treasure hunting in provence

How is it the French are able to make everything so chic? During my time in Provence, I quickly discovered a very important part of French culture. The vide grenier, which literally translates to ’emptying the attic.’

I’d only been in Provence a few weeks when I found myself in the backseat of my friend Marjolaine’s car, on my way to Robion with her and Juli. I was pregnant at the time and Marjolaine thought it would be a great way to find baby clothes for next to nothing. She explained the history behind the French flea market on the windy drive past the cliffs and hilltop villages that make up the Luberon Valley of Provence.

Marjolaine explained that each village is different, some are more bourgeiouse, and try to make a profit, and she hates that because that’s not what it’s supposed to be about. It’s supposed to be about just covering the cost, getting rid of things that someone else may be able to use. Before tourism hit Provence, it was historically a poor farming area of France, which is part of why such a strong culture of passing items on to someone in need became an organized Sunday event. The vide greniers still always happen on Sundays, and it’s listed in the paper which villages are upcoming. Locals and tourists alike look forward to vide grenier season all year. British come down in their vans and load up on interesting and beautiful treasures.

When we finally arrive in Robion, it’s busier than I’d expected, the streets packed with parked cars and pedestrians. I don’t know if it’s her Dutch nature, but I love Marjolaine’s audacity, and am not surprised when she decides to park in a spot that may or may not be someone’s driveway. Juli and I are worried she’ll get towed but she thinks we’re being ridiculous and worry too much. Then she fearlessly leads us on foot into the heart of the crowd, where tables and blankets with trinkets of all kinds are set up down a long cobblestone street leading to the main place, or square.

We wander up and down the street, I use my best French to understand prices and end up buying a bag full of very sweet little French baby girl sleepers and onesies. Marjolaine was right about things being very cheap, I pay about five Euros for the entire bag, some of them are barely worn. There are trinkets that we could consider priceless antiques in North America, priced for so cheap. I’ve never been a fan of garage sales or second hand shopping, but as I shop the tables of European antiques and random items, I find myself dreaming of filling a van like the British do. Or outfitting a European beach house… But for now, I was content just to get to experience it, as I carried around my bag of stylish little French baby clothes.

When we returned to Marjolaine’s car to find she was right, it hadn’t been touched, ticketed or towed. And so, the day taught me two lessons. To be more like the French and let go of items I’m not using, one person’s junk is another’s treasure… And be more like my Dutch friend, Marjolaine, and stop worrying so much.

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