The day before the Autumn Rederie at Amiens could not have been wetter, and the upper most blade of the wind turbines along the road from Dieppe disappeared in low cloud. Graham was with me, as I’d discovered back in April that this market was a hard one to do on one’s own.
We eventually found a place to park on one of the outer boulevards, as near as we could get to the centre of Amiens, and without the risk of being towed away once roads were blocked off for the market (history would not be repeating itself). A dealer in a battered white van next to us said, “Tomorrow it will be anarchy”.
The immaculately coiffed and manicured receptionist at our hotel dealt at length with two arrivals before us – directions to restaurants, bookings for restaurants, a map of where to find the market and so on – while we stood, saturated, coats and bags dripping on the marble floor. Graham found he had a hole in his shoe.
Anticipating a bit of an assault course I had brought rain gear and walking boots, but the streets at 3.30am were pretty dry. One or two cars returning from Saturday nights out drove past, but otherwise the night was still. Tall, double-doored houses stood dark and quiet. In a few minutes, by the Post Office on the Rue de Metz, I spotted the first stall holders unloading. First purchase as it came out the van was a tall metal bottle dryer, and at 3.45am this became my earliest ever purchase. The hub of the market was around the Beffroi, a massive bell tower standing in the Place au Fil. Not all stall holders had arrived but there was plenty of dealing going on. There was the usual intensity of concentration as dealers shone torches over goods, picked up and scrutinised, or hurried or cycled on. I noted a couple of gendarmes taking the details of a car that was parked in the middle of the stalls, presumably it would soon be off to La Fourriere, the car pound.
All manner of carrying equipment came out in force. Supermarket trolleys, flat bed trolleys, sack trolleys. One well organised man had strapped a large wheelie bin onto a trolley and fitted it with clips and hooks and bicycle panniers for maximum capacity! As the night sky lightened things really got going. Trolleys laden with large picture frames, stacked with upside down chairs, shop dummies, orchard ladders, galvanised basins and lamp shades made a cornucopian spectacle. A few of the dealers were familiar from the April market, and from one I bought two large oil paintings of Paris streets, one of a quintessential café with red awning; from another dealer some heavy, painted concrete balustrades. Martine and Francis were there and had set up, as always, an appealing display full of pale blue rimmed plates, sailor-boy skittles, lovely faded fabrics, garden furniture, pretty painted tables and so on. I left much of what I bought at the stalls to collect later. Up and down the many streets I wheeled my trolley, Rue au Lin, Rue du Chemin de Violettes, Rue Basse des Tanneurs, stopping every couple of hours for a large cup of coffee to staunch the creeping fatigue.
Graham and I met up in the early afternoon in the café were we sat it was mayhem. Stressed waitresses, no glasses, no beer, no frites, no bread. The streets were full now of strolling tourists and locals. With the smoke from food stalls catching the light, and the cathedral in the distance down narrow streets, the scene looked medieval.
Graham helped me make fourteen pick ups from around the market and we struggled back to the van through the throng. But when we went to collect a box of particularly beautiful pale blue covered 19th century books we found that the dealer had already packed up and gone. I asked the neighbouring dealers but no, they regretted, nothing had been left with them. A first for me, as dealers had usually only ever been extremely obliging, considerate and kind.
After a fifteen hour day I was hot, grubby and very tired. Despite the many trips we’d made back and forth, the van was disappointingly not full. But what a blessing to have had fine, dry weather for the market. Graham took the wheel and drove us up to the Somme estuary for a couple of drizzly days. Salt flats, palest yellows, greys and blues, birds and tides. In a lovely hotel looking out over the bay we settled in the bar, all painted a pretty duck egg blue with chairs in taupe ticking, a little menu was set on the marble topped table, printed with Le bonheur n’est pas loin – happiness isn’t far away.