“Tant de belles choses”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGraham met me for a lunchtime Formule du Jour at a restaurant on the rue des Rosiers, a small carafe of rosé on the pavement table caught in the sharp January light.

We returned to Vernaison market to collect the glasses I’d bought that morning. Monsieur gestured to us to come in, “Entrez, asseyez vous”, and tea (thick, sweet mint tea from a tiny stall round the corner) was brought in for us on a tin tray while he finished wrapping the last glasses. He talked about his passion for old things, how they helped him touch the lives of people who had lived before. He told us that he also worked in an auction house, and that it often broke his heart but he was not permitted by law to buy any of the goods coming up for auction. “Tant de belles choses!” (so many beautiful things!) he exclaimed with a familiar Gallic shrug.

We had some more collections to make. A charming woman with deep blue eyes, very chic, like a mature Catherine Deneuve, with blue silk scarf pinned at her neck had a stand full of small 18th century treasures, and some lovely furniture. It had always been her dream to have a stall at Vernaison market, she told me, and since her retirement she had fulfilled that dream. “Mais mon mari n’est pas content du tout, il veut que je m’occupe de lui!” she laughed. And despite her unhappy husband, pining at home for her attention, she was having a wonderful time. I’d bought a heavy 18th century painted chest of drawers and a late 18th century small grey table with little drawer, the wood sliding like silk on its rails, and some 19th century Louis XVI style chairs. “But I must embrace you,” she said, kissing me on both cheeks as we said goodbye!

I’d heard about another market in Paris at the Porte de Vanves, that it was a vibrant Sunday affair, with prices more relaxed than those up at St Ouen. The following morning, our bags packed into Sylvie, frost scraped off the windscreen, we followed the grey ribbon of the Péripherique round to the south of Paris. Two avenues intersected alongside the Péripherique and here, in a winter palette of taupe and grey, stark tree trunks and smart cream apartment blocks, we found the market – vans all lined up, dealers huddled against a sharp OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAlittle wind, unloading from the backs of their vans. I recognised two of the dealers from St Ouen – interested to note that they sold from here too.

I found the prices disappointingly less “relaxed “ than I had anticipated. Nevertheless, pretty white enamel watch faces, classic French stencils for letters and numbers, red and white check tea towels, cream Limoges platters and a large porcelaine milk jug were some of my finds, along with an interesting watercolour advertising the reputed Pain Poilane, and metal chocolate moulds in the shape of ducks. I regret that I didn’t buy a dainty pair of silk covered bedroom armchairs, but I hesitated and then didn’t go back to make the purchase – by the end of the morning I was too cold, too tired and money was all spent!

Time to go. We drove up to Dieppe, the sun came out, and we had a quick late lunch in a glass fronted restaurant looking out across the port. Sunday strollers and fishermen out on the harbour wall watched as the ferry turned towards the sea. The sun was setting bright orange behind the chalky cliffs, off beyond Caen, beyond Cherbourg, beyond, beyond. Feeling rather melancholy to be leaving France, I waved and was glad that one of the fisherman waved back.

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