La Bonne Rentrée in Paris

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August is the month when France goes on vacation. In the early 1900s, “La Fermeture Annuelle” was a tradition to provide paid time-off to factory workers. By 1982, laws were passed giving five weeks of paid vacation to all salaried workers.

From late July to the end of August, Paris is quieter, the streets emptier, parking–not a problem. There are still tourists and some businesses remain open. But most small shops and restaurants are closed and shuttered as Parisians head for beaches, country homes, and relaxation elsewhere.

Then comes September and “La Bonne Rentrée”. Schools reopen and summertime is officially over. By the end of the first week of la rentrée, streets and cafés are full again. Curbside parking disappears for another year.

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un café timeout
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un vin rouge timeout

La Rentrée is a time to reconnect with friends, re-establish routines and reacquaint to life in Paris.

One of my favorite returning rituals is to spend a morning at the “Marché aux Puces” at Porte de Vanves. This isn’t the biggest flea market or even the most famous one in Paris. The mega-flea market at Clignancourt, on the northern edge of the city, is where scenes from the movie “Midnight in Paris” were filmed.

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I like the smaller venue in the southern 14th Arrondissement. It lines only two streets, for half a day on Saturdays and Sundays, year round. There are professional merchants with covered tables and reserved spots. There are others who sell from a blanket spread on the ground. It’s treasure hunting and people watching fun. The crowd is both local and tourist.

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The entertainer
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the daydreaming vendor
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the watchful merchant
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the consideration
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the negotiation
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and the transaction

When looking for something special, like an antique enamel coffeepot for a story about Swedish egg coffee An Egg in the Coffeepot, I headed to the flea market. At other times, without a particular goal, I have stumbled upon useful items such as porcelain towel bars or heavy glass candleholders or Japanese-occupation pottery plates which we collected in Taiwanese street markets twenty years ago.

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red is best
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japanese-occupation pottery, circa 1895-1945, made in taiwan

Sometimes an excursion is rewarded with a beautiful signed vase or a framed picture for the wall. And sometimes–nothing at all.

Flea markets are recycled decorating ideas or collecting at its’ best. The volume and range of objects astounds. Even knowing, “one man’s trash is another’s treasure”, it’s hard not to be judgmental of some objects on display for sale. Odd, quirky, eccentric, useful, cheap, expensive, collectible, colorful, playful, beautiful, strange, or simply weird. It’s all there for a price. Bargaining is essential, bien sûr.

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The odd
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the quirky
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the eccentric
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the useful
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The cheap
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the expensive
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the collectibles
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The colorful
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the playful
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the beautiful
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the strange
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and the weird

I go to the Marché aux Puces for entertainment, to see what’s there, to eavesdrop on interactions between shoppers and vendors, to stroll along and muse over oddities with a cup of coffee or vin chaud [in wintertime] from the corner kiosk.

The adventure never disappoints. It’s an annual ritual that reminds me that I’m back home in my favorite city in the world.

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I. M. Pei’s pyramid
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20 thoughts on “La Bonne Rentrée in Paris

  1. Fifteen retired TAS teachers are sitting around a table in Carol Chadwick’s garden. The sun is shining and we, naturally, are reminiscing about TAS. Louise told us about your blog, Wendy. I think you will have more readers of your observations of life in France.
    Greetings from all of us…

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    • Ann and TAS Friends, Sounds like a great reunion-fest going on in Oregon. Fun to keep the stories alive with laughter and sharing and revisited camaraderie. My kind of weekend too…

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  2. Beautiful, Wendy. Makes me want to re-visit Paris, again and again! The last time was Nina’s high school graduation trip, that’s how long ago it was. (We once spent weekends, over a period of six weeks, in an apartment on Avenue Foch, in the same building Princess Grace and Arthur Rubinstein used to live).

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