The train from Paris to Le Puy ran along mountain rivers, past rugged stone villages built to withstand ice and snow, flashing by the dark silhouette of a chateau perched high up. I was going to stay with Francoise, my dear friend who gives heart and soul to working her organic farm and welcoming guests to her rustic chateau bed and breakfast. Francoise loves antiques and interiors as I do and over breakfast next day we trawled through adverts for upcoming markets and sales to visit. The season had yet to begin so I was also able to set to and paint the ancient doors on the stone staircase. A quiet, if not chilly, joy.
A carved garland on one of the local online selling sites looked worth a call. Madame who answered the phone explained that she was clearing her parents’ house and perhaps we might find other things of interest there. Directions were given to a large house up a steep lane above a village with a river rushing through it: “Come to the end of the track and take the sharp hair pin turn.”
Madame waved to us from a balcony, pointing to where we should park. Lawns dotted with bare trees and shrubs sloped away from the large white building. Madame explained that this had once been a “Fresh Air Centre” where four hundred children would arrive by the coach load to spend a day in this rugged, rural setting. The children were given a cooked lunch, played games and had tea. Her parents had retired some years previously and grown old here, and now, inevitably, Madame and her sisters were slowly emptying the property.
We were shown through to two large rooms where trestle tables had been set up for the kitchen and catering equipment, all for sale.
Where something elsewhere caught my eye I was told, oh no, my sister wants that, no my other sister needs that, no we still need those….
Madame gave us a tour of the catering kitchens with stainless steel equipment of huge proportion. Although it had the feel of a 1960’s school with tiled corridors and metal railed staircases, beneath it all was a 16th century manor house. Grey stone vaulted rooms on the ground floor held a vast stone fireplace with coat of arms smashed off during the Revolution. These rooms were now empty but out in the terrace room with French doors looking over the valley, covered in plastic sheeting, was a long table. Puis-je me permettre? May I permit myself? I asked, lifting up the sheeting. Here was a sturdy zinc covered table with a broken leg which had been overlooked, but to my eye it was worthy of rescue.
A washing trough in the courtyard taken over with weeds would make a lovely planter for Francoise’s herbs. A copper bowl and an umbrella stand were emptied of rain water and brought in.
Madame would of course have to consult with her sisters, but eventually prices were agreed and everything would be collected later. The visit was, as so often, a poignant slice of lives gone by.