The next day we met a dealer in an industrial unit with shutters rolled up to let in the light – and the freezing morning air. Fingerless gloves are a must! We talk as I make some purchases – a pleasing oil painting of a Provencal town, a sturdy fruitwood chest of drawers. Monsieur tells the tale of being held up at gun point at the Paris markets, and that – “Vous avez de la chance!” – we have come just at the right moment as next week he is closing for good and everything is going to auction. Hope and I head off to the town nearby to warm ourselves in a timeless Chocolatier/Salon de The. The little shop was painted palest grey, with white marble shelves and counter on which delicate hand-made chocolates and jellied sweets were displayed. Real hot chocolate was brought out to us on a pretty tray. Glorious.
The antiquaire in the town was dapper and charming. His shop followed suit. A curving carved oak eighteenth century staircase at the back led up to a great, swathing burnt orange taffeta curtain and a further room of lovely furniture. “But I don’t often do the housework!” he quipped, rubbing the dust off a pretty oak table with his sleeve. A rather beautiful dark haired young man emerged from behind the taffeta curtain and disappeared into another room. The dust, a faded Toile de Jouy covered bedhead, dead ivy trailing across writing desk and fauteuil all created a fabulous atmosphere in this small bourgeois town house. We piled purchases into the van – even the two café tables that stood out front with plants on them found their place. “Revenez me voir bientot! / Come back and see me soon!” was the farewell as we departed. We stopped in Livarot to buy the local cheese, fresh walnuts and chestnuts as the afternoon turned to dusk.
Sunday morning I was out early through frost and forest, deep greys and sparkling whites. Madame had kindly prepared a little breakfast bag for me. Hope opted to stay under her duvet. Lisieux at 6am was stony grey. Huddled figures, stamping their feet, hands in pockets, forecasting snow. I discover that in France one says “My feet are like wood!” The only brightness came from the red illuminated Bar/Café sign. Three large town squares near the cathedral and all the linking streets were full of stalls – over 700 dealers here. The wind was cold. Stall canvases flapped. Bars sold out of “vin chaud” in no time. After three trips back to the van, laden with folding chairs, mirrors, clock faces and pewter ware, cold and fatigue got the better of me and I set off to collect Hope. The expected snow came as rain and the afternoon was forlorn, wet, beshuttered. Our haven was the large white Casino Hotel in Cabourg, one of the mid-19th century elegant resorts developed with the advent of rail travel. There we found afternoon tea, a tinkling piano, chandeliers and red velvet as the surf crashed outside. We later set off towards the ferry at Ouistreham. The sat nav, as does often happen in France, took us across field tracks with piles of sugar beet looming up out of the driving rain and dark. We did find tarmac eventually and the midnight ferry home.