February 12: Empty your attics

My vide-grenier habit is becoming pretty regular now. This morning I bought a coat-stand for three euros, yet another piece of rustic-ish fabric for the chair I might never re-cover (1 euro), and a deco-style mirror tray (2 euros). I was pretty pleased with the coat-stand. We have two in London, neither of which would fit into the car on the way home after Christmas. The fabric – well, that would’ve been better at 50 centimes, and the tray… I’m a sucker for trays. How else could I bring Joel his coffee and madeleines in bed every morning? This one immediately found its way onto the kitchen sideboard (itself a depot-vente purchase) next to a 1962 ‘Caroline’ book (one of my favourites growing up) from a charity book sale in Antibes.

A vide-grenier is a car-boot or tag sale – the words mean literally empty attic. When Joel and I did our first car-boot sale in London, it was a freezing sunny February morning and we made £98 selling off stuff we had to get rid of before we started the renovation of our house. A couple of years later, we did another one. Joel couldn’t imagine what we had collected in the meantime to sell, but I could, and we made even more! I sold a fake-fur coat that had always made me look like a fat teddy bear (albeit a very warm one) to a tall older woman who looked like a model in it. She was so in love with it I let her have it for a bargainous £5, which I’m sure made her love it even more.

People sell everything, anything, at vide-greniers, as at they do at car-boot sales. Here, whenever there are stalls full of old tools and boxes of screws, they’re surrounded by older North African men. In London, rusty power tools and their accessories seem to attract swarthy Eastern Europeans. The baby clothes stalls are usually mobbed by young mums (doh!), and pretty much everyone is trying to get rid of glasses and cutlery. I see a notable amount of old typewriters and sewing machines – who needs either of them now, in 2012? I’d buy them all if I had acres of space, and I’d polish them up and put them on display shelves around a huge room. I never noticed so many in London – we’re too aware of what’s “collectable” there, so they were probably already over-priced on e-bay. There are such strange things, all out of place, all waiting for a home.

We’re not sure how long we’ll be in this apartment, so buying things specifically for it seems pointless. We already have a couple of things – a shelving unit from the French Ikea-wannabe, Fly, for instance – that we really did need. Otherwise it’s a reflection of my penchant for vide-greniers, combined with Joel’s eagle-eyed powers of observation and the town of Nice’s policy of collecting your old furniture (and whatever) instead of forcing you to take it to a civic dump.

We’re accidentally green – re-using and recycling, if not always reducing. I wonder what we’ll be able to part with when we move from here on to our next home, and we have to take most of it back to a vide-grenier to sell onto the next owners?

It’s my sister-in-law Michele’s 60th birthday tomorrow! It’s quite an event. One of the presents we’re giving her is a framed pic of Sonny, the restaurant dog, who nearly died recently. His front legs just stopped working (‘like Bambi,’ Manou said). Apparently it was a tumour in his neck, which the vet found and removed. A miraculous recovery. And Joel and I thought his time had come…

Sonny the restaurant dog

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About Suellen Grealy

In 2011, a series of coincidences led my husband Joel, our cat Ted and me away from London, where we lived quite happily for 30 years, to Nice, where Joel grew up. While he and his sister ran their restaurant, I wrote a novel. Family being family, Joel and his sister no longer work together. Writing being writing, the novel lingers on... Meanwhile, we've found ways of living a completely different life from the one we had in London, including running our own restaurant together, 7 Villermont. The only constants are our Ted, our now-battered Peugeot, and each other. Everything else is a complete surprise
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