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A nice haul!

From time to time, not that often it has to be said, we manage to get out to visit the odd vide grenier. This year, I think we managed around half a dozen. Some are very low key things, maybe a half dozen or so stalls in the smallest of hamlets, and usually held in aid of some village charity or other. Others are huge, with well over 250 stands. The stuff available is simply awesome, and if I had an unlimited supply of euro in my pocket, I’d need acres of warehousing space just to store my hoard!

Granted, some of it (well, most of it) is ‘tat’, the same as in the UK, but here in rural France it’s quite often a chance to pick up some pretty old farming tools, or objects of interest. I got a ‘pelle’, or bakers shovel, from the one in Mouliherne last year. I’d just finished building my bread oven, and friends of ours had this thing on their stand. It’s pretty big, and very old. It’s wooden and worm-eaten, but it’s a part of the history of our village, coming as it did from what used to be the village boulangerie. I just had to have it, despite the stares of the crowds, parting to let me through! If I’d have turned either left or right, with the pelle over my shoulder, it’d have been like a scene from the Eric Sykes (genius) film ‘The Plank’. Remember that one? The look on the gendarme’s face was a picture as we drove through the barriers and away from the village, the pelle sticking out of the window by a good three feet!

This year, with fantastic weather again, the turnout for the annual Fete de Pommes and the traditional vide grenier on the Sunday morning was incredible! Year on year, we meet more and more people that we know down there, and this place becomes less of a foreign country, and more like our home.

We carried home a couple of carrier bags of ‘stuff’ for our ‘collection’. The same as we had a few weeks previously at the vide grenier at Vernoil. There though, we spotted a really lovely old cherry wood (I think) framed mirroir outside one of the local bars, also participating with a stand. It was a reasonable price for something so old and ornate so we bought it. We’ve wanted a nice mirror for our hallway upstairs for some time, and I’ve been tempted once or twice by these new reproduction types. This one though, is lovely and looks fantastic hanging on the wall, the deep rich wooden frame contrasting nicely with the cream painted walls.

Mirroir

There’s some lovely detail carved into the wood, both along the top and on each corner. It’s a real pleasure to look at.

Carving detail

A coffee set for €5, a lovely pair of framed watercolours for €2. We bought an old lamp for €18. It sits in the barn on summer evenings, giving off a lovely glow from the candle inside the glass. It’s an old railway lantern. The type that used to be swung from side to side by the guard on the train, then mounted on the rear carriage. It’s a really lovely thing. We’ve bought allsorts. Bottle openers, old keys, newspapers a hundred years old – bits of old France, forgotten and dusty.

All in a morning's 'work'!

A particular favourite from a vide grenier a few weeks ago is a beautiful crock pot, in red with some lovely paintwork – €5! It sits in the baby gite now, as it matches the new tiles in the kitchen almost perfectly. It’s not for use, just a lovely piece of decoration for the gite. It looks stunning with things like pinecones and conkers in it, for autumn lets. In winter it’ll be decorated with other, christmassy stuff.

Last week, we bought an old chopping block. It’s mounted on three legs, tripod fashion, and is fashioned from ‘orme’, a tree that’s all but disappeared from Europe nowadays. Once upon a time though, in old France, these things lined the boundaries of many a farm. But, due to their slow-growing nature and usefulness, they soon became rare. The wood’s very hard, comparable to oak. So lots of these trees would have been used as firewood during the harsh winters.

This one  came from a farm not too far from here and was used as a chopping block to slaughter chickens! Despite its macabre past, it’ll look fantastic sanded back to the grain, and treated with oil. Again, it’s a piece of local history that fascinated me enough to part with a few €. These things invariably provide talking points for our guests.

We just love meandering through these events, mixing in with the locals, occasionally meeting friends, shaking hands, exchanging kisses and news. Often just soaking up the atmosphere of a sunny morning in a quiet village brought to life for a day by the colourful sights and sounds of a vide grenier in action. There’s a book you can buy from the ‘presse’ (newsagents) that details where and when these events occur throughout the year, and it’s great to be able to plan a day out in the area, hunting down a bargain or two!

