Friday, February 27, 2009


Sunday morning we went to the brocante in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Brocante translates directly as a flea market--but it's a flea market the way that a shop that sells last year's couture with the tags cut out is a second-hand store. And the Sunday brocante in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is the Platonic ideal of the type. Stands line the sidewalk between the village's main road and its canal for blocks, and when the road reaches the obligatory place and monument aux morts, the line of stands divides and multiplies, encircling the monument and place and then heading deeper into the village. Every stand is different, every dealer with his own specialty.

I've long been a denizen of antique markets and flea markets and antique flea markets in America, and have the odds and ends to prove it. The odd porcelain platter that matches my grandparents' wedding china. Small framed prints of a hot-air balloon in flight. A large rooster made out of old scrap iron. I love sorting through old stuff, the smell and feel of it, and, in America, I love the moment of connection when I find something that reminds me of a house I knew or a relative, or a novel.

In France, of course, I don't often have that moment of connection. What a French brocante lets me do, instead, is peek inside another world, another past. Kitchen tools whose function I cannot guess. Old boules, each with its own pattern of markings, so that the old man who used it would recognize it by feel even when the dusk had fallen so that all the boules looked alike. Sets of silver: to judge from most brocantes I've been to, there was a time in France when all households needed a set of silver or silver-plate fish forks and knives. And, also judging from the population of those fish services on brocante dealers' tables, that time has passed. Souvenir plates from Lourdes. Altar pieces and chipped statues of the saints. (Wouldn't a Saint Catherine look nice in the front yard beside my rusty rooster? I say to C. Are you kidding? he says, in a tone that makes it clear that he knows I'm not, and that he isn't, either.)

At Sunday's brocante, we parked in the first space we came to, put on all of our outer layers, and began the walk along the stalls. It was cold. Four degrees Celsius, 39 Fahrenheit, but the wind was blowing. The famous mistral that begins somewhere in Siberia and is going along at a pretty good clip by the time it gets to Provence, a wind that finds any chink in your clothing and seeps inside. We walked into it for a block or two and then, thinking to outsmart it and put it at our backs, we crossed the canal and walked in the opposite direction. It was still in our faces and blowing just as hard.

If it hadn't been for the wind, we could easily have furnished our imaginary mas in the Lubéron. Plates, cutlery, linens (linen linens, with lace edging), mirrors, chandeliers, candlesticks, kitchen scales, glassware (crystal, everyday, and several complete sets of pastis glasses marked with brand names), rugs, sofas, chairs, tables, garden furniture: a whole life, ready to be loaded up on a truck and carted off down a windy road to a stone farmhouse, where we would tend our vines and sit under the beech tree in the courtyard eating cherries from our trees, salad from our garden, bread from the village baker, and fresh chèvre from the farm down the lane.

But there was wind, and it was cold, and time for lunch. We bought a tiny set of silver tongs--E and G chose the ones with the more moderne design instead of the fancy claw-shaped ones--and went to find a café.


  1. I saw this quote on another blog and thought it provided a great backdrop to the brocante:

    Pat Schneider

    It is a kind of love, is it not?
    How the cup holds the tea,
    How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
    How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
    Or toes. How soles of feet know
    Where they’re supposed to be.
    I’ve been thinking about the patience
    Of ordinary things, how clothes
    Wait respectfully in closets
    And soap dries quietly in the dish,
    And towels drink the wet
    From the skin of the back.
    And the lovely repetition of stairs.
    And what is more generous than a window?

  2. Hi, Just a note to say that I just found you on ex-pats and am really enjoying your blogs. Keep up the nice work!

  3. Bonjour, Mme Marron. I tried to post a comment earlier, but it doesn't look like it went through. Anyway, I just wanted to say that I just discovered your blog and am really enjoying it. Keep up the good work.