16 April 2014

The Correct Thing To Say During A French Brawl

This is a Steiff (German) pussycat,
with my usual trusty Photographer's
Assistant - Mischka - to show
relative size. 
Here’s my expert advice: don’t listen to expert advice. Experts don’t think like normal people. Experts don’t consider value for money. Experts don’t care about anything except demonstrating just how damn expert they are.

But following expert advice, we headed off to explore the Route de Broc, a stretch of road in the Perche region of France that is famous for having a large number of brocantes in a 10km stretch. Ha! What a load of old crock. The expert advice was from a magazine, but we’ve all read those You Should Totally Go There travel articles, right? When they are written up so enthusiastically and you’re in a position to have a look for yourself, why not?

My theory is that many people who write these articles don’t think anyone will check their facts. And where is the rule that says everything said must be unrelentingly positive? What’s wrong with sharing a bit of real insider knowledge about the good and the bad?

Steiff bunny, also brought
back in our luggage. 
So allow me to share some real insider knowledge: it’s true that the Route de Broc has quite a few brocantes. And some of them have really quite nice things. But here’s the rub - you can only shop there, as opposed to looking and backing away carefully, if you’re rich. Really rich. Really rich, and too stupid to care that you’re being ripped off. 

The only really memorable thing about the Route de Broc was a dealer who was drop dead gorgeous, with startlingly blue eyes, a beautiful smile, and naturally a seductive French accent. Doug was immune to his charms and didn’t even notice those blue, blue eyes, but what does Doug know? This young man is worth traversing the Route de Broc for, all by himself. But as for his stuff, and indeed all the stuff in this area – forget it unless you have an enormous wallet, enormously full.

Yes we did well sourcing Steiff toys.
This is a very cute fox.
But okay, it’s nice drive through a lovely region, I met a beautiful Frenchman, and we still made it into Paris at a good enough hour that the Peripherique ring-road around the city wasn’t the nightmare drive it can so often be.

On Saturday morning we hit the Porte de Vanves market, and that was great fun. Take my expert advice: this is the best antiques and vintage market in all of Paris. It is gradually being discovered by tourists, and that means the prices are creeping up, but it’s still possible to find great bargains and shop until you fall down dead. And that’s exactly what I did. Honestly – expert’s honour - I literally fell down dead.

Aw, inne cute?  This sleepy donkey is the last
of the Steiff toys we brought back with us.
Steiff is one of the most famous soft toy
brands in the world, very collectable for good
reason - it's great quality.
Or was I just catatonic? It is exhausting doing all that shopping. Retail is only Therapy when you don’t do it for a job. Otherwise, buying vast amounts of things in a very short period is enjoyable but tiring. Yeah, yeah, I hear your very tiny violins.

Doug is turning downright French in his attitude to many things. He assiduously hunted down every single Art Deco La Vie Parisienne booby-girl picture in the entire market (many of which I purchased). Then, when I pointed out a very stylish but uncomfortable looking bistro table and chairs he airily informed me It’s not how it feels, it’s how it looks. So French.

Not a booby-girl, but a great
cover from La Vie Parisienne,
the main magazine I look for.
So now we have the best ever French enamelware, unusual copper pots and pans, a great haul of vintage French magazine images and covers, and a wide selection of interesting kitchenware. These are among the things that have been selling best at our market stand, especially the vintage French kitchenware that you don’t normally see in Australia. We’ve sold out of a number of items, which was the whole reason for this emergency buying trip, so we felt great at being able to restock so comprehensively.

But in addition to the fabulous shopping, Porte de Vanves market laid on more drama than usual and we almost found ourselves in the middle of a public brawl.

We're keeping it demure this week.
This is an original La Vie Parisienne
cover of an angel, entitled
Miss Victory - it's a well known fact 
that the French won WWII.
There are a number of soccer grounds that run parallel with the main street that hosts the markets, and on Saturday mornings some of the minor league Parisian teams take to the field. Someone took a shot at goal, and it was abysmal. Massively off-target. Hugely wide. So the ball sailed over the safety net designed to snag wayward balls, to land in the middle of an antiques stand full of really, really, REALLY expensive glass.

All hell broke loose. A great deal of shouting and arm waving went on, and while everything being said was being said far too quickly for me to exactly follow, sometimes passion and tone are all you need to get the gist of something.

But here’s something I didn’t expect: all the French shoppers around me literally said Oh la, la! I thought that was a French cliché, but apparently it’s just the thing to say in awkward situations. I shall remember that next time I’m in the middle of a French brawl.

This is a fiberglass tray advertising
a winter circus in Paris.  Staying
at my house, I'm afraid.
The problem wasn’t just that the dealer and all around him were outraged by the breakage of a horrendously expensive piece of glass. The problem was that he confiscated the offending soccer team’s ball, and locked it in his truck. Note to self, offending soccer team – don’t bring just one ball to the game next time! They couldn’t care less about the damage to the antique dealer’s stock, but they were apoplectic that their ball was being held for ransom.

The entire home team turned up to demand the ball’s return, and they were big boys – the goal keeper was well over 6’6”of rippling muscle (I couldn’t help but note), and his wasn’t the only imposing figure. Made a girl wonder why she doesn’t watch more soccer …. But anyway, the surrounding dealers rallied to the victim’s cause, and although they were a lot shorter they had the benefit of Extreme Outrage on their side. 

Something was lost in translation here
cause I'm pretty sure these are not roses.
You Break It, You Own It is a maxim that holds true in shops around the world, and that includes horribly expensive French glass stands in the Porte de Vanves market. Shoves were exchanged, shouting in each other’s faces seemed to be the only means of communication, and it’s amazing that even more glass didn’t hit the deck with all that arm waving going on.

The Gendarmerie turned up in about three minutes flat and separated the warring sides. Statements were taken, mostly still at high volume and mostly still incomprehensible to me. I must take some French lessons when we get home, because I’m sure there were some handy words I could have picked up if only I could have understood the rest of the sentences. But agitated Frenchmen talk very, very fast, it turns out.

Didn't like the chair, couldn't
afford the mirror.
So how did it end? The team got its ball back, that’s all I can reliably report. The dealer and the team captain each provided Statements to the Police, and the fairest result would have been that the team paid for the damage. Don’t you think? If I had accidentally bumped the dealer’s stand and broken something I would have been responsible for paying for it, so why not accidental damage from a hurtling soccer ball?

So drama over, the enormous crowd that had gathered to watch (and join in) dissipated and we continued shopping. We were so weighed down with goodies we could barely stagger back to the van, which was then filled to the brim. On our way back into the UK both French and English Customs wanted to search the vehicle to make sure we weren’t people smugglers, but they only got as far as opening the bulging door of the van before giving up on that idea.

Trying a trick but coming a cropper at the
scooter park in Dieppe.  Hardly anyone wears
protection, despite some spectacular crashes.
So after a big morning in Paris, we made our way back to Dieppe for the ferry crossing to the UK. We spent a lovely afternoon, including another taste of delicious Moules a la Crème, an extremely long promenade along the beachfront, sorbet, watching the scooter boys, and unexpectedly finding a good brocante with unexpectedly good prices, so we managed some last minute French shopping.
Saying goodbye to Dieppe on the ferry at dusk, at the end of some successful buying in France.

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