One of the things about France though, is their love of beaurocracy. It seeps into almost every aspect of life here, and vide greniers are no exception. There’s talk that people who do these on a regular basis will perhaps soon have to be ‘registered’, like a business. One of the reasons is to try and stop some unscrupulous ‘dealers’ that make their living from buying up cheap stuff from rural vide greniers, only to be found passing the stuff off later at another event for quite a profit. I’m unsure how far down the road this is to becoming ‘law’, but it’s interesting to see that even in this most ‘French’ of pursuits, there are rumblings of legislation.

We need a bigger house!

It’ll be a real shame to introduce stifling legislation to the vide grenier, as there’s nothing finer than the warm pleasure of finding a real bargain, unearthed from all the tat, that suits perfectly the purpose you have in mind for it! I just wish I had more money, and more time to seek out these ‘bargains’.

 

Until the next time, au revoir!

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2009

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Last weekend was one of the high points of the village social calendar. The annual Apple Fair! The event’s held each third weekend of October. On the Saturday, there’s the official opening by the Maire. There’s a band, lots of stalls and the inevitable fairground rides. The bars are full, the villagers all get behind the event and make it a popular attraction for quite a few miles around, judging by the amount of ‘out-of-department-cars’ there are to be seen parked up in the fields and lanes! Sunday’s given over to a huge ‘vide grenier’ stretching up, down and around those parts of the village that aren’t already given over to other forms of stall-holding. It’s enormous! Again, all the villagers turn out in support, and there’s plenty of friendly banter and rivalry going on. There’s lots of laughter too, especially if the sun shines like it did last weekend! We parked up just on the outskirts of the village, the sunshine highlighting the glorious autumn colours in the trees. The village seemed to stretch away in front of us in tiers of golds and reds. It was simply beautiful. All around us were stalls of every description. Some hawking copper pots and pans, old clogs from the farms hereabouts and just about every type of farming implement you can imagine! There were bargains galore to be had, if only we had the money! Intermingled with the villagers’ stalls were the ‘Comité des fetes’ stalls selling freshly cooked ‘beignets de pommes’, or apple fritters! The smell was overpowering! Gorgeous juicy apples, peeled and sliced in front of us, then dunked in hot oil before being rescued, packed tightly into plastic ‘barquettes’ and smothered in sugar….I’d have inserted a photo at this point, but they were just too tasty! You’ll have to see for yourself next year! But, here’s a couple of the preparation, and the lines of folks all waiting patiently for their turn!


Anyway, we meandered (did a bit of nodding too…) around the stalls, picking up the odd (very odd) bargain here and there. It’s felt like home to us here for a long time, and now that the language is coming together for us, it’s even nicer to wander around a fete like this and feel a part of it. Neighbours were stopping us in the street, M. le Maire nodded bonjour, and shook our hands. Gilles was on his stall in the Place de la Mairie selling beer and wine. Raising his hand above the crowds, he waved to us! On a sunny day in France, slowly taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a local fete like this one is pure magic! There’s simply nowhere else we’d rather be right now. We partook of the autumnal tradition in these parts too…a couple of glasses of ‘bernache’ in Bernard’s bar in the centre of the village, before heading up to Alain’s for a couple more. Bernache is the must of the first pressings of the year’s grape harvest. It’s pretty much still fermenting, so slightly ‘sparkling’, and very, very cloudy. The old boys will judge how the years wine will turn out simply by sampling the bernache. It can be quite a potent brew too – the bottle we bought from Alain said 11%, so after a few glasses in the sunshine, it’s advised to take to walking around the rest of the stalls! So, onwards & upwards it was. Literally! Mouliherne’s a very old village, built on quite a few small hills, where once numerous mills stood once upon a time. Hence the name – ‘Moulin- herbe’, translated throughout the ages to simply Mouliherne.

