Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hamming it up with The Antiques Diva™

The smell of ham mixed with hundreds-of-years-old antiques is in the air...It’s that time of year again when the Parisians' mouths begin to water in anticipation of France’s best brocante.

While in most countries “ham & antiques” isn't a natural combination, in France La Foire Nationale à la Brocante et aux Jambon is the country's largest antiques and gourmet food fair. It's back again this fall in the Parisian suburb of Ile de Chatou between September 25 – Oct 4, 2009.

La Mom recently had a chance to sit down with The Antiques Diva and chat about this fair, getting the inside scoop from Europe’s leading expert on Antique Shopping & Champagne!

La Mom: The National Fair of the Flea Market and Ham is held twice a year – in March & October. Can you tell La Mom readers why you think this is the best fair ever?

The Antiques Diva: What’s not to like? Ham and antique shopping in the shadow of the Tour Eiffel? Seriously, this traveling flea market is phenomenal. Over 800 vendors from toute la France bring the best assortment of antiques I have ever seen in one locale. As you said, it’s held twice a year – in the spring & fall - and The Antiques Diva™ offers flea market tours rain or shine!

What I love about this fair, aside from the plethora of antiques and an opportunity to eat ham like it’s going out of style, is that this market, like almost all French events, is a Parisian tradition dating back centuries! While I’ve always thought the odd combo of selling pork and antiques was a marketing ploy to get reluctant husbands to go brocanting, the fair’s origins date back to the Moyen Age.

La Mom:The Middle Ages? Are you kidding me? People have been antique shopping in France for that many years?

The Antiques Diva: It’s a great story. It started during the Middle Ages when, during Holy Week, pork butchers came to Paris to sell their products. One year an enterprising butcher decided that he wanted to “bring home more bacon” so he started selling not only braised ham but the equipment for making it as well, offering his clients “the taste of Chatou” (the Parisian suburb where the fair is held) all year round!

The other vendors caught on to the idea and started bringing more items, focusing on specialties from their region, namely furniture, pottery and antiques. Before they knew it, a festival celebrating both the flea market and ham was born.

La Mom: So we’ve got the Spring Brocante covered. But why does the fair occur in the Fall too if it originated in a Holy Week celebration?

The Antiques Diva: I’m not certain how this pre-Easter celebration became a twice annual event, but I have an un-substantiated theory. In August, tout Paris departs for their month-long vacation. This is another tradition which began in the Middle Ages when the stench from the annual cleaning of the Louvre’s moat forced citizens to flee until the gag-inducing cleaning was over.

I believe that when the Parisians fled to the countryside, they enjoyed the country life so much they didn’t want to return. Paris had to do something to repopulate itself, so they used the Foire aux Lards – as it was then called – as an olfactory pied-piper to lure les citoyens salivating back to Paris!

La Mom:
Will the olfactory pied-pipers lure you back to Paris this year September 25– Oct 4?

The Antiques Diva: Indubitably! Though I no longer live in Paris (having moved to Amsterdam & then Berlin) I still return twice a year to shop at the world’s best flea market. And, in fact, I don’t shop alone... I lead tours of my favorite fair & favorite city!

Last minute readers can always sign up for a Fall Day Tour or, if you’re planning your Spring Travels to Paris, email me for French Flea Market Fair Details at toma@antiquesdiva.com. And if an email simply seems like too much commitment, visit my website to read The Invitation for this fall’s tour to get a feel for it & me, The Antiques Diva.

La Mom: Sign me up! Can you tell us about some of your purchases?

The Antiques Diva:
A tour through my home finds souvenirs from Chatou in every room. From the €3 hand painted Russian tray hanging in my stairwell to the €1200 18th century berger in my salon, Ham Fair purchases dictate my décor.

In the winter I wear my €45 1950’s fox fur stole and dinner parties have me pulling out the set of €200 turn-of-the-century majolica knife rests where I sit my €75 early 20th century mother of pearl and sterling couteaux à poisson.

La Mom: Wow, the price range you’ve described is quite wide! From €3 up to €2000... is that normal?

The Antiques Diva: Prices at Chatou are not low, and sadly they aren’t as low as they were before the Euro. But in Chatou vendors expect to bargain. I always ask for a 30% discount and receive at least 20%. But if you hate bargaining, there is a magic question to softball pitch, “Est-ce que c'est votre meilleur prix?” Trust me, though the vendor might not “parler anglais” they will understand the question, “Is this your best price?” For those living in the Ile de France, the vendor will often include delivery in the purchase price.

La Mom: What if you live abroad? Will they still ship?

The Antiques Diva: For those unfortunate people like me who don’t live in Paris and have to travel to Chatou from afar the fair coordinators work with several shipping companies and they are happy to have things shipped to your homeland – for a cost!

La Mom:
This has been a treat! One last question before we bid adieu... in my intro I mentioned you’re the foremost expert on European antique shopping & champagne. Can you find the latter at La Foire Nationale la Brocante et aux Jambon?

The Antiques Diva: Absolutely! In fact, that’s where you’ll find me, sipping champagne in the center aisle of the fair where all the food vendors have set up shop!

“Chin Chin!”


Duchesse said...

Is that your pic, La Mom (I mean the top one)?

Kelli said...

Fab interview!!! Hope you two get to spend some tim etogether when the Diva is in Paris!

preppyplayer said...

Jealous. I dragged my husband to Clignancourt and I don't think he will EVER forgive me. Meanwhile I still dream about Les Puces! As of now I make do with Jersey shore antique stores or up in Ny state along the Hudson...

La Mom said...


Mais non, that's The Antiques Diva, a.k.a. Toma Clark Haines. La Mom is the mysterious undercover interviewer, bien sûr!

La Mom

ModernMom said...

Sigh...shopping with hubby under the shadow of the Effiel Tower for rare treasures....sounds perfect! Loved the interview!

SuZ said...

You had me at ham.

And now you've made me hungry.


Nina said...

Your style of writing is amusing, LaMom! :-)
I live in Paris too, and I will indeed step by this fair this time as well, it's beginning to be a tradition for me too.

Virginia said...

The jambon part has me still laughing. What will the French think of next?? Great interview, and I'm all about two fisted champagne sipping!!!

Mlle Paradis said...

OMG - the Medoc Marathon (reported somewhere else today) and the Foire aux Antiques et Jambon!!!!!!!!! I haven't been to Paris since 2003. I just can't stand to think about what I'm missing. Why haven't I been back? Cause some day I will get over there and just DIE and never come back. Yes. That would be HEAVEN.

Chantal said...

Looking forward to joining the October tour for some badly needed bargaining tips! Thanks for the great interview.

Phivos Nicolaides said...

Chin chin girls!!

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