On the first Friday, Saturday and Sunday of every month, La Brocante des Allées flea market sets up shop in Allée Forain-Francois Verdier, a pretty tree-lined walk in the heart of Toulouse. It’s very easy to access by metro and is a popular meeting place with the people of Toulouse, especially when the weather is fine. It’s hard not to find what you’re looking for or to come away with something you hadn’t planned on buying! Today, I found a crystal decanter and three highly colourful rum glasses, but I almost let myself be tempted by a little Charles X inlaid pedestal table with delicately webbed feet – I might give in to temptation next time, if it’s still there.
Some stallholders are highly specialised, verging on the obsessive, others take a more generic approach and randomly pile up objects from here, there and everywhere. As I wander through the rows of stalls, I love imagining where these things came from and inventing the stories they have to tell. Take this advertising ashtray, for example, that did fifteen years service on the counter of a bar in the Gers, whose owner got rid of it when he sold his business. It sits beside an English tea service in Chinese porcelain that must have belonged to a princess and that sparks my daughter’s imagination. Or, take this piece of primitive African art, a statue with woven hair, brought back to France by an explorer who spent years travelling up a winding, crocodile-infested river, looking for a lost city. Here, there’s a monogrammed silver coffeepot sitting on a formica table accompanied by a couscous dish filled with prepaid phone cards – how many discussions, arguments and declarations of love must they have heard?
Every stallholder has their own style, their own personality or favourite period of time. Here, there’s some Art Nouveau, over there some Art Deco, further on an industrial, sanded steel cupboard that I can visualise in my hallway, filled with jackets and shoes. Moving on, there’s some rattan furniture, a few Louis XV chairs and Louis Philippe linen cupboards, right next to some seventies-style orange shelves.
You can find everything in Les Allées!
Organised by the Union of Antique and Second-hand dealers of the Haute-Garonne and South-West France, the Brocante des Allées is the biggest regular flea market in the region, with nearly 150 professional stallholders, antique and second-hand dealers.
Numismatists, philatelists and lovers of vinyl records have their noses stuck in crates overflowing with wonders, while opposite, a collector of eighteenth century prints is trying to haggle over a framed portrait of a beautiful girl lying languidly under some cypress trees.
We come to hunt, to root around or just for a stroll, but the collectors who know what they want, hurriedly overtake the casual browsers aimlessly wandering amongst the stalls.
We dig, we rummage and scrabble about in search of a stopper for a decanter or the missing glass we need to make up the set of Napoleon III liqueur glasses that Aunt Suzette left us. We explore the secondhand booksellers’ stalls, looking for a book we haven’t read and that we may be glued to later on, sitting in the sun on a café terrace. We come across a graphic novel that we loved years ago, and leave with it, proud, excited and a bit nostalgic. This guy has a big smile…has he found the gift he was looking for…and what about this young married couple? Will they fall for this porcelain service, and carry it off? I want to advise them to treat themselves, it’s important. There are bargains everywhere, here…”Why don’t we go back and look at that little pedestal table, darling? What do you think?”
In complete confidence
An expert appointed by the National Chamber of Experts in Objets d’Art and Collectors’ Pieces, patrols the stalls. He advises stallholders and potential future customers (free of charge), before they buy. He confirms the period, the provenance or value of an object and we can buy our heart’s desire without a care.
A little sausage for the road
You can also find sausages in Les Allées, and so much the better. There are two nice bars where you can sit down for a while, have a drink and a bite to eat. You can lunch on sausages (I never leave the premises without my saucisse de Toulouse!), or the daily special served on a checked tablecloth, before you head off in search of Treasure.