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  • Shannon Elisabeth

Rural Craftsmen: Les Vanniers

Updated: Jun 13, 2020



If you stroll through a farmer's market in France, you might notice some women, usually older, pulling shopping caddies. My belle-mère (mother-in-law)'s caddie was my first observation of how French people shop differently than in America.

Over the years, I began noticing wicker caddies darting from stall to stall. While most people, including my belle-mère, prefer the practical fold-down canvas versions, I am fond of old-fashioned hand-woven carts.

I began searching everywhere from department stores in Paris to drogueries in small villages with no luck. Last year, while shopping at a farmer's market near Avignon on a stifling hot day, I focused on shoppers rather than the bountiful produce to find out where to buy one.

I politely tapped on elderly ladies' shoulders with a proper "bonjour," before asking my question. Most shoppers replied that their baskets were more than twenty years old and hadn't the foggiest idea where they bought them. (This says something of the non-disposable attitude in France.)

Discouraged, I walked to the oyster and wine bar under the shade of a giant Platanus tree for an après market snack. While smelling the tree's heavenly scent of Tilleul flowers, I noticed another woven cart! I ran toward it, nearly knocking over a display of artichokes. A savvy shopper wearing a large sun hat had filled her caddie to the brim with cheeses, meats, asparagus, Gariguette strawberries with their tale-tell pointy ends, a whole chicken and something that resembled a rabbit. I took a chance and "bonjoured" her from afar. Startled, she warmed up and smiled. She told me about "les vanneries," or basket making, and that there was a village near St. Rémy with its vannerie with a museum that commemorates this tradition.

Later, I drove to the small village of Vallabrègues, flanked by the Rhône river to visit the basket maker or le Vannier. Zig-zagging through the narrow streets, following hand made baskets hung from lanterns, I found the small shop with a few baskets sitting outside. Inside, quietly weaving long willow branches was Daniel Benibghi, a professional and has made baskets for 25 years.

I squealed with delight when I saw a woven market caddie in the corner for sale for less than 100 euros. The Vannier said that this village used to have 450 weavers, but sadly the trade has dwindled since mass-marketing methods came about. He described his métier as a living heritage and showed me woven baby cribs, wine jugs, a coffin, a life-size woven horse, fishing creels, poultry basket, and more. Consider, folks used baskets instead of plastic bags.

I hope that we can support these rural craftsmen because they indeed are the backbone of our world. Help spread the word.

Info:

Every August, this village hosts a European basket festival, where basket makers come from all over the world.

Info:

Every August, this village hosts a European basket festival, where basket makers come from all over the world.

Vallabrègues Website: https://www.france-voyage.com/cities-towns/vallabregues-9894.htm

The village basket maker:

http://www.vannerie-oseraie.com 6 Rue Carnot, 30300 Vallabrègues, France

Phone : +33 4 66 59 18 70

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