La Foire de Chatou

Outside of Paris, to the west, in the middle of the Seine is a small island called Ile des Impressionistes.  Twice a year, le Syndicat National du Commerce de l’Antiquitie, de l’Occasion et des Galeries d’Art Moderne et Contemporain (SNCAO-GA) rent the island and stage the Foire de Chatou.  I wrote about Chatou a year and a half ago but focused on two women who make a living going from Brocante to Brocante.

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This year, The 96th Foire de Chatou opened Friday, March 10 and ends Sunday, March 18.  There are 700 stands selling nic-nacs, good silver, good bone china, paintings old and new, vintage clothing, furniture old and new, beautiful old books that one buys for the way they look on the outside and many many other things that you didn’t even know existed. The first time I went to Chatou was with a friend and her mother.  My friend, Alicia, knew to take her caddy along with her.  Smaller purchases went inside the caddy.  Alicia took her time at every stall.  She picked thru all the boxes laden with goodies, she stood in front of paintings one at a time and carefully thought through her purchases. Sometimes I would skip ahead of her but always find her again as she would leave her caddy outside a stall for me to see.  I don’t have Alicia’s patience.  I did come home with some lovely purchases that year.  My favourite was a small Afghani rug that is probably a prayer rug.

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Alicia and her family went back to California that summer and I went alone to Chatou the following Fall.  Alicia and I had made a friend of one of the women who run the stalls: Mary Cook.  Her stall is Tinker Tailor.  She goes to the UK where, I believe, she is from and brings back lovely bone china and beautiful silver.  I have bought some wonderful things from her that I use every day.  I had bought a sugar bowl that I loved and dear Bijou broke it in her phase of “let’s break everything that Sara owns”.  I told Mary and I’m sure I looked very sad.  So that Fall, I went to her stall first thing to say hello. She had a sugar bowl with a small crack in it and had saved it for me to buy at a small price!!  Now when I go by myself, Tinker Tailor is my first stop.  I feel like I have a friend there and I can come chat if I get tired of walking around.

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Tinker Tailor. Look carefully and you will see a silver toast holder upper left corner.  They are wonderful to hold cards, checks, bills, etc.

There are brocantes all over Paris every weekend and they often will spill over into Mondays or start on a Friday.  Now that Spring is supposed to be arriving, there will be any number to go to.  But Chatou is the largest by far. One time as I was chatting with Mary, I met an American woman who had brought over five other women just to shop at brocantes, particularly Chatou and the famous Flea Market at Clignancourt which I’ve never been to.  Either they find things that cannot be found anywhere in the US or they just like to shop in Paris but Chatou is not cheap and neither is shipping back to North America.

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I’m partly writing this blog for Alicia as she will be sitting in San Francisco reading it wishing she was here spending money at Chatou.  And I miss her.  Chatou is more than twice the fun if you go with another person.  Alicia is the best of all persons to with!

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At the end of a tiring day, Chatou provides a navette (shuttle) back to Reuil-Malmaison where I can take the RER A back into Paris.  This year, I only bought a vase and a wooden duck.  Both I love!!  I didn’t see much else that grabbed me.  But that won’t stop me from going again next September when Foire de Chatou returns to Paris.

A bientôt,

Sara

Brocante, Vide Grenier or Antiquités?

They call themselves brocanteuses.  There is no real translation for the word, the closest being seller of bric a brac.  But they aren’t and they don’t.

I’m talking about Mary and Jo who work the Foire de Chatou which I just got home from.  It is a huge ‘fair’ of hundreds of dealers in everything imaginable. This particular Fair takes place every March and September for ten days.

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In Paris, there is no such thing as a garage sale or a boot sale.  In fact, it is illegal to sell anything in front of your building.  The closest equivalent would be ten or so families getting together and renting a square from the city and having a Vide-grenier – a flea market.

The Fair I just returned from is a Brocante with antiquity dealers there. Jo explained that they have to sign a certificate verifying that they do sell antiques.  She and Mary call them selves Brocanteuse antiquaire meaning most of their stuff is less than 50 years old but they may have older things.

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Mary is British, lives in Antibes, speaks fluent French and makes her living selling beautiful dishes, cutlery and silver plate that she buys in England and her many buying trips.  She brings them back to France.  Over the thirty-four years that she has been doing this, she has learned what the French like.  Today, however, I watched as a group of about six American women from Atlanta, huge smiles on their faces, swooped into her space and bought almost all the silver plate that Mary had.  She chatted with them and you can be sure they will receive e-mail invites to all her future Brocantes.  I asked her how she started this business which is known as Tinker, Tailor.  She worked for Yves St. Laurent as an accountant and hated it.  So, with an assistant, she parted ways with the company and voila, Tinker Tailor was born.

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Jo is slightly older than Mary.  She can no longer do the heavy lifting that is required to move all the   around from Brocante to Brocante.  She has cut back on the amount of time she devotes to Brocantes.  I also asked her how she got started in the business.  As a child, her father would take her to auctions in the UK which he frequented.  He loved to buy frames.  She developed the bug.  After she finished her studies and married a frenchman, she worked for an antique dealer in Tours doing all the buying in the UK and the shipping around the world.  Some years later, she struck out on her own.  That was forty-six years ago. She loves pine.  She bought only large pieces and the French bought everything.  What she noticed, however, was that she liked sober pieces with straight lines whereas the French have a more sophisticated taste.  Perhaps a  little twirl here and there.  She pointed at a mirror that she wouldn’t have in her house because of the columns.  The French love it.

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Both women had retail stores at one point in their lives but have given them up for the freedom of traveling or taking time off if need be.  Twelve years ago, Jo asked Mary if she would join her in her stall at Chatou.  They watch out for each other and get along fine.

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And just for the record, I bought the Afghan rug that is hanging on the wall.  I adore Brocantes as do most Americans.  I told Jo that I’d never have been attracted to Bric a Brac sales. But,…well who knows.  I’m always looking for a good bargain.