garros 2012 – Back in Paris with a “Grand Slam”!
Stephane and I live within walking distance of Roland Garros, the home of the French Open. His favorite sport, aside from soccer, is tennis. Yet, there we were, fresh off the plane in Paris, without any tickets for the tournament. Standing forlornly outside the stadium on opening day, we wondered what had happened. Read more
Being the ‘season’ for brocantes I visited the Père Lachaise brocante nearby to the cemetery of the same name. I was actually filling in time until the cemetery opened. It opens later on weekends. Brocantes are where individuals and dealers sell second hand and antique goods. You can buy everything from crockery and glassware to furniture to knick knacks. It was a funny moment when I tried to disengage myself from discussion with a dealer who was keen to shout me coffee at the local café. He was amazed that an Australian would learn French and come to France. Read more.
Travelling Alone. Solo Travel. What you Need to Know.
Yesterday was the first time I spent May Day in Blois. It was a good day. I woke up alive for the 3rd day running since I smashed my head into a very low authentic Renaissance beam at Closerie Falaiseau that you are supposed to duck under to go into one of the rooms. The people were on the short side back in those days! It felt as though I had a huge weight on my head and I did wonder for a few days whether it hadn’t been damaged forever. But it seems that I have survived!
While we were having breakfast, Relationnel suddenly got up, put his cap on and left. I was a bit put out until he came back a few minutes later with three little sprigs of muguet from the garden of our “little house”. It’s the tradition in France to give lily-of-the-valley on 1st May for good luck, especially to your loved ones. You can find it on practically every street corner, mainly sold by charities and similar associations. And because it’s Labour Day, it’s also the one day of the year when anyone can sell on the street without a permit in France.
Then we set out for the annual Chambord “brocante” or “vide-grenier” as they call it (attic emptier), the largest in the region, whom Madame Previous Owner had told me about a long time ago, warning me that we should be there by 7 am! Since we didn’t even wake up until 10.30 am, it was considerably later by the time we left. On the way, we saw a sign for another “vide-grenier” at Maslives so I insisted we stop.
It was very much a local edition, where most of the people obviously knew each other. We wandered around in the wet grass, delighted that we had had the foresight to change into our walking boots. I saw the most amazing child’s tricycle with long handlebars to turn to make it go. Relationnel spied out a lampshade made of pig’s bladder on top of the most hideous lamp stand imagineable so we paid the full price and left the lamp explaining to the vendor that we wouldn’t be able to use it. He commisserated saying that he had inherited it from his mother and didn’t have room either – but didn’t bring the price down!
We continued on to Chambord. You could tell from the gendarmes everywhere that it was not on the same scale. We parked, as directed, in a large field and were thankful, once again, that we were wearing our boots. By then, the sun had come out for the first time in 4 days, and we had a lovely time exploring the endless rows of stalls with the majestic Château de Chambord as a backdrop. The prices, however, were much higher, and we didn’t find anything to our liking.
At about 2.30, we decided to have lunch at one of the two restaurants in the castle grounds – Le Saint-Louis – which had both reasonable prices (about 12 euros for a salad) and friendly service. We’d done enough brocanting by then and went home to change into our cycling gear. It was great to be able to ride out the gate and down our country road. Not exactly possible in Paris!
After cycling along a dirt road and through a few puddles, we reached bitumen again, to my relief. We then rode up a very manageable slope to the highest point of Blois which means we’ll be able to cycle into the city centre in the future without too much effort. On the way, my chain came off and I thought I should learn how to put it back on by myself for when I go cycling without Relationnel. Newfound independence!
When we got home, we attacked the expresso machine again and finally made our first cappuccino! It was excellent (the coffee came from Verlet, I might add, and was accompanied by chocolates from Anglina’s). And despite the fast-descending temperature, we decided to dine al fresco for the very first time in Blois!
It’s Wednesday again and I’ve found you some more great posts from other people’s blogs, starting with Vingt Paris Magazine giving us the best brocantes and flea markets in Paris, followed by Girls’ Guide to Paris with suggestions of places to have your favourite beverage, and a very interesting description of National Garlic day by Llamalady from Blog in France.
Best Brocantes and Flea Markets of Paris
by Anne at VINGT Paris Magazine, devoted to the 20 arrondissements of Paris and helping you get the most out of the city.
We were so pleased with Meg Gagnard‘s roundup of the best vintage clothing shops in Paris, we invited her back to share some insider secrets of Paris’s flea markets and brocantes -the best places to find vintage goods and antiques around the city. The list is a mix of trinket and furniture shops, as well as where to go to find out about weekly neighborhood brocantes. Thanks, Meg! Read more …
Here is an assortment of places where you can lounge and enjoy your favorite beverage, often with some excellent food as a bonus. Note: The term wine bar can be a little confusing in Paris. All wine bars feature wine, of course, but the bar part is a little more flexible. Some have a counter and tables, and you can show up anytime for a glass of wine and a snack. Others resemble restaurants more than actual bars. In many cases, reserving in advance is imperative. Some are cavistes (retail wineshops), which is good to know if you need a bottle to go. Read more …
National Garlic Day
by Llamalady from Blog in France who blogs about her life in rural France where, amongst other activities, she raises llamas and alpacas
Today, believe it or not, is National Garlic Day. And since garlic is irrevocably linked in most people’s minds with France, well, I had to blog about it.
