A trip was planned with Lesley, who had made me so welcome in her stunning shop in Tetbury after the fire at Station Mill Antiques. We would travel in convoy.
From Le Havre we drove along the north bank of the Seine as it meandered towards the sea. We crossed at the Pont de Brotonne, then down through forests that opened out into fields of lime-green shimmering barley.
The first stop for a coffee is always a pleasure after a night ferry crossing: it confirms, ah, we have arrived, we are here and there are things to buy.
Le Neubourg was all Sunday-morning-calm and swept streets. We chose a café terrace on the bright side of the main square.
The brocante with the big red sign outside was open and the older gentleman I remembered had pulled his chair into a moted pool of bright sun. “Mesdames, bonjour,” he said with a flourish and gestured for us to look around. I earmarked a pretty watercolour of flowers in a worn gold frame and a 19th century round top mirror. Getting the mirror down off the wall was a bit of an effort: Monsieur up a ladder struggling with seized screws and me with arms upstretched supporting the mirror. “This makes up for me not being at the Messe this morning,” he puffed.
Charles Trenet’s “La Mer.” Such an evocative song of summers by the sea. I clustered together a handful of faded pink lace from a basket and some balls of hemp string. These small things, next to the blue covers of the sheet music, made a lovely random composition.
Off then on straight roads due south to a large Brocante on the way to Chartres. “Bonjour, bonjour, a pleasure to see you again, would you like some coffee?” asked David. We grazed and pondered around the large hangar. An oil painting in a beautiful, dusty, faded pink frame; pewter candlesticks; 1940’s copies of Art et la Mode, with refined models in pinch-waisted couture and elegant hats; glass ware; commodes and needle point fauteuils. This was the first trip I’d made with another dealer, and it was interesting to have Lesley’s perspective on various items.
David at the Brocante, always helpful and welcoming, was run off his feet. Customers wanted to know this price or that price, and he was busy phoning other dealers to find out best prices as well as fielding questions and totting up purchases. It was the day before the Chartres deballage and this Brocante made a good first call. Customers were arriving in a steady flow and the car park was filling up. American clients with containers to fill and ship home were being brought here by their couriers.
No more armoires for a while I’d told myself (I had enough in stock). But I was taken with the original grey paint of one with its blue and charcoal free hand lines. This was the day of stuck screws. The doors did not detach easily but with persistence the armoire was loaded into Sylvie and the space inside it left accessible for later filling with smaller purchases.
Hot and sticky by the end of our marathon trawl here, we continued on narrow strips of road, through tracts of farming land, with the cathedral at Chartres coming into view on the horizon in the late afternoon. We were both tired and could have settled for a quick supper at our budget hotel near the exhibition park, but Chartres was not to be passed by. We waited in a side entrance of the cathedral as Messe was ending, then, in the cool smooth marble interior, we lit a votive candle in memory of a dear woman of great courage and exquisite good taste who had died not long before.
Chartres was hosting a festival of light, and as night fell the facades of the cathedral and the Eglise Saint Pierre were picked out in surreal patterns of light, with elements from the stained glass windows moving in floating patterns across the walls. The ancient stone bridges over the Eure were bathed in colour, with jumping fish, butterflies and mermaids in luminous oranges, turquoises and yellows. We were enchanted.