“No seaside tat”

An August trip is planned, and Graham is coming along this time. A large market, held twice a year down in the Vendée has been recommended, and this is where we are ultimately heading, with a few stops on the way. The ferry crossing to Cherbourg was on “moderate to rough” seas (“mer agitée“ as they put it in French) but sea sickness tablets are reasonably good sedatives, and we came to land three long hours later.

Stopping in Valognes we settled our stomachs with a plate of Normandy buckwheat galettes in one of those busy lunchtime restaurants where everything seems to run at great speed and with seamless professionalism. The many noble houses in Valognes are graced with the beauty of turret, fine iron railings, the pitch of steep slate rooves and white shutters against a stone wall. Steady rain set in as we peered through the window of an antiques shop, closed of course until 14h 00, and displaying respectable Normandy furniture – fruitwoods, sturdy, carved.

I was due to collect a large oak coffer from a dealer further on. The large hangar being an absolute favourite rummaging spot. I’d bought the coffer the previous year but not had room to take it with me. As I walked in , Madame exclaimed, “Ah, la voila! It is ten months since we saw you – what a long time, the time to make a baby even!” The coffer was wheeled out and heaved into the van. It was large enough to fit a couple of people inside, and would certainly be filled with many smaller purchases during the trip. As usual I poked and rootled about in the warehouse for an hour or so – little piles of my finds starting to form here and there – the inevitable vintage jam jars, white porcelain serving platters, charming oil paintings, linen sheets and tea towels, folding café chairs, crystal glasses and a large mirror. With everything packed in Sylvie we drove on to St Sauveur to buy a few provisions for supper and then made for our chambre d’hote at Monique’s. In St Sauveur I noticed posters announcing a Salon des Antiquaires at the Chateau de Crosville, due to start the next day. This was serendipity – not just a place that I held a great affection for, but also filled with glorious antiques. Some of the dealers displaying at the fair were staying at Monique’s and eating their impromptu suppers in the vast stone kitchen with a log or two gently hissing in the enormous fireplace. We chatted and one woman stressed it would be a Salon only of the most beautiful things – “Ce n’est pas une brocante au bord de la mer”– no seaside tat!

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