Any day spent on the bike is a great day, but Sundays are always a little greater, especially in France with the roads even less filled with cars and a marked increase of folks out on their bikes. Sunday is also "Vide Grenier" day in France, the day when towns of all sizes hold their annual community-wide rummage sale. It is the French version of a garage sale, except everyone in a town participates on the same day and gathers in a central location--a hall or a plaza or entire down-town area. As The Tour de France is to cycling and the Cannes Film Festival is to cinema, these Vide Greniers are the ultimate in rummage sales.
They are such an institution and such a popular community event, towns put up signs advertising the date of theirs a month or more ahead of time. I try not to be in a hurry on Sundays so I can stop and do some browsing and watch all the goings-on. I'm not looking for anything in particular, other than cycling books, especially by the master Jean-Paul Ollivier, who has written over fifty of them. I'm mostly interested in seeing what's being dispensed from these French households and even more so to watch the locals interacting with one another. There is a lot of animated conversation and a lot of kissing on the cheeks. Everyone is in a great mood and there is palpable good-will and vitality in the air, people pleased to find something they can put to use and others happy to have unburdened themselves of something they no longer need, but mostly people happy to see one another.
I came upon no Vide Greniers this Sunday, but was able to participate in another community-wide affair ablaze with similar passion and that was distinctly French, emphasizing the importance of "Fraternité" in their culture and also their appreciation of the arts. It was an artist contest called Les Pussifolies in the village of Pussigny, thirty miles south of Tours. I met up with my friends Florence and Rachid, who live in Tours. Rachid was one of thirty artists spending the day filling a six foot by twelve foot canvas with a painting. The painting commenced at nine a.m. and was to be completed by five. Then a panel of judges had the not so easy task of selecting the best. The painting was all done outside on the two main narrow streets of this village of less than two hundred inhabitants. Rachid began his painting of two scarecrows in a field by rolling a brown background on the lower two-thirds of his canvas.
One could spend all day strolling among the artists watching them practice their craft, some smearing the paint on with their hands or spraying it from a can. Some wore masks to protect themselves from the fumes. Others held a cigarette in one hand and a brush in the other.
It was fascinating to watch the blank canvases gradually take form, standing and watching and returning every half hour or so.
I spent most of my time hanging out with Rachid and Florence, who I first knew in their previous life's, Rachid as an architect and Florence as a bicycle messenger in Chicago before they returned to France twelve years ago. Florence kept busy washing Rachid's brushes and rollers and helping him tape up stencils and make measurements. Rachid had meticulously plotted out his landscape, just like an architect, dividing his canvas into small sectors from the photo he was working from. It is always exciting to catch up with Florence and Rachid, but it has become such a regular feature of my travels about France that it almost seemed as if I had just seen them last week, when it had actually been last October when they spent a couple of weeks in Chicago scouting out a possible return.
The streets were full of people taking photos of the artists and having a chat. It was a refreshingly amenable affair.
It was a balmy day with many artists in shorts and sandals, and one even painting in high heels.
What they were painting and what it would become was sometimes a mystery.
Interspersed amongst the artists were people selling jewelry and carvings and sculptures and fabrics. Florence suggested I buy a pair of earrings for Janina, but I knew she was particular about such things and couldn't be sure what she'd like. But I knew she would have loved this occasion, artist and critic that she is. She would have had an endless stream of commentary on the technique of the artists and their creations. We will have to include this event in our French travels together in the future along with the ten-day Goldsworthy trek around Digne-les-Baines.
My schedule didn't allow me to hang around for the completion of the canvases, but I felt most fortunate that my timing allowed me to see its first few hours. All the art will remain on display until the end of September, so I may have the opportunity to swing by and see if all on my return to Paris. This was the fifth year Pussigny had held this event. It is certainly remarkable that a village of this size could stage such an event. I will most certainly try to drop in on it again. Rachid had participated in a smaller version of such a competition several years ago, where all the artists had to paint a similar landscape along the Loire River. Rachid's painting from that event can be seen over Florence's shoulder in an above photo.
My slight detour to Pussigny on a minor road I never would have chosen took me through the larger town of Descartes, less than ten miles to the east. It is the birthplace of the philosopher in 1596,though he spent most of his life in Holland. His home is now a museum. The town was renamed in his honor in 1802. The town is also noted for its centuries old bridge that had been blown up by the French Resistance towards the end of WWII to prevent the Germans from crossing the river Creuze and ransacking the town. When the bridge was rebuilt it was renamed Pont de la Resistance.
Now that I'm in the Loire Valley chateaus are regular site, popping up any time.
More noteworthy for me are an unexpected bicycle memorials. Immediately after The Tour de France many towns around the country hold races attracting The Tour heroes. There are not so many now, but some towns remain so proud that they attracted some of the Giants of the Road to their community for several hours of racing, they post a plaque to remind themselves of that momentous occasion. The small town of La Trimoullie remembers Poulidor, Merckx, Jansen and Pingeon for winning their race over forty years ago.
Every day I'm reminded of the French regard for the artist, with their work gracing many a round-about.