Argenton l'Eglise

March 13th 2016, in the main square. On the left, a classic selection of stuff the owner doesn't want; on the right, a stall selling cheap jewellery (he left early); in the background, a children's roundabout. In the foreground, a pedestrian crossing.

Hallelujah! The new season has started. Strictly speaking, there are vide-greniers all year 'round, but winter is the lean season because few people want to be out buying and selling in the cold and rain. Also, if you have to drive too far, it can slip from pleasure to penance. Our working definition of a “nearby” vide-grenier is 30 km. By a happy coincidence, Argenton l'Eglise is exactly 30 km away and although March 13th was cold (about 12C, low 50sF) it was also bright and sunny. A fleece over normal warm indoor clothes was (just) enough: a hat and gloves were useful too.

The billboard promises many things including roof (toiture) cleaning (nettoyage), moss removal (démoussage) and water repellent paint (peinture hydrofuge). Not everything at a vide-grenier is frivolous.

Because it was so early in the season, and had so little competition, it attracted disproportionately many side-shows, and a wide range of vendors. The side-shows included a shooting gallery, dodgem cars, those mechanical claw things where you try to grab a prize via a somewhat jerky remote control, and a completely inexplicable game where children fish floating balls (plastic ducks are more usual) out of a sort of oval, aquatic race track powered by a pump. As well as the usual vide-grenier stalls, there were people selling scarves, candy, knives, junk jewellery, roofing services and vegetables. For that matter, from one of the “usual” stalls we bought a dozen Barbary duck eggs for a euro. There were, I think, four buvettes (drinks stands) and a couple of fast food stalls (sandwiches and frites), apart from the crêpes, churros and waffles.

Do the egg-shell heads help to sell the scarves, or put people off? I think they put me off but I'm not sure.

The customers looked poorer than usual: shabbier, more pinched. Maybe I did too. It may have been the weather: no-one looks at their best when they are cold. Or it may have been that many of the well-to-do who visit vide-greniers just for fun, rather than as their sole foray into consumerism, couldn't be bothered to come out. For that matter it was Lent. There were however surprisingly many young women wearing hot pants or very short skirts, and there were a lot of piercings about.

The blasphemous phrase “Christ on a bike” is heard lamentably often but at a vide-grenier He can at least find spare parts for His moped. If God is omnipresent, He must have a moped as well.

We spent just over 1o euros on general stuff plus 5 euros on vegetables and the euro on the eggs. Frances bought a coffee too but that was about the same price as at the café-bar at home so it doesn't really count. The “general stuff” included a couple of vintage light-alloy film canisters; the same again on a shoe horn (only because it came wi' an 'orse's 'ead 'andle, like the one on Albert's stick in The Lion and Albert, the finest that Woolworths could sell); and the same sum again on a little wire-mesh dome to keep flies off food in the kitchen.

The stick (or at least shoe-horn) wi' the 'orse's 'ead 'andle

Greater extravagances included half a dozen pairs of baby socks for a euro (Frances uses them to make sock dolls), another euro on a photography book about bygone countryside occupations; and two Leffe beer glasses at a euro each again. A truly improbable purchase on my part was fifty matchbox-style containers, for making miniature photo galleries: I'll explain elsewhere in due course. They cost me two and a half euros.

Matching fluffy handcuffs in his'n'hers pink and blue; in with the other toys; and marked “For Adult Use Only”. A lucky child could win these at one of several games of chance and skill from the side-shows in the main square.

[Left] Store mannequin. Pliny reckoned that ex Africa semper aliquid novi: there is always something new from Africa. Vide greniers are somewhat the same. Furry handcuffs are (I would have thought) quite specialized; yet here they were, new. Equally puzzling was this shop mannequin. There is nothing unusual about their being sold minus arms and head, but having the nipples chiselled out is another matter. As so often, the question arises: who would buy it, and why? What is the price/demand curve?

[Below] Garlic: Last year's and this, from a vegetable stand at the vide-grenier. This year's was so fresh that it had only just begun to develop the usual papery covering. This is about as different as you can get from fluffy handcuffs and nipple-less shop mannequins.

A note on photography: All pictures were shot with a Nikon Df and 50/1.8 Nikkor. The ISO out of doors at the VG was 200. The garlic and the 'orse's 'ead 'andle were shot with a tripod and ISO 800. The older I get, the more I suspect that a single lens can cover 90% of all you need, especially if you can afford to crop a bit, as you usually can on the internet.

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Words and pictures copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2016