On a blustery November night I set off for the ferry at Portsmouth, regretfully leaving Graham at home by the wood-burner in our cottage. I’ve got myself a bit wound up about going actually – the euro rate is abysmal, Moe has been losing a bit of oil, I’ve not sold many large items recently, where will I put my new purchases, and it’s cold and dark out there! But once at the ferry port, with flags flapping furiously, I am directed through, round, up and in, and suddenly I am in a floating world of Frenchness, looking at chandelier Christmas tree decorations in the shop, and then off to my cabin for a scant few hours sleep.
It was still dark leaving the ferry at Caen. The kiosks of one-armed bandits closed and the fish market stark and quiet. My first appointment was with Jean-Christophe and his grandfather, about two hours drive away.
The little town of Carrouges was just opening up for the day. Behind the bar of a café stood Monsieur with his Alsation dog looking on. Over a grand crème, “Ouest France” recounted the death of Levi-Strauss, and stated that President Obama’s worst enemy is the belief that he could make everything better.
Jean-Christophe arrived in his bashed up van as I pulled off the road. He opened up the metal shutter that still was broken. His grandfather, he said, had had heart problems and had been forbidden to lift anything, but his empire somehow rumbled on around him. Barns still cascaded with paraphernalia, dark corners stacked with furniture still looked promising. Each box of glassware, farm tools, ceramics, pictures still holding promise. One or two guys drove up and looked around, hands deep in jeans pockets, monosyllabic. Papi kept an eagle eye on proceedings – and as always drove a hard bargain. I loaded up with two long farmhouse tables (a great start to the trip) and a couple of nice chairs along with many other small items. Jean-Christophe said; “You should get a bigger van!”
On down to Le Mans. Through rain, then sun, then a rainbow. Leaves scattering in gusts of wind. The outskirts of Le Mans are not pretty; dual carriageways through endless industrial and retail zones. But eventually I arrive at the Parc des Expositions, near the aerodrome and part of the 24 heures route. The car park, normally a sea of white vans, is now empty. It is the day before “Les Puces Sarthoises” and stall holders were setting up inside the Rotonda.
There was a nice, easy atmosphere. Dealers unpacked and chatted, and seemed less “on duty” as I roamed around. I picked, peered and re-visited stands. It was here that I met Lilianne who was setting out some immaculate monogrammed sheets. “I live just south of The Loire”, she said, “I have lots of things,” and we arranged that I would visit her farm in a couple of days. Along with many small finds I purchased another long table, aged oak top on a metal bistro base, and a delightful small oil painting of two lemons.