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Famous French Flea Market Canceled This Year Over Terrorism Fears


In France, many summer events have been scaled back and even cancelled over security fears. One of the biggest events to be suspended this week was Europe's largest antique fair and flea market, held in the northern town of Lille. What's known as the Braderie of Lille will not take place this year, and NPR's Eleanor Beardsley visited Lille to see how people were feeling about it.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: I'm in Lille's Grand Place. The Braderie of Lille, the giant street fair, has been going on here since the Middle Ages. I always wanted to do a story on it and was actually planning to do that this year. And in a sign of the times, the story I'm instead doing is about how the braderie had to be cancelled because of heightened fears of terrorism.


MARTINE AUBRY: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: With tears in her eyes Friday, Lille's mayor, Martine Aubry, said the decision was extremely painful, but she had no choice. The city simply could not guarantee the safety of more than 2 million people who pour into Lille for the three-day flea market festival at the beginning of each September. Lille native Jeremie Vasseur says he and his girlfriend are disappointed, but they understand.

JEREMIE VASSEUR: (Through interpreter) I think there's a new reality now. There's a sort of fear settling in. People are afraid of what might happen. Even before the fair was cancelled, we were wondering if we would go considering what just happened in Nice.

BEARDSLEY: The July 14 attack in Nice by a truck driver who plowed through a crowd, killing 85 people, and the murder a week later in Normandy of an elderly Catholic priest by two Islamist extremist teenagers has put France on edge just as things were beginning to return to normal after the country successfully hosted the month-long European soccer championship. Twenty-year-old Lille university student Marion Fontaine says the braderie's cancellation shocked her.

MARION FONTAINE: (Through interpreter) The only time it was cancelled before was under the German occupation, so the message is really negative and difficult to accept. We're not exactly at war now, but we're in some kind of situation we've never experienced, and we don't seem to be able to find a solution.

BEARDSLEY: Some in Lille's business community were angered by the cancellation because they say they weren't even consulted. The head of Lille's chamber of commerce called the braderie's cancellation an economic and cultural disaster.

Chef Frederic Dumont is cooking up a big pot of mussels at a hopping brasserie just off Lille's central square. Moules-frites, or mussels with a side of fries, is one of the braderie's traditional dishes. Some 500 tons of mussels are consumed every year during the event.

FREDERIC DUMONT: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "We have Dutch and French varieties, and we steam them up in white wine with parsley, thyme and laurel," says Dumont. The chef says moules-frites became a staple in this region after World War I because it was cheaper to feed workers mussels than meat.

(Speaking French).

DIDIER PAPART: (Speaking French).


As I sit down to enjoy a moules-frites of my own, I strike up a conversation with my neighbor, Lille doctor Didier Papart. He says the braderie should never have been cancelled.

PAPART: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "Terrorism can happen anywhere," he says. "We should've maintained the braderie. By cancelling it, we handed the terrorists a victory. What a shame." Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Lille. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.