Born to Shop: Any Fleas Today, Lady?
by Suzy Gershman
It's hard to find a shopper, or much of any traveler to France, who doesn't like flea markets.
But here I am to say, whooooaaaaa — there's better bargains to be had in France. I have become spoiled by vide greniers and Emmahus. To me, many flea markets, especially The Big Flea in Paris, are too touristy and too expensive.
It's Springtime now in the South of France, and so the season begins. There are, of course, indoor events during winter…and many Paris flea markets continue their cycle throughout the year. But here, in the South, the vide greniers have just begun. We have mimosa. We have forsythia. We have lift-off.
Vide grenier ("empty attic") is a tag sale. But individual tag sales are not allowed in France. Instead, the village has a one-day one-off event, usually just once a year, and every person in the village can buy a space for 10 euros (or less) and get rid of 'junk'. One man's junk is my treasure, you know.
Actually, most of my homes have resembled flea markets when I was finished 'decorating' them …and my fondness for the U.S. chain of stores Anthropologie is based on their ability to re-create my own home within their stores. Beyond my urge to own everything I see, there are deeper social implications.
At the three vide grenier I went to this weekend, I noticed an inordinate number of plastic water bottle/statues from Lourdes. I suddenly realized that the vide grenier is the last step in the cycle of life. Get sick. Go to Lourdes. Die anyway. Family dumps stuff at vide grenier. And the world turns.
The best things to buy are baby items, as they are never worn out. I am not buying much of anything now, because I am about to move house and leave France, but I look nonetheless. Hey, you never know.
I admit to being mesmerized by the small selection of naked plastic doll-babies available at one family stand. Two of the three dolls had penises. I know it's been a long time since I've seen a doll, but I didn't know that anatomically correct dolls were so easy to come by that they are selling for a few euros each in the outskirts of Roaix.
More importantly, I made yet another discovery (aside from the Big Picture and the Small Penis) — vide greniers are enormously less expensive than flea markets… but Emmahus is less again by as much as half the price.
Everything including the kitchen sink. Photo by Suzy Gershman.
Emmahus is the French equivalent of Goodwill. It was begun by Pere Pierre, who took in homeless men, housed them, fed them and put them to work either repairing or selling donations. The donation sorters are now so sophisticated that they use eBay and the Internet to price each item.
Still, feve sized santons (for the galette du roi at Epiphany) at a vide grenier cost one euros for five. And no Baby Jesus. At Emmahus, they were ten for one euro. (Still no Jesus.) A wooden high-chair, maybe from the early sixties, was 20 euros at Emmahus, 40 euros at one vide grenier and 60 euros at another. Go figure.
The Emmahus that I have been using for many years is near Orange, about 20 minutes from my house. There are branches all over France, even in Paris. I've checked out a few in Paris, but they were not good, and I've never seen another rural branch-store.
"My Emmahus" is a small village. It takes a village to make a bargain. It has one builing filled with books (in English and in French), casettes (10 for one euro), disques (vinyl) and graphic novels. There's another building for electronic equipement; another for kids' items, another for womenswear, two for furniture (large, gorgeous amoire, 1000 euros) and my favorite of all, Vintage and Bibleot –which are two different rooms in the same trailer.
'Vintage' is all old linens, vintage clothes, hats, fur coats, buttons and trim. 'Bibleot' is dishes and object d'art, including a complete African Section.
My best buy this past weekend came from the outdoor tables, where the true junk is piled higher and deeper (everything, including kitchen sink) — here I found something unique for my mid-sized collection of nains (gnomes) — a plastic gnome who requires batteries so he can sing. Now that's an important work of art.
Suzy Gershman has been known as The Born to Shop
Lady for over 25 years while traveling the world and reporting her
series of guidebooks, magazine articles and television spots.Read more Suzy at SuzyGershman.com.