A vide grenier and an unexpected auction.


Downstairs, Madame had set up the automatic coffee machine the night before, and left me a newspaper clipping next to the pots of home-made apricot and greengage jam: an auction of the contents of an antique shop was to be held that afternoon. Good news doesn’t come much better than that! I was en route before 6am to Sainte Marie du Mont for the morning’s Vide Grenier. The enormous square church tower of the town was visible on the horizon from a long way off, and the market was clustered around it on the dewy grass and in the nearby streets. This church was one of the first to be liberated by the US during WWII. The story goes that the then vicar, sweeping up after the night’s battles for the bell tower, heard a sneeze in the apparently empty church. He casually strolled outside and alerted US soldiers nearby, who discovered two German soldiers hiding inside.

One old chap was selling a couple of wood wormy garden chairs, covered in dust and droppings. Non! he would not negotiate on the price, even though they had been in his barn for years. And each time I made a circuit of the stallholders as they unloaded, one stall kept drawing my attention – the palette of faded duck egg blue upholstery braid, rusty metal, old papers brown with age and yellowed hemp sheets – was utterly beguiling. Love it, love it, love it!

The local bar cafe is open on the corner. I seek necessary refreshment, a coffee outside on the still night-damp terrace, before carrying on to unearth paintings, frames, jugs, books, linens etc from amongst records of 1970’s French music idols, pink plastic tricycles and shell cases from the war.

Elizabeth, meanwhile, had walked a couple of miles to the Chateau de Crosville. This chateau has that kind of “wabi sabi”, used and worn and beautiful feel to it. We rendezvoused at the little café in the courtyard for lemon cake and coffee, black. The day’s milk had yet to arrive from the farm dairy. The chateau wasn’t open for visitors until the afternoon but they let us in. On the vast stone staircase were old newspaper cuttings spanning the last 30 years telling how the Lefol family had struggled to save this chateau. The family originally lived on the farm, and bought the chateau up as it fell into ruin. The enormous beams above us had the remains of XVIII century paintings on them; the crests on the chimney places had been hacked off during the Revolution; the clay floor tiles undulated and the walls were covered in flaking limewash. In one of the vast upstairs rooms there was no ceiling – just beams through which one looked up to see the roof slate. All in all, an unforgettable place.

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