The hotel lobby on the outskirts of Le Mans was busy with dealers who were regulars at the Deballage. Laetitia, the receptionist, handled their jocular high spirits with seasoned aplomb. The hotel restaurant was passable, and a dinner of steak frites, Tarte Normande and a glass of red wine worked restorative wonders.
Just before 8am next morning I had a rendezvous with Therese, my dealer friend from near Cherbourg. We embraced and caught up on a few months’ news. She said her preference was to start with the outside pitches as they were “plus spontané” than in the halls. The organiser of the Deballage, known for her no-nonsense approach, came on the loud speaker, reminding dealers not to start unloading until 8am sharp: “The first one who puts out anything before then, I will have him!” As the gates opened and buyers surged forward, Therese and I agreed to meet later for coffee, then both headed into the dazzling, frosty light to begin our buying.
I’d not been to Le Mans for a number of years but during that time I’d met many dealers from the other regions I’d travelled around. What a pleasure it was to bump into so many of them here. Christophe from the delightful shop in Bagnoles was there and I bought a large quantity of bar glasses from him. Lilianne and Christian were there, and said come and see us again soon. It was a good day.
A plane took off and flew overhead as I bought an oak stand fitted with a white ceramic water fountain and bowl. I would of course be collecting it later. Pointing up at the sky, the dealer joked that I should not forget that he was located beneath the plane. A large box of metal lilies on bamboo stems drew me over to a stand. They come from a convent, the dealer told me. I bought all of them and we agreed I would pick them up later.
As Therese and I met for coffee in the cavernous restaurant, someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was a dealer whose house I’d been to in the past and whose wife sold lovely linens. He said they did not have a pitch at the market this time but they had some sheets and napkins for me if I would like to meet them out in the car parking. Madame passed out bundles of linens from the van and her husband put them into bin bags for me. It was quickly done and everyone was happy.
The Deballage markets start promptly and end promptly at 13h. Madame the organiser came on the loudspeaker again to remind dealers they did not have the right to leave a moment before then. Further chastisements were brandished should anyone begin to think of doing so. Towards midday the rush of the morning calmed down and the business of collecting purchases began. I hired a large trolley that would carry everything in one go – a great improvement. The site was large and I had a fair bit to collect. The man with the metal lilies had packed everything up and gone for lunch his neighbour told me. I would have to go back later.
I pushed the trolley from stand to stand, loading up chairs, pictures, a shelf unit, kitchen ware, more sheets, ceramics – but when I returned to the lily man with a full trolley I found only an empty pitch. My heart sank. It was the third time a dealer had disappeared on me! The organiser’s office gave me the dealer’s phone number and later that day I spoke to him. He was full of apologies – he had put my box in the van and forgotten about it. We arranged a rendezvous for the Deballage in March the following year. The lilies would be Easter Lilies not Christmas Lilies.
Then on up to Caen for the night ferry, with a stop in Sées. Repairs on the café hotel that had been gutted by fire were coming on well. New roof beams were in place and re-tiling had begun. As I stood looking across the square a man got out of his car, opened the boot, shouldered a hefty stuffed bull’s head with horns and walked into the building. Through the window of the Brocante in the main square I could see all sorts of enticing things, but the shop was shut and the dealer’s mobile was on answerphone. I would have to come back next trip!