We drove on to a Groupement d’Antiquaires near Nogent, to see Olivier, Laurent, and Julie the dog. Olivier came round from the back in his work apron and we shook hands. Formal, courteous, gracious. They told me in hushed voices that they were planning to open a shop in a nearby town with a reputation for excellent and expensive antiques shops, and very much on the Parisian circuit. “You should buy a house down here and rent the shop opposite us,” Olivier grinned at me and at Graham. A tendril of possibility caught at my imagination.
We swept south of Le Mans and down into Anjou. Just one more stop north of the Loire, a rendezvous with Fred, a dealer I’d met in England. His hangar was set in a mesh fenced forecourt, and Fred emerged through metal sliding doors and ushered us in, pulling the doors closed behind him. Rows of furniture, piles of books, mounds of boxes, racks of paintings, heaps of linen were all here. Graham and he talked together and assisted when I needed to get to things that were out of my reach.
This was the sort of place I find extremely satisfying – a bit dusty, a bit mysterious, a place for predictable remnants and also for the unexpected. A two metre long café sign was pulled out from behind a cupboard. Bedside tables, books, pretty plates, paintings, tins and a pair of tall doors, a faded petrol blue, still set in their frame were carried out to the van. Fred had to go and said he’d come back later to lock up the forecourt gates, so Graham and I methodically packed as much as we could into the vestiare and then continued south, over the Loire at Bourgeuil. We bought the makings of supper and came to our chambre d’hote down a stony track, in the middle of the vines. We sat out amongst the hollyhocks in the evening sun with supper and a bottle of local St Nicolas de Bourgeuil.
Villages along La Loire and its tributaries, the Vienne and the Indre, are finely dressed with white tufa stone houses garlanded with pots of flowers and vines, standing behind ornate wrought iron gates. The once busy river ports with cobbled quays shaded by plane trees, now harbour a few shallow wooden fishing boats that
rest together in the greeny water. The Loire is wide, whilst the Vienne and the Indre are full of lazy reflections, lily pads and frogs. Wooded land, turreted chateaux, great tracts of sunflowers and vineyards add to the picture. We stopped to look at the Chateau of Ussé, on the Indre, said to have inspired the story of Sleeping Beauty, La Belle au Bois Dormant. The seventeenth century author of this story, Charles Perrault, also wrote Cinderella, Blue Beard, Puss in Boots, Little Red Riding Hood, Tom Thumb – adapted from folk tales dating back to the thirteenth century. Many of these fairy stories were then adopted by The Brothers Grimm.
And on a hot summer afternoon, finding a place for Sylvie in the shade of a large fig tree was a pleasure.