(From a time before Covid)
The auction at the Salle des Ventes in Le Puy was about to start. I’d arrived late, with no time to register or view. It was a sale mostly of art and Maitre, the auctioneer, led us through at a ripping pace. Cent lots a l’heure! he predicted. One hundred lots an hour!
The Maitre was a master of repartee and kept his audience on their toes. “Ah non, Madame enleve ses lunettes!” Madame taking off her glasses could be a bid or perhaps not, how is he to know? And later, over a tired old watercolour that failed to attract any enthusiasm “On garde? Non? Poubelle!” (We keep it? No? Dustbin!)
I raise my hand. He clocks me with “Madame a droite – sachant que ce n’est pas une position politique.” (Madam on the right – knowing this it is not a political positon). “Vous avez un numero? Non? Venez!” I duly take my passport up to the podium. Later, as I am staggering back to rendezvous with Francoise with a number of paintings under each arm a man of mature years, out with his dog, smiles as I pass – “Vous etes artiste?” he asks. I love the French!
Francoise is a force of nature with her many creative projects. Her family, her farm and her chateau all stand witness to her strength of character and courageous heart. Fifty hens have arrived and are settled into their pouillailler. A box of fresh eggs sits by the stove, loaves of bread cricket bat size take their turn at table, geese noisily follow each other in line through the courtyard, friends arrive, dogs bark, glasses are raised, the fire crackles, goats are up to mischief again.
Saturday is market day in Le Puy with its colourful buildings jostling up against each other in, cobbled streets lined with stalls of glorious produce. The desire to fill a basket with abundant lettuces, radishes, boulder size loaves of mountain bread and goat’s cheese is strong. In one of the medieval squares a handful of antiques stalls catch my eye – more wonderful Ardeche pottery. We bump into Eric and his partner and spot a vacant café table in a patch of sunshine. Some minutes later a tall, slim man in tight black leather jacket, white silk scarf and pointy crocodile boots pulls up a chair and joins us! It takes us a moment to understand that we had taken his table – ah, there is his magazine left to keep the place – and we all laugh and talk for a few minutes. This is Didier, who clearly enjoys his persona of dashing and dangerous! Of course, the motorbike that he leaves on is gleaming and powerful.
Soon enough it is my time to depart. The decent pile of purchases in the barn next to the chickens will be collected in a week or so. My train from Le Puy is cancelled due to strikes so Francoise drives me the 77 km to catch my connection up to Paris. I will miss her a lot.