I scraped the icy windscreen on a black Sunday morning. Time for the monthly vide-grenier in Rochefort. Just beyond the seventeenth century military ship yards on the Charente a good number of dealers lined the Avenue Sadi Carnot. A rather austere, bleak spot. Nevertheless, I gathered in my basket some staple vide-grenier finds: candlesticks, linen tea towels, metal trugs, jam jars, and generally relished looking around.
Graham had been encouraged to come along at this unpalatable hour with the suggestion of a visit to the sea. We drove out to the Fouras peninsula and stopped by the imposing stone fort, once part of the military architecture protecting Rochefort. The resort was not surprisingly shut up, but in one narrow lane set back from the sea, lined with decorated Christmas trees, people thronged in cafés, in the fish market, in the cheese market, queued in the boulangeries for their Galette du Roi (the almond pastry tart for Epiphany, always sold with a gold cardboard crown). On a covered terrace we warmed ourselves with hot wine and enjoyed the activity all around.
Next day I had a rendezvous with a dealer inhis vast hangers where the dust was free and the entertainment was music from a wind up music box. “Attention,” he’d said on the phone, “le magasin est tres froid.” I added more layers of clothing and Graham opted for an afternoon by the fire. I pulled up in front of the locked gates as lorries thundered past. The dog came out first, looking friendly, followed by Yannick.
He switched on a bit of light and left me to it. “I am in my house – call if you need me.” I took a breath and looked down the cathedral sized space, shelves piled high and deep, long allées between racks and armoires, lots of free dust. I began to make small stacks of items as I went along, grazing and picking out, keeping my fingerless gloves pulled as far down my fingers as I could.
Yannick came to find me after about an hour. You haven’t seen this part yet, he said, leading me towards a “wall” of wood panelling with furniture in front of it. He pushed a chest of drawers (on wheels and with the panelling fixed to the back) to one side revealing a hidden area. “This is total chaos,” he said, “and nothing is priced, but have a look anyway.” I would have had to clamber over landslides of boxes and fabrics, to get to most of it, so contented myself with pickings around the edges. In a crate beneath a series of books on fishing I found an early 19th century pale blue covered volume and put it to one side with a few other items. When Yannick returned he said that there was not just one volume but a whole box full. “But, you see the problem don’t you, I can’t lay my hands on them immediately….” The books would have to wait.
I’d found some terracotta dishes in a worn, deep yellow glaze but Yannick said, “Ah, non, I cannot sell you these. They have lids somewhere, but I must find them…..”
Despite these shopping frustrations a sizeable amount was packed into the van. I’d not been able to resist a massive armful of good pink toile de Jouy curtains. Yannick almost disappeared behind them as he carried them out to Nelly and tossed them in the back. “These came from a large house in Poitiers,“he told me. “You should have seen the house, magnifique, in the centre of town, three storeys plus an attic and a basement. Un Monument Historique. I took these curtains from the bathroom, there were big mirrors on the walls, very tall windows. Curtains even around the bath.”