This was the first trip to France for Nelly, the new van. There had been Little Moe, then Sylvie, and now Nelly. She was a bit longer and a bit taller than her predecessors, her name in remembrance of an antiques dealer in the Luberon.
Driving down into Normandy I relished, through rainy windscreen, steep mossy banks studded with primroses, and lush green orchards. An old garage workshop turned Brocante was my first stop in Villeneuve. After a quick drive off the ferry, it was a thrill to all of a sudden be looking at shelves of familiar brocantey type things. My first purchase was an ornate metal jardinière, it would be nice filled with a pot pourri of shells and old fragments.
Driving on through a small town I passed an antiques shop, and it was open. A spacious showroom displayed gleaming fruitwood and ormolu trimmed furniture. I bought some heavy 19th century wine glasses which are always good to find. As Madame wrapped them she said her husband was going to be at their entrepot, a few kilometres away, the next morning – perhaps I would like him to escort me there?
At 9h I followed the little white van past the local cemetery and along muddy lanes to a collection of hangars. Monsieur greeted his two employees in their workshop, and we walked through a lobby stacked with panelling and old doors, into a double height warehouse. This was a vast area with aisles and aisles of armoires, buffets, commodes, cupboards. All was neatly arranged, items standing on top of each other where possible. There was a section for fireplaces, for religious statuary, for farmhouse tables. “I have been working for many years,” said Monsieur, “everyone knows me, so when there is a house to clear, they call me. Business is not what it was,” he shrugged, “but I keep buying anyway.”
As much as I would have liked to buy, I couldn’t quite find the right style, the right colour, or the right price. Up the open tread wooden steps to the mezzanine things become a little more disordered and interesting. A field of dining chairs here, a wall of drawers there.
A fine charcoal drawing of two birds in a simple gold frame drew my attention, and the poor ruined remains of a small 18th century table – only three sides and no top, but it did have all its cabriole legs. “We can fix you up with some old walnut and oak if you would like to restore it,” offered Monsieur. He also indicated a farmhouse table almost hidden beneath a pile of large baskets and racking. It’s legs needed tipping and the drawer needed attention. Would this interest me? He called down to one of the men who helped lift it out for inspection. It was not a wasted visit.
After lunch I drove to the barn of a dealer I had known for some years, a woman I admired for her style and taste. She opened the gate for me and pointed over to where I could park on the grass. Her horse looked on from the field adjacent. “Can I offer you a coffee before you take a look?” A welcome fire was burning in the grate in her atmospheric sitting room with a Louis XIV fireplace. Her 20th century home had been transformed by salvaged panelling, marble flooring, chandeliers, doors and windows.
We wandered over to the barn, the sun appeared, and it felt like winter was finally over. Ivy was still growing in over dusty bookshelves, and the swallows had nested. I loved this barn. “Bon, je te laisse regarder,”she said, “call me if you need me,” while I peered, lifted things down and pulled things out. Some lovely giltwood frames, oil paintings, plaster crests, documents, fabric for cushion covers were sorted out, put into boxes and transferred into Nelly. “Come for dinner tonight. Do you like fish?”she asked. I accepted with pleasure.