We arrive at our ivy covered Gite in a hamlet with a population of four. Extravagant bushes of blue hydrangeas surround the house and barn. Monsieur and Madame are there to welcome us and show us around. They open cupboard doors to show us where they keep their cherries in eau de vie, and say we should help ourselves.
Off next morning at 5.30am to two vide-greniers, I drive through forest, watching the sky brighten and eventually find signs at a roundabout pointing to the “Brocante.” My anticipatory nervousness becomes a determined, head-down scanning and searching. Stall holders are still arriving with cars and trailers stacked high. At every market there are always the guys who cluster round the back of a car to see what’s to be unloaded, or who squat to rummage in a not yet unpacked box. I join them. As always, these markets offer a mix of stands. Families selling off baby clothes and videos, old hands who bring hanging rails and folding tables for their items. There are tables of “tat” and then there are the stalls that instantly promise more – the faded colours, the tonal shades of rust, enamel, distressed paint, paper and wood. With a squinty look along the stalls I pick out ceramic coffee bowls, kitchen containers, pitchers, bottle carriers and so on – these are the standard finds.
The second vide-grenier is around the pitch of a local football stadium. I buy a pile of monogrammed sheets and tea towels from a woman who there with her young daughter. As I was leaving the girl comments, “She was a nice lady, Maman, she bought lots of things.” Maman replies, “But it’s because she knew what she wanted.” I purchase a suitcase full of vintage jam jars and the suitcase gets thrown in for free. The morning is peaceful and warm, and the stall holders are willing to sell at good prices.
I drive back to the gite via Cluis, a town with a pretty food market in the main square. Piped music, two boulangeries, 1950’s shop facades, ladies with their baskets at the cheese stall or buying merguez sausages.
Back at the Gite I share coffee and croissants with Graham at the long table under the trees, with its red and white check cloth. The afternoon “should” have been about relaxing outside with a good book, but with a van of purchases to wash and polish I really cannot resist getting a bowl of tepid water with just three drops of washing-up liquid (a tip from the National Trust) and standing at the long table in sun dappled shade washing jam jars, dusty teapots, encrusted enamel coffee pots and more. I am truly happy. Through each object I touch a part of someone’s life. The not knowing who or when adds a certain poésie – who last served coffee from this cafetiere, drank from that wine glass, poured boiling apricots and sugar into these jars, stretching over cellophane and tying them round with string? And when all was done, those wares stood drying and glinting in the sun, pretty as a picture.