Yesterday, May 1, was a national holiday in France: la Fête du Travail, or Labor Day. The city emptied out as many Parisians got, or took, Monday off. Those of us left in the city center found ourselves with only two things to do: join a manifestation (protests are a tradition here on Labor Day) or chiner (hunt for antiques) at the various brocantes and vide-greniers around town.
What's the difference between a brocante and a vide-grenier? The brocantes are a little more organized and you are more likely to stumble upon booths and tables run by antique dealers or flea market professionals.
The vide-greniers are like American garage sales (vide-grenier translates to "attic emptying"), and they are definitely something à aimer because you never know what treasure you might find among the cartons of GI Joes and ugly ceramic dogs.
At yesterday's brocante near métro Bonne Nouvelle, I spied a beautifully illustrated copy of Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days, a framed copy of the French constitution and some wonderful canes.
At the vide-grenier on lovely rue Caulaincourt, I found a barely-used, stainless steel, Alessi stovetop coffeemaker for €20 and a pretty woven basket for mushroom hunting for 50 centimes. As truffles and chanterelles do not sprout in the tree wells around Paris (other things do, and you wouldn't want to eat them), I'll use the basket for recycling.
As at all second-hand markets around the world, bargaining is expected. Come late in the day for the best deals, but avoid lunchtime, when vendors will be much more interested in their meals of saucisson sec and chilled rosé than haggling with you.
Even if you leave empty-handed, you'll have gotten an eyeful. At the brocantes and vide-greniers, characters and conversation pieces abound.