The car park at the budget hotel near the Parc des Expositions in Chartres filled steadily with vans and tourist coaches. Across the way in the adjacent hotel people met over an aperitif. Most were dealers. The words that rose above general murmur of conversation were ….. “deballage”, “marchand”, “client”, “debarrasser une maison”, “cave” and “grenier.”
A set of letters from above an old jeweller’s shop lay magnificently on the ground: BIJOUTERIE. I wanted them, but they carried a heavy price tag. If they were still there later on I would reconsider. But someone else began looking with interest and enquired the price. It is said that one always remembers most the things that one wanted buy but didn’t, so I dived in and bought them. It was a day for shop signs as later on I bought the letters “PATISSIER” from a cake shop that had opened sometime in the 1960’s. A metal tray for carrying patisserie joined my purchases.
Elsewhere, six silver plated metal domes sat gloriously on a quilted “boutis” bedcover with tiny pink flowers. Two chaps, bundled up against the chill, good humouredly bantered with me. One of them was a little shy, the other teasingly rather poetically said, “Oh, il est si sensible vous savez – la moindre fremissement d’ailes….!” (“Oh, he is so sensitive you know – the least fluttering of a bird’s wing…..!”)
David was there by his unloaded van. He poured me coffee from his flask. He was wearing fingerless gloves, and I asked how did one say “mittens” in French. This one was easy: “Mittens” he said, which in French sounded like “Meetuns.”
By lunchtime Sylvie was loaded with metal garden chairs, a many drawered clock-maker’s desk painted in deepest grey, a large box of white ceramic dishes and other rich pickings. I started out in the direction of Le Mans but, following an anticipatory sign indicating a Brocante tucked away in the countryside a kilometre or two away, I turned off towards Condé sur Huisne.
The flaking white painted metal industrial doors were locked shut. I remembered this place! It had been shut last time I’d driven through from the other direction too. Oh well. As I was about to climb back into Sylvie, a gleaming maroon car pulled up. A dimpled woman, auburn hair piled in a chignon, shocking pink lipstick and a heavy blanket of perfume got out. “Mais non!”” she exclaimed with some irritation, “he should not be closed today, I have come to collect something from him….. But today I am on holiday and visiting brocantes, so why don’t you follow me and we will go together.” Before I had manoeuvred Sylvie around the woman had zipped off and I had to put my foot down to keep up with her. A few miles on we turned into
the yard of an industrial building, now occupied by another Groupement d’Antiquaires, a business model obviously gaining favour in France. The yard was jammed with vans and cars, and one of the dealers was directing traffic. We spent only a few minutes there and set off again.