Thursday, 15 February 2018
Should you look inside one of my kitchen cupboards, you'd see a large range of drinking glasses - mostly recognisable as former jam, pickle or Vegemite pots. Open another door and a plastic bag, bulging at the seams, will not launch itself at you, as it has been solidly packed with flimsy supermarket shopping bags, ready for their second and subsequent uses, and wedged against the cupboard hinges. Look closely at my right summer sandal and you might detect the faint marks of the clamps and glue used to reattach the strap to the sole, and if you flick through family photos of a decade ago, you won't see those sandals, but you might see the jumper, jeans or dress that appear in my recent holiday snaps. I am not a hoarder (my children's memorabilia and my teaching books aside), so that's not the reason for such peculiarities. It is; however, one of the reasons that I adore everything about the French vide-grenier.
These joyous community events give pre-loved trash and treasure the opportunity to begin afresh, just like my array of glassware. Up and down village streets on vide-grenier day, I wander, intermittently aware of the friendly banter, good-spirited bargaining, occasional loud-speaker announcement or distant chimes from the cows and goats in the surrounding fields. The excitement does not leave me until I have perused, assessed and walked past each stall, picked up and cradled several items and made eye-contact and subsequent small talk with one or two stallholders, deserving of my attentiveness after a night of minimal sleep and maximum preparation to enable my colourful, visual tableaux.
Unsurprisingly, such events are not as frequent in winter. So, there is no alternative during these months, but to head further afield and discover more beautiful country routes and picturesque hamlets. Hardly a chore, this is exactly what we did recently and which led me right past the subject of today's blog - cheeseboards.
I hadn't paid much attention to the details of our destination. I didn't know the village, but knew that the drive through the Bauges would be possible, as the big dump of snow predicted for the week would not yet have impacted easy circulation. Usually, it is enough to note the name of the village, type it into our GPS and, when within a two-kilometre radius, follow the line of people walking from make-shift carparks to vide-grenier central. This time, we parked in front of the church...easily, which was not a reassuring sign, and, stretching from the drive, looked around. No crowds, no sounds, no tempting hot oil smells from the barquettes de frites.
Avoiding eye-contact with my own tribe,
"I might have got it wrong. Perhaps I misread the date, but let's go for a walk."
It took as long to get dressed - hats, scarves, gloves and jackets - as it did to check out the village. There was a sign on the school fence saying that a case of chickenpox had been confirmed at the école, but, whether directly related to this or not, there was no-one there.
My family are kind. They made no fuss, pretending that this crumbling wall on that ancient barn was an excellent reason for an hour-and-a-half in the car.
After fifteen minutes of sustained, deliberate looking, I turned to my husband,
"What if we were to actually look up the address?"
And, lo and behold, we were in the right village, on the right day, and nearly-the-right place, with fifteen minutes before the event was due to conclude.
We raced back to the car.
It looked promising from the road. With each newly sighted piece of bunting, van and trestle table, my spirits lifted.
Leaping out of the car, not bothering this time with careful dressing, I raced to the first stall, noting that there was a flurry of newspaper at the three alongside. Yikes, they were packing up and I had not even begun my slow browse.
A chipped Ricard jug caught my attention. I'm not opposed to chipped anything, but searching for the price, my eyes slid downwards to a circular piece of pock-marked wood.
"What do you think?"
"Get it", said my husband.
"Mmm, do you really think so?"
Interpreting my cautious decisiveness as a reluctance to pay the price, the stallholder offered me a five-euro reduction.
"Plus the jug?" I asked cheekily.
He nearly went for it, too, but outsmarted me by proffering another, even more battered than the first, and suggesting that I pay for just the more expensive and get the two.
"That's ok. Thanks anyway. Bonne journée, Monsieur."
Grinning happily, I thanked my son who, taking the board from me to carry it back to the car, allowed me to fit in a quick, unencumbered lap of the Méry event.
If you would like to read more stories from our family's French adventure, please don't hesitate to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org for a print copy of 'But you are in France, Madame' or click on the following link for a Kindle copy.