Sunday, 2 July 2006

Car-booting in France

We went to three car boot sales today near where we live in Normandy.

Cherisy was very much like an English car boot sale. A big field with lots of stalls. But though some things were very familiar, others were typically French (merguez sausages, and of course mayonnaise, with your chips on the food stall) and even typically Norman.

For instance all the cider presses for sale. Even toy cider presses. That's a real Norman thing. Around where we live, every three or four fields is a tiny orchard - sometimes just a line of apple trees, not divided from the fields by hedge or ditch. We've never seen anyone in these orchards, but around the middle of June the grass gets cut, and when the apples are ready, they disappear - so someone must be looking after them. A pity - otherwise we'd go scrumping!

We have calvados too - the national drink of Normans. And almost every stall seemed to have an ornamental calva bottle with a little character portrait head on the stopper and designs of apples and foliage, in tough earthenware.

Another common theme is old agricultural implements. Lots of scythes, rakes, pitchforks. old spades, rusty axes. No one uses them now - it's all shiny new combine harvesters from L'Hermite in Dreux, the John Deere distributor. We passed a couple on our way, throwing out their clouds of dust behind, and the road was covered with torn shreads of corn stalk.

On to Goussainville where the sale was on the two squares in the middle of the village, a couple of roads cordoned off for the day. Lots of cookware and casseroles, some antiques, a little bar set up under the trees.

And finally, Nogent-le-Roi. And this was superb. The whole of the centre of town was filled with stalls; and it's a charming town, with half-timbered houses and a fine church. (And a good collection of fifteenth and sixteenth century stained glass, too.) A cheese shop with a model cow outside. A fine spire on the church, and some nice houses backing on to what was the town moat and is still a fine, fast flowing stream.

This is a nice way to see a French town or village. Nogent probably isn't quite worth the detour on its own - but together with a good sale, it's delightful. And of course the contents of the stalls are interesting to a traveller, too. We even found one stall where the patron was a specialist in old weighing scales and measures.

He told us something interesting. French weights come in sets - usually a one gramme, two two gramme weights, then a five, ten, fifty, hundred, two hundred, five hundred and one kilogramme. There's also a thing called a tare which you use to counterbalance the weight of a container - say a cardboard box or jar into which you're weighing the ingredient. It's hollow, so you fill it to balance with the container, then you start weighing whatever you're going to use.

Now for obvious reasons, because these scales were used in shops as well, the tare isn't supposed to look like a weight. It's supposed to look different. But this one had been made to look just like a 1 kg weight, but hollow and with a top that screws off. So instead of sticking his thumb in the scales, the wicked grocer could fill this to about 900 grams and then give all his customers short measure.

Now that's something you would never find in a book!

What did we buy? A nice thuja wood box; a new tea tray, with two glorious colourful parakeets painted on it; a little silver bracelet; a couple of sharp knives; a book on Speyer Cathedral and two books on Greece; a new salad bowl; and a few good wine glasses.

And most importantly a fine new stove for our house. A lovely, dark green, ornamental, and VERY French, metal stove.

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