Unexpectedly, travel plans changed for a March trip. The big yellow ferry that had done service between Le Havre and Portsmouth for many years was being taken out of service. There would be no crossings the day a new vessel was brought in, so I travelled a day earlier. I could use the extra time to visit the Abbey at Jumieges and rootle around a new area before the markets at Chartres and Le Mans.
Two Vide Greniers had been advertised not far from Le Havre, and at 8h I drove from the ferry first to St Romain de Colbec and then to Bretteville du Grand Caux. Oh dear. Two disappointing markets. Bustling locals in a hall were setting up stalls selling unwanted plastic homewares and children’s clothing. I spent 3 euros on a pretty dish and left. The next Vide Grenier, in a municipal gymnasium, was much the same, although my eye fell on one stall with a few items in the colour “Vieille” – that yellowy, faded, parchmenty, dusty, sort of “Old” colour which just does it for me. A stand of appealing home-baked cakes was the only other solace.
I drove through narrow lanes and flat landscapes, noticing how in this exposed maritime area walls of trees surrounded large farm complexes, ancient roots knuckling down into banks of earth, forming protective enclosures. Primroses and emerald grass bright in dazzling sun.
I inadvertently dropped south of the Seine on the Pont de Brotonne, so then took a road that twisted down through steep woodland to a stone quay where one of the small “bacs”, car ferries, that cross the loops of the fast running Seine was moored.
The Brocante shop had disappeared from the Grande Place in Jumieges, but I was happy to spend an hour or so visiting the Abbey. White chalk stone facades against a cloudless sky, gusts of rooks up in the tribunes. Then wandering the eighteenth century terraces with their urns perched high on walls and circular stone stairways, fine enough to have graced the grandest of chateaux.
I’d booked a night in Verneuil sur Avre. On my way down I passed a Brocante that was open. Inside this hangar with huge beams an endearing man welcomed me and we talked. He had retired, he said, but kept shop for the owner. They could have four times as much work emptying houses if they wanted it. “Mais vous savez, il arrive un moment ou il faut dire ‘assez’.” “You have to know when to say ‘enough’, because this kind of work, bringing a piano down from the fourth floor of an apartment in Rouen, with no lift, can break a man. And we find desks with drawers that have not even been emptied – the grand children aren’t interested. So much personal stuff – I have an incinerator where I burn it all, it is too personal.”
I picked up some wooden articulated shoe shapers. “Oh, I think we have more of those – thirty pairs perhaps,” he said, and together we opened every wardrobe and buffet, but no more were found, although an armful of other objects were gathered up. I brought Sylvie to the front of the shop and parked on the pavement to load some boxes of kitchenware and ceramics. Monsieur came out and wanted to chat about my van; “Ah c’est un Mercedes, quelle année? ca roule bien?” and finally, “Allez, bonne route, bonne chance!“