Monday, May 12, 2008

Sur le pont.........

Today is a bank holiday here in France. I had to have a little giggle at an article in The Times saying how France had responded to Sarkozy's call to work more by taking the day off. We've been on 'bank holiday' since last Thursday and it's starting to wear thin. It's been an average bank holiday according to French radio - only 13 people killed on the roads. The French have more bank holidays than any other country in Europe.

In France, if the Thursday is a bank holiday then they 'faire un pont' which literally means make a bridge and take off the Friday too. Then Monday is Victoire - VE Day to you and I - so it's another public holiday.

We are heading into the season of Vide Greniers (boot fairs) and Brocantes (antique fairs) so we merrily headed off to a nearby village to have a look at the usual piles of tat and frighten the stallholdres by trying to barter. They haven't quite got the idea of boot fairs yet. They charge huge prices and would rather take everything home than let you have it for a good price. I remember looking at an old 1920s paraffin heater last year. I was only interested in it for aesthetic reasons as plugging it in risked connecting yourself to the French national grid.

The local accent is nuuuuthing like we learned at school and despite my degree level French I am often reduced to a blithering idiot faced with the local patois. Anything that ends with an 'in' like pain, vin, demain is pronounced like a 'eng', so you have a glass of veng with your peng but that's not all. I is often pronounced 'e' and a final 'e' as an 'a'.

So, back to the paraffin heater, I asked how much it was. 'Seng euros' came the answer. Flaming nora! I'd found the original French bargain. 5 euros for this heater. I rummaged in my purse for a five euro note which I gaily thrust into his hand. 'Non, seng euros, seng euros' he continued. Daft man, doesn't he recognise his own currency? 'Oui, cinq euros' I answered pressing my 5 euro note into his hand. By now the vendor was getting quite flustered 'non, madame, seng euros'. Oh for god's sake man, that's why I'm giving you. 5 euros. What do you want? Francs? In desperation the poor man drew a number in the air. 100 euros. He wanted 100 euros for this crappy bit of belle epoque metal. He had to be joking. 'Vous rigolez, monsieur' I suggested but no, 100 euros was the price. He's probably still got it sitting in his barn ready to bring it out again for this year's one in the hope of netting some poor halfwitted foreigner who'd be prepared to pay his price.

So, I set off for today's Vide Grenier with not much in the way of hope of finding a bargain. The first problem is driving our enormous (and needless to say slightly battered) Grand Voyager through the ncredibly narrow streets. We managed it quite well this time and negotiated the centre of the village without hooking assorted hanging baskets on the wing mirrors and driving over people's feet and treasured possessions.

We wandered around in the welcome sunshine looking at the various stands and goods on offer. Hmm, life in France isn't that bad. Then DS piped up. 'Is it time to go yet', 'I'm hungry, can we have something to eat', 'I'm thirsty, I need a drink' and on and on and on and on until he wore me down and we stopped for a bit of liquid refreshment, he a coke, me a coffee - ever in the relentless search for a decent one. In France I find the coffee truly vile. People have suggested asking for an 'allonge' or 'une seule dose de cafe' but it's godawful stuff. Now, I'm prepared to concede that it's a difference in taste and to the French, my Starbucks latte would be like gnat's pee, but must it taste like something that's already been processed by the bladders of at least six cows? God I miss Starbucks! My nearest one is a mere 600 miles away in Paris.

Anyway, I digress, after a little 'pause-cafe' we carried on mooching round. I'm looking for a few specific things all of which I saw people walking off with, clutched under their arms. How do I always miss the good stuff.

Eventually I saw a pretty little pot cupboard, a bit ropy, the veneer lifting and very heavily watermarked on the top. It would be a bargain at 20 euros. The vendor obligingly removed all the stuff he'd piled on the top so I could have a better look. I enquired after the price, he contemplated for a few moments, no doubt noticing my accent so he could give the the 'prix anglais' (Price for the English) and said '300 euros'. It's just as well I wasn't drinking a take-away coffee or I'd have spat it out all down the front of his shirt. 300 euros! He really did have to be joking! I passed and moved on.

Sitting in the sun on one of the other stalls was a lovely old teddy. The man told me that he'd got wet overnight so he was drying him off in the sun. He could do me special price for the bear - a mere 100 euros. 'Well, you don't often find them in this condition' he told me. 'What, soaking wet?' I remarked as I walked away.

I did find a few little things - three very old iron hooks for hanging hurricane lamps for 12 euros and two lovely old embroidered pillow cases for 10 euros, so it wasn't a wasted day and there's always next weekend......

1 comment:


Ah yes! lots to identify with here! We go to the Port de Lanne brocante fair sometimes in August - it just gets more ridiculously expensive year on year. Even the Brocante in our little village has a)got more expensive recently and b)has less and less good stuff. I'm told they've started doing deals with dealers so the general public are left with the REAL tat! But I still love having a mooch round, just in case.

Re SW accent: like you, have degree level French but before I spent my 3rd year out in the South West (Lycee at St Gaudens, between Toulouse and Tarbes)I didn't have a clue what they were saying! Now, of course, I've grown to love it and wouldn't live in any other part of France. Not true. I would. Alps or Brittany spring to mind for a start! But I do particularly love the SW - left my heart and soul there in 1985!

Enjoy the hooks and pillows!