July. The weather is hot. I’m on an extended trip over to the Perche region and down to Le Mans for one of the large dealer’s fairs. I’m covering new territory, but also crossing the tracks of weekend visits made in my early twenties with my Parisian boyfriend to his father’s farmhouse in the Sarthe – we climbed cherry trees, conoed on green shaded rivers, drank the lovely aperitif of Quinquina and red wine, and breakfasted on the best brioche I’ve ever tasted, dipped into bowls of coffee. Good memories of happy times.
I’d arrived at Cherbourg in the early evening and driven down to the manor house south of Valognes, picking up a pizza on the way. Madame opened the door with a smile. “There is someone here who will be pleased to see you, “ she said. In the enormous stone floored, beamed kitchen, around a table in front of the fire, sat Sandra, a spirited and delightful Scotts woman I’d met there the previous year, with her lovely French family. A chair was pulled up for me, a glass of wine poured. Madame (who I now get to call Monique) later produced a banana and coconut tarte – a new recipe she says – and after a welcoming evening I make my way up to stone spiral staircase to my room in the attic. I’m sorry to leave early the next morning, knowing I won’t be back that year.
I drive down the Cotentin peninsula and stop at a dealer south of Saint Lo who has a rather chaotic road-side establishment. “Some people like things nicely arranged, but I like them all piled up!” he says. I’m trying to find a pair of oak doors and ask him if he has any. Yes, he has, he says, but he doesn’t know where. We scramble over some furniture and lift down a pretty cherry wood writing desk which is loaded into the van. But the whereabouts of the oak doors is never determined.