Summer trips are easier in every way. A calm late afternoon Channel crossing with broad horizons of palest greys, gentle clouds and shafts of creamy sun. My dear friend Elizabeth came with me early one July to stay at the lovely manor house near Valognes. The dainty purple and yellow violas were still bobbing amongst the cobbles, and we felt at home. Madame said she didn’t mind at all if we wanted to make our own supper and eat on the terrace.
In fact, the next evening, she brought out glasses of her home-made Pommeau – a Normandy aperitif made from apple juice and Calvados. She was insistent, in the way that French people can be over things that Must Be Done Correctly, that the apple juice should be freshly pressed before bottling and maturing with the ‘Calva’. This Normandy spirit comes under the generic French heading of ‘Eau de Vie’ which is liberally used at all times of the day for all purposes – indeed a Café Calva is just the job for an early morning Vide Grenier in a field when one’s shoes and trouser bottoms are drenched with dew.
The French, of course, take their food and drink seriously. And when it comes to the local Vide Grenier, the food stand and bar are set out first thing, with rows of tables and benches under striped awnings, for later in the day when the spit roasts are cooked. I do enjoy a few minutes at the makeshift counter with a small plastic cup of fierce black coffee, picking up strands of local conversation between Michel and Serge, Patrique and Jean-Francois.