Sud.

The September fairs in the south of France promise good buying after a summer lull. Before the buying at the fairs began in earnest I made a first visit to Pezenas, not far from Beziers. I parked on a quiet road next to the high walled Vieux Cimitiere. Crucifixes and the backs and wings of angels on their mausolea appeared over the ivy covered wall. By the tall iron entrance gates a shelter with bench seats running the length of it extended across the pavement, more against sun than rain.

Exploring the old town of Pezenas would come later: a feast of winding streets; wrought iron balconies; tall shutters in blues and greens; terracotta rooves; noble houses from the 16th and 17th centuries with fine carved stone staircases, vaulted passages and loggias; grand stone arches and gateways leading into paved courtyards yet to be discovered.

The busy, tree lined Avenue de Verdun and the Avenue Aristide Briand circuit the old town. The collection of antiques shops and brocantes here is a big draw to dealers. Madame in the boulangerie directed me to a café (aptly called “Le Broc”) where I could get a grand crème before the shops opened. The café owner said she had moved down from Deauville on the north coast two months before, with her Great Dane and little pug, to start a new business here. “You know, one must take risks in life otherwise one does not grow,” she smiled.

One of the joys of buying antiques is the random conversations with dealers. Perhaps some unspoken alliance moves people to talk. In a shop full of boxes of foil leaves for making religious flowers, and with eighteenth century waist coats and fabrics folded on heavy oak tables, one dealer said that he often was called to a nearby convent if the nuns were having a clear out. “My mother took me to the choir to sing when I was a small boy and so the nuns know me.” He told me he was restoring a partly ruined tower, and the family slept in a caravan on site.

Further down the avenue however in a shop of enamel signs, rusty biscuit tins, table lamps, café tables and bedside tables, Madame with a gravelly voice, watched me unsmiling, and said very little.

I’d arranged to meet an English dealer who was going to be in Pezenas. When the shops closed at midday we shared a welcome pause in the courtyard of a quiet restaurant. It was a pleasure to spend some time with this spirited, can do, woman with much experience of life and now focusing her business on antique textiles.

Other dealers I spoke to on this trip were, after years in the trade, making changes to how they worked. Doing things a bit differently, letting some things go, reducing the work load. The salutary reminder of ageing and ending. A stunning, dark haired woman with an eye for worn and patinated eighteenth century beauty said “Ma maman était antiquaire…,” and now the daughter continued in her late mother’s footsteps.

In a spectacularly gigantic old warehouse by the bridge over a dry, concreted riverbed I found a collection of dusty furniture caught in beams of light from the holes in the roof: the land of broken and forgotten things. The convivial owner had a smaller showroom to one side which was bright and gleaming. It had been a family business for many years, he told me.

On down the avenue I found a table that had been painted with a layer of rubbery brown finish. The shop owner and I scraped away a bit and a lovely cherry wood was revealed. Two very old carved, upholstered dining chairs caught my eye. The dealer was willing to give me a very good price, and I hovered, but decided against – there was just too much work and cost involved before they would even earn their ticket back to the UK. But I found the usual selection of mirrors, paintings, a large glass pharmacy jar still with its cork stopper, metal garden furniture, platters and flat ware. This would all be collected the following day.

I was staying at a small hotel by the sea and sat over dinner enjoying the sound of the waves and a cool breeze. Storms were forecast after swingeing heat. Bathers dallied in the waves until the light disappeared and a thin sodium bracelet around the bay began to twinkle.

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