Quirks of French life: A Vide Grenier

Wheat and baler France

Rural France in the summer is quite a wonderful place to be. Villages explode like fireworks into frantic festivities. There are day markets and night markets. If something can be celebrated, it will be, with vigour and vim. And despite France being the most visited destination in the world for tourists, its size means it isn’t hard to find the quieter spots.

One French tradition that is not to be missed is the Vide Grenier, which translates literally as “Empty Loft”. The idea is that folks go up into their lofts, find all the crap – I mean, valuable treasures – and take it to a specific location at a specific time, and try to sell it to unsuspecting passers by.

It’s basically a flea market where you get to see what all your neighbours have been hoarding for countless years.

Vide Grenier France table

In the UK there are of course similar events, although they are referred to as car boot sales, and they sound like rather dodgy affairs if you ask me. A bunch of people staring into a strangers boot (that’s trunk if you’re American), and umming and ahhing over the price of three cassette recordings and a bent whistle.

Diesel field marshal tractor field hay

The French, naturally, hold such events in the style of a large street party. Probably because there is less chance of rain. As well as tables full of exciting objects for sale, there is likely to be music, food, and some kind of entertainment.

We’ve attended a few of these in the last few weeks, with the most recent being at our neighbouring village. This is what that is like.

The day usually starts off alarmingly early – although not quite as early as the flea market we attended in Germany. It’s important to get a good spot to maximise passing trade, and ideally find a shady spot.

Unfortunately, we failed spectacularly at both of these, although the loan of a neighbours sombrero from their incredible hoarded hat collection solved the sun problem at least.

Laurence black and white close up

Luckily, despite our position not being entirely ideal, the market was very small, and offered countless diversions to keep our minds off the fact that our extensive collection of dusty bags wasn’t selling.

There was, for example, a bread making display. This involved a traditional wood fired oven, a baker with floury hands, and a large, hand powered bread mixer. And the bread, when it appeared hot out of this oven, with smoky overtones, was, well, quite frankly divine.

Traditional French bread baker

The main attraction though was the traditional straw making display, using a host of old farm machinery. I say old farm machinery. My knowledge of this kind of thing isn’t exactly top notch, but as it seemed to involve long belts, machines that appeared to be at least fifty years old, and men with pitchforks, I am guessing it wasn’t exactly cutting edge technology. Which brings me to the nub of today’s post. Some pictures of topless men throwing around bits of straw. Enjoy!

Red tractor and man with wheat on pitchfork

The grassy straw started out on this trailer pulled by a venerable tractor, and scooped up by a man with clear experience of pitchforks.

Man throwing wheat with pitchfork

Then it was deposited onto a conveyor belt which took it up to the top of a complicated belt powered machine…

Wheat up the slope

Where some other people peered at it before feeding it into a cavernous mouth.

Feeding the thresher

This performed all kinds of complicated tasks, with one end disgorging the heads of the wheat (I think it was wheat, I’m no expert) and…

Stalks coming out of thresher

…the other end of the machine disgorging headless stalks. I think this might be called the chaff. It then goes into the red machine and comes out as…

Bale emerging from baling machine

…vaguely shaped lumps! Hurrah!

Traditional French agricultural scene

If you are travelling in France, I can very much recommend you take the time to try and get to a local village fair, or vide grenier, or, as is often the case, something which is a happy combination of the two.

It’s a fascinating slice of French life, and you might even find yourself grabbing a worthless piece of tat as a souvenir that you can put in your very own loft space for future generations to discover. Not a bad way to spend a day, all in all.

Wheat head 2-001




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