Le Vide Grenier
After yet another evening on the cobbled streets and dance floors of Paris, I wearily made my way up the steep rue Ménilmontant … Turning slowly into le rue des Pyrénées and to my great surprise I found groups of people assembling tables and chairs, shouting instructions and emptying their camionnettes. A scene of frantic activity with groups tussling for the most converted spots, cries in French stretching out along the street. I was intrigued. Still in buoyant mood and with my improving French I approached the men and women, boys and girls to make some enquiries about this peculiar activity.
What seemed like barely five minutes later and with the sun breaking through my blinds I lifted my tired head and walked across to the window. Completely oblivious to my questioning only a few hours earlier I opened the window and was met with a street full of colour, bargaining and life!
In Britain we have the traditional and much loved car boot sale while the Americans have their garage sales. The French equivalent is called ‘le vide grenier’ which roughly translates as to empty your loft/attic. The French version though is a much more clement and joyous affair compared to a damp and misty English morning on the outskirts of town, drinking tea out of plastic cups, selling royal commemorative plates and wearing green wellies. In France, flags are draped from pillar to post, French chansons come roaring from the speakers, gangs of musicians playing for the masses, an array of meats are tossed and turned and the terraces are thronging with activity. All this while enjoying blue skies and glorious sunshine.
At the same time as writing this article I was also in the swing of preparing for my first vide grenier as a vendeur. To celebrate the arrival of spring on my street, the aforementioned rue des Pyrénées welcomed locals and tourists alike to rummage through its things in search of treasure and old relics. The procedure of applying for a permit as with many things in France is quite a complicated affair. The first stage involves a visit to the local Mairie and joining the queue of people desperate to empty their lofts and attics of clutter. Then, once at the front the registration process begins which naturally involves numerous forms to complete. Once accepted a tense wait follows before the grand finale, a lottery to decide whether you have a prime spot next to the metro or a less attractive endroit at the end of the street where no one ever ventures.
The days leading up to the event brought with it the task of sifting through piles and racks of clothes, deciding which ones to keep, which to flog and at what price. This was a meticulous and arduous operation involving trips down to the cave fighting through the dust, carrying boxes upstairs before a decision on their contents were made. With the weekend fast approaching if I’m honest I was beginning to feel a little tense. I had a nightmare scenario playing constantly in my mind of being left to fend for myself during the peaks time and having a street full of hungry French men and women asking me a reel of questions about dress measurements, shoe sizes, recipes, ingredients, ages and dates!
When it finally arrived, the day was long but extremely enjoyable with funny exchanges, bargaining and banter. Being a Sunday in Paris and despite the enormous crowds that had flocked to the area the atmosphere was very relaxed with everyone in high spirits.
Bref, in spite of the tedious registration process and the building anxiety, this quintessentially French tradition forms a large part of why I’m here in France. The charm, flair and uniqueness were there in abundance.Image credits: Mark E Hill