(From the time before Covid……)
A major air traffic control outage over France cut this trip short by a day. We’d planned to have ample time in Arles to wander the renowned annual Rencontre Photographique but we arrived late at night and next morning I left Graham in Arles and drove straight off to visit Charles, a dealer who sold at the Avignon deballage. Today I’d been invited to lunch, as well as to visit his depot. At the end of a pot holed track a tall and solid metal gate slid open. Charles and Agnes had created a corner of paradise here with terraces, vegetable garden, chickens, a pool and shady verdant corners with ferns spilling out of metal salad baskets and other decorative pieces of brocante.
A tray of coffee was brought out and laid on a stone table spread thick with stalks of drying lavender. Before we started work I was given a tour of the vegetable garden, a riot of Mediterranean colour and abundance. Charles reached a rake into a fig tree, pulled down a fruit and handed it to me to try. I started looking through boxes in a large shed, unwrapping 18th century wrought iron locks, large green glass Demi-Johns (Dame Jeannes), frames and ceramics.
The main depot was a short drive away, but first came lunch. The table was set on a terrace, spread with an antique cloth. I should have realised that lunch would be a long, delicious affair. Slices of sweet Cavaillon melon followed a large salad. Confit figs in rich juice were presented in tiny glasses. A leg of lamb was served with roast potatoes and ratatouille of home grown vegetables. Grapes, also home grown, cheeses and coffee. All utterly delightful, but as mid-afternoon approached I was mindful of the serious work still to be done.
A swift drive along plane tree lined roads brought us to a 19th century yard with depots and barns – here was a sea of detritus: wrecked lorries, tractors, stacks of doors bleaching in the sun, sinks, stone finials and railway sleepers. In the depots, brushing cobwebs aside, it was a matter of peering down narrow corridors to spy out what was stacked behind, hidden on top off, obscured in a corner. It was a sweaty and laborious job to pull out a stack of palest worn grey shutters, finding matching pairs. They had come from an 18th century house in Aix en Provence. These were internal shutters which had sat in a wooden frame, adding protection from both heat and the Mistral. Too wonderful not to buy.
In another depot stood crate upon crate, items carefully wrapped, all from house clearances. It would take days to go through everything, so I pulled out a few items here and there and had to content myself with that. Charles’ van was already loaded for the Avignon fair and there would be plenty more to see. By the time I reached Arles the sun had set burnt orange and all I could manage for supper was a small dish of pasta.