Garlic, Allium Sativum, is originally from Asia. China is still the world’s biggest garlic grower, producing more than 12 million tonnes of it a year! Garlic is something of a wonder plant, because not only does it have the blood cleansing properties most of us know about it, it’s also anti-bacterial. Surgeons who ran out of anti-septic during the First World War would use garlic instead. Read more …
Sunday being a day of rest, we decided to have a late brunch then visit one of the many châteaux in the Loire Valley with Thoughtful and Brainy Pianist who had come to spend the weekend with us. In the end, we decided to go to Blois Castle, particularly as it was open between 12 and 2 pm, in order to escape the Easter weekend crowds. Once we got there, Relationnel and I were both amazed that we hardly remembered it at all from our last visit a few years ago.
The château is right in the middle of the town, overlooking the Loire River, and encompasses several different architectural styles from mediaeval times to the 17th century. I won’t go into its very complicated history. Suffice to say that it all began in about the year 1000 with a rather horrible fellow called Thibaud the Trickster. Three of the original mediaeval towers still remain. One of the main features of the period is the magnificent hall of justice or Salle des Etats built in the early 13th century.
At the end of the 14th century, the château was bought by the Orleans family and nearly a century later, Duc Louis d’Orleans became Louis XII and brought his wife, Anne de Bretagne, and his court to Blois. They modernised it all, so to speak, with stairs at each end and balconies on the first floor and decorated it with their emblems, the porcupine for Louis and the hermine for Anne.
François 1er, whose salamander is ever-present, lived in the château after he ascended to the throne in 1515. The Duc de Guise was assassinated in the King’s Chambers on the orders of Henri III in 1588 after plotting to take over the throne and Catherine de Medicis, wife of Henri II (son of François 1er) and mother of Henri III, died there the next year at the age of 70.
The interior is extremely rich and colourful with many fine fireplaces and majestic pieces of Renaissance furniture. We could see how they inspired the Henri II (or Neo-Renaissance) buffet, sideboard, tables and chairs now decorating our new Renaissance house ! I particularly liked the toad-foot feature on one of the buffets and the many beautiful firebacks. Any one of them would look just perfect in our upstairs fireplace.
There is also a lapidary section with gargoyles, statues, pediments and other bits and pieces taken from buildings on the site.
The grounds around the château offer wonderful views of the rooftops of the city of Blois and the Loire River and an excellent view of the city’s most interesting church – that of Saint Nicolas, built in the 12th and 13th centuries, a combinationof both Romanesque and Gothic. We couldn’t quite see our house because of the trees but we could pick out the general direction.
After our visit we discovered a brocante on the esplanade along the river which takes place on the second Sunday of every month. Relationnel was not keen because he said there were obviously only professionals. But we managed to find a walnut bedside table for our bedroom and three long-handled gardening tools. While he went off to get the car, we rooted around but didn’t find anything else worth buying.
There’s actually a verb in French – chiner – for poking around in junk and antique shops looking for treasures! Now that we have a house in view, we’ve started doing the rounds of “brocantes”, “dépôts ventes” and “antiquaires” though I think we might have to give the last one a miss because of the high prices. A “brocante”, Relationnel tells me, is always out of town and everything is just piled higgledy-piggedly and you have to really root around. The “dépôt vente” is a place to which you take something you want to sell i.e. you “deposit” it, and the seller takes a commission. The prices are usually very reasonable, particularly for large items of furniture that are too big for most apartments and houses. We went to one in Nogent sur Marne last weekend and saw lots of things that would be great for the new house, once they’ve been spruced up a little, but we don’t have anywhere to store them. Antique shops, on the other hand, particularly in Normandy where we’re staying until Christmas, are more upmarket.
At the moment, we’re looking for plaques de cheminée (firebacks), chenêts (fire dogs, isn’t that a neat name?) and other sundry utensils for the four fireplaces in our new house in Blois, only three of which we’ll be using. The other’s in the bedroom, which would be a bit messy because of the carpet. We all ready have one set of utensils that we have bought over the years to take with us in winter when we rent houses with fireplaces because they aren’t usually properly equipped. It seems that people get off with the pokers and tongs and break the belows. So we have our own pair of bellows, a shovel, brush, poker, large rake affair and a meat grill. We also have a chestnut pan (with holes in the bottom).
The only problem with this type of activity in winter is that the places are never heated. I was positively frozen through after the third one. So we’ve decided to change tactics. There is a website called “Le Bon Coin” (The Right Corner) that Relationnel has been checking out. It even has an iPhone app! So we looked up plaque de cheminée and came up with a long list. We ruled out the ones that said “à débattre” which I always thought meant the seller was ready to knock the price down but it seems that it actually means they sell to the highest taker. We finally narrowed our choice down to three. The first was already sold, the second wasn’t answering so we left a message and the third said someone else had already contacted him and it would be “first in first served”. He was 50 minutes away, on the other side of Rouen.
We put the firescreen in front of the fire, put our shoes and coats on and arrived on his doorstep 50 minutes later. The other buyer didn’t have a chance. Relationnel told me he had spoken to a “couple in their thirties”, but the man who opened the door was a spry 70! He took us down to a lean-to at the bottom of the garden and there was the fireback, a pair of firedogs, a log-holder (no doubt there’s a real name in English) and a firescreen. It seems they used to have a fireplace but something happened to it and they got a wood stove instead. He bought the fireback in 1976 from a foundry in Cousances that dates back to 1553 and uses traditional designs. We actually have a “certificate of authenticity” and our fireback is numbered!