Brocante and Chocolate

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These last few days everything has felt slightly different as the sun streams in through the windows, and although the mercury is definitely nudging upwards a little there’s a cold easterly wind which is banishing all thoughts of bare arms and legs. Along with the week’s slow change in temperature, there’s also a subtle change in the light and despite the lingering smell of winter woodsmoke in the air there’s now a welcome new scent, that of freshly mown grass. People walk a little taller, no longer huddled against the elements, and I’ve started to notice a few camper vans on the roads and more locals on the streets, emerging from hibernation.

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Easter was early this year, but then, everything is early this year; plants are ahead of themselves. And when you have young people in the house, Easter also means chocolate; rather a lot of it, unfortunately. The children make a good show of believing in the Easter Bunny, rather like Father Christmas our furry friend visits during the night; as a result, from the early hours onwards Easter Sunday becomes a sea of glistening foil wrappers, and lots of the aforementioned chocolate.

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On the Saturday night we had dined with French friends. Unsurprisingly the conversation turned to Easter, their children had decorated the table beautifully with colourful little eggs artfully placed amongst the silver and crystal. Half way through the evening, the words, “There is no Easter rabbit, c’est la cloche” cut through the air like a knife, silencing us all. Further discussion revealed that in France there is an Easter Bell which tolls at midday and this is how French eggs appear. This set us all off, of course, and imaginations started to run riot (the adults’ fuelled by good red wine), and before long we had the children giggling hysterically as imaginary giant bells and even bigger rabbits took over gardens and villages, delivering eggs of all shapes and sizes in a blaze of Anglo-French fantasies.

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Our Easter-Egg hunt was not a magical illusion created by giant rabbits riding about on enormous bells, but instead was the result of Roddy’s annual deviousness, aided and abetted by the neighbours. An old hand at this, Roddy revels in hiding the eggs, and when you have over an acre of foliage in an old garden to play with things can get fun. Each year he gets more cunning as teenagers and ten year-olds alike have become adept at sniffing out chocolate in the most impossible places; the end result was an egg-hunt for true professionals. The promised showers never materialised, and the day remained resolutely warm and dry. A game of tennis, fiercely competitive, then took up much of the afternoon; it was a match partly fuelled by sugar and provided a very necessary release of energy.

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Lundi de Pâques, Easter Monday, is a holiday in France and what better way to kick off the spring season than with a traditional brocante. I had seen the signs advertising this for a while now and I was really excited as this would be the first brocante of the year. I managed to rustle up some of the troops from their sugar-induced slumber and three of us headed off to Crazannes. It was an incredibly blustery morning, the sun kept making odd appearances, winking at us as it peeked out from its hiding place amongst the clouds; it seemed to be reminding us that it was still there. One minute the sky was grey, the next instant it was clear blue; the game of solar hide-and-seek continued for much of the day.

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We parked some distance from the village-centre, with plenty of cars lining all of the nearby roads; as an afterthought I grabbed an umbrella, just in case. Hetty, never one to feel the cold, had shunned the idea of a coat, opting for a lightweight ‘hoody’ instead. We were on a brocante treasure-hunting mission.

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Stands displaying assorted wares had been set up all around the streets, and cheerful vendors stood and chatted, happy to be selling once again. It was an impossibly picturesque setting in this little village of just 500 or so permanent inhabitants. But despite it’s size it is the home to one of the most splendid village post offices I have ever seen. There is also a much-discussed butcher (for the quality of his local meat) and a beautiful château.

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The 14th Century Château de Crazannes is classified as an historic monument. It is now run as a supremely comfortable small hotel, but it became famous for an altogether different reason, for it’s the home of Puss in Boots; this goes back to the 17th century, when the château was the property of the Marquis de Carabas, and it was he who inspired Charles Perrault to write his famous tale. Today the château nestles in the heart of an 8 hectare park, along with a Roman chapel, an 11th century keep, a dovecote and a museum of rural objects, all of which contribute to the charm of Crazannes itself.

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Immersing ourselves in the spirit of the brocante we were examining a raft of items when we felt a most unwelcome spot of rain; nothing to get worried about, surely? It was just a few drops and so we continued browsing. However, looking heavenwards a few minutes later I decided perhaps I would put up the umbrella as things were getting quite dark. And then, in an instant, the heavens opened in a deluge of epic proportions, along with a decent scattering of hail thrown in for good measure. This was most definitely no gentle spring shower, and we decided to make a dash for the car. Alas, we were parked a long way off, and we ran, dodging people as they also scurried for what little cover there was. Tables and stands lay abandoned, open to the elemental bombardment, and as the trees did not have enough leaves yet to provide a canopy, there was no hiding. Some stall-holders bravely tussled with flapping tarpaulins, and my umbrella was proving woefully inadequate at keeping three of us sheltered from the rain as it fell in biblical proportions.

