Spring in Provence

The three large dealer Déballages held in Provence a handful of times a year sometimes fall on consecutive days, and are within two or three hours of each other.  It makes a worthwhile trip.

Graham and I stayed near Avignon in Castillon du Gard.  A jug of lilac from the garden welcomed us to our gite. The Pont du Gard, a monumental Roman aqueduct built to provision Nimes with water, stood nearby.

A regular Saturday market is held at Villeneuve les Avignon, just across the Rhone from Avignon itself. The market was a gentle appetiser before the rush and thrust of the next three days.  At the foot of the old town with medieval houses and pretty coloured shutters, with wisteria just coming into flower, stalls were set out beneath large white parasols or goods were simply arranged on the ground.  No one seemed in any great hurry.   Stall holders stood chatting with neighbouring colleagues or had disappeared off for coffee and croissants.

A large, bold landscape in vibrant ochres, greens and russets was propped up on the ground. A few people had stopped and looked interested, but no stall holder was in sight.  I returned three times and at last found Monsieur returned to his stall.  We stood back together to admire.  It is in the style of Ferrari, don’t you find? he said.  I was very pleased to buy it.  A small walnut table with pretty scalloped apron was next.

On the other side of the road a number of wooden crates were arranged in a row.  An odd one of these crates contained some heavy absinthe glasses that are so nice to hold.  They were over seventy years old and were still wrapped in their original tissue paper. “Bonjour Madame,” said Monsieur as he got up from a small table set with a plate of oysters and a bottle of white wine, he dabbed his mouth with a napkin.  “Oh, vous savez, I can’t resist, I enjoy oysters so much,” he said, gesturing back to the table, where his friend continued to partake.  “Now, tell me, how may I help?”

As I picked the glasses I would buy he told me that he had been a hairdresser until one of his customers, who knew he liked Brocante, asked if he might be interested to clear a factory that had been closed for a couple of decades.  Things had gone well for him and now he specialised in glass ware.  Would he return to hairdressing? I asked. “I have enough stock to sell, Madame, for at least another five years…..”

We crossed the Rhone into Avignon and wandered down la rue des Teinturiers, a picturesque tree lined street with a narrow river running down one side.  This has been used as a location in one of my favourite films, Un Hussar sur le Toit (Horseman on the Roof).  The plane trees were in first bright green leaf and we chose a sunny spot on an empty terrace for lunch, as a crisp breeze funnelled down the little street.  The waiter brought out two glasses of Rosé.  “This will not warm you up,” he said with a smile, “but it will stop you feeling the cold.”

We strolled up into the old town of Castillon that evening.  At the end of the quiet square  was a café that looked like it had seen better times. The proprietor, in track suit and bare feet stood behind the glass door, opening it as we approached.  Crossing the threshold I felt a flutter of air above my head as a pigeon flew straight in and landed on the bar.  “Il vous connais?” I asked.  “Oui,” said the bar owner as he put the pigeon in his night time roost, “Je le connais aussi.”

A few unwashed cups stood to one side of the counter, and there was perhaps a faint odour of pigeon about the place, but we enjoyed a coffee out on the terrace as the sun turned golden and cast stumpy, pollarded plane tree shadows against ancient stone houses.

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