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Bon weekend from a flea market in France

Array of copper pots, leather cases and ornaments at a flea market


I hope that you and yours are well It’s been a damp week here in the north of France and walking four dogs in the rain is a challenge – especially when two of them are only 15 weeks old and are little divas who want to do their own thing – Lady and Nina, that’s you. But we did have a dry Sunday, so I headed to a flea market in a little village nearby.

Flea markets are a way of life in France and nowhere more than in my region Hauts de France which holds the two biggest flea markets of the year – Lille Braderie, the first weekend of September (with up to 10,000 stalls, yes really), and Amiens Rederie (2000 stalls) on the first Sunday of October.

But most flea markets are much smaller, ranging from a handful of stalls to a few hundred. You see all sorts of things for sale – collections of used corks and beer bottle tops are common, (who buys these? And why?), ancient farm tools – very handy here in the farmyard of France, and I’ve never been to a flea market that didn’t have a Ricard jug, the ones everyone uses for putting water in to distil your pastis. The joy of a flea market is that you just never know what will turn up (apart from Ricard jugs). And besides, what is tat to one person may be treasure to another.

Take last week. I spotted a tapestry. It wasn’t an Aubusson or anything like that – if only! It was a home-made tapestry, and clearly someone had spent a lot of time needling the thread into images of a pastoral scene with rather haunted looking trees around a field of mustard-coloured something and a man swinging what looks like a baseball bat but is probably a scythe. I stood looking at it, wondering about the person who must have sat so patiently creating their masterpiece. Was it old? Pre-television? Did they sew by candlelight? My imagination was piqued. As always happens when someone stares at something, a small crowd gathered.

A young woman asked the stall holder how much the tapestry was. “20 euros” came the reply. The young woman “pffff’d” – French for too much, and walked away, the crowd disbursed. I asked the stall holder if she knew who created the tapestry. “Yes of course, it was my grandmother, I think it’s about 70 years old, she loved to make these thread pictures she called them, we have loads of them, this is the village of Embry of her memories.”

Well, who can resist a thread picture of the village down the road to where they live and the memories of an old lady? Not me.

And that’s the thing with flea markets – they aren’t just about finding treasure, they’re also an insight into the culture of France…

Meanwhile, I’m packing my bags to go exploring secret villages and castles in Alsace next week! Come with me via Instagram where I’ll post videos and photos as I go…

Read the whole newsletter and see this week’s top feature and recipe picks

Janine Marsh is Author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream,  My Four Seasons in France: A Year of the Good Life and Toujours la France: Living the Dream in Rural France all available as ebook, print & audio, on Amazon everywhere & all good bookshops online. Her new book How to be French – a celebration of the French lifestyle, is out in October 2023 – a look at the French way of life.

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