We finally reached the car, feet swimming in our sodden shoes, and our jeans clinging to us like wringing-wet second skins. Slamming doors shut  we turned the heating full on, and with steam rising from our saturated clothing we abandoned our treasure-hunt and headed home, laughing at our misfortune. Within minutes the rain had eased and blue sky once again played on the horizon. Back at the house we told the others the story of our mad dash in the downpour to much amusement, since there had been no rain at home. In fact it didn’t rain again at all that day;  we couldn’t have chosen a worse half-hour in the entire day to visit the brocante!

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In the afternoon the children headed off to another Easter-Egg hunt, this time it was the village chase aux oeufs. I opted out, happy to spend a few hours in the garden; there’s a lot to do bringing everything back into some semblance of order after the long winter months, but slowly I’m getting there, planning, and then planning some more with new plantings and new ideas running riot in my head. I have so much I want to do; if I manage half of it I shall be happy, but for now I’m just revelling in being outside again. It’s wonderful to experience the yearly emergence of new life, all around me. It’s a powerful force of nature, and I always find it invigorating as the garden explodes with delicate new buds and colour –  it always feels so good.

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50 thoughts on “Brocante and Chocolate

    • The raclette was at a friend’s house, they are absolute masters at it, it is always the best raclette I have ever eaten. Hopefully the weather will indeed play ball next time, or maybe we will just be better equipped to cope with the rain!

  • Brocants and raclette ….perfect…I am salvatating. Sorry about the rain…today on the coast 20°….spring is really here. Now out to the garden

    Ali x

    • It was a great family weekend with friends Ali, just as it should be. Yesterday, it was 20C here, fabulous as it was a Wednesday so the children were off school for the afternoon, we ate lunch outside. At some stage during the early hours of the morning we were woken by a big thunderstorm, actually it was Bentley trembling from fear that woke us! It blew in much cooler weather, today it’s down to 10C again! Enjoy your garden and the wildlife! Susan x

  • C’ est toujours un bonheur de vous lire ! Les aventures du club des cinq continuent de plus belle ( repas, chasse au trésor, sport, dangereuse promenade etc…) !!! LOL ! ( It’ s always a pleasure to hear from you! The Famous five’s adventures keep growing ( lunch, treasure’s hunt, sport, dangerous walk etc…). Peut-être le savez-vous mais la pierre de Crazannes est très renommée. La couleur blanche des maisons, typique de la région vendéenne vient de cette pierre. J’ ai appris dans l’ émission ” Des racines et des ailes ” que le socle de la Statue de la Liberté est faite de la pierre de Crazannes ( I heard from France 3 TV programm ” Roots and wings ” that the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal is made in Crazannes’ s stone ).Thanks to keep sharing your nice pictures from beautiful county/département of Charente-Maritimes.

    • Hi Philippe, I shall reply in English as most of my readers are English and it is possibly easier for them, and you speak both! I did not know that the pedestal of the Statute of Liberty is made from Crazannes stone, I am going to hopefully watch the programme this evening, it sounds fascinating. There is so much famous stone in Crazannes, I wrote a piece about the sculptures from the area last October (I think). I quite like being the famous five, or Secret Seven! Now I will have to see what else we can get up to!!!

    • Hi Barbara, welcome to the blog, great to have you following along and thank you for taking the time to comment. I love chatting and engaging with each and every one of my readers, it’s what makes it all worthwhile. Enjoy the rest of the week, Susan x

  • Wonderful photos and story of your weekend. Loved the tale of Roddy, the master egg concealer. When my children were young and the weather unpredictable, I used to hide the chocolate eggs (Cadbury’s mini-eggs, please) all over the house. With four children, there was a lot to hide. Problem was, even I couldn’t remember all the hiding places or just how many I had put out. Nevertheless, the children always had enough. Of course, 3, 6 or 8 months down the road, little mini-eggs could still be found around the house. Slightly stale treats, but it always made us laugh to find them.

    Sorry your brocante trip was a wash-out–literally, but it clearly was still a good time and it will be a memory to share and laugh about when the children are grown. Hmm, speaking of memories, I wonder if any of those mini-eggs are still around….

    • Hi Mary, cadbury’s mini eggs are indeed the best! Like you, we find the odd remnant months later, we always put them up high so the dogs can’t eat them, Roddy hides well, it’s become quite a challenge, too easy and the children are not amused! I am quite sure there are several still out there now just waiting to be found! There’ll be another Brocante, hopefully in the sunshine, it was fun all the same and all part of life’s great big adventure! Enjoy the upcoming weekend. Susan x

  • Another great weekend by the sound of it. What as shame you got knocked back at the brocante! Hope you find another one soon and show us some treasure !

    • Hi Simon, I am sure there will be a sunny Brocante with lots of treasure for me to share with you before too long! By the time we had started browsing the stands, the heavens opened and we banished our cameras to safety.

  • I do so look forward to your posts, Susan! Between your writing & wonderful photos, I’m just filled with happiness to experience, even secondhand, your daily adventures & joyfilled family life! Thank you, thank you again for sharing it all with us.

