Chance finds

a sure cLater in the day Graham and I visited Argentan sur Creuse, prettily perched on the river. We strolled down past the old water mills, along the tree-lined banks, and – oh, look, c’est un Antiquaire! We went in to the shop at 19h 30 but Monsieur reassured us that he wouldn’t be closing just yet. Guests at the adjacent hotel would sometimes stop in on their way to the nearby restaurant. We haggle agreeably over two pairs of magnificent candelabra, some charmingly distressed garden chairs and a very old trunk covered with boar skin.

Sunday is our last day, but there is an annual vide-grenier at La Chapelle du Fer just down the road. The tradition was that every year all the village animals would go the Chapel. Here they would be blessed and, where appropriate, attended to by the Blacksmith. “Fer” meaning “iron”, ”Fer a cheval” meaning “horse shoe”. People were setting up stalls in an unmown field – lush and dew laden. It is a calm, warm morning, and the stall holders seem in a good mood. I see the same lady with her daughter with more lovely linens – I chapel du fercan’t resist. Someone is setting up a sound system and suddenly Mireille Matthieu crackles into life. “Ah non, pas ca toute la journee!” exclaims one stallholder, not that all day! Yves Montand follows with “Les Feuilles Mortes”, a song of which I am particularly fond. “Et la mer efface sur le sable, les pas des amants desunis.” (And the sea erases on the beach the footsteps of lovers who have been parted).

Back at the Gite we pack and clean. Monsieur and Madame arrive and are quite happy to let us take our time until the last bag and box is stowed. Amicable farewells are made and off we go, driving through an incredibly hot day, up towards Caen. At 19h 30, with the sun lowered in the sky, and feeling palpably more easy in our skins, we pull into a dealer visited last November. The kindly elderly man came out of his manor house to meet us. “Ah!”, he said “I was just lamenting on the phone that this had been a very poor weekend for business.”

I had been asked to look out for monogrammed sheets with specific initials for a client, and remembered the big box of fine sheets Catherine and I had examined the previous year. “Oh, they are still upstairs in the spare bedroom where you saw them. I didn’t want everybody traipsing through my house, and the box is too heavy for me to bring down.” Graham obliged and brought it down the stone spiral staircase. A pair of beautifully monogrammed sheets sat right on top, with the right initials. Quel chance. Monsieur put them in a carrier bag – from Maison LeNotre – known for its exquisite patisserie with prices to match. He recalled a gateau brought to him decorated with horses heads made from icing sugar and eyes that lit up. On we travel and reach Caen Ouistreham for a peaceful supper on the terrace of Le Channel, and the night ferry home.

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