Because we’re in a predominantly apple-growing area, we get to sample the delights of freshly pressed apple juice quite often. In the Place de la Mairie, there was an ancient ‘pressoir’ in service now just as it’s been for the past hundred years or so. This one’s unusual in that it’s square shaped, instead of the more traditional (and practical for cleaning purposes) round shape. The workings were explained to us by the owner, a local farmer who’s had this thing in his family for at least three generations he told us. It’s a work of art, a lovely piece of farming machinery. Indeed, we wondered whether health & safety back in the UK would preclude the use of such a thing at a public fete such as this. Yet, the ever pragmatic French were pressing their apples, collecting the juice in the large bucket, and selling it by the glass to delighted fete-goers such as us. It was quite simply superb! There are things like this to be found for sale from time to time. You see them in barns, left to rot down to powder and rust and it’s just such a shame. If the ‘powers that be’ in the UK spent more time turning a blind eye, and less time tightening the laws so that people can’t see anything like this other than a static display in a museum, then the world would be a much better place! Along the main street, rue Touraine, and up towards the stade, or football stadium (almost every French commune has one), there was something there that again delighted both the child in me (memories of standing on railway bridges while steam trains thundered below) and the pyromaniac brought out by my bread oven fetish! It was an old 1947 wood-fired oven that actually roasted peanuts for you! Again, an incredible piece of machinery, nestled tidily on a trailer, with artefacts from days gone by scattered around. It was lovely to see, and photograph.




Because the Sunday vide-grenier’s become more & more popular throughout the (almost) 40 years of the fete, there’s more & more stalls spreading further across the village! Even up by the old footpath from the main road and round by the wash house and down to the old centre of Mouliherne. I really should take some pictures and give you all a guided tour of our lovely ville some time soon!
It was up here, in the shadow of the enormous old oaks that we spotted something that we’ve been after for a while…there on the floor in front of a stall we recognised as being run by someone we’ve come to know recently, was a very old ‘pelle a pain’. A traditional boulanger’s tool for placing the dough in the ovens. This thing looked ancient! The handle was nothing more than a THREE metre long ‘stick’, a branch really! Ravaged by woodworm down through the years, and as smooth as silk to the touch. The history I felt while stroking this piece of wood was incredible. How many loaves? How many years of constant, daily use? How many people had this thing helped feed? I had to have it. I knew it’d be too big to fit into the mouth of my own rather insignificant oven, but still….It’d make a great talking point, hung over the ‘four a pain’ chez nous! So, without further ado, I offered €15 against the asking price of €20, and walked back to the car, scattering locals left and right as I attempted to re-create from days gone by, the boulanger’s stance while holding the pelle! People pointed, laughed, commented upon my purchase! A friend grabbed the handle as I was walking innocently along, holding the pelle vertically. I thought I’d snagged one of the overhead power lines, and looked heavenwards, expecting to see my pelle on fire! I realised what had happened, and followed the line of the handle back down to earth to see Yann grinning at me like a loon! He commented on what a fine looking ‘stick’ it was, and asked why I’d bought it, laughing. His face changed when I told him proudly that I’d built my own bread oven here at Le Chant! He changed tack immediately, and offered to come & taste anything we cooked! Yann used to be the coach of Niall’s football team when he was playing. He’s a bit of a character is Yann. He ran our local déchetterie too, which is the local recycling centre as well as municipal dump, whilst also being a paramedic and pompier! He bade us bon journée and went on his way, no doubt to sample bernache and beignets!

It wasn’t until we got back to the car that we realised the pelle wouldn’t fit in there…A small Rénault Mégane has only a limited amount of room for ancient boulangerie equipment! There was much laughter from passers-by as Syb & I wrestled the pelle into the car for the short journey home. So, after a bit of a tussle, the ‘paddle’ end lay on the dashboard, while the handle stuck out of the rear window by a couple of feet! It’s a good job the gendarmes know us here! laughing at us as we passed through the exit barrier, they called out bon journée, and ‘good luck’!

Anyway, as you can see from the picture, it looks lovely alongside the wicker basket Syb bought to hold the fouée we’ll cook and serve to guests next season!

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2008

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