Large mirrors were stacked up against the wall of one stall in the Jules Vallés market. Mirrors with foxed mercury glass, gilded frames, painted frames, gorgeous crests. The dealer obligingly heaved them all forward, bracing them with his foot, so I could take a look at a large white painted one with a fronton.
Then three wooden slatted garden chairs with worn and faded white paint, candle holders to turn into lamps, a crate of vintage jam jars and on and on.
The markets would be closing shortly, and some dealers would not be returning the next day, Saturday. So Sylvie was collected from the white van car park, narrow streets, bollards and impatient drivers were negotiated, and the first haul was loaded up. Driving on round the block I pulled into the courtyard of L’Entrepot, a haven away from the hustle of the rue des Rosiers, with a stone Sphinx and a stack of iron radiators. Here were large warehouse spaces with plenty to see. I hovered over a large chestnut farmhouse table and the dealer said I could leave my van there until 17.30 – but no later as the Guardien would be locking up the front gates for the night.
There were only a handful of dealers still around in the Marché Paul Bert, the rest had pulled down their shutters for the day. But it was a bright, sunny day, and still a pleasure to stop and talk to a dealer here and there – and enjoy looking at a set of 18th century prints of ladies’ wig fashions, beautiful cream Creil platters from the early 19th century, and a set of sixteen extremely large linen napkins embroidered with a Countess’s crown with a matching four metre long table cloth! “Madame, I can offer the ensemble to you for only 600 euros.” I declined – graciously. In one shop I found shop signs from grocer’s and butcher’s shops and piles of potato germinating crates, along with large white ceramic serving platters and soupieres, kitchen linen, baskets, very old conical jam jars, cheese domes and so on. I grazed there very happily for a while and arranged to return the following day to pick up my purchases.
Shopping done for the day, Graham and I met for a coffee in a café that sold beautifully packaged goods from compotes, coffees, chocolates, purées and biscuits. It was the time of La Fete des Rois and the window was piled with galettes and gleaming gold cardboard crowns.
Down near Les Halles, which has been in part a building site for as long as I’ve known it, there remained a small restaurant, Le Gros Minet, pretty much untouched by modern times. A high ceilinged room with ornate tall mirrors all round with tables down one side against a long banquette. The old zinc bar remained, crammed with trinkets, memorabilia and poinsettias. Mother and daughter ran the place with no fuss, just getting the job done and serving extremely good food.