Setting up for the annual Brocante at Chateau Javersay about 15 miles from home.

Setting up for the annual Brocante at Chateau Javerzay about 15 miles from home.

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(To see a larger view of the photos, just left Click..)

If you take a look at our ‘About’ page you will find the we are a couple of ex-pats’ living here in France, and although we are officially retired, we have invented a second working life for ourselves by becoming ‘brocanteurs’ and internet shop-keepers. Now all during the ‘Brocante Season’ which is generally from early spring until late autumn, we are out ‘brocanting’ nearly every weekend.  While every brocante we visit is different, there are things they tend to have in common.  We’ve ‘mixed’ 3  different ones that we’ve recently visited in the Charente… which is our area of France… to give you some sense of the sights and flavors of a French Brocante in our part of France.

A typical 'Field Brocante' outside the village of Villefagnan

A typical ‘Field Brocante’ outside the village of Villefagnan

‘Brocanteurs’ arrive before dawn to set out their wares so that in the dark chill of the early morning there is a lively bustle on the site and expectant energy fills the air. I do admit to a rush of excitement at each new brocante at the prospect of the days’ Treasure Hunt.

Most often we arrive at a site late Saturday afternoon,  towing our caravan, before a Sunday event.  We do this if we are selling so that we can spend the night on the site. We have learned to have an early dinner and get to bed early too, because a brocanting day starts before dawn.

The sites for Brocantes vary but the most usual are in fields near large towns,  winding through the streets of quaint villages, or sometimes the site is special, on the grounds of a Chateau for example. Regardless of the site the ‘format’ tends to be pretty much the same. Each seller has an alloted space or stall for displaying his wares which vary according to how much space he needs and how ‘professional’ he is. Some sellers set up beautiful displays of fine objects much as if the stall were a minature antique shop. Others will offer a mish-mash of rusty junk mixed with broken china in old crates, or bits and pieces of who-knows-what simply piled on the ground. If one has patience and doesn’t mind dirty hands, digging through this stuff can occcasionally yield a wonderful  treasure!

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As well there are specialists who sell only old books or nothing but beautifully restored vintage tools or antique furniture.  At a good brocante, the variety of things for sale is remarkable really. Of course there are the ‘vide-grenier’ folk, sadly more and more of these non-professionals, who display barely used baby clothes and badly abused Barbie dolls along with out-of-date telephones, tired old clothes, kitschy knick-knacks, and generally useless household ‘stuff’.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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For years French brocanteurs were a particular breed of old-timers, often coming from a family with  generations of sellers, and they were ‘professional’. Brocanting was all they did. Now just about everyone has gotten in on the act, so that more and more, we see the kinds of things mentioned above…and less and less of the ‘good stuff.’ However, there are still Brocantes that are limited to professionals. I am proud to say that we can now count ourselves among these. We pay our dues for a Professional card and we abide by the rules…however poorly the rules are enforced.

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So a typical ‘brocanting day’ starts early…we are up by 6:00 at the latest. Fueled by lots of hot coffee and a croissant, we set up our stall, or rather Dermot does. I have learned to go ‘shopping’ very early as that’s the way to have first pick and if I’m lucky, get a bargain. By tradition, professionals give other professionals a better price so I try to get out there early with the hope of finding something really special at a bargain price before someone beats me  to it

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Around 9:00 or 10:00, depending on the weather, the public starts pouring in and if we are lucky and have a good stock of  stuff , our stand gets busy. Dermot enjoys the selling part more than I do, so all morning I come and go on forays into the rows and rows of stalls. Always I’ll spot something I didn’t see on the first round, so it is worth it to keep looking. Mainly I am searching for items for our French vintage shop on Etsy, although occasionally I spot a ‘keeper’…hopefully something we actually need!

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At mid-day, virtually on the stroke of 12:00 the crowd thins out because it’s time for lunch…and to be sure, the French take their mid-day meal very seriously. Usually we have stocked our cooler with a nice picnic…ham or roast chicken, some cold salads, a fresh baguette we’ve bought on site early that morning and a nice bottle of cold rose’.  Our lunch can be leisurely because with rare exceptions there are no shoppers from about noon until 1:30 or so.  Everybody is eating!  Always, at every Brocante,  there is a barbeque stand where sausages and such are available along with the inevitable ‘frites’.  Sometimes there is a special meal being served such as ‘Moules/frites’, and occasionally there’s something really, really special. If you happen on a brocante that is hosting a  ‘Mechoui’ you are in luck. This is a feast centered around spit-roasted herb-stuffed lamb. And if one is a meat-eater, a plate of this succulent and fragrant lamb served with delicious garlicky white beans is to-die-for!

( I am going to do another post soon devoted to ‘Brocante Cuisine’ as it is such a special and important part of the ‘brocante experience’. For example, I’ll show a Mechoui from start to finish.)

There is always a grill like this at every Bocante...always. So if you like greasy sausage, you're in luck!

There is always a grill like this at every Bocante…always. So if you like greasy sausage, you’re in luck!

Preparation for a Mechoui starts at dawn.

Preparation for a Mechoui starts at dawn.

After lunch things tend to be less busy for selling as the serious buyers generally arrive in the morning, but the site is filled with very young and very old French couples holding hands and families with young children for a day out. Also we will hear lots of English as the massive numbers of British settlers who have come to our part of France in the last 10 to 15 years all seem to love ‘brocanting’. All afternoon I continue my shopping and chat with the  acquaintances and friends we’ve made since we’ve been doing this, while Dermot mans our stand. But if it is hot and the brocante is small or uninteresting, I might just duck into the caravan for a nap!

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A 'Brocanteur' who didn't have a good day?

A ‘Brocanteur’ who didn’t have a good day?

At last, after a long and hopefully profitable, but generally very pleasant day, its time to pack up. We take down our awning, pack up our unsold things, count ‘the take’,  admire the day’s purchases yet again …and leave our site as we found it.

Then the long road home…

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