    • Hi Christi, thank you so much, it is so lovely to share everything, the sun and the rain, it’s a really lovely life and a great upbringing for the children and this is why I love writing about it for everyone to read. Have a lovely Friday and upcoming weekend, Susan x

    • Hi Helen, thank you, the lilac/blue flowers are Muscari and they are such a welcome splash of colour in early spring, they are out in full force against the walls in front of the house and are so pretty. Thank you for taking the time to comment and h ave a lovely weekend, Susan x

  • I am new to your blog, and find the way you write and tell your stories so refreshing! Visited France late last year with my two youngest and you really do do it justice!

    • Hi Lily, welcome to the blog, I am so happy to have you following along and I love receiving comments and interacting with readers, it is what makes it all such fun to share everything. I like to tell life as we see it, our little adventure! Hope you come back and visit again soon. Susan x

  • All of your posts are so enjoyable and this one especially so! The pictures are gorgeous. Please tell the name of those interesting trees lining the path to the church. Have they been pruned like that? I find it interesting that I see the odd palm in some of your pictures. You can find them on our South Carolina coast, but not so much here in the upstate. Your winter must not be as cold as ours, but you seem to have more snow. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

    • Hi Sheran, thank you so much, I am so glad you enjoyed reading about our Easter! The trees on the way to the church have indeed been pollarded,I believe they are horse chestnut. We actually have quite a few species of Palm here and olives and even lemons which happily winter outside. If we get a cold snap I cover the lemons but otherwise they are fine. We are in a micro-climate and we very rarely get snow here, perhaps once every two or three years, but it is just a smattering and never lasts. Head an hour inland and it’s a very different story with temperatures several degrees colder. We are very much in a mild temperate climate, favoured by gardeners! Much the same as South Carolina on the coast and inland, although your coastal areas get far more humidity than we do. Have a lovely weekend, hope you have some spring weather. Susan x

  • Hi Susan, I’m intrigued to know if you have written clues or ‘hotter’ ‘colder’ type clues called out by Roddy! We also did a treasure hunt, but I had to collect them up once as the skies were so dark I thought they’d all get washed away, and then put them out again! This year it turned out that half my children had decided they didn’t like praline so I got rather a large pile all to myself!!

    • Hi Miranda, for the Easter egg hunt we never do clues, as you may guess, Roddy is the master of the household for treasure hunts at birthday parties and things too, he’s good at this sort of thing! But at the end of the egg hunt, which took forever, he did wander around suggesting a few places they might try looking! Praline is such a funny thing isn’t it, I’m not sure why children don’t like it always and it is so popular here, well at least you got to enjoy it!!! We had bought lots and lots of mini wrapped eggs, our neighbour (French) had bought lots and lots of giant bells and rabbits, ours looked quite pathetic by comparison, but they were harder to find and it was all great fun! Hope you have a lovely weekend, Susan x

  • Your blog is so refreshing. My mom and I love to read your posts and talk about them on the phone together since I am in college. We live in Arizona but have visited France before so it is so fun to hear about traditions, especially with your fun and relaxed voice. Thank you so much for sharking your life and adventures with us.

    • Hi, thank you so much, what a lovely thing to be able to share with your Mother, our eldest daughter is away at college, and I love being able to chat to her about all the little things happening in life. I hope you get a chance to visit France again, maybe when college is finished you will get to travel? In the meantime have a great fun-filled weekend, and thank you so much for taking the time to comment, Susan x

    • Oh me too, but the treasures were not to be had, so now we are waiting for the next one when hopefully it either won’t rain, or we will be better prepared for it if it does! The garden is nothing but a pure delight at the moment, even the weeds are looking beautiful! Susan x

  • The French Easter bells flying back from Rome to deliver chocolates seems mad, until you think about the reality of the bunnies and then really what’s more crazy bunnies/bells…bells/bunnies? I agree with so many of the commenters who mention your beautifull writing style, it’s always a pleasure to read your posts. Brocante’s in the rain are no fun at all, shame about your timing. I’m doing a stint on the school’s stall at our local brocante tomorrow so very much hoping for good weather. Thans for linking up to #AllAboutFrance

    • Thank you so much Phoebe, what a truly lovely thing to say. Now as for bunnies and bells/ bells and bunnies, they are both as bizarre as each other, but after a couple of glasses of wine, it really does seem very funny and one can envision all sorts of things! Hope your Brocante tomorrow is a huge success and that it raises lots of money for the school. We are off to a big Brocante too, so fingers crossed the weather is good! Enjoy the rest of the weekend. Susan x

  • Good morning here in the United States, San Francisco.. I feel as if I took a vacation. Your photos are indeed lovely and I enjoyed the story. I found out about your lovely blog from Penny, The comforts Of Home. So glad I decided to take a look. France is indeed very lovely. Thank you for sharing it. Have a wonderful day, with love Janice

    • Hi Janice, Thank you so much, welcome to the blog and I hope you will read some other posts and follow along. Thank you also for taking the time to comment, I love reading every single comment I receive and chatting with my readers, this is the part that makes it all so worthwhile. Susan x

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