Looking for the Big Pumpkin

shop volailles & gibiers
This is not a pumpkin shop, but it has classy chickens.

Saint-Germain is as Good a Place to Look as Any

Saint-Germain-en-Laye:- Friday, 24. October 1997:- Halloween is going 'public' in France. A costume shop operator in Paris told me a week ago that French interest in this curious fete has increased in a major way over the past three or four years.

Living as I do 'out west' where quite a number of foreign residents reside, I have seen traces of Halloween around for some time. Usually, though, the date for it nearly coincides with Toussaint, which is next Saturday, 1. November - and the school holidays for this started today.

Yes, you read it correctly. France has school holidays for Halloween - or is it for Toussaint? Seven weeks have gone by since school resumed after the months-long summer holidays and our little tyke's heads are so bursting with knowledge that they must absolutely have ten days off.

This will prepare them for the time when they are parents too and do not have any time off for Halloween, or pumpkin display Toussaint either - because it is on Saturday - it will prepare them for another school holiday when they have to find some place to 'park' their kids for a week. By then, if we have any sense, we will be hiding in the Canaries so we don't get stuck doing any babysitting.

Back to here and now; on top of it, they get Halloween.

This is the big display in the veggie shop - but why so red? They were all red.

With all the 'action heros' and outright 'ghouls' on TV these days, this has become a boom time for the few costume shops around - but it is an especially big event at the jumbo-jet-sized hanger-like toy supermarkets which dot even the landscape in France.

These places are characterized by having huge parking lots and looking like they were purpose-built as warehouses for plywood. Inside them, industrial storage construction is used, so if you spend a lot of time in warehouses, you'll feel right at home, but I personally hope you don't. Don't work in one, I mean. If you do, a job's a job and nobody will sneer at it.

Instead of being out on some prairie where these warehouses and their parking lots abound, I am in Saint-Germain, which is quite a tidy little town at the western end of the RER line 'A.' I am here because last year's - a week early, on account of the school holidays - school Halloween party was held.

It was on this market place, on a day when there was no market. Today, a Friday, it is a market day and it fills this entire parking lot in the middle of the commercial area of this old town. Actually, it is the 'market place' and it is used as a parking lot when nothing better - like a market - is happening.

Saint-Germain has a big market. The streets adjacent to the market are filled with shops which are substitutes, for days when no market is on; or they are shops with specialties - such as cheese, and there fetez olaween are also the boulangeries which are a fundamental necessity.

Several of the stalls have pumpkins. They are quite red rather than orange. Many stalls have pumpkin in slices and I do not think these are the stalls oriented towards Halloween.

Trust France Télécom to have a pumpkin.

Those with whole pumpkins, have wide flat ones, and not too big. Despite last year's Halloween party here, I think the market people - who were not present; therefore didn't take much notice of it either. I mean, nobody thought to tell them to get a bunch of pumpkins, suitable for jazzing up as Jack'O'Lanterns, for me to spot today. But I should remember, that today is a week early and maybe there will be kilotons of pumpkins here next week.

Down one of the streets were the food shops are, a fruit and veggie dealer has a really neat pumpkin display opposite his cash booth - and the 'witch's hair' part has huge spidery bugs in it. Near this, is an equally elaborate display festooned with grapevines and big bunches of red and white grapes plus some rustical wine-like things.

After these two displays there is not much room left in the shop for the fruit and veggies, and the boss moves some customers out of the way so I can shoot his very magnificent Halloween decoration.

As I walk around I see other windows with pumpkins in them or bats and witches, and some of them are a bit timid - what the dickens is Halloween? - and some others are full-tilt.

Generally there are a lot of well-decorated windows in Saint-Germain, because there are a lot of shops in a small area and a lot of it is willy the spook a bit up-market or middle-class, and there is definitely some competition, although not much in the price department.

While waiting to talk to an 'expert' at France Télécom's commercial office, I pick up a postcard with a pumpkin on it. "Fêtez Olaween!" it says on it; it is a promotion for some new mobile phone called 'Ola,' which is not a bad name. What is usually said here is, 'Allo.'

This one looks like he is going to say 'Olaween!' any second.

If it had been in Spain, it would have been better as there it is 'Hola!' which is said, 'O-La,' because they drop their 'h's too, and that makes me wonder how do French speakers say, 'Halloween?' If we were in Strasbourg and being bilingual, this could come out as 'Hello Vienna!'

When I pick up the phone I say my name so the caller will know who they've reached. Quite often, if the caller has mis-dialed, they'll say, 'Allo, allo?' And Commedia costumes then I'll say my name again. And then the caller often asks who I am - because I'm not the person they want to talk to. Since I've said my name twice already, I ask them who they are.

All the little costume shops are now doing good business at Halloween too.

From this point things either get straightened out quickly, or they get crazed. If it is the latter, the caller may want to know why I want to know who they are. Then I can say, "Tell me first why you called me." Sometimes they claim I called them. Other times I get accused of wrongfully answering my phone.

I win a lot of kitchens, bathrooms and free trips to Spain too. I know these people who are calling have a rotten job so I answer all their questions, and sometimes this leads to follow-up calls and even mail, but I never never go the 'Leather Centre' in Poissy to collect my prize.

The part of Poissy where these places are, is mostly parking lots with warehouses in the middle of them. One of them is full of Halloween junk too.


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