Heavy rain cleared after an hour travelling the straight rural roads of the Indre departement. Frederic Chopin, with Georges Sand, the love of his short life, had spent part of their tempestuous relationship in this region.
I visited a dealer at his home down a leafy driveway, on the edge of La Chatre, a town with a vast, ridiculously picturesque, cobbled market square surrounded by tall, narrow half-timbered houses. It was increasingly difficult, Monsieur said, to find good pieces. “Everyone says the same, the auctions are full only of very big armoires that no-one has room for. But, c’est comme ca, and so now I have time to remain in my atelier and restore my stock for the markets in Avignon.”
But in his small showroom I found a beautiful pale grey 18th century writing table, an 18th century mirror and a 1937 poster by Paul Colin, known for his theatre and graphic design and for his relationship with Josephine Baker. Not what I would normally be drawn to, but the colour and layout was very attractive.
“We have just opened a small shop in the town, my wife will be there” said Monsieur. So before loading things into the van I drove into town and visited Madame, a dark haired woman of a certain age with a deep, melodious voice and warmth in her smile. Her small shop was bright and harmonious. There were some beautiful pieces, a glowing fruit wood commode, a large giltwood mirror frame. I bought a dozen 19th century hand made wine glasses which always satisfy the eye and the touch, and a Directoire hand tinted lithograph of a romantic demoiselle with soft, round shoulders in a diaphanous white dress, clutching a posy.
I knew the other dealer in La Chatre didn’t open until the afternoon but I popped round anyway, and by chance the door opened and he emerged, carrying out a table. “Yes, yes, you can come in but be careful, everything is very crammed in”. I stepped around a wheelbarrow, normally stationed out on the pavement, into the gloom of the tiny shop. With the lights switched on I spotted a fruit wood bench beneath a stack of objects. I love this sort of shop, compact and mysterious, with good quality items to be discovered in dark cabinets or just visible between boxes and shelves. A couple more mirrors and some small metal items were added to the pile. It was almost lunchtime as the dealer kindly helped me carry things back to the van in the market place and I drove back to collect my other purchases. As normally happens, the van had to be emptied and re-loaded to fit everything in. “People don’t realise”, said Monsieur, “just what the job entails!” as we heaved boxes and benches and tables out of and into the van.
Madame had returned home from the shop and was concerned about my lunchtime needs – did I want her to prepare a sandwich “pour la route” (I was driving on to Poitiers) or at least something to drink? Although I declined, she insisted on picking a punnet of wild strawberries, raspberries, blue berries and blackcurrants for me – little explosions of flavour as I drove along through a cloudburst and then bright sun.