When I first heard about the Foire National aux Antiquités, à la Brocantes, et au Jambon, I found it hard to believe. Who in his right mind would organize a fair that combined antiques and ham? It had to be seen to be believed. And so we went, we loved it, and we've been back three times, the last being yesterday. In our family it's known as the Ham Fest.
This fair, now in its 79th year in this incarnation, has roots dating from medieval times. Hard to say if the pork sellers or the used stuff dealers came first, but at some point they decided that working the suckers together would be in their best interests.
It takes place twice a year at Chatou, on an island in the middle of the river, just upstream (or down, who can tell?) from the Maison Fournaise, the site of Renoir's famous painting The Luncheon of the Boating Party. Which, by the way, is still serving luncheon.
The fair is set up with hundreds of stalls, some more elaborate than others,
which are organised along "streets". There is a mix of good antiques and not so good collectibles, but since the vendors pay hefty fees for the right to sell here, I assume they all expect to make a profit and someone's "I wouldn't have that on a bet" is someone else's "Oh, honey, I know just where that will go".
Some little girl is going to adore this set of doll furniture,
These Empire style ladies would be charming in someone's fireplace, don't you think?
And I was sorely tempted by this set of chairs if only I had somewhere to put them...oh, and the money to buy them.
Not so sure about this though.
I had a lovely conversation with the man selling these antique trunks and valises. I understood only about a quarter of what he said to me, but we both seemed to enjoy it. The Goyard trunk, pre-World War I, still had stickers from its travels, including one from pre-Revolutionary Saint Petersburg. A bargain at a mere 6,500 euros.
The middle street is the one with the food. Not all the food vendors are selling ham, but one of the most popular sells a plate of rotiserried ham, cut right from the bone, served with roasted vegetables for 15 euros. This, along with a glass of wine and an expresso to finish, is what most people are having for lunch at the tables set up in the food street.
Most of the antiques vendors have brought their own lunches, which they are enjoying in their stalls, along with all the nearby vendors, at tables for sale, on dishes for sale, and drinking out of glasses for sale. You try to buy any of these items at your peril. "Madame, on dejeune!" which is French for "Don't bother me lady, I'm eating here!" These folks know what's important. Give up lunch to make a sale? Ha!
They may want to rethink this attitude actually. It might have worked in prior years when American antique dealers and decorators were rushing over to give them handfuls of euros, but yesterday the fair was rather sparsely attended and not many lunches were disturbed by importuning buyers. We did overhear a quartet of American Southern ladies chatting over their ham. Not sure how it compared to the Virginia variety.