Can I take your picture?

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While driving on a highway, street, or road, the "brocante" sign is a sure way to get the brakes on the car screeching to a halt.

Vintage and antique browsing rocks my world.

While visiting a brocante in France, make sure it's outside of the city. Otherwise, the prices may possibly curl your toes. Also, I like to follow these little rules I've established in my head:

Rule number 1: If the owner seems off putting or brusque at first, don't take it personally.
Rule number 2: Don't be afraid to poke around. Inside may be hidden treasures that were found from the depths of attics kept for years by hoarding country folk.
Rule number 3 (and I'm sure you have this little rule yourself): Haggle if you have to. But don't be pushy, insistent or rude about it.

At this particular brocante, the first thing I noticed after walking over all that crunchy gravel in my summer sandals was that there was no one inside. And I mean nobody. I stood at the door for a second and threw a glance back over my shoulder. "Helloooo....tourist here....wanna look around...." I said quietly to myself. Still, nobody. A truck with its doors opened at the back revealed a bunch of old loot, so I figured that the owner had just come in from a pick up and was still unloading. Alright-y. As they say here, "faites comme chez vous." So I did. I wandered right inside and made myself at home.

As I walked around the dusty interior the very first thing that sprang into my head was, "Damn. Look at all this fab furniture. Wish were were driving a truck and not a teeny little Fiat." I peered inside several glass covered cabinets and found a huge selection of gems in every one; antique home decor, jewelry and clothing that would cost a real mint in the city. A few had hand-scrawled price tags attached to them and when I saw the prices I had to control myself to keep from tap dancing in excitement. Hello! Brocante heaven.

After I spied, hidden at the bottom shelf of locked cabinet nearly facing the wall at the back of the place, a gorgeous antique shirt with handmade lace collar and cuffs and pearly buttons I scrambled back to the door and looked for the owner. I wanted that shirt. And I wanted to know if he had more items like it. Right now. "Helloooooo!" I called out. From the house next to the shop appeared a man with no smile and all seriousness. But boy! The first thing that popped into my head was that he looked like a long lost relative. The physical resemblance was uncanny. (Later I discovered that he felt the same way when he saw me. But I digress.)

As I followed him to the back of the shop he turned his head and asked, out of the blue and rather brusquely, "Are you Vietnamese?" I smiled. "Er...no, I'm not. But I get asked that a lot." After he pulled out the shirt out for me and in response to my query if he had more items like it, he took me to another part of the shop and pulled out of drawers and trunks item after item of clothing, bedding, linens, accessories...he was like Felix the Cat pulling things out of his magic bag of tricks. I picked out some choice items and told him I'd take them. Adding them up, he knocked off a chunk from the total. I didn't even have to ask. I asked him if he had any buttons so I could add one to a nightgown I got, and he handed me two antique boxes - one metal and the other a cardboard box from a tailor - packed with buttons that had been snipped off of antique clothing. "Here. You can have both of these. Be sure to keep those boxes. They're really hard to find." Then he showed me a box of antique lace-edged bloomers. "I just picked these up from a house in the country. Look through it. You can have some." Dude! You're killing me here. Then he saw my son peering in a cabinet at some antique items and said, "You see something you like?" Then the man opened up the cabinet and my son picked out an antique rosary. "There, that's for you."

During a nice conversation that included anecdotes about the people who purchase his items, the tricks his wife uses to clean the items turned yellow from being kept in boxes for years in attics and a small peek at a closed part of the shop, the man revealed that he had asked if I was Vietnamese when he saw me because his mother was Vietnamese. (His father was a German who had joined the French Foreign Legion.) He also said that I resembled one of his daughters.

Before I left with my bags of antique treasures, I asked him if I could take his picture. And for that, he cracked a charming little smile.

April 25, 2011 |
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