As part of our “holiday” we were on our way to visit Saintes with its Roman amphitheatre and cathedral. The day was sleeting and cold. Just too late I saw a handpainted sign, Brocante. But a quick right hand turn and a bumpy track behind a factory brought us round to another sign saying “Brocante ici.” We looked, we looked again. But this was surely a garage, old cars parked on the hardstanding and a bonfire smoking in a rather “fin du monde” manner. I hopped over puddles to take a look and outside a low building there were indeed minimal signs of neglected brocante. Rain drummed down from a broken gutter onto a disused washing machine. Three rosy cheeked men, large of girth, were sitting down to plates of food and motioned me through to a dimly lit room with more offerings. I came away with a few items, having spent six euros! Bargains of the day!
I’d arranged to visit the depot of a dealer near La Rochelle. We drove on quiet roads across wide open tracts of land and newly ploughed fields.
This depot wasn’t a vast hangar with rows upon row of laden shelves but, with a good eye for simple line and form, the dealer had displayed his utilitarian stock most decoratively. Garden urns were placed on an enfilade; a metal chair hung from a shutter; watering cans with patina lined up on a shelf. It was a good visit, and in an upbeat mood we loaded some lovely pieces into Nelly. As we were leaving, he mentioned a nearby place on an industrial estate that dealt with house clearance. Well, perhaps a quick visit then.
Just outside the door to this depot, beneath a red parasol, was a stall selling green leafed clementines. The stall holder leaned against his van, woolly hat pulled down over his ears. When I asked for a kilo he shook his head smilingly, “So sorry, it is five kilos minimum. This is for you though,” handing me a vibrantly orange fruit.
A large wood burner with metal chimney soaring up to the roof stood near the entrance, and the woman at the counter was eating clementines and putting the peel on top of the stove to fragrance the air. Things were well ordered in here, valuable items in glass cabinets, and rows of household items grouped together. Further on was another area of tables, chairs, cupboards and so on. It was good to see a lot of people in here, keen to buy. I picked up an enormous galvanised metal tub and tottered to the front. “I will guard it preciously for you,” said the woman, as I returned to look further and gather a few more items. The sun was setting as these things were put into Nelly, and the clementine, shared with Graham, was beautifully sweet.