Four kilometres of vide-grenier

Provisions purchased for my supper, I drove on to the dairy farm where I was to stay for two nights. Madame rather scowled at me from a field as I drove up the farm track. She was a hard-working woman with big red cheeks and sausagey fingers. Her young son and husband were more welcoming though. My room was basic, under the eaves of a converted barn with a view over an orchard and old hay cart. I bought a bottle of their home-made Poiré (a pear cider) and settled at the table outside in warm sun for bread, cheese, radishes and peaches before an early night.

The sky was lightening to palest turquoise, layers of mist hung over the fields as I drove to St Michel des Andaines. The vide grenier was along a 4km stretch of road through a forest. At the far end of the road was Bagnoles de l’Orne, a spa town, with its Belle Epoque hotels, casino and boating lake. At this time of the morning only the first stalls were setting up. Some had been set up the night before and covered over with plastic sheeting, the stallholders propped up asleep in their cabs. Merguez and onions were being prepared in frying pans as big as dustbin lids. Large round Pains Rustiques were piled on trestle tables – crusts to break a tooth on! I bought a pain au chocolat and further on bump into Sylvie who is also holding her pain au chocolat. She kisses me on both cheeks. Such a familiarity takes me pleasantly by surprise, I’ve become used to the formality of a handshake. ‘

There’s nothing too unusual to be found but I buy more linen sheets, enamel jugs, Sarreguemines dishes, glasses, books, and trundling them back to the van in my wheely trolley. With only space for small things, I work on filling the “air gaps.” Later I come across a couple of brocanteurs, Francis and Martine, who I met at a vide-grenier on my first ever buying trip to France. I like their style – bundles of faded vintage ticking; beautiful linen sheets; rare, old jam jars; metal work of great age.

By the time I reach the far end of the market it’s 7.30 am and I need coffee. A bar is just about open – old sleeping bags cover the billiard table and chairs, and cats sleep soundly. The tousled waitress makes a very good coffee however, and when I return to the market the road has filled up with more stall holders and strolling buyers and also those on bikes and even foot propelled scooters – how very wise.

After three more journeys back and forth to Moe my hands are so sore from pulling my holdall, and a clanking sack of pots and pitchers that I buy a pair of work gloves, but Moe is full! Back in Bagnoles, I treat myself to lunch at Chez Maraine on a sunny terrace tucked away from the road – a scallop and langoustine salad and un quart de rosé. There’s an antique shop here too, just the sort of place I like – imaginative, decorative, stimulating in content and presentation. I buy some bundles of old linen tea towels (unable to resist) and some pressed Napoleon III glasses, all in slightly different designs, which I don’t come across very often. Time to head on.


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