Francoise handed me a fine linen sheet with beautifully worked drawn threads (this is called Jours de Venise, like peeking through Venetian blinds) and monogramme. We examined it reverentially. “It’s good that I don’t also have a magasin de brocante,” she said, “because we’d be in competition here – we like all the same things!” And we agreed that although we didn’t know each other very well, we felt a warmth and affinity between us.
Back downstairs I emptied bookshelves, took down paintings, tipped out the contents of a dressing table drawer – makeup, hair curlers, dentures, old eau de cologne. A “living” object within a domestic context one minute, loaded into a van the next.
In the courtyard Graham is patient and helpful. We venture into an out building, a workshop with a cacophany of tins, tools, piles of metal and wood. In the room adjacent, perhaps at one time a stable hand’s lodging, we find a stack of 1950’s Paris Match. Many have mouse nibbled corners, but Audrey Hepburn gazes out serenely, in little hat and pale grey couture dress, and Gina Lollobrigida smiles lusciously at her readers. We pack the last pieces into Moe and agree a decent price.
Before we go Francoise insists that we must see the “Saddlery”. She leads us down an overgrown track and tramples back brambles to get to a small chapel. The large iron key turns without difficulty and we step into a horse-woman’s paradise. On the apse wall an angel has been painted holding reins to two horses. Around this old chapel there are rosettes, photographs, plaques, newspaper clippings displayed alongside 18th century leather side-saddles and tack. This a rare secret world, that shouldn’t be touched, just preserved for all its eccentric charm and history. “At least get an interiors magazine to photograph it,” I suggest. But, regrettably, I learn later, it was all cleared out by another family member.
With kisses and hugs, late in the evening Graham and I head back to our Gite. I am dusty, shattered, and very happy. Such opportunities only arise “from mouth to ear” as they say (“de bouche a l’oreille”) and I feel hugely grateful to Francoise.