Le Mans with Lesley

The Deballage began at 8h and, as always, there were stall holders in clouds of bubble wrap and old newspaper unpacking their boxes and setting out their stands, and others already settled down for the morning, coffee in hand. There were handshakes or kisses on cheeks, the day was bright and fresh, and spirits were good.

Lesley and I separated like two hunting hounds. To cover the entire market, single-handedly collecting and packing into the van by lunchtime is always a challenge. We met up after an hour or so with Therese, down from Normandy, for an affectionate coffee – but that made time even tighter. Catching up with people I’d not seen for a while compounded the situation. Nevertheless, purchases were made. A pair of huge white metal lanterns were spectacular. A crate of 19th century glasses and a box of books would stack inside an ample walnut buffet that needed work. Distressed gilt wood and elegant curve of cabriole leg seduced the passing eye. Item by item the van was steadily filling up.

Lesley was considering a graceful Gustavian chair in blue and white check from a favourite dealer of mine as I tottered by with a large portrait in my arms.

It was getting towards lunchtime and stall holders were beginning to pack up. I still had much to collect but was reassured when the organiser of the Deballage, the not-to-be-messed-with Madame Saulnier, came on the tannoy reminding them on pain of death that there would be absolument no departing before 13h!

20140516_12190320140516_122851We had the rest of the afternoon to drive up to Ouistreham for supper before the night ferry. One stop en route was planned. A small blue painted shop front, with a battered armchair outside, beckoned us in. Tristan’s shop was a treasure of delights. Inside an armoire I found dozens and dozens of linen damask napkins, of the size that can be knotted around the neck and provide shelter for one or more people at a time! The napkins were tied up in pink ribbon with housekeeping labels made from old calling cards – le Vicompte de Narcillac, Madame Trichard of 123 Champs Elysees. These napkins came from a Normandy chateau and had belonged to The Baronne Camille de Caix de Chaulieu. Speckled with rust and age along the creases, they would take a while to launder and bring to pristine condition. Some of them had darns so finely worked that only when held up to the light could they be detected.

Three large boxes of lace sat on the floor of the Brocante. These also had belonged to the Baronness. The lace was fabulous, but I was also fascinated by the little pieces of card, calendars and notes that the lace was wound around. A postcard to Therese, the Baronness, dated 1911: “Therese, I learn that you took a fall from your automobile… “

Part of a Tarif from the Grand Hotel Continental, Munich, advised that an apartment could be taken for 18 Marks, that a French a la carte restaurant was available at all hours, and that a room for one’s Domestic would cost 5 Marks. The hotel had printed a lengthy “List of Prominent Visitors” – including King Albert and Queen Elizabeth of Belgium, Dowager Queen Margherita of Italy, Sardhar Singh of Jaipur, The Right Honourable Lloyd George, Mr John D. Rockefeller and Family, Mrs Cornelius Vanderbilt and many Crown Princes, Counts, Duchesses, Barons and Lords. These boxes of lace with all their history were definitely coming home with me.

A few last items along with eight green folding chairs were slid into Sylvie before we drove off towards the coast. It had been a great pleasure to travel with Lesley. A last dinner together with a robust bottle of wine fortified us but, even before the ferry left the harbour for Portsmouth, we were in our bunks with lights out.

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