When we first came to Provence, it was a second home and so we didn’t ship any of our possessions. Besides buying new beds, a fridge and cooker, I decided to furnish the house from the brocantes, (car boot sale or flea market) and second hand furniture shops near us. Charity shops as we know them in the UK don’t exist in Provence. There are various Dépôts-ventes, meaning leave and sell, in the area, where people take their unwanted furniture and are paid, less a commission when it is sold. You can find old furniture which isn’t deemed ‘antique’ at these places, and you can often find a bargain. I bought a lovely old solid wooden cupboard from one, hand crafted with wooden pegs for the same price that I would have paid for a flimsy one in a flat pack from you-know-where.
The other place I went to is Emmaüs, just outside Arles. It is on the road to Saintes- Marie-de-la-Mer, the seaside town in the Camargue. It is down a short track and covers quite a large area. You can get everything here from furniture to kitchenware, clothes and bedlinen. (linen shop is only open the first Saturday of every month). A lot of the cheaper things, are left out in the open and on tables. Sometimes they display the items, creating little scenarios and I love to spend hours wondering around imagining the lives of those to whom the things originally belonged.
The people who work at Emmaüs, there is someone in charge of each area and after you’ve selected an item you are given a chit which you take to a cashier before you are given the item, are called compagnons, and are part of the Emmaüs community, living and working with the charity that was started by Henri Grouès, a Catholic Priest better known as Abbé Pierre, in 1949.
The Abbé who lived outside Paris, was very concerned about the poverty and homelessness that he saw on the streets of the city at that time; young single mothers made homeless by the war and dispossessed soldiers unable to cope with civil life. Together with a woman he had met whilst helping the French Resistance during the War, Lucie Coutaz who became his secretary, he looked to find a way to help these people.
In Novemeber of that year, a man called Georges Legay was brought to Abbé Pierre, he had been released from jail and finding himself desperate and homeless had tried to throw himself into the River Seine. Abbé Pierre decided that this was the man who would help him in his mission and invited him to move into his house. In return for board and lodging, Georges had to agree to help the Abbé to help others like him, and thus he became the first compagnon d’Emmaüs and the Emmaüs movement was born. Soon others joined, and to raise money to build homes and feed themselves les compagnons became ‘rag pickers’ collecting unwanted clothes and selling them on, which is how the charity still makes its money today.
In the winter of 1954 the winter was so harsh and people in such dire need of food and shelter that the Abbé found himself unable to cope with the extent of the problem and he appealed on Radio Luxembourg for funds.
He described how one woman had frozen to death at 3 o’clock in the morning on the pavement of Boulevard Sebastopol still clutching her eviction notice from the day before. He asked for the donation of blankets, tents, food and stoves to be brought to the Hotel Rochester and volunteers to come forward and help, so no-one else might perish in this way.
The response was huge and was described by the press as l’insurrection de la Bonté, an uprising of kindness. Besides people coming forward to volunteer, 500 million francs were donated, everyone it seems, had been moved by the Abbé’s rousing call to alms.
This gave rise to the Emmaüs communities spreading across France and later round the World and a law was passed forbidding landlords to evict their tenants during the winter months. The communities give food, shelter and work to anyone in need, without prejudice of background, history or religious beliefs and this is still how it functions today.
All the people that work at the Emmaüs in Arles have personally benefited from the charity, many of them would no doubt be on the streets and out of work if they weren’t part of this community.
Despite having quite enough stuff in my house, I’ll use any excuse to go there just to look around and pick up the odd vintage plate or wine glass, and so when our new friends in Tarascon, Alana and Igor, said they were looking for a cupboard to buy, I jumped at the chance to take them there and take these photos
You can find doors, shutters and windows
Exercise bikes, a spinoff (‘scuse pun) of forgotten New Year’s resolutions
Anyone know what this might be used for? I think it might be something to do with grape picking or wine making and there’s a bike to get you back home from the fields for lunch.
These are what the farmers carried on their backs in years gone by to spray the vines with copper sulphate as a fungicide and pesticide. Probably worth more now for the copper they’re made from.
For those looking for a more sedantary, introspective line of work, it could be time start that novel
And the trophy everyone hopes to be awarded with for their efforts….
And if you’re looking for a retro kitchen updo…..this might be just the thing
The gadget no French kitchen should be without
Another vintage French kitchen ‘must’
And something to drink your coffee in…..
Guests coming for dinner? Only the best will do…..
And on the mantle piece, a reminder of younger more carefree days?
Dolls collected over the years, now left behind
Dogs looking for a home…..
And for those looking for Spiritual inspiration…..
Don’t forget to comment and if you live near Arles and want to visit the Emmaüs there, make sure you check their opening times before you go.