I called into the new shop of a charming woman I’d not seen for some years. She was cleaning a chandelier, which was fortunate timing for me, and I bought it. She’d drop it round at my hotel on her way home. As I was leaving she said, “If you have time tomorrow, do go and visit my father. He has his shop just outside of town.”
Madame Hedou was shaking a duster out of a window on the first floor. Below was a cheery little shop with red painted planters outside and a big “Ouvert” sign hanging in the window. I pulled up in the car park opposite, just outside the church.
Monsieur was in the shop with cap and scarf on. “Excusez moi,” he said, “I have just come in, I have been to get the bread.” The shop was small and very full. He pulled a few additional boxes out from beneath a table so that I could rummage and after a while asked, “Vous voulez voir mon depot?” Sweet words to my ears….
Through a scullery, red and white stripe tea towels drying on a line above the boiler, and down a concrete path past camellia bushes, taller than me, in deep pink bloom, to a large, dark space covered with various roofing materials. A little light filtered down onto a cornucopia of fifty years’ accumulated tangled metal work, armoires and buffets in pieces, boxes upon boxes, army great coats and watering cans. Among this sat crates of harvested carrots, potatoes and the last of the autumn’s apples.
Monsieur Hedou and I set to in quiet collaboration, he lifting up a box as I took a look beneath, he handing things down to me and also finding a few more pieces of old wood to restore the table I’d bought the day before. I teetered to reach the twisted remains of a display stand for a bridal crown. Originally these red velvet cushions displayed a wax flower bridal crown, with shiny metal love birds and leaves on a wire surround, all contained beneath a tall glass globe. I prefer them when all that remains is the faded, thread bare cushion and a tarnished wire support. As we squeezed into another area, he pointed to a sheet of corrugated iron with great rusting gashes across it. “That was from shelling during the Occupation.”
By now I was pretty grimy, but that’s usually a positive indicator of good hunting. My pocket caught on the handle bar of a motorbike, probably last used two generations ago. We did our tallying of items by a stack of firewood in a shaft of light. An 18th century carved head so wormy she shook like a pepper pot, and lots of dirty, dusty stuff to put new life to. Opening a book I’d taken from a shelf he looked at the name inscribed, and said, ah I knew him, he was a teacher in Le Havre……
Back in the shop Madame had lit a fire in the tall stone chimney and was preparing to grill cutlets over hot embers.
Monsieur looked across the road to the carpark and said “Eh bien, there is going to be a funeral and your van is parked where the family of the deceased will want to park.” An attendant had laid an orange cord on the ground across the parking bays and was obviously waiting for me to depart. Boxes were hastily loaded, hands were shaken. I was happy with my morning down by the camellias.
The afternoon was spent in the spa town of Bagnoles de l’Orne. I had been here many times for the twice yearly Brocante market held along the forest road. Today I visited a couple of dealers, browsed, wandered around the lake by the Casino and sat with a citron pressé on a sunny café terrace.