Like fishermen, we have our favourite spots. If you've caught a record-breaking salmon there once, you tend to return to the same place. Because the summer vide grenier in La Bastide de Boussignac has led to some "yesss" finds over the years, including four tall curtains in the perfect shade of yellow, we were there soon after it opened.
That first quick browse of the trestle tables often produces old friends: there's a certain plaster dog that I swear I've seen in half a dozen villages, and an old coffee tin that's too rusty even for me. You get to know some of the vendors too. But I've never seen this Madame anywhere else but in La Bastide.
...or this one. Although I could see it going down a treat at Mirepoix's annual apple festival.
No, what I fell for was this skirt which manages to combine a riotous palette, a cheerfully slapdash approach to tie-dyeing and loads of sparkly sequins.
What's your guess, maybe mid-1950s? Five euros changed hands and I wandered off, sure that I'd used up my vide grenier karma for the day but quite content with my find du jour.
When friends come to stay, we always joke about the monogrammed linen sheets they'll find on their bed. Except it's true. Years ago, we realized that we could buy superb antique bed linen for less than you'd pay for plain old cotton sheets at Ikea. There are two reasons for this. First of all, vintage linen was usually made for double beds so, if you sleep in a king- or queen-size, you're out of luck. Second, laziness. Most people think that antique linen calls for huge amounts of work in the washing and ironing department. I swear on my grandmother's wringer that this is not true. I machine wash my sheets and drape them on the drying rack. I never, ever iron them. Back in the days when I had a clothes dryer, I simply threw them in to dry and that was that. Yes, you do end up with the odd dimple or rumple. So?
Even though we now own enough vintage linen to stock a small hotel, I'm always drawn to it so, at this particular vide grenier, I jumped up and down when I spied a gorgeous damask linen table napkin, hand-monogrammed and dyed a deep shade of green.
I unfolded it. It was so enormous that...you must excuse me while I go and look for the tape measure. Right, it's 82 cm wide--just under three feet--and proportionally deep. To have a napkin of this size and weight on your lap is to make you think you're eating lunch with the family in a chateau in Bordeaux.
Meanwhile, back in the Ariège...
She named a price.
Ok, I thought. I'll buy two, for sumptuous suppers just for the two of us.
The vendor pointed at the stack on her stall. The price she'd mentioned was for "le lot."
I rammed them into my basket and didn't even count them till I got home when I discovered I'd bought a dozen enormous linen napkins, monogrammed by hand....
....for four euros.